Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Going for the Green has moved

The archives (2004-2006) continue to be here, but course reviews and up-to-date commentary is at: http://canadiangolfer.com/g4g.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Going for the Green's new website

As I've been warning, G4G is moving away from the blogger platform, though the G4G archieves will continue to reside here for the time being. I'm moving to ontgolf.ca/goingforthegreen, so for those that have me linked, I'd appreciate an update. Going ahead, I'm not likely to be placing any new work on this site, and have already been cross posting on the new site for a few weeks.

Update: The Going for the Green blog is now located at CanadianGolfer.com/g4g/

The move is designed to increase traffic to G4G and to bring new content to Ontgolf.ca. Any suggestions or comments on the move, the new format or any content you'd like to see covered are appreciated.

I'd like to thank all of my loyal readers for stopping by over the past two years and look forward to hearing back from you regularly on the new site.

Here's the press release about the move:

Ontario’s leading golf Internet site adds golf columnist Robert Thompson

March 6, 2006

TORONTO — Going for the Green, Canada’s premier golf blog written by noted golf columnist Robert Thompson, will be joining the country’s leading golf site, Ontgolf.ca, effective today.

“I’m thrilled to have Robert come to Ontgolf.ca and guide our commitment to adding more editorial content to the site,” said Jeff Lancaster, Ontgolf.ca’s publisher. “Internet users have been turning to Ontgolf.ca for years to find all the information they need on Ontario golf courses. Robert’s ongoing blog will certainly bring in new readers and intrigue and entertain Ontgolf.ca regulars.”

Ontgolf.ca, established in 2001, is Ontario’s premier Web site for information relating to golf courses within Ontario. In peak months, the site has more than 100,000 unique visitors each month, making it among the largest sports sites on the Internet in Canada.
Robert’s regular blog and news reports for Ontgolf.ca is part of a relaunch of the website, which now sports a new more distinctive look, additional content and Google mapping software that allows golfers to locate courses anywhere in Ontario. Starting today, Robert’s blog can be found at www.ontgolf.ca/goingforthegreen.

Among Canada’s best known golf writers, Robert Thompson has been the golf columnist with the National Post since 2003, and launched the notorious Going for the Green golf and business series for the paper in 2001. He is currently a contributing editor to Travel & Leisure Golf in the U.S. and is a regular contributor to the likes of Score Magazine and is a columnist with Ontario Golf magazine. He is also a course rater for Score, OG and Golf Digest, and his writing has appeared in programs for the Presidents Cup and the Canadian Open.

More than 100,000 readers have come to Goingforthegreen.blogspot.com since it was established in late 2004. The site has become a must read for all things golf in Canada, as well as providing readers with Robert’s opinion on golf courses and architecture, the state of the PGA Tour and linking to key articles and information from throughout the golf world. Several hundred readers log onto the site every day to read and interact on the blog.

“My golf blog has been a great platform for my opinions and writing and I look forward to updating it daily for Ontgolf.ca readers,” said Robert. “Going for the Green is meant to titillate and engage, and it will continue to do so for years to come.”

As part a renewed editorial push, Ontgolf.ca will be adding new content in weeks to come.

For more information:
Jeff Lancaster Robert Thompson
Publisher Editorial director
905-466-1278 Robert.thompson@ontgolf.ca

From Timbits to tee shots

For those interested, here is a story I did with Tim Hortons' co-founder Ron Joyce in 2003 as a cover story for Ontario Golf. As many know, I've done some more writing on this subject lately, including a book with Mr. Joyce. Anyway, here's a story about Ron and golf....

Interviewed by Robert Thompson photos by Chris Gallow
With his Tim Hortons franchise days behind him, Ron Joyce has retired to the links
As Canadian as the Maple Leaf, Hockey Night in Canada and Anne Murray, Tim Hortons, along with its bite-size Timbits and famed coffee, has evolved over the past few decades as a vital ingredient of our national culture.
The country's most renowned restaurant chain emerged from humble beginnings, though, masterminded as it was by a man who grew up in rural Nova Scotia, failed to graduate from high school and spent years in the navy long before ever considering a business venture alongside a famed hockey player.
Now, at the age of 72, Ron Joyce is secure in the fact that he not only helped develop what might be Canada's best-known brand, but also orchestrated a venture that has become something intrinsically Canadian. Along the way it made him one of this country's richest men.
It seems an awfully long way from a day in February 1965, when Joyce, then 36 and living in Hamilton, began helping NHL great Tim Horton with his struggling restaurant chain. The pair slowly built up the operation until Horton was killed in a car accident in 1974, leaving Joyce in charge of developing the business. He spent hundreds of hours piloting his plane from Tim Hortons' Hamilton headquarters to distant locations in search of new franchise opportunities, and put time in at everything from training new store owners to actually baking donuts. The chain's growth was immensely successful, making the phrase "double-double" as commonplace in the Canadian vocabulary as "He shoots, he scores."
In 1995, with more than 1,000 Tim Hortons restaurants churning out thousands of cups of coffee and cruellers, Joyce sold the chain he still refers to as "his baby." Restaurant giant Wendy's, led by Joyce's golfing buddy Dave Thomas, snapped up Tim Hortons in a deal that made Joyce a billionaire and the largest shareholder of the burger chain.
So what's a donut king to do after selling his empire? Apparently a lot, and golf has played a significant role.
In the late 1990s, Joyce decided to build a golf course and resort on an oceanside piece of property he owned about a half hour outside Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, the town where he was born and raised. Canadian golf architect Graham Cooke was hired to build the course. Called Fox Harb'r after a local inlet, the course has nine inland holes before venturing to the sea where fairways and greens sit dramatically poised on the edge of rock-lined cliffs. Given the time and care Joyce put into the project, including $55 million for its construction, clubhouse and small airport adjacent to the property, it wasn't surprising to see Fox Harb'r snap up Golf Digest's Best New Course in Canada award in 2001.
But building golf courses isn't the only thing keeping Joyce busy these days. He has also continued to throw his time and support behind the Tim Hortons Children's Foundation, a group of retreats for underprivileged children that he set up in Horton's memory. There are now six of the facilities strewn across North America. If Joyce isn't talking about golf, there's a good chance he'll be talking about the Children's Foundation. And his fundraisers at Fox Harb'r have become legendary for Joyce's ability to draw the elite from Toronto's Bay Street financial crowd and have them plunk down thousands of dollars to play in a Tim Hortons Children's Foundation golf tournament.
Also legendary are the stories of Joyce's competitive nature, such as the time when he was flying back from Nova Scotia on his private plane with friends, and a gin rummy game broke out. Joyce and his partner soon found themselves down in the money as the plane neared the Hamilton airport. The co-pilot told Joyce that he should wrap up the game and prepare for landing. Joyce turned and indicated in his own inimitable style that the game wasn't over yet: "Circle," he told the pilot.
With his years of owning Tim Hortons behind him, you're likely to find Joyce circling the links of Fox Harb'r, his world-class golf course where he plays up to four games a week during the summer months. Or he may be making his way 'round the globe in one of his jets, or cruising the seas in his new sailing yacht, freshly minted from the dockyards of New Zealand. Or maybe just sitting on the verandah of his sprawling home at Fox Harb'r and enjoying the million-dollar views with a "double-double" in hand.
OG: Golf played a big role in your decision to sell Tim Hortons, didn't it?
RJ: When I approached Dave Thomas about buying the rights to his Wendy's Canadian operations, our first meeting was in Florida. I thought that if you took the Wendy's name and married it with Tim Horton's, we'd have a winner. But at the time, Wendy's couldn't make the chain work in Canada. So we said we'd try a joint venture in real estate and put the two companies in the same spots.
I met David there at Adios, a men's golf club that he was one of the founders of. The course was named after a racehorse - one of the great thoroughbreds of all time. There were 25 guys, like Arnold Palmer and the gentleman who owned Adios, who wanted to build a men-only club. David was among them.
We met for lunch and golf. I was such a bad player then - the saving grace was that he wasn't much better. It was the beginning of the partnership.
I remember playing double or nothing for $10,000. He went into the woods with his tee shot and then hit it out. His next shot went into the water - and he is sitting five, while I was sitting one. I was so far ahead of him that I thought I was fine, and took a mighty swing and hit into the water. Then the next one went into the water as well. David ended up winning with an 11.
Lots of people know Dave Thomas through his television commercials where he appeared as a Wendy's pitchman. What was he like?
He loved to bet. He got to the point where he never hit a ball without betting on something - longest ball in the fairway, or even hitting the fairway. He always had a little distance on me. But that's what made him interesting to play against - he had to have motivation to play, and in his case, it was gambling.
Your relationship with Wendy's didn't end with the partnership, did it?
A few years later I decided to move on. I spoke with another food company in Canada, but then Wendy's approached me. So now that's where we are today, with 2,400 stores in the U.S. and Canada.
I'm proud that it's basically the same management team I put in place years ago. Wendy's didn't tamper with what made the chain successful. And now it has gone to new heights.
I would assume you didn't play a lot while running Tim Hortons.
I didn't really have time. I think people who excel in anything are often totally dedicated to it, but are only really good at one thing. I look at the great athletes of all time, like Michael Jordan, who went from basketball to baseball and it didn't work. Or Wayne Gretzky, who probably wouldn't have been great at anything but hockey.
For me, it's business. That's true of so many things in life. When you find the niche you love, that becomes your passion. For me it was Tim Hortons. It was my world.
So how did you become such a passionate golfer?
When they built Glen Abbey, there was a thing called the 100 Club, and it was about a mile from our offices in Oakville. I got a call asking me to join. And I said I was interested, but I didn't play golf. So I took some lessons, and I thought, "Gosh, this is so time-consuming and I have so many things to do." I never got comfortable with the game and was never prepared to give up the time to get better. So I just lost interest in golf.
But I really got serious about it when I bought a condo in Boca Raton, Florida, when I was in my 60s. There was a golf course right there and I joined and started playing, sometimes twice a day. I got to the point where I could hit the ball reasonably well on that course. That was the beginning of it. But I was still very much involved with developing the Tim Hortons chain. And given my love of airplanes and boats, there was a lot of competition for my time. I could have done a better job of learning the game if I had been more focused on it at that point.
But you played a lot after selling the chain. Given your lifestyle and love of planes, you must have played some of the world's best courses with some pretty big names.
I've gotten to know Gary Player quite well and I like to play with him. I consider him a friend. The first time he played in Canada after Apartheid ended was at a Tim Hortons golf tournament.
I've also played with Arnold Palmer a few times and Jack Nicklaus - so I've played with the "Big Three."
In terms of courses, I've played Cypress Point, and three times at Augusta. I've played Ballybunion in Ireland. Each one of these great courses is part of a learning curve. I still belong to Hamilton, Burlington and Old Farm in Bristol, Virginia, which was Golf Digest's best new private course a few years back. And I'm a member of The Floridian, Wayne Huizenga's course in Stuart, Florida. So there's four - oh, five, since you've got to include Fox Harb'r.
How did you come to decide to build Fox Harb'r?
After I sold Tim Hortons, I knew I'd be less and less involved with the company. I decided I had to have a focus. And I had bought this wonderful piece of real estate in an isolated area of Nova Scotia where there isn't a lot of development. I thought if I could build something really special, then people would come there. It has proven to be that - and people are flying in from all over. And the future of Fox Harb'r is quite solid, even though we know there isn't a proliferation of golf courses. But it is a unique golf course, and we offer a runway, a health club, tennis courts, skeet shooting, fishing - it is becoming more of a retreat for people who enjoy that sort of thing.
You mentioned a runway. That's a little unusual for a golf course.
It had to be that way. I built the runway before I built the golf course because I had a plane, but also because of the remote nature of the property. I knew that if people were going to come, I had to make it easy to access.
It isn't a long drive from Halifax, but it's a really easy flight, and we have aircraft that we charter. We now even have a helicopter that we can use to fly people to spots. And there are so many wonderful golf courses in the area, like Highlands Links, Bell Bay or Crowbush Cove. People now can have a great golfing experience in the area. And our guests can fly from Fox Harb'r to anywhere they want to go.
You speak very passionately about Fox Harb'r. Is it because it is near your boyhood home?
I think I really fell in love with a marvellous piece of shoreline that to me was so amazing. When I first saw it I said, "Wow, this should be a national park." The reality is that it is a unique and beautiful piece of real estate that should be visited. Look at Peggy's Cove, which is spectacular. I think Fox Harb'r is the same sort of thing.
And the great thing about the north shore of Nova Scotia is that the water gets to 75 degrees, so you can swim or go boating. But there are weaknesses, like a lack of shopping. There's also no nightlife there, so you have to create your own - not that it's ever been a problem for me.
How well do you play?
I've never broken 90. The best round I've ever shot was 92. I had a 43 on one nine at Fox Harb'r and then had a 49 on the other nine, so it has been close.
You've got a very unorthodox swing.
Everyone tells me the same thing, but it is tough. I hate seeing a lady play the red tees, and I play the white tees and she out-drives me. I just hate it.
Friends have told me you've offered golf pros trips if they could fix your game.
That's true - anywhere they wanted to go if they could get me under 90.
But you still have a love of the game that seems to go beyond your skill at it.
If you love the game, it doesn't matter if you play badly. It is still a wonderful way to spend a day. There are days when I get so damned mad at myself when playing, but then I can hardly wait to get back on the course.
I find downhill skiing the same way. I was skiing near Calgary years ago and a friend of mine met a professional skier from Lake Placid. And this gal said that what bothered her about people is that they wanted to get up to the top of the hill and down again as quickly as they could. And they didn't care about the in-between, which was the fun part. I took the same attitude about golf. I look at a player like you, who shoots three or four over par, and I think that must be nice. But it is also quite nice just to go out there and play.
You really appear to be enjoying your life, from your planes to your boats to Fox Harb'r. You also seem to be enjoying spending your money.
Why not? I don't want a whole bunch of Brinks trucks following me to the grave. I mean, I started in this world with nothing and I think some people lose sight of that. I guess it is a power trip for some people and I wonder why they don't give to things like children's camps.
I'm not sure if it's the right way to go, but it is right for me. You must have leaders in business that generate revenue and jobs, I understand that. But you can pass it on down and let your senior managers work the business. And I have friends, like David Sobey, who just retired from Sobeys and has got a great balance with his friends and family. That's what I'm trying to accomplish as well.
Given your humble upbringing, are you ever surprised by your success in life?
I never imagined it. I can't even believe today what has happened. I look around me, at the golf course at Fox Harb'r, or Children's Foundation, and I am simply astounded. I look at Tim Hortons, which has grown and expanded, and realize it has become part of Canadian culture.
In many ways I guess if I had to do it again, I wouldn't have sold it. I would have stayed with it. But that is hindsight.
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Phil, buy my watch! Shackelford Vs. Titleist blogger

Apparently getting hit by one of Phil Mickelson's errant bombs off the tee can be a good thing -- especially if he smashes your watch!
Golf's favourite chubby Masters winner hammered with a tee shot at Doral over the weekend, breaking his watch. When Mickelson arrived on the scene, he went into his golf bag, grabbed two c-notes that he apparently keeps for just this circumstance and handed them to the fan.

This description of the incident comes from the Sun-Sentinel:

Phil Mickelson's second shot on the par-5 10th struck a fan sitting around the green. The shot hit the man on his wrist, breaking his watch, while the ball bounced near the green 55 feet from the hole. After completing the hole, on which he made par, Mickelson walked over to the spectator and gave him a golf ball and money. Mickelson said he wasn't sure what brand of watch it was but knew one thing for sure, "It wasn't a Rolex," he said.

Great golf blogger and critic Geoff Shackelford has had a great debate going on about Titleist's comments about media bias when it comes to the golf ball. On this thread, literally dozens of comments were left about the issue, including several from occasional PGA Tour pro Sean Murphy. The thread can be found here. If you haven't been following this, here's the story so far: It started with a column written by Steve Elling of the Orl ando Sentinel about various issues relating to the distance the golf ball travels. Titleist answered back with an unsigned editorial alledging "media bias" when it came to the issue of golf balls and how far they travel. In my mind, I'm not biased, but professional golf is becoming increasingly ridiculous when it comes to distance. Now 350 yard drives are common place. I'd suggest we take the golf ball/club combination back 5% right off the top. That would still make Tiger Woods and JB Holmes among the longest in the game, but their average distance would be closer to 290 than 310. It would make a two club difference in most cases and bring some longer irons back into play. I'm not a fan of bifurcation -- having pros play one ball and ams play another -- and I don't think a 5% pull back would have much of an impact on the casual player. Of course I say this as TaylorMade prepares to launch a new driver/club combo that they say is longer than the ProV1.

In passing.... Golfweek has replaced Pine Valley as its best classic course in America with Cypress Point ... with golfers shooting the lights out at Doral over the weekend, when does the Blue Monster lose its nickname and become known as the Blue Pushover? ... At one time Dick Wilson created the toughest golf courses in the business. But with all the changes to Doral and Rees Jones blowing up the tough Blue Course at Royal Montreal, what great courses does Wilson have left? Deepdale? ... apparently Tiger's Sunday Nike shirt was "coral" and not his typical final round red ... speaking of Tiger, he hit less than 50% of his fairways en route to winning at Doral. Maybe Stephen Ames was right after all....

Friday, March 03, 2006

Thompson on TV

In case any of my readers care, I was on national television this morning talking about a business story that is on the front of Financial Post Business Magazine. Not golf, but it is about coffee!

You can watch me, at least for today in the "editor's picks section" of the website, here.

New owner and pro at Paris Grand; Miller versus Woods; Kawartha rejuvenated;

GolfNorth, a Waterloo-based golf company partially owned by Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie, has acquired Paris Grand out of bankruptcy. The club was placed into receivership last year and a bidding process was undertaken around Christmas. The final sale price wasn't released, but GolfNorth will now add Paris Grand to its list of courses that include the Doug Carrick-designed Calerin. Interestingly, Ian Chan will take over as director of golf. Ian helped launch Bond Head last year but was caught in the purge when new GM Nigel Hollidge came in and cleaned house. Ian has a strong sense of the game and undoubtedly will help transform Paris Grand, which rests in a competitive golf market.
In other news, in the worst kept secret in golf, The Muskoka Bay Club has announced that Jeff Boismier will come on as general manager, while Chris Goodman will take the role of superintendent. Both had worked at National Pines prior to its takeover by Clublink. Muskoka Bay is getting buzz as potentially the best new golf course to open since Eagles Nest a few years back. Now if they only had a decent website.

Golf architect Ian Andrew has some neat images of Kawartha and Jasper on his website. He also details why Kawartha might be the best unknown golf course in Canada.

News Journal Writer Ian O'Connor has found a rival for Tiger Woods. Problem is he spends his time in the television booth:

At long last, a player stepped forward to say he could expose Tiger Woods as a false god. A player with multiple major titles. A figure with a platform and resume that reduces an amateur-hour trash talker like Stephen Ames to a credibility-free bore.
That's the good news. The bad news is Johnny Miller's
age, 58, and his intention to stay in the NBC booth and out of the Ford Championship field.
"I'm not so sure Tiger could beat me if I played my best game and he played his," Miller said yesterday at Doral.

Glad to see you stepping up on this one, Johnny. Now if only someone who can actually play Tiger will offer to take him on. Oh yeah, that was Chad Campbell. Miller's full remarks are here.

SI's Alan Shipnuck, one of my favourite golf writers, comes up with his typical clever approach to dull pre-tournament stories with his "premature Masters preview." Worth a read, though I still think Stuart Appleby has a better chance of winning a Masters than Shipnuck does.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rubenstein on Ian Andrew Golf Design

Lorne Rubenstein writes today on Ian Andrew and his new golf design firm. To be open, Ian and I are good friends and speak regularly. But I'm glad to see him get the nod from Lorne, whose power in the Canadian golf industry can not be disputed. Maybe the article helps gain some attention for Ian and what he wants to do in the business. He's Canada's best restoration architect -- no one is a close second -- and now someone needs to give him the opportunity to translate that onto a new course. The work he's already done -- Ballantrae north of Toronto, Muskoka Bay, Nobleton Lakes and Copper Creek (all with Doug Carrick, his former employer) -- show Ian has a lot of talent. He also has a distinct vision, one that should allow him to make interesting courses less expensively than some of his peers.

From Lorne's article:

Ian Andrew, 40, worked with golf course designer Doug Carrick for years, but recently went out on his own. "I want to build golf courses that are fun to play," Andrew said this week. "I'd like to find out if it's in me. Deep in my heart, I feel I can build better courses than what's out there."
By "what's out there," Andrew meant many courses built in the past 25 years. He said he and Carrick left on good terms, but that his vision differs from his former employer's. Andrew has written candidly of his views on his new blog, thecaddyshack.blogspot.com, and on his website, andrewgolf.com.

But Lorne points out, through Golfweek's Brad Klein, that it is a tough market Ian is entering:

"The niche [Andrew's] after is very small," Brad Klein, an architectural critic and close friend, said yesterday from Oklahoma City, Okla. "Doak, Crenshaw and Coore and Hanse are the go-to guys in that style. The fact is that golf course
construction is one-third of what it used to be [not long ago]. Sixty per cent of the projects are real estate-based, and the owners play it safe with those and go with the big names.

Thankfully, Ian works with two dozen Canadian courses as their consulting architect, so he's established even if the new work comes slowly. But I remain convinced that when the opportunity presents itself, Ian will silence his critics and build a course that matches his vision.

The whole article can be found here.

Jack and Arnie on Augusta; Geoff Cornish speaks

According to a story on the Golf Channel last night, both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are critical of the changes to Augusta National that have been instituted in the past year. Both said the alterations have dramatically changed the golf course. The remarks are interesting because they seem to run contrary to the Augusta party line, which says the golf course has "returned to the shot values developed by Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie."
Nicklaus isn't buying any of it:

"I think they've ruined it from a tournament standpoint," Nicklaus says. "Augusta has meant a ton to me in my lifetime. It's a big, big part of my life, and I love it. That's why I hate to see them change it."
Palmer is similarly harsh:

"I love the place, just love everything that happens there," Palmer says. "But now, I'm not so sure. It's changed dramatically from the course I knew the last 50 years."
Nicklaus also takes the time to rip into consulting architect Tom Fazio:
Nicklaus says some changes, which were supervised by consulting golf architect Tom Fazio, looked as if they were done "by somebody who doesn't know how to play golf."

Many in the golf industry are critical of Fazio's role as a consulting architect to some of the world's best golf courses, especially since he has publicly spoken of having little interest in the history of many of the courses he works with. Few have had many positive things to say about Augusta's latest changes, though the club has taken a direct approach by inviting a number of big name golf writers to investigate the changes. I assume they think an invite to Augusta will thrill even the most jaded scribe into providing a positive review.
Apparently Palmer and Nicklaus aren't as easily impressed.

While Augusta has had more facelifts than Diana Ross over the past few years, the final tweaks have left some questioning why Hootie and the boys feel the need to alter the course on an annual basis.
Score's Bob Weeks blogged yesterday that more changes could be undertaken as Augusta National snaps up real estate on the course's periphery.

Canadian golf writer and golf designer, Jeff Mingay, writes a piece on Florida golf in golfobserver.com. Mingay talks about the courses used on the PGA Tour in FLA, and seems to have a general disdain for the flat, water filled tracks that dominate. That said, he takes a shot at Dick Wilson/Ed Seay/Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club, which I actually think is a pretty good golf course. I think Jeff takes his Augusta comparison a touch too far -- I see little in common, even these days, between Augusta and Bay Hill. But you can decide for yourself....

I had the opportunity to speak yesterday with Geoff Cornish, once assistant to Stanley Thompson, and one of golf's most distinguished historians. We had a fascinating conversation about the links between Thompson and Golden Age architects of the same period. Specifically, I've been doing some research trying to develop a theory that Ian Andrew and I have about the development of Thompson's distinctive bunker style. Cornish was a great help. His memory is sharp as a tack, though he is well into his 90s, and Cornish continues his notorious walking schedule -- five miles every day. An amazing man who has lived through amazing times.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Triplett making golf affordable in Tennessee

There was a tournament in Tuscon over the weekend that no one pays any attention to because it goes head-to-head with the Matchplay championship. While no one was watching, Kirk Triplett, a veteran of the Canadian Tour, shot 64-63 to win the tournament. I must admit to having been pleased.
Almost five years ago I had the good fortune to play with Triplett in Mississippi at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic's pro-am. Triplett turned out to be a class act -- a fun guy who wanted to interact with the four hacks in his pro-am foursome. He also talked about the golf course he was working to design. We spent some time talking about this project and when I returned back to Canada, I wrote this column about Triplett's foray into golf design.

Nov. 22, 2001
By Robert Thompson GolfWeb Columnist

Kirk Triplett plays on multimillion dollar golf courses, but that's not what he's dreaming of these days.
After a practice round at the season-ending Southern Farm Bureau Classic, Triplett, who finished 38th on this year's money list, was thinking about putting the finishing touches on a course that he and some associates are opening in Murfeesboro, Tenn.
Triplett is hoping to buck the trend of $15 million courses with $150-per-round price tags. He thinks there should be more courses aimed at those who think $150 is simply too much for a round of golf.
"How do you bring new golfers into the game when it costs $100 or $150 per round," Triplett said after the Wednesday pro-am at the Annandale Golf Course in Jackson, Miss.
The notion that golf should be relatively inexpensive is the main philosophy behind the company that Triplett and his four partners have formed. Given Triplett's thoughts on the state of the game, it should come as no surprise that the company is called "Golf For Everyone."
That philosophy is also why Champion's Run, the name of the course that Triplett and his partners have developed, will cost only $22 per round. And that includes the cart. The projected opening is spring of 2002.
Sure, golf is one of the most popular sports at the moment, Triplett said, but there is also a lot of churn in the sport as players abandon the game. If golfers had an inexpensive course that had some of the features and service of a championship course, maybe they'd stay with the game longer. That's Triplett's thoughts on the subject, anyway.
So how does Triplett intend to make a course that will hold up to the scrutiny of the public for only $2 million? Simple: He made some calls to friends and formed a golf company that combines their unique skills. The designer, Stuart Moore, had spent years overseeing large budget golf designs before creating two of his own courses in Chile. Three other partners bring different areas of expertise to the project. What they don't bring is millions in associated costs. Each is simply using their skills and taking equity in the course.
The course name, Champion's Run, comes from the decision to use a new cold-weather hybrid Bermuda grass called Champion. It withstands the cold weather of the late fall and early spring months and doesn't require overseeding, Triplett said. Using this strain of Bermuda grass also cuts back on maintenance costs, allowing the group to proceed with their low-cost green fees.
For Triplett, 39, the company gives him a chance to cut his teeth in design. Moore will do the design and Triplett will consult on the project, offering advice on how the course should play.
"What I bring to this is my credibility as a PGA TOUR player," he said. "And right from the first hole, I was looking to see what I could do to make the course better for the more competitive player, while still making it playable for a newcomer."
The partnership is investigating several opportunities to work with cities or municipalities to create courses similar to Champion's Run. Cities have available land, but often don't have the cash advance to build public courses. By using the expertise in Golf For Everyone, Triplett thinks his company can build city courses at a low cost, allowing them to remain truly open to the public.
Triplett is clear that he isn't the designer on Champion's Run, just a business partner involved in the overall project. But that doesn't mean he isn't interested in entering golf design. He's had significant input on Champion's Run, at least equal to that of the many players who regularly place their names on courses.
Triplett is interested in developing a company that can give something back to the public players who continue to support the game.
"A lot of players want their names on designs," he said. "But I've always felt I could give more back to the game as an owner-operator."
Editor's note: Robert Thompson's columns on travel and architecture appear monthly on GolfWeb and PGATOUR.COM.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Course Preview: Tom Fazio's Coppinwood

He's likely the best known and most expensive designer in the world, but Tom Fazio hasn't worked in Canada since developing the National Golf Club of Canada alongside his uncle in 1975. That's all changed with Coppinwood, a new private course scheduled to open in Uxbridge in late May.
The private club, which costs $75,000 to join, is the boldest new facility to open near Toronto in several years. At a time when numerous private courses are struggling (Summit Golf Club and Thornhill, for example), Coppinwood will try to portray itself as a superior golf facility and entice new members to pull out their cheque book.
So what do we know about the golf course?
In many ways Tom Fazio like a chain of high-end restaurants. You can be assured the food will always be good, but the chain will never take the risks to make it great. The same can be said of many of Fazio's courses. He'll never make a bad course (not with the budgets he works with -- regularly more than $10-million per course), but the facilities he creates are often more style than substance. Pretty golf courses where the aesthetics are remarkable, but the golf is, well, just good.
That was the point of an article by Golf Digest critic Ron Whitten last year when he asked the question, Is Tom Fazio Good For Golf?
Whitten essentially concluded this:
Clients love Tom Fazio because he creates more headlines than headaches. Golfers love him because he doesn't beat them up. And rival architects love him—well, they appreciate him—because his splashy impact has helped raise everybody's fees.
What does this mean for Coppinwood? Well, nothing so far. The course is reputedly built on a great site that had several Canadian architects drooling over their chance to build on it. Initially conceived as 36 holes, the course is now 18, with three practice holes. The partners behind the course, including the powers behind Maxium Financial, are astute businessmen with deep connections. They've hired a great pro in Euan Dougal, formerly of Eagles Nest and Bigwin Island. Everything seems to be lined up, so the only question is whether the course is great, or just good? If it is great, this could be a home run. If it is just good, it'll still be a success, but it'll take longer to fill up the membership.
The photos I've included with this write up make it hard to determine what Fazio has delivered. It certainly is pretty, with bold bunkers with clean lines and greens perched in dramatic locations. The vistas look great.
I'm planning on getting a closer look as soon as the snow departs, so I'll try to draw a better conclusion then.

Norman muses on Augusta; Rutlege wins!; Coore on minimalism

So Greg Norman thinks all of the changes at Augusta are good -- even better, in fact, than the way the course played when he threw up on himself coming down the stretch. At least that's what he said in a story he wrote for Travel and Leisure Golf's latest issue.

Here's the grim details:

In fact, the golf course is 155 yards longer than it was a year ago and 460 yards longer than it was in 1999. At 7,445 yards, Augusta National is now the second-longest course in major-championship history. Only Whistling Straits, at 7,514 yards for the 2004 PGA Championship, was longer.

So it is long. Got that. But it doesn't take Norman long to get to the nitty gritty:

I think the big difference in this year's changes is that the club has tried to emphasize both power and accuracy. Technology has dramatically changed how modern golf is played at the professional level, and Augusta has adjusted as required to keep up. For many years, as the course got longer, the advantage
shifted to guys who could just wing it—hit it as hard and as high as they could.

Right. That would be fine, but two graphs later, Norman muses that it is precision, which somehow differs from accuracy, which is the real problem:

But Augusta is and always will be about precision. You have to know where to land the ball to get a desirable lie in the fairway (though there are very few truly flat lies) and where to land it on the green for an uphill putt. Precision is an invaluable asset, especially when you're dialed in. In fact, there are a few guys out there, myself included, who request distances to the half yard.

In the end, Norman concludes Augusta is better for all of the changes, even if the existing course has nothing to do with the one currently played.

What Augusta does better than any other course is blend significant changes seamlessly into the existing design. The quality of work done by the Masters committee is always phenomenal, and, from what I've heard, this year's work is
no exception.

What's the deal with all this sucking up Greg? Looking for an invite?

Canadian journeyman Jim Rutledge of BC actually finally fulfilled some of the promise he demonstrated when he was a teenager. It just took him 30 years to put it together. Well, Rutlegde, generally regarded by those in the know as one of the good guys of Canadian golf, won this week's Nationwide Tour event, giving him a good shot at landing on the PGA Tour full-time for the first time in his career.

You can find plenty of stories, including Lorne Rubenstein's discussion of Rutledge and the fact he jumped 486 spots up the world ranking (that's from nowhere to somewhere for those of you counting) with his win, in this google link.

Bob Weeks asks who are the 10 Canadians who have won on the Nationwide Tour (or variations on that theme). I came up with eight. Bob's blog can be found here.

More T&L Golf. Thomas Dunne, the editor in charge of architecture at T&L Golf, interviews Bill Coore, the astoundingly talented architect behind Friars Head and Sand Hills. Perhaps most interestingly is the comment by Coore on minimalism in golf architecture:

Q: The style of Sand Hills is frequently associated with the term "minimalism," and there has been a lot said about what this means. How would you define the term?
Coore: We've never applied the label "minimalism" to our work, although others have. Ultimately, I think the style that some call minimalism is really more of a return to the design concepts and philosophies of the 1920s and '30s. When architects didn't have the means to move earth like we can today, a premium was placed on finding good natural sites, and golf courses were laid out, as Ben likes to say, "very quietly on the ground." "Minimalism," though, has become a catchword, and I don't believe you can define it in any absolute way.

On the interesting and engaging side, golf writer and all-around good guy Tom Beddel takes you drinking, I mean golfing, um, actually drinking across Scotland. The piece is in this month's T&L Golf, but can be found here.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

New golf architecture blog; Thompson in Shackelford

  • So renegade upstart Canadian golf architect (and my good friend) Ian Andrew has started a golf blog called "The Caddy Shack." So far Ian has gone blog crazy, writing about taking his father to Ireland on their last golf trip (I was on the trip which was remarkable), the problems with green speeds, his logo and other things. Given that he's the most notable restoration architect in Canada (no one in this country is really a close second), I'm sure he'll have plenty of interesting posts on his work. Hopefully he'll give people a sense of how golf architects really work and some of the details on courses they've never even considered. Ian is thoughtful, but with strong opinions. It should be fun to see how the site develops. You can find it at thecaddyshack.blogspot.com.
  • I forgot to mention the appointment of Kevin Poole to the job at Ridge at Manitou. That's been corrected. Interestingly, apparently the demise of high-end golf in the Toronto area is not forthcoming for all courses. During a conversation yesterday with Chris Neale, the director of golf at Copper Creek, he noted the club is essentially packed full of corporate events from June through September. Maybe business is still strong or maybe Copper Creek just does a better job than other clubs...

  • Golf's premier contrarian and blogger, Geoff Shackelford, has a nice round up of the week in review and mentions my comments on the whole LPGA versus Associated Press situation. The situation has now been resolved, not a surprising move given the power of AP. The only surprising fact is that the LPGA tried to pull such a ridiculous move off on the first place.

  • Been a bad week for Canadians at the matchplay. First there was "9 and 8" Ames, and followed by Mike Weir's precedent setting meltdown against Geoff Ogilvy. Already one paper is calling Ogilvy's recovery, down four holes with four to play, as one of the great comebacks in sports. Or maybe it is one of the great choke jobs on Weir's part. Surely Canada's best golfer can't be faulted for Ogilvy's remarkable eagle on the final playoff hole, but there's no way the Aussie should have been in the position to make the eagle in the first place. It is called "close him out," something Mike should have done on the 15th hole.

Friday, February 24, 2006

LPGA's losing fight; New man at struggling Ridge;

Only four days until G4G makes its big move to another site. I'll post something about it next week.

More on the AP versus Carloyn Biven/LPGA fight over copyright control. Looks like it isn't working out particularly well for the LPGA, as Honolulu Advertiser columnist Ferd "Don't call me Fred" Lewis notes in a piece today:

First-round Fields Open in Hawai'i leader Lorena Ochoa had just shot a
remarkable 8-under-par 64 when she sat down in the 43-seat interview tent yesterday to talk about it.Staring back at her were 39 empty white chairs.Paul Rovnak, LPGA senior media relations coordinator, sat next to her on the platform to ask questions, and two staffers were the audience. Otherwise the room was devoid of reporters and cameras. Only later did a couple of international reporters wander in.

In case you don't quite get the scope of the sleeping giant the LPGA was awoken, here are the stats on AP, which is ignoring the LPGA Tour at the moment:

The AP, alone, claims 6,700 newspaper, radio and television clients in the
United States and 8,000 more in 121 other countries.

Ironically, an AP story provides an update on the situation this morning:

Backed by several other news organizations, the Associated Press made
progress Thursday in talks with the LPGA about new restrictions on press
credentials but was unable to resolve the dispute in time to cover the start of the Fields Open tournament in Kapolei, Hawaii.

ESPN's Jason Sobel notes that fans watching John Daly lose to Phil Mickelson at the matchplay couldn't pick a favourite. Maybe the fans couldn't, but it is clear who the players prefer -- and he hangs out in a motorhome and his wife is serving time.

On the home front, the blogs about Stephen Ames' disaster of a performance against Tiger Woods and duly notes that Ames' comments about Woods' wayward drives are actually accurate. Not that it matters. I wonder if Ames' new nickname around the tour is Stephen "Nine and Eight" Ames. Has a nice ring about it.

On the home front, the Ridge at Manitou, a fine Thomas McBroom course located near Parry Sound, has a new pro. Kevin Poole, formerly of the fine Hunter's Pointe, takes over operations and the search for a couple of dozen members on an annual basis. The course is rock solid, but has so far only attracted a handful of members. A news release on Poole's appointment notes he was instructed on teaching by mentor Gord McInnis Sr., who taught Marlene Streit at Lookout Point.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Stephen Ames -- Time to shut your mouth

Calgary's Stephen Ames was probably joking when, prior to the Accenture Matchplay start yesterday, he told reporters in California that Tiger Woods was spraying the ball a bit. He added that a great champion like Woods still finds a way to get the ball in the hole, but the notion was still clear: Tiger was ripe for the taking. He wasn't on his game and Ames would capitalize.
"Anything can happen," he told reporters Monday. "Especially where he's hitting the ball."
Wow, was Ames ever wrong.
Woods took Ames apart with birdies in each of his first six holes enroute to a 29 front total and the most one sided pounding of an opponent the Matchplay has seen to date. In fact, it will be the quickest defeat on a permanent basis, since Woods used the minimum number of holes to take Ames apart.
Sure Woods took his game to a new height, but Ames should be embarrassed by his remarks in the first place. It isn't the first time Ames has said something negative about Woods. A few years ago he commented that no one ever wanted Tiger as a playing partner and suggested Tiger wasn't particularly mature. Then at the Canadian Open in 2004, not long after his first win, he suggested he might sit out the Presidents Cup if he made the team. Turned out he didn't have to worry about that -- his terrible 2005 campaign in which he was dealing with his wife's battle with cancer took care of that -- but it was still indicative of the crazy stuff that comes out of Ames. Maybe it is his Caribbean background -- having grown up in Trinidad -- that has made him overly relaxed with his comments. Who knows? The reality is his peers also thought his latest remarks were not particularly sharp and Ames should probably think a bit longer before opening his mouth. (Note: A reader has suggested my comment on Ames' heritage is inappropriate -- this is my response: What I'm trying to suggest -- and I've heard it from other sports writers -- is that Stephen has a more relaxed way of dealing with the media. In other words, he simply voices his opinion without being too worried about the consequences. I'm betting that comes from growing up in a culture where the media isn't as intrusive.)
Â?That wasn't very smart,Â? Geoff Ogilvy said. Â?It's not the first time (Woods) has been motivated by something someone said to the press. That probably wasn't the most clever thing. Any motivation for 18 holes can help.Â?
Robert Allenby said he looks forward to taking on Woods today, noting he won't be embarrassed like Ames was: Â?Yeah, it should be great. I won't be beaten 9 and 8, let me tell you.Â?

In other news, the LPGA has picked a strange time to start a media war, especially since this war is with the media.

This month, the Ladies Professional Golf Association modified its media credential requirements to be much more restrictive. Among other points, photographers must agree that the LPGA has an unlimited, perpetual right to use their photos for free. Why is this an issue? Well most media organizations want and maintain copyright over their material, and freelancers, both in print and photography, usually only give up first rights to their work. Now the LPGA wants to perpetually control photos and tell newspapers and other media organizations how they can deal with them. Oh, and the LPGA wants to be able to use them -- whenever and however they want.

Among the rules to which LPGA photographers must adhere:
The LPGA gets unlimited, perpetual, non-exclusive rights to use any photograph taken at an LPGA event for "non-commercial promotion" worldwide at no cost.
LPGA has the exclusive right to purchase a commercial-use license for any image taken at an LPGA event at a 20 percent discount off the best terms usually offered or a similar price.
A photographer or news organization must promptly supply the LPGA with any photo or digital file it requests at no cost.
Photographers "must refrain from taking photos until after a player has made her swing or stroke." These requirements are even softer than the first draft of the LPGA rules, to which editors also strongly objected. The first set of regulations, dated Feb. 7, said news organizations could only use LPGA photos if they were accompanied by a text article and for coverage that has a deadline within 48 hours of the event.

Why the LPGA and commissioner Carolyn Bivens would go forward with such a policy and stir such controversey at a time when their sport is starting to garner some attention is anyone's guess. Some, like Geoff Shackelford, seem to think it is unusual for her to start such a battle given her background is really in advertising and not the content side of media. Unless you think developing ads is content.

In the press conference to introduce her as the new commissioner, Bivens seem to indicate that working with the media would be a strength. How wrong that has turned out to be...

Q: Two quick questions. One, how do you think your experience with
Initiative will translate to this new position? And two, any early
thoughts on given your background how you will go about increasing or changing some of the marketing and advertising that go along with the tour?
CAROLYN VESPER BIVENS: Okay. Well, let me take the experience piece of it first. Actually looking back at this point already in the rearview mirror,
I feel like my previously 25 years experience have prepared me for this job, and it comes at just the right time in my career, and as I said, at a very exciting time in the LPGA history. The fact that I work with and have worked with all media types, all media forms, with the networks, with publishers across a variety of platforms, I think will benefit me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Open Doctor makes a visit; Rough going at Winged Foot

Another golf course is turning to Rees Jones to make it worthy of the USGA. The latest is Chicago's Cog Hill, which hosts the Western Open. This was in today's Chicago Sun-Times:

Cog Hill owner Frank Jemsek had been in negotiations with Jones and his staff for nearly a year in Jemsek's efforts to make the Western Open site a suitable U.S. Open venue. Jones associate Greg Muirhead visited Cog Hill last July before
Jones toured the course with Jemsek on Oct. 11. Jemsek revealed during last weekend's Chicago Golf Show that negotiations were successful. "They've cashed our check,'' said Jemsek, who said work will begin on a limited basis after this year's Western, which ends July 9.
So what is Jones doing, exactly?

The heart of the renovation will be on Dubsdread's last four holes. No. 15, which plays as a short par-5 now, will become a long par-4 with new tees shortening the hole. Nos. 16 and 18, both par-4s, will be lengthened with green-side hazards accentuated. And the par-4 17th, deemed much too easy by Jones, will be completely rebuilt with the green reduced and bunkers added.

Is it just me, or this all that Rees' office has become known for? In Ontario, he recently opened Grand Niagara, but there have been few courses with less buzz open in this country in recent memory. Have any of my readers played it? My contacts say it was nice, but built on flat land with few natural features. The club's website is not operating currently, but it says they are going ahead with a Greg Norman designed course on the same property. I'll believe that when I see the actual course.

The Orlando Sentinel's Steve Elling has a story on the US Open at Winged Foot in New York.Apparently the USGA thinks variable heights of rough will make everything equal again. I don't see how this is going to impact Bubba Watson's 350-yard drives, but who am I to say anything against the USGA?

When the pros pull out their whompin' sticks this summer at Winged Foot, they will be greeted for the first time by multi-fanged rough of variable lengths, a departure from the traditional, do-or-die norm associated with golf's most punitive set-up."It's a done deal," said Marty Parkes, a USGA spokesman.Under the new plan, the length of the grass will increase in inverse proportion to the misfire. Sort of like serving detention, the punishment for bursts of wildness will indeed fit the crime.Moreover, the rough heights will be adjusted depending upon the length of the hole, which means missing a fairway by a few yards on a 495-yard par-4 won't be as bad as hitting it sideways on a shorter two-shot hole.

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