Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Canadian Open returns to Hamilton in 2006

This is good news for Canadian golf, given the interest in Hamilton when the event was held there in 2003. Hopefully the PGA Tour pros will remember it, though I'm not as certain of that. It seems to me, from the tour pros I've played with, all they remember about a course is their final score.
Still, Hamilton is a great course with a storied history. I'm sure the members will push forward with this one.

Montreal's loss is Hamilton's gain for 2006 golf event:Canadian Open relocated
National PostFriday, November 26, 2004
By Robert Thompson
The Royal Canadian Golf Association announced yesterday thatthe Canadian Open will return to Hamilton Golf and Country Club in2006 before heading to a new course in Montreal in 2008.The historic Hamilton course, long regarded as one of the best in Canada, hosted the 2002 Canadian Open. The club's membership mustapprove the event in a vote on Dec. 7.
The RCGA also said yesterday that a Montreal course it is buildingin partnership with Gordon Stollery, co-owner of Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, and Mike Columbos will hold the 2008 event.The course, designed by American architect Tom Fazio, was rumoured to be the site of the 2006 event, but construction was delayed until this summer. It is expected to open in 2006, but not in time for the Canadian Open.
"It is our priority to have a golf course that is in the bestpossible condition and ready for a Canadian championship of this magnitude," Columbos said in a news release. "Delays have made it impossible for us to host the Bell Canadian Open in 2006." Controversy has swirled around the RCGA's involvement with the Montreal project and the decision to use an American golf architect to build a course that will hold Canada's national championship.
The return to Hamilton, however, could generate positive support for the Canadian Open, which has had difficulty attracting topfields in recent years.There were concerns heading into the 2002 event that Hamilton, a course that opened in 1914 and plays as a par 70 at 6,946 yards,would not be challenging to PGA Tour pros. However, even in benignconditions, the course held its own, with Bob Tway and Brad Faxon tying for the lead after four rounds at eight-under-par. Tway won the event in a playoff. Despite a lacklustre field where many of the PGA Tour's top nameswere missing, golfers at the 2002 event praised the course's variety and classic layout.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The National

Architects: Tom and George Fazio

The National is clearly one of Canada's great golf courses, with an ingenious routing, difficult greens and remarkable conditioning.
First opened in 1976, it was one of the first courses Tom Fazio had the lead on, though his uncle's involvement in this one is clear.
I've played the National a number of times now. At first it is intimidating -- especially with its slope rating nearing 150. Everyone talks about the difficulty of the National, so it surely must be the case?
Now, after half a dozen trips around, I find the National fair and punishing.
It opens easily enough -- the first two holes are long, but straight-forward par fours. The third hole, a difficult par five, is indicative of much of the course. Hit the ball in the fairway, missing the left bunker and willows and the creek on the right, and you'll have a pretty good shot at par, if not birdie. Miss the fairway, though, and you will not find the green.
That's largely the story at the National -- good drives and strong putting will compensate for a few errors. The greens, however, will punish the player who must scramble much of the round.
There have been numerous changes at the National over the past year -- including moving bunkers on the fifth hole, and building new tees all over the course. The aim is to make sure the course keeps its reputation, even if these new tees are hardly ever used by the existing membership.
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Marlene Streit makes the Hall of Fame....

Word on Streit is she's the best: Canadian has won all the prestigious amateur titles
Robert Thompson
On Golf

No one recognized the self-described "grey-haired little lady" who spent last week taking in the displays at the World Golf Hall of Fame in Florida.
Apparently, at the start at least, no one understood that a true legend, and one of the hall's most recent inductees, was wandering around, taking in the Byron Nelson exhibit.

But that didn't bother Marlene Streit, perhaps the greatest golfer Canada has ever produced.

Sure George Knudson won eight times on the PGA Tour, Mike Weir won the Masters and Moe Norman is known for his uncanny ability to strike a golf ball. But Streit, who has remained an amateur all of her career, has arguably had the best career of the bunch, winning all of the world's most prestigious amateur titles.

Like Canadian legend Al Balding, Streit, now 70, has continued to win, taking her third U.S. Senior Women's Amateur, becoming the oldest person to ever win the tournament.

Her election to the World Golf Hall of Fame late last month was one of the worst-kept secrets in the game. Her nomination was put forth by RCGA executive director Stephen Ross.

The only question that remains is, why did it take so long?

For Streit's part, she is still taken aback by being added to a place that honours golf legends like Bobby Jones, Nancy Lopez and Ben Hogan.

"I was totally surprised," said Streit, whose bubbly, good-natured personality has remained a constant throughout her career. "I'm totally thrilled and honoured. But I didn't expect it. I've never won a professional tournament."

But she did win everything else. Breaking into the international amateur circuit as a teenager, Streit took the British Women's
Amateur in 1953. Over the next 50 years, she won four USGA events, including the 1956 U.S. Women's Amateur. She remains the only golfer to have captured the Canadian, Australian, British, and U.S. women's amateur championships.

She grew up playing Lookout Point near Font Hill, Ont., though these days she hangs her hat north of Toronto, playing golf at York Downs and living in Unionville, Ont.

Streit never turned pro, having grown up with the game at a time when many of the top female players stayed within the amateur ranks.

She attributes her success in the United States to simply not being overwhelmed by the experience of playing away from Canada.

"I wasn't intimidated by them," she says of playing against the likes of such champions as Babe Didrikson Zaharias. "It didn't
matter if they were well-known Americans. I didn't like to lose to anyone."

Hating to lose is one key factor Streit credits with her remarkable longevity, but she also points out that she never really tinkered
with her swing, which has held up remarkably for five decades.

"My game held up because it wasn't cluttered," she explains.

That said, her win last year at the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur caught many off guard, including herself.

"I just went down to play and hoped to win a couple of matches. But I just kept winning."

With her induction into the Hall of Fame scheduled for November, alongside Isao Aoki, Tom Kite and Charlie Sifford, Streit says she plans to remain active and play a few events this summer.

Though many people expect she plays everyday, the truth is Streit only plays golf about three days a week.

"I may not even play that much, but I tell people that because it is what they expect," she says.

What's next? Streit says her win at the U.S. Seniors last year will allow her to play the U.S. Amateur, something she plans on tackling. But even if she doesn't win again, Streit admits her career has
surpassed even her expectations.

"It has been a great trip and led to a wonderful destination."

Let's hope the journey isn't over yet.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Scarboro Golf and Country Club

There's a chance Scarboro is Canada's most under-rated golf course. A Tillinghast design, the only one in Canada, Scaboro is a quirky, old world gem hidden in suburbia. But what a course it is.
It starts simply enough, with a straight-away par five, but once it hits the second hole, a 204-yard par three, Scarboro rarely lets up, demonstrating a creative, clever design, with severe greens and interesting land.
The best holes are the short fours. It could be argued that Scarboro's short fours measure up nicely aside from some of the great British links courses.
Specifically, the seventh hole, a 284-yards, would appear to be a pushover. But with its diminutive green angled strongly from back to front, the hole is one of the greats. You could pound a drive to the bottom of the hole and still not make par -- or you could lay back and hit an easy sandwedge to the middle of the green and make two putts.

Sure the bunkering isn't brilliant and too many have been grassed over. And what's with the 11th hole, a great 105-yard par three? What's the deal with lowering the front bunker lines? It may help the super, but it sure isn't helping the course.
Scarboro ranked 74th in Score's recent rankings , but it surely should be higher. With a few little touches, this could be one of Canada's best.

Right now, I'd say it is a 6.5/10, but could be near an 8 with some work.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The legend of Al Balding near the end?

I wrote this story last summer after spending an afternoon in the backyard of my friend, Al Balding.
Until Knudson, Balding was probably Canada's best golfer -- surely better than the vastly over-rated Moe Norman, who never won anything outside of Canada.
Meanwhile, Balding kept winning even after shoulder injuries pulled him off of regular duty on the PGA Tour.
He's a cranky cat, but even at 80, he has a wonderful golf swing.
I suspect he's down in Florida now, pondering a way to add extra yards to his drive.
So read on....

Robert Thompson On Golf

Father Time catches up to 'Silver Fox': Al Balding won
Canadian seniors' title at 76

We may have seen the last remarkable comeback of the Silver

At the age of 80, Al Balding is finally finding it a challenge to play the game that has defined him as an athlete and a person.

Though he still has all the features that combined to give him his nickname, the flowing swing that made him one of Canada's greatest golfers is letting him down.
Heart trouble forced him to have a pacemaker implanted over the winter, and a broken wrist limited his ability to work on his game.
Balding isn't the only veteran Canadian golfer facing health issues. Legendary golf savant Moe Norman felt so ill this winter that for the first time in almost five decades he didn't travel to Florida. Stan Leonard, nearing 90, is frail but still hanging around the range at Vancouver's Marine Drive Golf Club.

Like many of his contemporaries, Balding is struggling to find any solace in the game. Even Sunday matches at Credit Valley Golf and Country Club in Mississauga, Ont., are forcing him to acknowledge
that he can no longer force the ball to do what he desires.

"I like to keep score all the way through, and I'm not about to simply pick up my ball and walk to the next hole," Balding says, adding that chronic bronchitis is making it tough to play a full 18
holes. "Maybe what I'm going to have to do is simply play for fun."

Playing for fun is a foreign concept to a man who thrived under pressure. In 1955, he became the first Canadian to win a PGA Tour event in the United States, taking the Mayfair Open in Florida.

Since starting the game after serving in the Canadian Armed Forces in the Second World War, Balding has remained a competitive golfer for more than 50 years. He recorded two more PGA Tour victories, as
well as a couple of unofficial ones, and took the World Cup playing alongside George Knudson in 1968.

In his prime, his smooth, long swing was said to resemble that of Ben Hogan.

Even when his peers ceased to be competitive, Balding appeared undiminished by the ravages of age.

In 2000, at the age of 76, Balding managed to win the Canadian PGA Seniors' Championship. Two years later, during another senior event, Balding shot 66, 12 shots lower than his age, a feat unparalleled in
the history of tournament golf, according to historians at the PGA Tour.

But competitive golf may finally be in the past.

In an effort to provide full disclosure, I have considered Balding a friend for several years. Following Mike Weir's win in 1998 at the Greater Vancouver Open, I was commissioned to write a piece on past
Canadian PGA Tour winners, including Balding.

I'd been warned that Balding, a guarded man who is not easy to get to know, could be abrasive and difficult to interview. Instead, I found him in a reflective mood, willing to speak at length about his long career and of playing with the likes of Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead. Over the past few years, we have
continued to talk about his career, often while sitting on his patio overlooking Credit Valley's driving range.

But for the first time in decades, Balding isn't talking about playing any tournaments this summer. He is still chipping balls on the range, but full games are few and far between.

Have we seen the last of Al Balding? I've learned not to count him out. While he admits his once great golf game has, for the time being, deserted him, Balding is making plans to fix his ailing
health and get back in the swing once again.

"I think I need to do some more strengthening and more flexibility conditioning," he says. "That'll help me get back."

Here's looking forward to the next comeback of the Silver Fox.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Toronto Golf....

Interesting course that few actually get to play -- though it is located right across the street from Lakeview, one of the busiest golf courses in the Toronto area.
Toronto is a Harry Colt-design, though there has been a fair bit of work done over its history.
Still, after you get by the first hole, this is a solid, fascinating look back at how golf was played at the turn of the 20th century. Severe bunkering exists throughout -- and though it may seem short in places -- holes like the 9th are all-world.
Though some will pick Toronto apart looking for the bits that aren't true to Colt and will note the 18th, at 340-yards, is too short for a finisher, the course is a lot of fun to play. You're not going to lose too many balls here, unless they slip under the fall leaves and the greens, if at peak speed, can be a strong test in themselves.
The thing that gets me about Toronto is the atmosphere. The clubhouse, the club's original, is charming with its tudor finish and feel. It does give the golfer the sense that things haven't changed since the course first opened, which, it seems to me, is how it should be.

Rod Whitman -- Canada's best architect?

I wrote this story for the Post in June -- about Rod Whitman, shaper for Bill Coore, and his new golf course, Blackhawk. Wish more people saw it the first time round and I hope lots of people play Blackhawk, which is excellent.

Outsider on course for design stardom: Whitman's creativity overcomes lack of architecture degree

Hardly anyone in this country knows Rod Whitman, but they should. And if enough people see Blackhawk Golf Club, the course near Edmonton he created, then they will.

It is the second course in Canada for the native Canuck, coming more than 20 years after his first, Wolf Creek, opened in Alberta.

It is a bold vision that is reminiscent of the best golf courses created in Canada by the likes of Stanley Thompson. In fact, Blackhawk may have more in common with Thompson's work -- including the great designer's predilection for wide fairways, strategic bunkering and occasionally wild greens -- than any Canadian designer in the last 50 years. Fairway contours rise and fall with the natural setting of the land, while greens undulate and curve, giving the course teeth.

"Golf is an outdoor game," says the one-time psychology major while sitting in Blackhawk's opulent clubhouse. "It should be rugged. It wasn't intended to be like billiards."

While Whitman isn't well- known to most Canadian golfers, for the last two decades he has worked in the course construction business with some of the game's most famous architects, and built his own courses in Europe. For a while, he toiled under legendary architect Pete Dye. More recently he has worked for Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the team that has designed courses such as Sandhills in Nebraska.

Coore and Crenshaw are known for a naturalistic take on golf that includes rugged bunkers that resemble scars in the turf.

"I have fun working with them because you gain so much knowledge from them. They are simply two of the best minds in golf."

Unconventional to the core, Whitman doesn't work like many traditional course architects, and in the past it has cost him. He was pegged as the first architect to create what became Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, but a dispute over his lack of technical specifications meant the job was eventually handed to Doug Carrick.

"I don't consider myself a golf architect because I don't have a degree in that. I consider myself a course designer."

At first, Whitman's apparent lack of technical expertise bothered Al Prokop, one of the partners and general manager of Blackhawk. But his opinion changed as he watched Whitman sculpt the property.

"Most people want more paper and flash -- something you can roll out on a boardroom table to impress investors," says Prokop. "Rod doesn't give you that flash, but his work is amazing. Once a developer has been exposed to Rod and his work, I'd be surprised if they used anyone else. I wouldn't."

While conventional golf course architects appear comfortable in allowing shaping crews to create their designs, Whitman takes a hands-on approach, shaping greens by himself and overseeing all of the construction. That made Blackhawk quite affordable to build, Prokop says.

Whitman's time in obscurity may be near an end. He's working with former Canadian PGA Tour pro Richard Zokol on a couple of potential projects -- "For years I wouldn't have done something like that," he says -- and his work at Blackhawk is sure to garner a lot of attention.

Here's hoping Whitman breaks through to the mainstream. He's just the kind of outsider the golf course business needs to make it interesting again.

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