Friday, April 29, 2005

The Hype for Bandon Trails continues

Look up in the air! It is a bird. No, it is a plane. No, it is Bandon Trails, the most hyped golf course in the world.
This time T&L Golf has done a bang up job on Bandon Trails, the new Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course soon to open in Oregon, alongside the excellent Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes. The writer got access to Coore and Bandon Dunes' owner Mike Keiser, making for an interesting and insightful read. It won't be the last, since I'm sure the travel magazines are just lining up to run their features on the new course now.
Has there ever been a new course with more hype? That's the question.
You can read the thoughtful and well-written Bandon Trails account

New TPC gets mixed reviews

Pete Dye is without doubt one of the most important influences in golf over the last three decades. His work at places like Habour Town and TPC at Sawgrass revolutionized design after years of stagnation resulting from the dominance of Robert Trent Jones.
But one has to wonder if Pete's best years are now behind him. He's no spring chicken, has battled cancer recently, but he keeps working.
One of his latest course, the TPC of Louisiana (which he built with design giants Kelly Gibson and Steve Elkington), is the host of this week's New Orleans tour stop. Like the tournament itself, it seems
no one cares much for Dye's latest course.
John Daly, ever the astute observer, said there were "zits" all over the course. Of course, Daly was referring to the pot bunkers that Dye employed as a design feature. Daly then went on to say that he hated courses that had bunkers in the fairway and that he never plays well at those types of courses. Big John must have been imbibing before he made those remarks because he won the British Open at The Old Course, which, the last time I was there, had its share of bunkers in the fairway. Then again, he compared last week's course in Houston to the Old Course. Consistency, John, consitency. Glad to see John's game is coming back together, cause he's still got a two cent head.
The reality is that the TPC course model seems to have faltered. Several of the new courses have not performed or are utterly mediocre.
Still, after all the comments, my favourite came from Vijay Singh in an article yesterday: "They (TPC courses) all kind of look alike." Now that's not much of an endorsement of Dye's work or the TPC model in general, is it?
Well, even the
security guard at the TPC wasn't keen on Pete's latest design, turning the legendary golf architect away from the gates when he tried to come to the tournament.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Hall of Fame's inclusionary nature misses the mark

Golf's shrine fails to draw a crowd: Inclusive nature of Hall of Fame misses the point
National Post
Robert Thompson
On Golf

On the Florida coast sits a beautiful building full of golf memorabilia. It's a good thing there are lots of golf clubs, balls and ageing pictures taking up space because sports fans aren't
clamouring to get into golf's Hall of Fame.
One of the reasons is no one cares about the inappropriately named World Golf Hall of Fame is that it is simply too easy for players to gain entrance to its so-called hallowed halls. At no point was this fact more evident than in Houston last weekend, where recent Hall of
Famer Vijay Singh won another tournament no one really cares about.
Hardly anyone would argue that Singh, who has three major championships to his name, does not deserve his own bronze plaque.
But why now?
In 1998, when the PGA Tour decided it needed to play catch up and created the World Golf Hall of Fame, it set out some rules. Players had to have been active on the PGA Tour for 10 years, and have won 10 events or two majors. They can also gain entry by winning five
great Champions Tour events such as the Jeld-Wen Tradition.
Oh, and players had to be at least 40 years old. The age factor must have seemed strange, even at the time, considering the same year the Hall of Fame was established, 41-year-old Mark O'Meara won both the British and Masters, proving 40-somethings could win on the PGA Tour.
One factor was missing from the World Golf Hall of Fame's selection criteria -- the player did not have to be inactive. Therefore, Singh, arguably at the height of his golfing career, gains access to the Hall of Fame when he could still be a star for many years to come.
Golf really goofed on this one when it had a prototype to work from. All it had to do was look to baseball's hall in Cooperstown, and it would have had a worthy template to build upon.
Baseball's hall is legendary because it truly represents legends.
Ruth. Gehrig. Mantle. Cobb. Aaron. Not just stars, but superstars who changed the sport. Names everyone recognizes.
Baseball also realized players should have to wait five years from the point where their careers finish in order to be elected. And the voting is tough -- it is rare for more than an individual or two to gain access to Cooperstown in any single year.
These days the PGA Tour keeps making it easier for players to end up in its Hall of Fame. At first, players needed 75% of all votes cast to gain access, then that number was reduced to 65%. Then, suddenly, the Hall of Fame decided 50% was enough for a player if a
year was going to pass when no one was likely to be elected.
That's a strange inclusionary vision for a Hall of Fame. After all, these are supposed to be places of exclusion. The fewer that are elected, the more exclusive and important the hall becomes. Golf doesn't seem to get this and therefore Singh is in. His runner-up in voting was Larry Nelson and no one seems to think he is worthy.
Of course, the PGA Tour's categories seem genuinely erudite when compared to the LPGA, which awards its members with points for each victory. Win enough, even if that means victories at tournaments few care about, and you are in.
The PGA Tour should have had some success with its Hall of Fame.
The location is great, right off a major highway and with two expensive golf courses to attract people. Thought was put into the site's design and the accompanying resort is splendid.
But hardly anyone stops or wanders in.
It isn't hard to figure out why.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Shackelford takes a run at Golf Digest's Top 100

Geoff Shackelford, the noted golf architecture gadfly, has an interesting story in Golfobserver today about the issues facing Golf Digest's much discussed Top 100 in American course ratings.
Shackelford raises a number of legitimate issues that the magazine should address and architecture editor Ron Whitten seems to touch on in several sidebars that accompany the list.
Geoff's main problem seems to be with the panel itself. GD has 800 panelists that vote on the list, which appears every second year. Shackelford says about half of them appear to be interested in golf architecture, take some time to consider their rankings and make a fair vote on what they've seen. He adds that the other half seem more impressed by glitz and conditioning and don't really consider what makes a great golf course.
In an effort for full disclosure, I participate in the GD course ratings panel. That means I get access to some pretty outstanding golf courses and help rate the Best New in Canada course.
I like to think I'm part of the group Shackelford discusses in his story -- I read about architecture, have made an attempt to search out great golf courses and read about their designers. I'm not that swayed by nice conditions, and would rather play the Old Course than Trump National, or Augusta National, for that matter.
That said, I'm confused by both the Top 100 and the Best New in Canada award.
Let's start with the latter.
Best New Course last year was awarded to The Rock, a marginal Nick Faldo course in Muskoka, Ontario, that hardly anyone I know actually enjoyed. It is penal, and difficult, unfair in spots, but it is pretty. That is pretty much the factor that attracts raters, according to Shackelford, which can be the only thing that explains how The Rock could win such an award. The problem is that in awarding Best New to The Rock, GD's credibility took a large hit.
If you read Shackelford's comments on the Top 100, you'll find he thinks most GD raters are wowed by brilliant conditions and exclusive private golf. They don't care much about good golf, he argues, and certainly are not interested in the factors that make golf courses timeless.
With that in mind, GD's Whitten has a
stunning article that takes a full-on run at Tom Fazio and the multi-million dollar golf course. It is a damning criticism of the state of modern golf, and strangely, also appears to be offering an explanation for why 14 Fazio courses now appear on the list. Seems odd that Whitten would have to come up with excuses as to why Fazio courses are so common on the list and then write an accompanying story saying Fazio is bad for golf.
Is Tom Fazio bad for golf? Well, if you are in the camp that feels golf should be open to the masses and the exclusive and expensive nature of the current game is leading to diminishing participation numbers, then yes, Tom Fazio is bad for golf.
Of all the Fazio layouts I've played, only Pine Barrens at World Woods in Florida stood out as a great track. The rest are pretty, and pretty expensive. At one point, you could play the Barrens and its sister track, Rolling Oaks, for around US$100. That was affordable golf. That's the type of golf that brings new people to the game.
But that's not the type of golf course Tom Fazio builds anymore.
Is he bad for the game? In the same way that the conditions at Augusta have led to increased maintenance costs and raised green fees, I think the answer regarding Fazio is clear.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Review: Crail Golf Club

Review: Crail, Balcomie Links, Crail, Scotland:
One of the world's oldest golf courses, Crail is sublime, strange, wonderful, whimsical and weird -- all at the same time. It is also one of the truly great golf experiences to be experienced anywhere.

#1 -- Boathouse, 328 yards

The opening hole is steeply downhill, a strange opener and a precursor of things to come. An old boathouse sits perched just off the green, the object from which the hole gets its name. An intriguing hole that can be played in a variety of ways, though it is probably best just to let some air out on the big stick and see how close you can get. An unusual starter.

#4 -- Fluke Dub, 346 yards

From the second hole through the fifth hole is where Crail garners its reputation as the Pebble Beach of Scotland. Drama abounds, from the par five second, which plays along the raging sea, through to the third, a short par three. Then you hit two of the more remarkable holes you'll find anywhere. Slight breakers to the right, the fourth and fifth holes play directly alongside the water. Both offer the opportunity to play it safe or challenge the coastline.

#5 -- Hell's Hole, 459 yards

Certainly the more dramatic of the two seaside par fours, Hell's Hole is a brute, forcing players to bite as much as they can. The only downside to the hole is that it is similar to its predecessor, though with more than 100 yards added. The green does not show a great degree of character, but given the length of the hole, that probably is for the best.

#7 -- North Carr, 349 yards

Like North Berwick, Crail has its walls. North Carr is one of the more unusual holes at Crail, playing a slight dogleg left and then downhill to a green perched between two other greens.

#11 -- Lang Whang, 496-yards

Once Crail's Balcomie course heads away from the sea, it drifts over slightly rolling land. Lang Whang plays on just such land. Similar to the fourth and fifth holes, Lang Whang is followed by another par five, this time which plays slightly downhill to an unusual green.

#13 -- The Craighead, 219 yards

With the exception of the ocean holes, these two back-to-back par threes make Crail intriguing. The first, entitled Craighead (which Gil Hanse would use as the name for the second course on the property created a few years ago), is played to a blind green near the pro shop. Given its location, players are often forced to hit three woods. The green is relatively flat, allowing a long iron or wood approach.

#14 -- The Cave, 150 yards

Supposedly the muse for Golf in the Kingdom, The Cave is a devilish little hole that plays significantly downhill. This is reputedly the last of the original Old Tom Morris holes.

#15 -- Rob tees off at Mill Dam, 270 yards

When golf was standardized at 18 holes, Old Tom was called back to add an additional four holes. The only problem? The land wasn't exactly attached to the existing property. So Old Tom took a left turn at the 14th hole, walked along the coast and emerged in another area with different characteristics from the original holes. Nothing among the final four is exceptional, though the 463-yard Road Hole (where's the road? Behind the green?) offers a challenge.

Overall: Crail is a great deal cheaper than its nearby rivals and even though it is not even 6,000 yards long, it is hard to imagine a course that is more fun. The greens lack the charm of The Old Course or the grandeur of Kingsbarns, but you aren't paying a fortune to play at Crail. The course's oddities might weigh on some, but not on me.

Globe and Mail's Best Public Courses Misses the Mark

Yeah, I know -- I work for the National Post, the Globe and Mail's rival in the so-called newspaper wars.
But I'm as interested as the next guy in any list that ranks golf courses. Now, I don't fully buy into most of them, including the ones I participate in. Score Golf's list is full of significant misses, for example, and the recent
Golf Digest list has its share of critics.
But this Globe and Mail ratings list, called globegolf, takes course ratings lists to a different level altogether. Where to start? Well renowned golf writer Lorne Rubenstein apparently had a hand in this list, and writes a fine introduction. Lorne actually likes decent courses -- including Highlands Links and Jasper Park.
That's not where the problems are.
The first issue is diclosure -- there were 135 panelists involved in rating Canada's top public courses. Of course no where in the magazine are the people involved listed. I have no idea why -- even Score lists its panelists.
Secondarily, the ratings criteria is ridiculous. Too many points to rate, and rating factors like the clubhouse that have no real impact on the golf. Secondarily, how does one rank walkability when many of the courses in the list don't allow walking. I wonder how many of their raters actually walked?
I particularly enjoyed the "atmosphere/tradition" section, especially since a vast majority of the courses were created in the last decade and therefore don't have any tradition to speak of. And what does "experience" mean? It is defined in the magazine as "Is the course enjoyable to play? Do you get a good feeling when you step on a tee box or do you feel confused or uncomfortable?"
Isn't that the point of some great golf holes -- to keep one unbalanaced?
There are simply too many points of criteria to be useful.
Anyway, the magazine's top five are:

Jasper Park Lodge
Bigwin Island
Highlands Links
Banff Springs
Rocky Crest
Links at Crowbush Cove
Wildfire Golf Club
Fox Harb'r
Le Maitre

A few comments on the courses: While a list is a list, the comments on some of the courses are silly. After all, I don't know a soul who thinks Graham Cooke "took full advantage" of Fox Harb'r's seaside setting. Ranking Wooden Sticks ahead of Eagles Nest, Angus Glen, Osprey Valley or any of a dozen other Canadian courses is just laughable. Oh, and what is Rod Whitman's Blackhawk doing at 88? It is surely Top 20 in Canada if you include all the private tracks as well. 88? That's just too weird for words. Oh, and by the way, apparently Jasper pro, and all around nice guy, Al Carter, had a hand in picking the Alberta panelists for the Globe. Interesting to see how well his course did -- though it isn't something I disagree with.
Some highlights include having Timber Ridge in the list (33 -- I hear the course lobbied panelists), all three Osprey Valley courses, the wonderful Northumberland Links and Forest City National.
All of this just goes to show that every course ratings list is subjective and flawed. That said, I contend the list I recently participated in with architect Ian Andrew, designer Jeff Mingay and businessman Ben Cowan-Dewar is the most comprehensive and representative in Canada. You can find
our list on
One thing the Globe rating list does show is just how marginal much of Canada's public golf is and how few courses will span the test of time. The list also shows that most raters (even the "average" guys referenced in the introduction) are blown away by conditioning and glitz, but have little sense of what makes a golf course great. After all, Furry Creek is on the list and it may be the worst golf course in the world. I wouldn't go to play it again if you paid me.
The reality is that after the Top 20, Canada doesn't really have much "great" golf. Good golf, maybe. Fun golf, surely. But great? Not even in a stretch.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The hype for Bandon Trails builds....first round of the Pine Valley I will go!

  • The buzz around Bandon Trails , the third course at the amazing Bandon Dunes resort near Bandon, Oregon, is being heard louder and louder every day.
    While the course, a design by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, has yet to officially open, they've had tons of reporters through already, including the likes of Golfweek's cantankerous Brad Klein. He apparently approves. The photos make the place look like a nice compliment to the two existing courses -- Tom Doak's Pacific Dunes and David McLay-Kidd's Bandon Dunes. The main difference is that the Coore/Crenshaw course doesn't touch the coastline the way the other two do. For the third course, an inland one at that, it is amazing to hear the hype. Maybe Bandon Trails will be that good. Time will tell -- it officially opens at the start of June.
  • Off to Pine Valley! A very, very kind golf loving associate has offered me a return visit to see Philly's wonderful Merion and then head the next day to see Pine Valley for a second time. I went to both places a couple of years ago with my good friends from Carrick Associates , Ian Andrew and Cam Tyers. The return visit is in June and the difference is that, instead of playing on maintenance Monday and having to avoid the clubhouse, I assume I'll get a chance to actually see the whole property. Should be amazing!
  • Played my first full round of golf on Friday at Eagles Nest Golf Club. In fact, I played 36 holes -- 18 of which were pretty good and 18 of which showed that I can't putt or chip at the moment. On the positive side, I made a bunch of birdies, including back to back on the final nine. I also had a chance to play Callaway's newly revamped Hex ball, which I really enjoyed, and nine holes with Nike's much-hyped Platinum Ball. I can't say I was really that impressed with the Platinum ball, though it surely travels a long way off the clubface. I hit one shot almost 340 yards with it, slinging a high draw around the corner of the 14th hole. However, I didn't think the ball had great feel around the greens. I also played a couple of holes with Maxfli's new BlackMax ball, but didn't really get a sense of it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Hootie ready to go the distance on the long ball

From today's National Post, here's my golf column:

Hootie ready to go the distance on the long ball: Augusta possesses the power to rein in ball technology
National Post
Robert Thompson
On Golf
It is a rare occasion when Hootie Johnson, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, is considered proactive.
But the same fellow who squared off against Martha Burk over admitting women to the fabled Georgia club now appears to be leading the charge to rein in the distance golf balls travel.
That's right, Johnson, the defender of old world ways and tradition, has said he is worried the golf ball is travelling too far.
"It is a problem for the game, not just for Augusta National and The Masters," Johnson said at his annual press conference earlier this month. "We are hopeful and encouraged that progress is being
Perhaps not wanting to appear like the eunuch that it is, the United States Golf Association "leaked" a letter to Golf Digest that was sent to equipment manufacturers about the same time as Johnson's
remarks. Among the issues addressed in the letter was spin rate, a big factor in determining how high, how far and how straight a golf ball travels.
Why is the distance the golf ball travels such an issue? Largely because it is limiting the number of golf courses that PGA Tour professionals can play at. No longer is a 7,000-yard course
generally acceptable. Given the average driving distance of the pros, 7,500 yards is more often the norm.
That is a factor even for amateur players, because many golf course owners in Canada and the U.S. feel their courses must conform to the PGA Tour, even if they are never going to hold a professional event.
Longer courses take more land to build and are therefore more expensive to create. Those costs are reflective in green fees, making the game less affordable for all of us.
Augusta is particularly sensitive to the issue because there is no way to easily expand its course. Currently, Augusta seems long enough to contain the best golfers in the world, but Johnson surely
sees a time when Titleist unleashes a new golf ball that increases the distance of tee shots by 20 yards, all but rendering Augusta obsolete. Remember Tiger's opening tee shot on Sunday of this year's
Masters -- a drive that travelled 365 yards? He could practically kick the ball onto the green if he added 20 yards to his drive.
It isn't only Augusta that is at question here. The Old Course at St. Andrews has seen several new tees added in preparation for this year's British Open.
If Scotland is too far away for you, take a look at your home course, especially if it was built in the last 10 years. Most of these courses will have back tees over 7,000 yards. You are paying
for that, even if you never go within 100 feet of those tee blocks.
Despite notifying golf equipment makers that it is studying the ball, the USGA seems to be under the misguided notion that these companies will simply fall into line on the issue.
There is no way that will happen. After all, companies like Titleist and TaylorMade need to convince golfers that their new gear is better than their old equipment. One easy way to do that, whether
it be clubs or balls, is to demonstrate that golfers can hit it farther with the new equipment than they do with what they are using currently. Distance has been the mantra of the equipment industry --
just take a look at the Cobra golf commercials currently being flogged by David Feherty.
Instead, TaylorMade, Titleist, Callaway and the like will hire lawyers, ensuring a protracted legal battle before the issue is resolved.
Which is why Augusta is so important to this fight.
Johnson says the club is not "too far along" in making plans for implementing a tournament ball, but if the USGA doesn't deal with the issue soon, expect the old guys in the green jackets at Augusta
to move forward. The Masters isn't a PGA Tour event or a USGA championship, and can determine the rules that those playing at the Masters will abide by. A Masters ball could easily become part of
those rules if the club's powerbrokers feel distance must be contained. And players will come to the tournament regardless of what ball they are using.
After all, who turns down a Masters invite?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Golf Hall of Fame Doesn't Make Sense

The Houston Chronicle has a story today about the, yawn, Shell Houston Open, one of those tournaments no one really cares about because it falls after The Masters, and too far before the US Open.
Anyway, the story in The Chronicle discusses the fact that Vijay Singh is a member of the Golf Hall of Fame as of this year, which just goes to show how ridiculous the Golf Hall of Fame is.
Now I actually kind of like the World Golf Village and Hall of Fame and have always enjoyed the time I've played at their two courses (though The King and the Bear is grossly overrated and overpriced).
However, Cooperston it ain't, and no one really cares much about the Hall of Fame, for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, the selection process doesn't match up to baseball. What makes Cooperston so impressive and its Hall of Fame so exclusive, is the way members are chosen. Once a year baseball writers vote on who should be allowed to enter Cooperston. All of the greats are there -- Mantle, Dimaggio, Mays, Ruth, Cobb -- and new members are allowed to be added five years after they officially retire from the sport.

It is that last point -- the time frame in which members can be elected -- that makes baseball's hall so intriguing and makes golf's such a bore.

Yes, Vijay Singh is a great golfer. Yes, he probably deserves entrance to the Hall of Fame. But why not wait until he's been at least a few years removed from his playing days on the PGA Tour. It seems wrong that a Hall of Famer is still a very active, and very successful.

Why not wait until a player is a few years past playing more than say ten tournaments on the PGA Tour before allowing them to be entered into the Hall of Fame? And why did the Hall pick the age of 40 for entrance? These days, there are a great number of players who are very active and successful after the age of 40 (Jay Haas anyone....).

Here are the official criteria for entrance into the Hall:

* At least 40 years old
* Member 10 years
* 10 TOUR wins, or 2 wins among Masters, U.S. Open,
British Open, PGA Championship, and THE PLAYERS Championship
* Champions Tour member five years
* 20 wins between TOUR, Champions Tour, or
* 5 wins among above listed, plus U.S. Senior Open, JELD-WEN Tradition, PGA Seniors' Championship, FORD SENIOR PLAYERS Championship
* Require votes on 65 percent of ballots returned

Why not make the age requirement 50, or five years since the player last teed it up at 10 tour events within a 12 month time frame? And should wins on the Champions Tour even count? Since no one really gets excited about the Champions Tour, admitting members who have won the Jeld-Wen Tradition (a misnomer if I've ever seen one) seems to limit the credibility of the PGA Tour members that are admitted.

Anyway, apparently Vijay Singh is a Hall of Famer and is playing in Houston. Now see if anyone cares.

* Darren Clarke says he can't quite figure out what happened at Harbour Town after his great second round that put him well in the lead. I can -- he hit tons of bad shots, couldn't recover from those shots and then hit his final approach into the crap left of the green when he shouldn't have been within 10 yards of that area. I thought Clarke would be better than this -- but he's quickly looking like one of the great failures in pro golf, a legitimate successor to Colin Montgomerie as the player who got the least out of his talent.

That said, I'm glad to hear Clarke's wife, who is struggling with cancer, is doing much better.

Check out the story on his official Website

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Golf Digest Best New Course in Canada

Interesting list of nominated courses in Golf Digest's Best New Course in Canada group, which was emailed to me recently. I think it is a great privilege to be on the panel and take it very seriously -- I typically see all of the Ontario courses and last year saw three outside the province as well.
Anyway, there are several top notch courses on the list this year, including Eagles Nest (Doug Carrick's best work to date), Glencairn (Tom McBroom), Dakota Dunes (Graham Cooke), Georgian Bay Club (Hurdzan) and Heron Landing (Kevin Holmes).
I find it hard to imagine that anything will better Eagles Nest (see photo of its 12th hole below), a
Doug Carrick golf course created with Cam Tyers (an associate in the office). It is simply the best new course I've seen in Canada since Devil's Paintbrush or the National, and that's a span covering 30 years.


Only Blackhawk, a Rod Whitman course that opened in Edmonton last year is in the same league. McBroom's Firerock in London is interesting, with cool bunkering, and his work at Glencairn nears his best. Too bad about all the environmental hazards on the back nine that break up the Muirfield theme.

There are several other courses on the list this year that I'm not familiar with (Settler's Ghost, The Links at Piper Glen, Heritage Hills) that I hope to see over the coming months.

The end result is that a Golf Digest award for Best New Course is a boon for a club's marketing. It'll be interesting to see how this year shapes up, especially after the big questions about last year's winner,
The Rock.

Jack Nicklaus' swansong in Canada

Skins Games are not interesting. If you are a spectator, it is impossible to see the action, packed like sardines in with 10,000 of your closest friends on a single hole.
In the Canadian Skins game last year, an event put on by IMG Sports, there wasn't even a Canadian in the field. Turns out Telus wasn't keen on having Mike Weir and his Bell Canada (a Telus rival) hat in the field and decided not to ask him in 2003. Then Weir won the Masters and IMG and Telus looked really, really bad. Especially since Weir is an IMG client.
In 2003, IMG invited former tour winner and Cambridge, Ont. golf pro Ian Leggat. Only problem? Leggat was hurt and no one really cares about him anyway.
So, with that in mind, there was no Canadian in the field in 2004.
That's changed this year, with Stephen Ames teeing it up.
But the outspoken Ames, who is always good with a quote and a fine player (though he hails from Trinidad and lives in Calgary), won't be hogging the limelight this year when the made-for-TV event plays on TSN in Canada.
That's because the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, is making what will likely be his Canadian swansong at Nicklaus North, the course he created in Whistler, BC. The following week Jack will head to St. Andrews to make his final appearance there.
The field will be rounded out by the dull Vijay Singh and John Daly, who doesn't look like he can play anymore.

It is a bit of a letdown that Nicklaus is going to make his final appearance at a TV event in Whistler, on the marginal course he designed there. If the planets had been aligned, Nicklaus would have appeared at last year's 100th Anniversary Canadian Open at Oakville. The crowds would have been there, it was played on a course he designed and he might have even made the cut.

Instead he turns up in Whistler for an IMG event. Ugh.

  • In other news, there are a series of stories in various media outlets today about Pinehurst No. 2, the fabled course in North Carolina which will hold the U.S. Open in a months time. The Detroit News has a story about players being concerned the USGA will bugger up Pinehurst like they did Shinnecock last year. USGA executive director David Fay admitted Shinnecock got away from the USGA last year, but said Pinehurst, which will have 3 inch rough, won't have the same problems. The USGA has a terrible history of getting the setup on the courses they use right for the conditions. There were issues with the greens at Olympic, the rough at Bethpage and the greens (again, sense a theme?) at Shinnecock last year.
    I bet they screw up Pinehurst this year as well.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

New golf blog: Reluctant Jam Boy

An interesting new blog has sprung up, this one called the Reluctant Jam Boy.
The site is written by a caddie at an unnamed Virginia course and he gives the inside dirt on the gents he loops for. Interesting to hear the recent account of the "dick doctor" and his buddy who blows through ProV1s like some people go through tees.
So far this is a fun site -- let's hope this candid account continues with some regularity.

Golf tips for the snowbound

This story appeared in the National Post's new FP Weekend section on Saturday -- a section that I'd encourage more people to read. It is a great example of the Post's strengths -- which is offering a different, fun read to those who find the Globe and Mail a little too dull. Anyway, here it is, with two sidebars.

The chip shots are down: Worried about whiffing on the course? These golf pros specialize in discreet instruction that can get
your overwintered game in shape, while no one else is looking
By Robert Thompson
Financial Post

On a bright day in early April, a young woman in formal business dress drops into a downtown Toronto office building looking for a way to fix a nagging problem.

It turns out the woman, a business professional from Bay Street, needs to buy a golf game: Golf 101 wasn't a course they taught her in business school. She needs to find a way to keep from embarrassing herself when she takes clients out on the fairway and has come to the King's Golf Academy, located in the basement of a spacious building, to seek a cure to her ails.

The scenario is familiar to Chima McLean, a former Canadian tour pro who runs the King's Executive Golf Academy, a golf instruction school that caters to Toronto business professionals. In his nearly 20 years teaching golf, Mr. McLean has helped hundreds of Bay Street execs acquire a serviceable golf game, or make repairs to an existing one.

"We have people who come in here where every part of their life is uber-critical," he says, noting two-thirds of his students are senior Bay Street managers or lawyers. "And many of them look at learning golf the same way."

But becoming a golfer who is comfortable playing with clients or in the company tournament doesn't come without a significant time or financial commitment.

Though pricing varies from instructor to instructor, depending on their location in Canada and experience, expect to pay between $400 and $1,000 for a series of lessons to get your swing in shape.

Mr. McLean, who charges $475 for five lessons and unlimited practice at his facility, warns there are very few quick fixes in golf. He says most individuals who seek instruction should plan on taking those lessons over a number of weeks. That way, you'll have time to work on what you've learned in your lessons.

Tom Jackson, who teaches out of the OslerBrook Golf & Country Club in Collingwood, Ont., and was recently named as one of the best golf instructors by the National Post, says anyone taking up the game needs to spend a lot of time practising in order to see improvement.

Part of that practice may not involve golf at all. Mr. Jackson says one way golfers can expect to improve their game when they return to their country club this spring is by improving physically.

"You don't need to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, but being in reasonable shape is going to help," he notes. "Once you have your body fixed, we can work on getting your swing fixed and your head fixed."

Becoming more consistent is the aim of most golfers, Mr. Jackson says. But he's quick to point out that consistent doesn't mean morphing into Tiger Woods or being able to break 70 on a regular basis.

"When people say they want to be more consistent, it means they want better mechanics and better practice habits," he said. "That's a combination that leads to consistency.

Mr. McLean says consistency to one golfer might mean posting scores in the 80s, while to another, it could mean shooting 120, "but without wiffing or duffing the ball at all."


Eager to improve your golf game? Heed this advice:

- Before handing over any cash for lessons, ask about the pros'
experience, says *Chima* *McLean* of the King's Executive Golf Academy
in Toronto. Get a handle on who they studied under, where they have
worked and how long they have taught.

- Similarly, you should inquire about methods and style of
teaching. Does the instructor use visual aids and modern video
equipment? Novice and experienced players alike typically respond
well to visual aids.

- Watch golf on television, but be critical about what you see. Mr.
McLean says amateurs can learn a great deal from watching PGA Tour
pros, but some camera angles can mislead novice golfers. Also, tune
out the announcers: "Turn the volume off and watch carefully," he

- Don't always buy the most expensive equipment. Pricey gear won't
necessarily elevate your game. According to Mr. McLean, "Technology
is great, but a lot of it is created for the elite player."


Strong loonie a boon to golfers: New clubs priced lower
Section: Financial Post: Weekend
Byline: Robert Thompson

Every year, golfers try to improve their games by buying whatever is new and hot on the market, says top Canadian golf instructor Tom Jackson.

Mr. Jackson points to so-called "game improvement" clubs that help occasional players get the ball in the air more quickly and hit it straighter.

"New equipment isn't a total fix," he says. "But you should always try to use the club that has the most advantages for you."

This year, hot clubs include TaylorMade's R7 and R5 drivers (estimated retail price of $499). Aimed at helping fix the perpetual problem of slicing the ball, the clubs allow players to make alterations to change the direction of their shots.

Golfers are also benefiting from the rise in the Canadian dollar that has led to a decrease in the price of some equipment. New drivers, which often cost $599 in the past, are regularly priced less than $500.

For example, Callaway's Big Bertha 454 Titanium Driver, which has garnered a lot of attention since David Mobley used it to win the World Long Drive Championship, is currently selling at an estimated retail price of $379.

"This is a club which is more forgiving and stable for the average player," says Jim Bradley, director of marketing for Callaway Golf Canada.

While you can expect to get at least two years out of a new driver before having to switch to a newer club, he says, "People fall in love with a club and some will rarely change."

And if you are just going to hit balls into the fescue or a pond, you don't have to play Titleist ProV1 balls, which retail at more than $60 per dozen.

"The average player won't have a swing speed-high enough to get what the pros get out of a ProV1," golf instructor Chima McLean points out. "The average player would be better off spending a little less and buying something like the Titleist NXT ball, which offers some variations."

Callaway Big Bertha 454 review: Revisited

Review: Callaway Big Bertha 454
Price: US$300 or $379 CDN

A few months ago, the fine folks at Callaway Canada decided they wanted me to tour through their facilities and get a chance to go through their fitting process. Essentially it was an attempt to show that, following the acquisition of Hogan, Callaway is no longer just a mass market company, but a clubmaker offering goods for better players as well.
Interesting then, that Callaway spent most of my tour pushing Callaway, and not Hogan.


The aim, apparently, was to get the Callaway Big Bertha 454 in my hands and prove to me that it wasn't just another Callaway driver. As far as I can tell through my first outing with it, they were right. And my daughter, Sydney, aged eight months, thinks it is pretty hot as well.
In Canada, Callaway has spent a lot of time pushing its ability to offer customized fitting through a simulator that measures ball rotation, launch angle, distance and accuracy. It was an interesting process -- I found that given the distance I hit the ball with a driver (I carry the ball in the air 265-270), I would benefit from a driver with lower loft.
So after being fitted, I waited for the driver to arrive, and finally, after a couple of weeks of waiting, I took the driver to an indoor range. I came away impressed. Unlike many of the earlier Callaway models I hit, the 454 has a flat face, not toed-in like many of the company's earlier drivers, which seem to be trying to keep their slice happy clientele from hitting it into the trees on the right side. That meant I could work the ball and still hit the fade that I've spent the last few years perfecting.
The club also felt powerful, with a hot face that offered strong trajectory.
That said, I can't really comment on distance yet, having only hit the 454 in an indoor range (too much snow in Canada). Early reviews seem to suggest the club is giving up some distance for accuracy, but I'm wondering whether the combination Graffaloy Blue shaft and 9 degrees of loft on my 454 will compensate for it.

Problems: I am always surprised when a company comes out with a $300 or up driver and puts the cheapest grip available on it. If one can customize the shaft, why not the grip? There's nothing more annoying than getting your new driver and having to immediately take it to the shop to get the grip changed. I'm still not thrilled with the sound the 454 makes, but it isn't as bad as some of the earlier Callaways or as distinctive as Ping.

Overall: Callaway says the Big Bertha 454 "delivers the kind of scorching power usually measured in horses." Well, last week I had my first chance to take it out and work it on an outdoor range. The results were impressive.
For one thing, the 454 doesn't have the closed face that is so common to Callaway clubs. Rather, the clubface is square, making it easy to work the ball. As a fader of the ball, I've always found Callaway clubs make it too easy to draw the ball, which turns into a snap hook for many good players.
In the case of the 454, given the square clubface, I was able to get the high fade I desire on a regular basis. It is a very consistent club and even a mishit went over 270 yards.
Interestingly, this does appear to be a club that allows you to hit it a long way. In nine holes, I managed three 300+ drives, including two tee shots on the ninth hole at Angus Glen's North course that went just over 300 yards with a high fade and landed within feet of each other. That led to the first birdies of the year!
My basement continues to be littered with drivers -- including my two Swing Sync models (I still dearly love my old prototype), a Titleist 975J, a couple of Pings and an R7 which is expected soon.
But I must admit that I've been very pleasantly surprised at the 454 -- and happy enough to keep it in my bag.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Grand Slam is out of Tiger's Reach

Yesterday's blog entry became a column in today's National Post.

Despite the hype, the slam remains unattainable
National Post
Robert Thompson
On Golf

It never fails -- every year, when a great golfer wins the green jacket at Augusta, some sportswriter starts spouting off about how the Grand Slam is attainable.

It took a day or two, but it is happening again. This time, everyone is talking about Tiger Woods' chances of winning all four majors.

Many of these stories were authored by the same scribes who wrote Woods off after his opening round of 74 at Augusta. Woods couldn't hit his driver straight, they wrote, and his putting looked questionable, especially after he whacked one into Rae's Creek on the 13th.

Television commentators loved that one -- showing Woods' disgust as the ball rolled into water and bringing up questions about his decision to rework his swing under Hank Haney.

Two great rounds and one average 18 holes later and the same pundits are now claiming Woods is prepared to make a run that would better his great years of 2000 and 2001. Apparently, "The Slam" is ripe for the taking.

All of this seems to have more significance now, coming 75 years after Bobby Jones clinched the "impregnable quadrilateral" at Merion in Philadelphia.

But the reality is the Grand Slam is all but unattainable. The pressure on Woods, should he manage to even win the U.S. Open, will be unimaginable.

Jones, playing without the glare of the television, was so stressed that he dropped 10 pounds a tournament during his great run in 1930 and finished playing competitive golf immediately afterwards.

Even Jack Nicklaus never made a real run at the slam, though he did manage to win the first two majors of the year in 1972.

That's a demonstration of just how hard it is to win golf's four major titles in a single year. Nicklaus, the greatest player of all-time, couldn't pull it off and he wasn't facing the competition that Woods is up against.

Normally reticent Art Spander, who writes for golf Internet site, wrote yesterday that the courses for the rest of this year's remaining three majors set up quite nicely for Woods.

Maybe he's right. After all, long bombers will benefit at Pinehurst No.2 when it holds the U.S. Open in June because they will be able to approach the devilish greens with much shorter clubs.

The same can be said of the British Open at The Old Course at St. Andrews, which Woods polished off in 2000 by hitting over all of the fabled nefarious bunkers. Baltrusol, which hosts the PGA Championship in August, was once taken apart by a big hitter -- but that was the Golden Bear in 1980. It is hard to say exactly how it will be set up 25 years later.

But Woods' main competition these days is tougher than what Nicklaus or Jones faced in their day. Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are also all capable of hitting the ball a mile, while offering deft putting strokes. Any of the three could handily win a major this year and deprive Tiger of a shot at the slam.

And the PGA Tour is much deeper than even the Fab Four. Witness Chris DiMarco's run at Augusta over the weekend and at the PGA Championship last year. There are also more than a dozen other players capable of winning a major -- Stuart Appleby and Adam Scott come to mind -- demonstrating the depth of the tour.

Of course, any real chance Tiger has at winning all four majors comes down to the state of his game. Haney's work on Woods' swing plane hasn't kept Tiger from missing the fairway more than 40% of the time. He got away with it at Augusta because the so-called "second cut" was short and didn't restrict his ability to hit wedges into greens.

Don't expect the same conditions at the U.S. Open, where the rough will be a tangled mess. To win the slam, Tiger will have to get his driver in shape and find the short grass more often.

On the other hand if his game is shaky in any area, the impregnable quadrilateral will continue to remain just about impossible.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

National Post golf guide

The National Post's golf guide, which is quite well done, appeared last week. Apparently you can access it here.
And if you are interested in reading my take on the problems facing Highlands Links, one of the best courses in the world, you can go here.

Grand Slam for Tiger Woods? I doubt it.

OK -- Tiger Woods, arguably the best golfer of all-time (though I think Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus might have something to say about that), won The Masters, his first major victory in recent memory.
So what's a sports writer to do? Well, apparently write that Tiger Woods is now enroute to winning the Grand Slam, something that has never been accomplished in modern golf.
Sports writers love hyperbole. They are always saying so-and-so is the new Mickey Mantle, the new Michael Jordan or the new Tiger Woods. They also love to take a singular event, like Woods' win at the Masters, and speculate that he's now on the way to winning the Grand Slam.
I typically like's Art Spander, but he's way off base in his latest column when he says that Tiger should have an easier time winning the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 than he did at Augusta. I don't see it -- and I think Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els will have something to say about it -- and the British Open at St. Andrews, with its lack of rough and random bunkering, will be a long hitter's delight, bringing a lot of players into the mix. Who knows about the PGA Championship at Baltrusol -- anyone can win a PGA and many have.

To Spander's credit, he isn't the only one pumping up Tiger following the Masters. There's a story in the Atlanta Constitution Journal that essentially says the same thing.
You'd think experienced golf writers would think this one through. Sure, Woods' shot at a Grand Slam is great copy. But don't they always talk this way after a great player wins The Masters? If Nicklaus couldn't do it, I doubt Tiger Woods, who is still struggling to hit his driver straight, is up to the task. Besides, the pressure would be intense and the competition is better than ever.
If there is one truth in golf, it is that even the best only win 9 or 10 times a year. Most of those are events like this week's MCI Heritage Classic at Harbour Town -- fairly anonymous, with marginal fields. No one -- and that includes Tiger Woods at his best -- wins four majors in a single year. Like a ball player who is a star by hitting three out of every ten, golfers become huge by winning a major tournament every other year.

* There's a couple of other good stories out there today, including the USA Today that discusses how the TV networks are trying to discount the rise in ratings that came with Tiger's win at Augusta.
In another interesting piece, this time in the London Times, Johan Lindeberg, who dresses Jesper Parnevik, talks about how he's the only golf clothing designer that matters. Probably is -- but you have to be impossibly thin to wear anything he designs.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Nike No.1 at the Masters?

Carlsbad Confidential, a site run by a marketing manager at TaylorMade, has posted a fascinating story about how Nike ended up with the most sets of irons in play at the Masters on the weekend.
You can go here to read the story, but the essence is that Nike paid a bunch of the old guys (i.e. Billy Casper, Tommy Aaron) $20,000 to play their irons during the tournament. Iron use by these former champions artificially raised the total use of Nike irons for the week, giving the company the most sets in play at the tournament. Nike, which is a marketing machine, will use that info, I'm sure, in some upcoming promotional pitch.
So now I know what clubs Casper used to shoot 16 on a single hole -- I wonder how that figures into the marketing pitch?

Tiger Woods' chip on 16th reaches mythic proportions; TV ratings soar

  • So it took a day, but everyone is now talking about Woods' amazing chip on 16 and where it fits into his career and the history of the game. I addressed this yesterday, so I won't go into it again. That said, USA Today had a story on the issue in today's paper.
    Woods seems to think the chip ranks right up there with his fabled six-iron at the Canadian Open in 2000.
    "Under the circumstances, it is one of the best I've ever hit," Woods said in his press conference following his win on Sunday.
  • Nike isn't wasting time planning a commercial based around Woods' chip on Sunday. Hard to imagine a marketing oriented company like Nike would miss this kind of opportunity. After all, the damned Nike logo was front and centre as the ball rolled into the cup. Nike hasn't had great luck selling golf balls, so this is a great chance to convince those ProV1 users that Phil Knight's company can compete.
  • The power of Tiger Woods cannot be underestimated. Television ratings are in and Woods' win over Chris DiMarco saw ratings shoot up 41% over a year earlier, when Phil Mickelson won an equally thrilling (I'd actually say more thrilling) victory over Ernie Els at last year's Masters.
    Though Mickelson has a huge fan base, he can't touch Tiger's ability to get the average sports fan to tune in. People who aren't even interested in golf will turn on the television if they here he is near the lead.
    The TV ratings numbers were the highest since Tiger won in 2001.

Monday, April 11, 2005

AOL picks Going for the Green

Going for the Green saw more users check out the site today than any day previous.
Some of this success can be accounted for in the fact that AOL picked the site as one of the blogs that best posted on The Masters. I must admit, that's pretty cool.

Anyway, AOL had some other good suggestions as well -- check them here.

Tiger Woods' chip at the 16th -- the greatest shot ever?

Already Tiger Woods' remarkable chip on the 16th at Augusta yesterday is being heralded as the greatest shot ever in the history of golf. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it was a pretty well executed chip.
It strikes me that the CBS announcers were making a bigger deal about the shot than it deserved. Lanny Wadkins said Tiger would be lucky to end up inside Chris Dimarco, who had 10 feet for birdie.
Of course, Tiger was aware that Davis Love III had used a similar trick to pull off nearly the same shot in 1999. But Love didn't win, so Tiger's shot is made that much more impressive by the fact he won.
I'm not sure it is even the greatest shot Woods has pulled off -- that honor still belongs to the 210-yard six iron he hit over water to win the 2000 Canadian Open.
There are several stories out there about Tiger's chip out there. One rather complete story, comparing Woods' chip to Gene Sarazen's double-eagle in 1935, says Sarazen still comes out ahead. I have a hard time imagining that, since far fewer people ever saw The Squire's shot. The story, by Rueters, is here. I wonder about the writer's contention that Tiger was "40 yards" off the green. Looked more like a couple to me.
The Augusta Chronicle also said the chip was in a similar category to Larry Mize's chip and Sarazen's four-wood.

Tiger's swing holds up (barely) and he takes his fourth green jacket

Just when the Masters looked like it might get dull, and Tiger Woods would storm to a win, Chris DiMarco made the whole tournament interesting by becoming arguably the first golfer since Bob May in 2000 to tackle Woods head-to-head and not back down from the pressure.
It was a gutsy, fascinating exercise by DiMarco. If he makes any putts early in his round, I suspect he might have pulled off the come from behind win over Woods. Instead, Woods makes an improbable chip on the 16th for birdie (you could actually see DiMarco deflating as the chip fell in...) and then the World's No. 1 golfer makes two straight bogeys to make the whole thing interesting again.
Though Tiger won, I don't think he's returned to the form of 2000-01 that saw him dominate on so many fronts. His performance yesterday was enough to win, but hardly dominating.

I still wonder about the wisdom of using Hank Haney to rebuild his swing. Like Ben Hogan, Tiger will likely always been tinkering with his mechanics, but I doubt you'll see Haney around as long as Butch Harmon was. Though Haney seems more comfortable outside of the limelight (in other words, he doesn't have to become a product pitcher like Harmon is -- given the infomercials he does, when does he teach?), I doubt Woods will stick with him.

Already Haney is garnering more press than Tiger would probably like. Take the recent story in Golf World, for example, where Haney squares off against critic Jim McLean.
McLean questions the need for Woods to rebuild a swing that made him so dominant a player.
"It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in golf, Tiger making a major swing change," McLean told the magazine. "I don't think we've ever seen anybody dominate the game like that and make major changes like this. It's an almost unimaginable risk, but Tiger is a guy who will take that chance."

Haney responds badly, calling McLean, "an asshole." If that's the way he's going to deal with criticism, then I doubt very much he'll hold up to the constant strain of the spotlight that's always on Woods.

The entirety of the Golf World story can be found here.

  • Here's a pretty decent timeline detailing Tiger's rise in the world of golf.
  • At, Lorne Rubenstein writes about why Jack Nicklaus should be allowed to do whatever he pleases -- and notes that Jack had long since given up competitive golf prior to his appearance at last week's Masters.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Rain, rain go away... and TaylorMade's new ball

  • Well the folks at Augusta National got part way through the day before the rain hit and made the course soggy again, calling off play once more.
    There have been some interesting bits to the tournament so far, including David Duval leading for six holes before falling back, though still playing better than in the past. And Tiger Woods managed to putt a ball off a green and into the water. By the way, contrary to the television commentary, Woods has pulled off that trick before -- putting a ball into the water on the 17th at Valderama.
    There are a million places that cover the Masters -- and everyone sends their top reporters and columnists to Augusta to write about the tournament, though few actually write regularly about golf and much of the commentary ends up in hyperbole.
    While the coverage won't be critical,
    the Augusta local paper does a pretty good job of reporting on the tournament. You won't be hearing much about Martha Burke, but maybe that's just as well.
  • I had an interesting meeting with TaylorMade for a story I'm working on. We discussed the continued interest in the R7 (TaylorMade has a 30% share of the market in the woods category) as well as the new Black Max ball (Maxfli is a Taylor brand). The new balls look to compete with the ProV1, but at a price point that is slightly lower. However, that's not how Taylor is pitching them. Instead, the company is pushing the balls as having the same performance, with a feel that is better than Titleist or Callaway.
    The best bit of the marketing campaign involves getting a sleeve of two Black Max balls with every box purchased. If you play the two balls and don't like them, you can return the box for a refund.
    In my mind, this is kind of like Hyudai. For years people thought their cars were inferior. Even after they improved dramatically, they were still saddled with the same reputation. In order to change that, the Korean carmaker offered a lengthier warranty than the competition.
    TaylorMade is doing a similar kind of thing -- offering people a chance to use their new balls for free to prove they rival the competition. It is a smart concept -- now let's see if they get the message through to the consumer.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lefty loves to gamble

Interesting that everyone seems so keen on Phil Mickelson's apparent issues with gambling.
The rumours have Mickelson playing Monday games for up to $100K, not insignificant money.

Hard to say what the truth is here -- the rumored SI story never appeared.

But I do know Mickelson would often play high-profile businessman in high stakes games. I personally know of a group of three Calgary businessmen who were approached in Arizona about playing a round with Phil. The bet on the game was staggering, but involved the Calgary oilmen playing a better ball against Phil. At the end of the day, they were down tens of thousands and had to pay up. The No. 1 golfer in the group pulled out his chequebook and offered to write a cheque for the debt. He was told no, this is a cash deal. Apparently the golfer then had to call his bank to get the money wired down to a bank in Arizona.

So is Phil really sticking by what he told a major golf magazine in a recent interview and not wagering on anything? That's the question everyone wants to know.

Canadian Spring golf magazines hit the market, boggle the mind

So three major Toronto papers -- The National Post, The Toronto Sun and now the Toronto Star -- have brought out their seasonal golf magazines. Now, of course, the Post's was hands down the best, but man there was some crap in the other two.

Here are the highlights:

From the Toronto Sun: Bill Lankoff writes a remarkably questionable story about Canadian architect Graham Cooke. Problem with the story is that Lankoff clearly hasn't seen many of the courses Cooke speaks of, including Highlands Links, or he couldn't possibly have written the dribble that appeared in the Sun's publication.

Among the great comments on Cooke's restoration work is this:

"He has reverence for the past and it is reflected in his golf courses," writes Lankoff. "His greatest passion is bringing aged courses that have fallen into disrepair back to former glory.
"I like the word restoration because a lot of old courses have been lost around the world to renovation. If you take the style and character that the original architect had in mind and use more modern techniques to enhance that style .... in my mind that gives me a lot of pleasure. It doesn't have to carry my name .... I like the original architect's name to survive .... We should do more classical restoration works."

All of this is remarkable because the courses I've seen that Cooke has "restored" (Scarboro is a good example, as is Highlands Links) demonstrate that he has no sense of the history of the course or what the original architect did. The only hope is that Cooke is kept far, far away from other classic works. Of course, he's scheduled to work on Royal Ottawa soon. God help them. My new nickname for Cooke is "The Butcher." His cart paths at Highlands Links are the worst I've ever seen. Remarkably inept.

But my favourite Cooke quote is about how he felt Thompson was "with" him during one of his very few visits to Highlands Links, one of Canada's great golf courses.
On Highlands:

"I felt a sort of respect.... as if he was by my side and we're looking at this hole.... and I'm thinking what would he do given what made him renowned ... and then let me try to follow what he recommended."

I wonder if Cooke ever heard Thompson screaming, "Graham, you're a good player, but stay the hell away from my golf courses. You don't have a clue."

From the Toronto Star:

The Star has a couple of really strange bits in its magazine, which appeared today. First of all, there's the Bogey Man, the Star's anonymous golf critic. He lists his Top 18 courses in the Toronto area. The list shows that whomever writes this column simply doesn't have any sense of what makes a good golf course. After all, the very average The Rock Golf Club in Muskoka ends up at #2 on his list, while Eagles Nest, the terrific new Doug Carrick course that opened last year and is the best club to open in Canada in some time, doesn't appear at all. He also likes some mediocre golf -- like Deerhurst (which is more than two hours from Toronto). It is a silly list, but not as silly as Dave Perkins comments in a column he wrote in the paper.

Perkins, writing about expensive golf, calls The Old Course in St. Andrews, "the most commercial golfing experience this hacker ever had." I guess he's never played on the Vegas strip or made a trip to Myrtle Beach. He then goes on to say the New Course is superior (just proving he can't really discern good from great golf) and says Carnoustie, at $40 cheaper, represents "a better value for a better, more difficult golf course."

Now I like Carnoustie and am a big fan, but I don't think it has the charm of The Old Course and I've always had a tough time thinking that tougher equaled better.

Anyway, all this proves is just how marginal most Canadian golf writing is.

Lightning in Augusta...

... everything is now off till 9:30 at the earliest. Brings up the joke: "What follows two days of rain?" A: The first round.

Masters ball?

While every newspaper in North America was busy talking about which of the Fab Four would win the Masters (assuming it doesn't get washed away in the rain), the real story was brought up quietly by Augusta National chair Hootie Johnson. Johnson, after years and millions spent on making Augusta tougher for the top pros in the world, seems to be coming around to the notion that there isn't that much more that Tom Fazio can do to make the course harder.
What's left? The possibility of a Masters ball. Johnson acknowledged yesterday that the tournament is seriously looking into the issue, but hopes the PGA Tour will do something about it first.
"We are hopeful and we're encouraged that the governing bodies and the tour, (commissioner) Tim Finchem, that they are addressing this problem," Johnson said at his annual news conference. "It is a problem for the game, not just for Augusta National and the Masters tournament. We are hopeful and encouraged that progress is being made."
I'm not sure what kind of progress Hootie is talking about. Could it be the
letter the USGA recently sent to manufacturers about spin rate of balls and moment of inertia in clubs? The USGA is a paper lion, and I very much doubt they are going to go forward with any significant changes for fear of being sued out of existence by the equipment makers
But whether you like it or not, Augusta National Golf Club is a ballsy organization, willing to take on all comers. The club has spent a fortune trying to protect itself from red-hot golf balls and drivers, and in the process has pretty much gutted what little was left of the course Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie dreamed up in the first place. Without the PGA Tour or the USGA seeming to be willing to come up with a solution to golf balls that travel ridiculous distances, maybe Augusta has to be the one to step up. How sad is that? Golf's traditions upheld by a single club and not one of the regulatory organizations that are supposed to protect its heritage.
Anyway, I'm sure Hootie is hoping that someone else is willing to tackle this problem, but if not, in pure Augusta style, the Masters could institute its own ball. And the ball manufacturers would make a ball to those specs and everyone invited would still come and play.
But the ramifications of that decision would rock golf.
I bet it happens.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

George Crump's amazing Pine Valley

Tom MacWood on has written a pretty amazing account of the life of George Crump, the man behind Pine Valley, generally considered the world's best golf course. It is a remarkable tale, well worth taking the time to read. Sad not to have this story appear in a major publication so more people could get chance to read what appears to be the definitive take of Crump, his life, Pine Valley and his suicide. Interesting that Tom doesn't really come to a conclusion on why Crump killed himself, but he does set the record partly straight on Harry Colt's involvement with this remarkable course.
I had the good luck to play Pine Valley two years ago with a couple of associates -- both golf architects. It was an amazing, if humbling experience, and the golf course is everything everyone says it is. It is breathtaking, difficult, fair and cruel, all at the same time. It is the supreme test of golf.

Anyway, take the time to read Tom's story here. You'll be better for it!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A wet Masters?

In a year in which rain has threatened to wash the PGA Tour away, apparently The Masters is facing a flood of its own.
Which is too bad, considering Jack Nicklaus is going to tee it up in what is likely to be his last Masters.

* In another interesting note, the USGA has apparently sent a note to equipment makers suggesting there might be a review of spin rates and moment of inertia. Hard to imagine what the average player makes of all of this, or whether the USGA will actually do anything.
Strikes me that it is time that Augusta National stood up and said enough is enough. There should be a "Masters ball" for the tournament that restricts the flight by altering the spin rate. I doubt it would happen, but Augusta has been known to take a stand in the past.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Golf Digest's Top 100 Courses List

It is that time of year again when Golf Digest brings out its list of the Top 100 coures in the U.S. I'm on the rating panel (primarily for Best New Course in Canada), though I've rated numerous U.S. courses as well.
This year's list is as intriguing as any, especially since the magazine dropped its so-called "tradition" points, a factor GD's Ron Whitten points out in an accompanying article.
So what are the big changes? There aren't that many. Pine Valley is still the best in the U.S. (and the world, according to rival Golf magazine), while the rest of the Top 10 (see list below) is pretty much in tact. Seminole moves up to #10 (too high in my estimation), while Crystal Downs coasts in at #11. The big move is Sand Hills, the Coore and Crenshaw beauty, that comes in at #12 from #38 in the last list, an amazing move. That said, Tom Doak's Pacific Dunes, surely one of the great courses in the world, only comes in at #22. I find it hard to imagine that it isn't 10 places higher.
And what happened to World Woods' Pine Barrens? It makes Golf's Top 100 in the world, but only cracks the Top 30 public in GD's list? That's just wrong. And I still have a really hard time imagining Oakland Hills as a Top 20 course in the U.S. It was simply average when I played it the summer before last year's Ryder Cup.
Here's the Top 50 for 2005-06
Yards Par Points
1. PINE VALLEY G.C. 6,853 70 74.04
Pine Valley, N.J.—George Crump & H.S. Colt (1918)
2. AUGUSTA NATIONAL G.C. 7,290 72 73.14
Augusta, Ga.—Alister Mackenzie & Bobby Jones (1933)
3. SHINNECOCK HILLS G.C. 6,821 70 72.42
Southampton, N.Y.—William Flynn (1931)
4. CYPRESS POINT CLUB 6,509 72 71.30
Pebble Beach—Alister Mackenzie & Robert Hunter (1928)
5. OAKMONT C.C. 7,279 71 70.41
Oakmont, Pa.—Henry Fownes (1903)
6. PEBBLE BEACH G. LINKS 6,840 72 70.40
Pebble Beach—Jack Neville & Douglas Grant (1919)
7. MERION G.C. (East) 6,852 70 69.92
Ardmore, Pa.—Hugh Wilson (1912)
8. WINGED FOOT G.C. (West) 7,229 72 68.87
Mamaroneck, N.Y.—A.W. Tillinghast (1923)
Southampton, N.Y.—C.B. Macdonald (1911)
10. SEMINOLE G.C. 6,836 72 67.97
Juno Beach, Fla.—Donald Ross (1929)
Yards Par Points
11. CRYSTAL DOWNS C.C. 6,518 70 67.96
Frankfort, Mich.—Alister Mackenzie & Perry Maxwell (1931)
12. SAND HILLS G.C. 7,089 71 67.94
Mullen, Neb.—Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (1994)
13. OAKLAND HILLS C.C. (South) 7,099 72 67.92
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.—Donald Ross (1918)/Robert T. Jones (1950)
14. PINEHURST RESORT & C.C. (No. 2) 7,274 72 67.60
Pinehurst, N.C.—Donald Ross (1935)
15. MEDINAH C.C. (No. 3) 7,580 72 67.58
Medinah, Ill.—Tom Bendelow (1928)
16. FISHERS ISLAND CLUB 6,566 72 67.34
Fishers Island, N.Y.—Seth Raynor & Charles Banks (1926)
17.WADE HAMPTON G.C. 7,154 72 67.28
Cashiers, N.C.—Tom Fazio (1987)
18. MUIRFIELD VILLAGE G.C. 7,269 72 67.16
Dublin, Ohio—Jack Nicklaus & Desmond Muirhead (1974)
19. THE COUNTRY CLUB (Clyde/Squirrel) 6,577 71 67.15
Brookline, Mass.—Willie Campbell (1895)/Alex Campbell (1902)
20. SHADOW CREEK 7,239 72 67.03
North Las Vegas, Nev.—Tom Fazio (1990)
21. VICTORIA NATIONAL G.C. 7,239 72 66.99
Newburgh, Ind.—Tom Fazio (1998)
22. PACIFIC DUNES 6,633 71 66.76
Bandon, Ore.—Tom Doak (2001)
23. WHISTLING STRAITS (Straits) 7,362 72 66.55
Haven, Wis.—Pete Dye (1998)
24. PRAIRIE DUNES C.C. 6,708 70 66.32
Hutchinson, Kan.—Perry Maxwell (1937)/Press Maxwell (1957)
25. THE OLYMPIC CLUB (Lake) 6,850 71 66.31
San Francisco—Sam Whiting (1928)
26. SOUTHERN HILLS C.C. 7,085 71 66.28
Tulsa, Okla.—Perry Maxwell (1936)
27. OAK HILL C.C. (East) 7,145 71 66.08
Rochester, N.Y.—Donald Ross (1925)
28. BANDON DUNES 7,326 72 66.07
Bandon, Ore.—David McLay Kidd (1999)
29. BETHPAGE STATE PARK (Black) 7,299 71 66.00
Farmingdale, N.Y.—Joseph H. Burbeck & A.W. Tillinghast (1936)
30. QUAKER RIDGE G.C. 6,835 70 65.87
Scarsdale, N.Y.—A.W. Tillinghast (1926)
Yards Par Points
41. INVERNESS CLUB 7,255 71 64.94
Toledo, Ohio—Donald Ross (1919)
42. SOMERSET HILLS C.C. 6,659 71 64.68
Bernardsville, N.J.—A.W. Tillinghast (1918)
43. FLINT HILLS NATIONAL G.C. 6,946 71 64.54
Andover, Kan.—Tom Fazio (1997)
44. INTERLACHEN C.C. 6,829 73 64.53
Edina, Minn.—Willie Watson (1911)
45. RICH HARVEST LINKS 7,601 72 64.48
Sugar Grove, Ill.—Jerry Rich & Greg Martin (1999)
46. GARDEN CITY G.C. 6,911 73 64.44
Garden City, N.Y.—Devereux Emmet (1899)
47. RIVIERA C.C. 7,013 71 64.36
Pacific Palisades, Calif.—George C. Thomas Jr. & W.P. Bell (1926)
48. MILWAUKEE C.C. 6,928 72 64.34
River Hills, Wis.—H.S. Colt & C.H. Alison (1929)
49. SHOAL CREEK 7,114 72 64.25
Shoal Creek, Ala.—Jack Nicklaus (1977)
50. CASTLE PINES G.C. 7,619 72 64.18
Castle Rock, Colo.—Jack Nicklaus (1981)

Masters week

Well, it is here -- Masters Week. I won't be going this year, but I'll be tuned in nonetheless. Here's one of the early stories from the practice rounds. In the meantime, Phil Mickelson and Scott McCarron battle it out in yet another rain-filled weekend tournament at Sugarloaf. Hard to imagine anyone cares.

One strange fact the story about the Masters practice rounds points out: On Sunday, FLA governor Jeb Bush was wandering around Augusta. Wonder what in the world was he doing there? Was there a woman in a coma to exploit for political gain? Of course, Augusta's Republican connections are long and well-documented. Wonder if the Pres has played there?

Oh, and it must be cool to be Nick Faldo's son and get to join dad for a weekend round at Augusta.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Toughest ticket in sports

Here's the story I wrote about Augusta and getting tickets to the Masters in today's National Post. For those who are desparate to get to the tournament, there are a few tips in the story about getting tickets. There is also a lot of discussion about how businesses use the tournament for corporate entertaining.
For those of you (and that'll be a majority) who don't subscribe to the Post and can't get the link above, here's the story:

'The toughest ticket in sports'

Robert Thompson
Financial Post
April 2, 2005
Augusta National's exclusive membership includes Bill Gates, top, and Citigroup CEO Sandford Weill.
AUGUSTA, Ga. - The Masters golf tournament is one of sport's greatest spectacles. Every year since 1934, professional golfers the world over have pined for the opportunity to play on the rolling hills of Augusta National Golf Club, regarded as one of the world's best courses.
But it isn't just PGA Tour pros that yearn for an opportunity to gain access to one of golf's most fabled and exclusive venues. The tournament, like most golf events, also has a tremendous appeal to businesses, which use it to foster relationships with top employees and clients.
Unlike other top golf tournaments, such as the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship or even the Canadian Open, at Augusta there are no tents dotting the fairways where business clients and employees can sip cool drinks and watch the rounds of golf.
That means gaining entrance to The Masters is difficult. After all, a pass to the event is known as the "toughest ticket in sports," and regularly trades hands for more than US$10,000. There is a finite number of tickets, which can be willed from one family member to another, and a waiting list has been closed for a few years.
All of this means there is a premium placed on the business schmoozing that takes place during The Masters, which kicks off next week.
"Going to The Masters is an amazing way to solidify a relationship with a client and get to know them much better," says John Barr, who who also operates the high-end golf travel service Perry Golf in Canada and runs a trip to The Masters' final two rounds. "It is such a draw because this is usually the only way people will ever get to see Augusta National. Even corporate bigwigs rarely get to play the course."
The appeal of The Masters to the corporate elite who use the event to entertain makes perfect sense given the course's history. After all, Augusta National Golf Club was created by fabled golfer Bobby Jones and investment banker Clifford Roberts as an escape for their friends, many of whom were well-placed Wall Street executives.
The club's membership, which has come under fire in recent years for its policy of excluding females from its ranks (though women can play the course), is small and exclusive, consisting of some of the top executives in the world. Members include recent inductee Bill Gates, Citigroup Inc. chief executive Sanford Weill, and numerous other kings of commerce. Canadians in the group include former Alcan Aluminum Ltd. CEO David Culver and former Toronto Dominion Bank CEO Dick Thomson.
Though the club embraces its relationship with the heads of some of the largest businesses in the U.S., The Masters tournament eschews most corporate endorsements, making it difficult for companies to get tickets.
The tournament does have relationships with a handful of companies, including computer giant IBM Corp. (the company's former CEO, Lou Gerstner, was a member at Augusta), Coca-Cola Co., and Citigroup Inc. However, instead of getting the chance to run banners on the course with corporate logos, these companies are given the privilege of advertising on the CBS telecast of the event.
It is even hard to comment on whether the club's advertising partners have any access to tickets to the tournament. An IBM spokesman refused to say whether the company takes clients to The Masters, citing "competitive issues."
For several decades, a group of top Canadian powerbrokers had access to the tournament through an agreement that saw them donate money to a charity in the name of legendary golfer and Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones.
However, that trip, which included a charter flight to Augusta that returned later the same day, ended in recent years, leaving individuals clamoring to get access to one of The Masters' tickets that allow access to the course.
These days, a trip from Toronto run by Mr. Barr is one of the few ways to guarantee access to the tournament, as well as hospitality service just steps outside of the club's main gates.
But if you're planning on taking a client down to Augusta from Canada through Mr. Barr's service, be prepared to have your company open its expense account -- wide.
A single-day trip, which includes a flight to Augusta, transportation to and from the tournament, and hospitality service near the course, costs around $4,000 per person. A secondary trip, which includes overnight accommodations at a nearby Ritz-Carlton Lodge and golf the following day, costs closer to $5,000.
Mr. Barr has only 50 tickets for each of the weekend rounds, obtained from a business contact in Augusta.
But he says the costs associated with the event are outweighed by the potential business relationship that can be developed during a trip to the Masters.
"No one will turn down a ticket to The Masters," he says.
While Mr. Barr's trip -- comprising a flight to Augusta for all 50 in a luxury jet -- may seem expensive, consider that tickets that cover all four rounds of the tournament are often sold for US$10,000. Two tickets, or badges as The Masters calls them, for all four days of this year's tournament recently received a bid of more than US$12,000 on eBay.
But the cost of The Masters is secondary to the experience of attending the event, says one U.S. ticket broker, who asked not to be named.
"It is a once in a lifetime type of event for most people," he said, adding ticket sales are brisk this year with Tiger Woods and last year's winner, Phil Mickelson, both playing well. "This is a dream event for anyone, whether you are taking a client down or you are a dad going with his son."
- Despite the high price of tournament tickets, concessions at Augusta National have remained unusually low-priced, especially when compared with other major sporting events. The best known snack, an egg and pimento cheese sandwich, cost US$1.25 in 2004, while a 14-ounce beer was only US$1.75.
- Spectators at The Masters are called "patrons," and are discouraged from running while on the club's grounds. However, they can place lawn chairs along the fairways, leave to watch other holes and expect the chairs to be in their original location when they return.
- There are no hospitality tents at the tournament, though members of Augusta National have access to the clubhouse and its facilities. Instead, a tent city emerges from the homes outside the main gate to Augusta and these facilities are used for corporate hospitality.
- With an estimated 300,000 people descending on Augusta for Masters week, there are not enough hotel rooms to go around. To deal with demand, the city runs a house rental service. Rent on some houses runs more than US$10,000 for the week and does not have to be declared as income by home owners.
- Golf Digest recently estimated The Masters event, including merchandising, earns revenue of US$44-million annually and a profit of more than US$6-million.
© National Post 2005

The best golfers never to have won a major

With Augusta in the offing (and this weekend's tournament swamped under water), talk has turned to which player is the best never to have won a major. Phil Mickelson lost that title last year, Duval a couple of years earlier.
So the question is who now? Sergio Garcia is the one, according to SI's Scott Wraight. I kinda think it might be Stuart Appleby (or fellow Ausie Robert Allenby). Anyway, Wraight's list on SI this week is far better than the badly conceived list he posted last week about players turned architects. You can find his commentary

Friday, April 01, 2005

Going for the Green hits 3,000!

Hello all:

Sometime over the next few hours, someone will become the 3,000th reader of Going for the Green since I started tracking them in December.

Thanks for stopping by and I'll keep the content coming!

New golf blog on the block

Stan was nice enough to send Going for the Green a note about his blog, Golf Tips and News. He's doing a nice job on his site, Golf Tips and News.

This reminds me that it is time to go through my links and catch up on the other golf writing that's out there. I see Ms. Muse has returned. I'm particularly fond of her Easter greeting.

Heading to The Masters

Well, not this year, despite my misleading headline. I'm actually going to watch it from the best place to view a sporting event -- my living room couch. However, last year I did go to Augusta to see Phil Mickelson best Ernie Els in a historic shootout. Here's the story I wrote for the National Post travel section on my experience:

Master plan: For the golf fanatic who has everything? A trip to the Masters tournament

What do you give to the golfer who has everything and has seemingly played everywhere? What do you give when a dozen Titleist Pro-V 1 golf balls won't cut it?

Give the toughest ticket in sports -- a decadent one-day trip to the Masters, golf's highest-profile event.

For years, the only way to get your hands on a ticket was to take your chances with scalpers. After all, tickets for the Masters can be handed down among family members and are limited by *Augusta* National Golf, the club that controls the tournament. Though badges that allow entry to each day of the tournament have an official price of only US$175, tickets are known to trade for thousands of dollars on eBay and through ticket brokers.

If you're not keen on going through an online auction, Canada's JTB Enterprises offers an assortment of one- and two-day packages to *Augusta* to see the likes of Tiger Woods, Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson battle it out. JTB and its owner, John Barr, are well known in the golf travel business, running the Canadian branch of the high-end European travel service Perry Golf.

Everything about the trip, including the golf, is first class. JTB offers a charter directly to *Augusta*, where fans are bused to a tent directly outside the golf club's gates. There fans can get drinks, food and the opportunity to escape the crowds and weather for a short period.

But most Masters fans won't spend long hanging out in a tent -- they'll head straight for the course.

The excitement of watching the game's greatest players is eclipsed only by the thrill of seeing *Augusta* National, the fabled golf course itself.

Surely one of the best-known golf courses in the world, the experience of seeing *Augusta* regularly exceeds the excitement many garner from watching the golf. After all, wandering up and down the
hills at *Augusta* is close to a religious experience for many recreational golfers.

True to form, *Augusta* is what many expect: impressive, impeccably groomed, dastardly difficult in spots and one of the most exciting venues in sports. It is also different from what many expect, with
dramatic elevation changes throughout the course, especially on the opening holes, which rarely receive much TV coverage.

Second, during this year's dramatic shootout between Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, *Augusta* National turned into a dramatic amphitheatre, with the crowd's cheers ringing through the golf course. The only
issue with watching live golf is that most times, a spectator can see only a solitary hole.

That is true, for the most part, even at *Augusta*. However, on the three-hole stretch from the 11th hole to the 13th, known as "Amen Corner," several thousand fans camp out to be able to catch a
glimpse of golfers as they play the most exciting triumvirate in the game.

On my trip to *Augusta*, I got lucky in choosing a strong group to follow, watching former U.S. Open champion Els and Korean star K.J. Choi for all 18 holes during the final round. The players would make
three eagles between them, offering the opportunity to see two of the world's best players in top form.

While *Augusta* is crowded on every day of the tournament, the course allows spectators -- or "patrons," as the club calls them -- to see much of the action. In fact, it is quite easy to get near many of
the fairways and greens, close enough to see Tiger Woods grimace at a missed putt, or John Daly swig from a Diet Coke.

All of this comes with a lofty price. John Barr, the proprietor of JTB Enterprises, charges $4,000 for the one-day package and $5,000 for the two-day ticket, which includes golf and accommodation at the
world-class Ritz-Carlton at Reynolds Plantation.

Expensive? Certainly. But the real question is how much are you willing to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime sports experience?

In the case of the Masters, you won't be disappointed.

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