Friday, December 30, 2005

The end of Bamberger

Interestingly, I've had at least one reader note they bought one of Michael Bamberger's books after I mentioned it on my sight a week ago. Tonight I finished This Golfing Life, which I've been plugging away at for regular intervals over the last few nights and afternoons.
The book, like all of Bamberger's writing, is full of life, and the exploration of the game of golf. He might get a little overly sentimental in the last section, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. One of the most poignant portions of the book was Bamberger's comments on his career within the perspective of Brad Faxon's time on tour. Bamberger caddied for Faxon in 1985 and reflects on the similarities between golf and writing.

That's when I realized that making a living from a typewriter or from a set of golf clubs is about the same thing. You can't fake the results in either. You're on your own. The writer and the golfer, they both know, deep down, whether they're getting better or not ... The writing life, the golfing life is rooted in optimism.

Interestingly, Bamberger says earlier in the final section that, "Now, with the web and all, you can start your own career. Mentoring is not a growth industry." I've never met Michael Bamberger, but his writing has been a nice guide for me in my writing career. If you're going to be a good writer or reporter, you better know exactly what you are up against. Writers exist in the public realm and though they don't win by dropping birdies or slamming drivers up the middle, reporting is equally as revealing.
Bamberger may be tarnished in some eyes because of his role in the Michelle Wie fiasco. I must admit to being torn by what he did. But whatever happened, it doesn't overshadow his great writing I've had the good fortune to experience.

Have a great New Years and I'll catch up with you again in 2006, with a new hopes and a new golf season on the horizon.

Travel & Leisure Golf on Bond Head, Cabot Links

Crusing online today and found the two short blurbs I wrote for the January issue of T&L Golf are now online. I'm not sure I've mentioned this before (though it is likely I have), but I'm contributing Canadian coverage to the publication, which has beefed up its focus on travel and destinations.
Anyway, the two pieces I wrote include a quick hit on Cabot Links, the project being pushed forward by Ben Cowan-Dewar, and a second short blurb on The Club at Bond Head, which was included in T&L's list of best new courses to open in 2005. Though Bond Head may have struggled as a business, it is a terrific design and the second course, which is scheduled to open in July, could even be better.
The Bond Head piece is here, and Cabot Links can be found here.

Tiger turns 30

The greatest golfer ever to play the game hits his thirties today. Yes sir, the prodigy is all grown up -- Tiger Woods is 30.

Better than Nicklaus? Let the debate begin. Interestingly, the Scotsman was out last night (gotta love the five hour head start) with a story detailing the difference 10 years has had on Tiger's game. He dominated at the 1997 Masters, but with his improved swing and ability to intimidate and outplay his opponents, it is clear the current Tiger is the better model. Things get better with age, apparently, even if you had a bum knee.

The Scotsman comments on Woods at 30:

At 30, Woods is poised to pose more of a threat to posterity than he did at 20 for the simple reason that he won't make the same rash mistakes which cost him in the early days of his career. The interesting thing about 2005 from Tiger's perspective was how, in acquiring better course management skills, there was no dimming of the brilliance which sets him apart from all of his contemporaries.

While it may at first appear that hitting 50% of fairways is not actually better course management, Woods has come to realize that's his best bet at bettering modern PGA Tour courses. Hit it long, in the rough and wedge it out. Worked for Vijay in 2004 and worked for Woods this year. As long as the putter remains steady, Woods will best Nicklaus majors mark and I'm betting he does it by 40. Let's hope that at least some competitors remain in the picture to keep this from being all Tiger, all the time.

The Scotsman story is here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nationwide Tour splits with CPGA; Canada's Best New Course

While seemingly every news source on the Internet is using the period between Christmas and New Years to rehash things that happened from January to December in an endless series of lists, there is still the glimmer of golf news. Among the stories out there is the split between the Nationwide Tour and the Canadian PGA. The two partnered on an event at Cambridge's Whistle Bear Golf Club (but started at Clublink's Diamondback) that didn't really catch on with anyone, including the sponsor, Samsung. Of course it did benefit some players, like Canada's Jon Mills, who used a win at the tournament to propel him onto the PGA Tour starting next week.
The breakup of this partnership demonstrates just how difficult finding a sponsor for Canadian golf has become. AT&T withdrew from the Canadian Seniors event a number of years back; Bank of Montreal dropped its involvement with the LPGA Tour in Canada; and Bell Canada has yet to sign back on to put its name in front of the Canadian Open. A couple of years back, the current commissioner of the Canadian Tour, Richard Janes, thought he'd landed a European Tour event in this country until all the sponsors pulled away from the table.
Some would argue Canadian companies need to step up and support golf, like CN did when it backed the LPGA a couple of months back. But what are they getting for their money? In Bell's case, its millions are being spent on a deal that attracts fans, but fails to draw players. And the proposed deal to move the tournament to July and follow the British Open won't likely help matters. Remember, a deal to renew the title sponsorship for the tournament was expected months ago. This is an issue that has gone strangely quiet as of late. Has BCE CEO Michael Sabia, a guy who likes to pound balls at Mount Bruno, one of Quebec's best golf courses, decided it isn't worth his company's money to continue sponsoring the event? If that's the case, who is going to step up? Rogers, which is already poised to lose millions on the Toronto Blue Jays?
In marketing it is always about the bang you get for your buck. In the case of the Nationwide event, the bang wasn't there. It remains to be seen whether the Canadian Open has the same problem.
Here's the full story on the Nationwide event. Note that Score's story draws heavily from the press release and has some editing problems...

  • Though the magazine has been on the shelf for a while, here's the web version of Golf Digest's Best New Course in Canada feature. Golf architecture editor Ron Whitten makes some interesting comments about Dakota Dunes (right) that suggest maybe he wasn't in complete agreement with its selection as best new in Canada. He notes that Graham Cooke's associate on the project, Wayne Carleton, "manufactured all green sites, and though a couple might seem a bit artificial, others merge perfectly into their surroundings." Artificial doesn't sound like the most ringing endorsement, now does it? Whitten does make some nice remarks about Georgian Bay Club: "Some holes cross ravines, others edge lakes and streams, and a few play along bottom land. Some holes are bordered by trees, others by meadows of native grass. The one constant: elaborate, free-form bunkers, most quite deep, with shaggy edges of unruly fescue." Interestingly, Georgian Bay Club apparently fired much of its staff a few months ago, apparently because of issues with the progression of its real estate sales. Nice course though.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Kerry Packer dies

Many of you won't immediately recognize the connection between Australian billionaire Kerry Packer and golf. But Packer, kind of a version of Rupert Murdoch that wasn't as well known outside Australia, owned and operated Ellerston, one of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. He died yesterday at the age of 68.
Ellerston, created by Bob Harrison and Greg Norman, averages about six rounds per week, making it one of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. Harrison said Ellerton was also among the most difficult courses in the world:

Harrison said it was designed for golfers with handicaps of 12 or better and would not work as a public course."It was done specifically for the Packer family and they can hit the ball."

Hard to say what will happen to Ellerston given Packer's demise. The likelihood is it will remain the family's exclusive haunt.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bamberger's intriguing life in golf

I feel old. It is strange that one should sit in one's living room on Christmas morning, surrounded by my sister, wife and baby daughter, and feel this way, but that's the reality of the situation.
Why? Oddly enough, it is because of a gift.
My wife presented me with a copy of Michael Bamberger's This Golfing Life. Yes, that Bamberger. The one responsible for the Michelle Wie fiasco a month or so ago. While most know him as a writer for SI and for making a questionable decision involving a debatable drop, I know Bamberger for To The Linksland, and The Green Road Home, books he wrote more than a decade ago.
It was with some excitement that I ripped open a neatly wrapped gift to find Bamberger's compendium, This Golfing Life. I quickly flipped it open and eyed the contents. It wasn't hard to find what I was looking for -- a chapter entitled Fountainhead. It was in this chapter that Bamberger updated readers on what happened to the central characters of To The Linksland. Peter Teravainen, the wild swinging US pro lost in Europe, is pitching clubs in Japan, and John Stark, the Yoda-like pro at Crieff, still has Auchnafree, the six hole course in a field somewhere in central Scotland. While I was intrigued at finding out what happened to these central characters, I was also stunned to find out that Bamberger wrote the book while in his early 30s. Maybe I was surprised that someone could go searching for the heart of the golf at such a young age. It was also surprising to see how much he accomplished by the time he hit the point in life where I'm at right now.
It might sound overblown or sentimental, but Too The Linksland moved me in a way few books have. It made me seek out what Scotland has to offer, made me want to see and play places like Dornoch, Crail, Crieff and the like. And I know the book had an impact on others. My good friend Steve returned my copy of the book stained with tears that dripped upon the final pages. Like many others, he went to see Machrihanish because of Bamberger's book. And surely like other readers, Steve has had to explain to his significant other why exactly he wants to leave her and her children to fly across the ocean to play golf. I'm sure she hasn't read To The Linksland, so she won't understand. I'm sure she asks herself why Steve can't just be content playing the course up the street. But as anyone who has jumped in a rental car at the airport at Glasgow knows, there's nothing like an open Scottish road with the promise of a links at the end of it.
Bamberger's This Golfing Life has proven to be a great read. I busted my way through it in two days, fascinated by all of the writing Bamberger has done and the stories he's broken. For example, it was Bamberger's account of Ben Wright and the announcer's comments on the LPGA that eventually got Wright fired. Yes, Bamberger clearly enjoys being at the centre of a good story (witness the Michelle Wie debacle earlier this year), and is a bit of an idealist, but he's also pragmatic enough to recognize the importance of a well written feature and the role of character and personality within it.
As a journalist I was intrigued and jealous of the support Bamberger received from editors, first at the Philadelphia Inquirer, then later at Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated. As I near my first decade as a journalist, I've only encountered such editors occasionally and few have had a dramatic impact on my career. Hopefully I meet more on them in the coming years.
In some ways, Bamberger's update made me sad. He points out the experiences of the book took place when he was 31. The ramifications were dramatic -- he landed a gig at Sports Illustrated and became one of the best known golf writers in the world. This made me think. Bamberger's book was one of the reasons I started writing about golf. That was nearly eight years ago. I have yet to write anything as impactful as To The Linksland. Maybe I never will. But it is something to continue striving for.
I'm sure I started thinking about all of this because I'm poised on making a significant change in my life. How these changes will impact my golf writing remains to be seen. It has been an interesting year -- with a book under my belt, and intriguing possibilities for the future -- 2006 will surely present a myriad of options. That much I know.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to all! I'm going to take a couple of days off and will return on the 27th. At that point I'm going to start discussing the future of this site, do some 2005 best of lists and start talking about golf in 2006.
Have fun with your families, and be safe.


Friday, December 23, 2005

There's an amazing story of love, devotion and golf in the Wall Street Journal today. It is well worth reading, and here's a taste to get you to click on the link:

2005; Page W1
Like almost anybody who has picked up a golf club, my stepfather has always had a fantasy: To play at the Augusta National Golf Club. The legendary Georgia course is home to the Masters Tournament, and admission is strictly limited to its closely guarded roster of members and their invited guests. Neither I nor my stepfather knew a soul there. So when I said I wanted to surprise him with a round of golf there, everyone I talked to said it would be impossible. Why would an absolute stranger invite a 70-year-old suburban Detroit real-estate developer to Georgia to tee off at one of the world's most secretive and exclusive clubs?

For everyone who ever thought Augusta was just full of overly rich white folks who don't care about anyone but themselves, this story proves otherwise. The full story is here.

Quick hits: Mickelson wants mandatory play, Rubenstein says goodbye to Stan

  • Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for finding Phil Mickelson's comments on the state of the tour. Interestingly, Mickelson seems to be in favour of forcing PGA Tour players to play a certain number of events. Phil's sharp enough to recognize sponsors might actually be willing to pay more if he and Tiger show up in Milwaukee and Toronto every few years. And more sponsor money means more jet fuel for the G5. Mickelson: "Well the Tour needs to be run independent of the players. And run as an entity just like Nascar does with their drivers. They force them to play certain events and you stand up and say, “look, if you don’t play these 12 events, and you don’t play the four majors and you don’t play the Players Championship and the World Golf Championship’s, you don’t have a card next year. You can’t play any of them.” Of course we’re going to play."
  • Lorne Rubenstein writes about Stan Leonard's death. The most interesting comment came from Gary Alles, who caddied for Leonard in 1962 : "Alles chuckled when he remembered Leonard, as do many people, as a feisty competitor who wasn't always easy to be around or to caddy for. One story has it that caddies during a Canadian Open in Montreal were so annoyed with him that they threw his bag into the St. Lawrence River.
    "He was a grouchy bugger," Alles said. "But he could play." Like Al Balding, Leonard often felt his career was overshadowed by a lesser talent, Moe Norman. While Balding and Leonard won on the PGA Tour, Norman's inability to make putts kept him from winning anywhere but Canada. Though he couldn't roll it on the short stuff, Norman became Canada's golfing Rainman and Leonard (and Balding) both felt he was undeservedly given too much credit. Rubenstein's full story is here.

Tiger's time off

There's an interesting headline in the Scotsman: Woods puts family life before Tour duties. In fact, Tiger, who spent much of the year complaining about the length of the PGA Tour schedule, mananged to play four events after that never ending ordeal finally finished. The Scotsman story makes a couple of interesting points, including this:

Not since the brilliance of 1999 had Woods performed so impressively. Long but not always straight off the tee, the truth is the world No 1 rarely puts himself in unplayable positions. Tiger's brain power always manages to figure out an escape route, no matter how improbable. It's in the area of course management that Woods believes he's made the greatest progress.

I don't know about this "course management" move that Woods apparently made such progress in. Or maybe that's bang on. After all, Woods was second in overall driving distance, averaging 316 yards off the tee (yep, that's right), while placing 188th in driving accuracy. So while he didn't hit many fairways, he did hit it so far that most holes were played with a slightly offline driver and a wedge. But of course, the ball doesn't travel too far. Much of the article deals with Woods' personal issues with turning 30. Apparently 30 is "old." God, I better get my application for the retirement home ready. According to Woods, with age comes maturity and better course management. Which really translates to being able to hit the ball a long way into the rough and then being strong enough to get a sand wedge through that rough in order to get the ball on the green.

"I'm very excited about turning 30. Maybe the best is yet to come because physically you're not going to change a whole lot in your early to mid-30s, but you benefit from sheer experience, learning how to manage your round."

Maybe Tiger is just pragmatic and smart, able to accept the changing reality in professional golf and apply himself to it in order to get the best result. That's my bet. Why is Tiger the best golfer in the world? Well part of it is physical, but he's also the smartest golfer going. Put the two together and he's nearly unstoppable. Expect another big year in 2006 when Woods finally feels up to returning to the PGA Tour at the end of January.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dr. Reality Show or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Big Break IV

Reality shows are largely drivel, contrived programming developed around unlikeable people lacking in social skills or charisma. I don't care if you think Boston Rob is the best thing since 50 Cent -- he's still just a yob who would have a difficult time making it on a tough construction site. Given the contrived makeup of the shows, most are not worth wasting time on. That largely goes for the Golf Channel's Big Break series of programming as well. Few of the participants displayed the necessary skills to take advantage of winning -- even if that meant playing on the Canadian Tour.
The only reality of these shows was that you would never hear from the participants again. They'd miss the cut in an LPGA event or a Nationwide Tour outing and that would be it. Back to obscurity.
I wanted to hate Big Break IV as well, but I tuned in because Carnoustie is among my favourite courses. And though I didn't watch all of the early shows, by the last half dozen, I was setting my PVR to record every Tuesday night at 9.
What was different this time? Well, it wasn't the ridiculous American vs. Europe hype, which seemed to smell a little bit of American jingoism. No, it was the golf course and the abilities of some of the players.
In my mind, it appeared the European team had the stronger chance of coming out with the winning player. The Americans, largely, had ugly swings with a capital "U," while the Europeans seemed more at ease with whatever Carnoustie could put up. Similarly, American TJ Valentine, despite having a great sports name, seemed so far out of his element in losing in his match that it was not entirely clear that former Nationwide player and alcoholic (how many times did they bring this up?) Paul Holtby was actually a strong golfer. On the other hand, I figured Thomas Blankvoort would have a good chance of using his finese to make it through to the end. I was wrong.
So it came down to Holtby vs. Woodman, or Paul vs. Guy, as the GC liked to show in its oh so friendly way.
The only downside I found to the early shows was how much of it was done on Carnoustie's disappointing and dull Burnside course. And the semi-finals should have been 18 holes, even if they were edited to fit into an hour.
Needless to say, it was encouraging to see a full 18 on the big course at Carnoustie, one of the nastiest creations ever devised for golf. Though the rough was low, as it is typically aside from Open Championships, Carnoustie is a full test of golf and would surely put Holtby and Woodman through their paces.
That said, the finale was a bit of a letdown. Guy probably should have taken this, but can a player of his caliber actually hit two straight shanks (or "hozzle rockets," as they were referred to on the show) and anticipate playing on the European Tour? How many spectators would he kill if he hozzled one in Spain or at the Scottish Open? In reality, he looked nervous and made some poor club selections. It also didn't help that he couldn't hole a single putt.
In contrast, Holtby was steady, if unspectacular, right up until the flubbed putt on 17. He still doesn't impress me that much as a player, but I doubt he'll embarrass himself out on the European Tour.
So what should the Golf Channel have learned from this exercise? Clearly the golf course is central to making it interesting. If they took the men to somewhere like Pacific Dunes or World Woods or a similar US course, the program might continue to gain momentum. Having the European players involved surely made it less one dimensional as well. Hopefully that is a motif they can continue to use. And I could have done without the in studio "commentary," that seemed to rob the program of its momentum. Brian Hewitt's "let's put a headline on this," schtick got old really quickly and didn't add anything to the show but fill time.
Even with all the issues -- and no TV show is perfect, well, maybe Veronica Mars is -- the Big Break IV proved to be addictive viewing. And if it is a guilty pleasure, well it is one I'm willing to publicly declare.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Stan Leonard dies

Apparently no one in Ontario, myself included, noticed that Canadian golf legend Stan Leonard passed away last week from heart failure. He was 90. Reports say he died last Thursday after suffering a heart attack at his home.
Though he didn't turn professional until he was 40, Leonard was one of the greatest golfers the country has produced. He played in 12 Masters tournaments starting in the late 1950s, including one in which he held the third round lead and finished fourth. The Vancouver Sun, in a well written article by Brad Ziemer, quotes Richard Zokol:
"He was an absolute legend and just adored by all the members," said former PGA Tour regular Dick Zokol, who grew up playing at Marine Drive. "I remember what pride I felt as a junior golfer when he approached me and asked me to caddie for him in the Sun Match play and the B.C. Open."Zokol saw Leonard just last month at Marine Drive."He was on the putting green in November," Zokol said. "It was a sunny day and there was Stan, at age 90, practising his putting."

With Leonard gone, and the death of Moe Norman last year, only Al Balding remains from the great Canadians who played the game five decades ago.

Word on the street....

... has it that Grand Niagara, a resort course in Niagara Falls that opened the first of two courses this past summer, has not paid some of its bills, specifically to some media relations pros who did work on the club's website and the like. The Rees Jones design seems to have come and gone without a word -- there is absolutely no buzz about this course at all, for better or worse. Not sure what the unpaid bills mean exactly (maybe they just don't feel like paying), but with a number of clubs in Ontario struggling to make their business models work, it could get interesting. Remember when Clublink bought all of those struggling clubs in the early 1990s? We might be in for a repeat.
  • Golfweek's Alistair Tait has a neat op ed on why more courses should allow walking. I totally agree. Tait puts the modern game in perspective: "As everyone reading this knows, Twain once said, "golf was a good walk spoiled." To put it in its modern perspective, golf is actually a good ride spoiled, because many people don't walk golf courses any more, not in some parts of America I visit." The entire story is here.
  • I rarely write about the LPGA, and for the most part don't care, but it was interesting to see Morgan Pressel gain admittance to the LPGA yesterday. She doesn't meet the age restrictions, but was let by the LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens because, "She presents a unique combination of academic and golf achievements and I'm impressed with Morgan's abilities." The question in my mind is what Pressel's move means to Michelle Wie. If the LPGA doesn't admit her are they saying Wie isn't as mature as Pressel? AP's Doug Ferguson noted in his story that Wie isn't expected on the LPGA Tour until she is 18. But can the LPGA afford to wait that long? What happens if Wie doesn't win anything by then?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The second best finish of the year?

This morning I turned on the Golf Channel, fully expecting to see some infomercial for some product that would fix my slice, or make me a more efficient putter. Or maybe see a half hour on a great new golf shoe endorsed by Butch Harmon
Instead the TV displayed the South African Airways Open, and aside from the unfortunate name, the final nine holes of this tournament were as exciting as anything I've seen since the Masters.
Though Retief Goosen had led the entire tournament, Ernie "Bionic Knee" Els made a magnificent charge on the final day to close the gap. By the 16th hole, it was all tied up. On the 17th, Goosen made a remarkable chip from off the green to birdie a hole many felt he'd have a tough time making par on. Then on the 18th, a par five with an interesting green site (that Els surely knew well from the Presidents Cup a few years back), Els knocked his ball to five feet in two, while Goosen's ball came up long. Els couldn't convert the eagle and Goosen got up and down for birdie to take the tournament.
It was fascinating to see two greats go head to head on a golf course that played outstandingly hard and fast. No PGA Tour greens where the ball stops on a dime. Fancourt came off like the modern links it was fashioned to be, with balls bounding through the fairways, and hard greens forcing a degree of creativity rarely seen in North America.
Of course the tournament also caught Goosen and Els at the height of their respective abilities. It was a tremendous viewing experience and I felt lucky to be watching it.
I guess this proves that there can be some great golf after August -- you just have to seek it out.
If you want to read what the South African media had to say, go here. The story isn't very good, so if I find something more worth reading, I'll repost later.

Friday, December 16, 2005

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

As a follow to Lorne's piece yesterday, here's my story on Rod Whitman, a man full of character and a great golf designer:

National Post Wednesday, June 9, 2004 Page: S4 Section: Sports Byline: Robert Thompson Column: On Golf Source: National Post
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.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nicklaus visits Toronto

A little birdie told me the Golden Bear, Mr. Nicklaus himself, was in Toronto last Thursday after touching down in his G5. Apparently he was coming to town at the request of a developer to look at a piece of property north of Toronto for a potential golf course. Now, of course, Toronto really needs another high-end golf course, with Eagles Nest, Coppinwood and Bond Head all coming online recently.
It isn't clear where the property is that Jack visited. There are several undeveloped tracts of land that were zoned prior to the government's restrictions on the Oakridges Moraine. Could this be one of them?

Rod Whitman: "Highly acclaimed"

The Globe's Lorne Rubenstein moves away from Mike Weir and into more interesting territory today: Alberta golf architect Rod Whitman. Whitman, who has worked with Pete Dye and Bill Coore, created Wolf Creek near Edmonton. More than a decade later his second Canadian course, the terrific Blackhawk, opened, once again near Edmonton. Interestingly, those in Ontario might have become more familiar with him had his proposed design for Angus Glen's South Course gone forward.

Anyway, Rubenstein's article gives a pretty clear indication of Whitman's talent:

"If the ability to create a wonderful product on the ground were the sole
measure of success in this business, Rod Whitman of Alberta, Canada, would be highly acclaimed instead of unknown," architect Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw's design partner, said in an interview at

While the article touches on some of the eccentricities of Whitman (he sometimes lives with his ex-wife, he loves hanging out on bulldozers), it also discusses a couple of new projects for Whitman. One is Richard Zokol's Sagebrush, which is apparently going to go forward, despite all accounts that it would never get off the ground. The other is Cabot Links, the project Ben Cowan-Dewar is trying to get off the ground. I wrote about this project a few months ago and that article can be found here. Whitman is still talking a good line on the property:

I'd love to do that thing," Whitman said. "We've already done a good routing. The property is almost on the beach and the town almost surrounds it, like St. Andrews [in Scotland]."

I'm sure Lorne's editor added the [in Scotland] bit to make it clear Whitman wasn't building a version of St. Andrews in Aurora. Mid afternoon additional note: Lorne just sent me a note assuring me that it was some unthinking Globe copy editor who assumed readers wouldn't know where St. Andrews is located and added this to his text. I'm sure this is the case as Globe copy eds have long been fastidious about adding these kinds of ridiculous comments into the articles of writers at the paper. Sorry Lorne -- this wasn't meant as a shot at you.
Read Lorne's entire story is here (click on top link).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The postman just delivered...

this.... hard to say how good it will be under all that snow, but there's a good buzz in golf circles about Tom Fazio's first course to open in Canada in 30 years. Ladies and gentlemen, here's Coppinwood.

New course preview: The Raven at Lora Bay

In June, when the weather was warmer and I was sitting on my deck sipping a Coke, I had an opportunity to speak with Tom Lehman via phone while he was driving back from Collingwood. Lehman had been working on The Raven at Lora Bay, an Intrawest golf course that he was creating with Tom McBroom. I have little faith in PGA Tour pros when it comes to golf course design -- it appears more like a marketing vehicle than it does a true interest in golf architecture. More about taking the money and doing a ribbon cutting than figuring out where drainage tiles and greenside bunkers should go.
It appears that Lehman may actually be different. He appeared on site far more than Tom McBroom expected, and even took the time to see some of Toronto's interesting golf courses, like Toronto Golf and St. George's.

Anyway, with that in mind, here are some shots from the course, which will open next summer (photos are courtesy of Tom McBroom). It appears the bunker style is more reminiscent of McBroom's mid-period work, as opposed to the scruffy faced bunkers he's created more recently at places like Firerock. It is interesting how this style of bunkering has so quickly fallen out of vogue. Starting with the reworked St. George's, scruffy, wild looking bunkers have cropped up in a number of places, including McBroom's Ambassador Club, the reworked Weston Golf Club and The Club at Bond Head. Of course much of this is influenced by the re-establishment of the classicists through the work of Tom Doak and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

Regardless, McBroom and Lehman chose a more conservative style of bunker, though the lines and faces still look quite bold and distinctive. In other places, like the photo with Georgian Bay in the backdrop, the course has some of the aesthetics that were witnessed in the Georgian Bay Club, which is not suprising considering it is located on a site not too far away.

On first inspection, and without having seen the course, it looks like a relatively friendly resort course, not out of line with McBroom's recent work at Wildfire near Peterborough. My judgement is reserved on this one for the time being.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mike Weir: "I was hurt"

The Globe's Lorne Rubenstein writes (yet another) column apparently in defense of Mike Weir's lacklustre 2005 campaign. Not sure what was left to say, since Rubenstein already wrote a couple of versions of this story over the course of the year.
Anyway, Weir says

For people to question how hard I'm trying or to think I'm not trying, I can't believe they'd think that. I won't be packing it in for a long time. I still love the game.

i'm not sure who these people are who are questioning Weir's dedication to the game. I suppose I'm one of his critics, but I don't think his problems have anything to do with "not trying." The reality is that he's simply not all that long off the tee and that puts pressure on the rest of his game. Apparently his neck injury hurt his posture and his ability to hit crisp irons. That, in turn put a lot of pressure on his putting, which can be suspect. If there was one thing wrong with Mike Weir in 2005, it was his putting -- an atrosious 1.86 putting average that ranked him 173rd. Of course, the rest of his stats aren't so stellar either. His driving distance actually decreased in 2005 (so much for that vaunted increase in distance the R7 TaylorMade driver was supposed to give him) and he only average 280 yards off the tee. With so many tour pros carrying the ball in the air that far, Weir is at a clear disadvantage.

Despite all of this, Weir told Rubenstein he's healthy and ready to make a comeback:

"I had some injuries last year that I didn't want to get into too much with the media because I didn't want it to sound like I was making excuses. But I'm doing better. I feel I'm living in a 23-year-old body."
Let's hope he's right and then Lorne can write a column about Mike's great comeback. Weir is great for Canadian golf and I do hope he can make it back. That said, I still have a nagging suspision that Weir's best years are behind him. However, even when injured he can hang tough in the majors (witness his performance at the Masters), so there's always the chance he could do something spectacular again.

In other news, Darren Clarke's wife continues to battle cancer. Clarke, who narrowly missed winning his last two tournaments, spoke to the Scotsman about his situation:

"My wife is a battler," says Clarke, his eyes and voice suddenly distant. "She fights it so hard, and I have so much admiration for her. She actually encourages me to get out and play. She doesn't want me sitting around the house. But it's difficult.
We were together last week, and now I am here, with her undergoing more treatment. It's the first session I have missed for a long time. So that is hard for her.
She just gets on with it, though. Sometimes I don't know how; she is so brave and so strong. I know she puts on a brave face for me when I'm away. The boys are good. They know Mummy is sick, and has to go into hospital now and then. And they know she can't do too much at times. We have been keeping an eye on them, because it is hard for them, too. Tyrone is seven and a big boy; he is in 12-year-old clothes already. But he is the sensitive one. Conor is more rough and tough.

I'm a big fan of the gritty Irishman and I hope his wife's condition improves. It is hard to imagine he's able to focus all of his energy on golf at the moment, and has played well despite that. The entire Scotsman story is here.

Oh, and if you want a laugh, read Jay Flemma's account of a terrible round on a great golf course in which he goes all Hunter S. Thompson the night before and then blades one into the parking lot of Caledonia.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Angus Glen -- not finished yet?

  • Well, according to sources close to the scene, Angus Glen's North course could still hold the Canadian Open. Nothing has been decided, says head honcho Kevin Thistle. That may change once Bill Paul returns from FLA next week and perhaps has a better sense of the new date for the Canadian Open. Word has it that the new date will follow the British Open.
  • Score Golf is running down its Top 10 stories of 2005 (for Canada). Interesting to see that Canadians James Lepp, who won the NCAA, and Richard Scott, who took the Canadian Am, are the top story. What about J.C. Deacon? He's the ninth story of the year, and cobbled together with the rest of the Canadians who made the match play section of the Am. Should have been higher. And how is a second lousy season by Mike Weir a top story for the year?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bell Canadian Open no longer heading to Angus Glen in 2007?

The Globe and Mail's Lorne Rubenstein writes today that due to schedule changes to the 2007 PGA Tour season, the site of the Canadian Open that year will likely be moved.
The notion now is the Canadian Open (note current sponsor Bell Canada has still not signed on as a sponsor) will be moved from the North Course at Angus Glen and back to Glen Abbey.
Why is this significant? Well, because the North Course has been considered a weak venue from the start, with little player interest. In order to try to fix that, the RCGA dumped on the course's designer, Doug Carrick, and brought in Davis Love III to make some changes. Those changes were largely made in the fall at a significant cost that was split between the RCGA and Angus Glen owner Gordon Stollery. Despite that, it now appears, according to comments from Bill Paul, the RCGA's tournament director, that the tournament will not be at Angus Glen at all. Oh, and they are going to have to cancel the Wednesday pro-am as some players may not make it to the course in time for a practice round following the British. This seems silly, as I've left Toronto on a Friday night and played in Glasgow the following day, so why, at the very least, couldn't players tee it up on Tuesday? Most wouldn't arrive until Tuesday even if they didn't play in the UK.

Bill Paul's comments to Rubenstein seem to indicate clearly the tournament won't be heading to Angus Glen:

"The timing of the new schedule doesn't look that favourable for us for 2007," Paul said from Palm Beach. "Can we afford to play at Angus Glen coming out of the gate that year? As we talk today, we're playing at Angus Glen, but I've had a meeting with Kevin (Thistle) and I'll have another when I get back."

Lorne's story ends on a downbeat:

The memory of when the Canadian Open was a must-play is a distant one, and fading further. No wonder anybody associated with the tournament has to be squirming these days.

You can read Lorne's entire story here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Leggatt makes it back; changing the ratings game

After being plagued with a variety of injuries since winning in Tucson in 2002, Ian Leggatt has had a tough time of it. Arm injuries, a reported allergy to grass (never a good thing for a golfer) and finally surgery to fix some of these problems, kept him from playing regularly on tour for most of the last two years.
Regardless of his troubles, Leggatt is back after making it through Q-School this past weekend. For Leggatt, who turns 40 this year, it could be one of his final shots at proving he belongs on tour. After all, that Tucson win came with a field of golfers few have ever heard of.
Score's article on Leggatt is here.
Leggatt will join Jon Mills and Mike Weir as the Canadians on tour next year. Calgary-via-Trinidad golfer Stephen Ames will also be in PGA Tour fields in 2006.
Also worth checking out is a story is a story by Brad King in the Island Packet about Joe Passov, who is the new head of Golf Magazine's course ratings panel. Now I know I've written enough about this damned course ratings issue following the announcement that Dakota Dunes had won Best New Course in Canada, but this article is worth checking out.
Among the notable issues is that Golf is adding new criteria to the process (before there was no predetermined categories for rating courses in the magazine), making it similar to the way Golf Digest and Golfweek do their rankings. In Passov's words, it has to deal with this:

Said Passov: "If you say to yourself, 'Well, I'm stepping onto this golf course, and I'm really happy to be here. It's held four U.S. Opens and there's the picture of Bobby Jones on the wall and Ben Hogan, and by golly I'm just predisposed to like this place because it just has an awesome feel.' "Some people can separate that and simply break it down into design elements. Other people, whether they can separate it or not, feel like it is an integral part of the golf course."

And apparently, as the Golf Digest list shows, some people have no sense of what differentiates a good course from a great one.
Passov added that creating clear categories to determine what makes a great golf course is a positive thing.

"In my opinion, that's not all bad," said Passov. "That means they're examining the process as best they can and trying to come up with the best and fairest rankings possible. But at the end of the day, it's still hard to be perfectly objective when evaluating a golf course. As best as you can try, there are still
some subjective factors: Peoples' personal likes and dislikes."

The entire story is here. Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for pointing this one out.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Myrtle Beach course to be turned into houses

I'm sure you are wondering why I'm posting on this. Probably saying, "Thompson has really gone off on this one. Must be spending too much time transcribing tape and sitting in front of his computer."
Well, you'd be right, but that's not why I'm writing about a crappy Myrtle Beach course called Deer Track South (yep, another word could be easily substituted) that's about to be turned into housing.
That's because Deer Track is one of the reasons I play golf today, gentle reader. On a rainy, hazy day in March, 1998, I tackled the not-so-fabled south course with my brother and a university friend named Reg Knudson (there can only be one.)
The course never dazzled anyone. It was dull and the rain came sideways for a while, but we were determined to go forward, and seeing as there was six feet of snow in Toronto, we were not about to be stopped by a little drizzle. Anyway, we made the turn (we played the course back-to-front) and hit the fourth hole. Like the right of passage that is a golf trip to Myrtle Beach, the fourth hole had a common sight -- the charity shoot out. Essentially a large woman sat on the tee and asked you put up $5, which was being given to orphans in Saskatchewan or smokers trying to quit in Alabama. Something like that. If you hit the green, you got a sleeve of Titleists. But if you managed a hole-in-one, you walked away with $1,000.
Flush with money from a $25,000 per year job (my first after finishing grad school), I put up the cash, grabbed a six iron and hit a little right to left cut. Shocked that the ball actually did what I wanted it to do (this was well before my handicap hit single digits), I watched TopFlite II hit the green, and roll toward the hole.
"Where did it go," I asked the plump lady sitting in the lawn chair.
"Ah, honey. It is right behind the flag. Y'all find it right there. Here's your Titleists!"
I just nodded, given that I wasn't sure what she had just said.
My brother, being cheap, refused to participate in this game of skill, but my associate, Mr. Knudson handed over a fiver and promptly duck hooked his shot into some weeds 20 yards short of the green.
We grabbed our respective bags and headed toward the hole. By the time we were 20 paces short of the flag, it was clear my ball was not on the green. Immediate thought: It must have been long. Second thought: Will the chubby lady notice and will I have to return my Titleists?
My brother, being the optimist, assumed the ball had a better fate. He walked daintily toward the hole leaned down and then began jumping in the air.
"It is in! It is in the hole!"
This commotion, of course, awakened the big lady in the lawn chair who began hoofing it up the hole toward the green. We backed away and when she got on the green she pronounced that, yes, in fact I had made an ace. A hole-in-one. A one.
The rest of the round is a blur and if you ask me today, I can't really tell you any characteristics of Deer Track. Maybe it should become houses. Seems to me there were lots of trees and the ground held lots of water. It isn't the type of course I ever again visited during my three subsequent trips to the Grand Strand.
The next day, a gentleman driving a Mercedes handed me a cheque for $1,000. It was one of the coolest moments of my life, right up there with the birth of my daughter, the first time I played the Old Course and seeing my first story in a major magazine.
The reality is the developers can tear down Deer Track. It won't make any difference to me. In a ball holder, not five feet from where I sit typing this, rests a pathetic, beaten TopFlite. The silver writing on the ball reads: "Myrtle Beach. Feb. 1998. Hole in One." That's all I need.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The value of ranking golf courses

Ranking golf courses, in my mind, is the equivalent of placing rock albums in some sort of order. It is a fun pastime with little real value. I mean, everyone should know that The Beatles' Revolver is the greatest album ever made, just like they should be aware that Royal Portrush is the best course ever created. It is just too bad then that there are some people who feel Sgt. Pepper's is the best album ever made and Pine Valley is the the best 18-hole course ever to have a score card.
Anyway, with Golf Digest's new ratings for Best New courses in the US and Canada supposedly out on Tuesday, but really already leaked out on Friday night, and given the fact that I've been digesting a lot of Chuck Klosterman's stream of consciousness rants on records and women, I've been giving a lot of thought to the ratings concept. That's led to the record analogy. More specifically, the GD Best New awards are like any year-end ranking of music that comes out. Some records seemed destined to be the best in the specific year they hit the market, and rank highly on best of lists. But people appraise these albums without much perspective. What might seem like a great record in June, may not appear so terrific two or five years later. This year the critics are falling all over themselves to discuss why My Morning Jacket's Z is the best of the year. I'm not as convinced. Similarly, The Lynx at Kingswood Park won the GD award a few years back and I don't know anyone who thinks it is any good.
This year I'm having a hard time getting my head around the ratings of the Best New Canadian Courses. Now, it isn't as big a deal as last year, when the Rock won Best New. That was just wrong. This year, Dakota Dunes has won. I suspect it is wrong again, but I have not seen the course.
The real issue is with Georgian Bay Club rating ahead of Eagles Nest. Now Georgian Bay Club's designer, Jason Straka, is a regular G4G reader and an emerging talent. But his course doesn't have the greatness that can be witnessed at Eagles Nest. There is no single hole at GB that rivals the third at Eagles Nest, or the 11th for that matter.
In my mind, much of the problem rests with GD's system of ranking. Raters issue course points on a scale of 1.0-10 in several different categories. The problem is that if I think a really good course in Ontario is a 6.5 in several categories and another rater feels that his course in, say, Saskatoon, should have 8.5 in all categories. In other words, there is no real way of keeping consistency in the ratings.
I could go on and on about the nuances of this latest ranking, but to be honest, it is making me depressed. Like all artistic forms, golf courses are open to interpretation and some will find greatness where's others see only adequacy. In my mind, there is no doubt Eagles Nest is a better golf experience, both aesthetically and functionally, than Georgian Bay. But does it really matter? Would winning this award have added more members to Georgian Bay, even if those same members have no idea how the award was determined?
If anything, maybe a few people will go to Saskatoon (god knows there's no other reason) and seek out Cooke's Dakota Dunes. Maybe some of those people will say it lives up to the hype, that it is Canada's version of Sand Hills.
We can only hope.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

In a stunner, Dakota Dunes wins GD Best New

Yes, yes, I was wrong. Stupid sources that don't know what they are talking about.
In anycase, Dakota Dunes, a Graham Cooke course built in the golf hotbed of Saskatoon, will be awarded Best New Course in Canada by Golf Digest status when the award is officially announced next week. The only problem is the Internet page with the information has already shown up, announcing all of the winners.

The most stunning thing about the award to me isn't that Dakota Dunes won. Now given its location, the club did have difficulty getting GD raters to see it, but apparently they got the 10 they needed to get the vote. No, the stunning thing to me is that Georgian Bay Club, a strong, but slightly pedestrian golf design with a few truly dull holes, came in second, ahead of the simply stunning Eagles Nest Golf. My position on Eagles Nest is well known, but I'm not the only one. Globe and Mail golf columnist Lorne Rubenstein said in an article last year that there's no point giving out an award this year -- it should just be handed to Eagles Nest. Turns out we were wrong. The only thing is that I don't think we were. Eagles Nest, which is admittedly built on a less atttractive piece of property than Georgian Bay or Dakota Dunes, may be Doug Carrick's masterpiece. Built out of nothing, Carrick and associate Cam Tyers crafted a wonderful course full of 40 foot dunes and holes that present tremendous options. There is not a weak hole on the property.

Now that doesn't mean Dakota Dunes isn't a better golf course. It has natural sand dunes and by all accounts is a pretty impressive golf exercise. I have not seen it, so I can only go by second hand accounts.

Anyway, Cooke's office has been on a roll as far as these awards are concerned. He won for the Lynx at Kingswood Park (which is actually not particularly good by all accounts), Fox Harb'r and now Dakota Dunes. Surprisingly more developers haven't taken him into the Ontario market.

The entire Best New list including the Canadian courses, can be found here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Eagles Nest -- GD's best new?; and Sebonack online

There's been heightened speculation (and a few rumours from people in the know that it is in fact true) that when the January issue of Golf Digest hits news stands in coming days, it will announce that Eagles Nest, Doug Carrick's fantastic design north of Toronto, will be awarded best new course in Canada.
Anything else would just be wrong, in my estimation. The competition, which includes the Dakota Dunes, a Graham Cooke design, and Jason Straka's fine private Georgian Bay Club, apparently put up a good battle, but Eagles Nest ultimately took the award.
In the past 20 years, some great golf courses have opened in Canada. Surely Tom McBroom's Rocky Crest, and Carrick's Bigwin Island, were both tremendous golf courses. Similarly Dana Fry's Devil's Paintbrush is among the best ever to be constructed in this country.
Eagles Nest rests comfortably within that group, and possibly eclipses all of them. Built next to a landfill in Maple, Ont., Eagles Nest is Carrick's attempt to create a faux links on a property that is excellent in spots and marginal in others. The drama of the third hole, which continues to the ninth, is created by a remarkable piece of property that falls, rolls through a spot of forest and emerges back on the top of the hill where it began. Surprisingly, the back nine, which is built on a less interesting piece of ground, is arguably even more impressive.
In order to create drama, Carrick imported tons of fill to build massive rolling dunes that separate the holes. Golfers regularly hit from elevated tee blocks, and Carrick asks players to think before they blast away (take 10, 11, 14 as examples).
Sure the bunkering styles are mixed and some of the so-called "blowout" bunkers look artificial, but Eagles Nest is great fun to play and a tremendous aesthetic treat. If it has won Best New, as many expected, it is fully deserving of it. After all, some have argued, including Lorne Rubenstein, that the course is the best to open in Canada in several years. I guess we'll just have to wait and see....

  • If you are interested in reading about an American course that may be the most anticipated in some time, check out Golf Digest's article on Sebonak, Jack Nicklaus' co-creation with Pacific Dunes creator Tom Doak. Why is it so hotly tipped? Well, it was built on Long Island, directly next to Shinnecock and nearby National Golf Links. It is as fabled a piece of property as is available in the U.S. Entry fee? A cool $500,000.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Skins Game at Banff Springs

Typically IMG's Skins Games are dry as toast -- with little interest to anyone unless John Daly is in the field. Mike Weir is a no go because of the Telus/Bell politics, so the only interesting thing is the golf course. And Royal Niagara doesn't excite anyone. In fact, apparently IMG has had a tough time getting courses to ante up to hold the event -- that meant the event returned to Nicklaus North for a second time last year. At least Jack was in the field.
Anyway, when I received a note about next year's game and it mentioned Sergio Garcia in the subject, I yawned audibly. But then I noticed the course for this year's event: Banff Springs, Stanley Thompson's masterpiece in the west.
Though the press release from IMG spends too long talking about Stephen Ames (and Ames is only interesting when he's saying something he shouldn't be saying in public), the note also said this:

Designed in 1928 by CanadaÃ?’s world-renowned golf course architect, Stanley Thompson, The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course is famous for its panoramic beauty and challenging layout set in the heart of the Alberta's Rocky Mountains. The course winds along the Bow River under the snow-capped peaks of Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle.
Now this could actually get me to tune in. If only Fairmont, which controls the course, would bring in a competent architect to redo the bunkers....

Canadians struggle at Q-school; The Open is back at Turnberry

  • It looks like it will be a real struggle for several Canadians to gain access to the PGA Tour through Q School this year. Ian Leggat, for example, shot 4-over, while veteran Jim Rutledge was the only Canuck to shoot below par. Even that only placed him in 44th spot. The tournament is being played at Orange County National in Florida, which is host to two course, the Crooked Cat and Panther Run. I had the chance to play them a number of years back and thought they were both more interesting than your average FLA course. One tidbit of trivia: It was on the range at OCN that Tiger Woods filmed his now famous Nike commercial where he bounces the ball off his wedge.
  • In great news, the Open Championship will head back to Turnberry in 2009, the R&A announced today. Turnberry is surely one of the most majestic courses in the world and deserves the return of the open. Apparently transportation issues, which were holding back the course from hosting the tournament, will be resolved by that point. Great golf courses hold great golf tournaments, so this should be a great pairing.

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