Monday, January 31, 2005

How to get on the Old Course

A party on asked about how to get onto the Old Course. I've played it a couple of times -- and have the photos to prove it. I wrote this story in 2003 after playing St. Andrews in an attempt to remove some of the myths about how hard it is to get a round at the fabled "home of golf."

Tee time at St. Andrews: If you haven't booked ahead, your best shot at getting on to the home of golf is the daily ballot

National Post
By: Robert Thompson

On a biting day in May, I stood shivering in the howling wind coming from the Scottish coast, just an hour after the sun appeared on the horizon. Strangely, given the conditions, I was about to become the envy of a large number of my friends.

I had done the unthinkable: obtained a slot for four on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the most famous golf course in the world. St. Andrews is also famous for being one of the most difficult places to actually get a round. Players often book more than a year in advance or pay thousands for one of the package tours that take them to the fairways of the birthplace of golf.

After flipping handicap notices and credit cards with the starter in the small hut near the first tee, we met our caddies, and at 6:40 a.m., with no warm-up and in conditions that rival Canada in November, I hooked my first drive down the larger-than-life fairway. Ten minutes later I had recorded my first par at the Old Course.

I didn't make plans to head to Scotland until late in 2002, so I thought my group and I would have little chance at a round at St. Andrews, which has hosted the British Open 26 times. The last time, in 2000, Tiger Woods managed to evade all of the course's fabled bunkers en route to winning the Claret Jug.

It was easy to book rounds at other world-famous Scottish courses; Carnoustie, which hosted the Open in 1999, simply took a credit card number, while Cruden Bay, among the top 100 courses in the world, told my group to just show up and play. But the Old Course at St. Andrews seemed like a mirage -- always slightly out of reach.

You can book a round at the Old Course if you are organized enough to plan your trip 18 months in advance. After that time advance rounds are extremely hard to obtain.

Without that foresight, or a round booked at the Old Course, my group set out for Scotland the second week of May.

However, I was still willing to try. One famed golf pro, now a prominent television announcer, told me to bribe the starter at St. Andrews.

How much should I offer? "It depends on how hungover the starter is," was the reply.

The thought I might offend someone at the home of golf dissuaded me from that plan.

Another option depended on playing with a local from St. Andrews, who have preferred access to the course. The only problem was I didn't know anyone from St. Andrews and there were four golfers in my group, which was one too many. The thought of drawing straws to determine who wouldn't play wasn't a comforting concept.

Yet another: Single golfers who show up as soon as the starter arrives in the morning can often be paired with other groups. But we had four golfers in our party, so this wasn't an option.

One option remained: The daily ballot.

While demand makes it extremely hard to play the Old Course, it is still a public facility. So available to the public, in fact, that cars drive across the first fairway and townspeople can regularly be seen walking dogs or pushing prams along its fairways. The Old Course, you see, is built on public land, which means it belongs to the town.

With this democratic notion in mind, the Old Course uses a ballot to give hopeful players the opportunity to hit a ball into the Sands of Nakajima, the bunker that sits next to the green at the 17th hole.

It isn't difficult to enter the ballot. Joe, our host at the hotel we were staying at while playing Carnoustie, made the call for us. At lunch, when we encountered Joe, he had hopeful words for us.

"I know the guy who took the call and he says it shouldn't be a problem. I told [him] you wanted to play early, so you could get another round in that afternoon."

When we arrived back at the hotel, beaten and battered from our second round of the day at Carnoustie, the site of Jean Van de Velde's meltdown at the 1999 British Open, Joe was at the door to give us the news. We'd been picked to play the Old Course the next say as the second group off. That meant we'd have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to make the hour-long drive to St. Andrews.

When we arrived, the temperature was just above freezing, although the sky was clear. The first hole, with the famed Royal and Ancient clubhouse -- European golf's ruling body -- in the background, sits at the edge of town. Usually tourists linger, taking in the golf course. But at this hour the town was silent.

We waited for the starter, who arrived at his hut off the first green five minutes before the first group was to tee off at 6:30 a.m.

Then, along with my brother, Christopher, as well as Bob and Paul, two siblings who joined us on our Scottish pilgrimage, we saddled up to the starter.

Unlike most public courses, St. Andrews requires players to have a degree of skill and to carry a handicap card from a noted golf organization. Men must play to 24, meaning they will regularly shoot around 96, and women as high as 36, meaning they are not likely to break triple-digit scores. No handicap card, no golf -- that's the rule at St. Andrews.

After having your handicap card scrutinized, players need to fork over their credit card and hand over the equivalent of around $250. Once through, players can head to the first tee.

If you're tackling the Old Course for the first time, you should be prepared to ante up for caddies, which cost around $75, plus tip, which usually amounts to another $20-$25. Without a caddy you'll likely struggle to find your way around the course with its blind tee shots, massive double greens and convoluted routing.

At $350, my round at St. Andrews was the most I have ever paid to hit a little white ball around a field. Still, there isn't any golf experience that rivals playing the Old Course. Three and a half hours after we hit our first shot, we approached the 18th hole, which heads back toward the clubhouse, and crossed the Swilcan Bridge. By mid-morning, tourists had come down to the course to watch terrified amateurs hit approach shots to the 18th green. I managed a par after hitting a sand wedge to 20 feet, while my brother drew applause from the crowd with a brave chip from the Valley of Sin, the grassy dip that fronts the final green.

Was it worth $350? You bet it was.

Arnold Palmer won't play Bay Hill

According to reports today, Arnold Palmer has said he won't play the Bay Hill Invitational for the first time since the tournament started. I'm of two minds about this -- it is a shame to see Palmer not play, given the galleries that continue to follow him, but his play has deteriorated to such a degree that he is damaging his legend.
At 75, it probably makes more sense for Palmer to simply offer his presence to the tournament held on the course he owns in Orlando. The players will come, just to genuflect in front of the king....

Here's the story.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Scotsman on David Duval

Worth checking out this article in the Scotsman on the meltdown of David Duval over the past three years. Puts things in perspective and suggests that maybe Duval, who was so diligent in working his body in the gym, just doesn't care that much about his golf game anymore.
I, for one, hoped he'd make it back. I'm not sure he has the will to anymore.
Maybe we'll see him at a tournament soon -- but for everyone's good, he should stay away until he can hit the occasional ball straight and beat a 6-handicapper without having to take strokes.

Nick Dougherty wins after being given strange ruling

Nick Dougherty outlasted Colin Montgomerie to win the Singapore Open today, but I must say there was a really strange ruling on the 16th hole, a long par four. Dougherty, feeling the pressure from a birdie by Monty on the previous hole, took out his driver and snapped one into what appeared to be the left fairway bunker. Monty, hitting a fairway metal, simply slapped it up the middle.
When Dougherty arrived, he found his ball not quite in Pete Dye's bunker, but alongside it, near the railroad ties Dye often used. I'm pretty sure that an amateur would have played it where it lay, but Dougherty thought he'd clip one of the railway ties with his swing, so he asked for a ruling. Rules officials allowed him to take a drop outside the bunker, almost in the fairway. If he'd had to stay in the bunker, there was a chance he wouldn't have even found the green. Instead, with the new and improved lie, Dougherty hit it to three feet. Montgomerie, looking annoyed and flustered, left one short on the large green and three putted, while Dougherty calmly tapped in his birdie and went on to win.
It was a strange ruling, given that the tournament officials ruled the railway ties ground under repair for the entire course. Weird - I was have thought Dougherty would have had to take an unplayable or try the shot.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

An incredible shot for an incredible day: Here's the fourth at Crail, about 20 minutes drive from St. Andrews in Scotland. This is a big hole -- 460 yards from the tips. While it is finally warming up in Toronto, this shot reminds me of a wonderful day in which my group played Crail and Kingsbarns. I nearly made a three on this hole after swatting my tee shot 320 yards by starting it over the water. There are several holes at Crail that rival the best in the world -- including this one. I'll post a course review in the near future. In the meantime, remember, even in Canada, the summer will arrive!

Tag Ridings' remarkable round

While I've already spoken about David Duval's amazing meltdown on the back nine yesterday, one also has to consider the tremendous round by Tag Ridings. Ridings had two eagles and a double eagle on his card, a first in PGA Tour history. Perhaps equally amazing is the fact that Ridings only shot a six-under-66 for the round, despite being seven under in just three holes.

Steve Williams injures his hand

There's a story out today saying Tiger Woods' caddie, the occasionally nasty Steve Williams, has badly injured his hand after crashing his car in a race.
I guess that's yet more proof of why celebrities should stay away from auto racing. Apparently he damaged tendons and bones in his left hand. Still, Williams said, despite surgery on his hand, he wants to get back in time to caddie for Woods at Riviera.

Friday, January 28, 2005

David Duval watch

Duval now has three straight triple bogeys in his round today, making him a ghastly 28 over par for three rounds.
Three straight triple bogeys on courses as easy as the ones the Hope is played on must be some sort of record.
He actually managed four triple bogeys in total on the back nine -- to shoot an amazing 49. And this is the tour stop where he shot his amazing 59, in what must seem like decades ago, though it was only six years and one major ago.
Duval finished shooting 85 and 30 over par through three rounds -- 56 strokes behind the leader. Since this is a Saturday cut, I think he's got one day left. Imagine -- he was even through the front nine before shooting 49 on the back.
Has this guy completely lost the plot? I hope not, but my feeling is Duval is done.

Growing the game of golf

The PGA Show in Florida could have hosted an interesting discussion about the state of the game of golf -- that is if the participants weren't too busy lauding each other with platitudes. Most of the comments start with, "Let me tell you Tim just how great the PGA Tour is...." It is like financial analysts telling companies, "Great quarter guys," after the company in question cuts 10,000 jobs.
Apparently, according to the transcript, which can be found here, golf is in perfect shape, the USGA has done a great job and the PGA Tour's involvement with First Tee is solving all the issues of having too many courses and not enough golfers.
How has the USGA helped golf? Apparently by hosting championships like the US Open, the Ams etc. -- which involve a grand total of 40,000 people. Now there's a number that will grow golf.
The panel also discussed getting more women involved in the game -- though they seem to ignore that women are also fleeing from the sport. Interesting that Dana Garvey, head of Troon Golf, says women have a big impact on their spouse's decision to join a private club. Also interesting to note that private clubs across North America are struggling to come to terms with accepting families as opposed to individuals. That's how the game of golf will grow.
Note that Tim Finchem makes on equipment, lauding the USGA for all they've done:

"But what we know and what we assume today, because of what the USGA has accomplished, equipment changes will not have a significant impact over the next 10 years in generating additional business."

What has the USGA accomplished? They've really gotten behind the ball issue.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What's with David Duval?

As I've said on this blog, I'm a fan of the mercurial Mr. Duval. But what's the deal with him? He seems to be getting himself on track and then takes the winter off? Sure he's playing some, but shooting 82, 79, as he did in the first two days of the Hope makes it look like he should have hit a few more balls. Maybe his swing will come around. We'll see....
And Mr. Weir! What's the deal with this sloppy play? Stuck down the leaderboard with Lanny Wadkins and Sandy Lyle. Come on Mike, we Canucks expect more this year.

Photo for a cold night: I bet you can't guess where this one was taken. Here is my good friend and regular golfing buddy Steve at the end of a round in St. Andrews. The weather unleashed a blast on us at one point, but this was still one of the most memorable rounds of my life.

Tom McBroom' Firerock Golf Club

Firerock Golf Club
Opened: 2004
Architect: Thomas McBroom
Location: Komoka, Ont., Canada


Canadian architect Tom McBroom conceived of Firerock in 2003, and the course opened in mid-2004. It is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, as a business, it is a mid-to-high end golf course built in an area (London, Ont.) with few such options. Secondly, and more to the point, McBroom's bunkering technique make Firerock a real treat in places.
Take for example the first hole (above), a strong par-five opener. The tee shot is easy enough, bending to the right, but McBroom has used natural grasses and a unique greensite to create a good hole. Too bad the second, a rather bland par four with the standard use of a holding pond isn't up to the same level.
While McBroom's earlier courses used wild greens (giving him a lot of critics as well as fans), he's toned it down over time. The only concern I have is that in toning down some features, he's often created bland, uninteresting and safe golf -- the types of courses built by owners with little experience in the game. But Firerock, Wildfire and the soon-to-open masterpiece Oviinbyrd (which few will ever see), prove he's taken his designs to the next level. He's also willing to experiment, like the use of the mound on the fourth hole at Firerock (see photo below).
Firerock #4
So does this make Firerock great? Far from it -- it still has some lacklustre holes. But the best, like the 10th, a dogleg par four with a blind tee shot, are outstanding. Though some may find the 10th confusing (apparently McBroom was forced to make some alterations because of an archiological find during clearing), it offers a couple of options. You can play the tee shot straight down the fairway to the corner, leaving a downhill approach of around 200 yards, or one can tackle the corner with a driver, risking leaving it in the fescue, but also potentially providing a much shorter shot into an interesting green. Some may not appreciate the hole's strategy the first time around, but it offers players options -- exactly what a good golf hole should do.
The finishing hole, a par four that features a dramatically perched greensite, also looks awesome (I didn't get a chance to play it -- hopefully that'll happen in the spring).
The worst sees McBroom mixing styles which leads to confusing themes. The best bits at Firerock are the hand worked bunkers -- something McBroom seems to have picked up from the recent renovation at Toronto's St. George's, where he is a member.
There's enough at Firerock to make it worth seeking out, especially if you have a chance to visit one of the area's other great courses -- like Donald Steel's Redtail, or Stanley Thompson's group which include Sunningdale, St. Thomas and Highlands.

Rating: 7.0/10

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Shout out to Ms. Muse

There's a blog out there called Golfer's Muse which is well worth investigating, especially while I'm trying to write some golf material that pays, and not just the free stuff for my fine audience here.
Not entirely sure who Ms. Muse is -- other than she is from the fine state of Texas -- but her blog, whereby she keeps running updates on PGA Tour stops, detailing, among other things, the clothes worn by some of the finer dressed gents teeing it up.
She's a bit under the weather now, but I'm sure she'll recover in time to provide insight into what Mike Weir is wearing this week.
Go Ms. Muse, go!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Tiger Woods vs. Tom Lehman. No surprise here.

So Tiger, even while hitting the ball a bit wayward (58% in driving accuracy), the new graphic shaft in the driver is blasting it long distances (303 yards on average, though that's inflated by the tournament in Hawaii).
Still, when Tiger got in the hunt, did anyone expect him to falter? Tom Lehman has been one of the best players on the PGA Tour since late summer last year -- shot a great round at the Canadian Open, for example, and tied for ninth in Hawaii just two weeks ago. But I didn't expect Lehman to make it past Tiger, just like he didn't put away all those U.S. Opens he should have clinched. Lehman never appeared to me to have the killer instinct to put his opponents away. Tiger has that ability.
So, Tiger looked solid in Hawaii, though a little off when it came to putting, and wins in San Diego. Augusta - when pro golf really starts - is only a couple of months away. Anyone betting against Tiger? He's got Vijay in his sights and that could make this an interesting season.

Jay Flemma on Torrey Pines, Stonehouse

Sorry, I haven't written much lately -- I've been out of Toronto dealing with a family matter.
In the meantime, fellow blogger and budding golf writer Jay Flemma has added some neat stuff to his blog. He's debating the merits of Torrey Pines following the Rees Jones' overhaul, and he has a neat bit on Stonehouse, a neat Mike Strantz course. Mike is a great guy and a brilliant architect. He's also in the middle of a battle with cancer, though his wife tells me he's doing pretty well.
Anyway, check out Jay's site for a lot of great golf writing and course reviews.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Green Monkey

Course: The Green Monkey
Location: Sandy Lane, Barbados
Architect: Tom Fazio
Opened: 2004

The Green Monkey is one of the highest profile, no-profile courses you will ever find. The course is part of a reported $300-million facelift owners JP McManus and Dermot Desmond gave to Barbados' the fabled resort.
The resort is the discreet destination of choice for many of Hollywood's famed and fabulous, and has been the haunt of the likes of Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger in the past. In the last few years, with the addition of the Country Club and now The Green Monkey, Sandy Lane has also tried to distinguish itself with golf. Since the rooms cost upwards of US$1,000 a night and the Green Monkey only opened officially at the end of 2004, few have seen Fazio's work.

#1 (below) -- This is Fazio's opening hole, a nondescript par four. It plays towards the quarry, where most of the excitement will occur.

Below is the view from the back of the second hole -- a breathtaking view of what is to come. Sure Fazio has overshaped everything here and the bunkers are too clean, but the view is amazing.


#9 - Here is a look back at the fairway, including the large cut in the land on the left of the tee. While the green is rather sedate, with a simple roll in the middle, the rest of the hole is exciting and exhilerating. I'm sure the idea was to make you want to rush back to the tee and try it again.
This is the first of the true quarry holes (the eighth, a short par three, plays alongside the quarry), the ninth is a terrific 635-yard par five. One of golf's great tee shots.


#16- This is the hole you might have actually seen. A par three of more than 200 yards, this is the "Green Monkey" hole, and Fazio even shaped a bunker to the right of the green in the shape of the monkey that inhabits much of Barbados (it was brought in to kill the rats). Not sure how much you have to pay a golf architect to shape a bunker like an animal, but I'm sure it is a great deal. The hole is more than a bit overdone and, to my mind, not one of the standouts on the course.


#17 -While the 16th underwhelmed me, I found the uphill 17th, with its tough tee shot, to have a great kick. The tees from where this photo was shot were added after Fazio was in Barbados and force a carry of more than 230-yards off the tee. If you manage that, you'll still be left with more than 200 yards uphill. A great, tough hole.


Overall impressions: The Green Monkey has some fascinating holes, but is overall marred by a lacklustre opening and dull finishing hole. The hype on this course is impressive, considering few have seen it. T&L Golf actually sent someone down and paid for a room so the magazine could review the course. That never happens in travel writing, I can assure you.
If you can get a round at the Green Monkey, you'll walk away impressed. It is a marked improvement on Royal Westmoreland, previously Barbados' best-known course. But it isn't so much better that it warrants all the trouble one has to undertake to actually be allowed on its fairways.

David Duval enters golf design business

From today's New York Times:

With more than $16 million in career earnings, Duval is not burdened with financial concerns, and he began planning for his career after golf years ago. On Tuesday, he announced his newest venture, Duval Designs, a golf course design and architectural firm that will build its first course in Baja, Mexico, the Loreto Bay Golf Club.

Although Duval looked forward to designing a golf course, he says he still believes in his ability to play on them. Asked if he was confident that he would return to being one the world's best players, Duval said: "I'm very confident. It's a matter of working on the things I've been working on, improving and gaining confidence in them."

Wonder who is doing the actual design work for Duval? I assume, since he is an IMG guy, that "his" courses will actually be created by IMG's in-house architect Brit Stenson. He's done work with other IMG clients like Mark O'Meara, and Nick Faldo. That will let Duval make three appearances at his courses -- including a ground-breaking and a media opening.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Toronto courses reportedly agree to membership deal

Industry talk today has been about a $5,000 membership reportedly being sold by three high-end Ontario private clubs -- Bond Head, a new Hurdzan/Fry course; a well known Markham, Ont. course and Taboo Golf Club. Apparently for $5,000, you'll get unlimited play. No initiation is needed.
Though the deal isn't firm yet, clearly a move aimed at Clublink and private golf courses, this signals a significant shift in the mentality of golf in Canada.

David Duval returns

Doug Ferguson at the Associated Press returns with another fine piece on David Duval. An interesting piece, suggesting Duval hasn't picked up a club much over the winter, though there sounds like a lot of snowboarding might have occured. Here's the story:

For what it is worth, I found Duval to be a charming, interesting guy when I interviewed him. He is apparently a lot crankier with television reporters who are only interested in 10 second soundbites. David isn't really down with that.

Here's my story from the Canadian Open last year.

Duval battles back after two tough years: 'A good place to be
National Post
Friday, September 10, 2004
Page: B7 / FRONT
Section: Sports
Byline: *Robert* *Thompson*

OAKVILLE, Ont. - The last two years have been like a country and western song for *David* *Duval*. He broke up with his fiancee, he hurt his back and his golf game went south.

But Duval, who to many golf fans seemed shielded behind his dark sunglasses and impenetrable personality, appears to have become a fan favourite as he continues along the comeback trail. And after
shooting an even-par 71 in windy conditions yesterday, he said the fans can relate to the trials he has seen over the last two years.

"Everyone has had hard times," Duval said after making par on the 18th at Glen Abbey. "Everyone has gone through that."

Duval certainly has seen hard times.

After winning the British Open in 2001, injuries forced him to slightly alter his swing. His game disintegrated in 2002 and came to a grinding halt last year when he made only four cuts and US$84,708.

Then Duval simply disappeared.

He emerged this summer at the U.S. Open as a changed man. He got married to a women who had three children from a previous marriage and became a father overnight.

Once a workout fanatic, Duval's back injuries limited his time at the gym. Despite that, he slowly began working on his golf game, far away from the eyes of the media. The man who once shot 59 to win a
PGA tournament says he began to have fun playing golf once again.

He even kept a big smile on his face while posting 82 and 83 on the first two days of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock and proclaimed he had fun doing it. He showed some progress while missing the cut at the
PGA Championship last month at Whistling Straits, and then made what appeared to be a breakthrough last weekend at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, where he made made his first cut in 15
months and finished 13th.

At one time that result would have been the sign of a poor week for Duval, who twice won four tournaments in a season. Still, last weekend's result appears to have provided a huge boost of confidence.

"It's a lot of progress from a couple of months ago," he said. "This is a good place to be now."

In an attempt to make him competitive again, Duval has been working with Hank Haney, the coach best known for helping Mark O'Meara win the British Open and Masters in 1998.

The changes Duval and Haney have made include weakening his unusually strong grip to help add a degree of consistency off the tee. Duval missed a few fairways yesterday, but looked comfortable
with the driver in his hands. The change is new and different enough from his former approach that Duval admitted he still thinks about it when he is playing.

Still, at times yesterday he looked like the *David* *Duval* who shot 59 to win the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 1999.

In blustery conditions, Duval managed to make a couple of early birdies, though a double bogey on the tricky par-four ninth hole slightly derailed his progress. After missing a birdie putt on the 18th, Duval walked away with an even-par round, perhaps the worst score he could have posted considering how well he played.

But as a sign of just how far he has come from his struggles, Duval said he wasn't pleased with his final number yesterday.
"I'm pleased with how I hit it, but I'm not satisfied with my score at all."

While Duval is often portrayed as a dour character, yesterday he was quick with a self-deprecating comment, often about his struggles over the past two years.

"There's nothing I can't do with a golf ball -- I've shown that for a few years. I can hit it two fairways over," he joked. "I know what good golf is and I know what bad golf is all about."

Duval expects to play several more events before the end of the year in the hopes of continuing his progress. But don't expect to see him playing in golf's so-called "silly season" of high-paying
exhibitions in the fall.

"I'm not wanted anywhere," he said without altering his expression.

That doesn't appear to be the case judging from the large gallery of fans that followed him yesterday.

"Everybody is watching to see if he can get back," said Jim Foster, a London, Ont., spectator who followed Duval's round yesterday. "Everybody remembers he shot 59."

While eight of the American players in the field will head to Detroit next week to play in the Ryder Cup, Duval will head home to Denver where he'll watch the event he played twice on television.

That's the one of the hardest parts of his tumble from the top of the PGA Tour, Duval admits.

"I'm looking forward to [watching the event], but not looking forward to it at the same time, if you know what I mean. That's the worst thing that's happened to me -- not making that team."

A criticism of the way Scottish courses are run

Here's an interesting story that is highly critical of the way Scotland's top courses (Muirfield, Troon) are run and an argument that this fact is hurting the development of Scottish golfers.
The development of young golfers is, apparently, a worldwide issue. We argue about it in Canada and the U.S. and apparently in the home of golf as well.
How rare it is, these days, to have someone like Tiger Woods develop without having grown up playing at a country club. Is golf too expensive to attract the next generation of great athletes. I think it is....

The Shark: Hit the damned ball harder

Greg Norman apparently thinks amateur golfers don't putt aggressively enough. Oh, so that's my problem.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


While reading through a website this evening, my wife, Jennifer noticed that Top Flite was inadvertantly spelled "Flight," a gross mistake within the golf world.
Of course, she immediately said "KWOGAS," the acronym for the organization she says she'll one day set up. The acronym stands for - Knowledgeable Wives of Golfers Appreciation Society and Jen uses the expression to point out all of the things she's learned about golf just by being in a household with a man addicted to hitting a little white ball with a club.
It is fascinating to see her knowledge in the game expand -- she can tell you most of the great golf courses in the world, name all of the best golfers (she even has a few favourites), name the type of ball I like and tell you (within a couple) how many golf shirts I own. All of these, she regularly points out, are KWOGAS-worthy and should be praised.
She'll even sit through a few hours of the occasional tournament, especially if Mike Weir is in the field or it is at a notable course like Augusta or Riviera or Muirfield, places I've often spoke of or have played myself.
For a girl with no interest in sports previously, these are big breakthroughs. She still couldn't tell you what a lag putt is, but she can tell you Bobby Jones' full name. Impressive indeed.
I often wonder how many other wives of golfers have learned more about the game than they ever hoped. It is kinda like osmosis -- if you're around it long enough, you kind of just take it in.
I think it does bother Jen some -- even though she's often impressed by herself for knowing that Tiger won the last British Open at the Old Course, she's kind of loathes the fact she knows that.
I'm sure that's the case with many so-called "golf widows."

Worth checking out this site - It is a pretty interesting blog that takes a different look at golf and contains the now famous "Sortagolf" quiz. Worth spending some time at....

PGA Tour players carp about Torrey Pines North

Geoff Shackelford on writes a great piece on the raging battle over Torrey Pines, the golf courses run by the city of San Diego. In the story he quotes Tom Pernice on the reno of the South Course.

"It was an old traditional seaside course," said Pernice, an admirer of classic course design and San Diego resident. "Now it looks like it was built in 2003, and it's a typical piece-of-junk Rees Jones design. He ruined the greens. The greens are done pitifully, pure and simple. Bad design."

Doesn't sound like much of an endorsement, does it? All Rees did was take a course and make it longer and less interesting. Apparently that's what it takes to host a U.S. Open. Quite a shame.

For more on how the USGA pushes to get exactly what it wants, read Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black by John Feinstein. Though Feinstein is a little too cozy with the USGA, the book (whether Feinstein wants to or not) shows just how the USGA does everything it can to get what it wants out of a golf course.

Championship golf courses?

In a e-mail I received, Peter Kostis talks about what constitutes a so-called "championship golf course." Interesting that he notes that PGA Tour players often check out good courses that surround the clubs where they tee it up each week.
I've seen that personally -- Nick Price playing Seminole two weeks before the Players Championship, Fred Funk heading to St. George's in Toronto the week of the Canadian Open, and so on.
So what is a championship course? It is more marketing lingo than anything more legitimate. Now any course that is over 6,700 yards long is a "championship" track. The term is used so widely now that it really means nothing.
Of course, a real PGA Tour calibre course ranges in length depending on the conditions -- Hamilton, which hosted the 2003 Canadian Open, was not even 7,000 yards. Whistling Straits, host of the last PGA Championship, was expected to play more than 7,700 yards, though it never actually did.

Anyway, here's Kostis' piece:

"Championship course" was once a privileged moniker. Now it's slapped on any layout no longer than a pitch-and-putt. Here's the real meaning: a course that in a tournament setup has all the qualities necessary to challenge the world's best players. I'd say that close to 50 percent of PGA Tour venues fail this standard.
Hosting a Tour event is now at least as much about infrastructure as it is course design. You need enough space for corporate tents, grandstands and parking. Such practicalities, while necessary, shrink and dilute the candidate pool.
As fans of great courses, pros often visit other local tracks early in tournament weeks. Some of the most popular stops are Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida; Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, New York; and Vaquero Country Club near Dallas. In a perfect world, each would host a Tour stop--and so would my favorites, L.A. Country Club, Troon North in Scottsdale and Florida's Boca Rio. A man can dream...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Trump forms golf management company!

The Donald, not content with simply running the "best of" everything, has decided he'll add golf to the mix. Hope it goes better than his foray into casinos, which ended in Chapter 11.


NEW YORK, N.Y.;  Jan. 18, 2005…Donald J. Trump has announced the formation of a new company, Trump Golf Management, LLC, designed to continue the Trump golf brand, setting the standard for world-class golf experiences.

Trump Golf Management — to be overseen by managing partners, Carolyn Kepcher and Ashley Cooper — consolidates clubhouse and golf course operations, purchasing, human resources and marketing, under one umbrella.

With the goal of continuing delivery of an unparalleled level of service, the new company will ensure that The Trump Organization's image and mystique is melded into the golf, recreation, and dining experiences for all its members and guests.

 "For years, golf has been my passion," said Trump, Chairman and President of The Trump Organization.  "As I added more golf clubs into the Trump portfolio, golf became a meaningful business for us and it deserves the management skills and professionalism that Carolyn and Ashley bring to the table."  Currently, Trump's investment in the golf industry exceeds $200 million.

There are four golf clubs in the Trump portfolio at the present time:

1. Trump National Golf Club, Westchester, NY (private membership, golf and residential community, designed by Jim Fazio);
2. Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, NJ (private membership, Tom Fazio Design, opened in 2004, second 18-hole course currently in permitting stages);
3. Trump International Golf Club, Palm Beach County, Fla. (private membership, site of the ADT Skills Challenge and the LPGA season-ending ADT Championship).
4. Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles, Calif. (18 hole, upscale public, opening in late Spring 2005, host to the 2005 LPGA Office Depot Championship).

"With the formation of Trump Golf Management and the centralization of our operations, we will continue to work to improve on what is already a world-class golf experience for our members and guests," said Kepcher, who will continue to serve as Executive Vice President and COO of Trump's golf courses.

"In addition, there will be significant cost savings realized by consolidating purchasing and through the centralization of our budgeting process," she added.

The ongoing battles at Torrey Pines

Here's a worthwhile story on all the problems facing Torrey Pines, which hosts this weekend's PGA Tour stop. Give it a read -- it discusses the battle over renovations to the North Course and concerns the South Course, renovated by Rees Jones, has been turned into a difficult, but bland, track.

See it here --

Brantford's David Hearn this week at the Buick

Apparently, David Hearn, who played out of Brantford Golf and Country Club, will make his PGA Tour debut on Thursday at the Buick Invitational in San Diego. Hearn, who I've written about on this blog, got his 2005 Tour card in Q-School after playing his way onto the Nationwide Tour last year.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Michelle Wie or Dean Wilson? More strange choices on the PGA Tour

Interesting to note that Michelle Wie managed a sponsor's excemption into the Sony in Hawaii, while Dean Wilson, arguably the best golfer ever in the state, didn't even manage to gain entrance to the tournament, despite having made it through Q-School last fall.

Mike Weir, for one, seemed pretty surprised that Wilson hadn't made it into the tournament.

"Are you kidding me?'' said Mike Weir, who played with Wilson at university. "I always thought it was a shame that Dean doesn't get the respect as the only tour player from Hawaii. For him not to get in Sony is a bit embarrassing for the tournament. You've got to support your local guy.''

While the Canadian Open offers spots to most strong local players, Wilson apparently has never been offered an excemption into his local tournament. Very strange indeed.

Vijay Singh wins in Hawaii, but Els comes on strong

Ernie Els seems to regularly be the bridesmaid these days. Yesterday he shot 62 to tie the course record at Waialae Country Club, but came up a shot short when Vijay Singh managed a 65 to win.
Ernie's game is exceptional when he can make some putts -- mediocre when he struggles with the flatstick as he did most of the week at the Sony Open.
What to say about Vijay? Is it possible that he is the least interesting great golfer ever? He has certainly jumped into the realm of the greats with his play in the last few years and his two PGA Championships and his Masters win. But man, it is hard to like him. I can appreciate his work ethic, but beyond that, I wonder if anyone reallly likes him. Clearly the fans aren't tuning in to see him hit his high cuts off the tee and wedges into greens.
Where is the excitement in golf? More to the point, where is Tiger?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

No Big Wiesy, but watch for Ernie

Well, despite having Ian Baker-Finch drool over her while she missed putts and greens, Michelle Wie didn't crack the Top 20 in Hawaii this week. In fact, she didn't even make the cut, ending her week with par far out of reach and in the back of the pack. Hopefully she'll head back to playing some am events, but I wouldn't bet on it. Watch for her father to continue to parade her out for the rest of the year. And yes, this has gotten tired....

While the TV coverage on ESPN spent a lot of time on Wie, the Big Easy made the course look easy for a stretch of holes. I'd put money on Ernie at the Masters this year -- he played an amazing stretch of golf yesterday.

I'm fond of this photo -- on a day that began without a cloud in the sky, this shot demonstrates the changing weather in Scotland. Here's the sixth green (Heathery), with my bag in the foreground. We played the Eden in the morning (last April) and the Old Course in the afternoon. With the rain eventually coming down as we hit the 14th hole, we played through a group of Norweigans who were frantically hitting balls in an attempt to keep one in play. That grew tired and we marched through them. I've played the Old Course twice now and both rounds have been magical. It is as remarkable a place as everyone says.
I've written a lot about the experience -- including how to get onto the Old Course, which isn't as difficult as everyone thinks. It is well worth checking out a book by Allan Ferguson, called Golf in Scotland, which will tell you all the shortcuts to avoid getting hosed in the home of golf.

Here my brother and my good friend Steve stand in the Shell bunker to demonstrate just how massive it is. Thankfully no one managed to land their ball in it. The green is a few paces beyond.

More Bunkers at the Old Course -- an example of the massive bunkers at the Old Course which are getting a facelift. The next shot will put the size of this one, found on the 7th hole (High), in perspective.

The Old Course is in the process of reworking all of its bunkers, according to a story in the Scotsman this week. The plan is to rework the faces in order to have them ready for the Open Championship this summer. Anyway, here a couple of crazy Canadians in the home of golf stand on the first tee of St. Andrews for the most obvious golf picture in the world....

Friday, January 14, 2005

See Royal Dornoch before it disappears!

Here's a very distressing story about the plight of Royal Dornoch and the problems of coastal erosion. I've posted photos from Royal Montrose on this blog to demonstrate the problem at other UK courses. Anyway, I wonder if coastal erosion is leading to the increasing costs to play some of the great links. If Dornoch is damaged, what's next? North Berwick? Cruden Bay?

Quote of the day from Michelle Wie

Wie's comment following her opening round in Hawaii:

"At least I'm not in last place."

Mike Weir rebuilds his swing, rips the RCGA

The Nissan Open, in an apparent need to hype their tournament, offered up Mike Weir for a press conference yesterday. Weir spoke about taking some time off, rebuilding his swing and rebounding from last year's up-and-down season.
He also spoke about the Canadian Open heading to Vancouver's Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club for the Canadian Open in September. Mike says he's done all he can to get the word out, adding that some, like Tiger Woods, didn't even know there was a tournament in Vancouver (not that Woods was coming anyway). Weir then seemed to blame the Royal Canadian Golf Association for their failure to promote the tournament properly. Looks like the days of Weir pimping for the Canadian Open are over....

Michelle Wie's tough day

So Michelle Wie may not be living up to the hype after all. Sure it was windy, but shooting a 5-over-75 put her in 103rd place in Hawaii yesterday, without a hope of making the cut. How long is the PGA Tour going to put up with tournaments offering these kinds of excemptions into their tournaments? Better yet, when is Michelle Wie going to actually win something worth mentioning? Ladies Am? Seems to me the last teen superstar, a guy named Tiger, has got a few Amateurs in his pocket. In fact almost every great pro golfer does....

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Robert Trent Jones Jr., the Philippines and an AK-47

Bloomberg News, which isn't typically known for its strong features, has done this amazing piece on Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his involvement in the overthrow of the Marcos government in the Philippines. Worth a read just for the bit where Jones goes back to the Philippines and is told he'll be tortured for info, so his driver hands him an Ak-47. Catch it here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What's next for Michelle Wie?

I wrote this piece for last year when there was a different editorial team in place. The piece was given the go for publication and then turned down at the last moment when a senior exec at the tour got worried about its content. Anyway, I see more players are questioning Michelle Wie's continuing decision to play PGA Tour events -- including Tiger Woods. So, for the first time in public, here's my take on Michelle Wie.

By Robert Thompson
The Big Wiesy will make her PGA Tour debut today at the Sony Open, but one has to wonder why there hasn’t been any attempt to stop this amusement ride before it comes off the rails.
First, it must be stated that Michelle Wie may be the best 14-year-old golfer in the world. She may even be a future LPGA champion. But accepting an offer to play with PGA Tour pros — players significantly out of Wie’s league — demonstrates a lack of foresight and judgment on the part of her parents.
While 2003 may have been "The Year of the Woman" in professional golf, a competitive breakthrough never occurred. Suzy Whaley managed to qualify for the Greater Hartford Open in questionable fashion, but failed to get near the cut line. Even Annika Sorenstam, arguably the best female golfer of all time, couldn’t successfully make weekend play at the Bank of America Colonial.
So what makes Wie so special? She is clearly the best of a number of teenaged female players, including Aree and Naree Wongluekiet, who occasionally tee it up on the LPGA Tour. Her skills are maturing, but right now, Wie has not proven she can rise to the top of the LPGA leaderboards, unlike Sorenstam, who has won more than 40 times on the LPGA Tour.
While Wie’s public image has been on the rise over the past year, the cameras have shown her game to be uneven. Last year she failed to make the cut in events on the Canadian Tour and Nationwide Tour, both with standards below the PGA Tour. Sorenstam’s lack of success on her lone shot at the Tour would suggest Wie doesn’t have a chance this week.
Nonetheless, it was determined by sponsors that Wie, a local girl and media celebrity, should be offered an exemption to the tournament. Fair enough — that is the Sony Open’s prerogative.
Consider for a moment to whom the tournament offered its exemption: a female. Check. Been there, done that. But there’s an overriding factor here — the tournament’s organizers also decided to offer a spot to a girl who not only is just 14, but one who is poised to become the youngest person ever to appear on the PGA Tour. Consider that for a moment. The youngest. Ever.
It is understandable that the sponsors of the Sony Open would want Wie at the tournament. Given that, it is hard to imagine she can do anything other than fail this week in Hawaii.
Wie may be talented and able to hit her tee shots great distances, but it is still a mistake to take someone so young and prematurely place them under the spotlight of the media and against players with whom she cannot be competitive. Consider how other so-called teenaged phenoms have done in golf and other sports in the past few years. Ty Tryon, perhaps the last teenager to garner as much attention as Wie, managed to make only four cuts last year and saw weekend play only once in 2002.
You’ve got to wonder whether Tryon and his family now consider it a smart decision to try the Tour at such a young age. He could become the next Justin Rose, the British teen star who turned pro after a single strong appearance at the British Open at the age of 17. While Rose went on to miss 20 cuts in a row on the European tour, he eventually blossomed into a genuine world-class player. There’s still hope for Tryon, who is playing on the Nationwide Tour this year. Time will tell.
My biggest concern is that Wie, who seems quite well-adjusted considering the media scrutiny she’s constantly under, could become the next Jennifer Capriati, once the teenage darling of tennis. The comparisons are striking — after all, Capriati beat ranked 18-year-olds before she was a teenager. She turned pro at 13 and by 1991, at the age of 14, was ranked in the top 10 in the world.
But by 1993, she had flamed out, burned by media scrutiny and the pressure of the spotlight. It would take her eight years to make a full comeback.
It seems odd that people continue to ignore the true model for teenage success: Tiger Woods. Earl Woods would not allow his son to tackle a PGA Tour event until he was 16. Tiger discarded pressure to turn pro early — "I would rather spend four years here at Stanford and improve myself," Woods said at the time — and did not try to crack the tour until he had won three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles.
What did he gain from the extra time spent playing largely against golfers of similar age and ability? He learned not only how to win — a valuable skill that can’t be overlooked — but also how to dominate his opponents. It’s a factor that still plays an important role in his status as the best golfer in the world. It is a factor that Wie’s father, who still functions as her caddie, seems to be overlooking.
I’m not suggesting anything as sordid as Capriati’s experience will happen to Wie, especially since there seems to be a support structure around the latter teenager. The bigger concern — and I think this is a huge issue for the LPGA — is that Wie might bow under the pressure or see her game falter and not become the next female golfing superstar, the heir apparent to Sorenstam. If that happens, maybe people will finally question the "wisdom" of having a 14-year-old girl playing a PGA Tour event.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Canada's best golf courses

A couple of notable associates along with myself have created a Top 25 Courses in Canada list for, the fine golf architecture site.
The list is significantly different from Score magazine's recent list -- and superior, I think. Anyway, read, debate, argue and enjoy.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Vijay Singh's caddie: "It was either nothing or negative"

No shock that Vijay Singh isn't the most liked golfer in the world. But apparently, according to Dave "Buddy" Renwick, his caddie for the 18 months leading into this season, the world's No. 1 golfer isn't a very nice person either.

This, from Renwick in the Scotsman, on Singh:

"I never got a ‘good morning’ from Vijay. Or ‘good club’ after a shot. Or ‘have a nice night’ at the end of a day. It was either nothing or a negative if he did speak to me. Being courteous isn’t much to ask. I know, too, that other players - those we played practice rounds with - had told Vijay to lighten up with me. But he never did. He was always tossing clubs and accusing me of getting yardages wrong. There’s only so much of that stuff you can take, no matter how good the money is."

Sounds like a charming chap? No surprise he has so few sponsors.

A round with Stuart Appleby

Last summer I wrote a story for about playing a round with Stuart Appleby. Yesterday, he repeated as the winner of the Mercedes, so I went back and found the piece I created about teeing it up with him at the Altamira Charity Challenge. He was a lot of fun to play with -- typical Australian in many ways.

By Robert Thompson

Watching Stuart Appleby up close is an awe-inspiring experience for any golfer who at some point has considered themselves even partially proficient at the game.

The ease with which he coils his shoulders and smoothly transfers his weight, thumping the little white ball well into the fairway is amazing. Unless you have to tee it up following him in a tournament -- then Appleby's swing is something to fear.

Playing in pro-ams with a PGA TOUR player is always a little bit like Christmas morning. You look forward to it for weeks, but when the event actually occurs there's always the possibility of being disappointed. In this case, the disappointment doesn't reside with receiving a bad winter sweater. Rather, it has everything to do with embarrassing yourself in front of someone who has mastered something so difficult.

I had the opportunity to tee it up with Appleby earlier this summer when he was in Toronto at the Altamira Charity Challenge, a golf exhibition that featured the likes of Shaun Micheel, Craig Stadler and organizer Peter Jacobsen.

It wasn't the first time I'd had the good fortune to play a game of golf with a PGA TOUR pro. In the past, I've been lucky enough to hit the links with Kirk Triplett and Matt Gogel, as well.

They are experiences I'll remember all my life. Triplett, dressed as Tiger Woods as a Halloween stunt, wanted to talk about Toronto, having spent time playing the Canadian Tour. He also gave each person in our group a tip on how to improve his game. Gogel spent time talking about his equipment and how difficult it was to fine a driver that worked for him. (note: At some point I'll post his comments on "love grass," the wispy strands that dot many of the fairways of many southern courses)
Although every player I've spent time on the course with was friendly, I still find it a daunting experience to tee it up with a PGA TOUR pro.

When you hit the course with a seasoned golfer like that, you quickly find out just how far removed a good amateur is from the realms of the best in the world. When I teed it up with Appleby, alongside a mutual fund CEO, a marketing director and a television sportscaster, I was playing to a solid 2 handicap. But once I watched the Aussie bust one off the first tee, I knew he was in a league with which I couldn't ever compete.

Thankfully, given that some in our group were standing on the first tee feeling tighter than a cork in a wine bottle, Appleby turned out to be friendly and fun. He loosened us up, something we all needed badly. After all, there's nothing like adding several hundred spectators to the mix to make a bunch of weekend hacks look like they've never picked up a club. Thankfully no spectators were hurt in the first few holes, giving our group an opportunity to get to chat with Appleby, relax and keep a few balls in play.

Even with his outgoing Australian nature, it was hard not to recall that the 33-year-old Appleby had undergone a personal hardship few have experienced at such a young age. In 1998, just after the British Open, Appleby's wife, Renay, was killed in a freak car accident while unloading luggage in London, England. I'm a month younger than Appleby and am relieved to say that I haven't experienced anything like what Appleby went through following his wife's death. I hope I never do.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Appleby struggled immediately after Renay's death. He has since remarried, though, and is now is regarded as one the best players in the world. (note: he is also expecting the birth of his first child any day now...)

"A few years ago, you couldn't ask him to do these things," Jacobsen says, referring to corporate outings. "But he's such a great guy. I'm glad he's doing so well."

Appleby was affable throughout our round. It's a good thing he was -- the game lasted almost six hours, more time than I like to spend golfing with anyone.

The highlight of the day came, not surprisingly, from the pro golfer in our midst. After hitting a tee shot into a greenside pond on the par-4 fourth hole, Appleby picked up and coached our group through the rest of the hole. On the following hole, a 176-yard par 3, he hit a little riser that finished over a slope in the green and found the back of the cup for a hole-in-one.

Given his level temperament, Apple didn't get overly excited about what had just transpired. As opposed to weekend players, who can tell you the exact distance and ball spin that resulted in their ace, Appleby couldn't even recall the last time he pulled the feat off.

On the next hole, a mid-length par 4, the tall Aussie drove the green and tapped in an 18-inch putt for eagle to go 1-2 on his card. As a spectator and playing partner, I watched this unfold with wide eyes, full of excitement and fascinated by the ease with which Appleby played the game.

It is hard to imagine anything better.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Weir, Singh, Kapalua and a guy named Tiger

Spent parts of the last couple of nights watching the Mercedes being played at Kapalua.
Several things stuck me.
First, Mike Weir looks pretty sharp after having spent a few months away, working on his swing and hanging with his family in Utah. He is also dressing in some nice colours, not quite the typically blah look he usually sports.
Anyway, he's still getting the ball pounded by him by most of his playing partners (Ian Baker Finch had to clarify at one point that Singh only hit the ball 35 yards past Weir, not 50 as someone had initially said), but he's hitting his irons nicely and tucking the ball close to pins. It could be that he is ready to make an early charge, just like he did two years ago with the win at Riviera and then the Masters.
That said, his putting looks either glorious or godawful. Yesterday he missed some remarkably short puts on Kapalua's grainy greens..... Which brings us to Singh, who couldn't buy a putt yesterday after making everything for the first two days. Vijay looks all-world for a majority of his rounds -- always in control, hitting laser-like irons and monstrous drivers. But his putter looked a bit off -- and I think this is something that is going to always be an issue with Singh. The only question is how many putters he will go through this year and whether he'll return to the long putter at some point. Interestingly, one of Vijay's few sponsors (aside from Cleveland Golf -- who plays their clubs any more?) is the investment firm led by Ted Forstmann. He's the fellow who recently purchased IMG Sports and is a long-time friend of Singh, a man who has been pegged as notoriously unfriendly.
Lastly, Kapalua looks like a lot of fun and it looks like the players enjoy it as well. Fairways that are 90-yards wide seem commonplace, contours and elevation shifts abound and Bill Coore's bunkering looks fabulous. So what if the players can't figure out the greens (which are being re-surfaced, incidently)? They are a lot of fun to watch -- especially when players like Weir have a tough time with two-footers.
The course's strange fairways and dramatic, plunging drops seem to baffle players who have teed it up at Kapalua for years. Take Tiger's problem at 17, where he hit the ball with his driver into the hazzard. He was so annoyed at the situation that once the ball was found, Tiger could be seen throwing it back into the hazzard in a fit of pique. Great stuff. Go Kapalua!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Bobby Jones, the Grand Slam and Mark Frost

Mark Frost's The Greatest Game Ever Played was surely one of the most breezy, fun golf reads in recent memory. I know some (like the fine gang on don't care for his take on history (or his occasional error), but I find Frost's narrative style to be compelling. He's got a new book out on Hyperion called Bobby Jones: The Grand Slam and it is another interesting read. I'll post more once I've finished it, but it certainly contends with James Dodson's recent bio of Ben Hogan as the best golf book I've read in the last year.

Anyway, check more out on Frost at his home page.

The never-ending PGA Tour

Here in Toronto the weather is cold and there is ice on the ground.

In Hawaii, apparently, it is a whole other world and the PGA Tour returns this weekend after its 15 minute break . I was speaking with my brother about this recently and he voiced his wish that the tour actually shut down for a bit. After all, he said, the season doesn't really begin until the Tour's best hit the green grass of Georgia. While I disagree with my brother on a lot of matters, here's one where we see eye-to-eye. Let's have some sort of lay-off. Without it, it sure seems like there is a lot of golf not worth watching.

However, this weekend's tournament at Kapalua, a grand Coore and Crenshaw golf course, is one worth tuning in to. As the inimitable Geoff Shackleford points out in his story of golf courses on the tube this year, there are some interesting tracks upcoming.

Bring on the U.S. Am and Merion! What a course.

Nike Golf

Had a fascinating meeting with the fine folks at Nike Golf in Canada this morning.
I only follow golf equipment in the periphery, but have spent a lot of time lately talking to some clubmakers. Not sure why they are all of a sudden interested in me -- but it probably has something to do with my role at the National Post.
For the record, I play clubs from a company called Swing Sync -- based in Pinehurst, N.C., but with a big Canadian connection. The technology for frequency matching was developed by an engineer in Ottawa and PGA Tour player Steve Flesch is quietly playing the clubs. You can check out Swing Sync here. By the way, I was skeptical of the concept, but have lowered my handicap by five strokes since playing the clubs. I find their driver (I play an early prototype) particularly strong, and its really improved my lengthy, but often erratic, driving. I'll write an entire post on Swing Sync at some other point.
Anyway, back to Nike. After appearing to stumble out of the box, even with Tiger as their pitchman, Nike seems to be in the midst of quite the comeback. Today the company added Justin Leonard to its endorsement list, a big break for them considering the demise of David Duval over the past couple of years. And the Slingshot irons have been successful, both with reviewers and reviewers.
The most interesting facet of Nike's golf strategy is their move to buck the trend of bringing out new products every four months, a problem that has been plaguing pro shops and has been common at companies like TaylorMade.
The issue for pro shops is that they take a company's stock, price it according to suggested retail prices, only to see a company, like TaylorMade, bring out a new club months or even weeks later, forcing the earlier stock to be discounted.
Nike's Mike Francis (general manager of Nike Golf in Canada) says this is leading some competitors (can you say Callaway?) to run out of ideas. Simply put, with the restrictions on drivers these days, what more can Callaway do to improve your game? I've never played Callaway clubs, though the company's new driver, the Big Bertha 454, should be in my hands soon. After giving it a go in the spring, I'll report back. Do I expect it to outdrive my three year old Swing Sync driver? I doubt it, but I did have a carry distance of 270 yards using it on the simulator at Callaway.
Anyway, Nike isn't bothering with the tact of launching new drivers every few weeks, and is aiming at growing its products and brand more gradually. It is a bit surprising considering Nike's reputation as a marketing machine.
I haven't hit Nike's Ignite driver (though Stephen Ames raved about it during an interview with me last summer) , but I like the message I received from the company. I'm not putting my Swing Sync clubs in the closet yet, but Nike's message is appealing.

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