Thoughts and writing on the world of golf and golf course architecture.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Fred Funk: Hero to the everyday golfer?
Fred Funk doesn't hit the ball very far. In fact, a lot of weekend hackers could and do hit it as far as "Fairway" Freddie. Gosh, I average 275 or more off the tee and would blow it by Funk. Of course, I don't hit 90% of my fairways. Something to aim for, I guess. While some have suggested Funk's win at the Players on Monday was a dull slog around a wet course, I can see why he appeals to a lot of golfers. After all, he's a lot like them. He doesn't hit it far, he's faced with hitting 4-irons into a lot of greens and he looks like he might have a beer or two after the round. He also proved that the shortest hitter in the game can compete and beat the longest. Where was Ernie Els, Vijay "The Big Bore" Singh, Phil Mickelson and some guy named Tiger at the end of the Players? Way down the leaderboard, that's where.
Anyway, Art Spandler on Golfobserver.com has a neat column on Funk that you can read here.
There's also an interesting piece in the Boston Globe about Brad Faxon's attempt to qualify for the British Open. It is worth a read. Apparently Faxon hasn't made it into any majors this year, so he's flying to the UK to qualify.
Note: I recently had a discussion with my good friend and regular golfing companion, Steve Waxman, about why he avoided playing Pebble Beach on a recent trip to Cali. He explained it to me and I asked him to write something up about it. Steve's the consumate public golfer, without many of the perks that I receive, so I thought his commentary on the subject might interest some readers.
On a recent trip to California I drove down the coast and stop in at Pebble Beach to take a look at the hallowed 18th. Of course, I knew what a round would cost but I asked anyway. $395, I was told, until April when it goes up to $440. My girlfriend was shocked at the price. I just shrugged and wondered if I would ever get an invitation to play a complimentary round.
A couple of weeks later Rob and I got into a debate as to how much was too much for a round of golf.
“You paid $250 to play the Old Course,” he reminded me.
But that’s the Old Course. It is the birth place of the game and we got to play on the same sacred fairways as the likes of Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Arnie, Jack and Tiger. Sure Pebble Beach is recognized as one of the world’s greatest courses, but is it worth more than St. Andrews?
I thought it over for a while and decided that $250 seemed a reasonable price to pay for the privilege of hitting and number of balls into the Pacific Ocean off a course that inspired awe from most golfers. So that’s it then, for the greatest, most magical courses the price of $250 seems fair. Take it down a level to world-class Championship courses such as Pinehurst, Whistling Straits or Glen Abbey and $130 feels like the right price. After that, $75 - $90 is the right price for a great course (one that could hold a professional qualifying tournament), depending on amenities. The majority of good courses getting regular public play should keep their greens fees from $45 - $70.
Golf was once seen as a sport of the elite because of the prohibitive cost. Because of that mentality the sport feel into the doldrums until 1997 when Tiger Woods hit the scene and brought millions of new players to the game. For a while, courses made the game affordable for the new recruits but in time full tee sheets paved the way for higher greens fees and, in time, the elitist tag was hung on the game once again. And now what?
I’m a weekend golfer who plays more than most like me and it burns to pay the greens fee that are putting a strain on my bank account. Ultimately I might only be able to practice in school fields and hope that I’ll be invited to a corporate golf tournament or two for work.
Players continues today and Annika -- the best ever?
So the Players Championship, almost washed away by a week of rain, will finally attempt to finish this morning. The strange thing is that, according to PGATour.com, the group's are going to start off the front and back nine, a very odd occurence for a tournament trying to bill itself as the fifth major championship. If someone pulls off a victory on the par five ninth, it won't make for great highlight clips at the end of the day.
Is Annika Sorenstam the best female golfer ever? And if that's the case, shouldn't she now be considered among the best golfers off all-time, right up there with Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones? It appears that is the case, following her fifth straight win win yesterday and talk of the Grand Slam. Can anyone remember when Karrie Webb was considered an actual rival to Sorenstam? Seems like years ago now.
Pete Dye was given an award by the PGA Tour for a lifetime of achievement. Interesting timing on this, considering the Stadium Course at the TPC has been tamed from Dye's original vision by tour players who moaned that it was too hard. Now it looks too easy -- so who's to blame?
Well, it is that time of year again, when amateur golfers sit in front of their TV sets and pray that some of the biggest stars will dunk a ball in the water when they reach the 17th at Pete Dye's notorious Sawgrass. I'm sure all of us who have played it have tales to tell -- I dunked two in the water -- and I'd love to hear them. Feel free to comment and give me your story about encountering golf's most discussed hole. In the meantime, I'm packing up Jen and Syd and heading to my parent's for the weekend -- so no blogging for a couple of days.
Tim Finchem must be breathing a huge sigh of relief heading into this week's showcase at Sawgrass.
After all, Finchem, the PGA Tour's commissioner, spent all of 2004 hoping Tiger Woods, the game's biggest star, would overcome his knee problems or a spat with then-fiance Elin, or whatever was keeping him from holding aloft trophies on Sunday afternoons.
In place of the biggest draw in sport, Finchem was saddled with Vijay Singh, golf's big bore. Sure the big man from Fiji had a remarkable run last year, winning nine times and making a fortune in the process, but did anyone really care? Apparently not television viewers, who tuned out whenever Tiger didn't lurk near the lead.
Though Singh is now back as the world's No. 1 player -- for this week, at least -- Finchem has to be delighted with the state of the game and the fact that golf is at its most competitive in more than a decade.
Heading into The Players Championship at TPC at Sawgrass, which starts today, golf has five players all capable of calling themselves the best in the world.
Last week, Singh regained the title of the world's best player despite dunking his approach in the water on the final hole at Bay Hill. That made it two weeks in a row that Singh couldn't close the deal. It was a hollow move, and hardly indicative of just how interesting golf has become.
Suddenly Phil Mickelson has returned to the form that helped him win The Masters last year. While Woods continues to have trouble finding fairways, he has started playing with the creativity we last saw three years ago.
Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, splitting time between the PGA and European Tours, have both stepped up their games and have five major championship wins between them.
For the first time since Woods emerged as a superstar in 1997 with his win at The Masters, golf is truly fulfilling its potential as a top-tier sport.
It couldn't come at a better time.
Not only does a three or four-way battle make for good copy, but it is also something Finchem can take to the networks when he attempts to renegotiate the Tour's current US$900-million arrangement that expires in 2006.
In that respect, he has got to be hoping Singh's days as the No. 1 player in the world are nearing a permanent end.
Singh's lack of charisma means he is a tough sell. Has there ever been a top player with fewer endorsement deals than the aloof Singh? Or someone who felt he was above talking to the media, as Singh did after dropping his last two tournaments?
Singh simply isn't a good story, refuses to co-operate and comes off as brusque to all concerned.
Thankfully, there are strong options, including a resurgent Tiger and the affable Mickeleson. Even Els could be sold to the American public, given his "Big Easy" persona.
Regardless, nothing sells a sport more than a rivalry and that's something the PGA Tour suddenly has, especially if Woods or Mickelson, two players who don't get along, battle it out heading to the masochistic island green at Sawgrass on Sunday.
In fact, the game would be more interesting than it has in the past few years if Els, who recently won two weeks in a row on the European Tour, and Woods, who has also won twice this year, become golf's modern-day version of Arnold Palmer taking on Jack Nicklaus, fighting it out heading into the 18th at Augusta.
Phil Mickelson doesn't gamble any more; Going for the Green goes green and other fascinating things
A couple of things quickly before I head to get some much needed rest.
1) Phil Mickelson, apparently, doesn't gamble any more. That's what he told Golf Digest in the current issue. Quit after the problems in 2003 with the delivery of his most recent child. So for all those -- and there seems to be quite a few -- that have been coming to my blog for gossip on whether Callaway bailed Phil out of gambling debts in exchange for having him play their clubs, it ain't true. Or at least that's what Phil says.
2) The arrows (ie >) that appeared in my text for so long are gone, thanks to Blogger.com tech support. Thank god. Clean copy. How nice. Oh, and in case you haven't noticed, I've gone green for the spring. Orange is so 2004. Bring on snow free fairways!
3) My first golf column of the year is in the National Post tomorrow. Of course the likelihood is that you won't be able to access it, so I'll post it on here. Maybe some outside of the 250,000 who subscribe will actually get to read it that way. It is on The Players and the growing rivalry between Tiger, Ernie, Phil, Retief and "The Big Bore" Singh.
4) Spoke with an associate today who belongs to the following clubs: Mount Bruno, Toronto Golf, the R&A, The Honorable Co. of Edinburgh Golfers, Merion and Pine Valley. What a list. He pays more in dues than I earn in a year. But good for him. Now if I only went through for business instead of journalism....
The Scotsman has posted a great story about a golfer at a club that plays at North Berwick who was booted out of his club for regularly complaining -- about everything apparently. The entire club voted to kick him out (I'm assuming he was the lone vote for his side) and he took the case to court -- and lost. Among his gripes were that members wore overcoats in the clubhouse and that the club had the occasional winter green. The whole amazing sage is below.
Moaning Golf Loses Legal Fight ALAN MCEWEN A GOLFER has lost a legal battle to rejoin a historic club which threw him out because of his constant complaining. Stuart Crocket was expelled from Tantallon Golf Club in North Berwick after a dispute with fellow members. The retired businessman exasperated officials at the 152-year-old club by lodging 170 complaints in one year. He twice tried to sue for defamation after alleging that negative remarks had been made about his conduct. Now a judge has rejected his legal bid to overturn the ban against him at the ancient East Lothian course. Mr Crocket claimed his removal was "unlawful" and based his argument on an interpretation of the club rules. But Lord Reed was unimpressed by much of his defence, adding that it "belong(s) to the world of Lewis Carroll". But the 81-year-old branded his treatment at the hands of the club "disgraceful" and promised to consult his lawyers over a fresh court challenge. "I have been told by my lawyer not to speak about the case. I will talk with my advocate before deciding how to proceed," he said. Mr Crocket, a divorcee with no children, joined the club after he retired from his accountancy business and moved to North Berwick in 1986. But after sending dozens of written complaints to its committee, he soon attracted the ire of other golfers. He was formally requested to stop making "excessive, improper and unnecessary" use of the club suggestion book. Later, a group of 37 disgruntled members condemned Mr Crocket’s "continuous apparent disquiet" and urged his expulsion from the club. Members voted 101 votes to one to cast him out. He had earlier refused to accept an offer to resign. It was the first time a member had been asked to leave in more than a century. When another club member accused him of being spiteful, Mr Crocket unsuccessfully attempted to sue him for defamation. The action had time-lapsed as the offending remark had been made eight years earlier. In another defamation case, he attempted to sue the club over a memo describing his continued presence as a "source of disharmony within the club". Tantallon Golf Club was established in 1853 and its clubhouse stands around the corner from Mr Crocket’s home. A lawyer for Mr Crocket alleged that the 37 members who lodged an official complaint against him should not have been entitled to vote for his removal. Lord Reed called this argument "manifestly untenable". Mr Crocket claimed another club rule meant an investigation had to be carried out before he was asked to explain his actions. Lord Reed was unswayed by the argument, adding: "It was the Queen of Hearts whose maxim was ‘sentence first - verdict afterwards’; and a construction of rule 22.1 which might be summarised as ‘verdict first - trial afterwards’ would appear equally to belong to the world of Lewis Carroll." Club secretary Tom Hill, declined to comment on the case. Mr Crocket's complaints AMONG the long list of complaints made by Mr Crocket were: • A gripe over members who wore their overcoats in the clubhouse, which he said was contrary to the official dress code. • Dissatisfaction that the club badge did not observe the rules of heraldry. He reported the matter to the Lord Lyon’s Court. • Unhappiness that the course was closed for a few weeks in winter to protect the greens. He objected to the club manager. • Protesting that another member was in the Winter League team when the person had not kept up to date with payment of subscriptions. Mr Crocket was later disciplined by the club as a result.
I used to enjoy SI's golf section, but it has largely become as dumbed down as PGATour.com, a site which the magazine takes shots at regularly. Anyway, some genius decided that Scott Wraight should write something about golf, though he really doesn't have any sense of the subject. This week he's posted a list of the top golfers that apparently dabble in golf architecture. Entitled "Top golfers who have become course designers," Mr. Wraight picks several PGA Tour pros who have entered the golf architecture business. Some are evident and accurate, like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf (who was left out when Wraight initially published the list to the Web), and Ben Crenshaw. Some are bizarre -- like Peter Jacobsen and Arnold Palmer. Sure Palmer's name appears as course designers, but I've been to a couple of his course openings and he clearly had never seen the course before the media opening. I guess Ed Seay's name wouldn't be recognized. Now this list could have been interesting, but the reality is the best professional golfers to design courses are almost all British and dead. Names like James Braid, Old Tom Morris, and Walter Travis might have been more appropriate. Anyway, Wraight looks prettty silly with this one -- let's see what he has in line for next week.
The grouping fighting to be the #1 player in the world, according to the World Golf Rankings, is getting pretty tight, according to Keith Lowe, who covers the issue for Golfobserver.com. It is fascinating that Vijay Singh, despite blowing two tournaments in two weeks, is now the No.1 player in the world. But with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods not performing strongly at Bay Hill, Singh takes the day and becomes the top player in the world again after Woods held that title for a couple of weeks. I have a hard time seeing Singh as the world's top player, especially given his wayward putting these days. I actually think Singh might be on the wane -- that his days at the top are numbered. And the players running behind him -- Retief Goosen, Els, Woods and Phil Mickelson -- all look pretty strong. Things could change at Sawgrass this week -- apparently the course is similar to Bay Hill in that the greens are soft and the rough is long. Looks like Pete Dye's masterpiece could have some teeth this week. You can locate Keith's blog here.
A few months ago, the fine folks at Callaway Canada decided they wanted me to tour through their facilities and get a chance to go through their fitting process. Essentially it was an attempt to show that, following the acquisition of Hogan, Callaway is no longer just a mass market company, but a clubmaker offering goods for better players as well. Interesting then, that Callaway spent most of my tour pushing Callaway, and not Hogan.
The aim, apparently, was to get the Callaway Big Bertha 454 in my hands and prove to me that it wasn't just another Callaway driver. As far as I can tell through my first outing with it, they were right. And my daughter, Sydney, aged seven months, thinks it is pretty hot as well. In Canada, Callaway has spent a lot of time pushing its ability to offer customized fitting through a simulator that measures ball rotation, launch angle, distance and accuracy. It was an interesting process -- I found that given the distance I hit the ball with a driver (I carry the ball in the air 265-270), I would benefit from a driver with lower loft. So after being fitted, I waited for the driver to arrive, and finally, after a couple of weeks of waiting, I took the driver to an indoor range. I came away impressed. Unlike many of the earlier Callaway models I hit, the 454 has a flat face, not toed-in like many of the company's earlier drivers, which seem to be trying to keep their slice happy clientele from hitting it into the trees on the right side. That meant I could work the ball and still hit the fade that I've spent the last few years perfecting. The club also felt powerful, with a hot face that offered strong trajectory. That said, I can't really comment on distance yet, having only hit the 454 in an indoor range (too much snow in Canada). Early reviews seem to suggest the club is giving up some distance for accuracy, but I'm wondering whether the combination Graffaloy Blue shaft and 9 degrees of loft on my 454 will compensate for it.
Problems: I am always surprised when a company comes out with a $300 or up driver and puts the cheapest grip available on it. If one can customize the shaft, why not the grip? There's nothing more annoying than getting your new driver and having to immediately take it to the shop to get the grip changed. I'm still not thrilled with the sound the 454 makes, but it isn't as bad as some of the earlier Callaways or as distinctive as Ping.
Overall: Callaway says the Big Bertha 454 "delivers the kind of scorching power usually measured in horses." I can't say that yet -- I've got to take this to the course in a few weeks once the snow clears to determine that fact. But my first impressions are that this is the most interesting club Callaway has delivered to the market in some time. I'll be interested to see if it gets lost in a market packed full of TaylorMade and Titleist options.
Two years ago, on my first trip to Scotland, my long suffering golf widow and spouse, Jennifer, had to write a story for the Globe and Mail during an evening of our trip. I used that as an excuse to take off down small, winding roads to find a place to play a quick nine holes. What I discovered was Lilliesleaf, a little course at the end of a road that was marked with a sign that said simply, "golf." That was enough. Anyway, the story I wrote about the experience is below. The funny thing about this is that, two years after playing it, the owners of the course found the story and wrote me a nice note, letting me know how touched they were about it and wishing me back to the wonderful Scottish Borders. The story appeared on the now defunct "Voices" series on PGATour.com. You can find the link here, or read the story below.
Voices: Finding golfing Nirvana in Scotland
March 4, 2004 By Robert Thompson PGATOUR.COM Contributor
Many spend their entire life trying to find golfing Nirvana. Some find it when a chance invite takes them to one of the world's most exclusive and great golf courses, places with names like Augusta, PineValley, Cypress or Seminole. Others find it when they hit the approach over the beach to the eighth green at PebbleBeach. Some encounter golfing perfection when playing with a father or son at their home course, often a local muni where they've teed it up for years.
For me, it came on in the early evening in Scotland, but it didn't involve anything at St. Andrews, Turnberry, Dornoch or any of the other famed venues in the home of golf. Rather, I found perfection on a course that cost me a total of $10 in a place whose name you've sure to have never have heard.
The whole experience began innocently enough on a trip nearly a year ago with my long-suffering wife, Jennifer, who often finds herself widowed by my need to hit a little white ball. In this case, after a long day's drive to a bed and breakfast near the small town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, Jennifer needed to finish writing a story for a Canadian newspaper. That, of course, gave me the needed excuse to grab my clubs and jump in our rental car. Destination: unknown.
Armed with a map that highlighted some of the area's golf courses, I set out down a one-lane road in search of a course designed by famed British Open champ Willie Park. Half an hour of driving later, I seemed utterly lost and no nearer the Park-designed track I was seeking. It was nearing and daylight would be fading within a couple of hours. Thinking my quest was in vain, I prepared to turn the car around and head back to the B&B.
That's when I saw the sign. It read "Golf" with an arrow pointing down a road seemingly more narrow than the one I had been driving on. My map didn't show a golf course anywhere in the vicinity, but like Alice following the white rabbit, I decided to let the sign guide me.
Fifteen minutes later, after a series of hair-raising turns and one near encounter with a large piece of farm machinery, another sign appeared, this one directing me to a small lane that led up a hill. The lane swerved through a series of large pines whereupon my car emerged in a makeshift gravel parking lot. In front of me lay a golf course, though unlike anything with which most North Americans are accustomed.
For starters, it appeared the course was empty, without a soul in sight. All the things most golfers in North America are used to -- a lush pro shop full of $5 golf balls and logoed shirts -- were missing.
In place of an opulent clubhouse was a small shack. A small box was erected on the side of the shack with instructions as to the terms of payment. I'd read of such things, but had never actually experienced an "honor box." After flipping four coins into the box and slipping a score card into the pocket of my jacket, I grabbed my bag and walked to the first tee box.
I'd be lying if I said the course was of a remarkable caliber. With the exception of some tee boxes and roughed out bunkers, it appeared the owners of Lilliesleaf did not move any land in creating their course. Like many great golf courses, the course simply followed the land, but the piece of property did not appear to possess any spectacular features.
That all changed when I reached the fifth hole, which appeared to be an innocuous, 180-yard par 3 on my scorecard entitled "Burn." The reality was much different.
The tee box was perched at the edge of the property and aimed toward a small green. On one side of the green was a large hill, while the other side of the green was protected by a slight wandering creek. Sheep bounded around the hole, though it wasn't until I went to putt out that I found the green was surrounded by a wire designed to give a jolt to any animal trying to intrude.
With a tough downhill tee shot to a lumpy green cut closely over a creek, the hole was beautiful and treacherous at the same time. I'd found it -- hidden greatness. The hole was perfect.
I hit ball after ball at the unassuming green for 10 minutes, trying to gauge the appropriate way to deal with the whipping wind which pushed balls dangerously near the creek. It was fascinating and remarkable.
I imagined this was how the game was played in Scotland, before televised championships with $1 million purses altered everything.
All of this left me feeling a bit like Michael Bamberger, the noted Sport Illustrated author who had a similar experience when he was asked to venture onto a course hidden in a sheep pasture near Crieff. Bamberger chronicled it in his great book, To the Linksland. The rest of my round at Lilliesleaf flew by as I hit my final shots thinking more about the course's one remarkable hole than my game.
I'm heading to Scotland again in another month to tackle some more of the country's famed links. Though most of the courses I'm planning to play this time have names like North Berwick and Muirfield, who knows -- perhaps a little sign hidden on a small country road will lead me on another golfing adventure.
Music lawyer and golf writer Jay Flemma has made the big leagues, having his homegrown blog picked up by Internet golf giant Travel Golf. You can see his newly launched site here. One of his first articles on the new site is a plug for my blurb yesterday on GFTG.
Despite winning for the second straight week, Ernie Els apparently had a blowout with his Belgian "mental coach" Jos Vanstiphout on the range at the Qatar Masters. One has to wonder what a player as talented as Els needs a quack attending to his needs, especially someone who came to golf after reading one of those dreadful, new age books on th mental side of the game. Oh, and did I mention that Jos Vanstiphout, Els' coach (he also works with Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke and others), is a failed rock musician? He apparently has almost no training. We're not talking Dr. Bob Rotella here. I wonder why some of the best players need these kinds of coaches. Tiger doesn't have one -- and I don't think Phil does either. I don't remember Ben Hogan needing anyone to tell him why he needed to win following his car accident. He just did -- that was all there was to it. Why does a professional athlete, someone who competes for million dollar purses, need someone to motivate them? Gosh, if someone said I needed to win a foot race to snatch up $10 that was on the sidewalk across the street, I think I could muster the gumption to do it without needing to pay someone $7.50 to convince me to go for it. Anyway, regardless of whether Vanstiphout can convince the Big Easy to win, win, win, Els now says he is ready to rock. He's going to step up and take on Tiger, Vijay, and Phil -- which will be great for golf, if that's the case. I've said it before, but I think this could shape up to be one of golf's great years. It has been pretty interesting so far -- and with all four guys playing at Bay Hill, this week's tournament could be a precursor to what will come at The Players and the Masters.
Here are some links -- this one is about the tiff between Els and Vanstiphout. This one is Els' description of what Vanstiphout does for Els, taken from the Big Easy's website. Lastly, here's a piece where Els says he's come back to the U.S. from his Arabian adventure ready to win.
Many think of Bay Hill as an exclusive enclave on the outskirts of Orlando. That's not really true. Sure it is pricey, but ultimately anyone can play Bay Hill if they are willing to shell out the green fees and stay at the resort. So is it worth it? Many have complained that Bay Hill is unexceptional, built on typical Florida land (re: flat and dull) and lacking in interest. I've had the chance to tackle Bay Hill twice and found the course to be a strong test of golf, interesting and, in the end, charming. It seems to me that Palmer and his lead designer, Ed Seay, have understood what makes Dick Wilson courses strong (angled, strategic approaches, interesting green contours) and accentuated those factors. It is kind of the opposite of what happened at Doral (which appears to have finished Raymond Floyd's design career), where the club essentially went bunker crazy and threw sand everywhere.
With that, here's a run down of some of the most interesting holes at Bay Hill:
#2 - 218 yards -- after a relatively dull opening, Bay Hill demonstrates some of its challenge on the second hole, a notoriously difficult par three. Bunkered left and centre, this hole forces players to carry a long, high iron if they hope to get anywhere near the hole. That's essentially the shot one needs at Bay Hill -- you're not going to run many balls in on this track.
#4 -- 530 yards -- it is the green site that makes this par five. The tee shot is straight ahead, with a creek running alongside the right of the fairway, but it is the approach that makes this hole tough. Losing it to the left makes it difficult to recover.
#6 -- 558 yards -- this isn't that tough a hole, but the angled fairway, which winds its way around the lake that is central to the third, fourth and sixth holes, means disaster lurks (just ask John Daly). The interesting thing about this hole is that Wilson asks for a degree of precision. Just blasting it up the middle means you'll likely end up in a fairway bunker. In order to find the fairway, a player has to bite off some of the pond. The question is how much?
#11 -- 438 yards -- some will point to the 17th or 18th holes as the best at Bay Hill. I think it is the 11th, hands down. Once more utilizing water of the left (see a theme developing here?), Wilson uses the pond to psychologically push players towards the right bunkers, hurting their approach in the process. The green is terrific, perched alongside the water and with plenty of contour. Lots of rounds go awry on this one.
#17 -- 219 yards -- This is a par three that has probably been lengthened to an extreme, especially given the size and contour in the green. I bet this is a better hole at the distance most amateurs play it -- about 170 yards, giving golfers a shot at holding this green. It is tremendously difficult for the pros, but lacks the drama of the 18th. It is typically hold on and pray with this one for Tour players.
#18 -- 441 yards -- Step up and blast a drive and hope you're not left with 180 yards into this fascinating green. This is a great finishing hole, much better than Wilson's Doral version. I think the drama rests in the way the green is situated. Rather than putting water in front, Wilson angled the green, forcing players to play to the left and risk the bunkers in order to avoid the pond. This might be too tough for most hackers lucky enough to tee it up at Bay Hill, but it makes for a great Tour finisher.
So is Bay Hill worth the cash? Every individual will have to justify that to themselves. However, Bay Hill is a great strategic golf course, something many overlook when they toss it aside with a comment that, "The only reason anyone goes is for Arnold." Of course people go for Arnold. After all, where else might one wander over to the driving range, only to find themselves hitting balls next to one of the game's most legendary figures? But there's more to Bay Hill than the King.
Vijay Singh continues his reluctant ways; Els, I mean, Woods, I mean, Singh could be No. 1
Two interesting stories worth checking out on Golfobserver.com this morning.
The first is a piece about Vijay Singh, written by Lorne Rubenstein, dealing with the Great Fijian Hope's inability to show up at the media tent following his loss to Padraig Harrington on Sunday. Sure, Singh missed a gimme putt to lose, Rubenstein writes, but he still expected Singh would show up to give a couple of quotes. Apparently not. This jives pretty well with my experience with Singh at the last couple of Canadian Opens. Last year, following his second round at Glen Abbey, the Tour's media flack asked Vijay if he'd scrum with the reporters waiting to talk to him. Vijay declined, saying he'd come down to the media tent. Hardly any of the reporters believed him, though at least a couple, including Doug Ferguson of AP, thought it was a clever ploy by Singh to avoid talking to anyone. Tell them you're coming to speak with them and then slip away to your courtesy car. Anyway, Singh did show up, but one had to wonder why. He hardly says anything of any value. Rubenstein's article doesn't really address it, but I bet Singh's reluctance to deal with the media is a direct result of his encounter with the press following his comments about Annika Sorenstam playing at the Colonial. Singh felt stung by getting hammered in the press for simply telling his honest opinion. Maybe he was right to back away from the press at that point, but it sure isn't helping the game to have one of its best players rarely speak openly to the media. The PGA Tour needs reporters to hype the sport and Singh just doesn't seem to get that. And while some will point to Ben Hogan as another great who had a ambiguous relationship with the press, that was during another time. Oh, and Singh isn't Ben Hogan. He simply comes across as a robot like and dull. That's not a good combination.
Golfobserver.com also addresses the increasingly close World Rankings issue, which has drawn even tighter following Ernie Els' consecutive wins in the Middle East. Figuring out how the situation will resolve itself following Bay Hill is about as complex as figuring out a way for Israel to resolve its problems with the Palestinians. So I won't try to explain it.Suffice to say, if Els wins and Tiger ends up in second, then Tiger remains the world No.1. But if Els wins and Tiger ... oh, just read the story. It can be found here.
Apparently the ownership group that controls the Pebble Beach Golf Co., which includes Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Spanish Bay and the various resort properties that goes along with it, is going head-to-head with a group of environmentalists over a proposed expansion. The ownership group at Pebble includes Academy Award winning actor and director Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, and Peter Uberroth, wants to build a new course and expand its resort, but California environmentalists, notorious for their zeal, are trying to block the plan.
The story can be found here, courtesy of USA Today.
It never fails to fascinate me that there is this old fashioned notion that golf courses are actually bad for the environment. At one time, given the various chemicals poured into a courses, this may have been true. But now most projects have to show that the water that flows off a course is actually cleaner than the water that went into it. In many cases, golf courses are actually good for an area -- adding green space to urban areas and getting people out of doors, away from television and computers.
That said, there will always be some tree huggers that have myopic views of golf course development and don't really see how the design and construction of these properties has evolved. I don't expect that to change, even if Clint points a gun at them and offers to have them, "Make my day."
So on yesterday's telecast of the Honda Classic, Johnny Miller, who I generally like, told viewers that Tom Fazio's Mirasol course "could hold a major championship." It is an interesting comment because apparently the reasoning for the comment was twofold. First, Mirasol's mowed down chipping areas that surround greens are somewhat like Donald Ross' work at Pinehurst No.2. Secondly, scores at Mirasol aren't high, and last year Todd Hamilton won the tournament. He went on to win at Troon as well, taking home the British Open in the process. I find Miller's comments fascinating and strangely out of touch. Yes, Fazio's chipping areas around green are the most interesting part about Mirasol. Yesterday, Hamilton did some chip and runs just like the British Open. And yes, the ground game can be employed at Mirasol, unlike many Florida courses. But with that exception, Mirasol is just another FLA course, full of water and big bunkers. Like a meal at the Keg in Canada -- or Chillis for my U.S. readers -- Fazio's Mirasol is not bad -- but it is rarely ever very exceptional either. A U.S. Open though? Who is Miller kidding? Take a look at the photo below and you'll see the real reason behind Mirasol -- and it has nothing to do with holding U.S. Opens. And here's an exercise. Pick the course that doesn't belong. Shinnecock. Bethpage Black. Pebble Beach. Pinehurst No.2. Mirasol. See what I mean?
Spent yesterday at the Toronto Golf and Travel Show, which is always a useful networking event and provides an opportunity to see what new courses are opening and promoting themselves around Ontario.Among the interesting courses opening is Thundering Waters, created by Boris Danoff with loose canon John Daly. Apparently as a promotional gimmick when the course opens in August, Thundering Waters is going to pull Big JD away from the craps tables and have him attempt to hit a ball over the Horseshoe Falls. The aim is to have the ball land on the American side, a 350-yard carry, according to one of the course's owners. I guess it'll depend on how many brown pops John has had -- but I'll bet he doesn't pull that one off.
Lots of Toronto-area private courses (Weston, Mandarin, Thornhill) were at the show looking for members. I think that says a lot about the state of Canadian golf at the moment. Apparently Weston is now offering a deal where individuals can pay $1,000 and then the membership dues for one year, as opposed to the big initiation that is common at such clubs. I guess that just goes to show how desparate some clubs have become in their search for members.
The Royal Canadian Golf Association yesterday announced that Bob Panasik and Wilf Homeniuk will enter the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Which begs the question -- does anyone actually go to the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame?
Apparently so, according to sports giant IMG. In a report in a Florida newspaper yesterday, questions arose about fees PGA Tour players can get in exchange for playing specific corporate outings around certain PGA Tour stops.
According to the paper, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia, John Daly, Davis Love III and Ernie Els cost $200,000 to book for a corporate outing, while Fred Couples, Jim Furyk, Mike Weir and David Duval can tee it up with you for the lowly price of between $50,000 and $100,000.
Official wine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association? Really.
In one of the strangest press releases to cross my e-mail boxes in some time, the Royal Canadian Golf Association announced that Penfolds has become its "official" wine. As such Hold on here -- Penfolds is an Australian wine. Couldn't the RCGA, which is the lead golf organization in Canada, come up with a Canuck winery? Being an intrepid reporter, I called RCGA head flack Victor Cui and asked about this official wine business. Cui said the RCGA hit up numerous Canadian wineries to become the "official wine of the Canadian Open" without luck. Then Penfolds agreed to come on board, apparently. Of course, all of this begs the bigger question: Why is there an "official" wine at all? What's next? The official prophylactic and lubricant of the Canadian Open? The official cooking oil of the Canadian Open?
He was the world's best player for more than half a decade before being bumped as Vijay Singh, a man full of personality, and now Tiger Woods is back at the top following his win at Doral over the weekend. See story here.
Woods bettered Phil Mickelson on Sunday for his second win of the year and looked like the Tiger of old. That's terrific because at the same time Mickelson and Ernie Els, who picked up a win in Dubai, are also nearing the top of their games. Maybe, finally, we'll get that three or four-way battle in tournaments that everyone has been hoping for since Tiger's great run in 2000 and 2001.
Even Jack Nicklaus, who has often said Woods will eclipse his career records, is now on record stating that Tiger has some tough foes playing alongside him.
"He's certainly going to have increased competition that he hasn't had in past years," Jack Nicklaus said Monday. "You heard me a couple of years ago. What will happen to Tiger? I said a lot of his competition had not shown up yet, or guys playing against him will raise the level of their golf games."
Apparently the competition has shown up. Let the games begin.
Travel Golf's Rebel Blogger has run with my reference to architect Dick Wilson, the man behind Doral, among others. The link can be found here. Wilson comes from the penal school of architecture and was well known for taking credit for things he never did. While he certainly did do some work at Donald Ross' Seminole, he was also known to have told people he was the man behind Shinnecock, though that was clearly William Flynn. History seems to have passed Wilson by. He wasn't as successful as Robert Trent Jones, not as innovative as Pete Dye and not really that well liked. In the greater scheme of things, he's not a significant architect. Courses like Deepdale, the exclusive enclave outside NY, may be tough to get a round at, but no one outside of members really wants to return there more than once.
Yesterday I posted some comments from Paul Azinger about the need for the PGA Tour to head to some classic courses in order to improve the fields for some events. This week is a clear case in point. The Honda is held at the The Country Club at Mirasol, a course that is best known for being the first Tom Fazio course to hold a PGA Tour event. Now that's a claim to fame if I've ever seen one. Gosh, I think I even watched a couple of days of this tournament last year and don't remember a single hole. But then again, isn't that the case with most Fazio courses? Pretty? Sure. Memorable? Not really. Of course Pine Barrens is an exception to most rules...
Well, Doral may still be a dull Florida golf course, but Tiger Woods was pretty impressive in taking out Phil Mickelson over the weekend. Apparently, Mickelson was really, really angry about his inability to beat Woods head-to-head. Some have speculated about what a win over Woods would have meant to Mickelson. Certainly it would have given him an amazing boost in confidence that would have helped leading into The Players Championship and his defence at the Masters.
Interesting to see my reader interest in the short note about the rumours surrounding Mickelson's signing to Callaway. I don't have any support for the rumour that Mickelson signed a deal with Callaway which included the clubmaker covering his gambling debts. That said, the rumour has taken hold -- apparently someone said Sports Illustrated was preparing to do a take out on Mickelson's gambling, but that has yet to happen. I doubt there's any truth to the story. More likely, it is just people putting Mickelson's love of a bet together with Callaway's history of paying some of John Daly's Las Vegas debts when he was under their banner.
Speaking of Phil, check out his new website, phil-mickelson.com, if only for the animation in the intro. Is it just me, or does that animated character in the opening have a swing that looks more like a left-handed Tiger Woods than it does Mickelson? Too bad the website only plugs his sponsors and doesn't give a sense of his real interests.
Paul Azinger says the quality of golf courses, not money, is what often draws a strong field on the PGA Tour these days. Azinger points to the number of players who regularly show up to play the super exclusive Seminole without payment after Florida tour events as an example of tour pros seeking out great courses. I wonder if that example is a bit off -- after all, Seminole is one of the best, and most exclusive, courses in the world and a place where tour pros can completely escape the glare of the public. When I played there two years ago, Nick Price played in the group ahead of me.
I've said it before -- Phil the Thrill is the game's best player, at least at the moment. Mickelson has played wonderfully this year, with renewed vigour and risk taking. It is interesting that Mickelson has reverted back to his reckless, take the big swing or be damned, approach to golf and is perhaps more successful than ever. He's a birdie machine -- six today and nine yesterday -- to take the lead at Doral, a place where water looms everywhere.It isn't the kind of course I'd expect Mickelson to be wildly successful on -- but he's proving otherwise. With his play so far, Mickelson is playing better golf than either Tiger Woods or Vijay Singh. But all three are in the hunt through day two at Doral. It could make for a great weekend if three of the game's four big guns (Ernie Els is playing in Dubai this week) are firing their way up the leaderboard on Sunday. I mean, short, fat Craig Parry is kinda loveable like a teddy bear, but he isn't particularly exciting. Of course, he won last year and is in the Top 10 this week through the second round.
That's all for through the weekend -- I've got to pack up a bunch of things in my house in preparation for a move. Blogging won't be on the agenda, but I'll return on Monday.
Interesting story about Kathie Grimsby and her remarkable accomplishment of scoring two hole-in-ones in the same round. I have two myself, though I can't say I was lucky enough to make them in the same round. The first was in Myrtle Beach in 1998, a year after I graduated from Journalism School. It was 167-yards on the first par three on the front nine of a forgettable track called Deer Ridge. The cool part about it was that I bought a ticket for charity on the tee that entitled me to $1,000 for my ace and the chance to shoot for a million later on. Of course a hurricane hit the weekend I was supposed to head south, so that never happened. However, I did make another ace in 2003, again in an unusual round. At a fine course called Copper Creek, I played the first three holes in even par. I managed a birdie on the par five fourth, then chipped in for birdie on the fifth, another par four. That brought me to the sixth, a devilish little par three created by Ian Andrew of Carrick Design. At the recommendation of a maintenance worker fixing the front bunker, I hit a gap wedge in an attempt to put my ProV close on the 116-yard hole. The shot flew over the bunker and landed in a blind area of the green. It wasn't until the maintenance worker got out to inspect the shot that we realized it was in. I made bogey on the next hole, with one put, then chipped in again on the seventh. That meant I played four holes with a single putt. The great thing about the round was that I went into the final hole, a par five, needing birdie to break par for the first time. A well hit driver and three wood later, I sat on the green in two. Two putts later I carded a 71. The card, and the ball, sit in my collection in my basement.
I'd like to say a big thanks to blogger MJ on Golf, who, with the exception of all-around good guy and golf blogger Jay Flemma, has directed more traffic to my blog than anyone else. His blog is worth checking out and updated frequently. Thanks MJ!
anyone have any sense of the quirks of blogger? For some strange reason, little arrows (like >) appear at the start of many of my posts. I can't figure it out. As they say in the movie, "Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?"
Good to see Tiger in the hunt, even if it is just Doral. Dick Wilson may have been a strong architect, but a lot of his courses are dull. The Blue Monster seems to me to be an example of that, though Craig Parry's eagle to end last year's tournament was exciting. Wilson seems to be of the penal school of architecture. His work at Royal Montreal, which has hosted the Canadian Open a couple of times, makes the course difficult, but loved by few. I can't say I've played many Wilson designs, so maybe I'm wrong, but that's my take based on what I've seen.
Ian Woosman, Nick Faldo named next European captains
More from DUBAI: Ian Woosnam of Wales and England's Nick Faldo were picked Wednesday as Europe's next Ryder Cup captains.
Woosnam will be the team's captain next year, while Faldo will serve in that role in 2008. Woosnam will lead Europe in the Sept. 22-24, 2006, matches at the K Club in Dublin, Ireland. Tom Lehman will captain the American team.
Faldo would captain in 2008 at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Paul Azinger is a top candidate to lead the Americans that year.
I'm always interesting getting press releases related to golf course development. However, the one I received from Hill and Knowlton (yes, the agency that was hired to spin Kuwait and the Salt Lake Olympics), is particularly worthy of investigation. Apparently Norman has been working in Dubai to develop some golf properties with Sultan bin Sulayem. The description of the meeting is quite funny. The media release describes it as being "a super exclusive business forum with Greg Norman, Sultan Bin Sulayem and David Spencer to discuss their joint golfing ventures commercial viability." My favourite bit is the following line: "The forum was hosted on Greg Norman's private jet as it flew across the skies of Dubai." Quite the meeting. Anyway, the deal is about Nakheel Golf, a golf development that aims to create six courses in oil rich Dubai. Dubai as a golf destination rivaling the likes of Florida, Scotland and Australia? Stranger things have happened.
Ratings are a bit of a mug's game, but I find the process fascinating nonetheless.
The main three publications with ratings are Golf Digest, which does an American list and a best new course in Canada, Golf Magazine, which provides a world list, and Golfweek, which does a Top 100 modern and classic in the U.S. That list is out today.
Of course, several things haven't changed. Pine Valley in New Jersey is still the country's best golf course, according to all three publications, with Golfweek putting it at the top of its list. The reality is that the "classic" portion of the list (as with most lists) don't really change. In Golf, courses like The Old Course, Pine Valley, Royal Melbourne and the like are always at the top. Golfweek's classic list is much the same -- Cypress, Shinnecock, Augusta, etc.
The truly interesting part of any list is the inclusion of golf courses that have opened in the last decade. The modern list on Golfweek is where the debate takes place. The best modern course in the U.S., according to Golfweek is Sand Hills in Nebraska, a rural jewel created by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. It was also the best modern in the last list. Similarly Pacific Dunes, Tom Doak's masterpiece in Oregon, is at No. 2 for the second straight year, while its sister course, Bandon, falls two places to No. 5.
Fights among golfers usually break out over new courses -- is Shadow Creek really worthy of a Top 10 spot (No); where is Tom Fazio (answer, No. 12 with Wade Hampton); how good is Sutton Bay (very, apparently. It is No. 13 in its debut).
What's the value of these lists? For some clubs, especially those seeking public resort play or members, the value is high. Rankings become marketing vehicles that sell memberships and travel packages.
I participate in three ratings panels (Score Magazine and Ontario Golf in Canada, Golf Digest in the U.S.) and take all three responsibilities seriously. I'm not sure everyone on these panels do -- just look at my stories from last year about The Rock winning best new course in Canada from Golf Digest.
In the end, ratings are simply subjective observations of the comparative merits of golf courses. The reality is you can't go too wrong by playing any course that appears on one of the lists of the three major golf mags. You may debate the finer points of these courses -- and their places on each list -- but the experience will likely still be tip top.
Robert Thompson writes a golf column for the National Post, Canada's daily national newspaper, and is a contributing editor to Travel and Leisure Golf. He has also written for Golf Magazine, PGATour.com, Ontario Golf, Score Golf and is a course rater for Golf Digest.
Going for the Green will comment on golf issues from course architecture to the PGA Tour, as well as providing regular course reviews.