Sunday, May 29, 2005

Course Review: The Club at Bond Head

The Club at Bond Head - International Course
Architects: Michael Hurdzan/Jason Straka
Location: Bond Head, Ontario

Bond Head is the latest in a series of high end public golf courses that cater to the corporate market to have opened near Toronto. Designed by Jason Straka for Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry's firm, this surely rivals last year's best new course, Eagles Nest, by offering a bold vision full of options, fascinating bunkering and player friendly fairways. The questions about Bond Head really aren't about the golf, but more on that later.


As can be witnessed by the photos included on this review, Bond Head is certainly a striking golf vision. Fairways roam widely, while penal, naturalistic bunkering abounds. Though badly named the "International Course," the first of Bond Head's planned layouts does have some similarity to heathland courses that abound in the U.K. It is a bit of a stretch, but OK -- a bad name thankfully doesn't make a bad golf course. The course starts off easily enough, with a slight downhill par four that can be played with a fairway wood and wedge. But that's where anything one could call mundane ends at Bond Head. The second hole is more reflective of the rest of the experience. From the tips, the second hole plays 433 yards, and that's uphill. Though the fairway is generous, shots tend towards the right side and bunkers. From the approach position players can only glimpse the front of the green, making the shot more daunting than it truly is. The reality is that, with one or two notable exceptions, the greens at Bond Head are receptive. But the course is presented as a visual feast for the eyes, and Straka has been clever in the way he attempts to trick players into playing safer than they need to.


There are some tremendously interesting pieces to Bond Head, including the green on the par three fifth, the driveable par four sixth, the sweeping grandeur of the 14th and 18th. Still, there are some odd facets to the design. What's with the 600+ yard par fives, for example? Though it rivals Eagles Nest for distance, Bond Head picks up a lot of its yardage through a pair of holes (the 7th and the 12th), that are simply not a lot of fun to play, forcing players to slog it out through three or four shots in the hope of making par. Why the trend toward 600-yard par fives? Shouldn't well struck tee balls be rewarded with at least the chance to try for the green in two? The problem with this pair of holes is that they feel like penal golf at its toughest. One must avoid bunkers on the tee shot and then miss more sand on the layup, which is often being struck with a three wood because of the distance. If (or maybe more aptly, when) you reach the green, it is more a sign of relief than of triumph.


Still, that's a minor quibble in the overall scheme of things. The look of Bond Head is so bold and fascinating that it outpaces almost anything to open in Canada in recent years. Unlike Eagles Nest, which had inconsistent bunkering patterns, Bond Head offers its naturalistic look all the way around. If the club leaves Straka's bunkers to grow wild, Bond Head could be quite a site in a few years. If they don't, Straka's vision could become a little too saccharine to make the course particularly interesting.

The issues with Bond Head may rest in its business model and timing. The course is charging a lot of cash ($185) per round, which includes a fore caddy, an added bonus that worked nicely in my time around the course, a day before the official opening. It is a good half hour drive north of Toronto, putting it significantly north of its competition, Copper Creek and Eagles Nest. Even then, the course is being opened too early. Apparently construction problems resulted in three bags of contaminated seed being dumped on the ninth fairway. Nothing grew, so there's a stretch that is now simply dirt. It'll grow in quickly, but it isn't the kind of look one would hope to present to first time customers. As well, though the course is fine tee to green, everything around the edges, including the driving range, is still being finished.

All of these issues will disappear in time, but may leave lasting impression. Which would be a shame since a course with such a bold vision rarely comes around.

US Open is blogging

Thanks to Hooked on Golf for pointing out the US Open is going to have a blog this year from Pinehurst.
I'll match his skepticism on this one. What in the world are they going to blog about? How they got the green speeds wrong and explain why Donald Ross' famed putting surfaces turned to unputtable concrete. I'm sure they'll let us know how they had to water some greens during play because "they just got away from us."
Oh, I bet you don't hear a lot of that in their blog. Bet ya it is more about the great volunteers the USGA has or posts on the $140 golf shirts one can buy. Nothing at all interesting, in other words.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

More Nicklaus and St. Andrews; Off to Ireland; Weeks on Shaughnessy; Gary Evans on Monty

Interesting week for golf, though I don't really think it is coming from the PGA Tour this weekend. Who, after all, really cares about the St. Jude Classic. No one that I know of and worse, it looks like Justin Leonard is running away with it.
In other news, I played the beast in Maple this morning, called Eagles Nest -- a tough Doug Carrick track. Playing in a match with three pros from 7,450, I managed to post a good score, hold my own and par the finishing 485 yard 18th to halve our match.
Secondly, I'm confirmed on a trip to Ireland starting in Dublin in September. Any of my readers particularly fond of any course over there? The plan is to play in the Dublin area (including the K Club, which will hold next year's Ryder Cup), head north and tackle County Down and Portrush. Suggestions for anything else?

Other stories that are out there:

  • The Scotsman continues to discuss the controversy around the decision of St. Andrews not to honour Jack Nicklaus, who has twice won at the Old Course. Why Bobby Jones and not Jack? No one seems to know
  • Worth reading Score editor Bob Weeks' story about Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, the course that will host the Canadian Open in a few months. As previously mentioned, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Fred Funk and Chris DiMarco all showed up to play a corporate outing a couple of weeks ago and said nice things about the course. That said, there were all being paid.....
  • Apparently Darren Clarke's wife is still struggling in her battle with cancer, needing sudden surgery this weekend. Clarke withdrew from the tournament this weekend in the BMW Championship at Wentworth to be with her. I like Clarke and hope his family can make it through this difficult fight.
  • Golfobserver's Frank Hannigan has an interesting column on the "bullshit" surrounding the PGA Tour's discussion of Tiger Woods' cut streak that ended recently. Hannigan points out that a few dozen of the events in the streak came from non-cut events like the matchplay. In other words, there was no cut to make, but the tournaments were counted anyway. Now that's just silly.
  • European Tour player Gary Evans will not let the issue of Colin Montgomerie's moving ball die. He brought it up again this week, adding some pretty harsh commentary. Worth a read.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hearn's PGA game just not up to par: Step up to big league hasn't been easy for Canadian

Today's golf column in the National Post:

Hearn's PGA game just not up to par: Step up to big league hasn't been easy for Canadian
Robert Thompson
Column: On Golf
Source: National Post
For David Hearn, this golf season was supposed to be unlike any other he'd experienced.
After a remarkable 2004 year that saw him win on the Nationwide Tour, and narrowly slip through the PGA Tour's difficult Q-School, there were high hopes for Hearn when he hit golf's big time. His face was plastered on the cover of nearly every Canadian golf magazine and his rapid rise led to the typical golf writer hyperbole. "The next Mike Weir," anyone?
All of which has made the first half of 2005 such a disappointment to Brantford's favourite son.
While he managed to get into the Buick Invitational at the end of January and two further events in February, he missed the cut in all three. He didn't play in all of March, and has played only three further events -- making the cut in every one -- since then. That's six events in total and earnings of a woeful US$33,647.
But Hearn, 26, says the situation is looking up. The good news is that he finished third two weeks ago. The bad news was the event was Rheem Classic, a Nationwide Tour stop.
"I got off to a slow start, for whatever reason," Hearn says from a hotel room following his showing at the Rheem Classic. "And since it all comes down to how you play in those early events, it just meant I couldn't get into some tournaments."
Like many new pros, the quality of play isn't Hearn's only problem. Often PGA Tour stops are full up, keeping young upstarts like Hearn from many of the fields in the first half of the year. Hearn has gone to great lengths to keep his game in shape, including playing a Canadian Tour outing.
"Golf is one of those games where you have to play a lot, regardless of where you are," says Hearn.
While some players strategize endlessly about their schedules, Hearn has largely played as often as he could since turning pro in 2001. Early on, those tournaments were largely scattered around the Canadian Tour. Last year in his breakout season, he continued to find a way to play regularly, regardless of where that desire might take him. He started on the Asian Tour before returning home to Canada. In the midst of a busy year, he pulled off a win at the Alberta Classic, a Nationwide Tour stop, even though he had no status on that tour. From there it was only a short, six round tournament called Q-School in which he needed to hole a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole to grab his PGA Tour card.
Though he's used to playing in golf's minor leagues, Hearn denies there have been any problems adjusting to the courtesy car lifestyle of the PGA Tour. It is mainly the "routines and environment" of the tour which have been occasionally been of issue, but they have not kept him from focusing on his golf game.
"A lot of things take getting used to. There are a lot more people and activity on the PGA Tour than I am used to. It can be distracting."
Not that Hearn is blaming the distractions for his spotty play. He hasn't pinned down any specific problems with his game, and his recent finish on the Nationwide Tour could be an indication that a stretch of strong play could be in the offing.
Despite the slow start, Hearn says he's been witness to signs his game is coming about. He's also aware that he only has a limited time to make at least US$600,000 (and likely more) to keep his status on the PGA Tour.
"I'm not going to put any more pressure on myself than usual," Hearn explains. "It only takes one good event to turn around a year."
That event doesn't look like it is coming this week where Hearn is teeing it up in the St. Jude Classic. He shot 75 in yesterday's opening round, putting him well down the leaderboard.
Still, Hearn is hardly dismayed at his prospects. Every golf season he expects something more from himself, and this year isn't any different. The only problem is that he has yet to deliver, but he's convinced that a breakthrough is near.
"Every year I continue to improve," he says. "I think there was a little bit of an adjustment this year, but I think I know I can play at this level on these courses."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Nicklaus denied St. Andrews honor

Bobby Jones got it, but apparently Jack Nicklaus won't.
The it in this case is honorary citizenship of St. Andrews. Nicklaus, who is expected to play in his last British Open at St. Andrews in July, was denied the honor by the town council and deemed "unworthy."
Several golfers are hitting back at the council, saying if any golfer deserved the honor, it was Nicklaus.
"What surprised me was that they even thought a vote was necessary in the first place. If you have the combination of St Andrews, Jack Nicklaus and an honorary award, then it could hardly be more straightforward," said Colin Montgomerie.
Luke Donald: "It seems very strange to me that this matter should be discussed publicly and then the individual is told that he wasn't good enough to be given the award. Nicklaus has won in St Andrews and has nothing but good to say about the place.
"Jack is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players to have ever graced the Open in St Andrews."
Others were critical of the council making the decision in private.
If you want to read the whole sorry account, check out the Scotsman here.
Interestingly, there is no comment or even a no comment from the St. Andrews council in the story. It would be interesting to see what they had to say in their defence.

  • Also worth a read today is a story in T&L Golf about Scotland's northern courses.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Greatest Game Ever Played -- The Movie

Mark Frost's book, The Greatest Game Ever Played, has been turned into a big Hollywood production that hits screens this fall. Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for pointing it out. Here's the trailer.
While Frost's book was eminently readable and provided a wonderful story, there were some questions about its historical veracity, especially in detailing the conversations between Francis Ouimet and his caddie, Eddie Lowry. Several participants in Golfclubatlas, the great golf architecture site that is full of historical nitpickers, also pointed out that author Mark Frost, a Hollywood scriptwriter for the likes of Hill Street Blues, didn't always get his facts quite straight. I didn't find too much of an issue with the history, though at times, the book read more like historical fiction than an actual history. However, that's not how the book was presented.
Frost's work should translate nicely onto the screen. The book read, in some ways like a screenplay anyway, though it is hard to imagine the Hollywood version will get in the details about Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, which made the book so interesting.
Either way, the trailer, while a little over-the-top, makes the movie appear entertaining.
I'd also recommend Frost's latest book, The Grand Slam, which focuses on Bobby Jones' remarkable 1930 season. Did I mention he finished the Grand Slam at Merion? Did I mention I'm playing there in two weeks? I guess I have now. And sure I'm gloating, but it's freakin' Merion.

Monday, May 23, 2005 vs. Walters Golf: The Battle Continues

There's an interesting fight that continues to brew in the U.S. golf community. Internet golf publisher has gone to war with Walters Golf, the owner and operator of several Las Vegas area golf courses (including Bali Hai, right on the strip). According to Walters Golf, a libel suit has been filed, so this isn't a fight that's likely to end soon.
The fight has centered around a course called Stallion Mountain that claims is in dire condition. Several articles have been published detailing the issues, a strange amount of coverage to give to a single golf course, even one with a $150 green fee. I haven't played it -- but I did play Royal Links and Bali Hai, two other Walters properties in 2003 and didn't find conditioning to be an issue. Neither course was compelling, but turf condition wasn't the reason.
According to Walters Golf, the reason has attacked the ownership group has little to do with the actual golf and more to do with the company's refusal to pay higher advertising fees.
"We've come up with one simple answer: When Walters Golf refused to buckle under to TravelGolf's pressure to increase fees, TravelGolf began its barrage of vicious, mean-spirited attacks on us. In fact, those attacks began one week after Walters Golf refused to be bullied into paying TravelGolf's exorbitant rates. No coincidence there."
Despite Walters Golf filing legal action,, apparently backed by the support of publisher Robert Lewis (who apparently writes as the so-called Rebel Blogger on the site), has continued to hit back at Walters.
Travelgolf's editor, Tim McDonald has gone as far as request Walters Golf owner Billy Walters, teamed with a local Las Vegas golf writer who has defended Stallion Mountain, take on a couple of writers from Now that's a likely solution.
Hard to take McDonald too seriously, especially after his blog posts about Tiger Woods around the Masters. Read themhere.
Perhaps the most stinging indictment of the Stallion Mountain course comes from staffer Chris Baldwin. In an article on the course, he wrote:
"Walters Golf used to be an advertiser on, and we deserve some criticism too. Our publisher Robert Lewis now says should have been flogged for ever taking a dime of Walters' money. While never coming out and endorsing Stallion Mountain, we didn't diss it either (in large part because there did not used to be a full-time Vegas reporter on staff). I'm embarrassed to say this pox on the Vegas golf scene stayed in the dark for as long as it did."
Of course, this is the same Chris Baldwin who made a recent trip to British Columbia and came back raving about Furry Creek, arguably one of the worst-designed golf courses in history and renowned as a joke. Makes me wonder what Baldwin actually knows about course design if he liked Furry Creek and thinks it is "a scenic marvel of thrilling golf."
It will be fascinating to watch if the shots at Walters Golf from continue, especially in light of the legal action. In Canada, where libel laws are different than the U.S., continuing to write about a subject that is the center of legal action can cause more problems. Of course, if is telling the truth there is no issue here. Time will tell.

Kenny Perry: Best without a major?

After watching an interview with Kenny Perry on the Golf Channel this morning, it is hard to imagine there is a more likeable player on the PGA Tour. He's humble, family-oriented and has apparently given 5% of his career earnings (which are now more than $18-million) to a scholarship fund to allow certain students to go to Christian colleges. I'm not a really religious guy, but man, that's a pretty great thing for an athlete to do. Hard to imagine Barry Bonds giving 5% of his earnings to a Christian scholarship fund.
After winning for the second time this year and the sixth time since turning 40, Perry dominated Colonial this weekend, taking the title in Texas for the second time. His first win was overshadowed by Annika Sorenstam's entry in the event, but this time Perry just blew away the field.
Perry now has US$2.4-million in winnings this year and in the Golf Channel interview, said all the right things about wanting to win at St. Andrews. That said, I would think Perry would have a better chance at winning at a place like Pinehurst, where there will be a premium on accuracy, than at the Old Course, where the bigger hitters should the advantage. I hope he wins a major, even if it doesn't happen in Scotland. He's just a decent sort of guy.

  • Also worth noting is Paula Creamer's win this weekend on the LPGA, making her the youngest winner on the LPGA in more than 50 years. Pretty impressive. If she wins at 18, why are we still talking so much about Michelle Wie, who hasn't won much of anything?
  • The impressive play of Canada's Jon Mills continued this weekend in the Nationwide Tour where he finished third. David Hearn, playing in golf's minor league for the second straight week before heading back to the PGA Tour, finished 22cnd.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Tom Fazio's Wynn Golf Club

There's an interesting story in a magazine called Fairways and Greens about Tom Fazio's new Las Vegas design called "Wynn Golf Club," after the ego-maniac who developed the course and funded the earlier creation of Shadow Creek.
The result is a course on a tight piece of property (130 acres), that is big on flash, including a huge waterfall on the 18th, and comes with a big green fee (US$500).
The writer of the piece makes a slightly ridiculous comment part way through the story. Referring to the features Fazio created, the writer says this: "While some call such design statements “contrived” (as they also do with the grand gestures of another Fazio collaborator, Donald Trump), the special touches, both big and small, fit perfectly into a manmade golfing landscape that both tickles your senses and challenges your game."
I'm not sure what a ridiculous looking waterfall has to do with good golf, but apparently this writer thinks it fits.
The most bothersome part of the story is Fazio's reaction to questions about the $500 green fee. With golf participation numbers declining, justifying a $500 fee, especially for a course that is light years from being comparable to Pebble Beach, is hard to imagine.
But Fazio, who has never missed the opportunity to use hyperbole, says the course may be under-valued.
“I can see it being worth more,” he says.
Ok, Tom, whatever.
If you've got $500 that's burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to read the full story here.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Canadian Open questioned for players' outing: Corporate event raised spectre of appearance fees

My column in the National Post from today:

Canadian Open questioned for players' outing: Corporate event raised spectre of appearance fees
Robert Thompson Column: On Golf
To Bill Paul, tournament director for the Canadian Open, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
The idea was simple enough: Have Bell Canada, corporate sponsor of the country's most prestigious golf tournament, invite four of the PGA Tour's best players up to Vancouver to play a corporate outing and show them that Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club is worth coming to in September when the Open returns to the West Coast.
Where's the harm in paying thousands to have a few golfers strike a few shots with a bunch of corporate hacks?
Well, in a year when the issue of appearance fees for golf's best players has become a hot topic, some apparently believe the Bell Canada outing has a bad smell about it.
Earlier this week, an article in USA Today raised some questions about whether the corporate event, which saw defending Canadian Open champion Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Fred Funk and Chris DiMarco hit the fairways at Shaughnessy. The article seemed to imply that something more was going on at Shaughnessy than simply a friendly business outing. The suggestion is that by paying the four players on Monday, Bell and the Royal Canadian Golf Association have assured them of being in the field for their tournament.
The issue of appearance fees, which are regularly paid on other professional golf tours to lure players such as Tiger Woods to Dubai, for example, gained some attention a few months ago when sports management giant IMG reportedly floated a list of fees that would draw certain players to specific tournaments. In other words, if you wanted Sergio Garcia in your tournament, then set up a Monday corporate outing that pays him US$150,000 and you could be certain he'd hang around for the week.
The concept raised the ire of several key PGA Tour players, including Davis Love III, whose name was on the list even though he isn't represented by IMG.
Officially, according to a PGA Tour spokesman, a tournament only violates the rule of appearance fees if it ties a corporate outing to a tournament. In other words, a tournament sponsor runs afoul of the rules if they say they will pay a player to appear at their corporate event, but only if the player will stick around to play the rest of the week.
For many tournaments, drawing strong fields to please sponsors and fans has become a challenge. It isn't just the John Deere Classic and other lesser tournaments that face the issue -- the Canadian Open, with its poor date on the schedule, is among them.
The Canadian Open faces another issue this year given the decision to take the tournament to the West Coast at a time when most of the tour's best have called it a year. The concern on the part of the RCGA is that Shaughnessy, one of Canada's most interesting golf courses, is also entirely unknown to the players on the tour. The unknown just gives players another excuse to skip the tournament.
The solution was to invite "four guys who could do some yapping," according to Paul.
Paul said Weir appeared at the event as part of his sponsorship arrangement with Bell Canada. Weir is a safe bet to play in the Canadian Open anyway. Similarly, there's a good chance Singh, as defending champion and a player known for a big workload, would also appear.
DiMarco and Funk aren't as certain. Paul said he invited the two players because they are well respected by their peers and are likely to spout off to other players about the merits of the course.
Paul was also very clear that the outing in no way was tied to having the players appear at the Canadian Open. And sure they were paid, Paul said, but "it wasn't $250,000 or $400,000."
"They were paid expenses and a little bit of a per diem," Paul said.
Even then, it was tough to get the four players to commit.
"You ask for a couple of favours," he continued. "It was a hard challenge."
So did Bell and the RCGA cross the line in holding its corporate outing at Shaughnessy? Let's see if all four players show up for the tournament first. Placing a wager on that eventuality is pretty easy -- everyone can see where the safe money is.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Build your own golf course

Hello readers: Just a quick note to let all of you know that I'm on parental leave through to the end of August. In Canada, that means I'm getting paid to look after my nine month old daughter, Sydney. However, I continue to write my golf column for the Post.

Here's a story I wrote for last week's National Post on the costs associated with building your own golf course.

The really wealthy golf aficionados build their own: A single vision
National Post
By Robert Thompson
Chris Goodwin, a merchant banker in London, Ont., had no problem finding the money to pursue his childhood dream. He and his business partner John Drake made millions in a leveraged buyout of an industrial company in the late 1980s.
Rife with cash, the entrepreneur and his associate decided to go ahead with a project both had been dreaming of: building a golf course. "I wanted to make a great course, but it had to be efficient from a cost basis," Mr. Goodwin said.
The dream became a reality in 1990 when Redtail Golf Club, created by architect Donald Steel, opened, but it came at a cost of $2.5-million.
The course remained his private retreat for two years before 80 associates were invited to play on an annual basis. Now Redtail is considered one of the most exclusive -- and best -- golf courses in Canada.
Despite the cost, Mr. Goodwin says he'd do it again. "Owning it is extraordinary and has allowed me to play every great golf course in the world," he said. "But given the choice, I'd choose Redtail over any of them."
Mr. Goodwin isn't the only golf fanatic in Canada who decided to build a golf course. The idea has a lengthy history in North America. In 1937, John D. Rockefeller hired golf designer William Flynn to build Pocantico Hills in New York, a course that remains closed to the public.
More recently, Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer created Ellerston, a course designed by Greg Norman that is legendary for the infrequency of play on its fairways. Similarly, former Blockbuster owner Wayne Huizenga runs his own golf oasis in Florida aptly named The Floridian.
This spring, Oviinbyrd, a course conceived by Peter Schwartz, the former Descartes Systems Group chief executive, will open to an extremely limited membership in Muskoka.
The benefit of running your own golf course, Mr. Schwartz said, is you can fashion the whole project -- including the clubhouse -- based on a single vision, without the hassle of greens committees and outside influences.
"When I came up with the idea, I made a list of things I didn't like about private golf clubs," said Mr. Schwartz, who owns and operates a private equity firm. "One of the things I didn't like was the access issue. Having great access to the tee is synonymous with great exclusive golf. So we kept the membership small and just called friends to join."
Recently Paul Desmarais, the founder of Power Corp., determined he wanted a course next to his estate north of Quebec City. He hired Thomas McBroom, the architect of Oviinbyrd in Muskoka, to build a golf playground few will ever get to see. "Some guys build a couple of holes, but Paul built a complete golf course on a grand scale," Mr. McBroom said.
Even within golf circles, few have had the chance to see Domaine La Forest, Mr. Desmarais' course. It gets little play, aside from business associates lucky enough to get a personal invitation, and those also are few.
For those slightly less financially flush than Mr. Desmarais, building a golf course can be an expensive procedure, said Ian Andrew, a golf architect at Carrick Design in Toronto.
Mr. Andrew is helping Peter Grant, founder of Grant Forest Products, finish Frog's Breath, his private golf course near New Liskeard, Ont.
Building a single hole can cost upward of $100,000, while a small, nine-hole course can cost as much as $1.5-million, Mr. Andrew said. But construction costs aren't the end of expenses for those who build courses. "People have to understand there is a lot of upkeep associated with even having a single hole," Mr. Andrew says. "You have to cut the green every day, for example. You have to top dress it and aerate it. It can take a lot of time or money if you have to hire someone to do it."
Some people have built putting greens that use new synthetic surfaces requiring little upkeep. These greens use packed sand to create a realistic surface that is light years removed from earlier artificial surfaces, which became as hard as concrete over time.
The greens are so realistic and easy to maintain that several PGA Tour pros, among them John Daly and Canadian Ian Leggatt, have had them installed in their yards.
Synthetic putting greens cost about $35 a square foot, meaning even an artificial golf green can cost $5,000 plus to build, with some costing more than $40,000.
Idnumber: 200505140134

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

So John Daly is going to play with Tiger Woods and take on Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen in the Battle At The Bridges, which now sports the "Lincoln financial" title. Doesn't really matter who sponsors it -- it'll still be bad, made-for-TV golf. Yawn.

I'm fascinated that the corporate outings story that sprung up in the spring, with IMG putting out rate sheets for players they didn't even manage, has simply fallen off the radar in recent months. With that in mind, there is a comment in a USA Today story this morning that is quite intriguing. It mentions the subject of my post yesterday, in which Vijay Singh, Chris DiMarco, Mike Weir and Fred Funk showed up at Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club. The Royal Canadian Golf Association made it sound like the group were out checking out the golf course, part of the strategy tournament director Bill Paul is using to get someone to show up at the event, with its lousy September date.

Then this from the USA Today:

But it was interesting to note that Chris DiMarco, Fred Funk and Canadian star Mike Weir joined Vijay Singh at a "corporate outing" Monday at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in Vancouver, site of the Canadian Open in September. Singh is the defending champion.

I didn't know it was a corporate outing. Now that's interesting. I assume it was for Bell Canada, the sponsor of the Canadian Open, but who knows? The RCGA certainly wasn't making that clear.

The whole USA Today story can be found here.

Meanwhile, Ron Whitten discusses Medford Village, a golf course with an interesting history. He also gives a pretty good account of the architect behind it, William Gordon, who once worked for William Flynn, the man behind Merion, and Donald Ross, the creator of Pinehurst No.2, among others.
You can find Whitten's story here. Interesting to note that Whitten doesn't really critique the course. Instead he offers comments on its unique business model and place in history. He also tries to explain why it fell off all the golf ratings lists. Interesting stuff.

In contrast, the Rees Jones designed Foxwoods, reviewed here by Golfweek's Brad Klein, doesn't really sound very appealing, despite an amazing US$75-million price tag. There's a new Rees-pieces course opening in Niagara Falls this fall, and I'm only kind of interested in seeing it. What I've played by Rees left me underwhelmed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Vijay Singh on Shaughnessy: I approve

It sounds like the start of a joke: So Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Fred Funk and Chris DiMarco go to Vancouver.
Only it isn't a joke -- the Royal Canadian Golf Association, in a desperate move to draw people to the terrific Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club asked the four to come and play a round in an attempt to generate a buzz around the course.

Anyway, the utterly unlikeable Singh said the course has that old time feel that appeals to the PGA Tour. Oh yeah, just like those TPC courses they play every week.

"It has that traditional old-style feel and as players, those are the kind of courses we really enjoy playing," said Singh. "With the way the course is laid out you really have to be a shot-maker to get your way around and I think any players who decide to compete this year will really enjoy the golf course."

Once more, the RCGA used Utah's, I mean Canada's favourite son, Mike Weir to pimp the tournament. Makes you wonder how they sold the Canadian Open before Weir. Oh, right -- it was once an important event.

Weir seems to think the players will like Shaughnessy.

"It really is a great golf course and I think that's the consensus feedback you'll get from the players during tournament week," said Weir. "Today was a good opportunity to get a feel for the layout and I think by the time September rolls around, the golf course will really be up for the challenge."

Hopefully he's right -- Shaughnessy is a pretty strong course and a great setting for the Open and Vancouver will certainly be behind the event. Now will that be enough?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Golf's greatest player calls it a day

The Old Course is a special place, even if you're not a golfer. But if you are, like Bobby Jones or Jack Nicklaus, the course seems to become more than simply a piece of golf architecture. It becomes a living, breathing entity with which you have an indelible connection.
So it is no surprise that Nicklaus said yesterday that his rounds at the Old Course in July for the British Open will be the end of one of the most remarkable careers in sports.
I expect I'll be just as emotional at St. Andrews," Nicklaus said in London yesterday. "I'm a sentimental old fool. I enjoy being part of history and what's going on, but I don't consider myself competitive any more.
"Hopefully when I get to St. Andrews I will have some kind of game. It won't be great, but I hope not to embarrass myself. I will enjoy it."
Jack isn't like Arnold Palmer -- he knows when to hang it up. At 65, he can no longer compete or be competitive and even the Seniors Tour doesn't seem appealing. So it will all end at St. Andrews.
Nicklaus had essentially already stated that the Old Course would be the end, but yesterday, in the UK to promote golf developments in Spain, he made it clear that it'll all be over in July.
Given the television coverage of Palmer's last march through Augusta overshadowed everything, I imagine a lot of focus will be placed on Nicklaus. Unlike Palmer, Nicklaus isn't likely to shoot 88, which will at least make it less painful to watch.
  • Jack Nicklaus: A career
  • Tour Victories: ? PGA Tour: 73? Senior PGA Tour: 10(113 total victories worldwide)
    Major Championships: Professional: 18? Masters: 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986? U.S. Open: 1962, 1967, 1972, 1980? British Open: 1966, 1970, 1978? PGA Championship: 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980 Amateur: 2? U.S. Amateur: 1959, 1961
In other news, Lorne Rubenstein on wrote on that Michelle Wie brings something to the PGA Tour that is useful for some stops. I agree -- another player heading home on Friday.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Sean O'Hair -- quite a story if he finishes on top

It is well worth reading this story from a few months back, even if Sean O'Hair doesn't manage to hold onto his lead at the Byron Nelson on Sunday. O'Hair is one of those kids -- Michelle Wie with more aggressive parents -- that was considered a sure thing until it didn't happen. His dad was always on him -- pushing him too hard, too soon. The kid simply burned out and it appeared the potential was lost. Then he made it through Q-school and now he's on top of a leaderboard that includes the best in golf.
It'll be an even better story if he wins.

Canadians falter in 2005

Here's my golf column in the National Post from Thursday:
A less than impressive year for Canadian golf: As the Tour nears its mid-point, our big guns are silent
National Post
Robert Thompson Column: On Golf
When it comes to professional golf, Canadians have come to expect a great deal from the players that represent the country. Which is why this year's PGA Tour, at least to this point, seems so disappointing.
Believe it or not, the tour is nearing the halfway mark for its year, and is even deeper into its schedule if you consider that many of the game's best will shut it down following the PGA Championship in mid-August.
With nearly 50% of the year gone, not one of Canada's best male golfers appears to be near his top form. That's not good considering only one of the five on tour -- Calgary's Stephen Ames, a Canadian by way of Trinidad --had what might be considered a great year in 2004.
Even Ames is well off the pace he set last year, when he won for the first time and made US$3.3-million in winnings. This year his best showing is a tie for sixth, but there are lots of finishes well down in the field and a handful of missed cuts thrown in.
Maybe Ames set the barometer too high for himself and got the total of his potential in 2004. There's a good chance that for the occasionally erratic and outspoken Ames, his best year is behind him. He is not a dominant player, requiring finesse and feel to win. If that deserts him, even for a few months, he is not going to win any tournaments.
While many expected a lot out of Ames, no one should have really anticipated much from Brantford's David Hearn, despite all the Canadian golf magazine covers in the spring trumpeting his first year on the PGA Tour. After barely making it through Q-school, Hearn wasn't going to be able to play a regular schedule on tour, especially in high-profile tournaments where demand exceeds the number of available spots during the first half of the year.
Regardless, Hearn's year has been a disappointment, especially after his meteoric rise from the Canadian Tour to winning on the Nationwide Tour last summer. After three straight missed cuts to start the year, Hearn has made three in a row. What does he have to show for it? A total of US$33,647, or not nearly enough to cover his expenses let alone retain his card for next year.
Maybe Hearn is in over his head, and would have benefited from a full year on the Nationwide, golf's minor-league circuit. But many think he is the real deal, and like Mike Weir, who struggled during his inaugural year on tour, Hearn's smooth swing and ability to deal with pressure should eventually lead him to success.
Canada's two often injured golfers -- Glen Hnatiuk of Selkirk, Man., and Ian Leggatt of Cambridge, Ont. -- have hardly made their presence known. Hnatiuk, playing on a major medical exemption for this year, has so far replicated his 2004 season when he suffered from tennis elbow. In nine events he has missed five cuts and made a meagre US$99,479. Worse still, Hnatiuk's putter has gone south. For a guy who isn't overpowering, that's a serious problem.
Leggatt is struggling to return to the form that saw him win the 2002 Tucson Open. Since then he has fought a series of physical problems, including surgery to repair carpal tunnel syndrome. He has missed the cut in his only two starts this year and needs to make US$614,982 in 24 events to retain his card. It appears that making that much will be a struggle for Leggatt, who turns 40 this year.
With Weir it is always a question of expectations. After winning the 2003 Masters, golf fans finally began to see the lefty as a star, a legitimate threat to the likes of Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
Last year was a mixed bag for Weir, with strong showings in the British Open and U.S. Open, a second Nissan win in Los Angeles and a disappointing, but unforgettable, second-place finish at the Canadian Open. It was also a year when he missed the cut as defending champion at The Masters, and admitted he struggled with his swing.
After spending the winter renewing his putting stroke, Weir said he was hopeful for a full return to form at the Mercedes Championship. But his final round was spotty, and after a good start, Weir slipped down the leaderboard.
It has not been all bad for Weir. Many would consider earnings of US$1.12-million in five months to be a goof haul. And he is still ranked 13th in the World Golf Rankings.
But Canadian golf fans have come to expect more from Weir and the other Canadians on tour. Maybe success, and wins from Weir, Ames and Leggatt have spoiled us. Now that Canada regularly has had a stretch of years with successful players on the PGA Tour, those expectations aren't likely to be lowered.

Walter Travis' Lookout Point and Cherry Hill

Walter Travis reputedly was a bit of a bastard. One tough little man, he made his way in the game of golf by being able to get up and down from anywhere, especially important since he only hit the ball around 200 yards off the tee. John Daly he wasn't -- more Corey Pavin, but better. He is arguably the best putter the game has ever seen, even though he played at a time when green speeds and consistency surely weren't what they are today.
In Canada, Travis created two courses -- Lookout Point, in Fonthill, just outside Hamilton, and Cherry Hill, which held the 1972 Canadian Open and is just across the border from Buffalo. Both are fascinating clubs.
Lookout is built high on the Niagara escarpment, and features several plunging drops in elevation, small, wonderful greens and interesting fairway contours. Though rerouted slightly at some point in its past history, Lookout remains a terrific test of golf, though short by modern standards. Whatever it lacks in length, it makes up with interesting holes. Take the seventh, a par five that plays slightly uphill before encountering a fairway cut into the side of a slope. The cross slope takes all balls to the left of the fairway, making shot placement essential. The following hole, a par three that is slightly blind and uphill, wouldn't be out of place in Scotland.

The best the course has to offer comes on a series of holes in the middle of the back nine, but things get slightly derailed by ending on a series of short fours, protected only by wild, small greens. Nonetheless, Lookout, the home course of golf legend Marlene Stewart Streit, is worth going out of your way to play.

Cherry Hill is another Travis work, but seems very different from Lookout considering the two courses were built at almost the same time. Cherry Hill is known for its greens -- and on holes like 11, 15, and 16 -- they are among the most interesting anywhere in Canada. These greens are unlike almost anything you'd find on a modern Canadian course. Take the 11th, a mid-length par three. The green starts at its highest point in the left back corner, dropping precipitously to the front right. But rather than having clear shelves, like many greens, this one rolls gradually to the front, leaving its delineations less defined. It is great fun to play and put -- which is the challenge of the hole. Unlike Lookout, Cherry Hill does not have the same sort of elevation shifts, but it does gently roll over most of the property, making it, in some ways, a more consistent golf course with a better finishing kick.
That aside, the clubhouse is wonderful and the membership, which is 90% American, is friendly and inviting. What more could one want?

If you're interested in Travis and his work, it is worth reading the recent biography of the man, which provides a fascinating account of what he was all about, including a bit about his forays into architecture. It even quotes my good friend and Travis expert, golf architect Ian Andrew.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Tiger Misses the cut...The Club at Bond Head is the real deal

  • Well, maybe now that Tiger has missed a cut, we can stop talking about how he'll win the Grand Slam. Let's face it folks, the swing overhaul isn't quite complete, leading Woods to miss his first cut since 1997 (some say 1998, but come on -- he withdrew from a rain plagued event. He missed the cut at Royal Montreal at the 1997 Canadian Open.)AP's Doug Ferguson, as always, gives the event great coverage. Is Tiger on his game? Clearly not. I think it is easy to argue, with all the misques, that he wasn't on top at The Masters, even though he managed to win. Needless to say, the consecutive streak of making the cut was remarkable. But, like everything in golf, there's always an ending.
  • Had a chance today to play The Club at Bond Head, a new Hurdzan/Fry design north of Toronto. I'll give it a full review later, but it was worthwhile just for the remarkably raw bunkering. The only place the bunkering doesn't work is where the shaping was a little too careful and the lines a little too clean. But that wasn't often. It'll be interesting to see whether the course has the guts to let the bunkers grow really wild, but I think they are likely to back away from that a bit. If this were a private course, it might be OK, but it'll be tough to get players around if the bunkers get too crazy. Otherwise, the course offered wide fairways, pretty subtle greens that had the occasional interesting touch, and interesting shifts in elevation. Oh, and two driveable par fours, which is interesting to throw into the mix. This will be a widely discussed course -- and there's lots to like.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Sign says: Gone golfing

Just a quick note to my regular readers that I'm out on Thursday playing golf at two fine Walter Travis courses, Cherry Hill in Ridgeway and Lookout Point.
Great old courses that are quirky, wild, weird and fun -- what could be better?
Back Friday.

Note: back late Thursday night after walking 36. Lookout is great old school fun -- and Cherry Hill may be the friendliest course with the best set of greens in Canada.

Gleneagles Centenary: Florida in Perth?

Great story in the Scotsman, in essence about Colin Montgomerie trying to get players to come for the Johnnie Walker Classic at Gleneagles' Centenary course, designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Interesting to note that the Centenary course is scheduled to hold the Ryder Cup in 2014, but the European PGA already thinks the course won't cut it and has hired David McLay Kidd, the man behind Bandon Dunes and the seventh course at St. Andrews, to rework it extensively.
The reality is that the Centenary course makes almost no sense at Gleneagles. The original two courses -- the Kings and Queens -- are classic old school James Braid designs set on amazing rolling hills. The Kings course is certainly one of the best parkland courses I've ever played.
But as you walk up the first fairway on the Kings and look to the east, you'll see the Nicklaus monstrosity -- with its electric carts, something unheard of in much of Scotland. So apparently the Euro PGA feels it needs to be altered, though I'm not sure what Kidd can do to make it that much better. It looks like a bad North American course plopped in the middle of Scotland. Ugh.
Best line in the story: The Scotsman's reporter talks about the recent Planet Golf ratings by Golf Digest that placed the Kings higher than the Centenary -- "Obviously, the essentially Scottish nuances of James Braid’s masterpiece impressed the American critics more than the Florida-in-Perth ‘feel’ of Jack Nicklaus’ original lay-out. "
Florida-in-Perth -- now that's a great line.

Carlsbad Confidential Slap Down

So Carlsbad Confidential, the blog that was supposed to dish the true dirt behind TaylorMade's competitors, has fallen victim to its own lawyers.
The guys who post on the site have noted that over the last few days TaylorMade lawyers have become increasingly interested in the site and its legal consequences for TM. I'm a little surprised because while the site started off interestingly enough, it has become pretty tame as of late.
So, apparently, Carlsbad Confidential will become another victim of "the man" and turn into some sort of official site in the near term. Not that it was much more than that anyway -- praising players who had won the week before using the R7 or such.
Simply another example of a blogger getting shaken down, though I question how much relevancy the site had as of late.
What surprises me most is that TM's marketing department wasn't smart enough to see they had something in Carlsbad Confidential that could have worked in the equipment maker's favour without having to appear official. But I've dealt with corporate lawyers before -- and they aren't big on thinking outside the norm.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Travelgolf praises Going For The Green

Major props coming to Going For the Green from the fine folks at Editor Tim McDonald writes that Going For The Green is "a good blog he keeps current." He also notes that I'm "a course rater for Golf Digest and includes solid, though prosaic, course reviews."
Thanks for the love. I'll keep the copy coming.

A revamped PGA Tour season?

Best read of the morning is SI's Gary Van Sickle's story on what's wrong with the PGA Tour's schedule and how to fix it. Essentially the suggestion is that the Tour keeps a year-round schedule in order to keep any contenders from entering the fray (ie: Greg Norman's proposed events from a view years back).

Among Van Sickle's suggestions is that the season start later and end earlier. He suggests dropping several events, reconfiguring others (the Players Championship would be moved to May) and moving the Canadian Open, once an important event, to August. Moving the Canadian Open ahead a month would open up wonderful course possibilities and make the event significant again.

He'd end the season at the start of October, cutting it down from its current 48-events. The problem, as I see it, with the PGA Tour is that no season as such currently exists. Golf seems to go year round and viewers just can't keep focused on a never-ending season. And, as I've said about events like the John Deere Classic, there are several tour stops that are simply not going to draw any stars and will garner very little attention. Why bother if no ones comes or tunes in? Time to shake this up, but in order to do that, Tim Finchem would need to make some significant alterations to the schedule and sponsor set up. Don't expect that to happen -- unless the television network that bids on the new PGA Tour television contract forces his hand.

Line of the day: Van Sickle calls the Sony Open, "the Michelle Wie Invitational."

Monday, May 09, 2005

Worthwhile golf blogs: Saguaro Open and Reluctant Jam Boy

Two golf blogs worth checking out -- Duke's Saguaro Open has such strong opinions that you'd think you were reading Going for the Green. Except, Duke doesn't always agree with this writer, which makes him worth reading on a regular basis. Love a contrary opinion.
And one of my very favourties continues to be the Reluctant Jam Boy, the tale of a new caddy and his crazed, often terrible players. He caddies somewhere in the U.S., but the man can write and his stories are laugh out loud funny. Now if someone at his club finds out about his blog he'll be through, but until then....

Garcia's great collapse; Club at Bond Head

So Segio Garcia's messy meltdown yesterday turns out to be the biggest choke since Greg Norman's body was taken hostage by the ghost of a weekend hacker and fell apart at the Masters, handing the tournament to Nick Faldo in the process.
Garcia's 6-shot lead should have been enough to hold off anyone, including Vijay Singh, who to his credit stepped up and won the Wachovia on the weekend. Associated Press' Doug Ferguson has a nice account of the story, and credits Singh with stepping up to win the tournament, though the fact Garcia threw up all over himself helped the big Fijian.
At what point does Sergio Garcia go from Boy Wonder to Wonder When? After all, he was so hotly tipped when he joined the PGA Tour as a teenager and made that charge against Tiger in the PGA in Chicago. But that was half a decade ago -- and still no major wins and no real examples of where he's put himself in position to win one of those majors.
He's reworked his swing to make himself more repetitive, but he's really only repeated winning events that don't really matter all that much.
Is he the best player never to have won a major or just overrated? Once heralded as the second coming of Seve, Garcia is lost in some sort of golf hinterland. He's not spoken of in terms of greatness much, unless you are Jim Nantz and use phrases like "Vijay. Sergio. Jim.... Furyk," as if Furyk, who a US Open under his belt, is the odd man out among the three. While Nantz may have been suprised when Garica couldn't hole a six footer to save par in the playoff, it came as no surprise to me.

* Out this week for a sneak peak at The Club at Bond Head, a new Hurdzan/Fry layout done by associate Jason Straka. The photos make the bunkering look very striking, so I'm intrigued at seeing just how well this turned out. At $200 per round, I'm not sure I understand the business model, but the course might well be a home run. The Club at Bond Head opens this weekend.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Course review: Glencairn Golf Club (Thomas McBroom)

Along with Eagles Nest in north Toronto, Glencairn was hotly tipped as a strong faux links when it opened last year. There's lots to like at Glencairn, but there's also some shortcomings which hold the course back from being considered the best work Toronto architect Thomas McBroom has done.


Built in a style consistent with the UK's heathlands or links courses, with lots of options for a ground game and several ways to attack pins, Glencairn shows McBroom can get it right not far from a spot where many think he got it wrong. That's because Glencairn is built just up the street from Rattlesnake, an earlier design on a similar piece of property. One Clublink insider told me that Rattlesnake was the organization's big miss -- a sprawling, 36-hole project where little really stands out.
Unlike Rattlesnake, McBroom has aimed at a distinctive look for Glencairn, somewhere between Scotland's Muirfield and the King's course at Gleneagles.
Though it starts out a bit oddly, with a short par four, the "Leithfield" nine is the course's standout. The look is similar to Muirfield and it is built over similar, gently rolling land. The par five second hole is a standout, with its strategic bunkering and interesting greensite. The 470-yard par four sixth is also a strong hole, reminiscent of the eighth or ninth at Muirfield -- strong holes that force the good player to hit two honest shots in order to make par.
While Leithfield is the standout, that doesn't mean there isn't lots to like in the other 18 holes, located to the north and east of the property. The Speyside's first hole, a 450-yard par four is without doubt the most dramatic, exciting and fascinating hole on the entire course. It is unclear how much land McBroom moved to create the hole (I'd wager a fair bit), but the hole is among the best the designer has ever created. Essentially a straight hole, bunkers sit on either side of the fairway in the landing zone. From there, the hole plunges downward towards a green situated in the hillside of a slight rise. The green, which features an angled ridge that forces players to be careful with any pitch, is interesting. A worthy sidenote on the greens at Glencairn -- unlike most of McBroom's early work, which featured wild undulations, the putting services at Glencairn are relatively tame. Its too bad -- a little more life in these would have added to the links concept.
But not everything is good on the Speyside and Scotchblock nines. Both head to the east and across a series of railway tracks. Along the way, they run into environmental hazards which disrupt the links theme and the flow of the course. There are some big misses here -- like the Scotchblock's 8th, with its hazards placed all along the right side, meaning a poor tee shot will be doubly punished, and the Speyside #6, a par five with a significant hazard situated in the middle of what one would expect to be the landing area for one's tee ball.
So where does this leave Glencairn? It is a good, but flawed golf course. The setting and general themes are nice -- the clubhouse is a standout, the burns are nicely done and two-thirds of the course is conceptually well done.


One can only wonder what it could have been should Clublink have considered doing 18 holes, rather than forcing 27 into an area where fewer would have sufficed.

Friday, May 06, 2005

JUST FOR SHOW?: Australian says Michelle Wie has not earned a spot at the John Deere

Today's golf column in the National Post:
JUST FOR SHOW?: Australian says Michelle Wie has not earned a spot at the John Deere
Robert Thompson Column: On Golf
Source: National Post
Mark Hensby is spitting mad and he's letting the world know about it.
Who is Hensby? Well, he's a pretty solid Australian golfer who happened to win the ever exciting John Deere Classic last July. He also finished tied for fifth at this year's Masters.
But he isn't a name anyone recognizes and most sports fans couldn't pick him out of a lineup. No one turns on their television hoping to watch Mark Hensby hit a golf ball, regardless of how good he is.
That's why the John Deere Classic has decided it needs a draw to gain any interest in its tournament this year, which falls a week before the British Open.
So tournament officials are trotting out what has become golf's best freak show this side of John Daly: Michelle Wie.
That's right, the Big Weisy has accepted a sponsor's exemption into one of the numerous PGA Tour stops that no one pays attention to. Get the television cameras ready.
But Hensby doesn't approve.
It turns out that Hensby has the crazed notion that one should actually accomplish something in the sport before being invited to play a PGA Tour stop, even one as low on the pecking order as the John Deere.
It isn't clear exactly what Hensby's criteria is -- maybe a U.S. Amateur or at least a Public Links championship. Wie has one Women's Public Links title, but that came two years ago. Since then, her parents have paraded her out to a couple of PGA Tour events and a handful of LPGA events. She's played well, but hasn't won much of anything, including amateur events.
Hensby doesn't think that's enough to warrant a special invitation.
"I don't think a 15-year-old girl who's done nothing at all should get a sponsor's invitation to a PGA Tour event," Hensby told an Australian reporter this week.
In what is becoming a fairly common mantra, Hensby didn't blame Wie for accepting the invite. He blamed her parents.
"But I don't blame the John Deere Classic or Michelle. I blame her parents, and the people running her affairs," he said.
The reality is the latest Wie invite demonstrates many of the problems facing the PGA Tour. Too many events simply don't include any of the game's top stars. At the same time, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is trying to nail down a television deal that will at least rival the US$900-million arrangement that runs out next year.
If Tiger isn't in the field at an event like the John Deere, and more moderate draws like Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson stay away, who is going to bring in the viewers?
Similarly, sponsors who pay millions annually to have their name attached to PGA Tour events expect to get something in return for their patronage. And names like Hensby, Pampling, Petrovic and even Weir don't cut it.
This situation hits close to home for Canadians. The Canadian Open, stuck with a poor date that falls after the completion of the four majors, rarely gets the game's best players to head north. And the PGA Tour is not doing much to encourage them.
Rather than fixing this ongoing problem, Finchem apparently is willing to allow the draw to be Wie, even if she doesn't deserve to be there.
But how long will viewers be content to watch every putt Wie takes along the way to missing another cut? The novelty just won't last.
The most important question is when does Finchem force his top players to add additional tournaments so they don't need to turn to Michelle Wie to draw sponsors and fans?
Wie might well be a boon to the John Deere Classic in July. Television cameras will show up and she'll draw big galleries to follow her around another generic TPC course in Silvis, Illinois.
But her appearance is a simply a bandage on a much larger wound. The real cure is to have Woods or Mickelson or the like stop by for four rounds every few years.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Hensby lashes out at Wie's parents

Ausie Mark Hensby has told an Australian newspaper that Michelle Wie doesn't deserve a spot on the John Deere classic in July, the event he won last year.

His quote on the subject is pretty biting:

"I don't think a 15-year-old girl who's done nothing at all should get a sponsor's invitation to a PGA Tour event," Hensby told the Australian, an Ausie newspaper. "If she qualified I wouldn't have a problem, but to take a sponsor's invitation, I don't think that's right."

The outspoken Hensby is bang on in his take on this situation. Wie hasn't done anything to warrant a special invite. She hasn't won the US Am or the British Am, and didn't win the public links. The way some speak of her, you'd think she was the female version of Ryan Moore, who won everything last year, but decided to remain an amateur for a while longer.

No, Wie is a bit of a freak show for television networks. The John Deere Classic is an event that few top players bother entering, since it comes a week before the British Open. Tiger and his buddies head to Ireland to play the classic links, while Mike Weir and several others head to England or Scotland to warm.

So, that means that Wie is the draw. After all, no one is tuning in to watch Hensby play -- most Americans don't even know who he is. So there's the pragmatic reason for inviting Wie, but that really doesn't have enough merit.

Hensby is right -- Wie shouldn't have been invited until she's won something. I can actually understand inviting Annika Sorenstam to a PGA Tour stop -- she's the most dominant female golfer in the last 50 years. But Wie, a teenager who won't make the cut, is another matter altogether.

It is time for Tim Finchem to step in and say enough Wie until she accomplishes something.

Other notes:

  • After a month layoff, Tiger Woods returns this weekend, meaning that people will likely tune into the Wachovia Championship. It is held on the Quail Hollow golf course, which Tom Fazio renovated. Apparently the players really liked it, though it didn't strike me as being that interesting last year. PGA Tour players seem to be most interested in "fair" golf courses, which is usually pretty dull. Fazio courses also tend to be pretty, which PGA Tour players seem to approve of.
  • Apparently Davis Love III is going to renovate Angus Glen's North Course, the site of the Canadian Open in 2007. Too bad the RCGA didn't bother to tell Doug Carrick about it - since Doug and Jay Morrish designed the course. Typical.
  • Media Guru at Hooked On Golf sent me a note saying that he had also had problems with Callaway's new HX Tour, which I noted yesterday. He also sent along some links regarding Nike balls. You can read them here and here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ernie Els wins in China. But does it mean anything?

George White, writing on the GolfChannel's website, says that Ernie Els' 13-shot win in China over the weekend is worth noting.
White argues that Els' win doesn't get as much attention as a PGA Tour win because of "American prejudice." Now I'll be first on the list to point out that Americans are pretty insular and don't always have a good grasp of geography, but let's be clear: Els was playing against a nominal field in an event in which he was paid to play. Good for Ernie to head to China, where the game of golf is exploding, but let's not overstate the significance of his win there. It is a footnote. Now if the event were, say, the US Open at Pinehurst, it would be a whole other matter.

Review: Nike Platinum and Callaway Golf HX56 Tour


Along with Titleist's new ProV, few balls are as hotly anticipated as Nike's Platinum release. The stories are already out there -- Tiger wins the Masters with it! Tiger chips it in on the 16th! Tiger gets 20 more yards out of it!
At the same time, Callaway is pushing its revamped HX ball and Maxfli has released its BlackMax as an attempt to claw its way back into the golf ball market. With Titleist dominating this market, everybody is playing for second. But, like on the PGA Tour, second place can be pretty lucrative.
I've had the opportunity to play the Nike Platinum, which is just now hitting the market, for two rounds recently. At first it felt a little like previous Nike product -- a bit hard, with little touch around the greens where it counts.
But following a second try, this time at Glencairn, a faux-links located outside Toronto, I've come away impressed. The distance factor is clearly a big component of this ball and it comes off especially hot while limiting sidespin. I hit several drives of 285 yards into a strong headwin and found the Platinum to perform well with my short irons. I did find the ball could balloon a bit with longer irons, but that may have been a spin issue and could be more about my swing than the ball.
The big change with the Platinum, in my estimation, was around the greens, where it offered better touch than the rocks Nike had previously sold.
This could well be the breakthrough Nike has been looking for since introducing its golf line. Now it is a marketing issue -- something the company is exceptional at -- since Nike will have to convince golfers that the Platinum is a viable alternative to the ProV. It'll be interesting to see if they aim their campaign at low handicappers -- the ones most likely to see benefit from the new ball.
The other alternative is Callaway's HX56 Tour, a variation on a ball introduced last year. The HX was a great, hot ball that offered fine touch around the greens and was a big improvement over anything Callaway had offered previously.
The problem? The cover in the HX cut easily (a problem experienced previously by Hogan when it introduced its balls a few years ago) and simply did not stand up to the punishment one would normally inflict on a ProV. What you had was a similar priced product that performed nearly as well as Titleist's best, but simply didn't have staying power.
The aim was to fix the problems in the HX56 Tour so the fraying of the cover was a thing of the past.
The new version of the HX offers the same performance and, in my experience, similar problems to the earlier ball. The cover still gets cut very easily, making it expensive, considering the price of the Callaway balls rival ProVs. It is a great performing ball, but gets cut like a debutante at a plastic surgeon's convention. And that's not good enough for a ball with this kind of price tag. Still, most golfers will likely lose their HX before ever having frayed the cover, so maybe this isn't that big an issue after all.....

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Chris DiMarco can't seal the deal

I like Chris DiMarco as much as the next guy. He's got that weird swing, strange putting style and ability to hit pure long irons.
But he lacks the closing power to become a golf superstar. We saw it at the Masters, last year's PGA Championship and today's tournament in New Orleans.
DiMarco, as ususal, shot a solid final round, but was bested by golfers who could, in the words of a New Orleans chef, kick it up a notch. Bam. And DiMarco was history.
Sure, there were all those articles following the Masters about DiMarco being the people's player, but what kind of star just can't win. He was beaten by Vijay last August, by Tiger in April, and now by Tim Petrovic, a former pizza deliveryman who is 38 and has never won anything of any significance.
So is DiMarco now the best player never to have won a major (surpassing the likes of Sergio Garcia) or the most overrated player about?

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