Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Canada's most exclusive course and more new golf blogs....

There's often discussion about what exactly is Canada's most exclusive golf course. Some say St. Thomas' Redtail, while others point to Mount Bruno, Magna or Oviinbyrd. Turns out it is none of those. According to T&L Golf, it is the Desmarais' Domaine Laforest, the exclusive haunt in Quebec that typically only has 500 rounds per year.

For Desmarais, that deal was straightforward: Build me a work of art to
hit balls on. For McBroom, it was similarly clear-cut: Listen to the land. There was no need to move a lot of dirt and, given the stunning mountain vistas, no need for gratuitous framing devices or other tricks of the architect's trade. "This isn't Trump National with a fake waterfall," McBroom says.

Each hole has been designated a name on the scorecard. Some pick up on the physical poetry of the place, like the par-three seventh, Le Gouffre (the Chasm). Others are more personally prosaic; the long downhill par-four first forms Desmarais's grandkids' winter sledding grounds, hence Le Toboggan. The tenth tips a tam to Desmarais's impressive collection of sculpture: McBroom added a pair of Henry Moore boulders to a fairway bunker down the right side of the fairway.

Of the fewer than 500 rounds played here annually, a chunk come through hosted charity functions. More quietly, the first and second Presidents Bush have made the trek to tee it up, as have former President Bill Clinton and former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien (his daughter is
married to the younger of Desmarais's two sons).

Did everyone catch Thomas McBroom's dig at Tom Fazio in that? "This isn't Trump National with a fake waterfall," McBroom says. Priceless. McBroom, as some know, has been pretty outspoken about the decision by the Royal Canadian Golf Association to use Fazio to build their new course for the Canadian Open on the outskirts of Montreal.

While T&L may well be right on this one, there's one glaring ommision from their piece -- telecommunications barons the McCaw family has a Jack Nicklaus designed course on James Island in British Columbia. According to one individual I know who played the course, workers must sign a waiver before starting at the course stating they will not discuss the property or those who come to play.

The entire T&L piece can be found here.
  • Thanks to the overwhelming response I received regarding the golf blogs story from yesterday. Of course, some blogs were inadvertently left off the list, like engolfed.com; ncgolf.silkblogs.com; and some newbies beginnergolfing.com; showtimegolf.com and the terrific golfpunkonline.com.
    There's also a fellow Canuck blogger at GolfLogic.
    And if you thought Peter Jacobsen was the only singer/guitarist who writes material about golf, check out Atlantic Canada resident Royce Aube who has recorded an entire CD about golf. It may not be Leonard Cohen, but his site can be found at royceobgolfsongs/ and you can listen to clips of his country oriented golf sagas.

The ever changing world of golf blogs

When G4G launched 16 months ago, blogs were generally being disregarded and only discussed as a passing fad. It wasn't obvious at the time who they would appeal to, but it was clear as crystal that the so-called "online diary" concept had limited appeal. There were a handful of bloggers speaking about golf, with most being casual fans who wanted to talk about their favourite sport. They were generating a little interest and a handful of readers. What a difference a year makes.

A lot of sites that were online in 2004 have disappeared or stopped updating regularly, a sign that the author is losing interest in all the time it takes to maintain a good sports blog. It is always tough for some to continue running their blog when the season comes to a close and their golf bag gets put in the garage for a few months. Some may continue once the season starts again, but others seem to have fallen off the map. Golfersmuse, which showed a lot of promise and was clearly written by someone with behind-the-scenes access to the PGA Tour, hasn't posted since July with no indication the site will start again. Sadly, Bunker Mulligan, a military man from Texas, died suddenly last summer. His site stayed up for a while, but now seems to have been shut down. Others, like Golf Tips and News, seem to have become suddenly quiet after regular posts.

Others have continued to post regularly and stay true to their initial promise. Sortagolf still writes humourous asides on the game, while Eric Barzeski and the folks at The Sand Trap do a great job of keeping their site topical and up to date with details on equipment and the various tours. It may be the most complete golf blog on the Web. MJonGolf plucks the headlines, and Golfblogger does a great job reviewing gear, books and other golf paraphenalia. Eatgolf offers some personal anecdotes about his game, and though the layout is a bit jarring, it does a nice job of illustrating many of its post with pictures. Hooked on Golf is still about and writing about the sport regularly while also mourning the coming of snow to his 'hood. BogeyLounge remains thoughtful and insightful, a rarity among golf blogs, while Perform Better Golf's blog section, run by top golf instructor Mike Pedersen, has demonstrated that a good golf blog can also be a great marketing tool. I'm surprised more top golf teachers aren't doing this. Texas Golf has some nice asides and picks up some things few others notice.

There are also new blogs coming online all the time, though only time will tell whether they have staying power. Check out TravllingGolfer.com, which has been active and offers lots of material.

Of course there's also Reluctant Jam Boy, a blog that doesn't fit into any one category, but has a lot of fans. The blog details the inner workings of the caddy shop told from the perspective of an unnamed caddy who is now working in Florida. Part diary, part instructional manual, it is fascinating reading. Someone will surely take his behind the scenes commentary and turn it into the Nanny Diaries for golfers.

There are still only a handful of golf bloggers who are actively part of the media. There's G4G, of course, and there's Geoff Shackelford, who has written a number of books on golf architecture and contributes to a number of golf websites and magazines, including Golfobserver.com. Shackelford plucks stories from the golf media and offers interesting, smart commentary that is easily digestible. Jay Flemma, a New York music lawyer who is fascinated by the subject of golf architecture, has had an interesting year, flirting with Travelgolf.com before working with Golfobserver.com and continuing to run his site, A Walk in the Park, which is regularly updated with his commentary on new golf courses throughout the U.S. Of course there's also the Travelgolf.com blogs, for what they are worth.

Interestingly, there are very few Canadian golf bloggers. Considering the number of players in the country, hardly anyone is offering a Canuck insight into the game. That's too bad. Not surprisingly, most media websites don't know how to deal with the content being created by these blogs. Some organizations, like Yahoo!, have addressed this by offering links to RSS feeds (sort of like an online subscription service), while others, like Golfobserver, are still trying to find a way to make it work for them.

The reality is the golf blogs are just an extension of the 19th hole mentality. They represent what golfers love to do -- talk about, debate and fight about golf. They want to be able to say what the television commentators won't. They want to say what the sports writers sitting behind a desk at some newspaper won't: that Phil is fat, but fun to watch; or that Tiger is being distracted by his pretty new bride. They want to comment on which courses suck and which are worth plunking your money down to play. They want to say Woods has eclipsed Jack as the greatest golfer. They want to be able to critique the stories they read. When done well, this is a fascinating concept that truly adds a level of democracy to sports writing. A vast majority of these bloggers aren't journalists -- and it is intriguing to see exactly what interests them.

If you are interested in checking out the expanding world of golf blogs, take a look at the impressive list compiled by GolfSlo, which literally includes dozens of golf bloggers not mentioned here. Like everything on the Web, some will be worth checking regularly, while some won't be worth visiting once.

Of course, I'm sure some great golf blogs are missing from this list. Please take the time to add your site to the comment section of this post and I'll update readers.

Monday, November 28, 2005

An interesting visitor

This afternoon, G4G was visited by Steve Riis, a gent who came to look at my photos of Pine Valley, the world's best golf course.
Interestingly, he was mentioned in Golf Digest last winter. Here's the note:

Alas, he didn't win the lottery

Steve Riis, a 15-handicapper from Hammonton, N.J., had the following happen to him on one day in July:• Received a last-minute invitation to play Pine Valley Golf Club, ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses.• Aced the 130-yard eighth hole on the club's short course.• Aced the 137-yard 10th hole on the main course.• Met his pregnant wife at the doctor's office and learned that, after three years of trying to have children with no luck, they were going to have twins.

Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Riis. Come again soon....

Coppinwood generates the "buzz"; Ernie Els returns

Seems like a number of readers have been intrigued at what's going on at some of Ontario's most high-end public courses. First there was Paris Golf and CC going into receivership, then there were the changes of staff at Bond Head, Taboo and Ridge at Manitou. And, of course, Euan Dougal, former head pro at Eagles Nest, left the club to help launch Coppinwood, the Tom Fazio private club near Uxbridge. Despite rumours to the contrary, Coppinwood is supposedly drawing a decent number of new members, even though the club will not be open until summer 2006. Worth taking a look at Coppinwood here. The site, by the way, was supposed to be used for a Doug Carrick/Bob Cupp course, with the May family (whose Brad May plays in the NHL) financing and operating it. When the NHL strike occurred, the site was snatched up by a group of investors, Cupp and Carrick were dropped, and Tom Fazio and his $1-million+ fee were brought on board. All reports say the course is magnificent, which may account for its success in finding members.
The only thing I don't like about Coppinwood is its website's reliance on stand-by cliches. Note the course will be "challenging for golfers of all abilities," according to a quote attributed to Fazio. Last week it was Muskoka Bay that used that one. This week it is Coppinwood. I'd really like to see a golf course described and that phrase doesn't say anything. After all, how many people build a course that can only be appreciated by +2 handicaps. Oh yeah, Mystic Golf Club.....

In completely unrelated news:

  • Ian Wood at the Scotsman talks about playing in the first PGA approved World Hickory Pro-am, which actually sounds like good fun. Not surprisingly, they played at Musselburgh, the place where many feel the game originated. Interesting stuff.
  • The Big Easy is back. Ernie Els, 36, returns from a substandard season in which he damaged his knee. He's playing in the Nedbank Golf Challenge this week. "It's great to be back in action at a place which has a special history for me and I guess that birdie was a nice start to the second half of my career," said the former world No 1. The question is which Ernie are we going to get? The dominant who almost won everything in 2004, or last year's less successful model. Someone has got to step up to Tiger, and the Big Three deal from last year never really materialized.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Golf Digest Raters Summit

Yes, I'm a Golf Digest rater, but time constraints kept me from heading down to Florida to attend the magazine's raters forum. I'm not sure what the overall aim of the forum was, but they did have some fascinating guests, including Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Rees Jones and Tom Fazio.

According to one party that attended the event and posted his comments on Golfclubatlas, Nicklaus was provocative:

There was a decided buzz in the room when Nicklaus stated that the Golf Digest rankings must in part be influenced by "politics"....how else could Shadow Creek debut so high in its first year. A minute later he admitted that he's never seen Shadow Creek!As another example of the Golf Digest "politics"...how could Crystal Downs and Fishers Island suddenly appear in the last decade? Nickalus stated that he played Crystal Downs as an 11 year old and that it was a "nice" course.The most shocking revelation for me was that Nickalus doesn't visit other architect's work due to time constraints. Even though he's been on site extensively at (his new course design called) Dismal River he admitted he's never been to Sand Hills.
I was surprised at Nicklaus' remarks. It makes me wonder what his expectations are when it comes to course design. Does he assume that just because he's involved then any Nicklaus course will necessarily end up on the top of the ratings?

Nicklaus also made the comment that he, and other great golfers "who understand shot values," are necessarily better designers than other architects, said panelist Bill Shultz. That's interesting because Alister MacKenzie was not a great golfer, but I don't think even Jack would argue the likes of Cypress Point and Augusta are great golf courses.

Anyway, it sounds like the panel was interesting, but from the comments I've read, it also seems hard to discern whether there was anything of any real value for people to take away. Read the full comments on the retreat here.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Changes at Bond Head, Georgian Bay Club; Ridge at Manitou

Given the difficulties facing the Canadian golf business, it isn't altogether surprising to see several clubs make big changes in staffing already, even though the season has barely finished.
Two of the clubs impacted are new designs by Jason Straka of Hurdzan/Fry. Not that any of this is Straka's fault, of course, just coincidence. Georgian Bay Club, a club which many felt was doing well in drawing members and developing a business, let go of its marketing director and its head pro, Adam Cherry. Cherry was the former assistant under Neil Verwey at St. George's. No reason has been announced for the change.
Similarly, the Club at Bond Head, which was a successful design but a less than stellar business, fired its general manager in the late summer and then recently let go of its head pro, Ian Chan, formerly of Glen Abbey Golf Club. Nigel Hollidge, the former GM at Taboo Golf Club near Gravenhurst, has taken over at the course, bringing some of his staff from Taboo with him. No word on what Taboo is doing to fill the vacancy.
Hollidge has his work cut out for himself at Bond Head, which did approximately 10,000 fewer rounds than predicted. A second course on the property will open in late summer, 2006.
Finally, Shawn Robertson, the head professional at the Ridge at Manitou, did not have his contract renewed, meaning the club has gone through two head pros in as many years. The club, which is located near Parry Sound, Ont., has been heralded as a design success by the likes of Ontario Golf Magazine, but has failed to attract many members.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

G4G hits 20,000

Sometime on Friday G4G (that's my new acroymn. Like it?) will have visitor 20,000, which is kind of cool since I didn't start keeping track of visitors until a few months ago.
Thanks to all the readers that continue to comment on my work or course reviews, tell me what they like or don't like, or just stop by for some quick reading material. This was something I started as a whim and it is neat to find an audience.
Since golf season has largely wound down in recent weeks, I'm going to post some new course reviews over the next month. There are some other interesting things in the works for G4G in coming months and I'll keep you posted as those plans evolve.
Thanks again, and keep it in the fairway!

Hensby's harsh words; Pine Valley's great find and the emergence of TC Chen

  • Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for pointing out this story about outspoken Ausie tour pro Mark Hensby blasting Greg Norman for not doing enough to support Australian golf. He's probably right -- Norman only really supports his own pocket book. But I'm sure Hensby isn't winning himself any fans by his honesty.
  • The saga of the Pine Valley blueprint that is being sold on eBay continues to fascinate. Having seen a photo of the entire linen routing for the world's greatest golf course, I can only say this is quite significant and apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so -- it is now going for more than $6,000 on eBay. Catch Golfclubatlas' band of merry architecture nuts arguing about its value.
  • Canadian Tour pros are all over the place in the coming year, with Mike Weir, Jon Mills, and Stephen Ames guaranteed to see much playing time unless the likes of Ian Leggat and Glen Hnatiuk can make it through Q School. Score has a roundup here.
  • I was stunned to see TC Chen (yes, the legendary Oakland Hills double chipper) fail in his attempt to get through Q School. I was even more shocked that he still played.
  • The strange tale of Travelgolf.com continues, this time with blogger Jay Flemma hitting back over some unfounded allegations posted by Travelgolf editor Tim McDonald. I guess Travelgolf.com has nothing better to write about given that it is silly season and all. Oh yeah, that's right -- they are supposed to write about travel and golf. I guess no one travels once it starts snowing in Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and the like. This has become snooze inducing in its predictability. Don't you guys have to stir Tiger Woods to victory or something? Interestingly, there's an interesting story on the Web about Travelgolf.com publisher Robert Lewis and his battle with Walters Golf in Las Vegas. Given their high journalistic standards I was surprised to hear Lewis admit he would not publish letters on Travelgolf.com that were critical of Walters' Las Vegas courses while Walters Golf was advertising on the site. Once the advertising ended, the gloves, apparently very slowly, came off. I guess that's being objective and doing a service to their readers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Golfobserver's new section

  • I'm guilty of having become addicted to Golfobserver.com, the cool website that plucks golf news from all over and plugs it together on one site. Sure, they still don't acknowledge that my columns exist anywhere on the web (apparently they are only interested in Lorne Rubenstein's writing from Canada!), but the site is a valuable resource nonetheless. Anyway, they've added a new component to the site called Courseobserver, which is self-explanatory. The mini-site will house news on golf courses. In fact, there's some interesting stuff up right now on Bandon Dunes, including a story that (wrongly) contends Bandon Dunes, the first course designed by David McLay Kidd, is the best of the lot. That said, I really like Bandon Dunes a great deal and think Kidd did a great job. It is just that Pacific Dunes is a better course.
  • I've said it before -- I like David Duval. I've always found him fascinating and he was a congenial interview when I spoke with him a year ago at the Canadian Open. Anyway, as most know, Duval managed to resurrect his game for three rounds in Japan and played well enough in the final round to finish in seventh. He also shot 64, which demonstrates that there's some strong play left in him. The Golf Channel analyzed his swing last week and it was interesting to see he's back more to the unorthodox flat swing he had when he was winning. He's also staying behind the ball a lot more, which means he's crushing some long drives as well. Duval has always been smarter than your average golfer, so it doesn't surprise me to see some reflection in his quotes from Japan: "You have to gain some confidence and belief in yourself. When it's been chopped down to nothing, it takes a while to build it up. I've been number one and number 1,000, but I've hit bottom and I'm coming back up. Had the (PGA) Tour season been starting as opposed to ending now, I think I'd be doing well there." There's a full story from Reuters here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

G4TG embraces "corporationism"

In Travelgolf.com's ever whimsical way, they've "written" a blog post saying G4TG has embraced "corporationism," whatever that means. Is that a word? Seriously. Apparently not, according to Websters...
I always feel it is odd that when I rattle the cages at Travelgolf.com, they always take it upon themselves to insult Canadians, which doesn't really add to the debate. Of course, it is also odd seeing as a good part of its readership is likely Canadians looking for places to play in the winter when it is cold. Oh well. Just boycott Travelgolf.com. They are hacks. There's plenty of other things worth reading -- just check out my blogs in the sidebar.
Oh, and I didn't see them hitting back at Geoff Shackelford's remarks....

The end of the line

On Sunday, with the November sun ramping the temperature up to a balmy 10 degrees celcius, I took a short drive from my in-laws to Firerock, a neat little Tom McBroom course just outside London that opened late last year. I actually expected to find it closed -- as there was still snow on the ground Saturday morning. Instead, I found a half dozen cars in the parking lot, a pro in the shop and a gent coming up the wonderful 18th to finish a two hour round.
Too bad I wasn't there to play, just to pick up a Christmas present. The course looked wonderful, the grass was green and the golfers seemed to be having fun. It would have been a perfect day for the year's final round. Instead, I grabbed my purchase, dreamed of what could have been, and walked back to my car.
That's not to say my final round -- played some time ago now -- wasn't a good way to end 2005. I shot 77, one of my better scores in an up-and-down year. I hit lots of fairways, something I haven't managed all that often and I hit the ball over 300 yards a couple of times. I made a birdie. It was a fine way to end things. I had fun.

It has been a strange year in many respects. I took most of the summer off to look after my daughter, Sydney, and didn't play nearly as often as I had in the past. Then my driver deserted me, making the game a lot less fun. Last year I broke par a handful of times -- this year I only managed it once. All the same, I played seven of the top 100 in the world; won $350 in a majors pool; had an amazing time in Ireland with three of my most treasured golfing companions; encountered a ghost at the Bushmills Inn; found my drive again; and had Travel & Leisure Golf ask me to help cover the Canadian golfing scene. Not bad, all things considered.

Apparently Lorne Rubenstein is having fun playing Devil's Paintbrush. Lorne is right -- it is a great place to play golf. While too many architects are concerned about making their course 7,400 yards long, the Paintbrush is all about fun. It isn't even 7,000 from the tips, if I recall correctly. Read Lorne's story and then find a way to get onto the Brush. Beg, borrow or just drive up and jump off the first tee late one afternoon. Was that my outside voice?

Here's a Reuters story about how great the Ryder Cup, at the K Club in Ireland, will be next year. Too bad they didn't find a worthwhile course to play on. Ireland is full of them, but the K Club isn't among them.

SI writer Bob Casper notes that Mike Weir should be comeback player of the year in 2006. We'll see. I hope so, as it is more fun having a Canadian a top the leaderboards, but my gut tells me Weir is done being a major contender.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Going for the Green gets some, well, green

You'll notice a few changes to G4TG in the last week or so. There's a new template in an attempt to fix some of the layout problems I was having (it has, for now) and there's a new little box in the sidebar promoting Bizrate.com, a comparative shopping website that connects people with, among other things, golf equipment dealers. It is the site's first foray into advertising, but since I normally get paid to write, I see no issue with it. Might even be worth checking out. At the very least, the ad is not intrusive. Thanks for reading and keep it in the fairway.

Preview: Muskoka Bay Golf Club

Preview: Muskoka Bay Golf Club
Gravenhurst, Ont.
Designer: Doug Carrick with associate Ian Andrew
Opens: Summer, 2006

The last buzz course to open in the Toronto area, The Club at Bond Head, was more of an artistic success than a commercial one. Given that factor, it will be fascinating to see what happens to Doug Carrick's new Muskoka Bay project, which will open later next summer. Already tipped as one of Carrick's best designs, the course will be semi-private. Memberships are trading hands at $50,000, according to the course's website, but the real factor that will determine the club's success will be its green fee. Courses like Taboo, which is relatively nearby and has struggled to attract golfers over the last few years, are proving that you can build a great course and still not find people willing to fork out $150 to play.

To find out more about Muskoka Bay, go here and you can take a look at the score card. (though the website has the most annoying jazz music playing in the background. Ugh). Apparently both Carrick and Andrew contend Muskoka Bay will be one of the firm's tougher courses, surprising when you consider the company's last big design was the uber-difficult Eagles Nest.
Word has it that Muskoka Bay's fairways are much tighter than anything Carrick has attentive in recent designs.
It is hard to determine the course's flavour from these two photos, or a handful of others that are posted on the Carrick website. According to discussion I've had with Ian and Doug, the course features far more rock than Bigwin Island, with much of it in play. It'll be interesting to see how this contrasts with the use of rock that Tom McBroom pioneered in the area.
So there's no verdict on Muskoka Bay -- yet. But this could well be the course everyone is talking about next summer.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Travelgolf.com praise for Going for the Green...

.... or not. Actually the fine folks at Travelgolf.com are ripping me again, this time for not mentioning a deal between Golf Digest and the PGATour.com.

So what was the real reason I failed to mention the deal between Digest and PGA Tour? Well, I hate to say it, but I'm in the midst of writing a book, I've got a deadline looming and dammit, I just didn't see the press release. Nor would I have cared much anyway. Apparently Geoff Shackelford didn't care either, as he points out that these deals "are standard in golf."

The perceptive folks at Travelgolf do point out that I am a contributor to PGA Tour.com and that's why I didn't write about the issue. They should note that I clearly indicate in the sidebar on this blog (yeah, that's it, on the right) that I "have contributed," to PGATour.com, as did the likes of Geoff Shackelford, Lorne Rubenstein and many other golf writers. I never said I currently wrote for them, but maybe if Managing Editor had done some actual reporting and sent me an email, he could have written a touch more accurately. But never let the facts get in the way of a good column, right? That said, it has been more than two years since I did a story for PGATour.com, as they cut back pretty much all editorial content. All I ever really covered was golf architecture and travel anyway, and I can't even locate those stories on their site any longer. In fact, G4TG was created largely to house some of those stories. Truth be known, I stopped writing for PGATour.com after they felt it necessary to cut a column I wrote on Michelle Wie. You can read about the issue here.

Of course, if anyone has read my columns for the National Post, it is clear I've never been reluctant to write about problems on the PGA Tour. But if I went to my editor and said, "Jim, I want to write about a marketing deal between the PGA Tour and Golf Digest," he'd likely suggest I take full advantage of my benefits package and seek some help. As for my affiliation with Golf Digest, I am indeed a course rater for the publication, helping rate the Best New Canadian Course entry. I've never hidden this. See the sidebar -- again.

In case you care about this tempest in a teapot, turn to the Travelgolf.com blog entry about it. Always interesting to be criticized by "Heather McMichael," a creation of the Travelgolf editorial team (still spurring Tiger onto victory with your blogs, Tim?). That's right -- Ms. McMichael is as real as Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy. And what exactly is "Worldgolf.com" and how does it differ from "Travelgolf.com?" By the way, Nessmith himself operates a blog on Travelgolf.com. Guess what? No mention of the Digest deal. Here's Nessmith's initial thoughts on bloggers, the PGA Tour and Golf Digest.

And if you want to read the press release about the deal between Digest and PGATour.com, you can find it here. Looks like a dull marketing deal to me, but maybe Tim should pick up the phone, call Jerry Tarde and ask him whether this deal will impact Digest's coverage of the tour. I personally think it will very much change the way Golf Digest offers cutting edge instructional articles on how to fix your slice and hole more putts. Oh yeah, but there will be more "custom advertising, advertorials, special sections and integrated marketing programs within the magazine." Sounds fascinating.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More praise for Going for the Green!

It is nice when someone lets me toot my own horn (that sounds a little bit like when Tobias on Arrested Development announces he "blew himself," while painting himself blue) as Going for the Green has been nominated for a Best Canadian Sports Blog award. I was surprised it didn't get nominated for Best Religious Blog. After all, golf is a religion, right? Anyway, you can vote for me here. I don't expect to win -- too many hockey blogs holding me back -- but it is nice to get noticed after writing on this forum for more than a year.

In which this fine blog wins an accolade, and Canadians fail to make it through Q-school

In case you can't make any sense of my strange headlines lately, I'm trying to write the subheads like the decks on 1920s serials -- you know, Man on the Loose -- In which our hero gets more than he bargained for and Mildred finds her mop -- that sort of thing. I'll probably stop after today. Even I think it is kind of ridiculous.
In anycase, Jay Flemma, the man obsessed with Jim Engh and Lines of Charm, disagreed with my post yesterday on Geoff Shackelford's satire on Golf Digest's gathering in Orlando. Anyway, Jay says:
Don't feed the beast, slay the beast...one spear at a time.

Actually, I don't have any problem poking fun at a $1,200 rating seminar. I can't figure out why people would need such a thing -- aren't they supposed to already know what makes a good golf course and what separates it from the pack? Oh yeah, that's right -- the Canadian faction voted The Rock last year. Maybe they do need some deprogramming.
All I was trying to say is that I think Geoff's poke at GD was a little too obvious and, well, not funny. It could have been funny though....

So though A Walk in the Park didn't care for my Shackelford comment, he did note that his blog has presented me with a "Jazzy" award for best golf blog. Jay, you are very kind. You can read his post here. Apparently the award is being presented in honor of golf blogger, Bunker Mulligan, a Texan who passed away from a heart attack mid-year. He was one of my regular readers and often left comments. He is missed.

I don't think I'm going to do any awards, but I'll tell you one course that should win one -- Eagles Nest, Doug Carrick's effort in North Toronto is the best modern course to open in Canada in recent memory. If it doesn't win the Best New Award for Canada in GD, then something is wrong.

Spent some time recently (while not pounding out the book on Ron Joyce and donuts) reading Reluctant Jam Boy's most excellent blog about caddying. In the ever changing saga of a caddy at a country club, Jam Boy meets a hopped up chick, doesn't have sex with her and then moves to FLA with a new job. How rare is it to get crystal meth and golf in the same story. Excellent.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Our blog today in which Shackelford tries to be funny and David proves that when it comes to golf architecture, he's not kidding around

Here's a story in which Geoff Shackelford tries very hard to be funny. I guess the Golf Digest raters' summit is just too easy a target? Rubber chicken jokes and comments on the Grand Cypress course? Come on, Geoff, you can do better.

More interestingly, there's a good story from the Scotsman on David McLay Kidd's seventh courses at St. Andrews. Sounds pretty amazing, especially David's comments on the quality of the site:

"Our design is retro, if you like, rather than contemporary," Kidd said. "We're not trying to re-create in Scotland the kind of course you will routinely see hosting tournaments in America on the PGA Tour. From the road, you don't get the true impression of this site. The area which is the real gem is the land beside the edge of the water. Compared to Kingsbarns, we're raised higher and don't have their sandy soil. Our land is maybe 50 to 80 feet higher up. Because of that elevation, you could argue this course will have as much, if not more drama. You're looking right across St Andrews Bay to Carnoustie. Some of the holes [the ninth, 16th,17th and 18th] along the water will deliver knife-edge golf. The inspiration for the shapes of those holes came from the braes, which are craggy and uneven with chunks of gorse hanging out."

I'm going to attempt to locate the profile I did of David for PGATour.com and if I find it, I'll post it tomorrow.

Oh yeah, and the Pete Dye designed TPC of Louisiana may never open after the hurricane, according to Tim Finchem.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Casey Martin calls it a day

In a quiet move, Casey Martin has apparently ended his professional golf career after failing to make it through Q-school last week. "I love golf," he told reporters. "I wanted to be great."

“I’ve pretty much made it clear that this would be my last Q-school,” Martin said on Golf Digest’s Web site. “I’m not saying I’ll never compete again. But I don’t anticipate it being my main thing.”

Regardless of your feeling about the use of carts in professional golf, I think Martin's battle against a rare circulatory disability was especially courageous. He did make it to the PGA Tour -- for a single year -- and has bounced around on the Nationwide Tour, where he only played a handful of events this past year as the condition of the leg worsened. Martin has a degree in economics, so I'm sure there's a future after golf. But Martin is an athlete who faces ending his career without fully realizing their potentional, and I must admit I find it quite sad.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Tiger to design golf course

At least that's what he's saying in recent interviews. I guess since he only plays 18 times a year, he'll have some free time to start work on competing with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold. How long until we see a "Tiger Woods Golf Community" tag on a new development. Wonder what the first "Tiger Woods signature golf course" can charge for a green fee?

Anyway, here's what Tiger had to say about building a golf course:

Q: What are your plans for golf course design work?

Tiger Woods: Probably going to start here shortly actually.

Q: I know Retief has got one going and Ernie has got one.

Tiger Woods: Ernie has got a few actually. Yeah, I am going to start probably within next three, four years easily.

Q: Kelly Tilghman: Are you going to Tiger proof it?

Tiger Woods: (Laughs) One of the things that I have learned over the years I have been out here playing, talking to the guys who design golf courses, you can't always design a championship golf course because basically who is putting up the bill? And here are the guys supposed to provide and create something, that's what they want. If they want a resort course, they make it easy; if they want a championship course they make it tough. If you want something that's pretty pen for a public golf course (inaudible), I mean obviously can't make it like a championship golf course. So you are bound to what the client wants and that's one of the things that I have certainly learned. I picked brains from Pete Dye and Jack and Arnold and obviously Robert Trent Jones and all those guys, the client comes first.Hopefully one day I will be able to design a championship golf courses. I will make it tough.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Course review: Mystic Golf Club, Ancaster, Ontario

Course Review: Mystic Golf Club, Ancaster, Ontario
Designer: Tom Pearson
Opened: September, 2005

Gaining some sort of attention in the heavily golf saturated market of Southern Ontario is tough these days. The quality of public golf is high and the customer is savvy, sharp and knows exactly what he wants. They search out and research the places they are going to play and keep their eyes focused on local golf periodicals for new clubs that might match their interests and their pocket books.

Given this, Mystic Golf Club, about 10 minutes from Ancaster, is aptly named. Few know much about the course, which was in planning stages for more than a decade before it became a reality. And since it has had one of the most low-profile openings of any course in the area in the last few years, the public can be forgiven if they still don't know this course exists. No promotion and no advertising, plus a rural location on a sideroad with no signs typically equals no golfers. Interestingly, despite the clubs best efforts to become the Ontario Greta Garbo of the golf scene, Mystic managed 1,000 rounds in the two months since it opened.

Now that the preamble is done, here's the hard part: Is it any good? The answer is yes, though I reserve the right to make several comments about the club that run contrary to my overall impression.

Mystic Golf Club is different, which is a nice change. It has small greens, narrow fairways in spots and can be tough as nails. It is a bit of a throw back to the time when developers like Kaneff, who created Lionhead, determined they wanted to build "players' clubs" (though this is much better than either of the Lionhead courses). Courses developed for serious or talented players are almost always done badly because they exclude a majority of the public which doesn't break 90. Developers and designers too regularly misunderstand what makes a "players course," and instead create overly difficult courses that aren't a lot of fun for anyone. Thankfully, Mystic largely avoids this trap, but only just. The best difficult courses offer options -- especially off the tee. In this respect, Mystic can occasionally come across as a one-trick pony, where players are expected to hit long straight drive after long straight drive. There are other issues as well. For one, the three sets of men's tees -- 7,365; 6,713; and 6,096 yards -- are badly conceived. Too many players, afraid at being laughed at for playing the course at 6,000 yards, will step back and get badly beaten by the forced carries at 6,800 yards.

This will likely also create pace of play issues. Certainly Pearson had some difficulties in routing through the valleys and wetlands that run throughout the property but are rarely near greens or tees. Still, one would have thought he could have managed to find the money yardage of 6,400 or 6,500 yards that every other golf architect in the province seems to have managed to find. In recent years, I can only recall the much maligned The Rock in Muskoka that opened with such an odd variety of yardages.

There are a few other downsides, including the fact that several of the holes in the front and back nine, which play on lackluster land, have a back-and-forth feeling. This is especially apparent on the front nine in the 5th, 6th, and 8th holes which are challenging, but plain. The 8th is saved by a good green site a different tee shot and the first glimpses of the terrific 9th. Once past the interesting, but strange, par five 10th, and strong downhill par three 11th with its Nicklaus-style green, we hit another section of holes that play between the valleys and are a bit staid. Pearson also comes to rely on two-tier greens which can be found throughout the course and accentuate the repetitive feel. That said, the greens at Mystic Club buck the trend of recent courses constructed by the likes of Doug Carrick or Thomas McBroom given their small size. It means hitting the greens can prove problematic, but once on the putting surfaces and on the correct tier, the gentle movements make birdies quite possible. Though the course was in tough shape in places, much of which can be excused given its newness, the greens were in exceptional condition.

Much has been made about the width of the fairways at Mystic, which in places average 28 yards wide (see the photo to the left, of the sixth hole, for example), or about a third narrower than most of the new courses that have opened and focused on playability in the past decade. Interestingly, Pearson utilizes these narrow fairways to on the holes with the poorest land, perhaps a compensatory move to distract golfers from the bland parts of the course. Not surprisingly, the best parts of the course, like the bold 9th, with it bunker in the middle of the landing area, have relatively wide fairways and present players with options off the tees. The weakest parts are fairly one-dimensional, with tight fairways and inside angled bunkers.

The best portions of the course utilize the valleys and wetlands as forced carries off the tee or on approaches to the greens. Take, for example, the terrific par four 14th, with its tee shot across an expanse of marshy wetlands, to a narrow fairway that runs down a hill. The green is perched neatly against the wetlands valley, making for an interesting approach.

The finishing hole, which plays 453-yards from the tips (and can be seen in the opening shot of this review), provides one of the few instances of real drama on the course, with an extraordinary tee shot from blocks set on a the top of a hillside and looking down over more wetlands. The carry -- approximately 230 yards -- is intimidating, and if you manage to find the short grass, you still face an uphill approach to a well-bunkered green that falls away at the back.

If it were all as strong as the 18th, Mystic would prove to be one of the best courses in Canada. Instead, it is strong in places, and just average in others. Unlike the work of David Moote, Ted Baker or Rene Mulyaert, there is nothing downright awful, awkward or bad in design terms on the course. However, several facets, like the bunkering, are so straight forward as to be plain. There's nothing wrong with it -- but you'll have a tough time recalling some of the middle holes on both nines, especially since the bunkering lacks any distinctive qualities.

Even considering those factors, Mystic has enough redeeming features to make it enjoyable. However, like Bond Head, the high-end course that opened earlier this summer north of Toronto, the toughest challenge for Mystic Golf Club may be enticing players to come and tackle it given its $125 green fee that is exceptionally high for the area. Nearby Copetown Woods, which is an above-average public course within a five minute drive, offers plenty for a lot less. Mystic is good, but it will be interesting to see whether players think it is good enough to warrant the considerably higher price.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Your annual trip to the plastic surgeon

That's right. The little course that could, with its wide fairways and nasty greens, is being altered once again. Augusta National is getting more trees on 11, altering 6 holes and adding - yep, that's right, adding -- another 155 yards. There's a story about these changes on the Golf Channel's website.

My favourite bit in the Golf Channel's story about the alterations is this:
It's the third time in the last six years that Augusta National has strengthened its golf course -- 520 yards since 1999 -- each an attempt to restore the rhythm and shot value the way Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed it.

Who are they kidding? Restoring "the rhythm?" That's like bringing in 50 Cent to remix a Bing Crosby track in the hope of restoring "its sonic properties." The reality is that the Augusta that is played and reworked every year has nothing to do with the course MacKenzie envisioned. It has had a half dozen architects work on it since (RTJ, Bob Cupp, George Cobb, Tom Fazio, etc.) and has been so altered that it doesn't have anything in common with the original course. It is still interesting to see (I had the good fortune to head down in 2004), but let's not delude ourselves into thinking these changes have anything to do with how the course played when it first opened.

My only question is this: rather than spend millions on design changes, why doesn't Hootie and the boys (and that's not a reference to the band) force the issue of how far the ball travels. They managed to hold off Martha Burke and the New York Times, why not take on Acushnet?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Our regularly scheduled program will return!

Sorry all, I've been busy with the book I'm working on with former Tim Hortons' owner Ron Joyce. That's kept me from thinking much about the golf world, but after a week of interviewing, I'll actually have some time to post some blogs, including a review of Seguin Valley and some more on September's trip to Ireland.
In the meantime, there's a neat debate going on about Sebonack, the private course next to Shinnecock, which just opened. It was supposed to be designed by Jack Nicklaus, but the owner changed his mind and determined he'd rather have Tom Doak, the designer behind Pacific Dunes, do the work. In order to come to some sort of agreement with Nicklaus, he agreed to have the Golden Bear remain on the project. Anyway, Ron Whitten at Golf Digest has a story on the course in the December issue, and that's stirred up a lot of debate at Golfclubatlas.com. Even Doak has entered the fray. That Internet -- great for getting some good ol' personal animosity going....

Monday, November 07, 2005

Changes to the Top 100 courses in the world

There's a fascinating article on the web about the changes to the Top 100 Courses list by Golf Magazine over the last few years. The list, which gives each course's position since 1991, shows that while little has changed in the Top 10 (the holy triumvirate of Pine Valley, Cypress and Augusta will always be there), the bottom end of the Top 100 has been witness to significant changes.
Interestingly, several Canadian courses have been on the list in past years, only to fall off. The National Golf Club of Canada was once as high as 72 on the list, but fell off completely as of the 2003 list. Similarly, Capilano and Royal Montreal were both once listed, but no longer appear in Golf's hallowed pages. Other courses of note that have fallen off the list include Alister Mackenzie's Pasatiempo, Tom Fazio's excellent World Woods Pine Barrens (which just fell off this past list), and Lake Nona in Florida. Some have tumbled a long way -- like Shoal Creek (yes, the one with the controversies), which was once 50 in the world, but no longer has a spot on the list. It took 14 years for Shoal Creek to entirely fall of the list, which raises some questions. Namely, have 50 better courses appeared since then? Was it not as strong in the first place? Did something happen to detract from its perceived greatness? Could it be the racial issue? After all, Shoal Creek lost the PGA Championship after it became known the club wouldn't allow any African American members. The quote from the course's chairman, Hal Thompson (also an Augusta member), was this: "The country club is our home, and we pick and choose who we want. We have the right to associate with whomever we choose."
Anyway, if you are interested in the history of course rating, check out the entire story, with its list, here. While you are at it, check out the list of raters on the panel and you'll find a couple of notable Canadians: journalist Lorne Rubenstein; Redtail owner Chris Goodwin; and golf designer Tom McBroom.
  • Other stories worth reading: A story on ESPN says the new schedule won't make a bit of difference. The majors are the majors, apparently. While it probably doesn't make for good TV ratings, it was good to see nice guy Bart Bryant win the Tour Championship this weekend. The Orlando Sentinel wraps up his win nicely. Jay Flemma's blog has a nice interview with golf architect Jim Engh. Read it here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Once more there's a ghost in the machine and I'm having problems getting Going for the Green to appear appropriately. I've put in a help request to Blogger, but until they can suggest a fix, the sidebar material, including course reviews, has been pushed to the bottom of the page.

Since the weather isn't looking so great here in Toronto (and I just finished reading Friday Night Lights -- go find it and buy it!), I thought I'd suggest some weekend reading:

  • Tim Rosaforte takes Phil Mickelson to task in Golf Digest for not showing up at the Tour Championship. Now, like many, I tune out of most golf tournaments after September (and at least I have to stick around for the Canadian Open), but Rosaforte raises some interesting points about Mickelson's abscence. "I've heard all the arguments. He's an independent contractor. He's played more events than Tiger Woods. He shuts it down after the PGA. He wanted to take his kids trick or treating. There's nothing to play for this week other than money. Still, it looks bad for Phil Mickelson not to be at East Lake GC this week. Never mind the Tour, his fans, his sponsors. He owed it to the game." Owed it to the game? Now that's pretty strong. The reality is that golfers can play when and where they like. Until Tim "Tin Man" Finchem realizes this policy no longer works and actually hurts the tour, then Mickelson doesn't apparently owe anyone anything, including teeing it up in Atlanta in November.
  • Had the chance to play Cruden Bay, Royal Dornoch, Portrush and Crail? Think you've seen it all. Well you are probably missing Machrie, according to Links Magazine. The course is located on an island with a population of 3,500 , all of which work in the whiskey business. One Scot told me the residents were "all first cousins," though that's probably not fair. But Machrie sounds like an amazing course -- my kind of place. Hopefully I'll get back over to see some more Scottish golf soon.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

New PGA Tour sched -- boom or bust?

The PGA Tour's new schedule, which has been discussed for months, finally was released yesterday and the typical discussion and columizing has hit the Internet.

Some suspect the PGA Tour's change won't have much of an impact on its $850-million TV deal. And I'm struck by the fact the same tour events that are outside of the new FedEx points scheme are now more out of the loop than ever. Apparently Bill Paul, tournament director of the Canadian Open, feels the new setup will benefit the tournament, but I doubt you're going to see a far greater number of Top 10 players at Hamilton next year. Interestingly, the Canadian Open stays put next year, but appears poised to be slotted in the week after the British Open in 2007 in July. Is that better? It at least will allow the RCGA to move the tournament around to other parts of the country. But is that likely to happen? The organization is already roped into holding a series of events at its new course in Montreal, it is at Hamilton next year and at Angus Glen the year after and then to Montreal. It still has to play one more event at a Clublink owned course by 2010. That means there won't be a Canadian Open in Western or Eastern Canada until 2009, at the earliest.

The reality is that Finchem can try to create a buzz around his new FedEx season ending, but those are just tournaments, not majors. Will Tiger Woods play after the PGA Championship? I doubt it.

If you're interested in reading more, SI has a strong take on the TV ratings; the Times debates the same thing; and Golfobserver.com asks some important questions about the TV loses attributed to the last TV deal.

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