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Posts from October 2004 to November 2004
Observations by Geoff Shackelford
Wednesday
Nov102004

Huggan on Seve and Lehman

Golf World's John Huggan reports on Seve's latest looniness and on golfobserver.com offers an intriguing look at Tom Lehman's Ryder Cup selection. I don't think Julius Mason will be including this column in the press kit!

Monday
Nov082004

Russell: Happy Trails

Golf World editor Geoff Russell reviews the first seven holes at Bandon Trails and previews the rest of the new Coore-Crenshaw design at the Bandon Dunes resort. Also included online is a photo of the par-3 17th.

Sunday
Nov072004

Barr on the ball 

Adam Barr on The Golf Channel takes an in-depth look at Tim Finchem’s comments on the golf ball. Besides dissecting Finchem’s remarks, he offers this from the USGA’s David Fay.

“The USGA and R&A and the PGA Tour have all agreed that no changes are called for, based on today’s conditions, “Fay said, reminding us that the Tour is not blaming them for the mess the USGA got everyone into by standing pat.

“The need to make any future changes will depend – naturally – on how the game is played in the future.”

What about how the game is played now?

More Fay: “But that gets us back to research. We can’t sit and wait for future changes – or cross our fingers that there’ll be no evolution in how the game is played. We have to be fully engaged and prepared if and when the day comes when changes – whatever they may be – are considered necessary.”

Uh huh. Naturally, the boys at Nike weren’t too pleased and made sure to send out a distress signal to players that their endorsement deals might be unnecessary with a tour ball, though Bob Wood seems to confuse the idea of a ball spec set versus just one ball used by all.

Friday
Nov052004

Finchem Follow-Up

There was very little newspaper coverage of Finchem's comments in the mainstream press, probably because of Lehman's Ryder Cup announcement. But this wire story did make it online, whether it appears in print is another story. The lead says it all:

The world's top professional players might soon have to use a "deadened" golf ball to counter more athletic golfers hitting longer shots each year, U.S. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

"There is simply no more room," Finchem said. "I'm not suggesting that (a dead ball) is something we necessarily need to do, but we need to realize that there are reasons why that might become necessary and be prepared to do it."

And Finchem's entire press conference complete with the stellar media questioning is now posted.

Thursday
Nov042004

The Key Word: Momentum

The Tour Championship brings PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem's annual state of the Tour press conference where we learn which of the lastest CEO/MBA buzzwords he's using. Last year it was platform, this year it's momentum.

"This discussion is going to be largely about momentum," Finchem told the assembled throng of Darwins and Longhursts. "We think we have momentum in the competition area and momentum in sponsorship, momentum in the area of the TOUR and charity dollars and really every facet, and I'd like to go through all that."

The Commish tells the East Lake feel good story again, because there you just can't milk that one enough. (A link will be posted when its available.)

And of course, the Champions Tour is in great shape...

"We've had in excess of ten percent increase in galleries, the closest race in the four-year history of the Schwab Cup. We had 20 different players win. Craig Stadler had an outstanding year, Mark McNulty, who is going to be a great addition to that Tour had a great start as a rookie, and I think that tour has really hit a stride, continues to grow, has solid sponsorship for the future, and we're delighted with the pace and the momentum of that tour, as well."

What is the Schwab Cup anyway?

Well, it was another great year for charity, where tournament operators made donations and the Tour takes credit for all the giving.

"Another record year this year will be over $85 million in charitable giving, and I think the important thing to recognize about giving back is that -- not just the number, although toward the end of '05 or early '06 we will be approaching the $1 billion mark and we will probably begin to focus on that as an objective as we get into the first quarter next year."

In the image department, "both from the standpoint of the sport itself and the players who play it, and the data that we put together this year, we're in the 93-94 percentile among Americans over the age of 12 who have a very positive attitude toward the image of the PGA TOUR and its players, and 18 to 20 percentile above the next highest sport among Americans who believe that PGA TOUR players are appropriate role models for their kids."

Oh and of course he went on to say it's a multiculturally diverse fan base. (No truth to the rumor that at this point, paramedics had to treat a writer who injured his eye in a deep eye-roll).

And then there was this gem of MBAspeak: "Our tournaments have set records for overall financial performance, net financial performance, work in terms of staging the tournaments, improving the communication with the communication where we play, integrating the communities from a marketing standpoint. We're very pleased with the momentum that our tournaments have in the markets where we play."

But enough nonsense, because Finchem addressed the ball issue and made some interesting comments.

We continue to believe for two years that it's important that the USGA move forward and complete the research necessary to determine what options are available to us if we were to determine at some point in the future that it was important to make a change with the golf ball; that is to say, deaden the golf ball, bring the distance back, regulate it back, what are those options that are available to us? How do the various options impact players at this level competitively? And based on that, what options we'd want to choose.

The reason for that is that if we get to a point where we are concerned about some of the older golf courses and we think an adjustment should be made, it may be a situation where we don't want to wait three or four years to do research and haggle about what options or option we would go to. We are pleased that in this area, again, the United States Golf Association has expended and is expending significant resources in this particular area, and we anticipate that at the end of next year or so, they will conclude their work, and we are very much abreast of the work that they're doing in terms of giving us and providing us options.

This would seem to confirm that the USGA is playing with "regulated ball" possibilities internally, something vehemently denied when Frank Hannigan wrote about it earlier this year on golfobserver.com.

Finchem is asked three questions about the distance issue and offers some interesting comments in between relentless plugs for Shotlink.

Finally, he touches on the Champions Tour cart issue before Bob Combs disrupts the uh, momentum, of the press conference.

Wednesday
Nov032004

Reading Between the Lines

Another look at the AP story on Ernie Els and his “misunderstanding” with the PGA Tour reads more like the result of lengthy negotiations hammered out just in time for everyone to spin it at the Tour Championship.

Note how Els already knows his schedule for 2005 and the reasons why he is skipping certain events (yet still breaking the release rules with the Tour’s blessing). AP writes: “Els said he would play 19 times on the PGA Tour next year. In the 10 years Els has been a PGA Tour, he has played at least 18 times for all but three of those seasons. If anything, he is cutting back on his international schedule.

“He is skipping the European Masters in Switzerland and the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany, instead playing the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston. He will continue to play in Australia, and he is adding two tournaments in China that will be played in late April. Els also said he would skip the Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa, which would require him to travel from South Africa to San Diego for perhaps only one match, then to Dubai.

“Els said he would return to Doral when it no longer is held the same week as Dubai.”

That last line seems to be the giveaway. Els has already committed to Doral/Ford if the Tour juggles the Florida rotation starting in 2007, as has been rumored.

Nice spin by all involved. Admirable that they resolved this before it became another black eye for golf. But a misunderstanding? Come on.

Tuesday
Nov022004

Torrey Pines Agronomic Saga

Tod Leonard in the San Diego Union Tribune (reg. required) takes an in-depth look at the conditioning problems Torrey Pines has been having, along with the rescue effort led by Ted Horton.

The most interesting tidbit revealed:

“After much discussion, Horton said they will attempt to grow kikuyu grass all over the golf course in the next three years – with Riviera Country Club as the model. Horton said the idea was ‘gut-wrenching’ because he didn't know if the USGA would approve of it for the Open, since few courses in the country are predominantly kikuyu – a good and hearty course turf classified as a ‘noxious weed’ by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Tuesday
Nov022004

Finchem sees no problem with Els!?!?***

According to AP, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem “sees nothing wrong with the amount of tournaments Ernie Els plays overseas, saying Monday that the three-time major winner is playing enough on the PGA Tour to satisfy its requirements.”

"There were some options in terms of his situation from a conflicting event standpoint that had to do with one tournament," Finchem said. "But it had nothing to do with how much golf he was playing. Somehow, it got garbled in transmission or somebody in the press got a hold of it. I don't know how it happened.”

How did it happen? Uh, Els has been the one who garbled the transmissions…publicly.

"Don't start putting a padlock around me because that's not going to work," Els said at the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, among other outbursts.

***Update November 3: Els met with the Tour officials and now it was all a big misunderstanding. Right!

Monday
Nov012004

Tremendous Star Appeal?

The Golf Channel’s Kraig Kann writes, “Here we go! The off-season for the Champions Tour is upon us. And what a great season 2004 was. Stadler's dominance, Irwin's continued high level of play, Jacobsen's energetic impact, and the great late finish by Mark McNulty.”

Since his network televises the Tour (in case you didn't know where to find the seniors), Kann shockingly takes the Tour’s side on the cart debate, buying into the myth that the Champions Tour is actually something other than an exhibition tour.

“Rick George, who heads the tour, and has designs on taking the tour to a higher level of competition and also a higher level of respect, appears ready once and for all to send carts into the sunset.”

When is someone going to realize that carts are the least of the Champions Tour problems?

Sunday
Oct312004

Oakmont Renovation/Restoration

Mike Dudurich in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review takes an in-depth look at the "restoration" of Oakmont in Pennsylvania.

"What we're doing is a renovation and restoration to what we think is a very historic venue," says Chris Donohue, chairman of Oakmont's greens committee.

"All of what we're doing is being done with an eye on returning it to the (Henry) Fownes design," said course superintendent John Zimmers, who was listed in the September/October edition of Golf Magazine as one of the 10 best superintendents in the world.

"We've been working toward that goal, and this is a continuation. But there are some things being done with the Open in mind."

Dudurich writes, "the bunkers will be deepened, widened and moved closer to fairways in some cases. And there will be some new bunkers added to the landscape as well."

The article also features the list of changes and includes two jaw-droppers:

No. 8 -- The possiblity exists that a new championship tee will be built in time for the Open, giving the USGA the option of having the course (sp?) play nearly 280 yards. As a par 3.

No. 12 -- The 603-yard par five may be lengthened at least for two rounds of the Open if the USGA has its way. Players would tee off from the back of the 10th tee, making the hole measure 670 yards. Stay tuned for that one.

Friday
Oct292004

"Who is running the Tour?" ***

That’s the question Tom Purtzer asks in a Sports Illustrated piece examining the Senior, err, Champions Tour cart fight.

Appearing in the new SI (subscription required to view link), writer Michael Arkush says that after “yet another forgettable season,” we are about to witness “Battle of the Carts II.”

With fields that Arkush says “create about as much buzz as Ralph Nader,” the Tour’s decision to ban carts on the Champions Tour will likely mean the disappearance of crowd pleasers like Chi Chi Rodriguez.

But it appears that the cart riders won’t go down without a fight.

Arkush writes, “According to longtime pro Kermit Zarley, Finchem suggested at a players' meeting in 2002 that consultants advised the Tour to get rid of carts as a way to improve its public appeal.

"He was saying that our image is that we're old people," says Zarley, 63. Yet last month, Zarley says, he was told by Gary Becka, the Tour's vice president of administration, that the Tour has never hired anyone to advise it on how to run the Champions tour.

"Who are these consultants?" asks Zarley, who recently filed a complaint with the Department of Justice arguing that because of a degenerative right hip he should be granted a cart under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"That is the first question I want the commissioner to answer."

Purtzer also gets to the point that Ernie Els and other players are asking these days as the Tour leadership appears to be viewing the golfers as “product.”

"They've always told us that the players are supposed to be in control,” says Purtzer. “Whenever Tim [commissioner Finchem] or Deane [former commissioner Beman] would be in a meeting, they'd say, 'We work for you.' Well, they're not working for us."

***Update: Golf World's Bill Fields reports on Kermit Zarley’s letter and pens a column on the cart issue, writing, “If a battle of wills begets a war of attorneys, it is hard to see how the Champions Tour wins, regardless of how it might fare in a legal tussle. If carts are driven off, they're going to hit some speed bumps along the way.”

Fields provides this gem from Sen…Champions Tour head Rick George. "I was hired to elevate this tour, to look at everything critically. We looked at [changing] the minimum age. We looked at carts. How do we make this product better? How do we make it more saleable? How do we get more people watching?"

And as usual, the Tour’s motivation seems to revolve around this mysterious youth obsession that drives just about everything they do. Surely the elimination of carts will have the 18-to-34 year olds tuning in with greater frequency.

Thursday
Oct282004

Source – IMG

“Vijay Singh to design Resort Golf Course in Fiji” announces the article on iseekgolf.com. Actually, as it notes at the end, the source was an IMG press release writer.

You have to admire Vijay’s ability to list all of the top golf course design clichés in one seemless paragraph.

"We have dedicated a lot of effort so far on the golf course routing plan" said Singh, "we created four alternate plans before selecting and further refining the one that not only delivers a great golf course, but one that really showcases the surrounding villas and hotels which are an integral part of the development.”

Yes, golfers love to see those villas and hotels.

“16 of the holes have ocean views and 7 holes play down to or along the water.”

It’s all that time on site that allowed Vijay to know this.

“I really can't describe how visually stunning this course will be, and we're only moving 108,000 cubic meters of earth – which reflects the quality of the routing plan and how well it fits the land.”

He’s an engineer too!

“We're paying particular attention to the needs and skill levels of today's resort golfer so our guests and residents come back again and again.”

Sounds a little too easy Vijay.

“I promise you that we'll be able to hold any tournament in the world if need be, but we're really going to making this a memorable and enjoyable course for everyone."

Whew, that’s good to know, we were worried it wouldn’t be tough enough.

"The course will be challenging, but my approach is not to design a golf course where I'm the only one who can break par."

Ah yes, the p.c. and always safe summary: challenging for the good player, playable for the resort guest.

Tuesday
Oct262004

Charlie Seaver R.I.P.

In researching books on Riviera and George Thomas, amateur golfing great Charlie Seaver proved to be one of my best sources because of his amazing life and sharp memory. Among my favorite insights from Seaver, who died October 25, 2004 at age 93:

  • He explained how the old double fairway 8th hole at Riviera worked, telling me he didn’t believe the far left option was worth the risk at the time (he hit the equivalent of a four-wood up the right).
  • He talked about a round at Cypress Point with Alister MacKenzie looking on, though he couldn’t really describe the man, saying MacKenzie was fairly quiet. He did claim to have films from one of these rounds shot by his father, though he opted to keep them in his collection.
  • Seaver told me about rounds played at Riviera in 1931 with Bobby Jones. He vividly recounted how they both tried to drive the short par4 tenth, a remarkable notion with hickory shafted clubs (ah, but no kikuyu!).
  • He spoke kindly of George Thomas, who as a fellow Los Angeles Country Club member, took young Seaver under his wing and frequently was interested in how Seaver played the course. Seaver also hit shots for Thomas during the redesign of the North course in 1927-28, which Seaver recalled was a great honor for a 16-year old. But he also happened to be as good as any amateur in Southern California at the time, except for maybe the great George Von Elm.

Tuesday
Oct262004

Tradition Matters

Sunday
Oct242004

More on Els v. PGA Tour

As usual, The Scotsman's John Huggan gets to the heart of the Els v. PGA Tour episode and explains why the Tour hasn't got much to back its case, even though it is theoretically correct with its position.

"Specifically," writes Huggan, "Els currently gets three releases for playing the minimum 15 PGA Tour events he must do in order to retain membership of the world’s most lucrative circuit. But if he wants one more release, he must play five more tournaments - a big ask for someone with so many commitments around the globe."

Huggan says "the stance adopted by Finchem, whose job it is to maximise income for the multi-million dollar business he heads rather than do what is obviously best for professional golf as a whole, is just another example of the myopic insularity, xenophobia and outright discrimination the Americans have displayed so often over the years."

He goes on to list the examples of Bobby Locke and Seve Ballesteros and also has some hilarious quotes from a European Tour agent.

Randell Mell in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel explains the Tour’s point of view and quietly points out that Tiger likely will have only played two more events on the Tour this year (17 total) than Els (assuming Els plays next week).

Sunday
Oct242004

Still Learning On The Job After All These Years?

Anthony Cotton of the Denver Post interviews Tom Meeks who was in town to see how he could mess up Cherry Hills. The infamous USGA rules official speaks about how, after 30 years on the job, he’s still learning. He admits mistakes were made at Shinnecock, but it’s not clear who made them.

Meeks also acknowledges that watering the greens after Saturday’s third round of U.S. Open play and before Sunday’s finale would have averted the final day debacle (which followed the Saturday debacle). This takes me back to Saturday evening when The Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner’s interviewed Meeks as winds howled and the man in charge of the course denied then that watering was necessary.

Fascinating that a Golf Channel reporter can recognize what is necessary to keep the course playable and after 30 years and several Open screw-ups Meeks cannot.

Saturday
Oct232004

The Golfer

The final 2004 issue of The Golfer is trickling out to your local newstand and is includes some interesting stuff.

You better run out to buy it because I will be purchasing most newstand copies so I can plaster my bedroom ceiling with their "Best of the World" list, which includes yours truly among their list of ten most influential modern golf writers alongside masters like Dan Jenkins, David Owen and John Updike.

Better add another point to the rapture index!

Other articles of interest include "The Architect As Genius" by Mike Young and Gil Hanse's look at "Ten classics of golf course architecture."

Also included in the issue and also posted online is Colin Sheehan's interview with the ubiquitous Tom Doak.

Thursday
Aug262004

Laser Link

SI’s Gary Van Sickle plugs the Laser Link range finder and implies they should be legal for tournament play: “ if golf's governing body can get its head out of its blue blazer. It is one nifty and dare I say, fun, gadget.”

Van Sickle likes it for a good reason: improving pace of play. He quotes Rob O’Loughlin, who runs the company pushing the $239 gadget. O’Loughlin trashes the USGA for not making the Laser Link legal for tournament play.

Can you blame them?

Sadly, the USGA has caved on so many other issues, the marketing and “progress” stampede will probably get the best of them here too.

*** Update: A quick poke around the Laserlinkgolf.com site reveals a Golfweek story from June where the USGA is very much in favor of legalizing the Laser Link and it's the R&A that is against it. As usual, there are some fascinating quotes from the USGA's David Fay, Fred Ridley and Reed MacKenzie and a funny line from Peter Dawson. The home page also features photos of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer posing with Laser Links...not their finest hour.

***Update2: At the end of his column on 10 things you should know about the world’s # 1 golfer, Vijay Singh, SI’s Gary Van Sickle goes where few golf writers go, admitting that he wasn’t entirely correct in his original piece. Kudos to Van Sickle for the correction.