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Golf is not a game of good shots. It's a game of bad shots.
BEN HOGAN


    

Wednesday
Jan072009

“He’s on his third golf course contract"

There really hasn't been a story questioning the direction and concept behind Tiger Woods' entry into the golf course design business until Paul Sullivan filed this in-depth and skeptical take for the February issue of Portfolio.

I'd wager that the tone of this story is a product of a few elements. One, Sullivan does not need further access to Woods and therefore has filed a fair and honest assessment that probably won't be well received by Woods. Two, Porfolio appears dedicated to serious dissection of issues in American business along with only some of the nauseating deep-tissue ego massaging that the business community soaks up (and which as served it so well!). And three, the recent economic crisis has exposed flaws in the early approach by Woods to go after unprecedented fees and big-scale, difficult projects, though you may recall I detected some negative reaction after attending the impressive but over-the-top Punta Brava press conference in October.

A few points from the Sullivan piece. Get ready: big ego collision!

Even Nicklaus, an admirer of Woods’ talent on the course, is skeptical about the new projects’ timing. “He’s on his third golf course contract,” Nicklaus says, emphasizing the last word. “He hasn’t done any yet. I don’t think he’s finished any golf courses.”

But Jack's not paying attention or counting or anything like that. He's just a supportive elder father figure who loves it that this fee looks like a bargain now!

Woods is earning a flat fee to design and promote the courses. That money will be paid regardless of whether the associated real estate deals survive the economic downturn.

This would seem to counter the belief that his inflated design fees are contingent upon real-estate sales. Smart move on Tiger's part, but it's hard to imagine those willing to pay such fees coming along again for a very long time.

The setup is remarkably risky for investors, given that Woods has never completed a course design and that all the projects have built-in knocks—from out-of-the-way locations to high costs. But Woods shows no signs that he’s daunted. “I’ve learned so much in these few months,” he says. “The amount of meetings I’ve been in—you’d be shocked by the number of meetings I’ve been in, but that’s how you gain the knowledge: being in the meetings and participating. You learn and you grow.”

That's great experience, but some of the best knowledge is learned watching another architect deal with this stuff and spending time in the field observing construction. Because it's ultimately about building interesting holes. Pointing at a topo map is just a tiny part of that process. While I detest the global behemoth that Nicklaus Design has become, cranking out too many Paint-By-Numbers designs, you have to hand it to Nicklaus for putting in his time with Pete Dye and Desmond Muirhead before going out on his own. Tiger might have benefited from a similar apprenticeship. But he usually proves pundits wrong, and he may well do the same with his golf architecture practice.

Still, this is encouraging:

Yet the Cliffs and Punta Brava people I spoke to have been surprised by how involved Woods has been. “I don’t think I expected the intensity,” Cliffs V.P. Brazinski says. “When Tiger shows up, he puts on his boots, gets a bottle of water, and says, ‘Let’s go.’ When some of the other designers come, they just want to see it by helicopter.”

Gee now, who has designed courses at The Cliffs? For those of you counting at home,Jack, two Tom Fazio courses and a Gary Player.

Sullivan also reports this next item which doesn't pass a smell test.

Woods has been planning his new courses for the past two years. His managers at IMG began brokering the deal for the project in Dubai in 2006. In December of that year, a month after taking the helm of Tiger Woods Design, Bell was approached by Punta Brava backers about involving Woods in the project. Bell toured the site in January 2007 but took another year to commit. A few months later, in April 2007, Woods was approached by the Cliffs team.

And...

A couple of days after winning the 2008 U.S. Open, with much of the sports world focused on the state of his knee, Woods was in Mexico to vet Punta Brava’s new layout for the 22nd time—more than five times as many site visits as most brand-name golf course architects do.

Now, think about that. He's not signed on the dotted line until January 2008. So between then and June, Tiger got on board Tiger Airship 1, and landed then later took off at beautiful Ensanada International Airport 22 different times? And remember, the prior year he was playing a full schedule and spending a lot of time with his newborn, so even if those 22 "site visits" stretched back into 2007, he would have had to be spending almost no time on any other activities to squeeze so many site visits into his schedule.

Now, 22 days on site may be what was meant, but there's a huge difference between 22 days and 22 site visits, even if you are traveling via private jet.

The story also features a video that shows a lot of the staging and other nonsense that goes into a Woods site visit. Doesn't look like much fun.

Wednesday
Jan072009

Brand Lady Does What She Does Best: Layoffs!

Beth Ann Baldry reports and includes this quote from the LPGA Commish Carolyn Bivens on the "realignment":

Commissioner Carolyn Bivens, speaking with Golfweek in response to the tour’s Jan. 7 news release announcing the changes, would only confirm that chief operating officer Chris Higgs was among those who were let go.

“I don’t want to pretend for a second that the economy didn’t impact (the decision); it certainly did,” Bivens said. “(But) it was not the motivating factor for the realignment.”

 For a refresher on some past firings, you can go here and here.

Wednesday
Jan072009

"The result is a startling transformation that makes the California Golf Club of San Francisco arguably one of the golf-rich state’s five finest courses for the first time in its history."

Ran Morrissett profiles the dramatic restoration of California Country Club, explains the role of various team members in this post, and contends that the project transcends the typical restoration, realizing something greater by combining the best of modern agronomic and architectural practices with MacKenzie's original redesign vision.

Some of the greatest designs ever seen in the United States- Lakeside, Bel-Air, and Los Angeles - were radically changed for the worse prior to World War II. Other designs like Pasatiempo were compromised by the subsequent residential component that was built too close to the playing corridors. Only a few clubs like the Valley Club of Montecito have retained and/or returned the best playing attributes ofthe course'soriginal design.

Yet, there is one club that has returned the best Golden Age design features to its course and taken full advantage of the finest aspects of modern golf architecture and agronomy. The result is a startling transformation that makes the California Golf Club of San Francisco arguably one of the golf-rich state’s five finest courses for the first time in its history.

 

Wednesday
Jan072009

"I really thought he had won about eight majors, and he told me he won 14."

Anthony Kim, on Tiger's return just before the start of play at Kapalua:

Q. What are you expecting out of him when he gets back?

ANTHONY KIM: I guess the same guy. He's obviously played very well.

It's like I said at the clinic. I'm not a huge golf fan, so I don't know all the stats. I thought he -- I really thought he had won about eight majors, and he told me he won 14 (laughter). I didn't know that.

Wednesday
Jan072009

"But I'm more a man for a Coke."

Tim Carroll talks to Padraig Harrington about his wrist, the Ryder Cup, Sergio, the chances of a Paddy slam and clarifies this little bit for the media that always assumes every Irishman bathes in Guinness:

WSJ: Which tasted better: Guinness in the first Claret Jug or the second?

Mr. Harrington: Oh, I'm not a Guinness man at all. John Smith's Smooth Bitters was the first drink out of the jug, which is a drink that my manager drinks. It wouldn't be my cup of tea at all. It would be down to the Irish whiskeys for me. I don't have the most acquired taste for beer. But I'm more a man for a Coke. 

Tuesday
Jan062009

Say Goodbye To Those Grants: USGA Nest Egg Down 30%

Michael Bamberger reports that all is well at Golf House where almost nobody has been layed off lately. As for the nest egg...

The USGA endowment, invested in a wide-range of stocks and bonds, has taken a significant hit in the past year, down roughly 30 percent and hovering at around the $200 million mark.

Hey, it could have been worse.

But now for your buried lede...

For the past decade or so, because of the robust returns on Wall Street, the USGA has become a major participant in golf philanthropy, giving away as much as $10 million some years to programs including The First Tee and Play Golf America. (Fay noted that the USGA gives more to The First Tee than the PGA Tour.) With the downturn in the market, Fay said the USGA's ability to support various organizations would be curtailed, maybe significantly. He could not say to what degree.

 

Tuesday
Jan062009

Un-American Obama: Hasn't Bought New Clubs In At Least Five Years!

Now I know what I like about him: he doesn't believe in planned obsolescence.

From Jerry Tarde's editor's letter in February's Golf Digest:

We asked a highly placed source what clubs the president-elect plays. "The P.E. uses Callaway irons and Titleist woods," came the e-mailed reply. "They're at least five years old, or more." 

Tuesday
Jan062009

"You're going to see some pretty phenomenal things from Tiger Woods the next three years."

Steve DiMeglio considers the state of Tiger's game upon his return and shares this from Mark O'Meara:

Mark O'Meara has seen Woods hitting golf balls on the Isleworth range. He liked what he saw.

"I'm not always right, but a lot of times I seem to be right about him, and he'll come back better than he has ever been," he said. "You're going to see some pretty phenomenal things from Tiger Woods the next three years."

The next three years? Does Mark know something we don't?

Meanwhile, The Tiger Return Watch has begun. Jason Sobel picks apart the tournament schedule and lands on Doral, while Alex Miceli likes the match play.

Monday
Jan052009

"Then, on the end credits, you see the film was produced by IMG."

Responding to the thread on Golf Channel's excellent U.S. Open re-broadcast of NBC's live feed, reader Dan adds this note about a less admirable editing effort:

Caught the PGA Championship highlight film/video on the Golf Channel a couple of weeks back. Focused on the back nine battle between Harrington and Garcia. But somehow, they edit out Garcia's ball in the water on 16. Gloss over it completely. Just say he made a bogey and that's it. Incredible. Then, on the end credits, you see the film was produced by IMG. Of course, Sergio is a client. Are the egos of today's professionals really so big and/or fragile? He knocked it in the water, right? That happened, right? Ridiculous. And I'm a Garcia fan.

He did indeed hit it in the water on 16 and it was, oh, kind of the pivotal moment of the day prior to Harrington's winning putt on 18.

Monday
Jan052009

"The Masters is always pandemonium, and there are all sorts of rumors about what's going on with the golf course."

Cameron Morfit files a short but typically enjoyable Geoff Ogilvy Q&A. Topics include contending in last year's U.S. Open, lessons from Tiger's effort and this about the Masters:

What tournament are you most looking forward to this year?

Well, I've never really been in contention at the Masters. On Saturday in '07, that really horrendous, cold, windy day, I was two back, and I spun two wedges into the water on 15. The Masters is always pandemonium, and there are all sorts of rumors about what's going on with the golf course. I look forward to the next Masters from the moment I leave the course on Sunday. It's such a cool place.

And in a PGATour.com writer roundtable previewing major storylines they expect in 2009, Stan Awtrey writes:

The buzz will return to Augusta National. The Gods of the Green Jackets wanted to stay relevant when they put the course on steroids three years ago. Instead they doused the excitement that made the Masters the greatest tournament in the world. Chairman Billy Payne is a bright guy who understands the correlation between excitement and ratings. Look for the roars to return to Rae's Creek and the hollers to return to the hollars this spring. There will be enough excitement this spring to make up for the last two borefests. And if this happens to be the week that Tiger Woods decides to return from the disabled list, the excitement -- and the ratings -- may be Super Bowlian

I'm wondering how much the rumors (which I keep hearing too), or the hopes expressed by folks like Awtrey,  are mostly a case of wishful thinking and not really based on anything folks have seen or heard. After all, the golf course has been off-kilter and out of balance for a decade now and none of the glaring deficiencies have been remedied.

I keep hearing from knowledgable folks that the club's top officials realize they went way too far and it's a matter of time before they swallow their pride or stop worrying about Hootie Johnson's fragile ego or whatever the excuse is, to get this thing turned around. But adding a few yards on the front of some tees and chopping a couple of trees down just doesn't strike me as being what the Good Doctor and Bobby Jones would have prescribed to repair Augusta National. Not that they would have created the problem in the first place.

Monday
Jan052009

"A bankruptcy judge on Monday said a golf course at Lake Las Vegas that cost $30 million to build a few years ago has become similar to a 'toxic dump' that nobody wants."

Thanks to reader Jim for this John G. Edwards story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about the demise of Lake Las Vegas' "The Falls" course, a Tom Weiskopf design.

Bankruptcy Judge Linda Riegle took one step toward letting a lender take possession of the Falls, but she didn't make her final ruling.

The judge authorized Texas-based Carmel Land & Cattle Co., which holds a $15 million loan secured by the golf course, to foreclose on it Jan. 30. She delayed action on a request by Lake Las Vegas to abandon the property because she was concerned that the property includes half of a water pumping station needed at the resort community.

Riegle said she will consider whether to grant permission for Lake Las Vegas to abandon the golf course at a Jan. 15 hearing.

Foreclosure of the golf course could cost Ron Boeddeker, the previous owner of Lake Las Vegas, several million dollars because he signed a personal guaranty on the $15 million loan.

The golf course is worth less than half the $15 million owed on the loan, said Frederick Chin, president of Lake Las Vegas Joint Venture and affiliated companies.

David Stern, an attorney for Lake Las Vegas, said the golf course meets two key requirements for abandonment: It's of inconsequential value to the bankrupt companies, and keeping the course creates a financial burden on the debtors.

Other than that, they just love it.

Here's the course's website and links to tee time booking if you were hoping to tee it up before it disappears.

Monday
Jan052009

"The tour season opens: auto, electronics, auto, financial, auto."

Seems like we've had quite a few of these economic crisis-impact stories, but Ron Sirak's is one of the better ones at clarifying a few of the important dates and possibilities. Mercifully for the PGA Tour, Buick has a car to promote

And how can you not love this bit:

The most important spin, at least for the first part of the season, won't be on the golf ball but rather on the economic reality. There are 15 events the first 13 weeks of 2009, and 12 have sponsors from the most distressed areas of the economy. Forget the tournament names and think of it this way: The tour season opens: auto, electronics, auto, financial, auto. All are industries that have suffered deep and painful layoffs.

Monday
Jan052009

Lloyd Cole On Melbourne Golf

Don't miss Lloyd Cole's entertaining T&L Golf story on his Melbourne golf trip, complete with a tour of the essential MacKenzie designs and golf with Mike Clayton. There is also a sidebar with the courses listed and other suggestions.

That afternoon, Clayton drops me off at Kingston Heath Golf Club, where I’m joined by my Internet buddy, Rich. We “met” at an online golf forum, so I know he knows his architecture, but as for his game, I have no idea—we’re meeting in person for the first time. I’m one of those people who believes you can tell a lot about an unfamiliar playing partner by looking at the clubs in his bag. Rich’s are new, high-tech and very clean. If he had used iron covers I would have suggested a wager right then and there. He addresses his first tee shot looking stiff and tense. His backswing is overly long and his right elbow flies out, but somehow he returns the clubhead to the ball with considerable force and precision, sending it some three hundred yards down the middle. My weak, heeled fade is barely within sight of it. “We should have a match, don’t you think?” I squeak. “What’s your handicap?”

Monday
Jan052009

Gulbis Joins Twitter To Share Her Most Profound Promotional Tidbits

Noam Cohen looks at the sports stars Twittering or Tweeting or whatever you call the Twitter.com social networking tool that allows people to offer short messages on your whereabouts or, if you are an LPGA Tour star with a sordid history of really bad marketing ideas, your carefully cultivated branding messages.

First, though, there had to be a meeting between her media consultant, Kathleen Hessert, and other advisers.

“I had to talk her management team into it,” recalls Ms. Hessert, whose company, Sports Media Challenge, represents athletes and professional teams.

Deciding to join a service devoted to spontaneous, often spectacularly mundane updates throughout the day apparently was something to be thought out carefully. Ms. Gulbis and her team were concerned about who would be reading what she writes on Twitter and what they would do with the information.

“There is a risk,” Ms. Hessert conceded. “Whenever you open yourself to the public there is risk. The way I convinced her to do it, is to say that people see you one way and there is so much more.”

Ms. Gulbis agreed to use Twitter, but she said she wasn’t simply following Ms. Hessert’s lead. “When I decided to do Twitter, I had a plan — there is information I wanted to get out,” she said in a telephone interview last week from a yacht in the Caribbean. And she established clear parameters. “I don’t think I would ever Twitter about my personal life, who I was dating, who I was going out with. That is something I would be very protective of,” she said.

Instead, Ms. Gulbis’s tweets thus far tend to be circumscribed and have a clear point to make, whether it relates to her work on behalf of the Boys and Girls Clubs, or a sponsor, TaylorMade, or even the broad outlines of her oceangoing vacation. 

Lucky us!

Monday
Jan052009

"A family can add a nanny to the membership for $50 a year."

The Boston Globe's Stephanie Ebbert looks at changes New England area clubs are making to attract new members and keep old ones around in light of the economic crisis. Many are waiving initiation fees and trying to become more family friendly. Though I'm not quite sure about this...

As a result, some clubs are doing more to market themselves as family destinations. At Spring Valley Country Club in Sharon, a family can add a nanny to the membership for $50 a year. Spring Valley is offering new, lower-cost social memberships that lock in rates and guarantee no surprise assessments for three years.

"This allows you to bring in newer, younger families that want to utilize all aspects of the club - pool, food. That's a good thing," said membership director Jo Ann Parks. "The club is certainly reacting to what's going on with the economy, but I think we would eventually have come to this anyway. People's interests change."

Life is tough when you can't send the kids to the club because the nanny was not a member!

Sunday
Jan042009

Scientists: Golfers Could Go Deaf And Broke From Titanium Drivers

Actually, these "scientists" only mentioned the deaf part as Jonathan Brocklebank (he was a character in a Wodehouse novel, no?) reports in the Daily Mail:

Modern titanium clubs create a 'sonic boom' when they connect with the ball, say scientists.

The risk of going deaf is so great that doctors are advising golfers to wear earplugs while they play their tee shots.

I smell a class-action suit on behalf of all employees subjected to indoor hitting bay noise. Or maybe all Golf Digest Hot List judges?

Tests were carried out on six titanium clubs and six thickerfaced stainless steel models and sound levels measured.

While the steel clubs produced the agreeable 'tink' of a well-hit shot, the titanium ones were much louder, described by some as similar to a gun being fired.

Dr Malcolm Buchanan, an Edinburgh-trained ear, nose and throat specialist - and a keen golfer - said: 'Our results show that thin-faced titanium drivers may produce sufficient sound to induce temporary or even permanent cochlear damage in susceptible individuals.

'Players should be careful when playing with these thin-faced clubs as they make a lot more noise.'

Dr Buchanan, one of the authors of the report which appears in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal, added: 'Wearing earplugs is a possibility, although it might be a bit too radical for some.'

And in case you were wondering who the real offenders were:

They recruited a professional golfer to hit shots with six titanium clubs from manufacturers such as King Cobra, Callaway, Nike and Mizuno. All produced a louder noise than the stainless steel clubs. The worst offender was the Ping G10.

Sunday
Jan042009

Golf Channel's 2008 U.S. Open Rebroadcast

I don't know who at Golf Channel deserves the credit, but over the holidays its 2-hour edited rebroadcast of NBC's Sunday and Monday telecasts from Torrey Pines has been a pure delight to watch. Unlike the over-packaged one-hour highlight shows, we're getting the original announce feed and camera work, along with the occasional comments from GC's team of Kann-Chamblee and Nobilo taped from Torrey with the dramatic canyons as a backdrop.

Whoever at the USGA, NBC and Golf Channel engineered this deserves major kudos (and based on the calls I've gotten, the rebroadcasts are being watched pretty heavily).

I do remember that not to long ago, GC used to air classic PGA Tour events affording us the chance to hear the likes of Vin Scully and Lee Trevino. Wouldn't it be fun to watch more classic tournaments this way?

Sunday
Jan042009

Greenbrier For Sale

Thanks to reader John for this WSJ report that says Goldman Sachs has been brought into explain why you should buy a beautiful old place that lost $35 million last year.

Saturday
Jan032009

"These people are crazy, eh?"

Thanks to reader Peter for Bill Elliott's anecdote-rich tribute to Seve Ballesteros.

The first of those Masters wins came the following spring. By now he was an acknowledged phenomenon. He played golf like we all did, spraying the ball hither and thither, but, unlike us, he then recovered brilliantly. We loved him for his vulnerability. He brought a passion to golf that it never had before and has not enjoyed since. He made this stuffy old game seem sexy and exciting, so that men yearned to be him and women simply wanted to be with him. He was the godfather of the modern European Tour, moving the interest from golf lovers to general sports fans and non-sports-fans alike, and encouraging serious money into the game.

Before that 1980 Masters began I watched from the clubhouse at Augusta as he finished a practice round, several thousand fans embroidering the scene. It took him ages to make his way through the punters to the clubhouse and when he finally made it he looked at me and gave a huge grin. He held out his hand and when I held out mine he dropped several scraps of paper into it and laughed. Each contained a girl's name and a phone number. 'These people are crazy, eh?' he said. His English was much better by then.

Saturday
Jan032009

"A fair way from reality in year ahead"

As weird as 2008 was, I won't say that John Huggan's satirical preview of 2009 will be that far off. Especially that Billy Foster replacing Stevie part!