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!
You must expect anything in golf. A stranger comes through, he's keen for a game, he seems affable enough, and on the eighth fairway he turns out to be an idiot.
As much as travel, luck and effort will allow, I'm going to try and highlight more of the places in golf that define (for me) what the game is all about. This week I had the pleasure of teeing it up at Santa Anita Golf Course in Arcadia. It was the first time I had played there in over 20 years and while I knew it was a marvelous public golf course by including it in this L.A. Times piece of SoCal architectural gems, but I really never imagined just how idyllic it is as a model for what a golf course should be.
Not just a public course. A golf course of any kind.
Photos won't do the 6,400 yard course full justice. And I can only rave so much about the $23 green fee, excellent maintenance or the construction genius of the undulations before you start scrolling to the next post. So here goes.
A product of Works Progress Administration finances and crews, Santa Anita reopened in October of 1938 as a full length golf course next to the famed race track of the same name. According to an LA Times story, finances were apparently too lean to hire an architect, so a young county engineer named James Harrison Smith was given the task of designing the holes. He devoted a year to studying great holes and accumulating information. Assuming this was his only project, what transpired is one of the great one-hit wonders in golf architecture history.
Crafted out of dead flat land, Santa Anita offers some of the wildest but most artfully constructed man-made undulations imaginable. Yet with Smith's engineering eye for drainage, they all work to also surface-drain the course. There isn't a catch basin to be found and when we played the golf course it had only a handful of wet spots just a few days after heavy rains. The bold, elevated green complexes had drained perfectly and rolled a stout 10 on the Stimpmeter. Most modern architects accustomed to littering land with catch basins should study Santa Anita for the combination of clever contouring that affects strategy and function.
Smith's replica holes and homages are fresh but still respectful. He put his own stamp on each and named them (the names remain on the scorecard and tee signs). There's a Redan, a "Maiden, a "Thomas" (the boomerang first green in honor of George C.'s old 9th at Griffith Park-Harding) and assorted other themes.
While the course is short and over-landscaped for today's game, the undulating fairways and elevated, cleverly crafted greens expose poor shots to give the elite player plenty of trouble while still letting the average hack get it around. Old photos show that the course once had more hazards with great flair in their presentation, though the grandeur and funkiness of the contouring is actually highlighted by their depature.
Still, it would be fun to see the course with the kind of dramatic bunkering that it deserves both to heighten the experience and to attract more attention to this model of what a golf course should be about: fun, fun, fun.
In a grand southern California tradition, Santa Anita is largely unnoticed and unappreciated by the area's golfing elite. Perhaps it's the lack of wild hazards or a high-end fee burning a hole in their pocket or just the general SoCal ignorance of interesting architecture and history (btw, Lloyd Mangrum won the first two Santa Anita Opens).
Either way, don't despair. The combination of a smooth operation, low prices, excellent maintenance (no rough!) and the course's subtle charm has developed a loyal following and profits for all involved. I just wish there were many more Santa Anita's in the world of golf.
SI Golf Plus's excellent year-end issue featured a roundtable with scribes Garrity, Van Sickle, Bamberger and Shipnuck joining the "anonymous tour pro" for a discussion about 2009.
It's all quite entertaining in an pared-down sort of way, but one comment from Mr. Anonymous made me hurl my magazine across the room.
ABOUT THE MAJORS
Bamberger: Augusta National sets up for some semiobscure guy — like Zach Johnson or Brandt Snedeker — to have a great driving and putting week. To me, they have taken the emotion out of the tournament by toughening the course so much.
Van Sickle: The course negates ability because now you make birdies only by accident. They pushed the course to the brink of difficulty, and weather conditions can push it over the edge.
Garrity: If they fix the course the way we want, they may be left, once again, with ridiculously fast greens as the course's only defense. I didn't like that, either. Ease back on the course, and a Masters-regulated ball may be the only solution.
Anonymous Pro: I hate to say this, but Augusta is now one of the purest majors we play. With the length, the rough and especially the trees, it's less of a bomber's paradise. The trees have changed the course. They have Tiger-proofed it. They've taken a lot of the risk out of the course. You have to plod along and play to point A and B and C.
So let me get this right. It's the purest major they play, yet it takes away risk and you have to plod along and play to committee-dictated points of interest?
That's what a pure major does? Yikes.
Ron Sirak authors Golf Digest's annual look at overpaid aggressively compensated golfers and as usual, the numbers are staggering. ($3.5 million in off course earnings for Rory Sabbatini? Rory Sabbatini!). I look at this list and say, wow, Leno is a bargain at $17 million a year.
Twenty-two players have made the list all six years of its existence, led again by Tiger Woods with $117,337,626 in on-course and off-course earnings, moving him within $115 million of becoming golf's first $1 billion player (see chart below). And even Woods is not immune from the economic turmoil. His contract with General Motors, which earned him nearly $50 million over nine years, was terminated by mutual consent at the end of 2008 with a year left to run.
But despite the economic situation, it appears companies will stay active with athletes and the games they play for one simple reason: It makes business sense. The PR difficulty of investing in athletes during tough times "certainly is a perception issue," says David Carter, University of Southern California sports-business professor and founder of Sport Business Group, a strategic-marketing firm based in Los Angeles.
After his third round of golf, it's becoming apparent that President-elect Barack Obama is not only determined to save the world, but more importantly, the game of golf. Or at least, instill a much needed coolness factor. We can't buy this kind of pub! (And Michael Bloomberg just made an Obama golf reference on the Times Square show...the hits just keep on coming.)
Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune has fun analyzing the pool reporter's round three notes.
As highlighted by Larry Dorman in today's New York Times, Golf Digest debuts its presidential rankings in the February issue due on stands Tuesday (already on my newstand). Presidential golf historian Don Van Natta Jr. shares many new insights into Obama's game, including this:
And in golf, as in life, Obama refuses to take any shortcuts. "When he'd shoot an 11 on a hole, I'd say, 'Boss, what did you shoot?' " says Marvin Nicholson, 37, the Obama campaign's national trip director and now a special assistant to the president-elect. "And he'd say, 'I had an 11.' And that's what he'd write on his scorecard. I always respected that."
Okay, it's a new year and I vowed to be less of a bitch, but someone needs to tell them we don't shoot 11s. We make them! Shoot? Maybe cats, or in Alaska, a moose, but not golf scores that we put on little cards.
As for the swing analysis you've all been waiting for, John Hopkins and gets into the act. And at GolfDigest.com, they managed to pull Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and Jim Flick away from prized pupils to break down Obama's swing via the good old fashioned telephone.
Here's Flick's take. And Leadbetter's is here. And if you absolutely have no life whatsoever, here's Butch's take.
...Doug Ferguson reports on what has to be one of the longest suspensions the PGA Tour has ever handed out. I'm not sure if the crimes (fat, drunk, stupid, angry) are commensurate with the length of the time off, but maybe it'll help him turn his life around. Or just to spend more time in the Middle East come January?
Most of my feelings about 2008 can be summed up in this Golfdom year-end story. Because while there were all of those dreadful stories that only a blogger could love (Tilghman/Golfweek noose debacle, the Bivens/LPGA English policy debacle, Stevie/Phil is a prick debacle), 2008 reminded golfers what an amazing, splendid, chill-inducing, awe-inspiring sport this can be when the world's best are allowed to display their skill.
As I note in the Golfdom story, the spectacle at Torrey Pines was surely made historic and unforgettable by Tiger's physical condition combined with Rocco's incredible effort. And you had the added emotions of contesting an Open at a course so pivotal in Tiger's upbringing, in a first and second round pairing with Phil Mickelson, the list goes on and on.
But like a great film with a strong cast, amazing effects and the best crew money can by, it all can only go so far on a thin story. In the case of Torrey Pines, this was not a strong story of a golf course. But the USGA setup took that barebones story and drenched every living bit of life out of a fairly bland 18 holes to provide Tiger, Rocco and many other contenders an incredible stage to perform on.
While few writers seized on this side of the Torrey Pines equation or its obvious freeing of Paul Azinger to aggressively set up Valhalla in a player-friendly manner that led to epic displays of skill under pressure from boths squads, it's still wonderful to see how the U.S. Open was the sole focus of most year-in-review stories. It was a special week for those of us who were lucky enough to be there and for everyone who huddled by a television to watch a truly unforgettable moment in sport.
I know I've missed a few, but here's a paritial list of the year end summaries:
GolfChannel.com's staff is counting down the best of 2008.
Happy New Year!
As for big changes in 2009, I don't have too many planned. Not yet anyway.
Expect a few more course design project videos, perhaps no longer opening story links in new windows (only because that seems to be a web standard now) and yes, there might be advertising (contemplating joining an ad network devoted to golf sites).
Unique visitors and page views were up over last year, which is amazing considering the expected traffic drop off after Tiger went on leave. That was compounded by the economic crisis where the markets most tumultuous days definitely impacted visits here (and surely all other non-banking websites).
As always, the strength of this site remains the quality of the comments you all leave. I'm quite lucky to have such a diverse readership and it's always fascinating how many golf industry people are obsessed with comments made. That's a tribute to you all.
Please use this opportunity not to heap glowing praise but to offer any and all constructive criticism you'd like to share to help make this site better. And finally, while there really is no good reason I can think of to share this, maybe someone out there will get a kick out of knowing this about the GeoffShackelford.com readership...
Operating System Preference:
WinVista 6.6% (ouch!)
iPhone 0.35% (it's a start)
Because as The Guardian's Dan Roebuck reports, these prices look "short"...
Despite Woods' absence from the fairways as he recovers from surgery following his incredible win at Torrey Pines in June, the world No1 still heads the betting for the two 2009 majors the layers have priced. Woods is 5-2 (Sky Bet) for the Masters and 3-1 (Hill's and Totesport) to win the Open . Even for a man that has so often defied the odds those prices look short.
Woods will not make a competitive return until the spring – Sportingbet offer 9-4 he will next tee up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, two weeks before the Masters. He may, of course, not make the line-up at Augusta which means Phil Mickelson would almost certainly take over at the top of the market.
Lefty, who has won twice and rewarded each-way backers six times in eight years, is 10-1 generally. If Woods, who is 13-8 (Sky Bet) to lose his top spot in the world rankings in 2009, looks out of touch on his return, Mickelson's price will go only one way – so the advice is to back him now.
I think I'll take a rain check on that.
...defaulting on a $675 million loan...Jeff Ostrowski reports (thanks Steven T.)
Two affiliates of Celebration-based Ginn Resorts last week filed a flurry of Chapter 7 petitions. Ginn sought bankruptcy protection for Tesoro and for Quail West in Naples. Tesoro will continue operations under the supervision of the bankruptcy court and a court-appointed trustee until the property is sold, Ginn said in a statement.
The two Ginn subsidiaries, Ginn-LA CS Borrower LLC and Ginn-LA Conduit Lender Inc., owe Credit Suisse $675 million. Ginn defaulted on loan payments in June and had been negotiating with its lender since then.
The loan covered Tesoro, Quail West, Ginn sur Mer in the Bahamas and Laurelmor in North Carolina. Ginn said it has found a new owner for Laurelmor and entered into a joint venture with the lender to complete Ginn sur Mer.
Wow, those lucky kids born at Baptist Heath hospitals get all the perks:
This year, the first babies of 2009 born at each of Baptist Health's hospitals will receive a large gift bag courtesy of THE PLAYERS Championship. The gift bag will include ball caps, T-shirts, lanyards and coffee mugs for the new parents; a beach towel; seat cushion; and a beanie bear for the first baby born at Baptist Medical Center Downtown, Baptist Medical Center Beaches, Baptist Medical Center Nassau and Baptist Medical Center South.
In addition, every baby born at one of the four Baptist Health hospitals between January 1 and May 1, 2009 will receive a complimentary T-shirt that says, "THE PLAYERS Future Champion." Parents of the babies born during that period also will be invited to register for a special Mother's Day prize package, which will provide one family with the opportunity to experience THE PLAYERS Championship in May. These gifts from THE PLAYERS are intended to help Moms and Dads celebrate their champions while helping to grow future golf fans.
Meanwhile, however, a lower-court injunction that takes effect Jan. 1 will bar the sale of Titleist golf balls manufactured using the contested technology. (The balls will remain legal for consumer use and tournament play, Acushnet noted.)
So this fall – while also launching a bid to block the injunction, an effort that failed last week (READ MORE) – Acushnet stopped using the disputed technology. Last month, it began shipping to retailers the “converted” Pro V1 and Pro V1x models. And last week, Acushnet said it would accept returns from retailers of any remaining nonconverted balls, although it did not believe any recall was necessary.
But now, Acushnet has decided to play it safe.
In what it described as an effort “to remove this uncertainty from the marketplace,” the company this week issued a call for U.S. retailers to return to the company all nonconverted Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls that remain in their inventories as of Jan. 1.
I'm feeling a lot less sympathetic about the UAW's plight after reading this FoxNews.com story (thanks to all of the readers who sent it in). Not because UAW leadership built a lavish $33 million lakeside retreat that is now burning a hole in union pockets. No, because they spent that on and got this (see photo, left).
Even as the industry struggles with massive losses, the UAW brass continue to own and operate a $33 million lakeside retreat in Michigan, complete with a $6.4 million designer golf course. And it's costing them millions each year.
The UAW, known more for its strikes than its slices, hosts seminars and junkets at the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center in Onaway, Mich., which is nestled on "1,000 heavily forested acres" on Michigan's Black Lake, according to its Web site.
But the Black Lake club and retreat, which are among the union's biggest fixed assets, have lost $23 million in the past five years alone, a heavy albatross around the union's neck as it tries to manage a multibillion-dollar pension plan crisis.
As a connoisseur of puff pieces I'm always in search of some prime cut, Grade A, major league buttering up and I must say that if there were an award, Lewine Mair's IMG.com errr ESPN.com tribute to Monty is a Hall of Famer material. You'd swear she has a relative that works for IMG, or something!
John Hopkins finds Sergio Garcia in a chatty mood regarding the Ryder Cup. Love this Red Auerbach/Boston Garden playbook stuff:
“The US team played their cards well. They knew where the pins were going to be and the tees and we didn't. The locker-room we had was really, really small and uncomfortable. I wish it had been even half the size of theirs. We had two showers, one next to a toilet. At the opening ceremony they played my anthem twice, once when the Spanish flag was raised and once when the Swedish flag was raised.
“Nick Faldo's speech at the opening ceremony was too long. In past Ryder Cups there has been the captain and two or three vice-captains. It seemed like that way you covered a lot of ground. On the Sunday this year, covering all 12 of us with only two guys was rather difficult.”
And on the Sunday lineup call to stack the backend of the lineup:
He also pointed out that the order of play for Sunday's singles was not just Faldo's choice, but one that had the approval of every Europe team member. “The defeat was not Faldo's fault,” García said. “Nick Faldo was not the best captain we have ever had, but I don't think he was the worst.”
Short of some mega-million-dollar judgment down the road I don't see this having much of an effect on, well, anything. Titleist has been deemed by the court to infringe a patent that Callaway owns, but didn't actually create. It bought it in a bankruptcy auction. I just can't get jacked up about that. But it should be interesting to see what the tour players have to say. Some were playing the 2003, 2005 and quite a few the 2007 version of the Pro V1/V1x last year and now it looks like all of them will have to play the new, reconfigured model. Pros are picky so we shall see. Still, how much different can it be? The USGA deemed the changes so insignicifcant that they didn't even require Acushnet to resubmit the ball for conformance. But a couple of pros apparently won't have to worry about it. Word on the street is that both Vijay Singh and Boo Weekley (who used Titleist balls this past season) will be going with Srixon's new tour ball in the coming season.
Look, we writers get desperate sometimes. For my December Golfdom column I called on the big guy to weigh in on the state of things for his perch. Even he launched into a bunch of MBAspeak. It's everywhere!
Gary Van Sickle tries to consider the health of the PGA Tour and focuses his case against Tim Finchem on the attempts to create too many "big events."
First, I thought this was a great point:
Too much television exposure: Finchem finally realized a long-term goal when every PGA Tour event got television coverage. The new age of televising golf on Thursdays and Fridays has backfired. At best, it's oversaturation. At worst, it's a bad product. My sympathies to the TV producers who have to find some kind of story to tell while covering the tail-end of the first or second rounds with nothing more to show than journeymen and Q-school grads. Often, the leader played in the morning, and no one near the lead is even on the course when the coverage begins. Factor in a B-team broadcast squad, and you've got a product far inferior to the weekend coverge.
I suspect that while he is right, the PGA Tour and sponsors love getting highlights of great shots aired on Sportscenter during the week and will never give up these early telecasts, no matter how boring they are.
TheGolfWatch.com's Richard Simon interviewed me today and has broken it up into three parts. Because I know that the entire collection of my spellbinding comments to a variety of intelligent questions could keep you from the family Christmas gift opening, I'm only going to post part 1 of 3 today.
Granted, Seth Raynor's touch there is probably limited to the routing at this point, but the President-elect played his second vacation round at the spunky Mid-Pacific Country Club. Also the course having the dubious honor of hosting my collegiate golf debut (I'm still haunted by having to start on the treacherous 15th hole).
More importantly, he hasn't been shy about showing the world he's a golfer. So we've got that going for us.
Later in the morning, Obama's motorcade left the Kailua rental home at 11:50 a.m. and arrived at Mid-Pacific Country Club about 10 minutes later.
Pool media were allowed to watch for about 12 minutes as Obama took practice swings with an iron before switching to a driver. He was dressed in a black polo shirt, khaki Bermuda shorts and a beige cap.
His golfing group included close friends Marty Nesbitt, Eric Whitaker and Eugene Kang, among others.
Obama also played a round of golf on Sunday at Olomana Golf Links in nearby Waimanalo.
The president-elect is a frequent visitor to the greens when he visits Hawaii. During his last vacation here, in August, he played two rounds of golf at Olomana and at Luana Hills Country Club.
** Michael Bamberger dissects a semi-swing sequence of Obama posted on golf.com.