Twitter: GeoffShac
Writing And Videos

I am among those who firmly believe that a round of golf should not take more than 3 1/2 hours, four at most. Anything longer than that is not a round of golf, it's life in Albania.
DAN JENKINS


    

Wednesday
Nov262008

"Parts of the bossman's answer were tougher to track than a balata ball bouncing through a blacktop parking lot."

A day after the unveiling of the latest FedEx Cup, Steve Elling has been thinking about the bizarre notion that a player can skip a playoff event and still win the thing. It's a FedEx Cup tradition, Steve. Come on!

As he unveiled the new points program Tuesday night, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was innocently asked whether players would be required to make all four starts in order to take home the richest bonus in golf. Even for a spin-control artiste, parts of the bossman's answer were tougher to track than a balata ball bouncing through a blacktop parking lot.

"I wouldn't say it can't happen, but I think the incentives are there that it's more and more important as you go on," Finchem said of the Cup schedule. "So, yeah, you need to play. Of course, our role is to put the best product out there, and hope that players believe in it and want to take advantage of it, and I think that's what we'll see in '09."

Need is a relative term, as it turns out.

Tuesday
Nov252008

"So for all those reasons, we stuck with the basic structure."

I joined the hastily arranged Tim Finchem conference call to hear about the latest FedEx Cup iteration. Now, before we get to the remarks and commentary, I have to say I was prepared to ask the Commissioner a question. But I just couldn't shake myself out of the deep trance he lulled me. Frankly, I don't know how all of the VP's down in PV get through staff meetings. I had to take a 20 minute siesta as soon as they said goodbye.

Anyway, there wasn't much worth reading from his give and take, though it was wonderful to hear the slight pause before remembering to call it The Tour Championship...presented by Coca Cola.

Doug Ferguson asked about the shootout concepts. After a droning on a bit, the Commish said:

So you once we figured out ways to accomplish that, we were not persuaded by moving further to rebuild something we thought was working. We had a great year in '07 and a good year in '08.

Sure.

So that said, as you look at some of the things that you're referring to, also our concern was that most of them went in the direction of taking away the value of what happens all during the year and the playoffs.

We still like the basic concept that you still have a home-field advantage if you, at the top coming out of the regular season, you carry a bit of a home-field advantage into the playoffs. If you play well enough to keep that, you have a home-field advantage going in.

Ah, as a conoisseur of euphemisms, this had to rank as a favorite. Padding and gerrymandering points to "protect" the season long race is just a matter of protecting that home-field advantage. Got to hand it to the Commish, that's a clever one.

The Angels sure wish home-field advantage got them to the World Series this year without having to work too hard!

Continue...

Also, the basic premise that something this important should be decided over 72 holes and not a shootout.

Whoa there...something this important? It's not a major, it's entertainment. I guess importance trumps fun, yet again.

We had a match play interest, and we liked the 72-hole format, and we liked the idea of making Atlanta and building it and continuing to build it into something very special. So for all those reasons, we stuck with the basic structure.

Until next year after another ratings dud.

As for the reaction from scribblers who weren't comatose from the call, Bob Harig covers the failure of the shootout concept to take hold:

The tour is into rewarding players for their body of work over the course of the year. And those in charge couldn't quite stomach the idea of a fluky finish deciding who gets $10 million.

"There were a lot of concerns with that,'' said PGA Tour veteran Tom Pernice, a member of the tour's Players Advisory Council. "Guys might only be worried about getting into the Tour Championship and not moving up. They could skip the playoffs.''

I'm betting they still will. It's just not that important to the big boys.

because as Ferguson notes in his AP story, there's still a typical-Tiger-year loophole:

Even with the change, Woods could have the kind of year he had in 2007 - five wins and a major before the playoffs - and still skip the opening event without doing too much damage to his chances of winning the FedEx Cup.

Steve Elling offers a few "first blush" comments and raises this vital point about field size.

First blush: Short-field events are risky and never seem to deliver the crowds and buzz of full-sized tournaments. NASCAR stages its Sprint Cup events within full-field races in the fall, keeping track of its 12-driver Sprint points on the side, but tour players seem to think culled fields is more compelling. Again, the tour could track FedEx Cup points within more interesting full-field formats, but nobody wants to hear it.

No Steve, something this important should be played by as few people as possible!

Tuesday
Nov252008

"Nick was in a world of his own"

Lewine Mair's on Nick Faldo's desire to captain the European Ryder Cup Team again:

It was on the day prior to the Hong Kong Open that Faldo said he was missing the buzz and missing his men. "We all got along well," he said. At the time of the match, he had described his team as a 36-strong affair taking in the 12 players, their partners and their caddies.

Some of those "team" members who were on duty in Hong Kong have suggested that he was showing no signs of missing them. He barely acknowledged a couple of the caddies, and did not have too much time for Miguel Angel Jimenez either. Apparently, Jimenez was the recipient of a "Hello!" followed by the briefest of enquiries as to his health. "Nick was in a world of his own," said Jimenez.

Tuesday
Nov252008

"Torrey Pines became the USGA's finest hour, a slam-dunk triumph with a twist of irony for an organization criticized for its old-world mentality."

I don't know if having been blessed to have seen all but one hole in person or if was John Hawkins doing such a superb job, but I'm leaning toward the latter for the sheer joy I found in reading his Tiger-Rocco-Torrey story for Golf World's Newsmakers issue.

The clippings below are for my little archives here just in case the story were to disappear. But just read the whole thing, I suspect you'll savor it.

In a large part because it stuck to the 18-hole format, Torrey Pines became the USGA's finest hour, a slam-dunk triumph with a twist of irony for an organization criticized for its old-world mentality. Woods-Mediate was an extended-play encore with everything on the line, a fifth round that turned a superb tournament into one for the ages.

"Having done this for 20 years, I can say that it was my favorite broadcasting day," says NBC on-course analyst Mark Rolfing. "I've done a lot of good ones, but that day was special. The playoff had everything. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced." The sharp turns in momentum gave it character and amplified the crescendo effect."

And...

On the way to her departure gate, Joan Fay ran into a bunch of NBC employees also flying back to New York but on a different airline. "They asked why she wasn't on their flight," David says. "Joan tells them, 'I'm on JetBlue, and they've got TVs in every seat.' All at once, the NBC people jump up and make a mad dash for the JetBlue ticket counter. Her flight went from almost empty to absolutely booked."

The PGA Tour arranged for a charter from San Diego to Hartford, site of the Travelers Championship that week. About 30 players were on the flight, plus their wives, kids and a few caddies. "We all had TVs, and the timing was pretty much perfect," says Lee Janzen. "We took off around 8:30, and a half-hour later, the playoff started. It seemed like everybody on the plane was pulling for Rocco."

And the still astounding numbers...

It was 2:30 p.m. on the East Coast, 11:30 a.m. local time, and the entire country, or so it seemed, had stopped to watch a golf tournament. The USGA offered live streaming video of the playoff on its website -- the full-day audience of 2.3 million viewers and 615,000 concurrent streams are by far the largest numbers ever generated by a sporting event on the Internet.

"The fact that it was a Monday and people had to work obviously helped," Davis says. "We were told it actually slowed down Internet service worldwide in terms of [available] bandwidth."

ESPN's two hours of coverage produced a rating of 4.2, which was 35 percent higher than the previous record for a golf tournament shown on cable. NBC, meanwhile, generated a whopping 7.6/20 share with its telecast of the back nine, a 90-percent increase over the 2001 U.S. Open playoff between Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks.

Tuesday
Nov252008

PGA Tour Finalizes FedEx Cup Revisions...

...And let me tell you, I can't wait for next year's "tweaking" debate.

Actually, this initial release contains no mention of bloated points for regular season major wins to ensure that the major winners are at East Lake. That rumored "tweak" was going to be a huge credibility killer. As were some of the discussed field reductions, which are now more sensible, particularly with only 125 making it to the "playoffs."

It appears that the winner will be decided those last four days at East Lake and that you will have to play decently in at least two of the playoff events to have a chance of winning. But I still say an unpredictable, final day shootout would have been great fu...ah forget it...there I go again with that fun word!

PGA TOUR Policy Board Approves Modifications to FedExCup Structure
Dates finalized for THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL – November 25, 2008--The PGA TOUR Policy Board has ratified recommended changes to the structure of the FedExCup competition that guarantee the FedExCup champion will be determined at the culminating Playoff event, THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola. These changes impact both the Regular Season and the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup.

During a special teleconference held today, the Board also approved scheduling the 2009 TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola for the week of Sept. 21-27, creating a one-week separation from the penultimate Playoff event, the BMW Championship (Sept. 7-13).

Key among the approved FedExCup changes for 2009 are:

Shifting the points reset from the beginning of the Playoffs to after the BMW Championship, which means points earned during the PGA TOUR Regular Season will be carried through the first three Playoff events
Quintupling points awarded at Playoff tournaments relative to Regular Season tournaments

Changing the field size of the Playoff events to 125 at The Barclays, 100 at the Deutsche Bank Championship, 70 at the BMW Championship and 30 at THE TOUR Championship; they previously were 144, 120, 70 and 30
Streamlining the points structure for ease of understanding

“At the conclusion of this year’s FedExCup, we knew we had to reevaluate the current structure and consider the best ways to maintain interest and excitement throughout the Playoffs,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “With the changes we have announced today, we believe we have a formula that will deliver what our players, fans, tournaments, sponsors and television partners want and expect from the FedExCup.”

The reset ensures a real shootout at THE TOUR Championship as all 30 players in the field will have a mathematical chance of winning the FedExCup with a victory at East Lake Golf Club. A win by any of the top 5 seeds will guarantee the FedExCup title outright while seeds 6-10 will have an excellent chance of capturing the title with a victory.

“By moving the reset to after the BMW Championship, the Regular Season not only will determine who qualifies for the Playoffs, it also will play a vital role in determining who advances to THE TOUR Championship,” Finchem said. “These structural changes, combined with the one-week break between the BMW Championship and THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola, will assure heightened drama and excitement as we progress through the Regular Season and into the Playoffs.”

This new structure rewards the top performers during the PGA TOUR Regular Season and those who excel during the Playoffs. By quintupling the points for Playoff events, more dramatic moves toward the top of the standings are possible during the first three events, thus determining who is in best position to challenge for the FedExCup at THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola.

The points structure also has been simplified by significantly reducing the number of points awarded at tournaments and at the reset. Regular Season events will be worth 500 points to the winner with modest differences in certain events, including the major championships and THE PLAYERS Championship. Playoff events will award 2,500 points for a victory. The reset will award 2,500 points to the No. 1 seed heading into THE TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (See attached charts for complete points distribution.)

In regard to the remainder of the 2009 schedule, Finchem said the Fall Series is expected to be announced within the next two weeks.

Tuesday
Nov252008

"I enjoy playing where single-digits is a good winning score."

Carlos Monarrez wonders if the post-Buick Tiger will return to Warwick Hills (no!) and points out this comment from a few years ago:

After Woods' last Buick victory, he said he liked the traditional tree-lined layout at Warwick Hills and how it set up for his game. But Woods also admitted he was not a fan of the low-scoring nature of the event.


"As far as enjoying this type of golf tournament, no, it's not my favorite," Woods said then. "If you look at my tournament schedule, I usually don't play events that are like this. I enjoy playing where single-digits is a good winning score. ... Here, you will get run over with spike marks all over your back."

I wonder if such a remark about single-digits drove the PGA Tour to accentuate the higher-rough, old school U.S. Open course setup mentality?

Naw...not possible.

Monday
Nov242008

"A suspected robber wearing underwear on his head to hide his identity was chased down Monday afternoon by customers in a golf cart..."

Erin Alberty, reporting for the Salt Lake Tribune...

The 48-year-old is suspected of approaching a clerk at Golf in the Round (600 W. 3300 South), demanding money and threatening the clerk with a 10-inch butcher knife, police wrote in a statement.

The clerk noticed the man was wearing men's underwear as a mask and replied, "You gotta be kidding," police wrote. When the robber moved forward with the knife, the clerk tried to wrest it away. The blade broke off, and the robber left the store and ran across the driving range, police wrote.

The clerk, whose hands were cut in the struggle, alerted customers to the robbery, police said. The customers used a golf cart to chase the man and keep him from escaping until officers arrived, police wrote.

The man was booked into jail.

Monday
Nov242008

"A source of mirth in some circles because Woods is reported to drive a Porsche."

A few interesting bits regarding the Tiger/Buick break up, starting with some added information in Greg Bensinger and Michael Buteau's original Bloomberg story.

Sales of Buick vehicles in the U.S. plunged 58 percent to 185,791 units from 1999 to 2007, more than any other GM brand in the period. Sales of the 105-year-old Buick brand peaked in 1984 at 941,611, according to trade publication Automotive News.

The median age of new Buick retail buyers in 2008 was 68 in the U.S., the same as in 1997, said Alexander Edwards, head of the auto research division at the San Diego-based firm. Only about 1 percent of the Buicks sold at retail in 1997 went to consumers 34 or younger, and that share fell to less than half a percent for those sold in 2008, Edwards said.

Lawrence Donegan writing in the Guardian, reminds us that Stevie's going to be carrying a new bag next year.

The deal between GM and Woods, said to be worth more than $10m (£6.6m) a year to the golfer, had endured for almost a decade and become one of the most visible sponsorship arrangements in sport, not least because Woods' golf bag had been transformed into an advertisement for Buick, one of the carmaker's brands.

As part of the deal, the world No1 also took part in television commercials for the budget-priced range of cars - a source of mirth in some circles because Woods is reported to drive a Porsche.

Yes, the PGA Tour has signed deals with every one of its sponsors through at least 2010 -- including the two tournaments sponsored by Buick. But there is far more to these events than the title sponsor, which help put up funds for the purse and get the events on television.

Thankfully, Doug Ferguson says Steiney is on the case.

Steinberg said he would ``expect there to be some exposure on the bag'' when Woods next plays.

``I've got a few ideas, and we're in the process of working through that,'' he said.

And Bob Harig sees this is a bad sign for the PGA Tour:

The actual running of the tournaments is left to local organizing bodies, most of them non-profit organizations that solicit dozens if not hundreds of lower-level sponsorships and must rely on a horde of volunteers to even exist.

While it is not the $7 million or so necessary to be a title sponsor, big money -- often six-figure fees -- is spent on hospitality tents or corporate chalets. Doesn't it seem logical that these companies would cut back, too?

Monday
Nov242008

"I guess he's a walking train wreck and, unfortunately, people turn their heads to watch the train wreck."

Martin Blake reports that Stuart Appleby is excited about John Daly getting an invite to the Australian Masters field this week.

As the 42-year-old Daly arrived in Melbourne yesterday for the $1.5 million tournament at Huntingdale, Appleby expressed regret that the two-time major championship winner had become far more famous for his off-course antics than any prowess on the fairways.

"That [image] has got to the stage now where that is who John Daly is, unfortunately," he said. "His game hasn't been to the level he wants it, and the sponsors have seen fit to see John Daly [play]. Unfortunately, there's a million guys who hit it as long as John Daly now. Very few, I guess, make it look as effortless as John does, but I don't think John's here because of his world ranking [788].

"I'm not quite sure how that works. I guess he's a walking train wreck and, unfortunately, people turn their heads to watch the train wreck."

Monday
Nov242008

“He expressed an interest in growing his own Tiger brand and we have been looking for marketing savings.”

According to this Marketwatch story the timing is "coincidental," but as Bloomberg's Greg Bensinger reports, the Tiger-GM split obviously comes at a time when the car company needs to save money to fuel its fleet of private executive jets. Thanks to readers Adam and Chuck for the heads up.

Woods, 32, endorsed GM products including the Buick brand for the past 9 years, Pete Ternes, a spokesman for the Detroit- based automaker, said today. The golfer had been under contract through 2009.

“We began speaking with Woods earlier this year,” Ternes said in an interview. “He expressed an interest in growing his own Tiger brand and we have been looking for marketing savings.”

The announcement comes as GM seeks to cut marketing expenses by 20 percent in the U.S. A weakening U.S. economy that’s taken a toll on auto sales is prompting GM’s Chevrolet brand to “significantly” reduce spending on sports sponsorships, the company said last month.

Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg, wouldn’t comment on the golfer’s future endorsements. “We’ve put together a plan, but it’s nothing that I’m going to discuss at this time,” Steinberg said in a telephone interview.

Not to worry, I'm sure Tiger will always return to Warwick Hills out of his love for the spending time studying Michigan's finest architecture.

Here's the early Golfweek take on the split.

Monday
Nov242008

"USGA officials did not respond to e-mailed questions or a request for an interview."

Thanks to reader Mike for Eleanor Yang Su and Brent Schrotenboer's breakdown of U.S. Open expenses for the City of San Diego. Total tab according to the San Diego Union-Tribune: $10.7 million, with $9 million recouped through tax revenue and reimbursements.

The $1.7 million difference stems in part from a series of decisions the city made early on. They ranged from giving up the ability to negotiate directly with the United States Golf Association for the tournament contract, to spending more than its obligations for the event, to not bidding construction jobs that resulted in dramatic cost overruns.

At least someone is willing to acknowledge reality:

Mark Woodward, who headed San Diego's U.S. Open preparations, said the city “did exactly what it needed to do” in spending about $8 million upgrading the Torrey Pines Golf Course before the tournament.

Woodward pointed out that San Diego's golf courses are self-supported, so golf user fees, not city general fund money, paid for the course improvements.

Woodward made no apologies for the costs, but he acknowledged the city could have negotiated a better deal.

For the 2002 U.S. Open, the only other time a public course hosted the tournament, the USGA paid more than $2.7 million to renovate the Black course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.

“This event was a huge success. It put San Diego on the world map,” said Woodward, who now serves as CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. “Could we have gotten a better contract in 2001? Probably so. But the fact is we didn't.”

Now, let's get to the good stuff. Contractor gouging!

The documents never mentioned whose responsibility the bills would be. Despite the fact that the city's agreement stated it would pay for turf and landscaping work, and not “architectural or permanent structural changes,” the city ended up covering most requests.

Maddern said the city paid more because it failed to properly maintain the 51-year-old course after the major renovation in 2001.

The city hired Nebraska-based Kubly Golf Course Construction to fulfill many of the USGA's requests.

Two elements made Kubly's work unusual: It did not bid against others for the city's contracts, and its change orders inflated the original contract amounts by 38 percent, to $2.3 million.

Got to love those change orders.

Also accompanying the piece is a "Behind The Story" sidebar explaing how Yang Su and Schrotenboer went about their investigation.

The San Diego Union-Tribune submitted more than a dozen public record requests to the city of San Diego, seeking contracts, purchase orders, correspondence, budgets and other documents related to the U.S. Open.In the past five months, city officials provided more than 1,000 documents.

The newspaper also asked for a financial accounting from the Friends of Torrey Pines, a tournament co-host. The group provided the accounting five months after the newspaper's request.

Figures in the story and graphic are based on the records, as well as estimates and calculations provided by city staff.

And the USGA, a non-profit with seemingly nothing to hide? From the main story:

USGA officials did not respond to e-mailed questions or a request for an interview.

Well, I guess the positive news there is that they are holding out to better prepare for the next negotiation.

Another sidebar lists costs. The golf course work sure sounds like a bargain compared to the parking lot. Really, how can a parking lot cost $3.27 million? I parked in it many times. It's a nice lot, but not in my top 100 Parking Lots in America.

Torrey Pines Golf Course improvements

South Course improvements: $2,431,244
Reimbursement to Friends of Torrey Pines: $950,000
New parking lot*: $3,270,000
Clubhouse maintenance*: $520,438
Storage facility for maintenance equipment (half the project cost attributed to the Open)*: $320,000
Improvements to concession stand and restrooms*: $175,467
New facility to wash mowing and other equipment (half the cost attributed to the Open)*: $60,000
Storage bins and area to mix sand and seeds. (half the cost attributed to the Open)*: $60,000

Sunday
Nov232008

NY Times Flash: Viagra May Be Performance Enhancing...

...well, in ways you didn't know about. For athletes. In competition. Looking for an edge.

Ah...forget it. Here's what you need to know: Viagra may be headed for the WADA banned substance list. A development that could make the economic crisis look like small potatoes for the future well being of the Champions Tour. Shoot, from what I hear about some young guns' love for the little purple pills, the PGA and European Tours too!

Jere Longman writing for the New York Times explains how the effects of Viagra are being tested on athletes and the prognosis for the future.

Anne L. Friedlander, an author of the 2006 Stanford study, said that she expected Viagra would be banned for sports use. But, she noted, it does not benefit everyone. Only 4 of the 10 participants in her study responded to the drug. And Viagra merely elevated the performance of those four to the level of other participants less affected by altitude, rather than enhancing performance beyond normal, the way steroids do, Dr. Friedlander said.

Merely elevated? I wonder if the editors debated the use of the word elevated?

“That’s something to think about,” she said.

Well thank you. Oh, you meant...

Whether Viagra is allowed or prohibited, it remains illegal for athletes to use prescription medication not ordered for them, Mr. Tygart of Usada said.

That'll set 'em straight. Wait, that didn't come out the way I had hoped. Okay that's enough boner-pill humor for one week.

Sunday
Nov232008

“Me too, but I try.”

Watching the ADT today I couldn't help but think what a great event it must be for the LPGAers. You get a week in sunny and warm Florida, The Donald throws a swank party for you to give out some awards and then you play a wild format with a very unique pairings event on Saturday afternoon that shows off player personalities and adds a fun twist to the whole affair.

So glad we're getting rid of that!

Well the finale was exciting and the winner can put the money to good use, which just makes it that much more satisfying for a fan. Beth Ann Baldry writing for Golfweek about winner Ji-Yai Shin and her lucky looper:

Shin’s caddie for the year, Dean Herden, decided he didn’t want to make the trip from his home in Australia to West Palm Beach. (He must be kicking himself.)

Herden got the job earlier this year thanks to Rick Kropf. The longtime looper worked for Shin five times last year, but when Shin asked him to caddie in 2008, he had already made a commitment to Louise Friberg. Kropf recommended Herden to Shin, and this week, “Dean was nice enough to pay back the favor.”

Kropf, a local resident, told Herden that if Shin won this week he’d buy dinner – in Australia. After this ADT paycheck, easily the biggest of his life, consider Kropf’s bags packed.

As for Shin, she’ll use a good chunk of her earnings to buy a house in the U.S. The smiley Shin should get along fine wherever she chooses to live. Her English has improved immensely with Herden on her bag, so much so that she didn’t even use an interpreter in the press room.

“Many Korean players worry – (they) speak good English – but worry (about) mistakes,” Shin said. “Me too, but I try.”

Sunday
Nov232008

Working With A Jail Cell Tip, Daly Fires 62

John, so funny you should be here wearing an orange jumpsuit, I've been watching you for weeks now and the clubface looks a tad shut at the top, you should just...ah well, it didn't got down like that. Looks like Long John  got to a country where there are no Hooters, meaning his booze isn't paid for.

Saturday
Nov222008

Golf Architecture Magazine Issue 11 Is Out

You can order it here. I have a piece in the current issue about finishing holes. 

I also believe there's an interview with Geoff Ogilvy by John Huggan, and the usual mix of articles and photos you can't get anywhere else.

Saturday
Nov222008

And Then There Were Eight...One Last Time

Greg Stoda reports on Paula Creamer's gutsy effort and the eight players remaining for Sunday's last-ever ADT chase for $1 million. (That's right, I have no hope that it'll be resurrected as part of a season opening event.)

One day, eight players, $1 million. Not as simple to explain as the FedEx Cup, of course. But it'll do.

Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa - the ADT's main attractions - were cut after two rounds.

"That's the danger of the format," said an LPGA Tour official.

The field includes Suzann Pettersen (68), Angela Stanford (69), Creamer and Seon Hwa Lee (70s), Ji-Yai Shin and Joeng Jang (71s) and Karrie Webb and Eun-Hee Ji (72s). Webb and Ji pushed into the final round by getting through a playoff when Sun Young Yoo three-putted to bogey the first extra hole.

Creamer long since had become the big news of the day.

"I didn't know if I was going to get out of bed Friday morning," she said. "I think the last two days, my warmup has been about 30 minutes, which is normally about an hour-and-a-half. I've cut down trying to conserve energy."

Seriously, how many fewer people will watch tomorrow because Annika and Lorena are not there?

Saturday
Nov222008

"Golf is their passion, it's what they do, it's central to their lives"

A couple of points from John Paul Newport's Saturday WSJ column on the possible parallels between the 1929 market crash and today.

For golf, the 1920s were a Golden Age, headlined by a boom in new courses and the hero-worship of Bobby Jones. The 1990s into the early 2000s has often been called golf's second Golden Age, epitomized by another explosion of new courses and the glamour of Tiger Woods. Most golf histories depict the 1930s as a bleak and uneventful period: Mr. Jones retired from competition in 1930 after winning the Grand Slam, and golf clubs by the hundreds were boarded up. But the era actually was transformative, says Rand Jerris, director of the U.S. Golf Association Museum in New Jersey.

"This was the period during which golf became acceptable to a much wider range of people," he says. Many of those defunct private clubs reopened as public ones. The Works Progress Administration built more than 100 new golf courses nationwide, opening up the game to thousands. Women, forced by circumstances to work outside the home, took up the game in unprecedented numbers. And the professional tour, though it struggled financially, began to establish itself in the public imagination as charismatic pros like Walter Hagen and Byron Nelson stole the limelight from the blue-blood amateurs, like Mr. Jones, who had dominated golf until then. When golf blossomed again after World War II, it was a different game.

But if you were thinking there's no room to grow, I suppose there is merit in these numbers. Still, it'd be nice for golf to use this slump to address a few weaknesses (as Newport notes later on in the column):

Golf through the last few downturns has fared relatively well. "It isn't recession proof, but neither does it have those 20% or 30% peaks and valleys that some other industries have," says Tom Stine, a co-founder of Golf Datatech, a leading industry statistic-keeper. Golf rounds played this year were down 1.4% through September, the latest month for which data are available, and retail spending on equipment was down 3.4%, according to Golf Datatech. "That's down, but it's not that bad," Mr. Stine said.

The game's resistance to economic swings is rooted in the avidity of its core players, who number (depending on the definition applied) from eight million to 12 million, out of 29.5 million U.S. golfers total, according to the National Golf Foundation. "Golf is their passion, it's what they do, it's central to their lives," Mr. Stine says. They don't stop playing.

Friday
Nov212008

Annika: Don't Let The Drug Testing Trailer Door Hit You On The Way To Retirement

Beth Ann Baldry sums up Annika Sorenstam's surreal LPGA farewell:

It will be impossible for those in attendance Friday to forget how one of the LPGA’s greatest players ended her career. It was disappointing that several seats behind the 18th green were empty when she doffed her cap. It was emotional when she talked about how the urge to cry sat in her throat all week long. It was both comical and crazy to hear her spend several minutes of her final interview talking about an upcoming drug test.

Steve Elling explains what happened and offers this on the need to test the retiree two weeks after another test.

"I have no idea, but they're not going to let me go," she said, forcing a laugh. "Yeah, I guess you get tested every other week now."

Another 20 minutes later, she hadn't cooled off. As she packed up her SUV for the drive home, she pointed at the portable testing center and said with a dismissing wave, "I sat in that beautiful trailer."

Jill Pilgrim, the LPGA administrator who handles the testing, said the organization has no choice but to screen any player whose number comes up -- otherwise the whole process becomes tainted if exceptions are granted.

"At the end of the day, if the LPGA does not follow the protocol, and we are brought into litigation or arbitration, we will be liable for not following the protocol," she said. "We follow the protocol because we want to keep everything fair for every player.

"That's the way you keep it fair. The procedures don't vary because of any particular set of circumstances."

Even for an organization known for making head-shaking decisions over the years, this ranks at the bottom of the latrine in terms of asinine, idiotic developments. After 15 memorable seasons in which she often carried the tour on her capable back, Sorenstam isn't playing next year, making the whole testing issue decidedly moot.

Ron Sirak writes:

Still, it's hard to imagine any LPGA player would have complained if Sorenstam had been allowed to slide in her last event. What were they going to do is she failed? Suspend her retirement?

And if you choose to remember her career in a more positive light, Larry Dorman files a lovely career send off for the New York Times. And GolfDigest.com offers this shrine to the great one's epic career.

Friday
Nov212008

Life Images: The Jones Clan

From the Life Magazine collection now on Google, The Jones clan...Rees, Bobby and Trent Sr.

Thursday
Nov202008

Working Around The NFL: A Good Idea?

A couple of items posted today remind us just how determined the PGA and LPGA Tour's are to work around the NFL season. And looking at the FedEx Cup after two years and the latest LPGA plans, it seems that the desire to work around the NFL has led the tours in a negative direction.

Consider this from Steve Elling, writing about the LPGA's disastrous dismantling of the ADT Championship and desire to move the $1 million first prize event to the season opening slot, all because it's running up against the NFL.

If there is a silver lining, a sliver of hope, it's that there are no plans to overhaul the whacky format, Bivens said. She even has a dream time frame in mind, if it can be negotiated with TV and the new title sponsor.

"Ideally, I like that weekend between the (NFL) league championship games and the Super Bowl," Bivens said.

That certain sports gorilla with the oblong ball is one reason she wants the ADT relocated to a less-congested part of the year. Even given its increasing momentum, Bivens felt the tournament was underappreciated and overshadowed. The PGA Tour season is over, and there's no competition for viewing eyeballs on that front, but still.

"The NFL is the property and you cannot compete," Bivens said.

Golf doesn't compete with many major sports in the ratings department anyway, so why dismantle an event that had a quality sponsor, unique season ending format and solid host course with a supportive host in Donald Trump?

Okay, I understand that the LPGA is tired of underwriting television production costs and all that good stuff about equity for the players, but is this really the time to be taking such risks with one of your proven events?

The more nuanced dilemma involves the PGA Tour and the decision to create the FedEx Cup so that the season ended earlier and gets out of the way of football. Nearly every observer now concedes that Tim Finchem's vision was well-intentioned but severely blurred, because golf's "playoffs" run up against season-opening college and NFL games when optimism and interest is highest. Instead of say, now when the mid-season blues are kicking in.

Check out Cameron Morfit's Q&A with Steve Flesch on the FedEx Cup. Morfit clearly isn't buying the direction the tour is headed and neither is Flesch, though as a PAC member he half-heartedly tries to defend the idea of a points system and that all-important, buzz-killing obsession of the tour to "protect" the season points leaders at the expense of a true playoff. But even more interesting was Flesch's stance on the FedEx Cup schedule and the playoff dates failure to deliver audiences.

People are starved for football that time of year, whether it's college or pro. The Tour moved it up to accommodate Tiger and Phil, who wanted the year to end earlier, but now we see that they're taking the chance to go abroad and collect appearance fees in Europe and Asia and wherever. So we're like, did we really achieve what we wanted here? Because now they're just going abroad and playing, so they're really not shutting down their year like they said they were going to. Last year Tiger played six of seven weeks in a row including his tournament right before Christmas, whereas during the year, during the regular Tour, he never plays more than two [straight weeks]. Then we threw the off-week in this year, which I don't think was very popular except with people playing in the Ryder Cup.

And Flesch offers this wise solution, which would seem to counter one of Tim Finchem's main rationale's behind the cup structure (and therefore, makes it dead on arrival).

SF: I think if you don't see Tiger or Phil for a couple weeks after the PGA, you let football start and run its course for a couple weeks. God help me I'm a Bengals fan, living in Cincinnati, and I'm jacked up to watch 'em play the first couple weeks. But when they're 0-3 and 0-4 I'm back to watching golf in October or early November. So August, September, you let the hype of pro and college football die down. That's our big problem and I don't know why we battle that.

Neither do I.