There are more "Don'ts" in golf than there are in any other avocation in life.
An unbylined Guardian story reports that Sandy Lyle is signaling his desire to be named 2010 Ryder Cup captain next week by signing up Bernhard Langer as an assistant. And in a depature from the 2008 debacle hierarchical structure, Lyle insists he will have a stable of assistants to help him correctly pronounce all team member names and to talk him out of backloading his singles lineup.
"We had four assistants in 2006 at the K Club, I was part of the four so I know that system works," he said. "You need to be in contact with the team at all times. Having a good back-up team is so important, not just when the tournament starts but in the breakfast room, the locker-room before players tee off. It's vital to have someone who's been there, done that, in the Ryder Cup."
If he can bring those three under his umbrella, I smell a Commissionership or maybe Middle East peace envoy gig in his future.
Earlier this week I cited reader Dan's observation that the 2008 PGA Championship highlight video, as aired on Golf Channel, was missing Sergio Garcia's tournament-changing shot into the 16th hole pond. Well I heard from some folks at IMG who understandably didn't like being accused of trying to put a Band-Aid on a client's boo-boo.
So I contacted Golf Channel spokesman Dan Higgins, who kindly launched an investigation and fessed up that Golf Channel, not IMG, had edited out the dreaded shot due to time constraints. Higgins conceded the omission wasn't the greatest choice but because the structure of the show script mentioned the bogey on 16, it made for an easy cut that would not confuse viewers.
The moral of this story? Well, IMG's still, IMG. But I say nice job by reader Dan for spotting it, good work by IMG leaving in the shot and marks even to Golf Channel for not trying to spin this. And considering the positive direction Golf Channel is headed with some truly exciting breakthrough coverage technology debuting this week, we'll let it slide. Not that we have a choice!
Arnold Palmer, who won the first Hope 50 years ago, is coming back this month to serve as honorary host, and that's a nice touch. Palmer replaces, at least in title, comedian George Lopez, who was unceremoniously dumped after tournament officials were somehow shocked to learn that Lopez tends to track toward, well, edgy humor, even though that's been his act his entire career. Lopez had many fans among the players, including Weir, who isn't going to play in the celebrity field to make his feelings known.
Great to see Dan Jenkins in fine form in this February Golf Digest column. Though I'm sure how Camilo Villegas is going to feel about his Ellen Lupton sketched depiction that looks more Michael Jackson.
11. When 38-year-old Phil Mickelson said that he had somehow grown an inch through stretching exercises, was it in:
(c) Between the ears?
"I think the first and foremost is coming out in good shape in the wide range of scrutinies that we always get during these downturns."
Tim Finchem, sporting a PGA Tour logoed dress shirt (PGA Tour PGA TOUR(C) logoed Hawaiian shirt would have sent the wrong message in these tough times) sat down with golf's last remaining scribblers to drone on about a few things, including negotiations on future Mercedes Championships at Kapalua (Robert Collias reports that the post-2010 future is far from certain.)
Q. You indicated that your major focus was to be better coming out of whatever this is we are in right now, than going in. How do you do that?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, there's a number of things that go into that. I think the first and foremost is coming out in good shape in the wide range of scrutinies that we always get during these downturns.
Scrutinies. New Year, new MBA jargon!
When we start into a downturn and companies are reducing their expenditures in advertising and marketing and sponsorship, they are obviously going through a process that they are deciding what's more valuable to them, where they get most value to the dollar spent.
In prior downturns -- and I would add to that, in my experience, every time we have a downturn, there was even more scrutiny than last time, and there's better scrutiny, because companies have learned how to do it better. They have better analytics and outside consultants, etc., etc.
Oh yeah, America is really feeling the effects of companies' improved scrutinies and those analytics. What did Obama say today? "We arrived at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility."
So in prior downturns, we have performed very well in that regard, because our value model, in terms of spending a dollar with the PGA TOUR versus spending a dollar versus X-Sport versus spending a dollar in Y-Sport, we come out very well. The first step is to win that contest and to come out ahead. If we are coming out ahead in those tests and those challenges, that absolutely positions us better for the future.
The second thing is that we just take advantage of the environment to work hard on our cost structure, challenge ourselves, although, we like to think that we do that all the time, but even more intensely, and be more efficient coming out of it.
And on that note, my jet is prepped and waiting, so I'm outta here once we finish up.
And the third thing is, use the period to where we are not winning that contest, where we are in a situation where we are sliding, use the opportunity to fix whatever problem it is that created that slide and structurally make changes that give us more value.
Let's see, how about working on the dreaded WGC's? The Fixed Cup's version three in year three? Competing tournaments during majors and WGC's? Boring product fueled by excessive course setup and demise of shotmaking?
Get your cliche and sports metaphor boards out...
So that's where we are at full-court press to do. We are going to take some hits. Everybody is going to take some hits in this environment. But if it's cyclical, we'll come through it and we want to position it to get back into a solid growth pattern.
This answer about the decline of newspapers seemed to be an improvement over the one I got at Sherwood.
Let's say we have a PGA TOUR event in St. Louis this year, we're there once during the year for four days of competition. The market doesn't view it -- the intensity level of the fans isn't such that they really have to have somebody that covers that sport for them.
So when you are coming to chopping budgets, a dedicated golf writer is going to come on the chopping block before somebody that covers a team sport. That's just the way it is.
I went out to my driveway and picked up my local newspaper and thought I had lost a few sections of it. It got quite thin on some days. But I don't know where it leads.
To be able to live in Pittsburgh or Detroit or anywhere and see a familiar name dedicated to your newspaper writing about a sport is a good thing for our sport. Losing that is a bad thing for our sport. But I can't quantify it in terms of what it really means to the fan base.
Ah the first John Daly question of the new year...
But if a player comments, if a player says, "I was fined $50," and he was fined $10,000, we might correct the record. But that's the extent of our commentary. That's up to the player, whether the player wants to keep it confidential or not.
So that was my response to the John Daly situation. I did say that I am not clarifying or changing his commentary on his suspension, which by definition means that he is generally correct in what he said.
Now, why don't we talk about it or give out the details. One, we don't feel like people really care that much. We don't get emails from fans saying, Why don't you tell us. So we don't think there's this hunger for that information.
No, there's no hunger...just reporters all over the world writing about it!
Two, candidly, we don't have that much of it, and we don't want to remind people about it. I'm just being straightforward. If somebody -- and remember now, in our sport, a bad thing is a bad word; it's not getting indicted usually. It's a bad word. But we don't want to remind people by saying, we fined such-and-such a player $5,000 for saying a bad word. It's just reminding them that he said a bad word.
In most cases, people don't know he said a bad word; somebody was standing at the ropes, a marshal or a fan who brought it to our attention, for a fellow competitor, and the player got fined. So usually it's a very small amount of people that know about the kind of attractions that we get, and we see no reason to publicize it.
If we had a problem of any magnitude, if we had a conduct problem, if we were faced with any significant issues where a player is not showing integrity or respect for the game, we might have a very different attitude.
Thankfully John Daly would never demonstrate anything that, wait, continue digging this hole...
I mean, I can understand in the NBA that if a guy jumps into the stands and gets into a fistfight, if I the Commissioner, I would pretty much feel like I had to tell the public about that, because there's a demand to know. We don't have those kind of situations.
No, our guys just take spectators digital cameras and smash them into trees.
And finally an unusual and unusually succinct answer on Tiger's comeback:
Q. But do you expect him to come back better than he was?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I'm not going to comment on my expectations.
Introducing Golf Digest's Hot List homage to the latest equipment, Mike Stachura writes:
The USGA is unequivocal about average golfers: Despite decades of naysayers and experts alike suggesting that the average handicap is not dropping, has not dropped and never will drop, the fact is, it has. Let's say that again: The average handicap of all golfers -- men, women and children -- has decreased consistently for the past 15 years. The average handicap today is two strokes better than it was in the early 1990s, according to research provided to Golf Digest by the USGA's Golf Handicap & Information Network (GHIN). This decrease coincides with a remarkable decade of equipment innovation that has brought us titanium drivers in every shape and size, game-changing hybrids and oversize putters.
It's not the improved athleticism?
Anyway, reader Jordan noted that the most astounding element of the Hot List package was this comparison of drivers in the post-persimmon years. All were made by Taylor-Made and photographed by Jim Herity:
Michael Bamberger's piece commiserating with the USGA because the street value of its investments dropped from $300 million to $200 million during 2008 was misleading in the extreme.
What possible difference can it make whether the USGA has $300 or $200 million stashed away so long as verges on the impossible for them not to take in more money than they spend in any given year? So long as the US Open exists the USGA can't avoid being an extremely profitable 501C3 entity.
Only once since the USGA was founded in 1895 has there been a year when the USGA spent more than it took, that happening a few years ago under the hands-on management of the most misguided president in USGA history - one Walter Driver, who moaned about money as he was leasing a corporate jet to shuttle members of the USGA executive committee to places they weren't needed.
If the USGA is cutting back on its contributions to other golf entities, the reason is likely a belated understanding that they have simply blown a lot of money. During the period of the USGA messages to "really, really love golf" and "for the good of the game," precisely nothing has happened. And nothing began happening a long time before the economy went in the tank last year.
As a recreational activity, distinct from playing for unGodly sums of prize money, golf teeters on the edge of obscurity. The game has been no better than flat for at least a decade in terms of rounds played or golf balls sold. Economic downfall or not, more courses are shutting down than closing.
Sure the USGA has been the primary giver to the PGA Tour's First Tee program. So what then has the First Tee accomplished other than the spin that the PGA Tour is a generous operation. At random, of course, there have to be First Tee centers that do good things, like the one nourished in San Francisco by former USGA president Sandy Tatum whose virtues and skills are such that one wishes he had devoted himself to things that matter, such as running the CIA.
Giving a lot of money to the First Tee has also kept the heat off the USGA about US Open prize money, a pittance compared to the money earned by athletes in team sports, about 15% of the gross compared to more than 50% in the National Football League.
What might the USGA have done? For openers it should have been shrieking that golf was being wrecked by the wicked and unnecessary growth of maintaining courses, which have shot up faster than the cost of health care or college tuition. The promotional ads on USGA telecasts, of tremendous value, should have been devoted to ONLY the matter of golf course maintenance. Those two morons we see every year saying they will renew playing when it stops raining should have been dumped into a septic tank.
Meanwhile the USGA spends $16 million to overhaul a museum nobody will ever attend. And it starts charging admission on the grounds that visitors will reject free admission because that leads to "an assumption that there’s nothing of value there.” That's like saying the Yankees would have serious attendance problems if they let everyone in free.
When I first stumbled on the USGA headquarters in 1972 it never occurred to me that people would wander into the Museum in numbers. Far Hills, New Jersey was and remains remote. And there were not a lot of folks in the neighborhood, what with Far Hills then having the most restrictive zoning ordinance in the United States - 10 acres per new house.
As the then Assistant Director of the USGA I had no stated authority but I could sure sell those executive committees. I put on a dog and pony show with photos of that building, with what many felt was the single best rendering of a hanging staircase in America, to die for.
It's hard for me to even imagine, but it is so, that the USGA, in that setting with 62 acres to die for, is regarded as an unhappy place in which to earn a living. Many people of quality, who thought they were on a mission working for the USGA, realized dumb things were happening (see above). Some quit; others were fired.
Those left should blame me for having to be miserable in Far Hills. I wanted it because the main building was the work of a great American architect and it was remote enough so that some staff members might be able afford to play golf. Above all, though, was the existence of decent public schools for our kids less than 20 minutes away.
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.
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.
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.”
Jon Show at Sports Business Daily offers more details on how the "realignment" will play out.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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?
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.
"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.
"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.