What strikes us--in truth, assaults us--are the massive sandhills, the profusion of gorse (overpoweringly golden in spring, impenetrable at any time), and the heady views. Then comes the challenge of playing the course. And that, by and large, is a matter of the bunkers and the bounces and the "blinds." Half a dozen holes, beginning with the 2nd, entail a blind drive over a dune ridge to reach the narrow fairway that--we must take on faith--lies somewhere on the far side. Add to that three or four occasions when the green itself is hidden. JAMES FINEGAN on Royal County Down
As shocking as it may seem, turns out that the sudden approval of The Donald's Scottish golf course may not have been entirely on the up and up.
Eddie Barnes reports for Scotland on Sunday:
In a highly unusual move, the national director of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has written to Finance Secretary John Swinney, reminding ministers of the need to be "politically impartial" and "transparent" when handling planning applications. Dr Veronica Burbridge warns Swinney that her members have been in contact to "express concerns" about the way the case has been handled.
The move follows a week of turmoil after ministers decided they, not the local council, would decide whether plans by American tycoon Donald Trump to build a huge golfing complex in Aberdeenshire should go ahead.
It emerged that a day before the decision, First Minister Alex Salmond, who is also the local MSP for the area, met two of Trump's representatives to discuss the case.
It then emerged that the pair had also met the Scottish Government's chief planner on the day the decision was made.
The matter led to a bitter political row which continues to rage, with opposition parties accusing Salmond of "sleaze", while the SNP accused them of risking an investment of up to £1bn.
In the RPTI letter, Burbridge states: "The handling of this case has raised a number of matters of principle. Members of the institute have expressed concerns that the manner in which this case is handled should not appear to damage the integrity of the planning system."
It adds: "They stress the need to ensure that procedures are transparent, respected and clearly understood by all those involved. Members of the institute are concerned that the approach to scrutiny of this case should be politically impartial and according to planning law and planning policy."
Opposition parties seized on the letter last night, claiming it supported their own concerns.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen said: "This is an exceptional move which underlines the seriousness of the institute's concerns. This matter has grave implications for the conduct of Government.
"Ministers are ultimately responsible for the actions of Government and there is a fundamental lack of transparency and openness in the SNP Government's approach to this issue."
Swinney is expected to make a statement to Parliament this week answering questions about the Government's handling.
No one was available for comment from the Scottish Government.
"We have now established in court that our golf ball patents are valid, and that Titleist Pro V1 golf balls infringe those patents," she said. "We will immediately start the process of requesting an appropriate remedy, including injunctive relief and damages."
And from Fairhaven...
"The jury's mixed decision has created ambiguity that will have to be resolved post-trial," said Joseph Nauman, an Acushnet executive vice president.
Since it was 29 degrees in Malibu Canyon this morning and 31 when I pulled into Sherwood, you can imagine how many people will be rushing out to see Rory Sabbatini attempting to repeat his trio of triple bogies while Monty sees if he can run faster than Rory and perhaps even catch the hole cutter during Saturday's round at Sherwood.
Q. How would you characterize the course setup today, and what do you think of the job the field staff does in general?
TIGER WOODS: Well, the field staff set it up probably a little bit more difficult today pin wise, but the greens were soft. I mean, that's the thing that allows us to be aggressive. I fire at pins that I normally don't fire at here. One, we had no wind, and we had greens that were backing balls up. We had to watch out for spinning the ball back too much with 9 irons and wedges. They did all they can do to hide the pins and make it a little more difficult, but when you've got receptive greens then the guys are going to shoot good scores.
I walked on all 18 of them while touring the course with John Mutch of the PGA Tour field staff and while the greens may not have been brick hard, to call them soft is an exaggeration. Several were frozen until nearly 10 a.m.
Admittedly, Sherwood's greens and today's locations did allow for shots to be funneled to the hole, but soft?
If those are soft and guys are spinning it back, then maybe U-grooves do have to go. I'd hate to think what Tiger considres to be a firm green.
From the wire...
Callaway sued Acushnet last year in a Delaware federal court for patent infringement relating to Callaway's three-layer golf balls. Acushnet acknowledged that its Titleist Pro V1 balls had infringed the Callaway patent, but claimed that those patents were not valid.Clever!
A jury found that four of Callaway's contested patents were valid, while one was invalid, Bloomberg News reported today. An additional trial is expected to be held to assess damages.
Newly engaged and already feisty, the Shark lashed out at the different condtions during round two in South Africa.
The 52-year-old Australian carded a 70 to finish in a six-man group on 145 that also included Britain's Darren Clarke.
But Norman was critical of the way the course was set up for the second round.
"It's been two totally different courses, the course was more difficult yesterday," he told reporters.
"They made a few adjustments to the tees and they did 100 percent irrigation last night so the greens, which they also did not cut, were softer and there was not as much release on the fairways.
"I believe, if you are going to be fair, you need to be consistent in setting up a course," added Norman.
Ah, the dreaded fair word.
Tournament director Mike Stewart defended the changes.
"Yesterday was very windy and the course was incredibly difficult as you could tell from the scores," Stewart told Reuters. "Some holes were exceptionally demanding.
"We felt we had to do something based on the weather forecast for today, which had wind speeds 5-mph stronger all day with gusts of up to 30-mph."
Stewart said the changes were made in order to make the course play as it did on Thursday.
"When we brought tees forward it was to make it play like it did on the first day," he said. "Despite the stronger wind players would be able to use the same club off the tee.
"We also had to slow down the greens because the ball was moving around in the afternoon yesterday. The possibility of an even stronger wind today put us in a very difficult position.
"If balls were moving around we may have had to stop play and we would look very silly if we brought the players in glorious sunshine."
Conditions were so difficult on Friday there were only 17 sub-par rounds, leader Kingston calling it a day for grinding out regulation figures.
"I was so solid on the back nine, I only missed two or three greens, but the wind was gusting so hard it was pushing you in all directions," said the South African."With the ball oscillating on the greens and the wind pushing you from behind it was so tough making a decent putt. It took a lot of energy just to stand still."
You gotta love Fred Couples.
Talking about his desire to be a Ryder Cup captain, quoted by Thomas Bonk in the LA Times:
"I can promise you there are 12 guys who don't want to do 75% of the stuff. My goal would be to slough some of the stuff off."
Couples said his first move would be to appoint Michael Jordan and Robin Williams as assistant captains.
"I would have Michael Jordan tell stories every single night and I would have Robin Williams tell jokes for 30 minutes. That's what I want," he said. "I don't want a rah-rah speech. My God. If you need a rah-rah speech to play the Ryder Cup, you've got some serious issues.
"If we lose, we lose because we lose, but I can promise you we'd have a good time."
Furyk raised an eyebrow when he heard Couples' choices as assistants. But he had no problem with the potential candidacy of Couples, who has played on five Ryder Cup teams and four Presidents Cup teams.
"Anyone with that kind of passion, I think Freddie would do a good job," he said.
"What you're trying to prevent is the kids look up to athletes, and you don't want to have kids going down the wrong path at an early age and knowing that they can get away with it."
Sherwood was abuzz today...with talk of the Mitchell Report. This meant all of us got to listen to Art Spander do a live radio interview (actually, Art talked loud enough that he really didn't need to phone this one in).
When Tiger Woods came in the cart barn after his opening 69, he was asked by Doug Ferguson about the possibility of such a report in golf had the new drug testing program not been started, and Tiger said what I've been ranting and raving about forever and which no one in a position of power has said, which is odd considering their devotion to family values.
Q. If the TOUR doesn't have this testing now, do you think there eventually could have been a Mitchell report for golf?
TIGER WOODS: I think it could happen. What you're trying to prevent is the kids look up to athletes, and you don't want to have kids going down the wrong path at an early age and knowing that they can get away with it.
Past champions used to be automatically exempt through age 65. This week, an R&A spokesman confirmed a change; past champions will now be exempt through the age of 60. In the short term, the change really only affects one person: Tom Watson himself.Now this has me a bit confused...
He turned 58 in September, and he'll play in '08 at Royal Birkdale, where he won the '83 Open. He'll play in '09 at Turnberry, where he won the '77 Open. And he'll play his final open in 2010, at the Old Course, on a links he loves even if it never loved him back. He'll be 60 then and one of the most respected players in the history of the Open championship. He'll be done.I guess this means the policy is being grandfathered in?
As usual Watson handles it with class and perspective:
"I'm fine with the decision," Watson said Wednesday night. "I think it's a good thing, good for golf. Make room for the kids."
"Fairways are much tighter…and this is further evidenced by the fact that Fred Funk -- who is the benchmark for fairways -- is down in accuracy about 6 percent"
Bob Harig catches up with Hank Haney, who makes a long overdue point about Tiger's driving and the accuracy decline of other top players.
And the easy place to look was at Woods' driving accuracy, which had dropped from over 70 percent in 2000 to under 60 percent this year -- with varying degrees of difficulty in hitting fairways during that time.
"Wouldn't it be more relevant to compare Tiger to the other players?'' said Haney, who pointed out that most players have lost accuracy over the past five years.
Among the reasons Haney cites are the fact that players are hitting the ball farther, fairways are tighter, they are using more drivers off the tee in an attempt to overpower courses and they are using drivers with longer shafts (45 inches now, compared to 43).
"Simple geometry says that even a driver that averages one yard farther will miss more fairways,'' he said. "And Tiger is much longer" -- 293.3 yards in 2002 versus 302.4 yards in 2007 -- "than he was.
"Fairways are much tighter … and this is further evidenced by the fact that Fred Funk -- who is the benchmark for fairways -- is down in accuracy about 6 percent, despite the fact that he has lost distance since 2002.''
Remember, those in favor of grooves regulation suggest these guys thump away at the ball because they have grooves, yet have never mentioned that the decrease in accuracy could also be influenced by narrowing fairway widths.
Aberdeenshire Council also dumped the committee chairman, councillor Martin Ford, who had used his casting vote to break a 7-7 impasse that threatened to scupper the plans on environmental grounds.And...
The Scottish government said last week it was intervening because the project to build two championship golf courses, around 1,000 homes, a luxury hotel and 36 villas on a pristine stretch of northeast coastline, was too "important" to be dealt with by the local council.
Trump said he was very pleased by the decision.
"It's unprecedented what happened," he told Reuters by telephone from his office in New York. "The people of Aberdeenshire so loved the project that the council voted for it, unanimously."
He said Ford was removed as chairman of the council's infrastructure and services committee at the emergency meeting after a vote of no confidence was supported 26-10, with 29 councillors abstaining.
A Scottish government spokesman said the move would not affect the review as ministers would make the final decision.
Neil Hobday, director of the Trump project, said the group felt vindicated by the council's action.
"For us it is a validation or affirmation and it (the decision) did not surprise us as we have support of the people of this region and I think the politicians who are representing them listened," he said.
Ford could not be reached for comment. But at the time of the decision he defended his vote against Trump, saying the risk to the local environment was "too high a price to pay".
"Geoff Ogilvy uses the word ‘fun’ to describe what he looks for in championship golf,” says Clayton. "I’m not so sure about that, but it should certainly be interesting. Interesting is fun, after all.
"This is a difficult enough golf course, with the wind and the water and the way it is routed. So all we really tried to do was avoid the mistake of embarrassing the players or orchestrating a winning score by distorting the dimensions of the golf course. For me, that’s what goes on at the US Open; the dimensions of the course get distorted. And that is our role, to avoid that happening.
"So we don’t want fun in the sense that players are making birdies all day. I want guys challenged to make good decisions and hit good shots. I hate to see them hitting a shot a foot off the fairway and having to chip out sideways. All that does is eliminate decision-making."
The Pacifica City Council has petitioned San Francisco to not even think of touching MacKenzie's Sharp Park. Included is their resolution, printed in the Pacifica paper.
"America no longer can say it produces the vast majority of the best players in the world - arguably it does not even produce the majority"
The long-term future of golf in Australia should be tied to golf in Japan and Asia and there has been movement on that front in recent months.
Only the combined strength of these small tours - given the measure of a big tour is America or Europe - will see them create something significant, something to rival Europe and something that is worth a sponsor investing a considerable amount of money.
The problem with rolling three tours into one is that the players are always going to look at the game the way players always have and that is 'how does this affect me?'
Big decisions must be made with the long-term benefit of the game in mind and clearly the long-term benefit of the professional game is to create a tour to rival the best in the world.
America no longer can say it produces the vast majority of the best players in the world - arguably it does not even produce the majority - and that balance will only continue to tip in favour of the 'foreigners' as the rest of the world uncovers talented players with games that are capable of winning big tournaments including the biggest events in America.
I was stunned to enter Sherwood's cart barn today to find a jovial group of writers parsing the Colin Montgomerie transcript, only to hear things like "he really can be nice if he wants" and "he's not the fat shlub I thought he would be" and "how's that mysterious looking shredded chicken?"
Apparently Monty put on quite the show for his 9:15 press conference, which is about three hours before any sane individual would arrive to listen to any tour player but Tiger. However, there are those with early deadlines so the turnout was lovely. You can read the lovefest here, or get the overview from Mark Lamport-Stokes.
Or I can put it more succinctly: Monty and Captain Faldo have figured out a way to give the impression that they get along.
"I've spoken to Nick and it's fine," Montgomerie told a news conference on Wednesday during preparation for this week's Target World Challenge. "It doesn't concern me."
After being criticised by Faldo for an apparent lack of team spirit at the Seve Trophy in September, Montgomerie countered by saying such comments should have been directed to him personally instead of through the media.
With that hatchet now seemingly buried, Montgomerie believes it is paramount for Europe to maintain the team unity that has helped them win the Ryder Cup five times in the last six years.
"Let's hope the ambiance of our European team remains as it has done throughout that time, meaning that we go in there relaxed, we go in there as a team," he said of next year's contest in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ah that's the team spirit!
Brent Read looks at Paul McNamee's attempt to mimic the antics of TPC Scottsdale's 16th hole at The Australian's 11th tee. While it screams of a "be careful what you wish for" scenario, there is great joy in reading Robert Allenby trying to dig himself out of a hole.
Allenby did little to endear himself in his home state of Victoria by claiming Melbourne was renowned for producing the "odd yahoo" at its tournaments, while Sydney produced a more refined spectator.Fast forward...
The par-three 11th is based on the famous 16th at the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona, where spectators line the hole and create an atmosphere more akin to a rock concert.
"There's no problem in the world with people being loud," Allenby said.
"I'm coming up to 17 years as a professional. I play in America for God's sake. That's the land of the loud. I don't have a problem with someone being loud on a hole. It's when people use foul and abusive language."
Asked whether he expected to be targeted given his strident criticism of the hole, Allenby replied: "I have my earplugs ready for 11, that's not a problem. I know people are going to come just for me.
"That's just the way it is. I'll deal with it. I'm here to win the tournament, I'm not here to come second.
"At golf tournaments, I'm used to people yelling. It's just when people are abusive and use (bad) language, that's not very nice because there's always a lot of kids at our tournaments."
Pressed on the differences between spectators in Melbourne and Sydney, Allenby suggested the affluence in Sydney's eastern suburbs meant the fans were more respectful.
"The areas around here are a little bit more subdued, sophisticated," he said.
"Obviously there's a lot more money in Sydney than in Melbourne. I don't mean that in a bad way because I am from Melbourne and I have a lot of friends there and people who support me.
"Melbourne seems to bring out the odd yahoo, while Sydney is not really renowned for that."
Allenby also advocated selling light beer at the tournament, as they do in the United States.
"Your average (beer), they're 4.9, 5 per cent," he said. "You down three of them and you're buzzing. It's not so much serving alcohol. It really depends on where and how much you serve."
"Woods either uses things as motivation to take his seemingly indestructible golf game to higher levels or simply blocks them out of his mind."*
Yahoo!'s Martin Rogers
is the only scribe (golf.com's Michael Walker also weighed in*) to cover the odd events at Tiger's Tuesday press conference, but he draws a much different conclusion from the incident than I have.
Despite the intrusion of a rogue television crew from a British dating program that tried to embarrass the world's No. 1, there was not a crack in his professional demeanor or a flicker of annoyance.
"Hi Tiger, my boyfriend is a big fan of yours, but he often calls your name out during sex," squealed a pile of mascara and cleavage from the third row. "Do you think he might be gay?"
"That's a very interesting question," replied Woods.
The conversation continued, with the woman making a suggestive comment about a golf club – too lewd for this online publication – and Woods giving a neutral answer.
"I think I should dump him and get back with my ex," the woman said of her "boyfriend" toward the end of her routine.
"I guess you have to figure that out," Woods said.
"I think I should meet someone new. Do you think I should join a dating Web site?"
With that, the woman and her camera crew were ordered to leave by tournament staff.
Immediately, the event's PR crew started fretting as to how annoyed Woods would have been by the exchange and how it might affect him.
Somehow, I don't think they need to worry.
Woods either uses things as motivation to take his seemingly indestructible golf game to higher levels or simply blocks them out of his mind. If more than a decade's worth of the best golfers in the world have failed to shake him out of his stride it will take more than a Spice Girl wannabe and her misguided humor to throw him off.
After sleeping on it, I'm of the school that this incident needs to be examined by the PGA Tour quite carefully. The AP's Doug Ferguson has noted for some time that these meet-and-greet sessions with Tiger are out of control. If I'm Tiger or his agent, I would have to see Tuesday's incident as more than just an annoying little incident, but instead as a serious security issue.
He certainly can handle a heckler better than just about anyone. But what if one of these mysterious TV types that now get access to press conferences so that the PGA Tour can reach out to the coveted youth demo included someone who wanted to do physical harm?