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It's a boring course. You can fall asleep on it because you're always hitting the same kind of shots--woods or long irons.  JACK NICKLAUS on Firestone



Why Tiger Hates Coming To The Press Tent, Vol. 301

After his opening round 64 at Bay Hill...

Q. Does Elin still cook pasta?
TIGER WOODS: She does.

Q. Do you still eat it?
TIGER WOODS: Of course. (Laughter).

That's great, remind him of the food poisoning his wife gave him!  


Palmer As An Honorary Starter

In reading yesterday that Arnold Palmer was considering the club's invitation to serve as the Masters Honorary Starter, I noticed that he's sounding more likely to reprise one of the tournament's great traditions.

While reading Scott Michaux's piece on it today, I wondered about this quote from Palmer:

"I'm giving it some careful consideration now that I have stopped playing competitively.  And you know Augusta is one of my very favorite places, and of course Bill Payne is a good friend and I think he is a great guy to have as the chairman.

"So as of this day, I am really giving that some serious consideration. It isn't that I have anything against doing it. I just want it to be the right time when I decide to do it. That's all."

Is he giving his more careful consideration because of the timing, or because Billy Payne is the chairman (and you-know-who is not running the show). 


Sharp Park In Different Hands?

Thanks to reader Mike for this latest story in the San Francisco city golf course saga. This time it's Alister MacKenzie's Sharp Park and Pacifica's interest in operating the facility.


"To make the golf course a little more competitive to par"

Doug Ferguson looks at the utter meaninglessness of par as a barometer of a successful championship, and why everyone still clings to it's value even though they know better.

"We can get caught up too much in numbers," Ben Crenshaw said Monday. "You still add up your score at the end of the round. And they're still going to give the trophy away to the guy with the lowest score."

That's worth noting because twice in the last three weeks on the Florida swing, the courses have played as a par 70. Mark Wilson won the four-man playoff at the Honda Classic after finishing at 5-under 275 at PGA National, which sounds like a more grueling week than if they had finished at 13-under 275.

Now, Palmer has converted Nos. 4 and 16 at Bay Hill into par-4s, and it will play as a par 70 for the first time in the Arnold Palmer Invitational Thursday through Sunday.

"I did it just to make the golf course a little more competitive to par," Palmer said.

Oh joy! Thank God the NCAA tournament will be on at the same time.

A couple of players earn big points for these comments...

Todd Hamilton might have the best solution. The former British Open champion would like to see only one number on the signs at every tee, and that would be to identify what hole you're playing.

"Get rid of the par. Get rid of the yardage," he said. "Go play the course."


If a player was trailing by one shot coming down the stretch, the last reasonable place to make up ground was the 16th. Find the fairway and you would have a shot at reaching in two and make birdie at worst.

"I thought 16 was a great swing hole," Trevor Immelman said. "You have to hit the fairway, and then you might have a mid-iron to the green. And if you miss the fairway and lay up, you could spin the ball off the green and then you could make bogey. I felt like it was such a great hole coming to the end of the tournament."

And, in lieu of one of his snappy baseball metaphors, David Fay at least hovered on the verge of a Yogi-ism:

"I do think there's a school of thought out there that the USGA is fixated on par," Fay said. "We're not fixated on par, but we like the idea that par is a good score."

Not fixated, but we really fixate on the idea of as a good score.


FedEx Cup (Not) On Their Minds

Damon Hack (here) and Doug Ferguson (here) both cover the Washington D.C.-reduced field story, with not a single player expressing concern about the limited field eliminating a key week for some to pick up valuable FedEx Cup points.

Just amazes me how these players fail to grasp the real meaning of tour golf.


What Tree Management Can Do For You...

Bradley Klein on Augusta National's drop in the Golfweek Top 100 Classic Course ranking :
 The biggest news this year is that the country's most prominent championship venue has lost valuable ground. After years of renovation and modernization designed to keep Augusta National a fresh test for the Masters, the storied 1933 co-design by Alister MacKenzie and Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones today clings to a spot among the very elite, having fallen seven spots in the last year to No. 10.

It's a rating that folks at most courses would die for. But for students of architecture (including our team of 410 raters), the slide is what happens when a prominent course stretches and narrows itself contrary to its original design intent. In an era when virtually every other championship course is removing trees to recapture interesting angles of play, Augusta National in Augusta, Ga., (joined only by Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club, which dropped from No. 48 to No. 52) is that rare classic layout that's still planting them.

The two newcomers to the Classic list, No. 82 Eastward Ho! Country Club in Chatham, Mass. and No. 83 Engineers Club in Roslyn, N.Y., both got there through sustained restoration programs that included greens recapture, putting back lost bunkers and sustained tree management.


"The secret to getting Tiger to play in an event, by the way, is to hire him."

Gary Van Sickle won't please Tiger with this column essentially outlining his playing schedule for the next few years:

The secret to getting Tiger to play in an event, by the way, is to hire him. Vickers never tumbled onto that fact or wasn't able to get it done. Woods explained his absence from the International, which he played twice and never returned, by saying he simply didn't like the golf course at Castle Rock, Colo.

The smartest operators were Buick, which signed Woods to an endorsement deal, with Tiger subsequently making the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines and the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Mich., regular stops on his schedule while also also appearing at the Buick Classic at Westchester; and American Express, which guaranteed Tiger's presence in its World Golf Championship events by inking an endorsement deal.

Looking ahead, the fallout from Tiger's commitment to play regularly in the new Washington event means one less tournament he's going to play the rest of the year. Unless he's going to add to his schedule -- which seems unlikely -- adding a Tiger here means taking a Tiger away from somebody else.




So let's do the math: that's four majors, a Players, two Buicks, three WGCs and possibly four FedEx Cups. That's 14 tournaments. He has won four times at Bay Hill and lives only a few miles from the course. That's 15, the Tour minimum, and the same number he played last year.



Congressional's Share

Leonard Shapiro reports that $2.5 million is being offered to Congressional's members for a week of golf this July two weeks of golf this July and next.* Shoot, that's more than many of the U.S. Open sites are netting these days, and Congressional doesn't have to emasculate their other courses with tent villages. Well, not until 2011.


"It's not the grooves. It's the ball."

Jennifer Gardner reports on Mark Calcavecchia's stance on the ball versus grooves.
In the late 1980s, PODS Championship winner Mark Calcavecchia was at the top of his game. He was so good, in fact, that some competitors started to complain about his equipment.

That may have been one reason why the U.S. Golf Association looked at square grooves for the first time.

"Pretty ridiculous, actually," said Calcavecchia when the issue came up at his PODS Championship press conference last week. "That actually was a shot I hit at the Honda Classic that Jack [Nicklaus] and Tom Watson and a few other guys went berserk over when I gashed it out of the right hay and sucked it back on the 16th green."

The USGA recently released guidelines for phasing out square, or U, grooves in irons and wedges. Critics have complained that the grooves help players get the ball out of rough more easily, thus losing the half-stroke penalty that an inaccurate hit into the thick stuff is supposed to cause.

"It's a non-issue to me now," Calcavecchia said. "Everybody's grooves are pretty much the same, blades, or Pings or Callaways, whatever.

"It's not the grooves. It's the ball. You hit a slice out there and it starts dropping to the left, not like the old days with the woods and balls went everywhere. Duck hooks ... guys used to hit it all over the place. Now it's bombs away and straight and far."


"The player testing fell a bit flat"

I had a chance to re-read E. Michael Johnson's fine overview of the USGA's groove smokescreen and discovered that I had stopped reading the online version prematurely. There was more!

And after having read most of the USGA's Second Report On Spin Generation, I was left with questions about the science behind the conclusions. Now, maybe I missed it, so please help me if I did.

First, from Johnson's piece:

"They made a brilliant lab study, but the player testing fell a bit flat," said Dr. Benoit Vincent, chief technical officer for TaylorMade. "I think there was a bit of a rush to conclusion about what actually happens out on the course. In some areas they have made an emotional conclusion based on a global macro-assessment of the data."

Translation: Vincent has some issues with the test protocol and the proposal itself. For starters, he would prefer a larger sample for the player test and a firmer definition of what constitutes "light rough."

I was wondering if I was the only one who couldn't find a definition for rough or light rough. Since this groove stuff is all about the rough and grass moisture levels within the rough grass blades, the rought height would seem like key information in understanding the player testing and how that relates to championship golf.

It's also important considering Frank Thomas's comments on the lack of influence U-grooves have on hay over 4 inches. 


Oh and while quiblling, about that field testing.  From what I have read in the report, six developmental tour players and 9 PGA Tour players (unnamed) conducted this elaborate field study.

Does that sound like a skimpy sample size to you?


"The FedEx Cup hasn’t changed anything yet."

Peter Kostis really needs to pick up, oh I don't know, say, a book on the power of positive thinking.

I mean, how can one be so cynical:

The FedEx Cup hasn’t changed anything yet. Okay, maybe it's still a little too soon for this, but I don’t see how the much-hyped FedEx Cup has changed anything on the PGA Tour so far. The stars have not committed to playing a lot more events and TV ratings are not exactly surging upward.

As the Tour season plays out and we get into June and July the points race will likely take on more meaning, but right now, it’s business as usual out there. And please—quit telling the winner each week in the press room that his most important accomplishment was gaining 4,500 FedEx points! His most important accomplishment was beating 143 other players!

Peter, think positively. It's The Secret!  


Changing Groove Spec Means Higher Prices!?'s Blubber and Gorge actually mock some of the equipment manufacturers for claiming in this Jerry Potter USA Today piece that a groove spec change will raise iron prices.

To Solheim that means a return to V-grooves, because he doubts clubs can be cast to the "aerospace specs" that would be required.

"No doubt we'd have to redesign every groove," he says, echoing Vincent's opinion.

Grooves might have to be milled into the face and then buffed to meet the USGA's guidelines. Solheim says that would add another expense to the manufacturing process.

Vincent estimates the changes could add 10% to the suggested retail of TaylorMade's premium irons, priced at $1,299 for a set of eight.

Further, Solheim says, the manufacturing process might require softer metal, which would degrade quicker and limit durability.



"I pray that it doesn't come to that."

There have been several stories like this Mark Gillespie piece that quote Ping Golf Chairman and CEO John Solheim complaining about the USGA's proposed groove rule change.

"It's straight back to where we were before," Solheim said.
 "Will the average player get the same enjoyment they get out of shots now?" Solheim asked. "The average golfer likes to see a little spin on the green and feel they've accomplished something."

Solheim said Ping will submit comments to the USGA and will weigh its options.

Asked if that could mean more litigation, Solheim said, "I pray that it doesn't come to that."

What am I missing here?

Won't this rule change be a Godsend for equipment manufacturers, who can now sell new irons to all those wannabe "elite golfers" by 2009? 


"The question stands: Tiger, are you listening?"

Garry Smits should be receiving a scolding lecture from one of Tiger's stenographers after this column suggesting that appearances in some other cities would only add to his credibility when talking about growing the game:
Woods has frequently said he wants to bring golf to kids and minorities. Wouldn't a great way be entering, just once per five years or so, Tour events he has never or rarely played? Wouldn't that be great for the charities of those events?

What if Woods played Tour events in Houston, Los Angeles and Tampa, cities with large African-American and Hispanic populations? What about the Zurich Classic and the shot in the arm he would give the New Orleans area?

Right now, the events with Woods in the field are healthy. Too many that don't get him are struggling.

Perhaps it's unfair to Woods that he makes or breaks events, but there it is.

The question stands: Tiger, are you listening?

"Mr. Brand commissioned architect Robert Trent Jones to plant more than 3,500 trees..."

Thanks to reader Edward for sending the link to Gerry Dulac's definitive piece on the Oakmont tree removal program, which appeared around Nissan Open time and when I was preoccupied with that.

This is one you'll want to print out, assuming you are a member of a club debating tree removal. I know, a longshot, but just thought I'd put it out there.

The decision to remove trees, sometimes without the consent of the membership, led to one of the most contentious periods in club history, pitting members who liked shaded fairways against those who sought to restore Oakmont to its original design and, by doing so, improve the health of its turf.

But, with the U.S. Open looming four months away, most Oakmont members appear to have embraced the new look. Trees have been replaced with high fescue grasses that sway in the wind, creating a Scottish look.

"If it's not 100 percent, I don't know who is on the other side," said Oakmont golf professional Bob Ford. "There is no grumbling at all. Everybody is very upbeat about it."

But that look began to change in the 1960s when Mr. Brand took umbrage with a comment made by writer Herbert Warren Wind in The New Yorker magazine. Mr. Wind wrote that the U.S. Open was returning to Oakmont, and referred to the course as "that ugly, old brute."

"Well, I got to thinking, why can't it be a beautiful old brute," Mr. Brand was quoted as saying in "Oakmont 100 Years," a book detailing the club's history.

And so began a makeover in which Mr. Brand commissioned architect Robert Trent Jones to plant more than 3,500 trees -- pin oak, crab apple, flowering cherry, blue spruce -- around the property. It was known as the beautification of Oakmont, a program designed to enhance the appearance of the course but one that would ultimately lead to an unsettling era in the club's rich history.

It changed Oakmont from the links-style course that Mr. Fownes had embraced to a parkland-style course like New York's Winged Foot, site of last year's Open, and Merion, a legendary course near Philadelphia. It was a look that likely would have had Mr. Fownes spinning in his grave.

"They were beautiful trees," said Mr. Smith, who started the tree removals. "It went from a links-type course to a very pretty, shaded Western Pennsylvania-type of course. But it wasn't unique."


Rough Matters?

Now posted is my latest column on the "value" of rough in light of the USGA's decision on grooves.


USGA Book Award 2007

Jim Finegan wins the USGA Book Award for his beautiful effort, Where Golf Is Great.


Golfweek's 2007 Rankings

I got my first look at the Golfweek Top 100 (not posted online). Obviously it was hard not to giggle at the site of Augusta National dropping from 3rd to 10th (Dr. MacKenzie, Bobby Jones and every other golfer with use of their eyes has been wondering what took so long). It was also great to see Herbert Fowler's Eastward Ho! finally get the recognition it deserves by making the list, though this essentially ends its reign as the best kept secret in America.

On the modern side, Rustic Canyon is somehow hanging on at No. 100 in spite of well, we won't go there.  Not making the list was Erin Hills, the new Hurdzan-Fry-Whitten design outside of Milwaukee. Golfweek's Brad Klein obviously didn't give it a very high score:

Errant Hills Award: Erin Hills, Hartford, Wisc. A much-ballyhooed new co-design of Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten and professional designers Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. Too bad it opened a season early in late 2006, though inadequate fescue turf cover is the least of this sprawling daily fee’s problems. The U.S. Golf Association heralds it as a likely future U.S. Open site, but the routing is a mess, in large part because Whitten insisted on moving no dirt at all – thereby taking trendy “minimalism” to its absurd extreme. The raw site is great, but half a dozen holes are inexcusably awkward and much of the bunkering is overexcavated and unmaintainable. The 593-yard par-5 10th hole offers a blind, fall away Biarritz green; the short par-4 second putting surface ends before it begins; and the completely blind par-3 seventh “Dell Hole” plays up and over to the bottom of a vast taco shell. They should have thought “inside the bun” on this one.


Johnson's Groove Story

Golf World's E. Michael Johnson does a nice job of covering the groove issues, with some surprising comments from Tour players about the change (Davis Love is against it, Jason Gore for it).

But here's the more interesting stuff in the cover story:

If implemented, the rule likely will not have the impact rolling back the ball or reducing clubhead size (two ideas consistently bandied about) would. But it is groundbreaking territory nonetheless. The proposal is the culmination of a two-year research study, and the end result is that the USGA wants to reduce the impact of grooves to what it was 20 years ago--in some ways a make-up call for the perceived mishandling of the groove situation by the USGA in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Dick Rugge, the USGA's senior technical director, refuses to point fingers or lay the blame at his predecessors for the groove situation spinning out of control. "The equipment is much better today and that made it much easier to do the research," he said. "We have more resources and more engineering people. And we had the impetus to do it, which was 20 years of data from the tour. That showed us there was a problem."

The USGA has never admitted there was a distance problem, even with 20 years of data and a long list of people who know the game well telling so. And we're in year 5 of the ball study, yet they pick grooves after 2 years and little demand for a rules change.

The data Rugge speaks of is a correlation coefficient using the PGA Tour's money list and four primary statistics--driving distance, greens in regulation, putting and driving accuracy--since 1980. It revealed that while as recently as the late 1980s accuracy was as much an indicator of success as putting, the relationship between accuracy and success is now almost nonexistent.

Therefore, data should show that rough isn't costing the top players much in the way of shots.

Oops, this chart accompanying the piece would seem to say otherwise:



"With the amount of tournaments we have that are invitationals, it doesn't make sense to do more."

Doug Ferguson reports on the inevitable player complaints about adding another invitational, you know, to speed up play in that hot D.C. July weather (because it's the only place it gets hot!).
"It's the most totally wrong thing I've heard of in a long time that's sticking it to the players," [Rich] Beem said March 8.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has said that the AT&T National, to be played July 5-8 in Washington with Woods as the host, likely would be considered along the lines of tournaments run by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer that have limited fields.

The Memorial Tournament has a minimum of 105 players, while the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill has a minimum of 120 players, although 133 eligible players already have committed to play next week in Orlando.
"I was shocked when I heard that," Brad Faxon said. "We've got players looking for spots, and we're replacing a tournament that had a full field. With the amount of tournaments we have that are invitationals, it doesn't make sense to do more."
"We're trying to get back more spots throughout the year, and all of a sudden we're going to have a limited-field tournament? That goes against everything the players voted on with the playoff system," Beem said. "If that stays the way it is, I promise you there will be some action taken."

He said players can override the board if it gets support of 66 percent of the voting membership.