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While in the past 10 years or more the yardage held up as being suitable for a "championship" course ranged between 6,000 to 6,500 yards, this year's open championship was decided on a course approximately 7,000 yards long. But all courses can not be "championship" courses, that is, links where championships are decided, for they would be too expensive for the average club.



Las Vegas On Las Vegas

I watched parts of the rain-delayed Las Vegas final round as it moved yesterday from ESPN on ABC, to ESPN on ABC on and finally, to ESPN on ABC on ESPN2. (International's a long story. A branding thing.)

Besides the lack of star power, the lack of a fan base was painfully obvious. Ed Graney in the Las Vegas paper notes that it's a problem likely to worsen when the event moves to the "Fall Finish."

Golf is about to undergo a change that will either re-energize an indifferent fan base or continue to keep casual followers at an AccuFLEX shaft distance away from any event that doesn't include Woods, a transformation that could ultimately determine where the Las Vegas tournament fits into the sport's long-term landscape.

The question is not whether the event can improve greatly (if at all) in stature -- Hoffman couldn't be more correct in his assessment that it is what it is -- but whether a newly designed PGA playoff system will lessen its appeal to golfers (and in turn fans) even more.

There always will be a place at the event for the golf purist, for those who truly appreciate the idea of walking alongside the world's No. 2 player (it's Jim Furyk for those who don't know, which means most everyone) and not having to strain their neck glancing over rows of heads to watch him putt.

But when the FedEx Cup portion of the 2007 schedule concludes at the Tour Championship next mid-September and the $10 million payday has been awarded to the first points champion, how much interest will remain for a seven-tournament fall series than includes the Las Vegas stop?

And what can those running the event here do to make it more than just another week for those players merely trying to avoid Q-school or improve their world ranking?



PGA Tour Driving Distance Watch, Week 38

pgatour.jpgThe PGA Tour driving distance average rose from 289.2 yards to 289.5 after Las Vegas.

With one more full field event to go, it's worth noting that there have been 909 drives over 360 yards this year (816 in 2005).  And there have been 412 drives over 370 yards (334 in 2005.)  We'll get the over 350 tally in a couple of weeks. I know you can't wait.


"Is it really over?"

Most of the Palmer retirement tributes are pretty syruppy, but I thought Scott Michaux's in the Augusta Chronicle was respectful without sailing over the top (and includes a nice reminder that The King really is wanted on the first tee at Augusta!):

That the end came in the first round of something called the Administaff Small Business Classic on a course, Augusta Pines, that sounds like an assisted-living community hardly matters. Whether it was the Masters Tournament or the Bob Hope Desert Classic, Palmer was always bigger than the event itself.

These goodbyes to Palmer have been accelerating with the years. He had a couple of them at Augusta National (his final major appearance) and a couple more at his Bay Hill Invitational (his final PGA Tour event). And now he has reached the point where he's not willing to even play with the seniors anymore.

Even a peer and fellow legend like Lee Trevino appreciated the significance of the moment. Playing with John Mahaffey and Palmer on Friday, Trevino pilfered the King's ball out of the final cup and whipped a Sharpie out of his pocket for the official end of an era.

"While he had the Sharpie, I said, 'Sign that glove, too,' " Trevino told The Associated Press. "We didn't take his shoes."

Palmer's final official round ended with the word "withdrawn." But even with that Palmer displayed the class that has characterized his career for more than half a century. After telling Trevino to stop keeping his score and officially citing a sore back for his premature exit, Palmer kept on playing.

"I can't leave," he told Trevino, saying he owed it to his legion of fans to press on despite the mental and physical pain.

That's what made Palmer the most beloved player in the history of golf. He was not its greatest champion and didn't possess the finest swing, but nobody before or since has ever had the charisma that Palmer holds in spades. Whether it's on the golf course, in the clubhouse or on the dance floor, Palmer oozes with the magnetism that has drawn his Army of fans for every step of the ride.

That the ride is finally over is as traumatic to his fans as it is to him. That Palmer never won a major championship in my lifetime didn't stop him from being as giant a figure to my generation as he was to his own. That it has been 18 years since I witnessed him win his last tournament at the senior Crestar Classic in Richmond, Va., hasn't made every sighting since any less thrilling.

Is it really over?

"My father used to say that this life would pass so quickly it would make your head spin," Palmer wrote in his autobiography, A Golfer's Life. "And you know what? He was right about that. This life, my life, has done just that."

Now we can only wish that Palmer will take the stage that late greats Byron Nelson, San Snead and Gene Sarazen took before him on the first tee of the Augusta National Golf Club for an honorary start to the Masters. With no other places to get a glimpse of the King, it is our last hope.

Palmer understands that no matter how awkward it might be to stand up in front of the world trying to give it that good shot, just a fix of his radiance is all we want.


Branding Gone Wild, Vol. 1

You know how I love these synergistic platforms merging to gain traction for their brands, so kicking off volume 1 of our new "Branding Gone Wild" series, we have this gem sent in by reader Noonan:

An Albuquerque firm now will have exclusive use of the Golf Digest name on its putting greens and synthetic turf training aids.

Market Group Inc. announced it has a licensing partnership with the golf magazine to use the Golf Digest name on its Turf Avenue line of products in the United States, Canada and South America.

Excited? Well guess what... 

The company also announced that distributorships and installation partnerships are available throughout the U.S.

Turf Avenue products include artificial turf for commercial, residential and institutional applications.


The Top 125 Race

pgatour.jpgHeading into the final regular Tour stop in Tampa, below is a look at the "quest for the card." For what it's worth, I suppose there really isn't much of a race at the 125 spot since 125-150 have status next year...and #123 has already been exempted for next year by the Commissioner.

Then again, since Q-school and Nationwide grads will be lucky to get in 20 starts before the "playoffs," maybe landing in the top 125 is more important than it used to be?

116    115    Jason Gore      28    $717,005
117    113    J.P. Hayes     19    $701,433
118    114    Stephen Leaney     25    $696,599
119    118    David Branshaw       27    $693,705
120    117    Shane Bertsch       32    $685,346
121    120    Mathias Gronberg       28    $674,002
122    124    Paul Azinger     28    $672,675
123    121    Darren Clarke     11    $660,898
124    127    Rich Beem     25    $658,225
125    122    Brian Bateman       24    $645,153
126    123    John Cook     20    $644,505
127    141    Bubba Dickerson       31    $641,252
128    125    Lee Westwood     14    $630,566
129    131    Duffy Waldorf     26    $609,871
130    130    Brent Geiberger     28    $590,478
131    126    Omar Uresti     22    $583,704
132    128    Jonathan Kaye     30    $578,714
133    129    Jeff Overton       27    $577,132
134    139    Tim Petrovic     28    $558,405
135    132    Jerry Smith       28    $554,206
136    134    Bob May     19    $548,712


The Brand Has Arrived...

fedexcuplove101006.jpgT.J. Auclair has the rivetting details of the Davis Love/HarryDenny Hamlin photo op to plug the PGA Tour's new "FedEx Cup" NASCAR entry.

One of the fastest sports in the world collided with one of the slowest at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Tuesday to unveil a special FedExCup car, which will be driven here by NASCAR rookie Denny Hamlin in the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 on October 29.
So my question to you fans of NASCAR: is this a one-race deal? Or is this going to be a regular Tour sponsorship deal for this car? The article makes it sound as if this is a one-race thing.

But if this is a one-year deal, isn't the price outrageously high?

Please, help me resolve this vital branding matter.


"Stay tuned - this thing is a long way from over."

John Huggan is in fine curmudgeonly form while looking at the havoc the FedEx Cup schedule is creating on the European Tour.

As America's PGA Tour embarks on a lucratively-reshaped season that will "climax" with something called the Fed-Ex Cup - oh, the history, the mystique - and very likely pull many of Europe's leading players across the Atlantic even more than has already been the case, the European Tour's money-list is destined to be won by someone who picks up the vast majority of his cash in so-called co-sanctioned events - where prize- money is eligible on more than one circuit - rather than by a man ranked outside the world's top-50, and thus "relegated" to playing most of his golf outside of the United States.

So it is that the just-released European Tour International Schedule is all about filling dates. Next season, as the blaring press release was quick to trumpet, the European Tour will consist of at least 50 events - a "momentous milestone" - as it winds its often mediocre way across the globe.

Also, Golfweek's Rex Hoggard fires a few shots at the FedEx Cup as he looks at issues with the Champions Tour schedule. And he notes this about another major change in the Valiant Competitors Tour:

Starting with next month's Q-School, players will no longer play for a Champions Tour card. Instead, the hopeful will vie for a chance to qualify for events. The top-30 finishers from Q-School will earn a seat at the Monday qualifying table each week and play for nine spots in that week's tournament.

With the move, golf's most closed club just went private.

"There are some positives and some negatives," George said of the new qualifying system. "How will it impact the international players on the tour? I want to make sure the tournaments aren't impacted by the qualifying. We're going into it very cautiously."

But back to Huggan and Hoggard's pithy FedEx Cup remarks.

Isn't it interesting that time has not helped the Tour's concept age like fine wine, but instead has some of golf's finest inkslingers realizing just how flawed the schedule and points concepts are?


Disney and Daly

Steve Elling tries to get excited about the Disney field minus Tiger, and he also notes that John Daly withdrew. I guess it's safe to say Daly is going to rely on sponsor's exemptions next year.

Does anyone know if Long John is entitled to unlimited sponsor exemptions as a veteran PGA Tour member? 


Week In Review: October 7-14: The Kids Today...

WeekInReview2.jpg America's lousy showing on the world stage (and questions about possible influences) generated more comments during an otherwise slow news week.

Reacting to Jose Maria Olazabal's course setup related comments in a John Huggan column, ken-one-putt writes:  You know, I am currently less concerned about the obsession with lengthening golf courses, and more concerned about the lack of options around the greens...But for the past two years I have been playing a course with perfect Zoysia fairways and large, flat greens. These insipid greens are almost all elevated 3 to 5 feet above the surrounding terrain, and they are surrounded by slopes covered in rough. Worse, the area away from the slopes is a morass of clumpy grass and cuppy lies. Like JMO, I have concluded that this is anti-skill for a short-game specialist. And it makes the game BORING.

And while some of us see this change impacting the younger American players, SI's Gary Van Sickle suggested that the U.S. collegiate system is not developing players properly.

Reader Chuck disagreed: Among the International players there are a few (i.e., Garcia) who simply turned pro at a very young age when they were endowed with overwhelming talent. And I don't think that any 'national sports program' had much to do with anything. There are others (Donald, Casey, Villegas) who, for all practical purposes, have been American collegiate players almost from the moment that they left the junior ranks. Montgomerie, Elkington, etc. -- U.S. collegiate players all, going back many years.

Smolmania: A broad attack on NCAA golf and its affect on the creation of great players is put to the lie by precisely the examples you raise of Villegas and Casey -- seems to me that some young guy at Stanford who used to be know as Urkel turned out okay playing a couple of years of college golf. Would Justin Rose have benefitted from a couple of years at Oklahoma State? Who can really say? He would probably have had a lot more fun going to college football games and chasing sorority girls than missing 50 cuts in a row (or, whatever the number was). Would he therefore not be having the same degree of success he seems to be working toward?

Pollner offered a different take: the population differences between the US and Australia do lead one to wonder why they produce such a strong amount of golfers? I doubt that I would blame the college ranks alone (if at all), though. Of course, the fact that the Aussies et al. come over here for college has contributed to their seeing all sorts of courses. The US player that stays home doesn't really get anything extra.

Four-putt writes: Maybe today's instructors are to blame. Too much emphasis is placed on having a "perfect, picturebook swing" instead of teaching players, well, to play. Too many of today's golf swings take place on ranges. We have become a counter culture of "practicers," where most players make perfect swings from perfect lies. No one visits a range to buy a bucket of balls and hit them off choppy ground, like we often find on real golf courses. From my observations, great-looking golf swings do not win tournaments. Some of the ugliest golf swings -- Palmer, Floyd, Trevino, Furyk, Rodriguez -- all were "players."

Lip-out: This conjecture about the Ryder Cup is just that...conjecture. Any team with Wetterich and Vaughn Taylor on the back end, while the other team has Ian Poulter sitting at home watching is going to lose. It's got NOTHING to do with collegiate golf or its coaches. It's just an opinion that Gary felt nobody had thrown out there. But nice try!

And Ardmore Ari writes:  Lets teach our junior players to putt (one could substitute shooting free throws and playing team basketball instead of dunking as TEAM USA keeps losing as well) instead of thinking its so great to bomb it 300 plus yards off the tee!


"Someone's going to have to define Nick's role"

In the current Golf World "Bunker" (not posted online), Stu Schneider talks to Peter Kostis about the hiring of Nick Faldo.

"Someone's going to have to define Nick's role," Kostis said. "Nick is a very funny guy, but he's not going to compete with [David] Feherty or McCord, and we don't need an excess of funny on our telecasts. I think he's being hired because of his golf knowledge and his ability to communicate it."

So two questions.

Are Feherty and McCord really funnier than Faldo these days?

And, CBS does not need an excess of funny on their telecasts?


Distance Now And Then

Thanks to readers Mark, Ken and Chris for the head's up on George White's column on distance changes in the game.

The normally eloquent White draws no conclusion, ends the piece abruptly and in general, dances around the cause of the problem, but what's more interesting is that it's been a long, long time since anyone wrote one of those silly pieces about how distance hasn't changed much in recent years. Glad we finally cleared that hurdle. 


Jones v. Jones

rtjonesjr_1200.jpgRees.jpgVanessa Blum reports on the lawsuit filed by Rees Jones against his beloved brother, Bobby (aka RTJ II).

It pits the two sons of famed golf course designer Robert Trent Jones in a messy court fight over $100,000 and the use of their deceased father's name.

 The men, both successful golf architects in their 60s, are known to be fierce competitors who conduct most of their communication through lawyers.

Now younger brother Rees Jones is suing older brother Robert Trent Jones Jr. for his share of taxes owed on the estate of their mother, who died in 1987. Rees Jones also claims Robert Jr. misappropriated their father's name when he contracted with a clothing firm to create a Robert Trent Jones apparel line.
A clothing line?
Still, that the brothers would go to court over a relatively modest sum of money is testament to how frayed their relationship has become. Even the language of the suit hints at a much larger family drama.

"This is a story about the eldest son of a famous golf course designer, who has selfishly taken advantage of his younger brother since their father's death through broken promises and clandestine conduct," states the complaint.
I have to stop here to get some tissues so I can weep for these two big grown ups!
Fort Lauderdale attorney Bruce Weihe, who represents Robert Trent Jones Jr., declined to comment on the specific allegations against his client.

"This is a private family matter and we hope for a quick resolution of the dispute," Weihe wrote in a brief statement.

Neither Robert Trent Jones Jr. nor Rees Jones could be reached for comment.

The lawsuit's first claim stems from the execution of their mother's will. According to the suit, Rees Jones paid $296,414 in deferred estate tax that came due in 2001. He asked his older brother for half, but Robert Trent Jones Jr. responded with a check for $49,338 -- leaving $98,869 outstanding, the suit alleges.In the second portion of the suit, Rees Jones demands half the royalties earned by his brother from a Robert Trent Jones clothing brand he developed with Gear for Sports in 2005.
Bradley Klein, who has tracked the brothers' careers as Golfweek's architecture editor, said Rees and Robert Jr., who goes by Bobby, probably began trying to one-up each other "in the crib."

"They hate each other," he said. "They are rivals in every way."
Klein said Robert Jr., more than Rees, has advanced his career by trading on his father's fame and their similar names.

"He's cashing in on the confusion," Klein said. "Now that his father is dead, the name has become even more famous."

According to government records, Robert Jr. trademarked the brands Robert Trent Jones Design and Robert Trent Jones Golf in addition to the Robert Trent Jones logo used by Gear for Sports after his father's death. Just because Robert Jr. has the same name as his father doesn't mean he can profit off it without giving his brother a cut, said Fort Lauderdale lawyer Matthew Nelles, who specializes in trademarks and intellectual property.

On the other hand, Nelles said, Rees Jones could have filed a formal objection when Robert Jr. trademarked the various brands.

"Robert Jr.'s going to say `I have the federally registered trademark giving me exclusive rights to use the name. I don't have to give you anything,''' Nelles said.

In his lawsuit, Rees Jones contends rights to the name passed equally to both sons under their father's will, and any profits should be divided between them.

The case has already drawn a flurry of combative exchanges between the brothers and their lawyers.

Robert Jr. tried to get the suit tossed out, claiming he was not presented with a copy of the complaint within 120 days as required by Florida law. In a sworn statement, the elder brother said court papers could have been provided to him when he crossed paths with Rees Jones at two golf events in spring 2006.

Kline, Rees Jones' attorney, said Robert Jr. evaded the individuals who came to serve him with the documents.

How tragic if these two masters were to spend their final days in court, giving their millions to lawyers instead of screwing up classic courses or building new banal ones! 


"I wish the (media) photographic contract had not been expiring"

Carolyn Bivens, talking to Larry Bohannan about what surely keeps Tim Finchem up at night too:

"What I didn't know and what I certainly would not have chosen was for there to be the volume of issues," Bivens said Wednesday at Bighorn Golf Club, site of this week's Samsung World Championship. "I wish there hadn't been 11 tournament contracts that were due to be renewed. I wish the (media) photographic contract had not been expiring and had to be addressed."
Yep, I'm sure all commissioner's lie awake at night wondering, "what are we going to do about this photographic contract?"

And this is interesting:
On some tournaments leaving the tour after this season: Bivens said tournaments left for various reasons, including changing business climates, changes in marketing and, in some cases, changes that would have been required for renewal by the tour. "That's part of the cycle. There were 11 of them up for renewal. One of the tournaments (in Las Vegas) we chose very quietly not to renew. It hadn't been a very popular tournament."

Uh, now as an outsider, I didn't know that the LPGA was in such demand that you could just "quietly" not renew an event because it wasn't "very popular."


The Sports Guy v. Woods

The prolific Bill Simmons shares some fun stuff from his 10 minutes of videogame time with Tiger.


FedEx Cup Fiction?

The "Fact or Fiction" debaters had a hard time taking the stance that stars will turn out more when the FedEx Cup "playoffs" commence. (The two "Fact" presenters threw out the "for at least one year" caveat...quite the endorsement of the concept!)

They did however agree on the concept of a September finish working because golf can't compete with football and the baseball playoffs.

Why is it that no one wants to endorse that idea that golf, like all other sports, simply needs to go away for a month or two so the, uh, product and the uh, consumers can be refreshed?


Long Gone John?

Just 10 of the World Top 50 are teeing it up in Las Vegas. But note John Daly down at 190th on the money list and in the Vegas field (like there was any doubt he'd miss this week!).

I don't believe Daly does not have enough all-time money (76th) to get one of those little one-time exemptions, so barring a big check the next three weeks, the Skins Game may be Long John's tune-up for the Q-School finals.


Golf Digest "Index"

Have you seen the new "Index" magazine published by Golf Digest, with Deutsche Bank CEO Seth Waugh on the cover and Gil Hanse's Boston Golf Club featured prominently?

I'm curious what you think. (Their listed website, doesn't seem to work.)

The publication has some nice stuff and a classy design, but it also seems like a wannabe Links Magazine only geared toward the conspicuous consumer who would actually heed Marty Hackel's fashion advice. There was just a bit too much rejected Buddies Issue content, including a Bryant Gumbel-Matt Lauer fashion spread that seemed better suited for The Advocate.

Thomas Friedman's half-hearted interview with Waugh was disappointing because Waugh is a charismatic chap and avid student of the game who deserved to be asked better questions than, "Can you really learn about a person's character by playing golf with him?"

There's a spread on the Top 50 private golf "retreats" (Firestone!?!?!?) and a fascinating piece by Marcia Chambers on a country club hustler.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it, look for it at finer clubs and resorts (I think).



As part of the package of renovation stories, a sidebar review of "different" courses is included. Brad Klein slipped this not-so-glowing review of Dismal River in:

Anytime you open a golf course with a windmill smack in the middle of a hole, you raise some eyebrows. Dismal River, a Jack Nicklaus design in the middle of Nebraska's Sand Hills, did just that, on its par-5 fourth hole, and the windmill looks perfectly natural on what was an old ranch. There are some fine, natural looking holes here, but also some significant tweaks that already are being planned to fix some rough spots, including a partial regrading of three fairways and significant softening of the slopes on a half-dozen greens.

Lest anyone think that rerouting a course out here on such natural terrain is easy, remember that in routing Sand Hills Golf Club, which sits only five miles east of Dismal River, co-designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw took two years to settle on a sequence of holes that would work in the wind and that would accommodate the ground game.

Dismal River couldn't be more different, not only in playing character, but also in its overall business model. A 26,000-square-foot clubhouse/lodge looms over the property, and the club includes high-end real estate, spa, bowling alley, corporate outings and an exclusive dining room for founding members.



The Renovation Trend

bp56011.jpgBrad Klein writes about the renovation/restoration trend.

If, as hoped, Morrish also gets to redo Las Colinas, he'll get a little meaner with tighter bunker patterns and longer tee shots. He'll do so admitting a little bit of confusion in dealing with distance these days – a problem that confronts all architects.

"I don't even know where to put bunkers anymore," said Morrish. In looking back at his four decades in the business, he sees a continual evolution of distance, and wishes it would come to an end. Forty years ago, when he supervised construction of Spyglass Hill Golf Club, everything in the industry was calculated on the basis of 750 feet (250 yards). When Morrish worked on Muirfield Village in 1972-73, Jack Nicklaus broke new ground by relying on 800 feet as a turn point for doglegs and for bunker placement, and less than a decade later at Castle Pines, a mile high in Colorado, they went to 850 feet. Now, 900 feet is commonplace.

When Pete Dye was redoing his original design at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass – Dye calls it "the fifth time he's gotten to rework it" – he settled on 330 yards, which also happens to be the distance Fazio relied upon at Augusta National for the carries required to clear fairway bunkers.

Klein also writes about the wonderful trend of big name architects getting to redo their own work because it was so bad the first time around (wait, wouldn't that be the case with Morrish redoing Las Colinas!?). Anyway, in this story he focuses on Doonbeg and this anecdote gave me a chuckle:
When it opened four years ago, the stunning links-style setting on 377 acres of rugged dunes overlooking Doughmore Bay in southwest Ireland was unrelenting to play and nearly impossible to enjoy. Evidence for that was clear enough in the inaugural match that saw course designer Greg Norman lose seven golf balls while playing against homeland favorite Padraig Harrington.



"Players need to bring the spirit back"

Greg Norman continues to pass on the Kool-Aid by daringly pointing out that the pro game is not in the best shape.

"Players need to bring the spirit back," Norman said. "There has always been great players to bring people to the game to lighten it up so that it's not so serious.

"Look at what (Rafael) Nadal has done for tennis because of the way he is, like a boxer. You never hear anyone coming out and saying I want to beat Tiger Woods - I haven't heard that," Norman added. "Nadal comes out and says he wants to beat Roger Federer because he's No 1 and that's great for tennis."

Norman, who has played little golf - and watched even less - since making his senior's tour debut last year, also said the technology used in making golf clubs should be reserved for amateurs only.

"I have a problem with someone winning a golf tournament without using a driver," Norman said. "The game has always been dominated by power-hitter players, but today you can't tell the difference between the players because of the technology."