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The true links were moulded by divine hands. Links-land, the fine grasses, the wind-made bunkers that defy imitation, the exquisite contours that refuse to be sculpted by hand--all these were given lavishly by a divine dispensation to the British. ROBER HUNTER


    

Wednesday
Oct222008

You Can't Say Bomb On An Airplane!

Seems U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee didn't have the best showing at the Eisenhower Trophy, earning an oer-the-top dressing down from Peter Williams who is never shy about making a fuss, and then made some sort of brilliant comment overheard by airport security. Not his best week.

Wednesday
Oct222008

Just Wondering...

A few of you complained that I didn't focus on the substance in Tim Finchem's spellbinding SF Chronicle interview. Which of course, is a victory for the Commish. After all, doublespeak is a distraction tool and I fell for it!

Alright, here goes:

Q: The PGA Tour has a reserve of money it can call on in tough times. Would you tap that if you did have a decrease in sponsorships?

A: It's pretty simple. Through team sports and alliances, a big percentage of our revenue is derived from the communications side - broadcasts, etc. When we do our longer-term arrangements with television, and to some extent new media, we project out of that period so that right now we are in a six-year term with our network partners.

Our strategy is to grow our operating reserve during those years so we can withstand some negativity in the next cycle. We've done that for 20 years and it's worked well. We've grown in all those years. The question now is can we grow that reserve a little bit more aggressively to protect against what we were just talking about, namely retrenchment.

Anyone care to guess just how much is in the PGA Tour's rainy-day retrenchment fund?

Wednesday
Oct222008

Villegas Puts Out Euro Tour Option Feeler...

...so I guess it wasn't just IMG looking for a reaction. Norman Dabell reports

Tuesday
Oct212008

Shocker: Van de Velde Quits Full Time Play, World Is Stunned To Learn He Was Still Playing Full Time

Norman Dabell reports:

"It's not like I'm going to stop playing completely but I'm definitely going to slow down a lot," Van de Velde told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

"My career I can compare to a good bottle of wine. You take a glass and enjoy it; you take a second glass and really enjoy it; a third, then the bottle is getting empty.

"I've been going around the world for so many years and at the end of the day you can only do so much. Next year I will only play the tournaments I really enjoy.

"I don't know exactly how many I will play but the maximum will be a dozen," added the popular Frenchman who was struck down in 2007 by a virus which at one stage looked likely to end his career then.

Tuesday
Oct212008

"Ultimately, he said, charities might receive less financial support throughout golf."

John Davis does a nice job assessing the state of pro tour events in Arizona in light of the economy, and while the news is pretty good, there is this one comment from Tom Maletis, president of Tournament Golf Foundation, Inc., which owns the Valley's LPGA event about who will take the biggest hit:

Ultimately, he said, charities might receive less financial support throughout golf.

"Tournaments typically tighten their belts anyway so they can give more to charity," Maletis said, "but now we will have to look at things in a different light because there are only so many apples in the box."
Tuesday
Oct212008

Juli Inkster For Commissioner!

When the LPGA inevitably cans Carolyn Bivens, I'd nominate Juli Inkster for the Commish job. Or at least a board seat.

From Doug Ferguson's AP notes column comes this wisdom that might have prevented the learn-English-or-your-outta-here disaster:

“The Asian players ... it’s kind of a respect thing, a pecking order thing,” Inkster said. “They are brought up to really honor their roots and their grandparents, and the people before them, and the higher-ups. So all of a sudden, you put an 18- or 19-year-old girl that’s maybe not really comfortable with her English.
“Playing with four CEOs — men or women — she is not going to feel comfortable going up there and making small talk. That’s not the way they are brought up.”

Tuesday
Oct212008

"The changes certainly will help."

Brad Klein returns to Erin Hills--the course he originally dubbed "Errant Hills" and a comment that Golf Digest's Ron Whitten countered was payback for a lousy Wintonbury Hills review--and doesn't sound any more enthusiastic about what he sees in the fall reworking that the course hopes will usher in a U.S. Open bid.

And Open there makes complete sense when you can bypass a proven cash cow and weather wonder like Torrey Pines in 2017 and head straight to the middle of no where in Wisconsin! Don't worry scribblers, there's a Marriott just 45 minutes away...more points and you'll love the highway billboards.

Klein writes:

But for a golf course that touts a links sensibility, there’s actually little integration at Erin Hills between approach shots and contours into and around greens. Every recovery shot from around and behind putting surfaces is a lobbed shot, not a bump and run. And there are so many holes where the natural slopes leading into the green deflect the ball away from the putting surface rather than allowing you to feed the ball in. The contours might all be entirely natural, but they defy thoughtful shotmaking and end up requiring an aerial brand of golf in which everything is simply flown to the target. As for the bunkers, there’s nothing natural about any of their shapes; they are scraped out in such contrived, undersized pockets that they make you feel as if you’ve been lowered into jagged tea cups.
The changes certainly will help. A postage-stamp style, domed green on the short par-4 second hole will be expanded by 50 percent. The wild Biarritz green on the long par-5 10th hole will be flattened front and back so that it will be far more pin-able and playable. A ridge in the 15th green also will be modified. Awkward deflection slopes on the first and 17th fairways will be softened, making both far more receptive.
Tuesday
Oct212008

"Where other players such as Ben Crenshaw and Geoff Ogilvy enjoy deconstructing the playing field, Woods has channeled his energy into taking it apart."

Jaime Diaz does a nice job analyzing Tiger's press conference from last week. He's trying to put Tiger's design career in perspective, and like a lot of us, is not entirely sure what to make of it. Of course, he quotes me about the incredible number of oceanfront holes Tiger managed to grab from the development. But I thought this was a more interesting observation from Diaz because it could very well speak to the quality of designs Woods produces:

Still, even with his injury, his career as an architect holds more unknowns than his return as a golfer. As a player Woods never has appeared particularly passionate about design. His highest praise for courses tended to be sound bites such as "It fits my eye" or "It's all right there in front of you." Those he didn't like were dismissed with the all-purpose, "It is what it is." Where other players such as Ben Crenshaw and Geoff Ogilvy enjoy deconstructing the playing field, Woods has channeled his energy into taking it apart.
Tuesday
Oct212008

Compton Starts Play Today

Randell Mell reports that Erik Compton's Q-school quest begins today. You can follow his play here.

Monday
Oct202008

"Some of the industry sectors that gravitate to our platform have imploded, some of them are struggling and some are actually doing OK."

I've always thought it would be fun to see what happens when Tim Finchem goes into doublespeak mode in front of non-golf folks. Well, courtesy of reader Kevin, my dream came true last week when it seems the Commish sat down with some editorial types at the San Francisco Chronicle. The poor bastards In attendance were Chronicle Editor Ward Bushee, Deputy Managing Editor Stephen Proctor, Business Editor Al Saracevic, Sports Editor Glenn Schwarz, reporter Ron Kroichick and editorial assistant Steve Corder.

Brace yourselves...we're going to get some oldies-but-goodies and a couple of new, convoluted thoughts.

Q: The economic downturn definitely poses some issues for the PGA Tour and the golf industry. Recently, you discussed sponsorships with companies like Wachovia and Morgan Stanley, which find themselves in the middle of the mess on Wall Street. How is that impacting the PGA and is that a serious concern for you?
A: It's certainly a concern. It's too early to tell about the impact, though. Some of the industry sectors that gravitate to our platform have imploded, some of them are struggling and some are actually doing OK.
I just feel privileged to be watching a master at work. Some of the industry sectors that gravitate to our platform have imploded. Poetry I tell you.
Thus far, the ones that are doing OK and the ones that are reorganizing and merging tend to be on our list (of partners). The ones that have imploded are not on our list. We sort of dodged the bullet thus far.
 That said, there is an awful lot of stress on some of our key industry sectors - financial services and autos, etc. We'll see how that plays out over the next couple of years.
It's not like GM will go belly...oh wait, I better not write that.
A lot of these companies are enlightened sponsors.
Translation: big suckers!
By that, I mean they take advantage of what we tend to refer to as the three major value streams, one of which is branding. Barclays and Deutsche Bank get a lot of mileage out of our demographic.
Secondly, they can take advantage of business-to-business activity on-site during tournaments. Third, and increasingly, companies are taking advantage of the relationship between our charitable focus and its impacts. That's what we call our qualitative branding.
Please Tim, we all know about qualitative branding! Why do you insist on talking down to us? Everyone knows about qualitative branding.
From a broader perspective, if you look back over the last 20 years at other downturns, companies challenge their cost structure much more aggressively than they do when times are good. That impacts the way they evaluate sports marketing sponsorships.
We've typically come out of these things better off than we were going in. Now that remains to be seen this time around.
If this thing doesn't last too much longer, I think we can weather the storm without any retrenchment of our overall delivery to players and fans.
Whoa Nellie! Say what? I think that may be the all-time classic. I think this is a man who has sat in on one too many FedEx meetings.
Q: You've used that word - "retrenchment" - in a few recent interviews. What do you mean by retrenchment?

A: Whether it's good news or bad news, at a moment like this, we've grown in output in major areas of our business, which is generating financial benefits to players, raising money for charity and helping to grow the game. The first two are the major focus of the PGA Tour. We've grown every year for years. When I say retrenchment, a dead flat-line (in growth) would not be something we are used to. If we go down, that would be unique.
Got that?
Q: The PGA Tour has a reserve of money it can call on in tough times. Would you tap that if you did have a decrease in sponsorships?

A
: It's pretty simple. Through team sports and alliances, a big percentage of our revenue is derived from the communications side - broadcasts, etc. When we do our longer-term arrangements with television, and to some extent new media, we project out of that period so that right now we are in a six-year term with our network partners.

Our strategy is to grow our operating reserve during those years so we can withstand some negativity in the next cycle. We've done that for 20 years and it's worked well. We've grown in all those years. The question now is can we grow that reserve a little bit more aggressively to protect against what we were just talking about, namely retrenchment.
This really a painfully longwinded way of saying, we have a nest egg.
Q: Would you grow that through investment vehicles?
A: We need to try to find more revenue with a reduced cost structure. We don't have a lot of flexibility on the cost-structure side because we like to think we're pretty efficient.
That's right, just this year all of the VP's are only leasing 5 series' instead of 7 series'.
Q: In this country, is the demographic getting younger or older in terms of golf play?
A: I think it's flat. I think it's going to be another 10 years before we'll start to see movement. When we talk about overall golf play, you have Baby Boomers coming into the population in post-retirement numbers in the tens of millions. That fuels a lot of growth at that end of the age spectrum. It's good news in the sense that those are people that will have more time to spend and that will help fuel growth in rounds.
Didn't know a demo could be flat?
Q: Sounds like the time commitment has really held back participation. I've read some stories where writers talk about dividing a course into three six-hole segments. Someone could then play in 1 1/2 hours if so inclined. Is that a viable option?

A: I don't know how viable that is. There are a number of factors, one of which is the golf course itself. Is it a golf course that the average player can get around and play? Harding Park is a golf course that you can go out here and you're not going to lose a golf ball. There are golf courses that don't fit that model. They take longer to play.

In Europe, if you go to Scotland and Ireland in the summertime, people go out after dinner and they play alternate shot, they play in two hours, they play nine holes in an hour and 20 minutes. I think the mind-set needs to be changed a little bit in the U.S. so that people understand why you can enjoy the game without the need to post this 18-hole score and compare it to the other 20 times you played last year.

Maybe if the lugs on the PGA Tour could play in under 5 hours on Thursday and Friday, it would set a nice example? Sorry...
Q: How much did it cost to have Tiger Woods out of action this year with his leg injuries?

A: A day or two after the announcement, I stated that we were going to lose television ratings in the weeks that he played last year versus not playing this year, and we did. He brings a lot of soft viewers - people that don't watch our product all the time, but they do watch him.

The good news is it created this window for everybody to see our other players. Today, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas are very different in the psyche of our fans than they were when Tiger stepped out, and I guarantee you they could have played exactly the same, but if Tiger was out there, they would have had significantly reduced exposure.

Going forward, we know there's going to be this speculation. Can he play? Is the leg going to hold up? Can he turn on it? Can he win?

You also have a whole different story: How is Tiger going to fare against these guys? They are really good. It's a short-term negative and a long-term positive. I would not have wished this to happen, by any means. Tiger is phenomenally impactful. Given the situation, we were hoping we would get something out of it, and I think we have.

He's phenomenally impactful, that's for sure.
Monday
Oct202008

I Know How I'm Getting To Australia!

Only in LA would they promote the arrival of a new aircraft with street pole banners.  But since I was in the neighborhood and I still have fond memories of seeing the Spruce Goose on display in Long Beach, I couldn't resist taking a few photos even though they don't do it justice. Either way, now I know why I've been waiting to see Royal Melbourne. I had to fly there in style!

Besides the massive size, the lack of engine noise may be most startling.

Here's a little on the A380 and a cool comparison to the 747 and the Spruce Goose. That little 707 you see in the images to the left of the Qantas belongs to John Travolta, who was on hand for today's festivities.


(click to enlarge)

 


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Monday
Oct202008

"I love it; I'm taking 50 percent of his earnings"

Bob Harig reminds us of a special feather in Tim Finchem's plume: the Casey Martin episode and the precedent it set for Erik Compton to receive a cart at Q-School this year.

Martin, now coaching at Oregon:

"Seriously, I'm pumped. I'm pumped because I know Erik, and he's got a serious condition that justifies this. He is seriously good. He can really, really play. It's not like some guy on some mega-pipe dream trying to get recognition. This guy is a great player who could literally play the tour for a long time. I'm ecstatic that what I went through can help somebody else out."

Sunday
Oct192008

"How concerned is Camp Ponte Vedra about America’s financial crisis?"

Jeff Rude offers this in a Golfweek.com column:

• How concerned is Camp Ponte Vedra about America’s financial crisis? Well, the PGA Tour is fortunate that virtually all of its title sponsors are signed through 2010 and the vast majority through 2012, said PGA Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw.
Timing is everything. So the Tour is not putting on a sad face.
“When the deepest advertising recession since the Great Depression hit in 2001-02, we renewed 21 title sponsors and signed 18 new ones in a 20-month period,” Votaw said. “We’ll come through the trouble this time because we offer fundamental value–brand building, business-to-business opportunity, positive image, charity, international growth.”

Is fundamental value different than say, value? (I'm just trying to learn!).

Also in the column his this item, which I ran by a tax attorney who chuckled and said it was definitely not accurate (others are welcome to chime in...):

• A PGA Tour player, low-ranking at that, told me that if Barack Obama is elected president, he’ll have to pay 56 percent in income taxes. And you wonder why Tour players are close to 100 percent Republican?
Saturday
Oct182008

"One reason why the Ryder and Solheim Cups are so eagerly awaited is that both are breaks from the mind-numbing tedium that is yet another 72-hole stroke-play event."

With Seve on his mind and in his heart, John Huggan files his typically impassioned plea for a return of shotmaking. Though I think he was kind to the tours with this statement:

Of course, the unspoken realisation that card-and-pencil golf is inherently dull – stroke play only becomes watchable when it is magically transformed into match play on Sunday afternoons – is the biggest motivation behind the so-far failed Fed-Ex Cup series and the European Tour's new-fangled 'Race for Dubai' that will start in China next month.
And...
And while the thoughts of golfers the world over are with Ballesteros as he lies in a Madrid hospital following surgery to remove a brain tumour, the most exciting golfer in living memory is just one who has expressed fears for the future of the game he loves.

"I see good swings and good players," said Seve. "But nothing that really keeps me watching television for a long time.

"Everybody has been equalised by the new clubs, the long putter, more loft on wedges. Something has to be done with the rules, otherwise golf will become more power than anything else."

He is right, of course. Until some imagination and flair is consistently injected into the presentation of the golf courses used for professional events – the recent Ryder Cup at Valhalla was a perfect example of how even a mediocre course set up properly can allow top players at least a chance to express themselves – then we are doomed to watch even the most creative individuals hacking out of long grass that exists only because of the aforementioned ball.
Saturday
Oct182008

"Golf's symbolic legacy as an indulgence for the wealthy appears to have come back into play."

Mark Frost fills in for John Paul Newport's WSJ column spot and pens a compelling look at the evolution of golf and senses that the sport really hasn't figured out what made Scots start playing in the first place.

Then came Tiger, the next avatar. He swept away most of the last vestiges of "restriction." Golf was big business now, and money streamed in from flush and eager corporate partners. High-end daily-fee courses cropped up like weeds, offering amenities that had remained out of most players' reach. The trend culminated in the appearance of a new breed of private club that catered to the super rich -- and charged accordingly; membership as conspicuous status symbol -- that would have shocked the Old Money aristocrats of the early USGA.

Most of the money for those courses and their membership fees flowed from superheated Wall Street spigots; then greed, hubris and the stubborn human inability to see danger coming from a distance led to September 2008. Amid the economic wreckage of all this steroidal excess, the future of golf's high-flying recent past seems at best uncertain. The grand old clubs, built on sustaining cultures rooted deep in their communities, will weather any storm, but many of those daily-fee courses had already gone under; and the survivors face hard times.

Corporations will no longer have the same discretionary funds to express their affection for golf. The image of the game itself has taken a hit from these cautionary tales of executive excess. The number of amateur golfers has flat-lined and with an injured Tiger on the sidelines, so have TV ratings. A path forward can be found in the recent victory of the U.S. Ryder Cup team; a group of untested kids and seasoned veterans putting their egos aside, and playing their guts out for nothing but pride. Captain Paul Azinger borrowed a page from the Scots, who still play golf the way they've always done on their local, minimal masterpiece tracks. Their game, taken to heart, teaches discipline, equilibrium, modesty, moral rectitude and the lesson that any player forgets at their peril: Golf, like life, is a humbling game.
Friday
Oct172008

"With ball technology still unpoliced, one certain victim will be the par 5."

I've been giving some thought to Ron Whitten's story on the future of architecture and one of his more optimistic visions sees the par-5 disappearing from the game:

So where is golf architecture headed? Our prediction is that in the next 20 years, new courses will be wider, drier and probably scruffy around the edges. They'll feature a lot of steep, deep hazards and dramatic slopes, will be more eclectic in their bunkering and green complexes and be positively dizzying in their strategies of play.
They'll still be mostly 18 holes, but the standard of par will drop from 72 to 69. With ball technology still unpoliced, one certain victim will be the par 5. Par 4s now play as long as par 5s used to. Even the glorious 12th at Stonebrae will probably be rendered into a drive and pitch shot by some Nationwide players next March.
To be genuine three-shot holes, new par 5s would have to be 700 yards or more. It'll be impossible to have four of those on any new course, because they'd take up too much precious land and drag each round into a sixth hour. A single par 5 will suffice. The others will be called what they now really are, long par 4s.

First, it's nice to see Ron's optimistic about governing body regulation of the ball. Can't say he's off base with that one!

But do you think he's right that the par-5 is doomed and is this a good or bad thing?

Obviously I agree with the merits of sub-par 70 courses because they take less time and the game needs to downsize the amount of acreage it uses. And he is also right that it'll take 700 yards to make a true three shotter, but really, how many of those are that interesting to play?

However, wouldn't we be losing one of the great treats in the game: the reachable par-5? When the elements are in balance, is there any more exciting or interesting shot than the decision to go for a par-5 in two?

Friday
Oct172008

Andy Bean: How Getting My Clubs Stolen Helped My Game And How It Can Help You Too

That's how I'm envisioning the magazine instruction piece, anyway. He shot 65 Friday and hit all 18 greens in the Administaff (is that a Champions Tour major too?).

Bean's clubs, including TaylorMade irons that were one of only 10 sets of the clubs manufactured, were stolen last month at the Greater Hickory Classic in North Carolina. He turned to a makeshift set that he initially didn't expect to keep long.

"I had those clubs for four years and I wouldn't have taken anything for them," Bean said. "But to tell you the truth, I've just played some very good golf the last month."

With the new clubs the next week, Bean tied for the first-round lead and finished third at the SAS Championship in Cary, N.C.

"I have hit so many good shots with these new clubs, I don't think I will go back," Bean said. "You'd think about changing back to the old clubs, but I have done really well with these."
Thursday
Oct162008

Lousy Seve News

Mike Aitken reports on Seve's turn for the worse.

Thursday
Oct162008

Votaw Updates IGF Delegates on Olympic Golf Movement; Picks Up Killer Frequent Flyer Miles

From a press release sent out by the USGA:

Votaw Updates IGF Delegates on Olympic Golf Movement, Garners Support During World Amateur Team Championship
ADELAIDE, Australia (October 16, 2008) – The International Golf Federation Olympic Committee continues its efforts to add golf to the 2016 Olympic Games and is seeking constituent support along the way.
Last week during the World Amateur Team Championships in Adelaide, Australia, PGA TOUR executive Ty Votaw, as Executive Director of the IGF Olympic Committee, provided a progress report to IGF delegates from more than 70 countries as well as the 18-member International Golf Federation Administrative Committee. Votaw also sought assistance from the delegates, suggesting they interact with members of the International Olympic Committee from their respective countries, voice their support of the Olympic golf movement and reinforce the virtues of the game as a potential Olympic sport.
And don't forget: what a great retirement gig it would be for Peter Dawson and David Fay!
During the course of Votaw’s visit, member organizations pledged their support through future efforts as well as financial backing over the next 12 months to help defray costs of the bid. The IOC will determine in October 2009 whether to add no more than two of seven sports under consideration for the 2016 Games: golf, baseball, karate, roller sports, rugby sevens, softball and squash.
“The IGF effort to promote Olympic golf will benefit significantly by maximizing the exposure it receives,” said Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A and co-secretary of the IGF. “The World Amateur Team Championships presented an ideal forum to discuss the efforts and associated issues, and to seek backing from an international base of constituents. Ty provided vital information and was able to garner much valuable support.”
As well as a lifetime's worth of miles on Qantas!
“Considering we have just 12 months to solidify our case for golf’s immediate future as an Olympic sport, we need to make the most of every opportunity that presents itself,” said David Fay, Executive Director of the United States Golf Association and co-secretary of the IGF. “This was definitely time well spent with a valuable audience that can help to make a difference in our Olympic bid.” 
"And might I add, as a connoisseur of miles, one wonderful trip for Joan and I to pad our miles."

And you think I can't find the positive in any story?

Thursday
Oct162008

ADT "Declines To Extend" LPGA Deal

Well, I guess this will prevent anyone from asking if ADT will be back to sponsor next year's LPGA finale...

ADT declines to extend sponsor relationship
 
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Oct. 16, 2008 -- The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), owner and operator of the ADT Championship event in West Palm Beach, Fla., and ADT, title sponsor of the event, jointly release the following statements in response to ADT not renewing its title sponsorship.
 
LPGA statement credited to LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens
The LPGA has enjoyed an excellent relationship with ADT as a title sponsor of our season-ending event since 2001, and we are tremendously grateful for ADT’s strong support and loyalty to the LPGA and our members throughout the years. While we are disappointed that ADT won’t title the event beyond 2008, we look forward to working with them to ensure the 2008 event is the most successful to date.  As it relates to the future title of this event, which features golf's most compelling format, we are having discussions with several groups for title sponsorship.
 
Statement credited to ADT Security Services
ADT Security Services has had a long and productive partnership with the LPGA as title sponsor of the ADT Championship. While ADT is committed to making this year’s ADT Championship the best ever, we have decided not to extend our sponsor relationship.  Over the years we have had the opportunity to work with LPGA in building a great event while hosting it in our local Palm Beach County community.
ADT maintains an excellent relationship with the LPGA and continues to be committed to our other partners including the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, the Pepsi Center in Denver as well as several Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) properties, the Home Depot Center and LA Live in Southern California and the O2 Dome in London.
ADT’s strategy is to make significant investments in growth areas of our business that are more closely aligned with meeting the needs of our customers.