Twitter: GeoffShac
Writing And Videos

Ah, Pebble! Murder in your heart, dagger in your teeth. Refugee from a King's noose. Heartless wretch. Scourge of the coasts of golf.  Robert Louis Stevenson would love you. You should wear a cocked hat, a peg leg, a parrot on your shoulder and be wanted by every captain of a golf club in the world. You are 7,000 yards of malice. I love every tuft of unnavigable rough, sand trap, par-three with the ocean on the left and rear. I love every rotten ocean carry you put up.
JIM MURRAY

 

    

Friday
May022008

"Imagine how the new sponsorship development will be received by the guy who lost everything, including his self-esteem, because of the falling dominos in the ailing banking sector."

Steve Elling raises the delicate question of whether fans and company employees will embrace their favorite corporations putting out up to $7 million for a week of professional golf.
 With the U.S. economy in the toilet, convincing companies to re-up or sit tight on deals with the pro tours is going to be increasingly harder, especially those with ties to banking or real estate, like the Ginn Company, a realty development firm which sponsors events on the PGA and Champions tours and two on the LPGA.

 For the PGA Tour, re-signing Wachovia was beyond crucial, since the 6-year-old event has become one of the top 10 tournaments on the circuit. With title sponsors and corporate America being held evermore accountable for questionable, discretionary expenses, it will be interesting to see if companies blink going forward on inking deals.
You know, like 84 Lumber, AT&T, PODS, Buick, Chrysler and Booz Allen have done over the past couple of years -- all have either pared back their sponsorships or walked away from existing tour contracts, largely for economic reasons. The Tampa and Atlanta events are still seeking new sponsors for 2009 and beyond, in fact.
Based on this Larry Bohannan story about the LPGA having trouble with U.S. sponsors, perhaps the economy is already catching up to one tour.
Friday
May022008

How The R&A Got The Groove Rule Sacked?

E. Michael Johnson reports that the proposed rollback on grooves for competition is all but dead for 2009 and not looking good for 2010.

A call to the USGA last week for a status report on the proposal produced little in the way of news, as senior technical director Dick Rugge declined to comment on specifics -- except to say there was "no set timetable for a decision on grooves."

However, industry sources familiar with the situation tell Golf World the Condition of Competition as proposed is no longer on the table, meaning tour pros are likely to be able to use current grooves in 2009.

Meanwhile, USGA and R&A officials are set to meet again this month to discuss the groove proposal, with one industry insider characterizing the ruling bodies as still somewhat apart. "The USGA is ready to go, but the R&A believes the proposed rule is trying to do too much," said the source.
"Too much" to the R&A is defined as "any action whatsoever."
 

Meanwhile in this week's SI Golf Plus, PGA Tour pros were asked:

If the USGA bans U-grooves, will you sacrifice distance in favor of accuracy off the tee:

Yes: 25%

No: 75%

While I've never believed the U-groove change would impact player thinking off the tee, I do believe it would alter the aggressiveness of their approach shots and restore the importance of firm greens. Too bad the R&A does not agree.

Thursday
May012008

"Actually, my plan is to die in office at the age of 82"

april29_finchem_299x199.jpgAlan Shipnuck pens a lengthy and compelling profile of Tim Finchem for this week's SI Golf Plus. This is by far the riskiest move yet in the Finchem rebranding project, which started in earnest this February and takes on an edgier tone by the very notion of allowing SI access. (I shudder to think of the negotiations that took place before Shipnuck got the green light.)

There are many highlights including lots of new insight into the $5.2 million man. We learn about how his political career was derailed (got to pay those speeding tickets Tim!), about where he likes to vacation, why the WGC's are staying in the U.S. (it's TV's fault now!) and more seriously, moving anecdotes about his mom who sounds like she was truly a special person. We're also reminded what a big Democrat Finchem used to be, which is always good for getting the juices flowing with the groupthinkers on tour.

The only disappointing aspect of the piece was not Shipnuck's fault, but instead, the peculiar decision to headline it this way: "PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has made a lot of golfers very, very rich — and a few very, very angry."

While we hear from a few angry folks you'd expect to hear from (Norman, Vickers, Pernice), it would have been nice to hear more from the rank and file about beefs with say, his excessive salary, their take on lavish executive compensation, the stockpiling of VP's or Finchem's weak record when it comes to actions related to equipment regulation, slow play and course setup. Though we learn Phil Mickelson is still definitely not a fan.

There was also this quote about his passion for restructuring and, well, firing people.

"An organization needs to be constantly refreshed," he says.

You ever notice that executive types who say stuff like that never feel that applies to themselves? And in Finchem's case, it seems he may want to keep working beyond the end of his current deal.

Should it come to pass, the Olympics would wreak havoc with the Tour's schedule, but Finchem sees it as one of the best ways to expand the game globally, which makes it the right thing to do. On the other hand, 2016 is the target date, by which time the logistics will be another commissioner's problem.

Or will they?

"Actually, my plan is to die in office at the age of 82," Finchem says with a hearty laugh.

In fact the commissioner says he has no time line in mind for the end of his tenure and that "it would be a mistake to assume" he will step down in four years when his contract expires.

How can I complain? He makes blogging easy.

Thursday
May012008

"I think guys are tired of using the same tee box for all four rounds"

img10808234.jpgSteve Elling reports on David Toms' course setup/slow play related comments following an opening 67 at the Wachovia. Why didn't I get this rant when I talked to him for my Golf World story on setup?
"The issue came up this time about golf course setup, and why does it have to be so difficult?" said David Toms, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board, the governing body of the circuit. "I mean, golf-course setup is why you see pro golfers, the best in the world, a guy shoot 67 and then another guy shoot 79, is because there is such a fine line there.

"You get on the wrong side, and it just takes a while (time-wise). So I think we can do a combination of things. Obviously if you ask the field staff, they would tell you there are way too many people playing, and you can't get them around that fast."

Au contraire, Toms said.

"Golf course setup, I think, is a big deal," said Toms, the first-round leader at the Wachovia Championship. "If you saw pins in the middle of the greens like you do for the pro am, I think we'd get along a lot quicker. All of it goes hand in hand, and we'll see.
This is interesting...
"I think they looked at last week. J.J. Henry made the comment, 'Listen, I worked on that golf course, and you guys didn't use the multiple tees that we built to make holes play different, and it doesn't always have to be all the way back on every hole and the pins, two, three, four (yards) from the edge on a day when it's blowing 25 or 30 mph.' So all those things might help."

Henry was a player consultant on the revamped Nelson course in Dallas. Was it coincidence, then, that players noted a slightly less toothy Quail Hollow setup in the first round?

The testy course's two toughest par-3 holes were softened considerably Thursday, a welcome development for players. The tee on the sixth hole was moved from 250 up to 236 yards and the markers on the brutal, water-choked 17th were moved from 217 to 175.

"I think guys are tired of using the same tee box for all four rounds," veteran Tag Ridings said. "Especially on the par-3s. They obviously made a quick change on that already."

Thursday
May012008

The Comeback Of The Caddie?

2004377419.jpgThanks to reader Nick for Blaine Newnham's story in the Seattle Times about the comeback of the caddie.

To get an idea how big the caddie renaissance is, Bandon Dunes has nearly 300 caddies in its recently erected $1 million "shack" near the practice facility. It has a high-tech TV and large lunchroom and locker room for the employees.

At Chambers Bay, where there are 170 caddies, the lure for the older guys is the chance to play one round for every five you caddie.

For the kids there is chance for a college scholarship.

There are 19 students attending the University of Washington on an Evans Scholarship, money dedicated for tuition and housing at the UW or WSU for kids who meet the entrance standards and have worked in the golf industry, historically as caddies.
Thursday
May012008

Phil Says Torrey Is The Hardest Course In The World; Vows To Use Newfound Heighth To Tackle It

Andrew Both reports:

"Even if it's soft I don't think anything close to even-par will win," Mickelson told reporters after firing a four-under 68 in the Wachovia Championship first round on Thursday.

"I think it's the hardest course in the world, 7,600 yards at sea level."

The 37-year-old Mickelson said the rough was particularly brutal, even by usual U.S. Open standards.

He played the course with two friends, both scratch-handicap amateurs.

"They are two very good amateurs and they shot about 85," said triple major winner Mickelson. "They had a better-ball score of 80."

 

Thursday
May012008

Iconic Chambers Tree Vandalized; Rees Jones Not A Suspect At This Time

146-Tree.highlight.prod_affiliate.5.JPGDavid Wickert of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Thanks to reader Greg for this.

Thursday
May012008

"TPC San Francisco Bay at Stonebrae" To Vie For Most Overbranded Golf Course Name In History

I don't get this one, but I'm sure charity was at the heart of the decision...

PGA TOUR Adds TPC San Francisco Bay at Stonebrae to Its Network of Private Clubs

Course to Host Nationwide Tour Event in 2009 Benefiting Bay Area Children’s Charities

HAYWARD, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The PGA TOUR announced today that it will expand its presence in the San Francisco Bay area through an agreement to manage the David McLay Kidd-designed championship golf course at Stonebrae, a private, gated country club community located in the East Bay hills. The newly renamed TPC San Francisco Bay at Stonebrae will become the host site for the Nationwide Tour’s new Stonebrae Classic, scheduled for March 30 – April 5, 2009, which will assume the Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship at Wente Vineyard’s spot on the Tour schedule. The Stonebrae Classic joins two other prestigious PGA TOUR events in the region: The Presidents Cup, scheduled to be held Oct. 5-11, 2009, at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, and the Champions Tour’s pinnacle Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Sonoma Golf Club in Sonoma, CA, Oct. 30 – Nov. 2, 2008. The Schwab Cup Championship will be held at Harding Park Golf Course in 2010 and 2011.

The Santa Cruz-based Jordan & Kyra Memorial Foundation (www.jordanandkyra.org) dedicated to pediatric cancer research and family care will serve as the host tournament organization for the Stonebrae Classic. The Foundation was founded by Rob Stuart, father of Jordan Stuart, and David Pillsbury, uncle of Kyra Pillsbury – two Bay Area children who died at a young age from brain tumors. The primary beneficiary of the tournament will be George Mark Children’s House (www.georgemark.org) in San Leandro, established in 2004 to provide the best quality of care for seriously and terminally ill children and their families. The event will also benefit Koret Family House (www.familyhouseinc.org) in San Francisco, a non-profit residence for the families of children undergoing cancer treatment at UCSF Medical Center.

“We are excited to plant the PGA TOUR flag at this prestigious David McLay Kidd design, which will become the new flagship private club on the west coast for the TPC Network,” said Pillsbury, PGA TOUR Golf Course Properties President.

The flagship? I guess TPC Valencia as the mother of all west coast TPC's?

“In addition to providing private club members and Stonebrae residents with a unique PGA TOUR golf experience, TPC San Francisco Bay will bring the future stars of the PGA TOUR to the East Bay during the Stonebrae Classic, as well as serve as an outstanding platform for supporting seriously and terminally ill children throughout Northern California.”

The Stonebrae Classic will feature 144 players competing in 72 holes of stroke play, with a cut after 36 holes. The tournament will be part of the 2009 Nationwide Tour, the official proving ground of the PGA TOUR, which awards TOUR cards at season’s end to its 25 leading money winners. All four rounds of the Stonebrae Classic will be televised on the Golf Channel, the exclusive television home of the Nationwide Tour. With support from the Stonebrae Classic Host Committee, led by John Chen, Chairman & CEO of Sybase, the Stonebrae Classic will work in partnership with The Presidents Cup to develop tournament and sponsorship opportunities that will include TPC San Francisco Bay memberships and other exceptional benefits.

“For the past three years, the Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship at Wente Vineyards has done an outstanding job of bringing championship golf to the East Bay and we are excited that the Nationwide Tour will continue to have a presence through the Stonebrae Classic,” said Nationwide Tour President Bill Calfee. “We look forward to the opportunity to work in partnership with the PGA TOUR and The Presidents Cup to generate funding and awareness for children’s charities benefiting families throughout the region.”

Wait, Bill Calfee works for the PGA Tour at PGA Tour offices. Hasn't he already had the opportunity to work with the PGA Tour?

The course at Stonebrae was developed by Stonebrae LP, part of YCS Golf Properties, known for its award-winning Dallas National Golf Club. Opened for member play in 2007, TPC San Francisco Bay’s magnificent par-72, 7,200-yard layout was designed by world-renowned Scottish golf course architect David McLay Kidd of DMK Golf Design, designer of Bandon Dunes in Oregon and currently in the process of completing the new Castle Course at St. Andrews. The Scottish links-influenced layout was etched into the Walpert Ridge hillside on 1,700 pristine acres more than 1,500 feet above the Bay, and features sweeping panoramic vistas, an abundance of rolling grasslands, wind-twisted oaks, and lichen-glazed rock outcroppings, creating a stunning natural backdrop for a challenging but enjoyable test of golf.

Lichen-glazed? You know, I think it's best we don't know what kind of glazing that is.

Thursday
May012008

"'Can you please go on the Golf Channel and make a retraction?'"

Bob Harig fleshes out the Daly-Harmon saga, and includes this from Butch:

Reached Wednesday at his golf school near Las Vegas, Harmon had a different version of the conversation.

"John called me last Thursday," Harmon said. "His opening line to me was 'I've lost all my contracts because of what you said. Can you please go on the Golf Channel and make a retraction?'"

This could be the ultimate sign that we should be concerned about John Daly's well being: he thinks a statement on The Golf Channel would actually be heard by a sizeable audience? Get this man help! 

Wednesday
Apr302008

"But it is clear that, like the rest of us, the St Andrews-based governing body has had enough."

dawson_26010t.jpgI finally had a chance to look over the press accounts of Peter Dawson's press conferences. Dawson offered something unprecedented in the history of golf's governing bodies: outlining architectural revisions to world class courses, all ideas of the R&A.

Knowing that anything architecture and nuanced is tough for the slingers to get their arms around, I was not surprised to read that they ran with the spin that R&A was not excessively lengthening rota courses. Nor was I expecting to find serious stories questioning the absurd notion of changing golf courses just so the R&A doesn't have to regulate equipment in any meaningful way.

I was, however, shocked to read that the R&A is on a mission to speed up play!

Dawson answered a simple question about slow play and a series of follow ups, eventually revealing that the topic had been added to the docket next time golf's suits convene to assure each other that golf in the Olympics will grow the sport and to pat each other on the back for working together on drug testing (which many of them resisted).

Check out the rave reviews for the R&A apparent determination to rid the game of slow play.

James Corrigan in the Independent:

Having watched in despair - not to mention boredom - as the final two-ball took five hours, 10 minutes to complete the final round of the Masters earlier this month, the R&A realised something must be done about what Peter Dawson, their chief executive, agreed was rapidly turning into “a cancer in golf“.

Douglas Lowe in the Herald:

The R&A have now placed slow play on the agenda for the meeting of the World Golf Foundation immediately after the Players' Championship next month in Florida. The foundation, comprising key power brokers in the game, was set up 14 years ago to help growth of the game while preserving traditions.

Iain Carter writing for the BBC:

And it is clear the R&A will be following a similar path as it sets about dealing with the biggest evil in the game at the moment, slow play.

But it is clear that, like the rest of us, the St Andrews-based governing body has had enough.

Had enough? He answered a question!

Richard Williamson in the Liverpool Daily Post:

The R&A is also keen to help cut down on the problem of slow play in the sport.

Speaking at Royal Birkdale, venue for this summer's Open Championship, Dawson urged a worldwide crackdown on the snails who are making golf less attractive and driving people away from the sport.

It's touching to read these breathless accounts of a topic that only came up after tough questioning. It's also odd to find that not one of the writers considered that just possibly the R&A and USGA's lax work on equipment regulation might have led to changes in the game that force the redesign of courses, or dare I say, play to slow down because players are waiting for greens to clear.

But slow players need not worry. If the R&A is on the case, you can bet any significant proposals will be tabled for years to come. 

Wednesday
Apr302008

"Hey, at least I have a disease named after a famous Yankee"

news071a.jpgThe New York Post's Ralph Wimbish writes about the plight of Bob Labbance, how he's still got his sense of humor and shares some information on how to help out.
Wednesday
Apr302008

Tiger Still On Schedule To Miss Fifth Of Four Majors

Mark Soltau reports that Tiger hasn't ruled out an appearance at the Memorial.

And speaking of the fifth of four majors, I didn't even to launch the annual fifth major watch before Dave Shedloski had to go and file the gem of all fifth major stories, with Tiger asking: "Is the fifth major my fifth major?" Hit the link to find out his answer. I know you're anxious to find out.

Wednesday
Apr302008

What Would Tiger's Handicap Be?

Tiger_revision_for_web.jpgReader Chema passed along this computation of Tiger's handicap by the folks at the Golf Association of Philadelphia.
Wednesday
Apr302008

Phil Undergoes Late In Life Growth Spurt; Adjusts Equipment Accordingly

Steve Elling with a tale that only Phil Mickelson could dream up.
Phil Mickelson, who a few years ago caused more than a few media smirks when he explained how the 20 pounds of off-season muscle he had gained remained hidden under a layer of subcutaneous fat, on Wednesday dropped a comparably eyebrow-hiking story.

An even taller tale at that, perhaps?

Mickelson, at age 37, believes he has grown between a half-inch to an inch because of the workouts and stretching regimen he's been undergoing over the past few seasons.

The topic came up Wednesday at the Wachovia Championship when Mickelson said he has switched to a putter that is 1.5 inches longer in an effort to improve his putting woes, which have held him back since his hot start that included a win in Los Angeles and a playoff loss in Phoenix.

"I've known that I've become a half-inch, inch taller for a few years, but I just thought, gosh, I'm not putting well, and now is the time to make an adjustment if I'm going to go to a longer putter," he explained. "It's easier on my back as much as I practice putting.

"So, given that I wasn't putting well, it just was easier to just start with it. So that's what I ended up doing when I came back and started working on it. I just started with a 35-inch putter rather than a 33½."

I'm certainly no exercise physiology expert, but is it possible that an athlete can grow in height, specifically if he has added a good bit of weight over the years? A quick, and highly unscientific Website search generated inconclusive results.

Then again, maybe his newfound height comes from those extra-long spikes Vijay Singh was complaining that Mickelson wore at the Masters a couple of years ago.

Wednesday
Apr302008

“This is just another strange chapter in the John Daly saga"

Steve Eubanks follows up on John Daly's remarks in Spain Wednesday about Butch Harmon apologizing for not getting facts right about Long John's drinking regimin.
“That story is complete BS,” Harmon told Yahoo! Sports. “John Daly called me last Thursday and said, ‘Pro you killed me. I’ve lost all my contracts.’ I said to him, ‘John, I’m sorry you lost your contracts, but I haven’t done anything to you. You did it to yourself, and you continue to do it to yourself.’ He asked if I would go on the record with a retraction, and I said no.”

Harmon had installed certain guidelines for Daly to follow for the two to continue working together. They included the pledge that Daly would curtail his drinking and get himself in better shape. When Daly failed to keep his end of the agreement, Harmon fired him in early March.

“This is just another strange chapter in the John Daly saga,” Harmon said. “He takes no responsibility for anything.”

As for Daly’s recent statements, the only thing Harmon agrees with is that the two will not be working together again in the foreseeable future. “Not going to happen,” Harmon said.
Tuesday
Apr292008

"The last time the Open Championship was here at Birkdale was ten years ago in 1998, and as we know, the game has moved on somewhat since then"

Yesterday we learned that R&A chief spinster Peter Dawson was proud of the organization's revamping of 2009 Open host Turnberry. Tuesday the governing body of golf outside North American proudly announced  changes to 16 out of 18 holes at 2008 Open host Royal Birkdale, including a narrowing of many landing areas.

Hey, it never gets windy over there, you can tighten those babies all day long and no one will notice!

Tuesday Dawson sat down for two press conferences to further discuss the changes and other issues in the game. The only thing more astonishing than his answers was the lack of one decent follow up question asking why the R&A is going around to nearly all of its rota courses and making changes! So much for the demanding British press.

Here's Dawson's joint press conference with Michael Brown and David Hill, where you better get a cart because he's going through all 18 changes. Who knew the R&A was in the architecture business?

None of the alterations is apparently more offensive than Birkdale's new 17th green, which sounds like a disaster if even the lowly scribblers in attendance were astounded by its hideous nature.

Now, this green I quite understand has caused a little bit of controversy. Many of you made comments on it yesterday, and we do fully understand those comments. Let me say a few things about it. It is a par-5, so it's not as if we're expecting the green to be hit at with long irons. The type of green it is is a green that the pros are accustomed to on many golf courses they play at. If you look at Augusta a couple weeks ago, there's probably 18 more sporty greens there than this one. But we are aware that it's a green that could get away from us if we're not careful, and we will be using conservative pin positions and taking great care with the green speed. If we weren't aware of that, we could get into trouble, but we are and we won't. We will be monitoring how this green performs during the Championship to see if anything needs to be done to it in the future. So we're aware it's controversial. We'll have to see how it goes.

And we know how well that attitude worked for the USGA.

Clearly Dawson came prepared for the writers to ask how they can justify emasculating courses instead of doing something about equipment advances. And since questioning the disturbing nature of narrowing courses might require thought, Dawson was able to slip this in.

Overall we've increased the length of the golf course by only 155 yards, which is 2 per cent. Instead of hitting it 100 yards you've got to hit it 102, so the length addition is not that significant.

Now, you'd think that just maybe someone would say, hey, isn't narrowing, lengthening and tricking up courses going to make rounds take longer? Some questions almost got there:

Q. We had a situation at The Masters this year where Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker took five hours to play in a two-ball in the final round. I believe that Adam Scott's group on Sunday was three hours for nine holes. Obviously slow play is the cancer on the game. How do we get players to move quicker around the golf course?

PETER DAWSON: I think we will certainly be aiming to do better than five hours and ten minutes. I think in recent times, particularly on the weekend, we've actually done quite well at the Open. Basic play has not really been an issue, and I'm quite confident that we can do an awful lot better than that.

Q. It's not an issue at the Open perhaps but it is an issue generally. It is getting abysmal. I'm wondering with the R & A as a governing body, how do we get them to get a move-on?

PETER DAWSON: We are concerned about this. We did see some very slow play at The Masters. That's not a criticism of the Augusta event, it just happened to happen.

 He acts like it's an isolated incident!

I wasn't aware of the Adam Scott group statistic. But we do have a meeting coming up in two or three weeks of the World Golf Foundation, where everyone around the table who runs professional golf will be there, and we have put the subject on the agenda, and we hope we will be able to get some meeting of the minds that it is a problem and start to work towards some improvement.

But as you say, it certainly needs something doing about it, not just for the running of these events but for the effect it has on grass-roots play. We do see people not unnaturally copying the stars, and I think it has had an effect on pace of play generally. We all know, don't we, that pace of play is one of the issues cited for participation, and the time that golf takes is an issue that's been cited for keeping participation levels down. It's clearly an issue right across the game, top to bottom, up and down the game, and I think it behooves all the governing bodies in golf to address it.

Yes, let's narrow, lengthen and toughen courses. That sets a wonderful example and really helps speed things up!

And after a few dull questions...

Q. When you say you're looking for a meeting of minds, what is the R & A's view on what can be done?

PETER DAWSON: I think at a professional level it's like drugs. It's a 52-week-a-year occupation, and I do think that ways need to be found to, one, educate players to encourage them, and as a last resort penalise them if they don't respond. We're not seeing any slow play penalties in the game, and that's the last thing we want to see is players being penalised, but unless there's a realistic threat of it, it's hard to see that this would improve.

Well he's right about that.

Here's the one question related to the remarkable number of changes to a course that most thought was already pretty darn good.

Q. The question I was going to ask, which I am going to ask, have you made as many changes to Open courses, to other Open courses, as you have to this one? You described 16 of the 18, which seems to me to be quite a lot.

PETER DAWSON: Well, it is, of course. Many of the changes, if you do it as a whole count, are quite minor. A number are more significant.

We've been going through a programme at all our Open venues by agreement with the clubs and the hosts of some quite significant changes. You're going to see a good deal at Turnberry next year, and you'll probably see quite a few at Livermore in 2012. Royal St. Georges we have, as well, but this is among the more significant in terms of quantum.

And why are these time test venues in need of so many "significant" changes?

I think I know why I don't get invited to their conference calls anymore.

Speaking of that, the conference call produced the killer quote of the day...

Q. My question has to deal with the course setup for the Open. As you know, there was a bit of consternation at The Masters as to how things played out the last couple years, and these questions always come up at the U.S. Open. I'm just curious your philosophy on how you like the course to play when the tournament begins in July.

PETER DAWSON: Well, the last time the Open Championship was here at Birkdale was ten years ago in 1998, and as we know, the game has moved on somewhat since then, and we have made a considerable number of course alterations here at Birkdale. Only two holes have had nothing done to them. The majority of holes, the alterations have been all about repositioning bunkers and run-off areas around the greens, but five holes have been significantly altered. And overall, the length of the golf course has gone up by 155 yards, which is only 2 percent of an increase. So the player length for this year's Championship will be 7,173 yards, but most of the changes have been designed to be strategic or requiring more accuracy from the players.

The game has moved on somewhat since then. Somewhat.

Tuesday
Apr292008

"And Jack said, 'Well, I think it's just awful'"

SCIOTO_TMD3_-_04_10_2008_-.jpg_04-29-08_C1_PDA29PO.jpgBob Baptist in the Columbus Dispatch lets Michael Hurdzan tell the story of Scioto Country Club's renovation where he had a little help from Jack Nicklaus.
The eighth hole at Scioto Country Club is the club's "postcard hole," a 500-yard par-5 on which a stream crosses the fairway, feeds into a lake left of the green and then feeds back out through a stone moat encircling the other three sides of the green.

"It's been a picturesque hole for us for many years," course superintendent Mark Yoder said.

Its beauty, though, was not in the eye of the beholder one day last spring as Jack Nicklaus walked toward a members committee on No. 8 and said, "Well, what do you guys think of this green?"

"The members said, 'We love it,' " said Mike Hurdzan, a local golf course architect who also was there that day. "They said, 'This is our favorite green. It doesn't get any better than this. This is our signature hole.'

"And Jack said, 'Well, I think it's just awful,' " Hurdzan said with a smile, "and I'm saying to myself, 'Oh, my God, this is really going to get fun.'

"Jack said, 'What makes you think this is such a good hole?' Now, all of a sudden, he's (challenging) these members to try to explain to Mr. Jack Nicklaus, winner of 18 majors, why this is such a good golf green? And all of a sudden people are looking at it and saying, 'Well, maybe it isn't so good.' "

Tuesday
Apr292008

The Boo Files: "If you ain't ever done it, you need to try."

They lured Boo Weekley into the Wachovia press tent to talk about his test driving a NASCAR, one of the player perks this week.

Q. What did you do this morning?
BOO WEEKLEY: I went and drove them NASCARs, them speed cars over there at the Motor Speedway here in Charlotte. It was awesome. If you ain't ever done it, you need to try.

Q. How fast did you get?

BOO WEEKLEY: The first session I went, I went like 138, 134, something like that, and then the second session I think I got it up around close to 150. It is very exciting and very tense. I've got a new perspective of how them guys go about the driving.

Q. Is it just the speed or the bend?

BOO WEEKLEY: It's the whole thing. You get a vehicle that's probably more expensive than what I own at the house, everything (laughter), you know, if you pile that thing up in the wall, you can't just say, hey, I'm sorry (laughter). It was kind of nerve-wracking, you know?

And later on, talking about the cars... 
Q. Can what you did this morning in any way help you out on the golf course?

BOO WEEKLEY: I don't think so. I don't know (laughing). It might help -- I think some of the guys need to go out there that are slower players; maybe they'd learn to speed up a little bit (laughter).

It wasn't all comedy and cars...

Q. Did you play with Trevor the first two days at Augusta?

BOO WEEKLEY: I did indeed, sir. I talked to his caddie Neil a while ago, and it was kind of amazing. I saw a little bit of it as we were playing because very rarely -- when you get into a zone or when you get into where you're actually feeling comfortable over what you're doing, but Trevor, the first two days I played with him, he looked so just focused, confident, the whole nine yards, and it's amazing that you very rarely see that as a player. But when you look at it and you see another player doing that, you're like, man, I wish I could get where he's at, in that comfort zone. I think a lot of it had to do with what happened for me the following week at Hilton Head is because I actually was focusing on a lot of the stuff I saw him doing. I kind of tried to get myself in that position, and it was neat.

Tuesday
Apr292008

"I don't have a comment about that."

amd_holy-name-golf.jpgThanks to Scott for Dennis Hamill's New York Daily News column on a case of greed from Goldman Sachs-owned American Golf. They are running off a New York charity group with excessive pricing...at a city owned course.

Last year, Houlie organized 600 neighborhood people to board an ocean cruise, kicking in $60 each toward Holy Name and Bishop Ford.

"And every year for the past 13 years on the first Thursday of June we've held a golf outing at Dyker in honor of Eddie Farrell, who used to own Farrell's," says Houlie. "The Boy Scouts volunteer to cook and clean up at a barbecue in the schoolyard after the golf outing. The proceeds, around $15,000, go to Holy Name. This year, the Dyker Golf people priced us right off the course. For the first time, we're forced to leave Brooklyn and go to Breezy Point pitch and putt because Dyker got greedy with our little religious charity."

Mike Coyne, a hospital administrator, handled the Holy Name negotiation with Dyker. "Every year, we get about 160 guys who participate," he says. "In 2006, Dyker charged us $57 per golfer. In '07 they charged us $68. This year, they wanted $89. That's a 31% jump over last year."

On weekdays, Dyker Beach Golf Course charges $54.67 for greens fees and a cart for a city resident. "But they wanted to charge us $89 a head," says Coyne. "When we did the cruise, the cruise line gave us a big discount for having a large number of people. In this case, Dyker Beach Golf wants to charge us $89 a head because there are a lot of us. It's crazy."

And...

 

"This isn't a corporate event," says Coyne. "This is cops, firemen, sanitation workers who want to help keep their neighborhood school open. We can't ask a working guy for $180 for a day of golf. I tried to explain that to the people at Dyker Beach but they didn't want to hear it. I asked them if we could get a better price at Marine Park, which most golfers feel is an inferior course, and they said, 'no.' They run that one, too. You can't negotiate with a monopoly. So we went to Breezy Point to a pitch and putt and we're charging $100 a head."

This didn't sound right. Especially when American Golf boasts on its Web site about, "... our commitment to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in the communities we serve. That's why we support local grass roots charitable efforts. ..."

So I called Jeff DeFranco, manager of Dyker Beach Golf, and asked about all of this. He said, "I don't have a comment about that."

And hung up.
Monday
Apr282008

Callaway Supports Bifurcation

1508WB0.jpgVery nice spot by reader Mark reading an Economist piece on Callaway CEO George Fellows, who apparently endorsed bifurcating the sport to save it.

Another obvious strategy, though a more controversial one, is to make golf more “consumer-friendly”—meaning easier. Golf's rulemakers have tended to focus on maintaining the integrity of the game for the best players, which has made life tough for the rest. Callaway has to conform to a welter of arcane specifications: there are regulations about how far from the centre of the club a ball can be hit and still go straight, for example. These are intended to stop Tiger Woods shooting 30 under par, but also make the game less fun for less gifted players. Golf needs to “bifurcate” into a professional sport and a game for the masses, says Mr Fellows. One opportunity is to think outside the old 18-hole, four-hour box. Callaway has recently invested in TopGolf, a business that turns a driving range into a sort of dart board, where players aim at targets and scores are calculated with the help of radio transmitters in the balls.

It's amazing that it took a major company this long to endorse the concept. But at this point, other than grooves, is there really much that could be done to make equipment so much more user friendly that it would encourage growth?

Perhaps if Mr. Fellows had noted bifurcation could lead to less expensive equipment thanks to less emphasis on spending ridiculous marketing millions to convince people that they can get the same benefits from technology as the PGA Tour's best, then he'd be onto something.