Trump Properties, E-Verify And The Golf Industry

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After reading Joshua PartlowNick Miroff and David A. Fahrenthold  Washington Post story on the pipeline of illegal Costa Ricans working at various Trump Organization properties for years, it’s easy to see how this will put pressure on the golf industry to either suggest this is a one-off situation, or adopt E-Verify.

Many of the immigrants interviewed worked on the construction of Trump Bedminster, home of the 2022 PGA Championship.

“Many of us helped him get what he has today,” Angulo said. “This golf course was built by illegals.”

The Washington Post spoke with 16 men and women from Costa Rica and other Latin American countries, including six in Santa Teresa de Cajon, who said they were employed at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. All of them said they worked for Trump without legal status — and that their managers knew.

While Mr. Trump now villifies such illegals, the company has adopted the E-Verify system at select properties.

Of 12 Trump golf courses in the United States, three of them — in North Carolina, Southern California, and Doral, Fla. — are enrolled in the E-Verify system, according to a federal database. Eric Trump said that “a few” other clubs, including a Trump course in the Bronx, use a private vendor to screen new applicants. 

The Post story noted that competitors in the industry more consistently rely on E-Verify. But shouldn’t the golf industry, presumably supportive of this policy, proactively push for industry-wide use of the program?

Oh right, they like cheap labor more. Scratch that thought!

Farmers: Repairing Green Damage Comes To Poa Annua, Will It Matter?

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For years pro golfers have fixed ball marks in their lines, increasingly without consulting their playing partners. The governing bodies presumably have created the new green damage repair rule to allow this sometimes questionable improvement of a putting line.

Doug Ferguson of AP considers what will become of the rule now that players have arrived at the sometimes bumpier and more-prone-to-damage poa annua greens at Torrey Pines. Players are still unsure how much can be damaged.

“At Kapalua, I fixed ball marks, but I was only tapping them down because it was Bermuda,” Xander Schauffele said. “Out here, you might do a little more than a simple tap down. ... This place, late in the day, it feels like you’re playing a game of Plinko.”

Schauffele was quick to note one part of the new rule: Damage can be repaired without unusual delay.

“It could, depending on how these players take the rule to heart ... if you’re trying to fix a 40-foot putt, it’s going to be tricky with pace of play,” Schauffele said. “Rules officials will be on us. The time clock hasn’t changed. If you want to spend 35 seconds tapping down the line, you’re going to have to pull the trigger in less than what you normally do.”

I penned this item for Golfweek with Rory McIlroy’s slight concerns about what is and what is not damage. The piece also includes video of what a spikeless-shoe green can look like after a day of play. Granted, 1080p and modern contrast makes the greens look way worse than they are given how far Torrey’s surfaces have come since Tiger’s infamous bouncing putt in the 2008 U.S. Open.

To be clear: the greens are excellent. Smooth as bent in the afternoon? No. But compared to poa of 20 years ago, there is no comparison.

R&A Rules Chief Rickman Confident New Rules Will Speed Up Play

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As the USGA and R&A rolled out the actual written Rules of Golf coming in 2019—please give them clicks, much editing went into this!Golfweek’s Alistair Tait asked the R&A’s David Rickman about the proverbial elephant in the room: spike mark tapping.

While spikes are virtually gone, the idea that players can massage their line continues to not sit well with many, including yours truly, who is struggling to reconcile playing the ball as it lies while being freed up to manipulate the ground between your ball and the hole.

Besides the philosophic disconnect, Tait zeroes in on the past lessons learned from allowing spike mark tapping on the European Tour and Rickman says times have changed.

“It was an area in the extensive discussions that we talked about for some time because in all of this we were interested in speeding the game up, and this change in particular could potentially even go the other way. But what I would say is that it does present a completely different dynamic,” he said.

“I think we’ll see people repairing damage as a collective at different times. I think what you will also see is that the putting green surfaces will generally be maintained throughout the day through the actions of all the players at different times in a much higher standard. So those players at the end of the are only repairing the minimal damage that hasn’t already been repaired. I think in reality it will work.”

I don’t. And this is someone who believes in Rickman’s views on the rules. Primarily, I just can’t see how you can instill a “play it as it lies” mentality in today’s players or future generations when you can now make it lie on the greens. They already complain when all 18 greens are not of the same firmness and speed, and providing a free-for-all to manicure lines seems like less of a slow play issue and more of a core value undermining problem.

Certainly a case could be made that introducing spike-mark tapping could have alleviate pressure on supers to present perfect conditions. But the first time you watch an elite player turn golf into curling by massaging their line, I’m confident you’ll miss the old play it as it lies days.

We’ll find out soon enough!

U.S. Open V. The Open: Green Speeds Make The Difference

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After playing his first Open, Luke List is wishing the USGA mimic the R&A in setup philosophy, reports Tony Jimenez for Reuters.

A similar refrain was repeated many times by players, observers and fans who enjoyed the tough-but-fair and noticeably faster golf, though as I note in this assessment of Carnoustie for Golfweek, the issue is layered but also incredibly simple: green speeds made the difference between complimenting Carnoustie's architecture, and ruining it.

Pace of play was noticeably better and as a "product," The Open proved infinitely more pleasurable to watching without having to spend so much time watching players grind over short putts for four days.

While professional golfers are praising the R&A coming off the U.S. Open setup issues, there were more than a handful of silly hole locations saved only by green speeds in the high 9s when leaders reached them.  Had the USGA slowed greens at Shinnecock down to the high 9's, there would have been softer and bumpier conditions that today's spoiled-by-bent-grass players would loathe. But on a seaside links with a blend of poa, fescue and bent, with a links mindset, the players are more accepting of a bumpiness.

And really, the ball goes too far.

On another day we can continue to lament how much course setup manipulation must take place to mask regulatory mistakes and debate how vital it is for golf to slow greens down.

In the meantime, I'd prefer to celebrate a magnificent week at Carnoustie made special by Mother Nature baking out an outstanding course. As I note in the Golfweek piece, Carnoustie has had a troubled relationship with the rota at times, but brilliant maintenance management by Craig Boath's team, mostly great work by the R&A and a hot, dry summer allowed the links to remind people of its great strategic character.

Herculean: Ariya Headed For Coronation As Shoal Creek Is Somehow Playable

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As Ariya Jutanagarn is positioned for a likely U.S. Women's Open victory (Beth Ann Nichols with a great read at Golfweek.com), it's the grounds crew that has kept the place playable despite absurdly unfair circumstances. 

Writing for USGA.org, Julie Williams highlights the work of Shoal Creek's Rex Davis and crew.

The week could have played out very differently. Davis noted that 15 days before the championship, Shoal Creek was playing firm and fast. The greater Birmingham area had seen limited rainfall.

“The golf course was playing the way we intended it to play,” Davis said. “Then Mother Nature threw us a curveball and we had to adapt.”

New greens went in at Shoal Creek in the fall of 2016. Given the moisture, they haven’t been as fast as Davis would have liked, but the drainage has helped to keep the championship close to schedule. Shoal Creek’s new greens drain at a rate that is four times faster than the old greens.

As Davis eyed the approach of subtropical storm Alberto, he started making preparations. Shoal Creek staff mowed the fairways seven times and the rough three times in the week before the championship, also applying growth regulators to the grass. Knowing the golf course might take on large amounts of rainfall, Davis had crews clearing pine straw and other ground cover from every place they anticipated that water would run through the property. 

Minimalist Maintenance Is Not More Expensive, Contrary To Popular Opinion

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I've always been particularly fascinated at the idea of minimalist course designs costing more to maintain.

The concept is generally perpetrated by the tin siding-salesman masquerading as golf architects who sometimes plaid jackets and would just as soon be selling you a policy as they would be in designing interesting, affordable golf holes. They also don't really like the minimalist movement for a variety of reasons, from general point missing to just wanting to sell projects on goods and services they don't need.

Born out of this have been derogatory whisper campaigns about the perils of going minimalist, including the contradictory notion that bunkers maintained as rough hazards take more time and money to present than those edged weekly and raked daily. 

So as accustomed to this completely bizarre take as we subscribers to the movement have become, it was a bit disheartening to read Gary Van Sickle's MorningRead.com take suggesting AT&T Byron Nelson Classic host site Trinity Forest was an example of the kind of "high-maintenance, slow-play golf course" the game needs less of.

Had Van Sickle been there to hear Jordan Spieth mention whizzing around the course in two-hours--golf board aided--or seen the turf, I wonder if this take might have been different:

Golf needs low-maintenance, fast-play golf courses. Trinity Forest is a high-maintenance, slow-play golf course. Did you see some of those massive bunkers? An amateur could spend five minutes raking his or her way out of the trap.

Greens are the most expensive parts of a golf course to maintain, and Trinity Forest has gigantic greens. One double green is 35,000 square feet. Pebble Beach’s front-nine greens would almost fit in that corral.

It’s ironic that Trinity Forest seemed like a breath of fresh air with its different look and myriad challenges, but it is not an economically viable model for golf in most areas.

Actually, it is. 

Despite the deep pockets of the members, the maintenance approach is pretty restrained.

Reviewing my notes from an interview with superintendent Kasey Kauff, he noted Trinity's full staff for the course is a very normal 24, including assistants and technicians.

Fairways are cut twice a week while bunkers are raked at the same rate (with touch ups). The greens are mown just five days a week in peak season, once or twice a week in the winter. 

Thanks to the slow-growing zoysia and lean watering program, bunkers are rarely edged. Fertilization is at half the rate of a Bermuda grass golf course. Half. 

As for slow play, maintenance and design are not to blame for threesomes in a full field PGA Tour event not getting around in a timely manner. When today's players can reach all par-5s in two and at least one par-4 in one, that's a distance discussion and sometimes a green speed discussion. Trinity Forest's greens were at a modest 10.5 on the Stimpmeter.

Yes, Trinity Forest is a wealthy membership with a token First Tee facility and it took millions to convert a landfill into a course only a select few rich guys can join. Quibble with that stuff all day long if you must. But suggesting the design is an example of high-cost maintenance and slow play maintenance would not be accurate. 

Initial Findings Confirm Faster Greens Mean Slower Play

While this is a shock to almost no one, we've never had solid statistical evidence that the chase for faster greens slows down play. Anyone who has some of the best putters on the planet mark 18 inch putts when greens are pushing 14 realizes speed forces caution for even the very best.

The USGA and University of Minnesota have teamed up for some very intriguing Science of the Green studies, and while it's early you have to admire their release of findings from a recent green speed/pace study at Poppy Hills. Parker Anderson explains the methodology, the plans for more extensive efforts and it's all worth reading, but of course we'll cut to the chase here:

An increase of one foot in Stimpmeter reading resulted in an increase of 6.39 seconds per green per player.  This one foot increase equates to an increase in total round time of a foursome of 7.67 minutes. In some instances, the increase in time spent per player per green resulted in an increase of as much as 30 minutes per round for a one foot increase in green speed (25 seconds per player per green). Overall, playing experience ratings decreased as green speeds increased. This decrease, although statistically significant, was small.

In conclusion, we found that faster greens equate to longer round times. The strength of this relationship, however, is not as substantial as we had hypothesized.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but I would disagree that the number is insignificant.

On these findings of one foot of speed increase, greens Stimping 9 for a foursome would take 76 seconds less to play a hole than a group dealing with 12 on the Stimpmeter. Over the course of 18 holes that adds up to over 20 minutes. Throw in the added cost, stress and architectural impact, all of which do not improve the game, and the chase for speed continues to make little sense.

Considering The Chances Of Another Major At Chambers Bay

For anyone hosting a major or thinking of doing so, Tony Dear's Links piece is worth a read given the high-profile Chambers Bay experiment.

As the story notes, it succeeded on the financial and ratings front, but agronomically left a scar that is now being rectified by a creative conversion to poa greens.

Since June 2015, Johnson has increased cultural inputs (mowing, rolling, fertilizer, pesticide, water) to favor annual bluegrass establishment, and is seeding the greens with the only commercially available annual bluegrass turf—Poa reptans Two-Putt. “The good news,” he says, “is that it establishes pretty well. The bad news is that its prolific seedhead production in the first year or so gives the greens that blotchy appearance.”

Johnson has also begun saving and analyzing clipping yields from the greens in an effort to monitor growth and make better decisions on when to cut, seed, fertilize, and irrigate. “Every-day play is our focus as a public course,” he says. “I want smooth greens as well as consistent speed and firmness.”

On the financial side, Chambers continued the trend of public-access venues raking in more money for the USGA (we won't know how Erin Hills fared for a while):

According to its Annual Report, USGA revenue from its Open championships (U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open) in 2016, when the U.S. Open was played at Oakmont, was $53.3m. In 2015, it was $64.3m. 

The irony in all of this is that Chambers would make a great PGA Championship venue...in August. May? Not so much. Though still certainly doable and capable of bringing big energy and bigger West Coast ratings.

Superintendent Headache Files: USGA Promoting Stimpmeters

A few years ago a post here noted the USGA Stimpmeter offer at USGA.org and while it was surreal then, to see the organization pushing the $110 devices in emails to their members. Including "For The Good Of The Game" branding on the devices seems almost April Fools worthy.

Especially given how we know green speed is dangerous to turf health, pace of play and architectural character, all things we know because of USGA research and experience!

Some in the superintendent community, who will have to deal with members perhaps buying the devices, were not pleased. 

Golf Industry Show Wrap: VR, Recycled Sod, Digital Grass Printing And Other Fun Stuff

The golf industry convened in Orlando last week to compare notes, take in seminars, talk turf and debate who reports to the more insane membership.

As we have the last few years, field producer extraordinaire Donny Goertz and I roamed the floor hoping to stumble on some fun stuff and this year may have been the best set of innovative products yet.

We talked with GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans about the state of the industry.

We took in the insane construction job supervised by the Golf Course Builders that created an undulating area for mower testing and real bunkers showcasing products.

One of those products was recycled soccer field artificial turf now being used for sodwall bunker stacking, changing a bunker face lifespan from 5 years to 20 or more.

We saw an amazing Pixar-like company that can simulate what your renovated or new course would look like and now is adding VR to the equation as well. Amazing!

And maybe our favorite of all, the people behind this:

 

 

We talked to the founder of New Ground Technology, Pete Davis, who explained the designs you've seen in outfields around Major League Baseball and how you can expect to start seeing them on golf courses. With, of course, some imaginative steps taken by tours and sponsors to more cleverly plant sponsorship onto turf in a responsible way.

Kansas Course Adopts Ancient Sustainability Program

John Green of the Hutchinson News reports on Crazy Horse Sport Club and Golf Course turning their native roughs over to three goats who will eat any weed, including poison ivy.

Green writes:

“They love the weeds,” said Matt Seitz, general manager of the now Crazy Horse Sport Club and Golf Course, 922 Crazy Horse Road. “Especially the poison ivy. I saw them running along and they just stopped and started gobbling it up. It’s like candy to them.”

Jon Mollhagen, the Lorraine rancher and businessman who bought the course earlier this year, obtained the three female animals from a friend, said Seitz, who did not know their breed.

“This a good way of controlling the weeds without chemicals,” Seitz explained. “We used to spray it, but it’s hard to control and we’d rather do it without all the herbicides and stuff.”

Besides, Seitz said, “they’re good at getting people talking. It’s something new.”

Of course it's not actually news, but the way many links once had their roughs maintained. In fact, quite a few could borrow the Crazy Horse practices and maybe give us healthier natives while saving a few balls. 

Vandenburg A.F. Base Golf Course Closing Over Water Costs

One of the best military base golf courses in the country is another casualty of California's drought and rising water prices.

Dave Alley of KEYT files a full report from the nearly 60-year-old course.

"It's the price of water," said Col. John Moss, 30th Space Wing Commander. "The price of water and what it requires to water the course has just gotten to the point where it's prohibitive for us to be able to afford that. This year alone would have cost us several hundred thousand dollars to water the course and it's just money we don't have."

The course, which opened to public play in 2005, has been sustained by non-appropriated funds during that time span. However, escalating water costs has made operating the course financially unsustainable. As the price of water has risen steadily over they years, the base has had to tap into MWR funds to cover costs.

"We are taking immediate action to ensure we are good stewards of our funds," said Josie Cordova, 30th Force Support Squadron (FSS) deputy director. "When the MWR Fund is in danger of bankruptcy, that threat includes potential closure of our other base support functions."

To help cut costs, the course implemented a series of measures over the past several years to conserve water, including installing more efficient water infrastructure.

"We stopped watering the middle of the fairways and reduced the amount of water we were putting in the course overall and ultimately we're at the point we're at now and we were only watering the greens and the tee boxes and even that wasn't enough," said Col. Moss.

I've played the course many years ago and saw it again in recent years and it's a gem on great terrain. Really a shame.

In Praise Of Slow Greens Files: Saturday At Royal Troon

Dave Shedloski talked to a few players after Saturday's Open Championship third round when the R&A decided not to mow greens, leaving them at 9.5 on the Stimpmeter. Players were notified by text of the speed figure and plan to not mow.

First, we should commend the R&A for taking the cautious approach, learning from last year's St. Andrews no-play day fiasco. Woohoo!

The bigger question involves speed and the belief that faster surfaces are a greater test of skill. We know that speed is used to protect courses and certainly a reading of 14 will make players defensive. And slower to get around.

Saturday at Troon the scoring average was 73.370 and yet, twosomes got around in 3:30 generally because every 2 footer did not need to be marked.

Two players lead who are not known for their ability to make a lot of putts of late, yet they seem to be putting well. But you also don't sense there is an overemphasis on putting.

Yet this was an interesting take from the various comments Shedloski reports.

“If they were 10, you wouldn’t have to think about it [the pace]. You would be surprised,” he said.

“You would just be thinking about hitting a good putt. But once you get down to that sort of 9.5, even over an 8-footer you have to say to yourself, ‘Don’t forget to hit it.’ That’s not a good thought to have if you’re trying to hole a putt.”

Or, is it? After all, it's a putting stroke and act of skill to stroke it in a solid way that gets it to the hole, no?

Isn't that a more skillful act than merely starting it on a line?

Players Saturday: Two Hole Locations Changed, Apologies Shared, Move On?

If you didn't see any of the coverage or believe me from my post yesterday that the PGA Tour rules staff genuinely didn't try to push TPC Sawgrass over the edge, note from Rex Hoggard's report that they changed two Sunday hole locations and expressed their regret.

PGA Tour VP Mark Russell appeared on both Morning Drive with Damon Hack and Todd Lewis on Live From to explain how sickened they were to lose control of the course.

I'm not sure many will believe him given the sense that scoring drove the changes. I certainly understand given my view that the overall push for green speeds is an intentional or subliminal movement in golf to combat the overmatched nature of courses.

Thoughts?

Elephant In The Room Files: Green Speed Push Blows Up Again

While I never enjoy seeing a course setup go bad--especially when I know how sick the PGA Tour rules staffers and weather forecasters will be following Saturday's TPC Sawgrass putting bloodbath--it's good to have days like this to remind people how close golf courses are taken to the edge in the name of resisting technological advances that no architecture can keep up with.

When Stimpmeter speeds hover in the 12-13 neighborhood, the slightest bit of drop in humidity mixed with little root structure and unexpected wind can send greens that just days before were said to be too soft (but still wickedly fast) into a state of goofiness. We reached a point in the sport where the green is taken up to extreme speeds and allowed to play too prominent of a role at all levels in part because agronomists are so good at what they do. But mostly, it's about, but the professional game having outgrown just about every course on the planet.

As the 2016 Players joined the list of tournaments influenced by a setup gone wild, we are reminded again that the modern golf ball, when hit by the world's best, goes distances not foreseen by designers and therefore is not something manageable by any design under 8000 yards.

The TPC Sawgrass, once a beast, is often overmatched in today's game. It's final defense, short of 5 inch rough and and adding new tees: extreme green speeds that are manageable until they're not.

Unlike every other professional sports league, the PGA Tour will never get in the business of regulating the equipment played at its events to keep courses relevant and green speeds at a sane level. So there is sweet irony in watching yet another position taken with profit margins in mind bubble to the surface at the Tour's marquee event.

The unfortunate takeaway most will have from Saturday's debacle will believe that the tour was angry at the low scoring and did this. But having been around the TPC all week, I didn't encounter one PGA Tour official even the least bit bothered by Jason Day breaking the 36-hole scoring record. This was a greater-than expected change in the weather that took greens so precariously close to the speed edge and turned them silly.

It's funny that a sport which self congratulates itself repeatedly for having more integrity than any other looks the other way when it comes to protecting the integrity of its playing fields, solely in fear of (potentially) costly regulatory fights that also might call into question golf's devotion to the gospel of unfettered capitalism. How is this sad state of affairs any less ridiculous than looking the other way on a doping scandal?

But I digress...

In Brian Wacker's GolfDigest.com round up of player comments, note Justin Rose's comment about the ball gliding over the greens. That's what happens when all moisture has been sucked out of the blades from mowing, rolling, heat, lack of humidity and perhaps some influence from the Precision air units underneath (assuming they were in use). Also note these numbers:

Over the first two days, there were 122 combined three-putts among the 144 players in the field. On Saturday there were 149 three-putts among the 76 players who made the cut, and 15 of those players had at least 34 putts for their round including McIlroy, who had 37.

Rex Hoggard has some eye-opening putting stats as well, and has this from PGA Tour VP of rules and competitions Mark Russell.

“We have done the same thing all week. We have been double cutting these greens and double rolling them and trying to get them firmed up,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “What happened today was just kind of a perfect storm with the weather. We weren't expecting a 20 mph wind all day, and the humidity 30 percent, not a cloud in the sky. And they just, you know, sped up on us.”

But then that doesn’t explain a three-putt percentage of historic proportions?

The Tour average for three-putts in a round is 2.93 percent, and on Thursday and Friday the field hovered around the norm with a 2.08 and 2.67 percent average, respectively. On Saturday that number skyrocketed to 11 percent.

Rory McIlroy had one of the worst days on the green, reports Will Gray at GolfChannel.com.

“I mean, it’s like a U.S. Open out there. I can’t really describe it any other way,” McIlroy said. “I just found I had a really difficult time adjusting to them. I stood up here yesterday and I said it’s amazing how differently the course plays from morning to afternoon, but I didn’t expect it to be like that out there this afternoon. That was borderline unfair on a few holes.”

McIlroy opened his round with a birdie, but he realized conditions had changed when his 85-foot eagle attempt on No. 2 raced nearly 18 feet past the hole. It led to the first of five three-putts on the day, including three such instances in a four-hole stretch on Nos. 10-13 that dropped him off the first page of the leaderboard.

Jim McCabe says the Shinnecock word came up a lot after the round.

“A lot of caddies kept asking, ‘What’s this remind you of?’ ” said James Edmondson, the caddie for Ryan Palmer. “Everyone said, ‘Shinnecock.’ ”

And when his back-nine 42 and round of 79 was complete, Ian Poulter blurted out “TPC Shinnecock,” only to catch himself and shake his head.
“I’ll refrain from saying anything,” Poulter declared, and wisely he moved to the autograph area and signed for a long line of youngsters.

ESPN.com's Bob Harig says players were not buying the tour's stance on greens getting the same treatment as the previous days. Technically that is true with one extra rolling between the conclusion of round two and the start of round three.

"It was a massive change -- it wasn't very subtle,'' Scott said.

"That was borderline unfair on a few holes,'' Rory McIlroy said.

"I felt like I was putting on dance floors out there,'' Billy Horschel said.

"It was crazy tough,'' Matsuyama said.

There were just three rounds Saturday in the 60s and only six under par. There were seven in the 80s. The 76 players in the field combined for 149 three-putts or worse -- a record for the course. There were 86 double-bogeys or worse.

Sergio's six-putt should not be watched by young children...