Jenkins: How much longer and tighter can courses get?

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post (reg req.) looks at Baltusrol and wonders what's becoming of major championship setups.

Woods's struggle at Baltusrol begs a question, and it's a question that governing bodies of golf have avoided thus far, but which they are going to have to face head on at some point soon. How long can they continue to protect golf courses against burgeoning technology? It's an issue that Woods has helped to force, with his length and ability to make a world-class course look like miniature golf. More and more, courses are gimmicked-up in an attempt to preserve par and control scoring. Even Augusta National is adding 155 yards to its length.

Some courses, according to Woods, have become so tricked up that they resemble "elephant burial grounds." But at a certain point, we are going to run out of ways to manipulate the acreage. What then? How much longer and tighter can courses become without completely distorting them, and the basic values of golf? The most sensible solution is to impose limits on technology, or to use a softer covered, standardized ball that won't travel as far. So far, the ruling bodies have declined to look at such solutions, because it would mean two different standards.

The equipment companies say they don't want pros playing one game, and amateurs playing another. But the reality is that we're already doing that now. How many amateurs can play a 650-yard par 5? When we gin up a tournament venue so dramatically, make it as brutal as it can be for one week, we create another standard. Isn't it easier to control the balls and clubs, than to stretch courses or distort them beyond recognition, until virtually half the field is eliminated on the first tee? Baltusrol is playing fairly -- barely.

Woods's opening round was the fault of his own errant swings. But we're seeing a suggestion here of what happens when the landscape is continually manipulated. Make a course too long, and you eliminate shorter ball strikers. Make it too narrow, and it becomes leveling and the ability of a Woods is totally negated. Either way, it neutralizes skill level -- which is exactly the opposite of what tournament golf should do.
Jenkins raises a question I hope to someday a governing body will contemplate: at what point is a fairway too narrow? Is it 20 yards? 15? 10? The width of a ball?

Friday PGA Reads

Well I stayed awake until 3 est time. But the ING ads are back, the fog rolled in, and I just had to lie down. Maybe tomorrows appearance by Charles Barkley will liven things up. Anyway, the post round coverage was thankfully more interesting than the telecast.

Golfonline's Cameron Morfit has some observations and notes. AP's Jim Litke looks at the long hitters in round 1, with some interesting anecdotes. Bill Pennington in the NY Times looks at the 17th and how players long and short handled it during round 1. Here's Tiger's post round1 press conference. I liked him a lot better when rounds like this meant blowing off press.

Golfweek's Jeff Rude looks at the how life and golf have changed since the last time a major was held at Baltusrol.  Jim McCabe in the Boston Globe offers an in depth and fascinating look at The Country Club (where they were supposed to be playing this week), the PGA and big time golf venues. He notes that "Baltusrol members won't see the Upper Course for the rest of the year; Winged Foot members are already braced to lose one of their courses for more than a year, just to host the 2006 US Open."

McCabe's column also writes about 2005 PGA Distinguished Service Award winner Wally Uihlein, and the normally evenhanded Globe writer fawns:

A historian, a visionary, and a voice of reason, Uihlein is a point man for manufacturers who are so often attacked on topics involving equipment. To say that Uihlein is a leader in the golf industry is akin to saying Tiger Woods is a pretty good player. A historian, a visionary, and a voice of reason, Uihlein is a point man for manufacturers who are so often attacked on topics involving equipment. The products under the Acushnet umbrella -- Titleist, FootJoy, Cobra, Pinnacle -- are of the highest quality, but it's Uihlein's relentless devotion to the company that sets a shining example. In the world of golf, there are more high-profile names, but no one has a better feel for the game than Uihlein.
Tim Cronin previews the Walker Cup. The GCSAA offers its "Divot Mix" that includes a leadstory on a new $350 lost ball finder. It comes with a dozen balls, additional balls are $40 a dozen. It also links to this Baltusrol maintenance blog.

Here's the GCSAA fact sheet on Chicago Golf Club, host of the Walker Cup.  And finally, The New York Times enters the Sean O'Hair story arena. Writer Diane Lacey Allen manages to make Marc O'Hair sound like a victim, which I didn't think was possible.

Thursday PGA Reads

Had trouble sleeping lately? I have just the cure for you: Wednesday’s State of the PGA press conference transcript.

Q. What is the status of the search for Jim's successor and when might we expect an announcement on that?

ROGER WARREN: I anticipated that question. [Wow, bet Roger’s one heck of a poker player!] We are still in the search process for a CEO. As we have talked about from the beginning, we always intended to try to have a target of our annual meeting this year in November to have that person selected. The search process is ongoing. We would still use that as a target time, and as we get to the point that we are ready to announce our CEO, we will make that announcement.
If you don't want to read the player transcripts, here's a decent summary of some player comments leading into the PGA. But if you do read a transcript, Jack Nicklaus's is the most entertaining. The same rally killer from yesterday gets a big break when Jack brings up Bobby Jones. But he also has some interesting things to say about a big swing change in his career and the notion of smaller players not having an opportunity in the future because of changes in the game.

Colin Montgomerie reveals that he'll never become a flogger, which is why he probably won't win a major.

Q. Is that somewhat by design? Could you get another 20 yards if you wanted to through some combination, or you don't do it because you don't want to sacrifice accuracy?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, this is the next thing. You know, do I, do I want to hit the ball 20 yards further in the rough, or do I want to be 20 yards back in the fairway? Well, I'll take 20 yards back in the fairway every day. Every day.
And add Colin to the list of liberal technophobes.

Q. Enough with the feathers, let's go to something smaller. Jack Nicklaus was in here awhile ago talking about the technology, and he said the main problem might be in the golf ball, that it might have to be scaled back. Do you agree with that? Would you be in favor of that?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Totally. I've said that for years; our technology is 20 percent the club and 80 percent the ball. Totally.
Here’s an Indy Star article on Donald Trump's ambitions to get a USGA event at Trump National Bedminster. It includes a comment from Marty Parkes but no mention that Trump has reportedly hired a USGA staffer as a consultant.

Tom Sposta in the USA Today offers an extensive look at the course lengthening trend along with its impact on shorter hitters.

"There's a lack of imagination when they're updating courses," says Lee Janzen. "You could come in and just move the bunkers in 5 or 6 yards on every hole, turn the holes a little bit here and there, so guys have to be more accurate off the tee," Janzen says. "Dig out the bunkers a little deeper. Add a little penalty. If there's a penalty out there that guys can see, then they'll play a safer shot, which leaves them harder approach shots and longer putts. That will bring scores up."

Ugh.  Also in the USA Today, Jerry Potterwrites about Jack Nicklaus's design career. Nicklaus says he's far more willing to take on projects with other designers now because he wants to learn from others a Signature Design, for $2.5 million, or the expertise of others for $500,000. The Golf Channel details their Walker Cup coverage plans.

And finally, the great news we’ve all been waiting for, Rees Jones is going to visit Cog Hill. Ed Sherman has the details under "He's Coming."

"He" was on The Golf Channel and noted that Baltusrol was a Trent Jones-Rees bunker and tee design with Tillinghast greens. No argument here!

And They Wonder Why The Players...

Q. Obviously both Pinehurst and St. Andrews are very unique setups in major championships. How much a function of those setups do you think it is that the top four or five guys weren't all right there at these majors do we have to look at those setups and how unique those courses are in looking at big picture of the Big Five?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I think that I wouldn't say that. I think that even though well, I think that the setup can play a factor, but the players playing the best should come out on top each week regardless of the setup. Everybody is playing the same course. Unless you have a ridiculous circumstance like we saw, I believe it was 2002 at Muirfield on Saturday where the leaders just got hammered with 40 mile an hour winds and rain and were shooting in the 80s, unless something like that happens, the best players, regardless of who they are, should come out on top and regardless of the setup.
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