Gary Baines looks at the technology debate and talks to the tournament director at The International, who has some interesting things to say.
Winged Foot, a course dating back to 1923, proved anything but obsolete. It played plenty long (7,264 yards for a par-70 layout), but it was obvious that wasn't the main reason that the Open produced its highest score relative to par (5 over) since 1974.Oh yes, you can see where this is going.
Instead, the key to protecting par was narrowing the fairways and growing the rough so that the long bombers on tour have to think twice before ripping a driver as hard as possible on every hole over 300 yards. Winged Foot did that with many fairways 25-28 yards wide and rough as deep as 51/2 inches.
Larry Thiel, executive director for the International tournament in Castle Rock, was at Winged Foot during U.S. Open week and liked what he saw in the way of a course set-up for the Open.
"I thought the set-up was fair," Thiel said. "You don't have to have 7,800-yard golf courses. The rough is supposed to be penal, and I don't think it was overly penal. If you can't drive the ball straight into a 30-35-yard-wide opening, you ought to do something to your game, downsizing your club until you can."
Of course that was the U.S. Open, a once a year event designed to be a unique test. The International, with its Stableford scoring meant to elicit heroic play, would never look to Winged Foot for inspiration, would it?
They don't want to see the players always swing as hard as they can from tees on par-4s and par-5s because the reward is so great and there isn't a big downside.
That's why even at Castle Pines the fairways have been narrowed over the years. That's undoubtedly part of the reason the winning scores at the International have come down in the last couple of years. After cumulative winning totals of at least 44 points in every year but one from 1997 through 2003, the winning numbers have been 31 and 32 the last two summers. Other things that have factored in are additional water hazards and the lengthening of the par-5 eighth hole.
As Thiel said several years ago, "We don't want it to be a lay-down course."
No, because God know, the ratings aren't low enough yet. We've got to get them into the NHL's league before we can rest assured.
On many courses on the PGA Tour, players "can stand on the tee and whale on it," Thiel said this week. "We're guilty of it too. The players aren't penalized for errant shots. What you think is a monstrous hole is far from a monstrous hole for these guys."
Thiel estimates the fairways at Castle Pines are mostly 30-50 yards wide, which is generous but not as wide as they used to be.
"We've gradually worked them in," Thiel said.
"We're always thinking about what makes the course more competitive and fair. We're trying to neutralize guys just stepping back and going at it as hard as they can without any fear."
Because the game is just so easy for those flat belly Tour boys! And then Thiel offers this from William Flynn:
"He believed a good shot should be rewarded and a bad shot penalized," Thiel said. "It's a pretty simple formula."
You know...eh forget it.