"Northern Trust Open announces more affordable ticket prices for 2011 event"

Last year's Northern Trust Open ticket price increase was documented ad nauseum here and the resulting attendance disaster was clearly noticed by the folks in Ponte Vedra, whose Championship Management took over last year and jacked up prices for an event that was already witnessing an attendance decline.
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"See The Best Golf In L.A."

This isn't of interest to most of you, but here in Los Angeles there's a sense that Tiger's tournament at Sherwood has undermined the Northern Trust Open (formerly LA Open) because they fall within 10 or so weeks of each other. 

The Sherwood event certainly has become Tiger's lone stop in the market and there's no reason to think that will change anytime soon given his non-answers on the subject.

The tour put this event on its fall silly season schedule and mans the event with its scoreboards and field staff. This happened at a time Tiger could dictate terms to Tim Finchem even though any commissioner would tell you it's bad business to be in a market twice in such a short timespan, especially this commissioner who is typically sensitive to tournament needs. I'm sure a suit in Ponte Vedra would counter that Thousand Oaks and Los Angeles are different markets and I'm just bitter because the LA stop doesn't figure to see Tiger anytime soon.

Yet I just find this year's Chevron ad campaign, oh, how do I put this nicely...unseemly.

"But is a barbecue chicken pizza adequate recompense for the tournament raising its ticket price from $30 to $50?"

The PGA Tour continues to hear about their decision to raise Northern Trust Open tickets $20. John Strege in his Golf World game story:

The $20 increase over the cost of a walk-up ticket a year ago was, said Bone, necessary to offset the cost of some of the improvements made. "I wouldn't say the tournament has slipped as a golf tournament, but the sports landscape has changed everywhere, certainly here in Los Angeles. Everybody has suites now -- Staples Center, UCLA, the Angels, Dodgers, everybody. The sports landscape changed underneath the feet of the L.A. Junior Chamber. In today's market you need to make some significant investments."

The event focused on being more fan-friendly, which might have been accomplished with the Grove, an interactive area featuring food, a putting green and a pro offering swing analysis. For the first time, the tournament had branded food on site, a California Pizza Kitchen. It also increased the number of bleachers it erected around the course from two to seven, Bone said.

But is a barbecue chicken pizza adequate recompense for the tournament raising its ticket price from $30 to $50?

Bob Harig also raises this fine point, one that sails over the heads of the Ponte Vedra Value Proposition Police:

Golf tournaments ultimately do not depend on gate sales for their survival. It is about selling sponsorships, corporate hospitality, pro-am spots, etc. Those are the big-ticket items that pay the bills.

But the guy on the street is what gives a tournament its life, its buzz. Economics 101: Would you rather have one spectator paying $50 or two paying $25 each? Obviously those guys paying $25 are going to pay to park their cars and might buy souvenirs and concessions. You collect the same amount at the gate, but you give yourself a chance to make more on the back end.

More important, however, it means you create more excitement with more people attending the tournament.

2010 Northern Trust Random Thoughts

2010 NTO winner Steve Stricker approaches No. 18 (click to enlarge)The 2010 Northern Trust Open will not be remembered for the dessert-free lunches in this week's media center, but instead, for Steve Stricker's workmanlike performance and rise to No. 2 in the official world golf ranking. It was also the most uneventful final round since Kirk Triplett spellbindingly outlasted Jesper Parnevik, Robin Freeman and Russ Cochran in that epic 2000 showdown.

J.B. Holmes approaches the 15th green (click to enlarge)Stricker's sense of on-course urgency and his inevitable emotions upon winning would have proven more memorable if not for J.B. Holmes' pathetic pace of play along with the combination of Nationwide Tour-light attendance and the odd propensity of name players to post some unusually high weekend scores, leaving us with Luke Donald and Holmes as contenders who looked more than content to secure a top-5. And while those two played nicely, neither seemed as anxious to add his name to the list of accomplished Riviera champions as Stricker.

Stricker in the interview room after winning (click to enlarge)Easily the highlight of the week proved to be Stricker's press conferences. They couldn't be more different than just about any press gatherings I've sat in, all thanks to Stricker's engaging, genuine character and desire to treat every question as if it's the last one he'll ever be asked in his life.

That said, a few miscellaneous thoughts from the week:

  • Stricker putts on the final hole to a sparse gallery (click to enlarge) Tournament officials estimated attendance at 30,000 for the week. At its high-water mark in 2007, 151,417 attended, just edging 1999's 151,281. On the low end, 44,147 attended the 36-hole rain-shortened 2005 edition.

  • As expected, the $20 increase in at-the-gate ticket prices and a Super Bowl Sunday free of promotional incentives from PGA Tour Championship Managment created an awkward situation as record-low galleries stayed home. No wonder some fans think the Commissioner of the PGA Tour is Tim Pinch'em.
  • Even with little in the way to impede your view, the importance of scoreboard placement and visibility to the fan experience was on display due to the dearth of boards and dreadful placement. From the 11th to the 17th a player or fan has to work hard to get a good clean glimpse of a leaderboard.A poorly placed scoreboard on 17 (click to enlarge)
  • A noticeable improvement in the electronic boards: much less nonsense like FedEx Cup standings, player bio information and credits for the host pro, tournament manager and other useless bits. Instead, there appears to be much more use of ShotLink stats and far more listings of the main leaderboard page. When you can see the boards.
  • I know you've heard it before, but honestly Riviera has never looked better...agronomically. The fairways had a summertime kikuyu thickness and the greens were immaculate, a far cry from the days of thin lies and bumpy poa.
  • Architecturally the revamped 8th stood out to such an extreme that players only offered off-the-record or unprintable assessments for fear of offending the host club. One on-the-record analysis from a very famous player ought to be shared here, but as you know, this is a family values website.Luke Donald played beautifully en route to a second place finish. He even looks mellow through impact. (click to enlarge)
  • Broken-record stuff dept: but the 10th hole continues to reveal just how few PGA Tour players can resist temptation and calmly attack an ingeniously designed 311-yard hole. Even the tournament champion couldn't stick to his game plan Sunday.

Q. On 10, was that your intended line where you laid up, or was that a mistake?
STEVE STRICKER: No, I played --

Q. That's where you play it for that hole location?

STEVE STRICKER: I would have rather have been a little further to the left where Luke was over there. The mistake was, and I did it in I think it was the pro-am round, too, they had the same pin location and I flew it past the pin there and it rolled down in that chipping area and I did the same thing today. I told myself not to do it, and I did it again.Shotlink Scatter chart for all rounds on No. 10 (click to enlarge)

  • For what it's worth, in a year that No. 10 should have been vulnerable to low scoring due to softer ground conditions and impeccable agronomy, it averaged 3.932. Perhaps the groove rule change made an impact? Dumber and dumber players?
  • Recent year scoring averages on No. 10:
  • 2009  3.915
    2008  3.865
    2007  3.847
    2006  3.786
    2005: 3.671
  • High ranking PGA Tour officials who aspire to the Commissionership should not be on the cell phones during Sunday play of a tour event when the leaders are 50 feet away? I'm just saying...

Anatomy Of The Tenth Hole, Vol. 1

Round 1, 2010 Northern Trust Open, morning play. All three players laid up (a rarity in the era of improved workout programs).

Based on the lay-up position, see if you can guess which player made a 9 footer for birdie, which missed his 14 footer for birdie and which player had to get up and down from the left bunker for par? (And no ShotTracker cheating, please.)

Luke Donald's approach shot:

Rocco Mediate's approach angle:

Jason Dufner's approach angle:

For more on No. 10, enjoy some of Doug Ferguson's morning Tweets from the scene.

"Top" Drivable Par-4s On The PGA Tour

More like "most" drivable par-4s, but either way a nice use of ShotLink by the PGATour.com staff and a fine warm up to the annual 10th at Riviera watch. I'll do my best to hang out there this week and share what I see. And for those of you watching at home, NBC has installed a "speed shot" tower about halfway down the hole (see photo for angle), so figure on seeing bonus coverage of the hole.

"This rule change is great for me."

Phil Mickelson came out very assertive in his press conference today and while I believe the tone is justified in one sense (toward the USGA for making the club conformity subjective), as you'll see I think he's got to work on his case when it comes to the idea of regulation and the intent of the rule.
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"The reaction was stronger than it could have been, had we more intensely last year got in front of players with the details of this rule."

Tim Finchem (click to enlarge)Fighting off of a profusely bleeding paper cut, Tim Finchem joined us in the Northern Trust Open press center at 10:30 with a Mickelson presser set for 11, so naturally he kept that in mind with his opening remarks.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM:  Thank you, Laura.  Good morning, everyone.  Laura tells me we're on a hard stop here at 11:00, so I'm going to make some brief remarks and see if I can answer your questions.

18 minutes and the entire history of groove squabbles in golf later...

 During these first four weeks, we have had five players  we've had 218 different players play those four tournaments.  Of those 218 players, five different players have actually used a Ping Eye 2 manufactured before 1990; not a huge amount of usage, but a number that was sufficient to create a fair amount of interest, particularly when one of the best players in the world in the short game area chose to use it, which he was fully entitled to do.

And that focus on the rule has led to a couple of things.  One is that there was some unfortunate commentary by other players in the media in the last week or so, and let me just pause there and restate, as I issued my statement last week, these are the rules of golf.  Any player is entitled under these rules to play a Ping Eye 2 wedge designed before 1990 if he so chooses.  There is nothing wrong with that.  There is nothing that violates the rule.  There is no hidden direction to players or side direction not to play that club, so there is absolutely no basis to criticize a player for doing so.  None.  And to do so in our view is inappropriate.

No grey area there. Makes me wonder if McCarron faced a possible suspension?

With respect to a particular player that used a particularly unfortunate choice of words, I would say that there is perhaps a mitigating factor to the amount of reaction.  There is no justification for certain language being used, but the reaction was stronger than it could have been, had we more intensely last year got in front of players with the details of this rule.

Now, what do I mean by that?

We screwed up?

Well, two years ago when we instituted our drug policy, we made sure that we were in front of every single player in dialogue on the ramifications of drug testing, on the reality that you could be suspended if you violated the drug testing rules, and the dos and don'ts of staying in compliance.  Players paid attention.  They came out and performed, and we haven't had drug issues on this TOUR.  That's not to say we haven't had a violation; that's been reported.  But we haven't had issues.

We didn't act with that level of intensity.  In my view, had we, the reaction to the use of these clubs might have been lesser.  But that is what it is, and I think we're about to close the chapter on that part of the history of this.

Well there you have it, an admission of error, Finchem style.

In this particular case, the most striking thing about the difference between the groove discussion in 1989 and '90, which was based on some tests and led to a lack of confidence on the part of the PGA TOUR or the USGA that you could win a lawsuit, in this case there have been years and years of very careful measurement of data, of the lack of correlation of hitting the ball in the fairway and performing well on the PGA TOUR, so it's a very strong case, and I think that's one of the reasons you didn't see a lawsuit amongst manufacturers here, because there is a strong case.

But the byproduct  I know I've read some people say this is a backdoor attempt to create softer balls.  I'm not aware of anybody that believes that. 

Uh Tim, that's Dick Rugge, USGA for starters.

But I do think that with this rule we really could relax a little bit about the need to fool around with the ball and the driver for an extended period of time.  That's my only view. 

Well good to know that after five weeks you were able to draw a conclusion from the data.