Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Yale's Biarritz Green Revisted

For years, it was assumed that the Biarritz green at Yale Golf Course was designed so that the shelf before and after the swale was meant to be green height, making it the only one that Seth Raynor, Charles Blair Macdonald or Charles Banks designed that way. In all the other cases, the green itself is only the shelf after the trough. Most of the Raynor Biarritz greens I've seen could not have the front portion converted to green height, anyway, owing to their steepness and severity. Some courses like Shoreacres and West Hampton have flat approach areas. Along the way, both of those layouts began mowing the front tier as green.

A few years ago, I called into question the assertion that the entire green complex at Yale's ninth had always been intended to be green after uncovering an article about the Seth Raynor layout.

In the Aug. 18, 1925 issue of the Hartford Courant, an in-depth piece on the new Yale Golf Course included a short detailing of nearly every hole. The ninth is described, in part, this way: "The green proper is behind a deep groove in the approach which is of about the same area as the green. The approach is bunkered heavily on the right and left and the fairway is the lake."

Approach and green are not synonymous, meaning only the back tier was meant to be green. Recently, the Yale courses biggest fan, Geoffrey Childs, uncovered this photo that appears to show the front portion of the complex as approach and the back only, as green.

So, now the question becomes: should Yale return it's Biarritz to the way Raynor designed it? I say, yes. Restoring a golf course -- in this case a great one -- as closely as possible to the intent of the original designer should always been at the forefront of any architectural decision.

I think, it will also add fun to the hole. Players whose shots fail to reach the back tier would have the option of chipping, putting or running their golf balls onto the back, where now putting is the only method.

I have been at the Fishers Island Biarrtiz for hundreds of shots, either as a caddy or a player, and watched successful approaches played with putters, sand wedges, 7-irons and hybrids. I've also seen golfers fail using every single one of those clubs. It's great to watch golfers engage their brains on a shot and not just mindlessly go about the task at hand. Converting the Yale Biarrtz will bring back the element of thought to the already-fantastic ninth hole.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gerry "Bubba" Watson Takes the Travelers in a Playoff

At first glance, the fact that Bubba Watson captured the 59th Travelers Championship appears to be good news for the tournament. Watson, 32, is one of the great underachievers on the PGA Tour having never won an event until Sunday despite his prodigious length and deft touch around the greens. The victory was a hard-fought one and Watson, from Bagdad, Fla., who plays up the down-home Southern hick image for all its worth, endeared himself to more fans when he immediately dissolved into a blubbering mess on the 16th green after defeating Scott Verplank on the second playoff hole with a par. It was there on national television that Watson told the golf world that his father, who taught him the game, is suffering from cancer.

The good feeling around Watson's victory may be short-lived in Connecticut. If Watson goes on to capture only a few more events, or even worse, never again wrack up a title, he will join a dubious list of Hartford winners who faded into obscurity over the last 25 year that include the likes of Brent Geiberger, Olin Browne, Billy Ray Brown, Mac O'Grady and Phil Blackmar.

For the Travelers, big-name players lifting the trophy helps the image of the event and also aids in drawing top players who realize the TPC River Highland course rewards not just length, but the ability to craft shots. When Phil Mickelson won back-to-back titles (2001-2002) it added cache to the event. The heyday of the tournament was in 1992 to 1995 when Lanny Wadkins, Nick Price, David Frost and Greg Norman won in consecutive years.

Now, everyone connected with the Travelers is an unabashed Bubba Watson fan and their hope is that he can follow in at least some of the footsteps of another golfer who won his first PGA Tournament in Connecticut, Arnold Palmer.

(Photo copyright PGA Tour)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Travelers Championship: Grounds Crew Gets Their Due

Tom Yantz wrote a wonderful story in the Hartford Courant detailing the trial and tribulations that the grounds crew, led by superintendent Tom DeGrandi, goes through getting TPC River Highlands ready and then keeping it at peak shape for the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship. Yantz details how many of the crew members don't go home during the week, sleepng in a camper trailer in the maintenance building parking lot, or on the floor of the building.

"Those guys are really dedicated and really care about the golf course," Yantz told me.

I worked for Tom during a couple of summers a few years back and was on the crew for two tournaments. He has River Highlands in fantastic condition every year.

Pictured is the 17th hole from behind the green.

Biggest Cheer of the Day

I was at the front of the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon talking with Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore when a large roar came up from near the 9th green. We assumed that someone had holed out at nine during the pro-am but what it turned out to be was the reaction of a hospitality tent crown to Landon Donovan's game-winning goal in the 91st minute against Algeria that sent the U.S. soccer team onto the round of 16 where they will face Ghana on June 26.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Travelers Championship: First Up, Rickie Fowler

The Travlers Championship has arrived at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. First in the press tent was Rickie Fowler, 20, who had the last two weeks off after failing to qualify for the U.S. Open. In 16 events this year, the highly-touted phenom has made 10 cuts amassing $1,983,941 good for 12th in Fed Ex Cup points.

This is his second trip to River Highlands. In 2009 he carded 72-73 and missed the cut in one of three PGA Tour events he played that year.

"It's a pretty fun course. You need to hit fairways," Fowler said of the par-70 6,841-yard Bobby Weed redesign. "I'm not going to be bombing it anywhere."

Which, he said, does not bother him.

"I'm good with that I'm not a long hitter. I'm above average. It's a big thing keeping it in the fairway."

That doesn't mean he'll be playing it safe on the drivable par-4, 15th that is 296 yards from the back tees.

You won't see my lay up," Fowler said. "I think it's a hole you go for and try to make a number."

Asked to name his favorite courses, the California native listed Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines South, no surprise, and then went overseas for this third choice, Royal County Down Golf Club in Northern Ireland.

"It's not like any other course," he said recounting the layout he played in the 2007 Walker Cup. "It's one of those courses where you step up on each hole and it's not like anywhere else."

Monday, June 21, 2010

TPC River Highlands Converting to Sand Greens!

Alright, everyone who writes for a living has made a multitude of mistakes that brought a smile to the face of readers who saw the blunder and a collective groan from the editors that did not find the error. So, it is with the knowledge that I have produced my fair share of gaffes that I post this photo that ran on the Hartford Courant website this morning. It appears correctly in the story. I'm sure superintendent Tom DeGrandi, who is preparing the course for the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship, would get a kick out of it if he had the time to be perusing the web.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One of the Greatest Shots Ever at Pebble Beach - Not Tom Watson's

One of my biggest gripes with the Golf Channel, ESPN and just about every other network--besides the BBC--that covers golf is their failure to know the history of tournament golf before the rise of Arnold Palmer in the early 1960s. The Golf Channel often has a difficult time remembering that golf existed before Tiger Woods.

Case in point: during broadcast of the U.S. Open from Pebble Beach viewers will get to see and hear countless references to the famous Tom Watson chip-in at the 17th that sealed his victory over Jack Nicklaus in the 1982 U.S. Open. It is one of the greatest hole-outs in golf and is indelibly printed in the collective memory of golf fans, as it should be.

Fifty-three years before Watson's heroics there was Harrison R. "Jimmy" Johnston of Minneapolis, Minn. in the U.S. Amateur, the first time it had ever been played on the West Coast. Unfortunately, only a small few are aware of the remarkable events.

Johnston's heroics did not come on the course proper, but on the beach next to the 18th hole, the waves, literally, washing up around his ankles and over the ball.

American Golfer ran this photo of Johnston on the beach in its October 1929 edition.

Playing out of the White Bear Yacht Club at the time, Johnston came to the 18th of the morning round down two shots to Dr. Oscar F. Willing. Johnston's second shot, from the fairway, was hooked onto the beach. He was preparing to drop and re-hit when his caddy pushed his way through the gallery to tell Johnston that he had spotted the ball among the stones and that if Johnston hurried, he might be able to play it. Johnston did just that and produced a remarkable recovery shot, knocking it onto the approach on the way to par. Willing, who had placed his second shot in the fairway, made bogey but still held a 1-up lead at the turn. The sentiment among those who witnessed the event, however, was that Johnston's stunning recovery so deflated Willing that he was not able to bounce back. After lunch, Johnston tied the match on the 19th hole and went on to capture the title, 4 & 3.

Francis Ouimet, who Johnston defeated in the semifinals, 6 & 4, was so impressed with Johnston's feat that detailed the shot in his book, A Game of Golf.

Year's later, Johnston recounted the events in a letter to a newspaper writer.

"Upon arriving at the ocean shore I found my ball resting securely among the small pebbles below the seawall. When I took my stance to play the shot, a wave swished up behind me and buried my feet under six inches of water. But when the wave receded, the ball was still there! I had time and the good fortune to play my shot (with a spade mashie) off the beach to the edge of the green and then chipped up 'stoney' to get par and halve the hole."

Whether it is the greatest shot ever played at Pebble Beach in a major tournament can be argued, but it is surely one of the all-time best. Too bad television golf broadcasts don't even know it occurred.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fantastic Golf - and Views - All Across Arizona

When you talk golf courses and views, the first image that comes to many is of beautiful vistas of a nearby ocean. With Arizona Golf, you get hundreds of layouts, most with spectacular scenery that has nothing to do with the sea. Here, the desert and surrounding mountains provide golfers with stunning panoramas.

Scottsdale golf is king with so many great architect contributing to the over 200 designs. Jack Nicklaus has six courses at Desert Mountain, alone. At Troon Golf Club Tom Weiskopf designed the Monument and Pinnacle courses that opened in 2007.

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club has taken home bevy of honors. The Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore Saguaro layouts is no. 75 on GolfWeek's list of Best Modern Courses and the that magazine's top ranked public access layout in Arizona. The Cholla course, a Scott Miller design, is ranked as the third best public design in the state. If that's not enough to get you there, in 2010 GolfWorld readers ranked We-Ko-Pa as the 25th best golf resort in the country.

Make no mistake, however, Scottsdale is not the only golf destination in Arizona. Tuscon golf and Phoenix golf also offer plenty of fantastic layouts.

Monday, June 7, 2010

More Macdonald

More words of wisdom from, Scotland's Gift-Golf

•A golf hole, humanely speaking, is like life, inasmuch as one cannot judge just any person's character the first time one meets him. Sometimes it takes years to discover and appreciate hidden qualities which only time discloses, and he usually discloses them on the links. No real lover of golf with artistic understanding would undertake to measure the quality of fascination of a golf hole by a yard-stick, any more than a critic of poetry would attempt to measure the supreme sentiment expressed in a poem my the same method. One can understand the meter, but one cannot measure the soul expressed. It is absolutely inconceivable.

•A golf architect should never endeavor to construct what is known as a "trick green"; otherwise he will be suspected of being a card sharp. Don't seek an original idea in building a golf course. John La Farge somewhere has said if "an idea were an original one it is safe to say it would not be a good one.

•I should like also to suggest that the construction of bunkers on various courses should have an individuality entirely of their own which should arouse the love of hatred of intelligent golfers. Rest assured such hole are far too complex for one's absolute condemnation or absolute approval. Bunkers of this character are much to be desired on any golf course."

(The Short Hole at National Golf Links of America)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Words of Charles Blair Macdonald

I was flipping through Scotland's Gift - Golf by Charles Blair Macdonald. Published in 1928, the year after he died, it contains so much wonderful advice and observations of golf course architecture that remain pertinent today as when he wrote them. Here are a few of my favorites.

• Motoring to Southampton, I pass a goodly number of new courses. As I view the putting-greens it appears to me they are all built similarly, more or less bowl or saucer type, then built up toward the back of the green, and then scalloped with an irregular line of low, waving mounds or hillocks, the putting-green for all the world resembling a pie-faced woman with a marcel wave. I do not believe any one ever saw in nature anything approaching these home-made putting greens.

•Variety is not only "the spice of life" but it is the very foundation of golfing architecture. Diversity in nature is universal. Let your golfing architect mirror it. An ideal or classical golf course demands variety, personality and, above all, the charm of romance.

•Errors in play should be severely punished in finding hazards, but now the golfer wants his bunkers raked and all the unevenness of the fairway rolled out. A player does not get the variety of stances or lies that in olden times one was sure to have. A hanging lie or a ball lying in any position other than level is a blemish to the modern golfer. The science and beauty of the game is brought out by men having to play the ball from any stance. To play the game over over a flat surface without undulations leaves nothing to the ingenuity of the player, and nothing is presented but and obvious and stereotyped series of hits. To-day there seems to be a constant endeavor to make golf commonplace, to emasculate it, as it were, of its finer qualities.

(Pictured is the 18th hole at the National Golf Links of America, Charles Blair Macdonald's masterpiece.)