Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ratings & Rankings IIa

Recently we had the week of The Memorial the tournament that Jack built; his own private Masters Invitational Tournament.  Once can argue about MVGC as a personal Augusta National, but not only Mr. Nicklaus (Castle Pines GC, Shoal Creek, etc.), but Rees Jones(LedgeRock, Red Stick, Piedmont Driving, ), Tom Fazio (The Alotian), and Lester George (Kinloch) for three have built lovely Modern Augusta National Model based clubs in various states around the nation. One might argue that Friar's Head in its own way is of that model, but I think it is too different so I won't include it in this discussion.

The Muirfield Village GC is probably the most like ANGC because it has its own now lengthy history of an invitational tournament and ANGC-like list of revisions, something on the order of 5 of them this year alone.  A completely new par 3 16th with a pond is as notable as any change and as with 16 at ANGC, it has ... wait for it  ... a pond now, just like the real one.  to me the saddest (upcoming change) is the planned clubhouse demolition and new clubhouse.  There was something special about that MVGC just as the originals at The Ocean Course at TPC Sawgrass - a special simplicity (although Ocean Course did a much better job on that clubhouse re-build).

But American Corporate Golfers just love that awe-inspiring clubhouse re-build that somehow AGNC has avoided.  The presence of these large, top quality construction clubhouses do little to nothing to decrease the presence of these exclusive clubs in the mind of those seeking to play great golf courses, play Top 100 lists and just play travel and member-guest tournaments.

But this is the week of the USGA Open or The Open or The National Open, I prefer the USGA Open.  It is at Olympic, a seminal venue for the USGA Open and a great example of the courses that host this tournament. It is relatively charming for a USGA Open site and has provided us with some of the best theatre ever in US Golf History - Fleck beating Hogan with his own clubs to deny Hogan the fifth he so deserved - and not the first or last time that happened.  The foreshadowing of Payne Stewart as US Open Champion - then he was lost to us forever.  What would his effect have been in the age of Tiger? I for one think he would have been able to perhaps understand and deal with Woods of that era as well as anyone due to his strong mental character which he forged, not unlike Hogan, pity he didn't get back-to-backs.

But there is the Greek Tragedy of 1966 if written by Dan Jenkins we would have rejected as preposterous.  The King indeed - redeeming himself from the embarrassment of losing to Jack in his proverbial back yard at Oakmont in 1962.  Seven up with 9 to play, he dared to break Hogan's Open record score and failed miserably - failed again on the sixteenth for any chance of redemption for a win in regulation also taking six on the seventeenth to tie only to fall apart again on the second nine in the playoff Monday round (this time only from two ahead). Read it as fiction, never believe it as plausible, yet it was real life golf.

We're hearing that it's the dawning of a new Age of Tiger and he's in for a walk off win.  Remember, it's at the O this week.  The bunkerless wonder with reverse cant fairways, still too many trees, too narrow fairways, bent greens that should remain pure bent until the playoff Monday is over and site of the loss of two very charming par 3 holes - most recently the lovely blind 8th (bearing no resemblance whatsoever to its origins) and previously at the hands of Weiskopf design the short 15th.  We won't talk of number 8's creator and just sit back and watch.  As Medinah #3 was my first "Open Course", O Lake was the first that I played as many as 50 times - and still the most played Major Tournament Venue for me - built on the most interesting terrain, certainly.  I can't really praise O Lake architecturally as greatness, but it is near the top for where the USGA has left its mark.

As the hangover now begins we look back at yet another USGA Open of attrition.  To be fair Simpson did win it shooting the only sub-par round in the final 18 players and Furyk uncharacteristically made a mistake and gave it away.  He was flummoxed by a move of the tees on #16 (an awkward slog at best) of nearly 100 yards shortening which brought back into play the same sharp left turn than nicked Palmer back in 1966.  The old story of 16 at O Lake is that Bob Jones easily hit it in two but of course there were no trees and there was technically an elbow hole rather than a dog-leg (Tillinghast made the distinction very clear).  I don't know if that is lore or fact, but it is true that Sam Snead, the great bettor as well as great champion indeed suckered a younger long-hitting pro in a similar spot by goading the player "When I was your age, I used to just hit it over those trees there and cut the dog leg."  When the younger player failed to do so, Snead of course finished the story ... "When I was your age, those trees weren't nearly as tall."

Hard to believe from TV but over the years many thousands of trees have come down at Olympic.  Very good stroke play minded players like trees as they are "fair" and similar to water clearly reward "good" shots and punish "bad" ones.  Golf is a bit cut and dried that way but it works for the USGA thus they love Olympic and plans are already being aired to return.  Hopefully in their pursuit to find west coast courses for the USGA Open they will create new courses or ruin mediocre ones such as was done at Torrey Pines rather than doing any more of Fazio's "magic" to Riviera or one of the few other remaining golden age courses left anywhere near L.A. Basin.

So as the major season enters its overseas leg we can leave the single file fairways preferred by American golfers as "great tests" and return to the "unfair" links and fouil (proper golf) weather.  My last Saturday's round was played in 20-30 m.p.h. winds and heavy overcast with 60 degree temperatures - just as I prefer - proper golf weather.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Where Do We Play Golf?

Golf in America is such a complicated event at times, it is so different from Scotland the birthplace of golf where virtually everyone can call virtually everywhere and ask to play. It might be rather restricted or at times insanely expensive but generally one gets to play a fine course at a fine price. There are in America so many different and distinct places and ways to play golf. This is a topic that I have gone over in my mind for so many years. There are really different and good options, we really do get spoiled.

The Municipal Course
The beloved Muni is where most players get started, even if they are privileged enough to have access through family to a Country Club or Golf Club. Why? It is easy to access, has good value for money and is completely non-discriminatory. Well, almost, you do pay more if you are not from the MUNIcipality where the Muni is located. Your tax dollars help support the muni and that's what the source of all the benefits and befalls a course springs. The tax structure of most municipalities provides for a parks & recreation system, not unlike on NBC Thursday Nights but without all the comedy and drama. That damned tax bill you pay every year allows your city county or other government to own, build, maintain and otherwise oversee that place thatis lovingly called a rat-ass muni. We are rather lucky where I live in that the daily resident fee for the muni done by Ault & Clark runs about $20 more or less. There is a restaurant run by a local brew works that serves a solid meal and even breakfast that I will eat. Mine is within a mile of my house, in fact I can see it from the upstairs bedroom. We get a course that has no bad or stupid holes in reasonable shape where you can walk, ride, pull, carry whatever and at up to 7100 yards Par 72. The next town over has another solid muni with a few better more interesting holes and a few not up to the rest. Overall it's not in quite as good of shape, but it is maybe $5 more. There is not the same food facilities but "good enough". At each of these there is a reasonable yearly rate of under $1500.

Private Daily Fee
Two towns over to the east is a less than 10 year old Kelly Blake Moran masterpiece of quirky hillside routing that is in superb shape. It is in a housing community and the second nine has the two best mountain par 5 holes in one nine anywhere. As a Senior, most days I can play for $35, regular Joes & Janes $45 and conditioning (THE single most important criteria to American golfers according to NGA polls) basically equal to the two world class private clubs in the immediate area. When I lived in Chicago, the Jemsek family ran Cog Hill and six other courses. Within an hour of my house, privately owned Public access courses were everywhere and by seemingly every architect. Most of the time the conditioning of a privately owned daily fee is notably better than your Muni. It is definitely NOT your CCFAD.

The Resort 
One goes on vacation to these places, a destination with one, two or many courses and with lodging on site. At the top of the "most courses list" is certainly St. Andrews, the daddy of all destinations albeit without titular lodging. The Old Course Hotel is owned by Herb Kohler and thankfully he has nothing to do with any operations of the St. Andrews Links, that is up to the Links Foundation who controls the public lands and runs the systems used to access these wonderful courses. USA-wise: In sheer numbers, the Pinehurst Resort probably has the most directly associated courses although some of them approach Doak 0 category. Resorts are chock full of things for non-golfers to do, should have a pool and plenty of hot water Jacuzzi Spas, if not, I don't want to go. The class of these is Bandon Dunes Resort, uniquely American despite their efforts to convince you otherwise, a good resort always is enjoyable even if buyer's remorse hits you at check out. When you faint, you are at Pebble Beach or Kohler. At the value for money end in the USA s the superb 3-course resort replete with Indian Casino in the very best sense at Turning Stone, Oneida, NY. There is everything else in-between including multiple design-your-own at Myrtle Beach, SC. Myrtle is pleasing because one goes off the reservation with no problem. Kiawah, Bandon, Pebble, Homestead, Turning Stone, Pequot, etc. Choose your poison, these often have very fine and even world-class golf available. The best have caddies.

The CCFAD (Country Club for a Day)
This is the more upscale Private Daily Fee morphing into the Resort, usually with one or two courses. There is a hazy line where one turns into the other ..... It is arguable that the very first of these was in suburban Illinois in the form of Kemper Lakes. It opened in 1974 or so and I was able to get out there right from the start. This was before the swarms of employees outfitted with wireless communications enveloped you as they do today. The worst part of all of that is that you are expected to buy your way in and out with $1 and $5 bills, getting your bag out of your vehicle, parking said vehicle, directing the bag stand operator which your and your group bags are, again identifying them downstairs going to the range, meeting the starter, meeting and being serviced by the (hopefully) hot cart girls, and at the end the bag-off-cart taker-offers, rack storers (down and upstairs the club polishers the valet return driver and the bag (badly and inevitably how you do NOT want them) trunk placers. My wallet seems light from typing this. Odd considering that I A) Never carry cash B) have a throng of cards to pay for things. Many of these are pasture pool fields of perfect turf devoid of architectural strategy. From what Kemper Lakes was in the mid-1970's to what this class of course is currently is a case of sad inexorable decline.

The Country Club
Country Club is not Golf Club, nor should it be. It is basically your private resort with a heavy emphasis on added activities (swimming, tennis, workout, child care, fine dining - even horsey stuff & skeet) to your beloved golf. However at most country clubs golf is the main attraction. Some golf and country clubs so state, but these are the majority of where private golf is played in the USA.

The Golf Club
Golf. A place to change? Probably. Have a drink? Likely. Swim, play tennis? No, not here. Just golf - although I once wrote that the "New Country Club" required you to fly forever, drive to nowhere, stay on site, drink too expensive of wine & other booze but offer only golf and call it Golf Club of Nowheresville or the Rattlesnake Grill and Club or other cute name somehow reflective of the location. I'm not sure what to call these, but they are too limited for me, generally. Golf Clubs are still near civilization and allow other activities because they actually are somewhere and you don't need a secret handshake to get the code to the gate on the dirt road in from the county-designated highway.

Anyone else?