July 31, 2009

Arnold Palmer Returns To Raleigh to Open New Golf Course

Arnold Palmer returned to his college roots and his first home away from home today to help dedicate the opening of the on-campus course that Palmer's design company built.

The new Lonnie Poole Golf Course will serve as home to NC State University's men's and women's teams as well as serving as a living laboratory for the school's award-winning turfgrass management program.

Wearing a bright-red N.C. State shirt and accompanied by a gaggle of old friends, Palmer gave the keynote address for the opening ceremonies for the first on-campus course built by his course design company, signed autographs and took a few swings in front of a gathering of fans.

Palmer spent his college years in Wake Forest, NC, attending Wake Forest University from 1952-54. Soon afterward, in 1956, the school moved to Winston-Salem. NC State is actually one of Palmer's alma mater's archrivals, as collectively NC State, Wake Forest, the University of North Carolina and Duke University are known as The Big Four and comprise one of college basketball's most treacherous neighborhoods for visitors: Tobacco Road.

Times may have changed since Palmer spent time here: Wake Forest is now a suburb of greater metropolitan Raleigh (the cities actually touch each others' borders) and many of the courses he played are long gone, victims of "civic progress": Wake Forest Country Club was shuttered a couple of years ago and the former fairways are thick with waist-high weeds, Cheviot Hills was plowed under recently and will soon be the site of a major automobile dealership. Still others remain, however. The tough Carolina Country Club is still essentially its original form, the Raleigh Country Club, the last course Donald Ross built is still open, as are many others, but the formerly sleepy towns are now integral parts of a bustling city that over a million people call home. Of Raleigh, Palmer remarked today that “it's grown a lot but this area still has a familiar friendly feel to it."

For its part, NC State has evolved from an agricultural and engineering land grant college founded in the late 19th century to the largest university in the state of North Carolina, and is recognized as a top-20 research institution in many of the fields for which it offers instruction. Matt Hill, the current NCAA men's golf champion and Atlantic Coast Conference Athlete of the Year attends the school and plays for the Wolfpack, and PGA players Tim Clark, Carl Petterson and Marc Turnesa are recent alumni of the State golfing program.

Compared to the courses that Palmer played in the metro area, the Lonnie Poole course -- named for its alumni financier -- is an absolute monster. The par 71, 7,358 yard course is challenge enough for even the biggest hitters of the game, and the course itself is deep in risk/reward options, with green complexes that will demand precision to avoid three putts.

Along with Palmer, NC State graduates Erik Larsen and Brandon Johnson, who are architects with Palmer's firm, saw the course to its recent completion and opening. Palmer said today that most of the heavy lifting was done by his Wolfpack-alum employees, as they did much of the design work and were on site for th two years it took to construct the course. Palmer was a frequent visitor, giving his guidance and thoughts. When asked today how much help he gave Larsen and Johnson, Palmer said humbly that “I helped them a little.”

Palmer said he is very pleased with the young course, and added that he had delivered what he promised: one of the finest on-course golf courses in the country. Indeed, early reviews of Lonnie Poole are effusive in their praise and many have made comparison to the Scarlet Course at Ohio State and the Yale Golf Course in New Haven, Connecticut. Palmer said that "the golf course is beautiful" and added later that “over time, it's only going to get much, much better with maturity.”

Much like Arnold Palmer himself has.

July 30, 2009

Carl Spackler Gives In; Indiana Course To Hold Goose Hunt

A Rochester, Indiana golf course has been cleared by the city to hold a goose hunt in order to thin a large flock there that is apparently causing a great deal of damage:

Northern Indiana Town Allowing Goose Hunt on Golf Course

"Round Barn Golf Club in Rochester asked the City Council to approve hunting on the course, where golf pro Lyle Lingenfelter says up to 1,000 Canada geese spend the winter.

He told council members he would seek about five people for the hunts, which would take place when the golf course was closed."

A Better Alternative...

Perhaps the course should contact The Geese Police, a New Jersey business owned by David Marcks. Geese Police "patrolmen" are highly trained Border Collies, and they "encourage" geese to relocate elsewhere using non-lethal methods that mimic the natural predators that feed on geese in the wild. By fooling the geese into believing they are being hunted, they quickly decided that the area being cleared is no longer safe and leave permanently.

The Geese Police are highly effective, pose no danger to the public (handlers accompany the dogs) and have no negative environmental impact.

Indeed, Marcks (a former golf course superintendent) and his franchisees are no Carl Spacklers, they are all highly trained, and they knowledgeable
on the behavior of the Canada geese and their habits. The firm also provides public education, and says that they insure "the most successful goose control program available."

Geese Police methods employ techniques which are approved by USDA Wildlife Service and US Fish and Wildlife, the Humane Society and PETA.

That sounds much better than loose bullets flying around on a golf course, not only for folks nearby, but for the animals themselves.

PGA Championship Going Back To Valhalla

The PGA of America are set to announce later today in a press conference the that the 2011 Senior PGA Championship and the 2014 PGA Championship will be played at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

Valhalla has hosted the PGA’s 1996 and 2000 PGA Championships, the 2004 Senior PGA Championship and the 2008 Ryder Cup.

Last year, prior to the Ryder Cup matches, the Associated Press was blunt in its criticism of Valhalla when they said that "the waterfall alongside the 13th green at Valhalla Golf Club could have been lifted from a Disney theme park," adding that Valhalla had "no tradition. A pedestrian layout more suited for a tournament named after a tractor or a bank."Additionally, they said that holding the Ryder Cup at Valhalla was "a blatant attempt by the owner, the PGA of America, to bolster the reputation of the club."

Perhaps, but it was an exciting Ryder Cup because the US team greatly exceeded expectations and won the event when it had been expected to have been blown out by the European side. One could say that would have happened on any golf course, and they might be correct, but the Jack Nicklaus-designedValhalla offers many risk/reward options not available on many of the US courses with greater reputations.

All of that doesn't really matter, however, the real reason Valhalla has become a favorite of the PGA of America is simple: money. "Valhalla and Louisville are very special to us,'' PGA of America chief executive officer Jim Awtrey remarked in 2004 -- undoubtedly because the PGA of America also owns the course. Holding it at their own site increases their profits and simplifies logistics since they do not have to lease a course when they use the Valhalla location.

July 29, 2009

The Greenbrier Resort Wants The Spot Soon To Be Vacated By The Buick Open

Golfweek is reporting that the Greenbrier Resort, located in SE West Virginia, is making a strong bid to take over the slot soon to be vacated by the Buick Open.
"Golfweek has learned that The Greenbrier, the venerable mountain retreat recently rescued from financial straits, is awaiting confirmation from the Tour to join the schedule for 2010. The West Virginia resort would replace the Buick Open, which this week will end a 51-year run on Tour, according to two sources familiar with The Greenbrier’s operations who requested anonymity."
First opened in 1778, The Greenbrier Resort boasts a huge luxury hotel, three championship golf courses and a plethora of first-class amenities. It has hosted the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup and other events, and golfing legend Sam Snead was its long-time pro.

In fact, guests could even play The Slammer while visiting, Snead would take on challengers willing to place a wager with him -- which of course he usually would easily win. Many considered it an honorarium to walk a few holes with a bona fide golfing legend, while the penny-pinching Snead undoubtedly considered it an easy way to make a little walking money. Both parties were almost always satisfied by the arrangement.

Every president who has played golf has played at The Greenbrier, and in fact, the resort was once the top-secret location that the US Government would relocate itself to were a nuclear war to break out and Washington DC was attacked. An underground facility was built on the site of additional hotel construction, from 1959 to 1962. For thirty years, The Greenbrier maintained an agreement with the federal government that the entire resort property would be conveyed to government use in the event of a national emergency. In 1992, after a Washington Post story revealed the existance of the facility, it was declassified and closed, and today still exists as a Cold War artifact that hotel guests may tour.

PGA Tour Player Marc Turnesa Carries On His Family's Impressive Golf Legacy

From time to time, we hear about father-and-son PGA Tour winners, for example, North Carolina's Clayton Heafner andVance Heafner, Al Geiberger and Brent Geiberge, Julius Boros and Guy Boros, etc. Impressive and rare as those tandems may be, none of them have quite the same legacy as current Tour player Marc Turnesa. His family was once called "The First Family of Golf" -- and for good reason:

As Marc's father, Mike Jr., points out, ''We've been called the 'First Family of Golf,' and 'America's Royal Family of Golf' in Colliers Magazine in the '50s.'' According to the New York Times, RKO flew the boys to Bermuda in 1938 to make a short film called The Golfing Brothers.

Willie's obituary in the Times said the Turnesa family was ''to golf what the Kennedys were to politics.''

Marc's Great Uncle Jim won the 1952 PGA, beating Chick Harbert 1-up and breaking what the PGA of America media guide still refers to as ''a 26-year family major championship jinx.'' Ten years earlier, Jim had lost in the final match of the PGA to Sam Snead.

Grandfather Mike won six PGA Tour events and finished second to Ben Hogan in the 1948 PGA Championship. He was head pro at Knollwood Country Club in Westchester, N.Y., for 44 years.

Great Uncle Joe won 15 tour events but finished runner-up to Jones in the 1926 U.S. Open and lost in the finals of the 1927 PGA to Walter Hagen.

Great uncles Doug, Frank and Phil became teaching pros.

The seven boys were sons of Vitale and Anna Turnesa, Italian immigrants who settled in Elmsford, N.Y. According to the New York Times, Vitale took a job on the construction crew at Fairview Golf Club and later became head greenskeeper, but never played the game in his 50 years working there.

Akron American Chronicle

For his part, Marc is holding his own on the PGA Tour, with one win in 2007, followed by a down year last season. This season, he's continuing to struggle, with his best finish being a T30 at the Northern Trust Open. Turnesa has started well in several tournaments, but has been unable thus far to string together four top-notch days in a row in order to keep his perch in the upper parts of the leader board.

He's been there before. Turnesa played the mini-tours for several years after graduating from NC State, and like many of the grinders in the middle of the game, he was living on borrowed time and money. Then, in 2006, his game came together and he played the minor league circuit well enough to continue on through the spring and summer. At the end of that year, he earned his Nationwide Tour card, won there, finished in the top 15 and earned a promotion to the big tour. Last October, Turnesa went wire-to-wire for a 1-shot victory at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. With the victory, he earned the two-year PGA Tour exemption that goes with it, giving him some much needed certainty to continue playing golf...and to continue to work hard, grind it out and improve his game.

No wonder NC State golf coach uses Turnesa as an example to his current players. Through hard work, Marc Turnesa has made the most of what talent he was born with and his dedication has led to not only a PGA Tour career, but also membership in an exclusive club: PGA Tour winner.

July 28, 2009

The Forgotten Fijiian Is Healing From Knee Surgery

Vijay Singh seems to have disappeared off of the PGA Tour's screen this year, making only sporadic visits to the top of the leader board in nearly any tournament he's been played in.

That may be due to his balky putting, or perhaps his ball-striking, which was certainly affected by an injury he suffered way back in the beginning of the year:

"Vijay Singh concedes that he came back too early from knee surgery earlier this year.

Singh played at Kapalua before having surgery to repair a torn meniscus, returning a month later for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he missed the cut. He missed the cut the next week, too, and did not record a top 10 finish until he closed with a 67 to sneak into a tie for ninth at The Players Championship.

"The 46-year-old Fijian has yet to seriously contend on the back nine this year, with only three top 10s."

It would likely be a misnomer to blame Singh's age for his precipitous drop in performance. If you don't believe his own performances -- Singh broke Sam Snead's record for the most wins by a player older than forty back in 2007, then look no further than Kenny Perry -- who turns fifty on August 10th -- as a counter-example. Singh is in fine physical condition, knee injury notwithstanding, and he certainly has the game tee-to-green to contend when he's healthy.

Or perhaps Vijay is a slow-starter in the latter days of his main Tour career: he's the defending FedEx Cup Champion, something he won after he had another slow start and went without a win until last year's Bidgestone Invitational. After that, he played well and won the second annual PGA Tour playoff, winning the million dollar annuity in the process.

For his part, Singh says he's raring to go, and also that Tom Watson's performance has given him a mental boost. "It kind of gives us a second wind. I was thinking maybe 50, 51, 52, I'd still have enough energy and strength to compete. But now after what Tom's done it gives you a second life," Singh said in a Reuters article.

He added that he is"working out really hard and I feel really strong right now." Vijay added that "I can still compete with the young kids now. I don't know how long that's going to last.

"The body takes a lot of toll. The older you get the harder you have to work at it. That's been my motto."

And you can ask anyone on the PGA Tour -- Vijay Singh has the reputation of being a hard-worker the likes of which have not been seen since Ben Hogan. If there's anyone who can make a strong comeback from knee surgery, it's him.

July 27, 2009

Will We See Wie In The Solheim Cup? We Should.

Three weeks from now, the 11th Solheim Cup gears up in Sugar Grove Illinois, near Naperville, a Chicagoland suburb. The top of the US side is pretty much set, and the team will be well-favored going into the matches on friendly soil in the midwest.

Question is, will Michelle Wie be a part of her first Solheim Cup team?

US Captain Beth Daniel has been non-committal regarding her Captain's Choices for the team, telling the Honolulu Advertiser that "Michelle Wie's a possibility for sure. She's been playing well. She's been showing me something ... I've said all along she has to move up in the points a little bit to be considered, but if you look at her stats and how she's playing, she's playing as good as anybody. She's on my radar screen, but it's so up in the air."

Current rankings for the US side are:
 Rank   Player                    Points

1 Paula Creamer 769.5
2 Cristie Kerr 693.5
3 Angela Stanford 573.0
4 Nicole Castrale 314.0
5 Brittany Lang 301.5
6 Morgan Pressel 277.0
7 Kristy McPherson 276.0
8 Christina Kim 255.0
9 Brittany Lincicome 250.0
10 Natalie Gulbis 201.0
11 Laura Diaz 177.0
12 Stacy Prammanasudh 170.0
13 Pat Hurst 164.0
14 Juli Inkster 152.0
15 Jane Park 141.0
16 Michelle Wie 133.5
One thing Daniel should consider is that Wie is a steady and reliable performer in her rookie year, even if she has yet to claim a victory. She is 11 for 11 in cuts made, And she has as many top-10 finishes (five) as the the five players immediately ahead of her (Laura Diaz, Stacy Prammanasudh, Pat Hurst, Juli Inkster and Jane Park) combined. Wie is also ranked 11 in scoring average, ahead of the players in front of her in the standings.

Inkster is probably a lock to be a Captain's pick. She is nearing the end of her career as a strong competitor and her stated goal for this year is to play in one more Solheim Cup. Inkster is undoubtedly a deserving player, given her record and accomplishments, so it's easy to see that Beth Daniel will be making a call to her soon -- if she hasn't quietly done so already -- to tell her some good news.

That leaves Laura Diaz, Stacy Prammanasudh, Pat Hurst, and Jane Park. All are deserving players, especially Hurst, but none can match Michelle Wie's on-course play, as is shown above. Wie is the better player, and all of the important indicators say so.

There is one other consideration that none bring to the table as well: Q-ratings. The LPGA has been running on stealth mode for some time now, save for when Michelle Wie is playing well and in contention. Love or hate the young Hawaiian, she brings viewers to a tour quite frankly in dire straits, and Daniels picking her to be a part of the women's version of the Ryder Cup would bring desperately needed viewers. That would surely be cause for good cheer at LPGA headquarters and also in the executive suites at Golf Channel down I-4 in Orlando.

Bottom line: Wie deserves the berth, she's earned it. Not only that, the LPGA needs her there as well. While it would be tough on the four competitors left out, one thing that they should understand is that putting Michelle Wie on the US team is actually better for them in the long run, because when Michelle is on television, she's actually helping guarantee that the LPGA has a viable future. Not only that, but she's outplayed them, and her being there would not be a nod to her fame, but one towards her golf.

July 23, 2009

Travel: The High Hampton Inn, Cashiers, NC

Roughly equidistant from the metropolitan centers of Atlanta and Charlotte is a quaint throwback-style golf and country club resort in Cashiers, North Carolina -- The High Hampton Inn.

High Hampton is designed for guest to get away from it all, and once there, it is easily accomplished. Guests should go knowing that they will not be surrounded by modern amenities, nor will they be confronted by a confounding championship golf course. High Hampton Inn does not have crass commercialism or high tech gadgetry in their rooms, in fact, they do not have televisions, much less high speed Internet service. There are no casinos, glittering lights, designer salons or the like, instead, there is the rustic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a hotel listed in the National Register of Historic Places and quite a number of recreational activities available, including a fine golf course that even a player new to the game can enjoy.

High Hampton also has preserved the best traditions of the old school country club, save for the false exclusion and snootiness : dinner guests are expected to dress appropriately, meaning jacket and tie for men and something more than casual wear for women. Some may look at this as an inconvenience, but when a couple of a family is dressed to the nines for a sumptuous meal with impeccable service, it becomes an event, and one to remember at that.

The course is challenging for golfers of all levels, but is especially kind to people who are not experts at the game. Only 6,012 yards (from the tips) High Hampton was designed by George S. Cobb and features an island green on its 8th hole (pictured above), and was once ranked by Golf Digest as one of 'America's Great Golf Holes.' It was once remarked that if one were to go on a golfing honeymoon, this would be the place, because the new husband and wife would surely not argue over any frustrations on the course. While High Hampton is easy on beginners, if one is a low-handicapper, they shouldn't be fooled into thinking that going low is easy -- precision is required to score, and putts require careful attention if they are going to dive down into the hole. A good score is a score well-earned, and by the end of the round, one will feel satisfied with the day and their game.

In addition to golf, there is tennis, canoeing and raft of other activities, and of course, relaxation away from the summer heat of the flat lands in the sultry south.

Best of all, High Hampton Inn is affordable to most budgets, and a long weekend or a week will not break the bank nor require a renegotiation of available credit from the bank.

It is a place that offers the best kind relaxation: by removing our modern distractions and in a stunningly beautiful setting, it is easier to focus on the things that are truly important: each other and family. There are few better places than High Hampton to accomplish exactly that.

July 22, 2009

Charles Barkley Says Tiger's Career Better Than Jordan's

Basketball and frustrated golfer Sir Charles Barkley is never shy with an opinion, and quite often, Barkley has a refreshing candor that is somewhat of an endangered species in today's world of PR corporate-speak disguised as news. In an interview in AZCentral.com, we see exactly that:

Barkley on who's more impressive, Tiger or Michael Jordan:
"I think Tiger is more impressive. He has to play against 130 guys or more every week. He can't control what other people are doing. He can only do his thing. They're the two greatest athletes I've seen in my generation. For me, it's cool to have competed against Michael and watched Tiger in his prime."
It's very difficult to argue with that assessment, and while I never competed against any great athletes (save for trying to date the same woman as Terry Gannon in college) I have witnessed many of the modern greats: Hank Aaron, Jack Nicklaus, Barry Sanders, Jordan (in college too, he went to rival UNC) and too many others to mention. I would put Tiger at the top of the list I've witnessed in terms of what he has accomplished so far in his career. There's still the little matter of winning five more majors until he can claim the title of greatest-ever pro golfer, but at this point it still looks like a probability.

Barkley added this about Tiger's miss at last week's Open Championship, saying
"It bothers me right now that people make such a big deal out of that. He missed one other cut in a major, and that was after his dad died. So that doesn't really count. And to go 13 years and miss one cut in the majors has to be one of the most remakrable achievements out there. That's really impressive. And it shows you the stupidity of certain people who are questionging him. I'll bet every pro has missed 10 or more cuts. but it just shows you the double standard. Some of those guys have probably missed 25 cuts. This is really his first one, and when I talk to him, I'll tell him, 'Bro, you're probably down and have the red ass right now, but to go 13 years and only miss one cut, that's one of your major accomplishments. You're talking about the world's hardest golf courses, and to go 13 years and only miss one cut is remarkable."
I would say incredible, but that's just the semantics of choosing the right word to describe what has been one of the greatest runs in all of sports...ever.

What will be interesting is to see where Tiger Woods goes from here. One thing is clear this season is that Woods is not in tune as a golfer and that has leaked into his mental game as well. Never before have we seen the meltdowns from Tiger that we saw late last week, and it is clear that his frustration reached a boiling point -- filling his body with adrenaline, lots of androgenic hormones and body tension...the enemies of fine muscle control and therefore solid golf. In short, Tiger may have beaten himself the final nine of his second round in the Open.

My bet is that he'll come out and do pretty well in his next tournament. That's what he always does and it's as safe a bet as any to predict that for the future.

July 21, 2009

Don't Tell Me Tom Watson "Choked"

If you listen to or watch mainstream media the past couple of days, a consistent meme has emerged: Tom Watson choked and lost the Open Championship on the last hole. If he didn’t do it there, he certainly did so in the four hole playoff that followed.

Worse still, some naysayers he didn’t belong in the mix for the Claret Jug and that the only reason he was there in the first place was because there was a weak field over the weekend.

It's said that you can not read the newspaper and be uninformed, or you can read the newspaper and be misinformed.

If you want a textbook example of the truth in that aphorism, take a look at several of the commentaries on Watson yesterday. They're wrong. They are insulting. And they deserve to line bird cages...but the birds would probably demand better.

First of all, Tom Watson made the cut and Tiger Woods didn’t. He didn't get a free pass. He earned it. Woods didn't earn it, and he headed back home after two days of bad golf.

They played the same golf course, under more or less the same conditions, and the old man kept his cool and performed when he needed to, while the World’s #1 could do neither. That should end the argument for all time that Tom Watson didn’t deserve to be there. He golfed his ball, Woods smashed his clubs into the ground. Nothing more needs to be said.

As for “choking” – Tom Watson made a mistake on the approach shot to the 18th green, and he overclubbed by one, an 8-iron when a 9-iron would have been the better choice. The ball flew about two feet too far in the strong winds. His pitch was a hair too hard, this time against the wind. His final putt, yes, it could have been better, but then again, plenty of people missed eight foot putts all week.

That’s not choking. These guys should know better too, they've seen the difference in their own lifetimes. One only has to recall the debacle of the last hole of the 1999 Open Championship to see a vivid example of the difference.

In 1999, Jean Van de Velde’s stubborn insistence to play the 18th a Carnoustie in the manner he did -- that's choking. Van de Velde, despite having a three shot lead on the last tee didn’t play smart golf and chose a driver over an iron shot that would have surely found the safety of the fairway. Then he still refused to play smart golf and get his ball back in play in the fairway. That’s stupid golf, and that’s choking.

Tom Watson, on the other hand, fell victim to a rub of the green. Big difference, and if you know a damned thing about golf, you understand that. But that won’t let famous commentators from making infamous insults. That’s what they do and that’s why I don’t listen to them very often. I'd rather read the likes of Vince Spence, Patricia Hannigan, Ryan Ballengee and Heather Jones, among others, because they know more about golf than folks like Mike Freeman at CBS Sports.

Me, I choose the high road of praising Stewart Cink and Tom Watson too for their respective performances. Cink is a deserving champion, and Watson showed us once again that he can still golf his ball on the greatest of stages. That’s what the sport is all about, and that’s what makes it great.

Someone Swiped The Donald's Golf Cart

Tough times for Donald Trump yesterday. He had to walk for a while.

Trump Gets All Fired Up

Monday morning, the first day of competition at Trump National Golf Club-Bedminster for the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls' Junior, The Donald was cruising around his club catching the action. He was seen scooting around the grounds in the early morning catching some of the top players and parked his lucky No. 13 cart down by the garage to watch some action.

When he came back, it wasn't there -- and worse, his cell phone was in the cart.

"Mr. Trump was not happy," said one volunteer.

Ya think?

July 18, 2009

Since 1977, Things Have Changed, Except Tom Watson

In 1977:
  • Jimmy Carter was the new president of the US.

  • The Cold War was still being waged between the west and the USSR.
  • People listened to music on albums, not CD's.

  • Few people had VCR's and there was no such thing as DVDs.

  • Nobody had a cellphone.

  • Personal computers were extremely expensive and less than 5,000 people had one. Apple Computer was incorporated in 1977, IBM had yet to create the PC.
  • The Internet would not be created for another four years.

  • Saturday Night Fever was a smash hit movie.

  • Disco was extremely popular.

  • Luke Donald was born in July.

  • Tiger Woods was one year old.

  • And Tom Watson was The Open Champion at Turnberry.
Obviously, things have changed, but one thing hasn't: Tom Watson is still a great golfer and he will try to win the Open Championship for the sixth time tomorrow.

July 16, 2009

Will The Open Championship Get "Cheeky" In 2009?

Tradition abounds everywhere in The Open Championship. It begins with a piece of seaside real estate with utter wilderness off of its fairways, half-gales howling and frigid rain slashing horizontally through players and spectators who pretend not to notice all the way to the presentation of The Claret Jug, and ending with the heartfelt speech to the audience from the Champion Golfer of the Year.

One recent Open tradition that has yet to happen thus far in this young 2009 Open is the full display of someone's "personal wilderness" as they run across a fairway or green with nothing more than a smile and policemen chasing them. Will it happen this year? Who knows. Today was not only a perfect day for golf by Scottish standards, it was also a perfect day for a quick run in the buff if one were so inclined, but it, along with extremely low scores, just didn't happen.

We've barely started this Open, so there's plenty of time left...for everything.

July 15, 2009

Turnberry: Tougher Than You Might Think

Turnberry never can seem to shake its reputation as a "resort course" but it may do just that this weekend.

Golf writer Dan Jenkins can't seem to heap enough scorn on the place whenever he writes about it, and recently called it "the least deserving Open course" in Twitter. In Golf Digest, he goes even further, saying "the resort course with the lighthouse and the island bird sanctuary in the background that offers photo-ops instead of the rigors of a major championship."

Perhaps Jenkins prefers the traditional rota of St. Andrews' Old Course, Royal St. George, Royal Birkdale and the like. Or maybe he like to see major tournaments settled on golfing penal colonies -- with the eye of Category-5 hurricane on top of the clubhouse.

"Silly old Turnberry seemed quaint the first time we all went there in '77, the year of the Watson-Nicklaus thing. It was OK and perfectly thrilling that Tom and Jack shot 4,000 under par. We thought it was strictly them.

"Then in '86 Turnberry began to be exposed despite the rain, wind and chill that prevailed most of the way. That's because Greg Norman shot a 63 in the second round with three bogeys and two three-putts. It was a round that could have been a 59 and should have been a 61. And this was a major?"

Or maybe it was a great performance by a great golfer. After all, Norman shares the course record of 63 at Augusta National with Nick Price. And you don't read where Mr. Jenkins has called Augusta National unworthy of hosting a major.

Two Weeks Ago, Turnberry's Open Setup Massacred Its Members

If Turnberry is a mere "resort course, " as Jenkins says, consider this: typically, a club hosting an Open Championship closes the venue to its membership for several weeks prior to the event. Two weeks ago, however, 150 of the folks who belong to Turnberry were allowed to play the Ailsa course where the Open will be held this weekend for a tournament of their own. The results were eye-opening.

They lost 480 balls in the tall and hatchet-worthy rough. Between 70 and 80 of the players were "no returns" -- menaing half the competitors quit before the tournament's end. As Peter Corrigan, "The Hacker" in London's Independent said, "that number represents a slaughter of epic proportions."

And, oh by the way: the member's played off of the shorter white tees, not the longer championship tees. If that's a resort course, then the seaside weather must always be very warm, because it is located downtown in the Ninth Circle of Hell.

This weekend, expect to see straight-forward links golf that rewards keeping the ball in play and punishes wayward shots. Do that well, and player can score well. That's the true nature of golf, after all, and if a given player can master his golf ball, he will master Turnberry.

“I don’t like to see courses tricked up at all.” said Turnberry’s greenskeeper George Brown in the New York Times recently.

“I think we’ve done a good job, but nobody wants to make the players look stupid," Brown added. "We want to give them a challenge. We don’t want it said that Turnberry is just a resort course. I think our previous winners have proved that it isn’t. They were all in their prime when they won, and hopefully we’ll have the same this year, and the cream will come to the top.”

Brown has a point, the previous winners at Turnberry-hosted Open Championships are Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Nick Price. Think you might like those three on your team in a Captain's Choice?

More seriously, all three are Hall of Fame players. Clearly, Turnberry has produced winners that didn't hoist the Claret Jug after appearing from nowhere. In fact, all three were the sport's number one ranked players when they won...which would seem to bode well for one Eldrick Tiger Woods, not to mention ABC's television ratings.

July 13, 2009

You Can't Get Golf Logix For Your iPhone...Yet

A promising looking GPS app for iPhone users is not available for download, despite ads to the contrary.

I got my July/August copy of Golf Tips magazine in the mail over the weekend, and on page 11, there's a splashy ad for a splashy new GPS rangefinder from GolfLogix, one that has an iPhone front and center in their print ad.

"Golflogix is now available to download on the world's best-selling smartphones" it says, adding that it's a free download. So I head over to their site, try to download the application in order to compare it to the gold standard of golfing GPS devices, the Sky Caddie SG5, except there's no software to download...yet. I tried the Apple App Store, iTunes and the link on the web site, but there's no there there.

You know that they are disappointed over there at Golf Logix HQ that their product is not ready at the same time their expensive ad campaign hit the sheets.

What Golf Logix looks to eventually sell looks promising. I've tried several golf GPS applications on my iPhone, but have yet to find one that measures up to Sky Caddie. From the screen shots I saw - with clearly labelled distances for not only the center of the green but also for carries over hazards and another for layups to 150 yards, Golf Logix may well be the killer GPS app for the iPhone. Problem is, that remains to be seen, because at this point, it's little more than vapor ware.

Hopefully, I can remember to check back in a couple of weeks to see if the iPhone app store has something available. Oh, that's right, set a reminder. There's an app for that.

Seriously, I have forwarded a query to the Golf Logix media relations folks to see if they can offer any insight, and when they get back to me, I'll provide an update.

July 10, 2009

"This is what it's all about, isn't it?" - Turnberry, Revisited

"This is what it's all about, isn't it?" said Tom Watson, speaking to Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus, surveying the scene before him, smiled and replied "you bet it is."

The two men were on the 16th tee at Turnberry in 1977, locked in a duel that was already legend -- though it was far from completed. There were three holes left, the two were tied, with the competition left in the dust that the stampeding spectators were lifting into the sky as the followed the pair.

Often in the excitement of the moment, golf fans, writers and commentators will label a given tournament "the best that's ever been played." They'll often proclaim a player the "best that the game has ever seen." It's understandable, golf's dramas can be that exciting. All too often, when they are caught up in the moment, fans and observers are ignoring the rich history of the game. This time, however, they were spot on.

Jack Nicklaus is the best player the game has ever seen, his record proves it. The "Duel In The Sun" -- as it came to be known later -- was one of the best contests in major tournament history. Given that television and global satellite coverage was becoming de rigeur, it was also one of the more widely seen great battles ever witnessed as well. The 1913 US Open battle between Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and Francis Ouimet was seen and heard only by those in attendance. Bobby Jones completing the game's only recorded Grand Slam was heard only on radio -- as was Ben Hogan's incredible finish on the same Merion course twenty years later. The Duel in the Sun was different in that it was available for the watching for most golf fans the world over. And it was indeed one of the best battles the game has ever seen.

"The display that Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus put on at Turnberry over those last excruciating, compelling, agonizing and interminable 36 holes can only be summed up by quoting from that old RAF monument sitting out there on Turnberry's back nine.

Somewhere on the granite it says THEIR NAME LIVETH FOREVER MORE. Well, if theirs doesn't, there's not a kidney left in a pie in Ayrshire." - Dan Jenkins.

Herbert Warren Wind said later that "all that will probably be remember is the fantastic duel between Nicklaus and Watson, who were paired on both the third and the fourth day and threw some altogether stupendous golf at each other — neither of them ever taking a backward step — right down to the seventy-second green." Wind, for his part, had seen quite a number of tournaments in his day. So had Dan Jenkins, and he described the event in Sports Illustrated as "better than any golf — ever."

After some preliminary sparring on the first hole, Nicklaus landed the first punch on Turnberry's #2 hole, where he made birdie to Watson's bogey. Advantage, Jack. He padded his lead on the 4th with another birdie, and at the time, some thought the rout might be on. Good as Watson was, Nicklaus was the world's #1 player, and when he sunk his teeth into a tournament, he rarely let it go.

Watson was undeterred. He birdied the fifth hole to trim the Golden Bear's lead to two strokes, and on the 8th, he pulled even with a putt that he'd later describe as "lucky" adding that he'd struck the ball so hard that had it not smacked directly into the center of the cup that "it would have gone six or seven feet by the hole."

Golf is like that.

Life is like that.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

It is even luckier to be both, which Watson was on the 8th green. The ball may have scooted by had he not struck it into the heart of the hole, he may have missed the putt coming back and history may be different. It isn't, because Watson was a great putter and he put the ball in exactly the right place, no matter hard he hit it. Lucky and good. The stuff that wins major tournaments.

The two would continue their back and forth across the seaside Turnberry course, with each hole ratcheting up the tension and excitement in the throng of thousands that were following the two men. On the ninth hole, Nicklaus and Watson were forced to stop playing and stand back as the Open gallery -- typically one of the most knowledgeable, civil and well-mannered in golf -- burst through the ropes and onto the fairway where the players stood. Nicklaus sat on his bag, with Watson standing nearby, with both being protected by officials and their caddies. The interruption did not serve Watson any favors -- he bogied the hole to Nicklaus's par and made the turn towards the clubhouse one stroke behind once again.

(pictured: Turnberry's 10th green.)

Nicklaus again seized the moment and the momentum and sunk a lengthy birdie putt on the 12th hole, and with a two-stroke lead with but six left to play, many thought that the Champ had finally knocked out the Contender. It was not to be. Watson was not going to go away quietly, nor was he planning to leave at all. On the 13th hole, he sank his own birdie, and put himself right back in the match.

Great golfers do great things at the greatest of times in order to scribe their names indelibly into the history books. Their deeds are such that the never can be forgotten, and Tom Watson, native of Wichita, Kansas, seized the game's pen and did exactly that. On the fifteen hole, Watson delivered a sixty-foot bomb that was pure British golf: from ten feet off of the green and on hard pan, he rolled his ball straight into the flagstick and into the cup.

This could not be done on a typical American course set up for Sunday amateurs, much less one geared for a major championship. The grass would have been too thick for a putt, and Watson would have needed to chip his ball. But this wasn't America, it was Turnberry, and the Scottish seaside course was set up like the courses of old, allowing Watson to wield a flat stick. Such is the nature of an Open Championship, and Watson, from the American heartland, had just played a shot that was as good as any that Old Tom Morris or Harry Vardon or any of the old greats could have every hoped to. That he did it the way the wizards or yore would have was magic to the fans attendance there and their wild cheering was their testament to the moment. They do know their golf in the country where the game was invented, and they knew they were seeing greatness that day -- and that they had just witnessed yet another miracle from a master.

The best, however, was yet to come. Speaking to one another on the 16th tee, the two foes and friends appreciated the moment. And they were enjoying it. The sun was sinking over the rugged coast of Ayrshire, soaking the Alisa course in a golden glow. The crowd surrounding them was numbering in the tens of thousands, with millions more glued to the television sets the world over. It was a moment to treasure, and both were clearly doing just that.

The winning margin came on 17, when Tom Watson snared a two-putt birdie and fourteen-time major championship winner Jack Nicklaus inexplicably missed an equaling short three-footer and was forced to tap in for par. Nicklaus, it is said, was as good a clutch putter as any who has played the game -- Hagen, Woods, any of them. Somehow, though, on that 17th hole, he missed. Given one hundred balls on a normal day, he would make one hundred and one. He was shocked, as was the gasping crowd. Watson had a one stroke lead with but one left to play.

If someone thought that this match was over, they were running a fool's errand. With the honor, Watson split the fairway with a one-iron. Trailing, this forced Nicklaus to take an aggressive line with his driver, which he shoved far into the waving rough and up against a gorse bush.

Watson was first to play, and he dropped his seven iron two feet from the hole and to a deafening roar from the crowd surrounding the green.

Game over? Not hardly. Nicklaus had an impossible lie, but in his time at Ohio State University, Jack never learned the word impossible. Taking a mighty swing with an eight iron, he sent a soaring ball out of the wilderness and onto the green - a shot for the ages. Unfortunately, it was 35 feet from the hole, but this was no mere mortal man holding the putter. It was Jack Nicklaus.

With the crowd again hushed, Nicklaus surveyed the putt and stood over it. Slowly he drew back his putter, then gracefully accelerated into the ball. Murmurs from within the gallery were heard, louder and louder as the ball drew towards the cup. Maybe turned to might, might to probably and probably turned into an explosion of cheers when Nicklaus's ball fell into the cup. The Golden Bear might still be trailing, but he was not going to go quietly and he was not ever going to quit, not even at the last with his opponent stone dead aside the pin.

Now it was Watson's turn. Many champions will tell you that when victory is in their grasp that their eyes blur, their hands shake, and that it feels impossible to make the final stroke. Watson hesitated over his ball, not for those reasons, but instead because the crowd was still roaring and unsettled from Nicklaus's final roundhouse blow that he'd landed only moments before. Jack, ever vigilant of the spirit of fair play, raised his hands to quiet the crowd. Obediently, the fans hushed while Watson brushed a couple of practice strokes and then dropped his ball into the heart of the Claret Jug and into history. The crowd roared once final time, for Watson, for Nicklaus, and for what they had just witnessed, one of the finest Open Championships ever, and two of the finest exhibitions of tournament golf to ever rub the green.

"When I won at Turnberry I really felt as if I belonged and could play with the big boys. Winning the majors was my dream - that's why I practised harder than anyone and tried to develop a game that would work under pressure. And it finally started to work.

"I played some of my best golf ever at Turnberry. I was playing at my peak and it was really a springboard to the rest of my career." - Tom Watson

As they walked off the Alisa course at Turnberry, two battle worn warriors, Jack Nicklaus, as ever the great sportsman that he is, threw his arm around Watson's shoulder and the pair left as one, forever linked in golfing history, legend...and myth.

SPECIAL NOTE: Golf Channel will chronicle the story of the duo's epic battle in a special presentation, Duel in the Sun, airing Monday, July 13 at 9 p.m. ET.

July 8, 2009

Harry Vardon - A Man Whose Style And Whose Records Still Stand

He was the Tiger Woods of his day, and when he teed it up -- whether it was in the UK or here in the US, he would draw crowds that more often than not numbered in the tens of thousands. He was the greatest of the Great Triumvirate of James Braid and John Henry Taylor - a group that so thoroughly dominated golf that their accomplishments have never been equaled. His effect on the game is still felt today -- most golfers emulate his swing and his grip without ever thinking of where it came from -- but nonetheless in so doing they are paying silent tribute to one of the great pioneers of the game. He was Harry Vardon, a man the likes of which the game has not seen since he left the course after his final round.

Born in 1870 in Jersey, a small island off the coast of England, Vardon was not a child born into great means who took up the game of golf as an idle avocation. In fact, Harry Vardon never played any real golf until he was a teenager, when as a gardner he received his first golf lesson, instead, he played a game where rough-hewn handmade clubs were used to hit a marble ball around a course measuring about 50 yards.

By the age of 20, having taken up the full game on the regulation courses of the day, Vardon was a good player, and like most young talented players, he was curious as to his abilities, so he entered a tournament -- which he won. Vardon then played in another tournament in Scotland -- this time against more skilled and more serious players -- and there, he came in second. It was shortly after that that he turned professional.

Vardon, The Innovator for All-Time

That said, it's fair to conclude that it was Vardon who invented the modern game of golf as we know and play it today. Vardon changed the way golfers looked at nearly...everything.

In the beginning, Harry was not a golfing prodigy, instead, he was largely a self-taught golfer who honed his skill through hard work and dogged dedication. It was during that time of discovery and practice that Vardon perfected his incredible accuracy and control of the golf ball, setting a standard that surpassed any that had played the game before him. While he did not invent it, Vardon perfected an overlapping club-gripping method now known as the "Vardon Grip" -- something that is still the most popular style of holding the club. Nearly all serious golfers -- Jack Nicklaus being a major exception -- use that grip, and more likely than not, if you have played the game for much time, you do as well.

In his time, golfers of all levels would strike their balls with great velocity but with low trajectories, which caused them to sacrifice control in favor of distance. Elements of that style of play are still needed, of course, especially on courses in Scotland where running the ball under the wind is a preferable strategy. Using it exclusively, however, is one dimensional and limiting.

Vardon learned to swing the club such that his golf ball would fly high in the air, and land with a nearly vertical angle so that it would come to a stop quickly, thus offering him the ability to precisely place his shots close to the pin. In his time, this was revolutionary and afforded a great competitive advantage in any match or tournament.

To accomplish this, Vardon played his swing in a different plane than his contemporaries, used a different stance, and also placed his ball at different areas in that stance in order to accomplish his goal of smart precision. All considered, it is probably Harry Vardon that began to perfect the idea of "target golf" -- and by doing so changed the game forever. Hardly a successful golfer -- amateur or pro -- since Vardon has not learned these techniques.

(pictured: the modern Vardon grip, left; at right, a closeup of Vardon's own grip method.)

See Harry Vardon's Swing in Stop-Animation

In 1896, with his sharpened skills, Vardon beat the aforementioned J. H. Taylor in a tournament, settling for all time his quality as a player. Later that same year won the first of his Open Championships -- a record that still stands to this day. Vardon was the first Englishman to hoist the Claret Jug, signalling the arrival of the English as a force to be reckoned with in tournament golf -- which had been thus far utterly dominated by Scots.

"Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day is plenty." -- Harry Vardon

At one point, Vardon won fourteen tournaments in a row, a record which still stands, and he won seven majors -- including six Opens and a US Open in 1900, which he won after crossing the Atlantic by steamship -- the only viable transoceanic transportation available at the time.

In his tour of America in 1900, his status as golf's first international celebrity was cemented by the crowds often numbering in the tens of thousands who turned out to see him play - often by spectators who were seeing a golf course for the first time in their lives. When Vardon played at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, the New York Stock Exchange shut down for the day. Over fifty percent of the time, when he set foot on a course for the first time, sight unseen he would shatter the scoring record. He played 88 exhibition matches in that tour, losing only once to Alex Findlay in Miami, Florida.

A Curious Spectator At a Vardon Exhibition Sets The Stage For An Eventual Shift In Golf History

It was during that tour of America in 1900 that Vardon unknowingly changed the course of golf history not only in the United States but also in the world. In Boston, Vardon was hired to conduct an exhibition in the sporting goods department at the Jordan, Marsh & Company, a tony downtown department store.

Not being on a golf course or practice tee, Vardon hit ball after ball into a net, displaying his golfing talents for all comers -- including one Frances Ouimet, a young boy whose fascination with Vardon's trademark "Vardon Flyer" golf balls drew him magnetically to the store to see his idol in person.

It nearly didn't happen. Ouimet first asked his father to take him to the event, but was turned down by the class conscious Canadian immigrant who felt the store above his station. Ouimet's mother saw the desperate desire in her son's eyes and took him instead, and there, for the first time, Frances Ouimet beheld the sight of Harry Vardon.

Seeing Vardon's endlessly repeating and flawless swing gave Ouimet a lesson he would never forget -- and it crystallized his desire to be a great golfer. From then on, when he was not in school, doing chores or caddying at the Country Club across the street from his Brookline, Massachusetts home, Francis would be perfecting his own golf swing in a makeshift course near his house. Eventually, the young man's game budded into a highly proficient and extremely competitive one that saw him win several important regional tournaments.

In 1913, the pair would cross paths again, this time in the US Open that was to be played at Ouimet's "home" course, The Country Club in Brookline. Ouimet was by no means a member at the Country Club, he was employed as a caddy at the golf course, part of which passed by his front porch.

There, golf history for all time was made when the upstart 20 year old amateur would duel Vardon and Ted Ray in a 18 hole playoff duel that Ouimet won by overcoming his nerves and his opponents to win - igniting an exploding interest in golf in America in the process. Also notable about the 1913 US Open was another player who in his first US Open gamely battled but eventually fell by the wayside of the Oumiet/Ray/Vardon charge - Walter Hagen, a man who would eventually set a number of records of his own and also change the course of the game in his career.

(pictured: Vardon, Frances Ouimet and Ted Ray shortly after the 1913 US Open.)

Overcoming Consumption, And A Career Shortened By Damaged Nerves

After winning the Open Championship again in 1903, Vardon was stricken with tuberculosis, a then incurable disease with few treatments in the time before the discovery and implementation of antibiotic medications. It forced him out of competition and into Mundesley Sanatorium in Norfolk for long spells until 1910. Sick as he was, Vardon never dispelled the notion of playing golf, nor did he give up on winning major tournaments. In fact, the sanatorium was located aside Mundesley Golf Club's nine-hole course, which Vardon had helped to design in 1901. There, in 1904, Vardon played a non-competitive leisure round of golf, and scored the only hole-in-one in his career -- a feat that no doubt cheered Vardon greatly, renewing his spirits in the process.

Vardon would go on to validate his true greatness after he left Mundesley. At the age of 40, he would win the British Open again in 1911 and 1914, barely lose to the aforementioned Ouimet in perhaps the greatest US Open duel in 1913, and nearly won the US Open in 1920 at Inverness when he led the tournament by four strokes with seven holes remaining. Unfortunately, as a result of his illness (which was never cured) Vardon's putting ability was betrayed by quaking hands, and he ended up losing to his friend and fellow Jerseyman Ted Ray by two strokes.

Vardon's Place In History

Most golf historians agree that were it not for Vardon's tragic illness that he would have won many more majors and undoubtedly spent much more time in America -- offering him the opportunity to not only win Open Championships, but also US Open championships as well. It is also notable that Vardon's chances to add to his total were eclipsed by World War I, which shut down tournament golf not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the United States as well. All considered, it's fair to say that Vardon "only" having seven major titles is extremely misleading.

Harry Vardon passed away in 1937 and was laid to rest at St Andrews Church, Totteridge, Hertfordshire, England, where a wreath is laid every year by the members of the South Hertsford Golf Club when they play for the ‘Harry Vardon Trophy’. Additionally, his legend also still lives on not only with his still-standing records and golfing style, but also with the Vardon Trophy, which is awarded annually to the PGA Tour player with with lowest stroke average per round.

Stina Stenberg Puts A Sexist Loudmouth In His Place

In the recently released August edition of Golf Digest magazine columnist Stina Stenberg takes on this question in hilariously brutal fashion:
Q: My buddy says he could beat most LPGA Tour players on a course that's longer than 7,000 yards. He's a 4-handicapper, and he drives the ball more than 300 yards. I say he's full of it. Do you agree?
Here's the best part: Stina's answer. Not only is it direct, but is as subtle as a sledgehammer to someone who clearly deserves it. In the spirit of Fair Usage, I won't repeat her entire answer, but here's enough for you to get her point:
"Your friend is clearly delusional. As a 4-handicapper, he'd get so badly beaten by any of the LPGA's 152 players (even those with non-exempt status) that he'd have a tough time getting back up. Although the LPGA Tour pros play from shorter yardages than PGA Tour players so, they're not exactly teeing it up from the reds. [...] If your friend is willing to make a large wager, I'm sure he wouldn't have any trouble finding out how good LPGA Tour players are from 7,000 yards."
Indeed. Stina Stenberg tells it like it is, and serves the truth with no gravy in this case. A four-handicapper, no matter how far he drives the ball off the tee, would be in a world of hurt against one of the world's top women players.

For one thing, golf is more than getting off the tee, and his advantage would not be as great as he thinks, which Stenberg points out well in her full answer. A typical LPGA player probably drives the ball not only further than a typical club champion, she also can control her ball and put it in position. Saying that a pro is longer and better off the tee would be no stretch of the truth. In short, it would be the simple truth.

Any 4-handicapper should know that short game, putting and scoring ability matter as much or more than being Bam Bam on the teebox, and that at least half of a round's shots are played from 100 yards or closer -- where nearly any amateur in the world would be at an incredible disadvantage to a Tour pro -- any Tour pro, whether or not they are a man or a woman.

"Drive for show, putt for dough." Major advantage: LPGA player.

Case closed.

The question, however, points out a larger issue that really should be addressed. This guy thinks he wouldn't lose, mainly because he's a guy and an LPGA player is, well, a woman. That's just a crock of steaming bull manure and is darned near silly.

Me, I've lost to women in tournaments and even in Nassaus. Straight up. I'm no 4-handiapper yet, but I'm good enough to hold my own in competition, but I am also realistic enough to know that there are plenty of women who are simply better golfers than I can ever hope to be. And the best of the best? They would beat me ten of ten times, no matter how well I played on a given day.

The part that makes me different is that I would never think twice about it, and never have when a woman's beaten me out on the course. There's no shame in losing to someone who's better, no matter who it is. It's the 21st century, right?

Clearly this fellow is thinking with his smaller brain. And it isn't as smart as he thinks it is.

The Grandaddy Of All Open Champions: "Old" Tom Morris

More so any sport still played today, golf winds its way through history, leaving a trail a greatness still recognizable to those who take the time to look. Of all the great champions who have graced the game, Tom Morris Sr. stands as one of the greatest champions and benefactors of golf -- and the sport that still clearly bears his imprint to this day.

The Open Championship (don't call it the British Open, thanks) is perhaps the most perfect example of the enduring nature of golf-- it has existed for 149 years, and the annual event has only been interrupted by world war and a controversy in 1871 that led to The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers administering the event. Its winners are a veritable who's-who of golf, and if one looks down the list of those who have hoisted the Claret Jug or worn the Winner's Belt from today back to 1860, it is like reading a roll call of the greats of the game from now back to the origins of the modern game.

(photo: Old Tom Morris in 1905, right; in the 1890's, below)

The Greatest of the Early Champions: Thomas Mitchell "Tom" Morris, Sr.

First played in the fall of 1860 at Prestwick, the inaugural Open Championship had a clear favorite among the eight professional competitors who vied for the prize belt that would be given to the winner: the keeper of the Prestwick Greens and crack golfer, Tom Morris. Morris did not win that day, losing to his fiercest rival, Willie Park Sr., by two strokes in a three round event that were played consecutively in a single day over 36 holes.

The next year, 1861, Morris began setting a mark of excellence on the young tournament that would not be eclipsed until his son came along, where Morris Jr. not only broke his father's records but also placed himself high in the annals of the game itself.

"Old" Tom Morris, as he came to be known in order to distinguish him from his son "Young" Tom, was a clubmaker, a golf course designer, a greenskeeper and, of course, a great golfer. Many of the elements of the game we take for granted today came originally from his hand, for example, Old Tom was the man who standardized courses at 18 holes, he was the first to groom hazards in order to enhance their punitive nature, and as a designer, he was the first who placed hazards in a manner such that strategy in avoiding them was clearly required in order to garner the lowest score possible. Obviously, these are things that modern course superintendents and designers do every day as part of their work, but it was Morris who was the first -- and in so doing, he changed the game forever.

He learned his skills from the man who is credited with being the first golf professional, Alan Robertson, and the two men also played in foursomes together and were never beaten from 1842 till Robertson's untimely death in 1859. Of Robertson, it is said that he was never beaten, and of Morris, much the same can be said of his play in the early years of his golfing career being that he was Robertson's partner and apprentice.

"£1 a day I charged plus expenses, and walked every venue." -- Tom Morris, Sr.

As a course designer, his handiwork is still golfed upon every day even now: Morris created the legendary courses at Carnoustie, Prestwick, and Muirfield, Royal Dornoch, Royal County Down along with Warkworth in Northumberland, Rosapenna in Ireland, among others. He also made changes and greatly evolved the Old Course at St. Andrews -- it was Old Tom who laid the sod of the 18th green there with his own hands. His work greatly influenced the likes of Alistair MacKenzie, designer of Cypress Point and Augusta National, Donald Ross, designer of Pinehurst #2 and Seminole, among many others.

Morris was also one of the first widely known champions that played the gutta percha golf ball (the aforementioned Willie Park Sr. being another) that eventually helped enhance and popularize the game -- prior to the gutta percha, balls were hand-stitched leather stuffed with feathers that were extremely expensive and thus unaffordable to any but the very wealthy. While some middle-class duffers were to be found in that time, they often were forced to play with limited equipment, especially when it came to golf balls. With the relatively inexpensive gutta-percha ball, more commoners could afford to take up the game, and thus the second great influx of the middle class (the sheep herders who invented golf as we know it being the first) into golf. Old Tom also developed and built golf clubs in his shop and even helped create many of the rules of the game that are still in place to day.

By 1867, Old Tom had established a clubmaking business aside the 18th green of The Old Course in Saint Andrews. He ran the business for the rest of his lifetime, and consistently employed at least six craftsmen, one of which, Bob Martin, was a double winner of The Open Championship at St Andrews in 1876 & 1885.

(pictured above: Prestwick, photo by Bryan Robson; an advertisement forMorris Sr. golf equipment, and below, the 18th green at St. Andrews Old Course.)

Those accomplishments alone would place Old Tom Morris at the pinnacle of great men and women in the great game of golf, but one distinction places Morris there as well: he was also a fine champion golfer. He won four Open Championships, in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867. He competed often on the courses surrounding St. Andrews, with his son "Young" Tom being one his competitors or partners. While the one would defeat the other with some regularity, Young Tom had an edge on his father, that being his superior putting skills.

In fact, Young Tom would often joke with his father if he left a short putt that "The hole'll no' come ta ye, Da." That in mind, it can even be said that the Morris father-and-son combo created the infamous lament of "Never up, never in."

They remain the only father and son to come first and second in the same major golf championship - with Young Tom triumphant over his father. Another record of Old Tom's would stand until 2000. He held the record for largest margin of victory in a major championship at 13 strokes in the 1862 Open Championship, which Tiger Woods finally surpassed with a 15 stroke win at the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2000.

Old Tom played in every Open until 1895 and died in 1908 at 86. His death was caused by a simple mistake -- he thought that a door led to a water-closet (bathroom) but instead was a wine-cellar, and he fell down the stair leading into the cask of bottles fracturing his skull in the process. He was buried next to his son in the Cathedral Church Yard in St Andrews, after a massive funeral that saw a procession where nearly every resident of the town and many from afar came to see him into his afterlife.

For a far more in-depth examination of Old and Young Tom Morris, I would suggest "Tommy's Honor"by Kevin Cook.

tomorrow: Harry Vardon

Cancer Claims Father of Tour Player Jonathan Byrd

PGA Tour player Jonathan Byrd suffered a tragic loss Monday night with the passing of his father. Jim Byrd was 65.

The State: Cancer Claims Father of PGA's Byrd:

"There were many constants in Jim Byrd’s life — his family, his faith, his love of golf — but when it came to sports allegiances, you would have to call the father of PGA Tour player Jonathan Byrd and Clemson assistant golf coach Jordan Byrd ... well, conflicted.

"Byrd, who died Monday night at 65 after a nearly two-year battle with brain cancer, was born and raised a North Carolina Tar Heel, playing freshman baseball and varsity football at UNC from 1965-67. But both sons wound up Clemson Tigers, and Byrd loved them and their sports careers more than life itself.

"So he learned to compromise — while never compromising his sense of humor.

"Al Adams, insurance agent and public-address announcer for Clemson football, discovered that in 1999, when he and the Byrds were on a Clemson-sponsored golf trip to Ireland.

“On the bus to the hotel, we were sitting across the aisle when I discovered he was a North Carolina grad,” Adams said. “I said, ‘You mean I’ve got eight days of listening to Tar Heel stuff?’

“Jim gave it back as good as he got. Once we were watching the ACC (basketball) tournament at his house, and he said, ‘Are you pulling for Carolina?’ I said of course not, and he laughed and said, ‘I just wanted to be sure.’

“He loved his Heels, but also his boys.”

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Byrd family.

July 7, 2009

Upcoming Wisconsin Tournament Names "Miss Beer Cart" for the Year

It takes more than a pretty face and a winsome smile to win the title of Miss Beer Cart in Wisconsin. The winner will be crowned after a competition where

[D]rivers compete against one another in different events that involve speed and neatness on the beer cart, driving tests that include speed, agility and accuracy and also a question and answer session with our selected judges. Before the event begins, a long drive competition is held between the beer cart drivers. This is done on an amphitheater like setting on the first tee. Once the event begins, each driver gets her turn on the beverage cart. Votes are tallied during dinner based upon pre-round competitions, long drive challenge and service during the event.

The spoils of victory?

The winner will enjoy the crown of Miss Beer Cart Wisconsin for one year and may be asked to represent the Pageant at various events. We provide participation awards and cash prizes for the winning participants.

Alongside the competition will be a Captain's Choice tournament for the fellows, who I suppose will be served by the contestants. And if the ladies in the contest are as attractive and as good at their jobs as are the ladies here at Eagle Ridge, it should be a tough competition indeed....and a fun day for everyone.

July 2, 2009

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown Wrongly Rips Tiger Woods

According to football legend Jim Brown, Tiger Woods should use his status as the world's pre-eminent and most recognizable athlete as a platform from which to speak for social change. What Brown ignores or overlooks is that Woods is already doing just that, albeit in a quiet but very effective way.

Brown made the following comments on HBO's "Real Sports" program in an episode which will begin airing Tuesday:
“You know what’s so interesting about Tiger to me? If it was just a matter of me looking at an individual that's a monster competitor, this cat is a mamajama; he is a killer. He'll run over you, he'll kick your ass. But as an individual for social change, or any of that kind of ----? Terrible. Terrible. Because he can get away with teaching kids to play golf, and that's his contribution. And in the real world, man, I can't teach no kids to play golf and that's my contribution, if I got that kind of power."
Woods was not Brown's only target for his withering criticism, he also lashed out at former NBA superstar and current Charlotte Bobcat executive Michael Jordan:
“There are one or two individuals in this country that are black that have been put in front of us as an example. But they're basically under a system that says, ‘Hey, they're not gonna do a certain thing.’ Yes, that disappoints me because I know they both know better."
It was after his playing days that Brown made his greatest mark on the world: he founded several "community programs aimed specifically at improving economic opportunities for American minorities. His latest enterprise is Amer-I-Can--its name emphasizing the "I Can"-- a project aimed at fostering self-esteem and diffusing tensions among urban gang members. Brown has created a 15-step course in personal responsibility that he has introduced everywhere from maximum-security prisons to encounter sessions in his own Hollywood living room." In short, Jim Brown was and is a difference maker in our world, one that everyone should be grateful to for his work.

But in Tiger's case he's wrong. Woods is already a social activist who is making a difference and in ways that far exceed golf. In USA Today:
"Greg McLaughlin, director of the Tiger Woods Foundation, said Wednesday that Woods' success in golf is understood by the public, but his true focus is not.

"When the foundation started in 1996 our goal was to provide opportunities for disadvantaged kids," McLaughlin said. "His focus is on educational resources for disadvantaged children."

"To that end Woods created the Tiger Woods Learning Center in California, and he's currently planning another in Washington, D.C. The foundation is considering three locations, and Woods hopes to have a decision on the site this year.

"Like the learning center in California, it will have a limited component of golf and will not be a place where students learn to play golf. The focus will be on academics."
If that's not empowerment and making a real difference, what is?