Golf in the Olympics turned out to be surprisingly compelling. Justin Rose edged out Henrik Stenson on the men’s side, while In Bee Park, carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations, dominated the women’s competition. Moreover, Gil Hanse’s masterful course design not only delivered a marvelous canvas for the participants to display their skills, but also provided a low-maintenance track that could springboard golf participation in Brazil.
Or so we thought. Reports from several publications indicate that the Olympic Golf Course is dying a slow but inevitable death. Reasons cited are the high greens fees ($74 – $82 per round), resulting in very few rounds being played (on the bright side, no pace of play issues!) and the continued financial crisis is Brazil, which has resulted in the course’s maintenance crew not being paid for at least a couple of months.
A friend of mine pointed out that many Olympic venues become white elephants after the Games closing ceremonies (really, how much use would a cycling velodrome or kayaking course get post-Olympics?) and that one should have expected this outcome. He’s probably correct, but unlike the other structures, a golf course has a life, and the good/great ones have a distinct character. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course has the latter in spades, what with its wide fairways, strategic bunkering, and seaside linksy qualities- in other words, the type of course that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.
It will be missed.
In the meantime, one of my home courses, TPC at the Four Seasons, will hold its final Byron Nelson Classic next year. This is only a mild surprise to us, as AT&T took over sponsorship a few years ago and announced its intention to move the tournament to a new Crenshaw-Coore design in a currently depressed area that is being gentrified (and in which AT&T has a vested interest) in 2019 The course has been announced ready to play; hence, the move date was bumped up by a year.
I’m of mixed emotions about this, as I think most members of courses who host a professional event would be. While there is a certain prestige of holding a tour event as well as an emphasis on course conditioning, there’s also some inconvenience involved, primarily loss of access to the facility (although in our case, we’re fortunate in being a 36 hole complex, so our members can continue to play).
And I’m not sure how the professionals will feel about the move. At one time, “The Byron” was a must play, particularly when Mr Nelson was still with us. Our course has hosted the event since 1983; the list of past winners is a veritable who’s who of golfing greats. In recent years, the field has been somewhat diluted due in part to a PGA Tour schedule change that moved the The Players Championship from March to May, occurring a week before “The Byron.” Many big name players choose to take off the week following The Players Championship.
As stated above, The Byron’s new venue, Trinity Forest Golf Club, is part of a redevelopment project in a somewhat depressed area of Dallas. The course was built on top of a landfill, and has a decidedly links-like feel. My guess is that the pros will enjoy the course, but will miss the convenience of the current site, which features a 4 star hotel on premises and easy access to both DFW and Love Field airports. And from a spectator’s standpoint, parking and transport in and out of The Four Seasons is pretty straightforward. Not so much for the new venue.
I won’t miss having cart-path only access to TPC for three months, nor will I miss the disruption of grandstand and concession stand construction/deconstruction that accompanies the tournament. But the atmosphere at The Byron has always been quite festive, and the golf remarkable. Plus there was always the opportunity of a chance encounter with Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, or Paulina Gretsky.
It will be missed.
After months of conjecture and near-misses, it appears that Tiger Woods will finally make his return at his Hero Challenge in the Bahamas, a very limited field event (20 players) that doesn’t count as an official PGA Tour event but somehow counts in the World Golf Rankings. When Tiger began his layoff in late 2015, his ranking was 247; it’s now somewhere in the 800’s. Golf writer Jason Sobel wanted to know how such a fall could occur while The Big Cat wasn’t playing; my response to him was that either position was not particularly desirable. [To his credit, Tiger, when asked by one reporter what his expectations were for the season, joked that if he could be in the top 1,000 in the world rankings, he’d be happy].
In a year that’s seen a US Ryder Cup victory, a number of notable celebrity deaths and a political campaign that has gone beyond surreal, I am not even going to hazard a guess as to how Woods performs this week. He did proclaim that he can now hit “any shot, any time on demand,” which hopefully translates to him being able to find the fairway off the tee more consistently. I’ll leave it to Peter Kostis or Gary McCord to analyze his swing changes; to my relatively untrained eye, he seems to have come up with a move that puts less stress on his back.
I wish him well. That may come as a surprise to some who know my past feelings about him, but he seems to have developed some perspective during his layoff. Last year at this time, he spoke of being “vulnerable,” something that most folks would have never expected from such a dominant figure. I think his involvement as a vice-captain in the Ryder Cup was well-received by the US team, and he’s already been tapped for a similar role for the Presidents Cup next year.
But please, please, please – let’s temper our expectations. This will not be Tiger circa 2007. He will no longer show up on Sunday wearing red and scaring the shit out of the competition. He won’t make every putt inside of 6 feet when it matters the most. And he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus’s major championship record.
Then again, I never thought Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. Stay tuned.