Tag Archives: golf

Where, Oh Where Should I Tee It Up?

By my reckoning, I have teed it up at 266 courses. I know that there are guys and gals out there who have likely exceeded that number, but 266 seems to be a lot to me. The number might actually be higher – last night, for example a Facebook post mentioned Bermuda’s Port Royal, a track that features the dramatic par-3 16th hole. I had forgotten about playing there; the only possible explanation that I have for that oversight is the fact that it was while on honeymoon with my ex-wife.

I’m always slightly giddy with anticipation over playing a course for the first time. At the end of that initial encounter, I’ll have formed an basic opinion – did I like the course or did I not?

It’s rare that I coming away not liking a course on some level – more on that in a moment – but there are certain tracks that not only don’t I like, but that I would urge folks to not come within a 50-mile radius of them.

One such course is Possum Kingdom, located just outside of Mineral Wells TX. Now, Possum Kingdom Lake is gorgeous; it’s bordered by high cliffs and features several scenic coves to park a boat to wile away a summer afternoon.

But when one asks about the course and gets the response, “Bring plenty of balls and watch out for snakes,” this should be an immediate red flag. And Possum Kingdom delivers on both counts. Many of its fairways are canted so that even if one finds the middle of the fairway, the ball will not only not stay there, but it will roll off the course and into some sort of a ravine where not even Clyde Beatty would venture. Add to that an inordinate amount of forced carries and other gimmickry, and one will wish that the 19th hole was located immediately after the 8th.

Fortunately, I can usually find some sort of redeeming quality about most courses I’ve played. Sometimes it’s simply that the track is nice to walk. But what makes a good or great golf course, or a course that is liked or abhorred, are topics that will invoke lively conversation.

Take the setting, for example. Some folks prefer tree-lined fairways, others favor open vistas. Some live for the seaside links of Scotland, others long for the tall pines of the Sand Hills that comprise Pinehurst and its surrounding area.

Then there’s the degree of difficulty vs. strategic options argument. Some players prefer a course that dictates to them where to place the ball; others like a course that presents various options to attack a given hole.

My personal criteria for evaluating a course really comes down to two questions:

  1. Did I enjoy the experience?
  2. Would I go out of my way to play there again?

Question 1 is admittedly broad, and I will break that down further:

  • Does the course offer realistic tee options for players of different skill levels?
  • Is the course visually pleasing?
  • Is it reasonably maintained?
    1. Note the use of the word “reasonably.” A course doesn’t need to be 50 Shades of Green for me to enjoy it. Give me well defined fairway and rough areas with relatively smooth running greens (and I really don’t care about the speed), and bunkers that have sand that can actually be raked, and I’ll be a happy camper.
  • Do the green complexes offer a variety of options for chipping, pitching and putting?
  • Was the pace of play acceptable?

That last point is key and can be attributable to either 1) the layout and difficultly of the course or 2) the management of play by those in charge.

In regard to point 1 . . .many courses built between the 1980’s and, say, now have been built around real estate developments where the distance between one green to the next tee can be an extremely difficult walk or long cart ride. Tidewater in Myrtle Beach comes to mind. On one hand, the architect created a wonderfully eclectic golf experience that cuts through maritime forests and at times borders the Intercoastal Waterway. On the other hand, one can guarantee a four and a half to five hour round because one is often times driving a half mile between holes (walking is out of the question).

Point 2 can be attributable to any number of factors – overbooking tee times, rangers not addressing slow groups on the course, players wanting to play the tips when they have no business doing so.

The question of whether I would go out of my way to play a course again generally means that all five of my criteria were met. Any of the courses I’ve played in Scotland I’d return to in a heartbeat (those I’ve played multiple times are The Old Course, North Berwick, Cruden Bay, Turnberry, and Crail). Most courses in the Sand Hills, for sure.

And there are a few courses to which I’d return for what I can only describe as semi-mystical experiences. At the fine course at the Sedona Arizona Hilton, which runs through a valley surrounded by red rocks, I was preparing to hit an approach to the 7th green when our group was engulfed by what the locals describe as a vortex – the wind came up and blew in a circular motion around us for about two minutes. This was supposed to be some sort of mind-changing experience, and maybe there’s some truth to it, as my 7-iron shot that followed wound up about 4 feet from the pin.

Another time, a friend and I were playing The Highland Links, a 9-holer located near the tip of Cape Cod in North Truro, MA. The links were established in 1892, and, honestly,  I don’t think an ounce of earth has been moved on the course since then. I had recently read Michael Murphy’s Zen-like golf tome, Golf in the Kingdom, and the course that Murphy describes in the book (which many believe to be the Balcomie Links at Crail) seemed to fit the surrounding to the point where I was driving my friend crazy by quoting lines from the story. In any event, we reached the 6th tee, which affords a dramatic view of the Truro Lighthouse and the Atlantic Ocean. As we admired the surroundings, a voice from behind said, “Pebble Beach has nothing on this, hey lads?”

I turned around; the man who spoke wore what appeared to be a caddy’s outfit (although he carried no clubs) and had the look of a year-round Cape Cod resident – white-haired and bearded with a rather ruddy complexion. “Yep,” he continued, “you don’t need to pay $450 for this view.” I turned back toward the lighthouse, paused for a moment and then turned to ask him a question – and he was gone, just as suddenly as he appeared.

And then there’s the odd story of Grandote Peaks, a Tom Weiskopf/Jay Moorish gem located in La Veta, Colorado, a small town located to the west of Pueblo. I played it back in 1998 and thoroughly enjoyed everything about it, and, since I’m back in state for a while, looked forward to perhaps making my way there again.

However, in looking it up for tee time availability, I found that Grandote Peaks is permanently closed. Apparently, it started as a riff between the club’s owner and the town over land ownership and zoning issues. Things went quickly downhill from there, and apparently the land has found another, ahem, recreational purpose.

Hey, at least it’s being put to good use.

[Note: For the complete list of courses that I’ve played, feel free to email me at garypopovich@hotmail.com. I’d love to know where you’ve played, as well. Or, you can click below to download. No viruses, I promise!]

Courses Played By State

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Aces

It’s become a running joke on social media that Golf Magazine’s esteemed writer Alan Shipnuck has never carded a hole-in-one. What makes this particularly galling to Mr Shipnuck are the reports of aces from novice golfers, children, and otherwise undeserving participants in the game who have managed this feat. His lamentations of this injustice, of course, has led to a flood of comments and responses on Twitter from what seemed to be every member of the Hole In One Club in the TwitterVerse offering sympathy (mock or otherwise) to his misfortune.

I am here to commiserate with Alan, as I, too, have remained ace-less over my nearly 40 year nondescript golf career. Oh, I’ve had my near-misses, and have actually witnessed at least 15 such shots by various playing partners (including my dear friend Sharon) – so if you have yet to card a hole-in-one, get me in your group [you hear me, Alan?] and your chances will increase dramatically.

[The Mad Scientist of Golf, Bryson DeChambeau, recently left the ranks of the Ace-less Club by holing out on the 16th at Augusta. Not a bad way to go.]

No doubt, a certain amount of luck involved with holing out a shot. One I witnessed came from a golfer who dug out a divot the size of a toupee on his tee shot. His ball landed about 25 yards short of the green but struck a sprinkler head, which propelled the ball onto the green and eventually into the cup. And I’ve heard plenty of stories about shots bouncing off trees, skipping ponds, and committing other physics-defying acts before finding the hole.

But there are certain golfers that seem to have a knack for shooting aces. Art Wall Jr., winner of the 1959 Masters, officially recorded 45 of them. And there was a fellow who belonged to my old club in Virginia named Charlie Smith who at last count had 13 – I haven’t seen Charlie in a number of years; it could be higher now.

We had a hole-in-one pool at that club that had about 100 members; whenever anyone made one, everyone had to pay that person $10. At the time the pool started, Charlie had already made 9 aces. That year, I believe we had 5 people collect on the pool. Charlie, whose best friend described him as one who rubs two nickels together in hopes of producing a quarter, was not one of those five, so when the next year came around, he took himself out of the pool, grumbling that his time was over and wasn’t going to pay out any more money.

Smart move. He only made three aces that season.

Then there’s my old golf buddy David, with whom I played lots of golf from my days as a member of the Sports Club at The Four Seasons in Irving, Texas. David and I had a standing “dollar a yard” bet on any par three that we played; i.e., if one made a hole in one on a 120 yard hole, he would collect $120 from the other person. Sure enough, one morning we stood staring directly into the sun on the 2nd tee on the Cottonwood Valley Course (one of the two 18’s at the Sports Club), which that day was playing 133 yards. We verified our bet, and David hit a gorgeous shot right at the flag. Because of the bright glare of the sun, we weren’t sure of the result, but as we approached the green it became apparent that the ball had disappeared into the hole.

Naturally, David was quite excited and decided to call his wife Sylvia with this news. The conversation went something like this:

David: Honey, guess what? I just made a hole in one! 

Sylvia: Wow, that’s great news!

(Pause)

Sylvia: Geez, why couldn’t you have done that in a tournament where you could have won a car or something?

When he shared this conversation with me, I told him that he should have at least mentioned the $133 I owed him for the hole-in-one. “I don’t think it would have made much of a difference,” he sighed.

So maybe making a hole-in-one ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Someday, I’d like to find out.

Sibling Golf

Like golf, life can be unpredictable. In my case, it finds me living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, at least for a while.

For those not familiar, Steamboat Springs is located in the Yampa River Valley, which cuts through the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. While there is a large ski resort that operates here, Steamboat Springs stands apart from places like Vail and Aspen in that it has been a longtime cowboy and rancher town, and has an economy that is not totally reliant on skiing.

My youngest sister, Lisa (who I affectionately call “Mick”) first moved here shortly after graduating from college, and after years of chasing a management career in retail, wound up back here several years ago, taking a position as Executive Director for Mainstreet Steamboat, a non-profit organization that consults with the local restauranteurs and retailers on ways to improve their traffic and visibility. She and her boyfriend Chad, a local contractor, are firmly ensconced in all things Steamboat Springs.

Mick took up golf a few years ago, and has fallen hook, line, and sinker for the game to the point where she’ll have the Golf Channel on her TV for a good portion of the day. She’ll ask lots of questions, not just about the players, but the courses on which the tournaments are being played, strategies for playing, and many of the topics that have made me the Golf Nerd that I am.

So when I arrived here about 10 days ago, Mick excitedly told me, “I’m going to get us a tee time for next Friday!” I was, to be polite, skeptical. I had caught the tail end of a “bomb cyclone” en route to Steamboat, and as I drove past Haymaker, the town’s outstanding municipal course, there was not a patch of green or brown to be seen, much less flags on the greens.

You see, this is what the locals here refer to as “mud season.” Ski season has come to an end, but there’s plenty of snow on the mountain tops melting down to the valley, making for an inglorious stew of – well, of mud.

But this part of the world seems to have a plethora of microclimates. About 40 miles to the west of Steamboat Springs is a small industrial town called Craig, where the snow is completely gone and temperatures average about 5 – 10 degrees warmer than those of Steamboat. Mick had gone online and secured a tee time for us at the Yampa Valley Golf Course, a sporty little track that I had played years ago when I had first visited her.

Friday came and the day was glorious, with temperatures in the upper 60’s that felt even warmer due to the elevation and virtually no wind (in stark contrast to the springtime winds that blow through Texas). Mick, Chad, their friend Steve, and I loaded up our clubs, piled into Mick’s red Ford Flex and lit out for Craig.

Having lived south of the Mason-Dixon border for the past 20-odd years, I’ve grown used to (and spoiled by) year-round play, and had forgotten how exciting it was for folks up north to be able to tee it up for the first time in the spring. For Chad, a very athletic guy, it would be a chance to shake the rust off his game. Steve, on the other hand, was coming off of knee surgery and was anxious to see how his newly repaired joint would perform. Mick was just simply bubbling over the opportunity to get out on the course.

She’s 11 years younger than me. I can’t say that I raised her, but we did spend a lot of time together until I went off to college. There were a lot of kids my age in our neighborhood, which afforded plenty of opportunities for us to engage of pickup games of all sorts. So I would load Mick up in her stroller and walk her down to wherever we were playing. She’d sit and smile or laugh as we went about our business – there was one instance when she started crying during one of our pickup basketball games, which brought the proceedings to a complete halt; it was such an unusual occurrence. We all ran over to her to see what the problem was; she immediately stopped crying and starting giggling, as though she had planned the whole incident. Maybe she did.

I’d like to think that some of my interests rubbed off on her, be it music, travel, or politics, but her taking up golf really was a surprise. Apparently, she had approached our dad (a very fine player back in the day) to teach her how to play. Unfortunately for her, Dad had a less than enlightened attitude about women being on the golf course; plus, his one attempt at taking my other sister out on the course gave unprecedented gravitas to the term “unmitigated disaster.”

And I admit to some initial skepticism. Taking up the game later in life can be frustrating, particularly while holding down a highly visible position dealing with a volatile constituency. But she’s benefitted from supportive friends – particularly Chad – and a determination to do well.

We checked in at Yampa Valley Golf Course, which was humming with early spring golf fever activity. A quick check of the practice green showed that the putting surfaces had not weathered well over the winter; there were signs of snow mold and dead areas that made for extremely bumpy putting. But the fairways and rough had dried out surprisingly well. Maybe it wouldn’t be “mud golf” after all.

And all things considered, we all did pretty well, particularly Mick, who shot her best 18 score ever and was great company in the cart (truth be told, she’s great company regardless). I didn’t critique every swing of hers; if there was something obvious that I noticed I would gently mention it to her and she took it well.

The two best things about her game were her driving and her putting, the latter of which was fun to watch on the shorter putts. The new rule this year allowing for the flagstick to be left in the hole while putting suited her aggressive approach to short putting; she would step up confidently on 3 and 4 foot putts and bang them in off the pin and into the hole.

Like a lot of beginning players, she has some issues getting fairway shots airborne, but that should come with time. And there will be time – she already has her summer calendar blocked for late afternoon “meetings.” I’d like to take credit for her foresight, but she figured that one out on her own.

That’s my sister.

Change of Scene

After living through the pressure cooker that is the Masters, many PGA tour players welcome the respite that comes after the three hour drive to Hilton Head SC and the Harbor Town Golf Links, home of the RBC Heritage (starts today 4/18 and runs through the weekend). The setting and vibe could not be more contrasting.

Augusta National is set deep in a hilly forest of Georgia pines.

Harbor Town is laid out on flat land, surrounded by Spanish moss-laden live oaks, condos, and Calibogue Sound.

Augusta National features wide fairways and greens large enough to land small aircraft if they weren’t so damned undulating.

Harbor Town’s fairways are so tight that, as the late Ken Venturi noted, golfers need to march single file down them, and greens that are mostly flat and thimble-sized.

Augusta National’s main landmarks are Magnolia Lane and its classic clubhouse.

Harbor Town’s main landmark is a candy-striped lighthouse overlooking its 18th hole.

The opening ceremony of the Masters features legends of the game teeing off.

The opening ceremony of the Heritage features the previous year’s champion teeing off with a hickory shafted club while a canon booms.

The winner of the Masters is awarded The Green Jacket, an honor so coveted that many winners wear it virtually everywhere they go.

The winner of the Heritage receives The Red Plaid Jacket. Despite claims to the contrary, I don’t see them getting a lot of wear in public.

The (Mostly) Great White Fathers of Augusta leave their fingerprints on every aspect of The Masters, including TV coverage, media access, on-course rulings, and crowd control (love those black-suited Pinkertons!).

The sponsors of The Heritage just want to be sure that their logos are prominently displayed and their commercials get aired.

Tiger Woods has won The Masters five times.

Tiger Woods played The Heritage once and finished tied for 18th.

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When Pete Dye designed Harbor Town in the late sixties, it was not so much a response to Augusta National as it was a rejoinder to trends in golf course architecture in general at the time, particularly to the reliance of generic runway tees and tepid shot values that were the hallmarks of Robert Trent Jones, the most prolific course builder of that time.

Harbor Town introduced to the golfing world many of Dye’s trademarks – angled tee pads, pot bunkers, visual trickery, and, of course, those railroad ties that serve as bunker facings on many holes. Dye borrowed this idea from Prestwick, the original site of the Open Championship. Its 3rd hole is named Cardinal in reference to the giant fairway bunker that intersects its fairway; it resembles a cardinal’s hat and features the aforementioned ties.

I played Harbor Town twice back in the late 80’s at a time when I was still pretty much a novice, and while Ken Venturi’s assessment of its fairways may be a slight exaggeration, he wasn’t far off the mark. Even when my drives found the fairway, there were times when I found myself aerially stymied by large, overhanging live oak branches (it was at Harbor Town where I stopped appreciating the aesthetics of Spanish moss).

I had my best luck on the par-3 holes (a very strong set of one shotters) – no trees to negotiate from the tee box – but for the most part, it’s easier wading through a bunch of Walmart shoppers than keeping a ball in the fairway at Harbor Town.

But Hilton Head in general is a fine destination indeed, with plenty of other, more user-friendly courses to play (as well as a number of exclusive gems such as Long Cove, Wexford Plantation, and Colleton River). There are miles of beaches, many dining options, and, despite the seeming never ending traffic on US 278, the atmosphere is surprisingly laid back.

And even though Harbor Town can seem claustrophobic, the rush that one feels when he/she hits the 17th tee and tries to gauge the wind off the sound is palpable.

And on 18, the fairway opens up to be about 60 yards wide, but the sound that borders the left side of the fairway and the lighthouse in back of the 18th green make a vivid final impression of a unique golf experience.

Just don’t nail the condo out of bounds on the right, like I did.

 

Sage Advice, or Self Indulgence? You Decide.

One of reasons that I feel uniquely qualified to write about golf is that I’ve played the game at most every level that the somewhat serious golfer can imagine (my handicap index has ranged from 24 to 5 and now currently sits at around 10) and the peaks and valleys that accompany that experience.

I’ve won a couple of club tournaments and absolute tanked more than my share.

I’ve had stretches of play that have given me pause about taking my game to the next level, and others that would literally depress me for days.

In 1992, I had a case of the shanks that lasted almost an entire season and nearly drove me from the game.

I’ve played on cow-pasture courses in New Hampshire and the Open Championship sites of Scotland – and enjoyed both experiences.

I’ve waited overnight in my car to line up for a starting time at Bethpage Black (next month’s PGA site) and queued up at 4:00 AM to get on The Old Course of St Andrews.

I’ve witnessed at least 15 hole-in-ones and have never personally made one (not that I’m bitter).

At the same time, I’ve holed out from the fairway at least a half-dozen times, ranging in distances from 100 to 175 yards.

And I’ve broken a window of a house bordering a fairway.


These days, my game is best described as “perplexing.” No matter how much I stretch prior to a round, my back usually is balky to the point where either Advil or a Tramadol and a couple of beers are required to loosen it. On most days, this results in a round that will start shakily, but once everything kicks in, I’ll go for anywhere from 7 to 10 holes where I will rarely miss a shot. At some point along the way after that, I’ll completely mess up a hole and then, depending on my mood, recommit to the final few holes (to varying degrees of success) or laugh the whole thing off.

It’s a strange way to go about playing, and at times confounds the hell out of my playing partners, particularly when there’s a bet or a tournament involved. And trust me, if there’s something on the line, whether it’s a beer or $20 (I’m not a high-stakes player), I’m definitely grinding, particularly if there’s a partner or team counting on me.

But it’s my reaction over a bad shot that confuses people. Once in a great while, the occasional “goddam” or worse will be uttered, but most of the time, I find myself either shaking my head or, in a lot of cases, outright laughing.

It hasn’t always been that way. When I first started, clubs would fly, curses would fly, and tantrums would run rampant. I soon learned that club throwing was pretty much verboten, but the curses would continue, and the tantrums were replaced by silent, self-directed tongue-lashings filled with self-loathing (one of the overlooked but nonetheless verifiable truths of the game is that if we spoke to others the way that we do to ourselves on a golf course, we’d not only not have any friends, we would likely be locked up).

Along the way, I read some of the work of sports psychologist Bob Rotella and the straight-forward teaching of the late Harvey Penick, both of which helped guide me toward playing some of the best golf of my life.

But one of the other overlooked but nonetheless verifiable truths of the game (there are many of these) is that no matter how well one plays, or how one tries to manage his/her expectations, he/she will always feel like that should have played better. It’s like clockwork – shoot a good score, and my mind will immediately spit out, “Man, if you hadn’t missed that short putt on #12, you would have REALLY had some round!”

I’m turning 66 this year, which, despite what Gary Player might say, puts me well into the back nine of life. And there have been plenty of personal embarrassments that the game has bestowed upon me, which are lovingly recorded in other entries of this blog that will entertain and astonish you.

So these days, I laugh. Or try to, anyway.

Augusta Tries to Grow the Game

One day was celebration of a return to glory.

The other was recognition of the remarkable ability of a gender.

One can argue which of these was more significant. All I know is that Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley has to be wearing a broad smile after what transpired at his club the past eight days.

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The climax of the Tiger Woods Redemption Story is what’s dominating news cycles, social media, and sports talk radio this morning, and frankly, it should be. His victory, highlighted by a vintage Tiger dagger on 16 (he nearly recorded the third ace of the day on that hole), also provided a certain measure of revenge against his previous two major championship vanquishers – Open Champion Francesco Molinari (who looked rock solid for three and a half rounds until he joined the Death By Rae’s Creek Fraternity at the 12th hole) and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka (who had chances late in the round but couldn’t convert some makeable putts).

From a pure golf standpoint, how Woods ultimately won was something of a departure from his usual M-O. Must of us are accustomed to Tiger recovering from errant tee shots and holing every putt in sight, and while there were a few Big Cat sightings in Augusta’s pines and a couple of bombs holed out, what sealed the tournament for him was the way he managed the course.

They say that experience counts at Augusta, and Woods’s play throughout the competition was, pardon the pun, masterful. He understood when to attack, and, more importantly, when to back off. Nowhere was this more evident than on Augusta’s 12th hole, perhaps the most perplexing par 3 hole in the world. Many have postulated on how best to judge the wind; apparently the theories of Molinari, Koepka, and Tony Finau were faulty, as all three of them dumped their tee shots into Rae’s Creek.

Tiger was having none of that. Having played there enough to understand that firing at the Sunday flag on 12 is a fool’s game, he rifled a 9-iron over the front bunker, leaving a lengthy but dry putt. That unspectacular shot essentially won the tournament for him.

The reaction to his victory has been . . . well, interesting. Sports media, of course, loves a good story, and the story of Tiger Woods has been as wild as that of any major celebrity. It’s also leading the speculation of him reaching Jack Nicklaus’s major victory mark of 18 and a possible Grand Slam (“He’s won at Bethpage! He’s won at Pebble Beach! He’s won at – oh wait, they haven’t played the Open Championship at Royal Portrush since 1952 . . . No matter, he’s going to do it!”).

Social media reaction has been mixed, as many have chosen to judge Woods on his (and his handlers) past moments of arrogance and sins of the flesh (I wonder how many of the latter voted for Donald Trump?).

For me, the real story was Tiger’s post-victory celebration with his family, the reception he received from his fellow competitors as he marched to the scorer’s area, and, most of all, the manner in which he fielded questions from the assembled golf media. While he will always keep some distance between himself and the press, his joy and humility were palpable. And his final statement to them was downright funny – “Now I have something for show and tell on Monday!”


While Tiger’s win can be considered another one for the ages, what transpired at Augusta on the Saturday prior to the Masters may have broader long term implications for the future of golf.

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur, first announced last year by Chairman Ridley, was an unqualified success; the perfect confluence of setting and personality. Seventy-two of the world’s best female amateurs were invited to the event, one which featured a rather unusual format – the first two rounds were played at Champions Retreat in nearby Evans, Georgia on Wednesday and Thursday, which reduced the field to 30. But all participants were afforded the opportunity to play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday, with the 30 finalists teeing off on Saturday.

So while the course provided the setting – particularly the second nine (along with all the other jargon that The Great (mostly) White Fathers of Augusta impose of the golf community, I learned this year that there is not a front nine and back nine there; instead, it’s “the first nine” and “second nine”) – the personality was spread among the participants, almost all of whom were beaming as they finished their rounds.

The main fireworks came from the final pairing of Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi, who pulled away from the rest of the field and put on a display of shot-making that left even the most hardened golfing chauvinist awestruck. Ms Fassi is a next-level star-in-waiting – a native of Mexico and a star at the University of Arkansas, she possesses a powerful swing and a thousand megawatt smile. Her interaction with the “patrons” (translation from Augusta lingo – “spectators”) was on a level with that of Lee Trevino, and should bring a breath of fresh air to the LPGA.

Jennifer Kupcho, on the other hand, was a bit more reserved – although she, too, could not hide her delight at playing at Augusta. And she pulled off two of the gutsiest shots I’ve seen on the 13th and 15th holes that for all intents won the tournament for her. The Wake Forest senior should also make some noise in the future, as well.

More than the quality of play exhibited by these two young women was their obvious mutual respect and sportsmanship. They conversed throughout the round, applauded each other’s shots, and, at the risk of gushing, did the game of golf proud.


 

Which leads me to the fulcrum of my gist.

Much has been said about the impact of Tiger Woods on golf. The argument goes that he would bring more people – particularly young people of various ethnic backgrounds – into the game. One look at the Augusta National sponsored Drive, Chip, and Putt competition (held for ages 7 through 13 the day after the Women’s Amateur) would certainly support that point. And the obvious spike in television ratings when Tiger is in the field cannot be denied.

At the same time, some have tried to make the point that Tiger’s absence from the game has resulted in a downturn in participation and the closing of golf courses. That’s giving The Cat a bit too much credit. Course closings are more of a result of a projection made back in the 80’s and 90’s that retiring baby boomers would take up the game in droves. That has simply not turned out to be the case.

Where the game’s best opportunity for growth has been – and will continue to be – is participation by women. Many savvy parents have recognized the opportunities presented by Title IX and steered their daughters toward the game. And as more women have climbed the corporate ladder, familiarity with the game affords exposure to more clients.

My friend Sharon, a retired insurance executive and avid golfer, will watch her local high school girl’s golf team practice from her back patio. I once asked her what appealed to her about watching them.

“How intense they are,” she replied. “The control and command of the game at such a young age.”

“That’s good insight,” I replied.

She continued.

“The way they cheer for each other and walk down the course together. They realize the competition is within yourself and not who you are playing with.”

I think she has something there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnoustie Follies

As I’ve grown older, the Open Championship has become my favorite tournament of the professional golf season, in part because of my familiarity with the Scottish venues (I’ve managed to play all of them) but also for the unpredictability of the outcome. I think no course better exemplifies that latter than Carnoustie. Tom Doak, the noted course designer and architectural critic, says, “It’s not that Carnoustie is unfair; it’s just that it’s depressingly efficient at pointing out the flaws in one’s game.”

 

There’s little charm to the town itself (which is not the easiest to access), and the course lacks the scenic beauty of Turnberry or the anticipation of the return back to town that St Andrews features. On the other hand, there’s enough variation to the routing to present the golfer with different challenges in dealing with the wind, and the finishing holes are without question the hardest of any major championship track.

 

My experience and thoughts about Carnoustie are decidedly mixed. The round I played there was a combination of heroic shots and slapstick error – I shot 94 while making 11 on the famed par 5 6th (known as “Hogan’s Alley”), a 9 on the 10th hole, and split a freshly-bought pair of Scottish pants up the seam of my thigh, inspiring one of my playing partners to call me “Breezy.”

 

On the other hand, thanks to the hard surface and a stiff helping wind, I managed a 300 yard drive on 7 and made par on all of the three shot holes, including a near miss for birdie on the brutish 16th, a hole that played that day at 225 yards into the same wind that produced my prodigious drive on 7. I said to my caddie, “This is driver, right?” He responded, “Hopefully.” As it turned out, I made such solid contact that I thought the ball might fly over the green. The wind knocked it down, and the shot landed as softly as a well-struck pitching wedge might have about 15 feet away from the hole.

 

I should also add that I did manage to avoid Jean Van de Velde’s disaster of 1999 by heeding my caddie’s advice and carding a safe bogey 5.

 

And the course staff was genuinely welcoming and accommodating.

 

I left Carnoustie grateful both of having had the fortune to play it and for not having to tee it up there again. On further reflection, I think the latter thought was a bit harsh. I’ve spoken with several friends of varying degrees of skill who absolutely loved playing there. Maybe a warmer day and an intact pair of trousers would influence my own thoughts about the place.

 

All that not withstanding . . . I rank Carnoustie as my second favorite Open venue, behind St Andrews and just a smidge ahead of Muirfield. Aside from the 1999 setup, (in which the then-greenskeeper ran amok, allowing the heather to grow almost waist high and narrowing some fairways to a ludicrous width of 15 yards), it doesn’t require any tricking up to present a tough, fair challenge to the world’s best golfers.

Winning scores there have ranged from +8 to -7.

 

Unlike the USGA, the R&A doesn’t insist on certain course conditions to conduct its championship (a quick aside – what the USGA has done to Shinnecock Hills the last two time the US Open was conducted there should be grounds for criminal charges). Most of the courses in in the rota will only irrigate tee boxes and greens, giving the rest of the land a baked brown look that doesn’t come across particularly well on television and leaves many US viewers who are used to green, tree-lined courses with pristine conditions shaking their heads.

 

Links golf is a different game. One must contend with gusty winds and penal bunkers (not to mention the occasional monsoon-like shower), and be willing to use the ground to bounce shots on to the green instead of flying the ball to the hole. Some golfers simply can’t adjust their games to this kind of environment. Those who are will to do so wind up embracing it – the most famous example being Tom Watson, who arrived at Carnoustie in 1975 not knowing what to expect and would wind up winning the Open that year and four more times afterwards. He damned near won it at the age of 59 in 2009.

 

I’ve made the trip to Scotland four times and, who knows, there could be a fifth visit in the future. And if there is, I think I’ll give Carnoustie another go. Hogan’s Alley owes me one.