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Opinion & Analysis

Peyton Manning, Andy Roddick, all-star team enter partnership with Sweetens Cove

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New partners of Sweetens Cove. Left to right: Tom Nolan, Andy Roddick, Rob Collins, Mark Rivers, and Peyton Manning. Skip Bronson not pictured.

If you’ve been living under a rock with no access to any golf-related social media outlets and are asking yourself what Sweetens Cove Golf Club is, I would suggest starting with this piece, written last year by yours truly.

Now that we have that part out of the way, some big news is coming from South Pittsburg, TN in the form of a new partnership. Mark Rivers, a real estate developer by trade, was looking for endeavors in the golf course industry that were different from the traditional 18-hole golf course with an oversized clubhouse and condos lining the fairways. That search led him to find Sweetens Cove Golf Club on social media and it also led him to cold call co-designer Rob Collins in 2018. While Mark’s original plan was to enlist King Collins Golf in designing a new golf course, the conversation quickly became about partnering with the existing ownership of Sweetens Cove to help take it to new heights.

Mark has assembled a top-notch team which started by engaging his business partner, Skip Bronson, a long-time member of Bel Air Country Club who also worked with Steve Wynn in the development of Shadow Creek. The next phone call was to Andy Roddick, the former tennis star who has since become a prolific golfer in his own right. After that, Tom Nolan, who is the former president of Ralph Lauren Golf and a Pine Valley member, joined the team. Then, through a couple degrees of separation, Tom brought Peyton Manning to the table, who is the undisputed king of anything that goes on in Tennessee. While this first-rate crew has the chops and the resources to help Sweetens Cove make some big strides, expect them to not stray far from what’s brought them this far. In Mark’s words:

“The place is Tin Cup meets Field of Dreams. From tee to green, the course is 1,000% pure. There’s a wonder and an innocence and a purity to what Rob and the crew have created there. We see our role as preserving and protecting that first and then enhancing it second. When people ask me what our plans are, I jokingly say, ‘Well, we might start with plumbing.’ We don’t want to change the core of what Sweetens Cove is by building an elaborate clubhouse because that wouldn’t be true to what it stands for. The shed is part of what made Sweetens Cove the darling of the golfing community, so let’s not mess with it too much. Restrooms, seriously, are part of the plan, but apart from that, the plan is ultimately just to encourage people to stay there longer, play more golf, and enjoy the place. Rob has some design dreams we’d like to help fulfill that will allow Sweetens Cove be all it can be without becoming something entirely different in the process.”

View of the fifth fairway and green (left), second fairway (beyond fifth green), and third fairway (right) at Sweetens Cove

Ultimately, that means the team is looking to put more golf on the property. With roughly 15-20 acres available to them within the current footprint, that will likely mean a putting green complex of some kind and possibly a par-3 or pitch-and-putt course. Mark goes on to say:

“Obviously, it’s a 9-hole course, but 80% of the people that come there play 18 holes or more. The majority of the people that come there don’t limit it to a 9-hole golf course, so we’re just going to try to build on that and keep people there playing golf longer. We’re also going to make some immediate investments to help with the infrastructure of the existing course when it comes to drainage and additional resources for the grounds crew. They’ve already seen an increase in play over last year, which is certainly a good problem to have, so we want to give the grounds crew as much support as we can to stay on top of things in the midst of that increase in traffic. We’re also committed to keeping the course open to the public, affordable, and we want to try to encourage young golfers and families to join us as much as possible because everybody wins when that happens.”

Sweetens Cove hasn’t become the social media sweetheart that it is for no reason. No one would argue that it’s easy to get to or that it has lavish accommodations, but the quality of golf they’ve condensed into a mere 9 holes is what keeps its disciples flocking to rural Tennessee in droves. Now that this kind of backing has been put in place, who knows? Could it actually get better? I suppose the only way to find out is to keep coming back.

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Peter Schmitt is an avid golfer trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. He believes that first and foremost, golf should be an enjoyable experience. Always. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." -Arnold Palmer

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jared

    May 20, 2019 at 9:04 am

    A nice addition to this place would definitely be plumbing, but then again it is not really sweeten’s until you have to use the porta-potty down by #1 tee box.

    First and foremost this place needs some flooding controls. It was flooded many times in the last 6 months. I can only imagine how difficult this makes it on the grounds crew with limited resources.

    Second, a putting/chipping green would be nice and maybe a net to take a few full swings.

    Don’t touch the shed though or the course!

  2. Glenn E Makin

    May 17, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    If Peyton is involved its a winner.

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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour players on the rise and on the decline heading into 2020

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At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically quality indicators of a golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and these Cornerstones include:

  • Driving effectiveness
  • Red zone play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
  • Short game shots (from 10-20 yards)
  • Putting (5-15 feet)
  • Ball speed

All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.

This past season, there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.7 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be “on the rise.”

Players on the rise

*The following rankings are based out of 194 players

Joaquin Niemann

The young Chilean golfer reached every one of The 5 Cornerstones of the Game, but he made the least amount of FedEx points of any of the golfers that executed all of the Cornerstones.

This was due to Niemann’s early struggles with the putter. However, his putting improved significantly as the season went by.

The dotted black line in the chart represents Niemann’s trendline and that shows a strong upward trend in his putting performance.

Niemann ranked 107th in adjusted par-5 scoring average, and given his quality of ballstriking and distance off the tee, that should greatly improve. The projections are for him to win soon. If he can continue to improve his putting, particularly from 3-5 feet (he ranked 160th last season) he could be a multiple winner this upcoming season.

Sung Kang

Kang recorded his first victory at the Byron Nelson Championship but flew under the radar for most of the season. He also executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game.

Back in 2017, Kang almost executed The 5 Cornerstones, but I was lukewarm to putting him on the list of Players on the Rise as the one cornerstone he failed to reach was red zone play, and that’s too important of a metric to miss out on.

Kang struggled in the 2018 season, but his red zone play greatly improved. In the meantime, his driving greatly suffered. He continued to struggle with his driving early in the 2019 season but made great strides right around the Byron Nelson and ended the season ranked 80th in driving effectiveness. Meanwhile, his red zone play has continued to be strong, and he’s a sound short game performer from 10-20 yards and putter from 5-15 feet.

While I am a little more on the fence with Kang, given his putrid performance from the yellow zone and generally inconsistent play, his putting suffered from ranking 181st on putts from 25-plus feet. That is more likely to move towards the mean and greatly improve his putts gained next season. He’s also 32 years old, which is a prime age for Tour players hit their peak performance of their career.

Sepp Straka

Straka had a good rookie campaign striking the ball and was a competent putter. The only Cornerstone that Straka failed to execute was short game shots from 10-20 yards. However, we can see that as the season went by Straka’s short game improved

That’s also recognizing that short game around the green has a weaker correlation to success on Tour than most of the other Cornerstones like driving, red zone play and putting from 5-15 feet.

Straka should improve greatly on par-5’s (104th last season). He made a lot of birdies last year (25th in adjusted birdie rate), but made a ton of bogeys (155th). These numbers project well at tournaments that are birdie fests like Palm Springs or courses that are relatively easy on shots around the green such as Harbour Town.

Sam Ryder

Ryder only missed The 5 Cornerstones with a poor performance from 10-20 yards. He’s an excellent putter and iron-play performer, and that is usually the parts of the game that the eventual winners perform best from.

Wyndham Clark

 

One of the new metrics I’ve created is called “power-to-putting.” This is a combination of the player’s putts gained ranking and their adjusted driving distance ranking. Earlier this year I wrote an article here about where exactly distance helps with a golfer’s game. In essence, the longer off the tee a golfer is the more likely they will have shorter length birdie putts on average. That’s why long hitters like Bubba Watson can make a lot of money despite putting poorly and why shorter hitters like Brian Gay have to putt well in order to be successful.

The “honey pot” is for a golfer that hits it long and putts well. This means they will sink a ton of birdie putts because they are having easier putts to make and they have the requisite putting skill to make them.

Clark finished first in power-to-putting (Rory McIlroy finished second). On top of that, he was an excellent performer from 10-20 yards which is usually the last step in a long ball hitter becoming an elite performer. Clark’s iron play was very poor and that downgrades his chances of winning on Tour. But, with his length, putting, and short game, he can very well get four days of decent approach shot play and win handily.

Players on the decline

Charley Hoffman

Hoffman ranked 64th in FedEx points but was 139th in adjusted scoring average. Most of Hoffman’s metrics were not very good, but he was a superb performer from the yellow and red zone. The other concerning part of Hoffman is his age: He is at the point of his career that player performance tends to drop-off the most. He only made two of his last seven cuts this past season with the best finish of T51 at The Open Championship.

J.B. Holmes

Holmes finished 166th in adjusted scoring average and was greatly helped by having a favorable schedule as he ranked 21st in purse size per event. The best thing Holmes has going for him is his distance off the tee. He also had a good season around the green that helps long hitters like Holmes when they hit foul balls off the tee.

After that, Holmes did not do much of anything well. He was 179th in adjusted missed fairway–other percentage (aka hitting foul balls off the tee) and his putting was horrendous and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.

Patton Kizzire

Kizzire only made two of his last 11 cuts last season, and it’s easy to see why with his ballstriking struggles. It also doesn’t help that he was poor from 10-20 yards. He’s one of the elite putters on Tour, but elite putting only helps a player so much in the big leagues.

Phil Mickelson

The biggest positive for Mickelson is his newfound power that he exhibited last year. He will also play a favorable schedule as he ranked 16th in purse size per event and has lifetime exempt status on Tour.

For fantasy golf owners, I would be averse to picking Mickelson in the short term. The question with Lefty is if his newfound distance caused him issues with his iron play, short game and putting, or if that is just a temporary slump that once he works thru those issues with his newfound speed, he may be winning tournaments again. But at his age, history is not in his favor.

Francesco Molinari

Molinari turns 37-years-old in November. There’s still plenty of years for good golf, but Molnari’s lack of power and routine struggles with the putter means that he needs to have impeccable driving and iron play in order to be competitive in big tournaments and the majors. Last season he was an average driver of the ball and he was below average from the red zone.

The positive for Molinari is that he has typically been an impeccable ballstriker, so the issues in 2019 may have been a one-time slump. And while he putted poorly, he putted well from 5-15 feet. He ranked 184th on putts from 15-25 feet and 157th on putts from 25-plus feet, and those are more likely to progress towards the mean over time and help his overall putting.

But, Molinari has never been a great putter, and at his age, it will be very difficult to keep up with his impeccable ballstriking to get back to the winner’s circle.

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Bogey Golf

Bogey Golf: Can a club fitting get you to hit longer drives?

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Larry D interviews a club fitter and talks about his first club fitting. They go into detail about how the process can improve your game, even for higher handicap golfers.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole: Rory or Brooks?

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Host Michael Williams breaks down the Player of the year controversy in a must-listen open, and we give you a perfect destination for Fall Golf! Guests include acclaimed golf writer Adam Schupak and Giants Ridge Director of golf John Kendall.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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