The United States Golf Association has come to its senses on at least one topic.
While I’ve been waiting for years for a bit of gender equity (USGA Senior Women’s Open, anyone?) and I don’t agree with the anti-anchoring proposal, nor am I a supporter of rules bifurcation, I applaud the decision of the USGA to retire the Dwyer and Standish trophies. Awarded annually to (respectively) the champions of the United States Women’s and Men’s Amateur Public Links championships, the two trophies boasted a combined 110-plus years of heritage and were intended to provide a championship outlet for career amateurs without access to the high-rent district of private clubs. Unfortunately, they did not.
Over time, this notion turned from fact and fancy to fiction. The event began to be dominated by the collegiate players, especially when the Masters Tournament announced a restructuring of its amateur invitation paradigm. Gone were the places in the tournament for every member of the United States and Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup sides. In their place were five invitations for five champions, one of which was the U.S. Amateur Public Links. Knowing that a coveted Masters invite would go to the champion made participation in the Public Links for men a tempting proposition.
The Public Links lacked support and respect from its own sponsoring association. Brandt Snedeker won the 2003 championship, yet was inconceivably passed over for selection to that year’s Walker Cup team.
The most nebulous aspect of the Men’s Public Links was the fine line between those eligible and those not. According to the entry requirements, players could only be members of clubs or courses open to public play.
Eligibility Rule: Entries are open to amateur golfers who since January 1 of the current year have been bona fide public course players with an up to date men’s Handicap Index not exceeding 4.4 under the “USGA Handicap System” and have not held privileges of any course which does not extend playing privileges to the general public.
Privileges at a private course include, but are not limited to: Access to the course and its facilities whether or not you are a member. Honorary Memberships. Summer access at a private course your school team uses. Access more than one day a week for caddies and employees. Access through a “Come on over any time” relationship.
Exceptions: A bona fide public player may hold incidental privileges of a course not open to the public when such privileges are provided by:
- An educational institution at which he is a student; this includes members of a golf team when privileges are awarded at private facilities to the entire team on an equal basis, and are only available during the traditional school year/competitive golf season (including post season play which may include Conference, State and National Championships). No summer access.
- A federal armed service of which he is a member or retired member; or
- An industry by which he is employed or from which he is retired and said private course is owned by the employer.
The third exception is interesting, no? On the surface, it contradicts the “access more than one day a week” caveat listed previously. Did you know that three of the top-20 courses in the U.S. (most recent Golf Digest ranking) are public-access courses? Three more of the next 20, as well. Six more from Nos. 40 to 60, and another six among the final forty courses. Of that top 100, only one is a municipal course: Bethpage Black. The rest are high-end resorts that technically qualify as public courses. That’s a little sticky, don’t you think?
Enrollment in a specific educational institution (which I read as member of the varsity team) would certainly receive access to elite private courses for 10 of the year’s 12 months. The other two are usually devoted to travel and tournaments, meaning access is less necessary. The summer amateur tour runs from the beginning of June through the end of August, with many Public Links contestants following the amateur sun from Lewiston to Sunnehanna. With precious little time at home, there was never any need to frequent a public layout.
The other glaring loophole was the guest invitation. Once a golfer achieves a minimal level of renown, invitations to play as a guest at exclusive clubs come in like rain during a storm. A golfer could easily register for a season pass at the local muni, keep a USGA handicap there, yet never play a round over the course’s 18 during the season. At no time did the USGA specify that a minimum number of rounds must be played at public-access courses (or a maximum at private-access courses) in addition to the public-course membership caveat. By demanding this little bit of accountability, more PubLinks victors would have been true public-course champions.
“Time it was and what a time it was, it was. A time of innocence, a time of confidences,” sang Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. For the women and men of the Public Links, that time will end in 2014. Down the road, if we’re lucky, the USGA will revisit the topic and script it properly.
TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?
Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
For more info on the topics, check out the links below.
- Rory’s putter: www.golfwrx.com/503976/rory-mcilr…rmade-soto-proto/
- Tiger’s driver: www.golfwrx.com/503940/tiger-wood…irms-notah-begay/
- LA Golf Shafts: www.golfwrx.com/503818/la-golf-pa…s-la-golf-shafts/
Book Review: The Life and Times of Donald Ross
The Life and Times of Donald Ross is a successful golf history, in that it holds one’s attention, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or interest for the subject. It can hardly avoid doing so, as it traces the life of a man who lived through both world wars, emigrated from the old country to the new, and championed a sport that grew from infancy to maturity in the USA, during his earthly run. The loss of two wives to uncontrollable circumstances, the raising of a child essentially on his own, and the commitment to the growth of golf as an industry add to the complexity of the life of Donald J. Ross Jr. Within the cover of this tome, through words and images, the life and times of the man are communicated in fine fashion.
The book was published in 2016, by Chris Buie of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Buie is not a professional writer in the traditional sense. He does not solicit contracts for books, but instead, writes from a place of passion and enthusiasm. This is not to say that he is not a writer of professional quality. Instead, it isolates him among those who turn out high-level prose, scholarly research, with attention-holding results.
Before I opened the book, it was the cover that held my attention for much longer than a single, fleeting moment. The solitary figure, staring out across the ocean. Was he gazing toward the Americas, or toward his birthplace, in Scotland? And that blend of blue shades, like something out of Picasso’s 1901-1904 period of monochromatic azures, proved to be equal parts calming and evocative. Those years, by the way, correlate with the 29th to the 32nd years of Ross’ life. During that period, Ross lost a brother (John) to injuries suffered in the Boer War, and married his first wife, Janet. With care like that for the cover art, what marvelous research awaited within the binding?
After a number of readings, I’m uncertain as to the greater value of the words or the pictures. Perhaps it’s the codependency of one on the other that leads to the success of the effort. The book is the culmination of 5 months of exhaustive research, followed by 7 months of intense writing, on Buie’s part. The author made up his mind to match as many images as possible with his descriptors, so as to create both visual and lexical collections to stand time’s test. Maps, paintings, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, etchings and course routes were collected and reproduced within the covers. Throughout the process, so much of Ross’s life and craft, previously unrecognized in publication, were revealed to Buie. Ross’s ability to make the unnatural look natural when necessary, is hardly equaled in the annals of golf course architecture. According to Buie,
Growing up all I’d heard was natural. Certainly he incorporated as much of the existing terrain and environment as possible. But given how much other work went into the courses, it would be more accurate to say his courses were naturalistic.
Buie also scrapes away at the misplaced notion that Ross was a one-dimensional golf course architect. After all, what else did Shakespeare do besides write plays and sonnets? Well, Ross did so much more, in addition to building some of the world’s great member and tournament golf courses, shaping the Pinehurst Resort experience, and running an in-town hotel in the process. Again, Buie comments,
His greatest contribution was the role he played in the overall establishment of the game in the United States. He was involved in every aspect (caddymaster, greenkeeper, teacher, player, mentor, tournaments, clubmaking, management, etc). The theme that went through his efforts was that he was adamant all be done “the right way”. Given the breadth and enduring nature of his efforts I don’t think anyone else did more to establish the game in America. That makes him the “Grand Old Man of the American Game” – not just a prolific architect.
What was it about Ross, that separated him from the many compatriots who journeyed from Scotland to the USA? They were content to compete and run golf clubs, but Ross sought so much more. His early years involved much successful competition, including top-10 finishes in the US Open. He was also a competent instructor, manifested in the ability of his students to learn both the swing and its competitive execution. And yet, Pinehurst is so different from any other place in the Americas. And so much of what it is, is due to the influence of Donald Ross.
In a nod to the accepted round of golf across the planet, the book contains 18 chapters, including the appendices. At locomotive pace, the mode of transportation utilized by Ross to traverse the lower 48 of the USA and Canada, the reader gathers a proper awareness of the great man’s living arc. Beginning with the hike from the train station in Boston to the Oakley Country Club, the emigration of the Scotsman from the highlands of Caledonia to the next hemisphere was a fairly simple affair, with unexpected, poignant, and far-reaching consequences. Donald J. Ross, jr., would complete the shaping of american golf that was assisted (but never controlled) by architectural peers. Men like Walter Travis, Albert Tillinghast, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Tom Bendelow would build courses of eternal worth, but none would shape in the far-reaching manner of Ross.
It’s tempting to make a larger portion of this story about Buie, but he wouldn’t have it so. A Pinehurst native, Buie’s blend of reverence and understanding of his home region are evident and undeniable. One almost thinks that a similar history might have been written about any number of characters charged with the stewardship of the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Fortunately for aficionados of golf and its course architecture, Buie is a golfer, and so we have this tome.
Donald J. Ross, jr. was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man of belief. When those beliefs came into conflict with each other, which they seldom did, he had an instinct for elevating one over the other. No other place is this more evident that in his routing of the Sagamore course in Lake George, in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Faced with the conundrum of how to begin the course, his daughter remembers the sage words of the father. Despite contradicting his belief that a course should never begin in the direction of the rising sun, Ross commented I can’t start it anywhere but looking out at that lake and those mountains. Indeed, Sagamore would be a poorer place for an alternate opening, and this review would have less of a way to reach its end.
My recommendation: read the book.
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.
The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.
Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.
Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.
Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.
I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.
Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.
Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!
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