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The USGA comes to its senses with its Publinx decision

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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.

Click here to see what people are saying in the forums.

 

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Bob

    Feb 17, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Big mistake, there are not enough USGA events and to eliminate this one is wrong. The rules and process may need some adjustment, but this was one of 3 I could enter in a year. And to tell the truth I do not think the USGA put their full effort into it either.

  2. Ronald Montesano

    Feb 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    That is my premise, Bob. Without being on the inside, I cannot state with 100% certainty, but it looked tainted for a long time. A thread on this topic in another golf forum surmises that what the USGA needed were no-former-pros, no-public-links-pretenders events. Instead, what we have are the USGA MidAm (completely dominated by reinstated amateurs) and the soon to be defunct Publinks (with no real muni or hardscrabble champions.) Both are slippery slopes and both fail to a degree to identify the players they hoped to single out.

  3. bob kendall

    Feb 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    I read the article. So, basically the USGA failed miserably in policing eligibility for the Publinks. You can bet that pressure from their private club brethern was responsible for allowing the loopholes to grow to aircraft carrier sized proportions.

    Once the event was contaminated, rather than correct the faults, they simply abandoned ship and replaced it with a four ball. Gutless.

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Opinion & Analysis

WATCH: How To Remove a Stuck Tip Weight

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Tip weights are one of the smallest components used to assemble a golf club, and they get stuck all the time. That causes a lot of problems if you want to re-use a shaft. In this how-to video, I explain the best practices for removing tip weights, as well as the tools you should use to remove them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinion & Analysis

Have you got Golfzheimers?

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While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.

Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition.  n truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do).  I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.

As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?

Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age.  The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.

As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.

The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.

Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you.  Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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