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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s tempt the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a decent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Ari Techner has been obsessed with golf since he was a kid. His first job was at Carls Golfland picking the range as a 14 year old. He attended the University of Michigan and then the Professional Golf Management program at Ferris State University. At 23, only a little more than a year after graduating from college, he founded Scratch Golf Clubs where he served as President/CEO for 13 years. He is one of the world's most accomplished Club HOs having once completed a 4 round tournament with 4 different putters and finishing in the top 5. He is happy to be free of the shackles of Scratch Golf, giving him the opportunity to HO more than just drivers and fairway woods again! The only thing Ari loves more than golf clubs is golf courses. He has traveled all over the world playing golf, having played most of the USA Top 100 and most of the great courses in Ireland, Scotland and England. He is currently the Director of Business Development for King Collins Golf Course Architecture an up and coming design firm responsible for Sweetens Cove Golf Club the 59th ranked course on Golf Week's Top 100 list and only the 2nd 9 hole course to ever make the list. When he first played Sweetens Cove he was so impressed with the work that King Collins had done that he became a part of the ownership group when the opportunity presented itself. He is also a member at 4 courses in the USA Top 100 including 2 in the Top 20 and a Royal club in the UK that was designed by Old Tom Morris in 1864.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Nate

    Nov 27, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    two typos

    temp should be tempt
    descent should be decent

  2. Bob Jones

    Nov 24, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    I went to the U.S. Women’s Open in 2010 just to spend a few days on this course. Magnificent. No tricks. Every hole is a unique challenge–no white bread holes here. Just like the writer said, hit the ball straight, chip and putt, and you’ll do just fine. Otherwise…

  3. Jack Nash

    Nov 24, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Oakmont, A definite Bucket List course.

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Courses

The best golf courses in Ireland

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For a tiny island with fewer than 10 million people, Ireland has an abundance of magnificent golf courses.

But which ones are the best?

The best golf courses in Ireland

Pinning down 10 to even 50 of Ireland’s best courses is a thankless task, with a country that boasts so many hidden gems along with world-renowned tracks. The island is split into four provinces—Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and Ulster—and here I’ll highlight some courses you must visit in each region for anyone heading to the Emerald Isle.

Mount Juliet Golf Course, Kilkenny

C/o: @golfmountjuliet

Host of the 2021 Irish Open, the Jack Nicklaus designed golf course is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in all of the country. With five lakes and over 80 bunkers, the challenging course measures over 7,200 yards and features a unique ‘bunker walled green’ protecting the pin on the 16th hole.

C/o: @golfmountjuliet

Speaking on the course while playing the 2002 WGC-American Express Championship, Tiger Woods said

“I think the golf course is absolutely gorgeous, the fairways are perfect, the greens are the best greens we’ve putter on all year, including the majors. These things are absolute pure.”

Druids Glen Golf Course, Wicklow

C/o: @brendanboyle79

You don’t get the nickname the ‘Augusta of Europe’ without being a little bit special, and Druids Glen is undoubtedly that. The perfectly manicured inland course boasts some of the most picturesque holes with each hole offering stunning backdrops.

C/o: @breandanboyle79

The course also offers up an incredible challenge. It helps to be a high-quality ball-striker, with the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia winning titles when the course hosted professional events.

Ballybunion Golf Club, Kerry

C/o: @evanschiller

Founded in 1883, the Ballybunion Old Course lives up to its tag as ‘One of a kind’. Measuring 6,739 yards from the tips, the wonderful dunescape sets the scene for a true links challenge, with the golf course often touted as possessing the best back nine in the country.

C/o: @womensgolf

President Bill Clinton on Ballybunion

“I love Ballybunion. It’s perfectly Irish: beautiful, rough, and a lot like life — you get breaks you don’t deserve both ways. You just have to keep swinging and know it will all even out.”

Waterville Golf Links, Kerry

C/o: @kevinmarkham

The remote Waterville Golf Links is situated on a promontory surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. With undulating fairways, the course sets out relatively flat on the front 9 with tall dunes welcoming players home for the back 9.

C/o: @greagolfholes

One of the most impressive and picturesque links courses that you will set your sights on that will instantly provide you with a mystic feel that only Ireland can provide.

Sam Snead on Waterville:

”The beautiful monster – one of the golfing wonders of the world.”

Rosappena Old Tom Morris Links, Donegal

C/o:@rosapenna1893

An incredible setting for a course that offers up a wonderful mix of a traditional and modern links feel. Measuring over 6,900 yards from the back tees, the course only offers up relief on the three par-fives.

C/o: @eigtravel

The course runs along Tramore beach overlooking Sheephaven Bay and offers up sensational views no matter what hole you are on during your round. Blustery conditions can turn this into a brutal links test.

Royal County Down

C/o: @eigtravel

Often cited as the best golf course in the country and even the world. Royal County Down offers up monstrous blind shots, several bunkers and glorious views. The ultimate links golf test.

C/o: @eigtravel

Rickie Fowler on Royal County Down:

”Royal County Down is my all-time favourite.”

Lahinch Golf Club, Clare

C/o: @greatgolfholes

Lahinch Golf Club is a step back in time golf course often compared to the Old Course of St. Andrews. The course offers up a quirky test wth a classic out and back layout, while providing stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.

C/o: @vinnyfiorino

Phil Mickelson on Lahinch:

“Some of my fondest memories of great golfing holes in the world include the number four and five holes at Lahinch.”

Sligo Golf Club, Rosses Point, Sligo

C/o: @jmgolfcoach

Co. Sligo Golf Course features traditional links layout, designed by Harry Colt. The dune-covered landscape sets the scene for a course packed with undulations, elevated tees, and raised plateau greens for a stunning test of golf. The golf course is famed for its tremendous par 3s.

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The Colonial Experience

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Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, is home to the longest-running non-major PGA Tour event held at one location. The course opened in 1936, and it’s been hosting the Invitational at Colonial, now called the Charles Schwab Challenge, every year since 1946.

It was the golfing home of Ben Hogan, five-time winner of the event, and it’s still where most of his trophies and accomplishments are housed. The 1941 U.S. Open was here and won by Craig Wood. The Players Championship was here in 1975 and the U.S. Women’s Open was here in 1991. Colonial, quite simply, is rich golf history in a town that is proud of where it came from. And you can feel the past as soon as you step foot on the grounds.

Walking through the gates towards the course, you are immediately hugged by a “wow” moment. There’s Mr. Hogan, his follow through forever posed, larger than life and overlooking the 18th hole. Also in view is a manually operated leaderboard, permanently tucked away inside the closing hole’s dogleg, reminding you subtly that you are about to play a Tour course. It’s up year-round, and as the tournament nears, Mr. Hogan’s name always appears in the first place position.

   

18th Hole

Down the steps and around the corner, past the caddie shack and old school bag room, is the starter house and number one tee box. And shadowing over the professional tees is the Wall of Champions, with every winning player’s name and score etched to watch your opening tee shot. Hogan’s name is there five times. Sam Snead. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and Lee Trevino all on there twice. Tom Watson. Sergio. Spieth.

Some courses are second shot courses, with approach shots being more demanding and more important than driving accuracy or distance. Some courses require length. At Colonial, you need both. That’s why the list of past winners is so impressive on the Wall of Champions. You can’t just drive or putt your way to a win at Colonial. You have to be solid in every aspect of the game. You have to earn it and deserve it. You have to be a shotmaker.

Number One Tee

Par 5 1st Hole

Colonial was designed by Texan John Bredemus and well-known architect Perry Maxwell, who also designed Prairie Dunes in Kansas and Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It opened in 1936 and currently plays as a 7,209-yard par 70 that meanders along the banks of the Trinity River. The greens are bent grass, which at one point in time was an unheard of idea for a course in North Texas. Marvin Leonard, the club’s founder, was determined to build a world-class club in the region that could sustain bent grass. And he did it. Just five years after the club opened its doors, the 1941 United States Open was held in Fort Worth. Colonial was on the map and the Marvin Leonard dream had come true.

The course holds only two par 5’s, the first hole being one of them. A 565-yard dogleg right to a slight elevated green, getting home in two isn’t out of the question with a perfectly placed drive. But this introductory hole is the perfect way to start a round. Nothing too demanding. Get warmed up. The second hole, a short par 4, is no different. Start off easy to get some good holes under your belt.

And then you get to the Horrible Horseshoe.

Hole 3 Tee box

The third hole at Colonial is a 483-yard par 4 that plays even longer than that, due to the severe 90-degree dogleg left near your drive’s landing area. A straight 250-yard tee shot will put you in decent position away from trouble, but you still have 230 yards into a multi-tiered green. Longer hitters can try to cut the corner, protected by bunkers at the corner, but the landing area for that shot is so narrow that the reward is often not worth the risk. This is a tough hole.

Hole 4 Teebox

The fourth hole is a 220-yard par 3 from the men’s tees. But it tips out to 247 yards for the pros during tournament week. The green is elevated and often very firm, making it incredibly tough to stop a long iron or hybrid on the dance floor for even the best players in the world. This is a tough tough hole. Short is the safe play, though there is no easy up and down from the front, as the green is elevated to eye level and making most chip shots blind.

Hole 5 Tee box

Hole 5 Approach

Hole 5 Green

The fifth hole, ending the Horrible Horseshoe, is one of the finest and toughest holes in golf. Your tee shot dog legs just enough to the right to require a left-to-right ball flight. Something to make you think about standing over your ball. Anything off the tee that is too straight or has any right to left movement is going to cross through the fairway and into an oak tree-lined ditch with rough high enough to swallow a ball for weeks. If you start in the ditch, you finish in the ditch. So don’t miss left.

Don’t miss right either. Anything with too much fade or slice action is going into the Trinity River, which borders this hole on the right all the way to the green. And if you can somehow manage to find the fairway, you’re still a long way from home as this is a 481-yard par 4 leading to a well-bunkered green. This is a tough, tough, tough hole.

If you can get through these three holes, arguably the hardest three-hole stretch on tour, unscathed, you’ve done something.

Hole 6 Teebox

The rest of the front nine is easy, in comparison to the horseshoe, but by no means simple. Six and seven are wonderfully partnered par fours, running parallel in opposite directions. The par 3 8th hole brings the Trinity River back into view, but the water itself is not a real threat. The hole plays 194 yards from the back tees to a three-tiered green. The safe play is always aiming to the middle of the green and letting the putter do the rest of the work. Missing this green completely will not likely result in par, as deep bunkering and wide trees protect on all sides.

The closing hole of the front nine requires a precise tee ball between large bunkers on both sides of the fairway. The green is tucked behind a scenic pond and in front of the starter’s house and number one tee box. Any miss, left or right off the tee, will most likely force a layup in front of the water. But if you do have a shot at the green, make sure you don’t miss short.

From nine green, you can see much of the front, hopefully recalling fond memories of the first half of your round. Thankfully, not much of the horrible horseshoe is in view…let’s keep that in the past.

9th Green and Fairway

That back nine at Colonial is an absolute blast. The two par 3’s on this side are both world-class holes, 13 being the course’s signature. The lone par 5, hole 11, is a straightaway 635-yard-long mammoth with a troublesome creek along the entire right side.

But it all starts with the absolutely tremendous 10th hole. Only 408 yards from the tips, the hole plays tricks on the eyes. From the tee, it looks like you have plenty of room off on the right, but course knowledge can go a long way on this hole. You absolutely have to keep your tee ball hugging the left side of this fairway, which feels like a horrifying proposition while standing over the ball. The tee box falls off into the water, which doubles as approach shot hazard on nearby 18. Driver just isn’t the club here, though it feels like it should be. Any miss slightly right is going to be shielded from the green from overhanging trees and a deceptive angle.

Hole 10 tee box

View of 18 green from 10 fairway

10 green with fairway behind

The back nine has a bit more undulation than the front. The formerly brush-covered Trinity River land still has plenty of mature foliage, mostly oaks, pecans, and cottonwood trees,  to maintain the feel of an old-school course. It is truly a classic layout in every sense of the phrase. The bent grass greens, made famous by Mr. Leonard’s passionate pursuit, are pure most of the year, though fans are erected during the Summer months to keep them cool.

Hole 12 tee box

13 tee, par 3 over the Trinity

The par-3 13th hole is a tournament spectator favorite. 190 yards from the pro tees and 171 from the men’s, this hole is as beautiful as it is treacherous. The further you miss right, the more carry you’ll need to land safely. During tournament week, the professional caddies are in on a long-standing spectator event: the caddie races. Fan’s surrounding the green pick a player’s caddie to root for, then they cheer (and maybe even gamble) for that caddie to reach the green first. I’ve seen all-out sprint races and slow walk dramatic finishes alike. First foot to touch the green wins, and the caddies are hilarious about it. They eat it up.

14 approach

15 green

The home stretch at Colonial is designed for drama. The 16th, a par 3, is another stunner. 185 yards over creeks and ponds to the most difficult green complex on the course. Only two tiers, but a pretty drastic climb from front left to top right. And the Sunday pin placement, top right, has caused more heartburn than any other spot on the track. Miss too far right and you’re out of bounds and in the Colonial parking lot. There is a great patio just beyond the 16th green where members can sit to watch the approach shots.

Par 3 16th

17 green with fairway behind

17 is a strategic short par 4, where iron is the safe play off the tee. A dogleg right, the tee shot is more about angles and accuracy than length. Miss too far right and your approach into the green is dead, blocked by trees. A proper drive on the left middle of this fairway sets up a great chance for birdie. And at Colonial, you need to take advantage of these holes. Especially with 18 coming up.

The closing hole is a classic. Now you need a long draw off the tee to this 441-yard dogleg left. The fairway slopes right to left as well, so a shot on the right side here usually ends up in a wonderful position. The green is slightly elevated and guarded by incredibly deep bunkers short and on both sides. With that sloping fairway, the approach is generally a side-hill lie that works the ball left. And remember, that pond we saw on the 10th fairway is very much in play here. Any miss left and you are wet.

18 tee

18 approach

As if the water left isn’t enough pressure, the clubhouse is right there watching, typically bustling with activity and eyes on your shot. Plus, there is Mr. Hogan’s statue, always there to intimidate golfers as they walk off the green to end their round. The house that Hogan built.

Which is a perfect reminder to head inside the clubhouse for cocktail and tour around the Hogan Room. Located upstairs near the main entrance, this small room could take an hour or two of your time if you aren’t careful. Major championship trophies, scorecards, Mr. Hogan’s locker, the famous Merion flagpin, the Ryder Cup. It is a genuine thrill to walk through.

Downstairs, connected to the pro shop, is another Hogan tribute…the man’s personal office sits untouched and exactly how he kept it. It’s a bit like looking into the Oval office for golf nerds.

 

   

The rest of the clubhouse is a tribute to not only Mr. Hogan, but the history of the tournament itself. Every past champion is recognized with a photo of him holding the trophy, proudly wearing the Colonial plaid jacket, and displayed next to a golf club they used to accomplish the win, donated to Colonial. Clubs pulled from the bag of every past champion…walking the halls of Colonial is like walking through the Golf Hall of Fame. History around every corner.

There is also a special tribute to Dan Jenkins. The Fort Worth native and original wild-man golf writer was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012. Jenkins played golf at nearby TCU and was a beloved member at Colonial. He was also close friends with Mr. Hogan. The display holds all of Jenkins’ wonderful books, including Dead Solid Perfect, as well as his typewriter. A hero of mine, it’s hard not to walk by the Jenkins Tribute and stop to admire. Every time.

Playing a round at Colonial is a special experience. Still one of the finest golf courses in Texas, it remains the home of golf history in the Lone Star State. Golf Mecca for Hogan fans, the course has withstood the test of time. And the clubhouse itself, with all its history and charm, is worth the price of admission. I feel better about the future of golf knowing clubs like Colonial are out there, working hard to keep the past alive.

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What GolfWRXers are saying about Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match

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@pgatour

In our forums, our members have been discussing Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match. The course has received plenty of praise from our members, and WRXers have been sharing their thoughts on the event as a whole in our forums.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • tw_focus: “Amazing event all around, golf is back baby. RF played well, but he missed badly on the last shot while Rors was clutch, as always. As good as this event was, it’s just the undercard for next week The Match II. Can’t wait to see TW back!”
  • RainShadow: “Seminole looked beautiful. A course designed for strategy and nuance. Anyone know the individual scores? Rickie 66 maybe, Rory 69, DJ 69, Wolff 70? The players all looked a little rusty, Rory and Rickie looked like they’d played a bit recently though. Need to do more of these after this thing is over. More of carrying their own bags and reading their own putts………..Side note….DJ, go back to a blade putter.”
  • dcfas: “I enjoyed it. Thought it was interesting to see and hear some of the discussion on shots and breaks. Thought it was also interesting to see their performances without caddies, and while carrying bags. Also fascinated to have a “close up” look at Seminole. Added it to my bucket list of courses extremely unlikely I’ll ever get to play. Good cause. Thumbs up.”
  • Lark: “If they do this again, they should have two matches at the same time to avoid so much dead airtime. Have the winners play a one hole playoff for a final prize.”
  • Dave230: “Good concept and some good bits but to be nit-picking: Far too many ads, I know Americans are used to more ads than Europeans, but they hit their drives…ads….hit their second shots….ads. It’s just hard to watch. Too much intervention from the commentators, if the players have microphones on then let them speak and just leave it there, you don’t need to talk over everything. I prefer commentary that’s not afraid of dead space. The phone calls…the less said the better.. Just let it play, even if they’re walking, let us see them talking and the surroundings sometimes. Still manage to overproduce even in a restricted setting. Apart from that, grateful for golf to be on television again and well done to those involved.”

Entire Thread: “Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match”

 

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