Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The President’s Cup: Woods picked for golfing skill or media pull?

I haven't written an opinion article for the blog yet. I wrote this for a St Andrews student newspaper and am interested to hear your opinion on my take!

           The lead-up to this year’s President’s Cup has been filled with drama, discussion, and a little more drama. Should Tiger Woods have been chosen for the team? Has he proven himself to be playing better at this point than the multiple other candidates? I believe a large factor behind Couples' captains' pick lies below the surface and behind the headlines.
            The President’s Cup is a bi-annual golf tournament in which the USA takes on an international team representing every country in the world outside of Europe. The tournament is a match play format modeled on the Ryder Cup (USA vs. Europe). The President’s Cup this year will be held in Australia.
            Each team has a non-playing captain. This year, the US is captained by Fred Couples and the Australian, Greg Norman, leads the International team. The drama this year began when Tiger Woods was picked fairly early in the process to play for the American team.
           The teams are made up of 12 golfers – the top 10 in the point standings, and two captains' choices. When it came time for Freddie Couples to make his captains' choices for this year, the media had a hay-day predicting his choice. Would it be two time winner this season and current PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley? He had an excellent break out season and would have been a great choice. Would it be the young exuberant Rickie Fowler who brings a youthful flair to all events? Or would it be old Tiger Woods, who hasn’t won in two years and is sitting at #52 in the world?
           Couples, who is one of my favorite golfers, picked Woods early in the selection process. Some say this decision was premature and not enough thought went into the process. The most outspoken of the critics is the International captain, Greg Norman. He has been quoted saying, ”Tiger, when he dominated, had a single-shot approach, it was only about the golf. Now there are so many distractions, and people are looking for things that are wrong with Tiger.” Norman went on to say that Tiger would never win another major – a bold statement by someone notorious for choking in the final stretch of majors.
                  To make his social standing in the golf world even worse, Tiger has stolen away Dustin Johnson’s caddie. This in itself is not unheard of, but Tiger didn’t contact Johnson first to ask permission or even broach the subject. At least he had the courtesy to do it after the FedEx Cup finished. Tiger fired his caddie, Steve Williams, earlier this year and has been on the hunt ever since. The next few events will show whether Woods will have positive chemistry with his new acquisition.       
It is possible to delve deeper into the issues behind Couples’ choice. Wood and Couples are personal friends and Fred has acted as a mentor to Tiger during the scandalous past two years. Another large factor adding to the decision is the unmentioned pressure put onto Couples by the PGA Tour along with sponsors of the President’s cup. It is a moneymaking, TV event. No matter the outcome, having Tiger in the field will boost ratings drastically.  
           How much pressure was Couples under to make the “right” choice? Simply put, people don’t turn on their TV to watch Keegan Bradley. Even if Woods plays badly, it’s a bigger news story than if he’s not there at all. The media go crazy when Tiger is in an event. It means more money for all and the powers that be couldn’t care less about the outcome of the President’s Cup, as long as the paychecks keep rolling in.

           The event begins the 17th of November. Time will tell whether Tiger Woods was the correct choice for Freddie Couples to make. Will Tiger be a letdown as he has in nearly every event since mid-2009? Or will we see the Tiger of old come out and dominate his match play opponents? Does it really matter? Either way, his being in the field will bump the ratings, fill the headlines, and no matter the outcome, leave the sponsors happy.
Please comment and post your opinions on this issue. I would love to hear some reader feedback!

Musselburgh Links - The Old Course

The earliest documentation of golf being playing on Musselburgh Links is from 1672, which has earned Musselburgh Links the Guinness World Record for being the oldest golf course in the world.  However, it has been reputed that Mary, Queen of Scots played on Musselburgh even earlier in 1567.           
             Interestingly, the 9-hole course is contained within a horseracing track. Golfers cross over the racetrack twice during the round. The course is very short, as it has not been drastically changed from its original design. Because of this, modern players and equipment can overpower the classic links fairly easily. Don’t go to Musselburgh expecting a grueling test of championship golf. Instead, go expecting lots of history and an enjoyable round.               
              When I played my round on Musselburgh, I hired a set of original hickory shafted golf clubs. There were a total of five clubs, with faces thin as paper an eager golfer ready to swing them! Playing with the period golf clubs on a course unchanged over history gave me a very healthy respect for players like Old and Young Tom Morris, Willie Park, and Alan Robertson. The experience could only have been closer to their time if I had an original gutta percha ball. The clubs were difficult to play with, but after a few holes, I got the hang of it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.         
               Musselburgh Links was originally seven holes, with another added in 1838 and the full nine-holes coming into play in 1870. The first three holes stretched eastwards from the grandstand at the racecourse, the site of the former clubhouse of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.              
               Musselburgh Links hosted the Open Championship a total of six times between 1874 and 1889. Once the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved to its current location at Muirfield, Musselburgh dropped out of the Open rota. When playing the course you could imagine the hostile Edinburgh golfing fans harassing and pushing in on the Morrises as they defended titles and fought to win the Open.                                                                                                        
              I would recommend any golfer interested in golfing history to rent a set of original hickory shafted golf clubs at some point in their life. Make sure it is done on an appropriately sized golf course. For the overall experience of history, the period golf clubs, and enjoyable links, Musselburgh was excellent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Upcoming Golf Plans (October 2011)

“Mach” Themed Golfing:

            The golf season is slowly winding down here in Scotland. The days are shortening and the temperatures are dropping. As a sendoff to the 2011 season, I will be travelling in early November out towards the western islands of Scotland. I will be playing cold weather golf with my friend Matt (my golfing buddy on the Gauntlet). We’ll be playing Machrihanish (#93 in the World), Machrihanish Dunes, Machrie Links, and for an odd one out, Dunaverty Golf Club. In addition to playing these golf courses, we are going to meet friends to do a small distillery tour. Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Bowmore are all on the visiting list among a few other smaller names. I will be writing up all the courses for the blog once they are played in early November!

Upcoming posts:

            I have been holding off on write-ups for a number of courses. Kingsbarns and Musselburgh Old Links are both examples. I will be posting write-ups for the courses once I revisit them and take more pictures. This shouldn’t take long. I have played Kingsbarns a number of times, but haven’t taken the big camera on any of the rounds. I will be playing it again November 2nd and a post will follow the round.
Picture of 12th at Kingsbarns on a previous round
18th Green at Kingsbarns on previous round

Dinner with D. Johnson:
     On an note unrelated to golf courses, St Andrews recently played host to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. On the Wednesday before the tournament kicked off, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Dustin Johnson. To top things off, Rory McIlroy and his father paid us a visit during the meal. It was golfer’s dream being able to discuss golf with one of the PGA tour’s biggest stars. I had been lucky enough to meet Dustin Johnson once previously while I was marshaling at the Open Championship at Royal St Georges (pictured below). Having dinner and drinks with Johnson cemented his place as one of my favorite golfers. Hopefully he’ll be able to break through and get a victory at one of the majors in the coming season!
Meeting D. Johnson in Sandwich, Kent

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St Andrews Old Course

            I am one of the lucky few that calls the St Andrews Old Course their home course. I attend the University of St Andrews and therefore live an accessible four-minute walk from the Old. In my first year in St Andrews I was able to play the Old approximately 60 times and I plan to play it much more over the next three years. The Old Course has a special place in my heart and if there is a slight tinge of bias in my write-up, I’m sure you’ll understand.

            Something that makes the St Andrews Old Course so special is its accessibility to all golfers. It is the highest ranked public course in the world (#4). Another completely unique feature is the Old Course's designer. “Nature” is listed as the designer in the year 1400. The curves, humps, and bumps found on the Old are natural and were not shaped by man. Sheep nestling into the hillsides created the bunkers. The grass merely had to be cut and holes placed in order to create a golf course. At the risk of sounding like a golfing hippie, can there be a more organic golfing design?
            The first hole on the Old has one of the widest fairways in all of golf. Despite the very large fairway, the hole presents a challenge with the approach shot. The Swilcan Burn runs directly in front of the green and swallows any poorly struck approach shots. Any tee shots that leak slightly right can run on the hard, fast fairways into the burn as well.
7th and 11th double green
            The Old Course is unmatched in terms of history. Golf owes much of its current grandeur and success to the Old Course. When the game was struggling through its infancy, St Andrews kept the game alive. It is one of the oldest golfing grounds in the world. 
            The figurehead of St Andrews golf is Old Tom Morris. He is one of my golfing heroes. Morris served as keeper of the green at the Old Course for a total of 38 years. He won the Open Championship four times. Morris also designed some of the world’s best golf courses including Prestwick, Muirfield, Lahinch, Royal Dornoch, Royal County Down, and a large role in designing Carnoustie among many other classic links. Old Tom Morris must be mentioned in any conversation on the history of St Andrews. He was born and lived the majority of his life in St Andrews. His birthplace, home, and gravesite can all be found in St Andrews within 10 minutes of each other.
Inside Hell Bunker
            The 5th hole on the Old Course is a fairly long par 5. Depending on the wind, the hole can be reachable in two, or challenging to reach even in three. A large depression, or swale runs across the fairway in front of the green. The depression catches balls and presents a very tough up and down. On this hole, similarly to all links golf holes, the wind can turn a birdie opportunity into a difficult par. Two deep spectacle style bunkers, guarding layups to this green, stand around 115 yards from the massive putting surface. The double green is nearly 95 yards deep, which is one of the largest greens in all of golf.
            In the past, the Old Course has relinquished lower winning scores during the Open Championship than other venues on the rota. Some people interpret this to mean that the Old is weaker than say, Birkdale or Royal St Georges. I would argue that if the weather shows its bite, the Old is just as strong a venue as the other courses. In addition to being challenging, it has maintained its historicity and design very well as the game has developed and changed. The same cannot be said for all links courses in the British Isles.
              The final stretch of holes on the Old Course is memorable and leaves a very lasting impression on any golfer. The 17th  (Road Hole) is very challenging. I have never birdied the hole and can count on one hand how many birdies I have personally witnessed. The drive over the Old Course Hotel is intimidating to say the least. The road on the right and the cavernous Road Hole Bunker on the left make the approach to the green difficult. A par feels like a birdie on the Road Hole.

              Teeing off the on the 18th on the Old Course provides a somewhat indescribable experience. The view up the 18th of the Swilcan Bridge, Hamilton Hall, and the R&A Clubhouse is one of the most pictured in all of golf. Every golfing great in the history of the game, bar Ben Hogan, has made that walk. The walk up the 18th never gets old. Walking through the valley of sin and up onto the green is akin to being in the presence of a celebrity or personal hero. You realize that you are standing at one of golf’s most legendary venues.
Looking down the 18th from the green
            The entire town of St Andrews has a very unique and warming ambiance. For a golfer, there are very few better places. The pubs and restaurants in the town are great (Find out more here). Right in town, there are six additional St Andrews courses all offering solid golf and lots of challenges (Find out more here). At this point in my life, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world.