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Long Island Golf Trip: A Tale of Two Courses

August 31st, 2012 3 comments

by Jeff Skinner

Last week I was able to get back to Bethpage Black and spend some time taking in the pros at The Barclays.  I rarely miss the chance to get on one of the best courses in America whether to play or just check out the course.  The Black was just as vicious as always as the PGA pros found out.

But my trip wasn’t all about watching the FedEx Cup playoffs.  I was able to get a few rounds of golf in myself.  My brother and I were able to spend a few days together checking out The Barclays but we also explored a pair of Long Island’s best golf courses.

Long Island is home to some of the most famous and exclusive golf courses in the world.  Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links, Maidstone, Friar’s Head and Sebonack head the list of great private courses.  But Long Island isn’t all Bushwood and Judge Smails.  There are plenty of fine public courses on Long Island with Bethpage Black at the top of the Golf Week’s Best Public Course list for New York.  And its sister, The Red Course, which we played last season, also makes the list.

But since the boys of the PGA were camped out at Bethpage we headed out on the island to find some less crowded links.  We looked at Golf Week’s list and selected two courses that had both great appeal and reviews.

Tallgrass Country Club in Shoreham looked very inviting as it was designed by Olympic course designer by Gil Hanse and was ranked as the ninth best public course by Golf Week.  It boasted a “Scottish links style golf course.”

Formerly a sod farm, Tallgrass opened in 2000 and  has a linksy feel.  We were interested in seeing what The Castle Stuart designer could manufacture on the island.  Tallgrass is certainly laid out like a links course.  There are few trees and raised tees give you a view of most of the golf course.  The holes are dressed with tall fescue and with a little breeze you get a bit of a feeling of links golf.

There were plenty of raised greens and all of them were very well guarded by big, deep bunkers.  Hanse decorated many holes with waste areas and there was enough thick bushes that did a fine imitation of that ball eating gorse which usually marks a Scottish course.

The layout was challenging and the greens had plenty of contours to challenge your putting game.  My brother and I both agreed that the course was interesting and challenging.  But we wouldn’t make an effort to play it again.  It had nothing to do with the layout but everything to do with the condition.

It appears that the owners of Tallgrass may have cut back significantly on their maintenance budget.  All the “waste bunkers” or “sandy areas” as they were called at the PGA were overgrown with tall weeds and hadn’t been maintained at all.  The same was true for many of the regular sand bunkers.  Many were overgrown with weeds and even greenside bunkers played like hardpan since they hadn’t been maintained for a long while.  It was impossible to play a normal shot from all these areas and I am certain this type of maintenance wasn’t in Hanse’s design plans.

The fairways and greens were great but it looked like they only maintained those two segments of the course.  The layout was excellent but due to the poor conditions I wouldn’t consider going back.

The next day we headed out to the very eastern end of the island to try out Montauk Downs.  The Downs was originally built in 1927 but none other than Robert Trent Jones Sr. redesigned it in 1968.  It has a reputation as a tough course that usually plays in that constant Montauk wind.  It is also ranked as number twelve on Golf Week’s list. 

The day we played was warm and bright with a bit less wind than normal.  After our disappointment at Tallgrass we were hoping for something better: we weren’t disappointed.  Montauk Downs certainly lived up to its reputation.  It was challenging, interesting and very well conditioned.

It has a great mix of holes all with plenty of character.  Even though you’re not on the ocean you definitely get that feel.  Many holes are guarded by thick vegetation that swallows any wayward ball and there is enough water in play to keep you honest.  Straight drives and a solid putter are required to have any success here.

Many greens sit above the fairway and the bunkering will test every level of golfer.  Each green has plenty of contouring and the greens were fast and true.  A little bit of local knowledge goes a long way here as there are a few blind shots that pose a challenge.

Montauk Downs was great and even though it’s a state run golf course they do it right.  It was well run and has all the facilities you need.  For New York State residents it’s a steal, I paid $51 plus the cart.  But they do get a bit more for out of staters, my brother, who now lives in Massachusetts had to pay double that.  I say it’s their way of making him pay for his defection from the Jets and Yankees to the Patriots and Red Sox.

The only tough thing about Montauk Downs was the drive.  It is way out there on the island and traffic heading in and out can be a real pain.  But it was definitely worth it, especially since I was able to beat my brother which I rarely do.

We both agreed that Montauk Downs deserves all the accolades it gets.  It’s a great course.  But next time we’ll helicopter in and beat that traffic.

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Tiger Talks at The Deutsche Bank

August 30th, 2012 No comments

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A Golfer’s Hardest Hole?

August 29th, 2012 No comments

by G. Rennie

For most amateur golfers at Bethpage Black the par four 15th hole poses the biggest challenge of the round. Watching the pro’s take it on from a green side seat to the left of the green I heard a few fan’s say ” this is the toughest hole in golf”.
However formidable  it appears that wasn’t  the case, at least not this week. The 15th wasn’t even the hardest hole on the course this week at the Barclay’s. That ‘ honor’ goes to the par three 3rd hole that played .287 strokes over par for the tournament, and it was the toughest hole in both the second and fourth rounds.

The 15th at The Black

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the 15th proved to be an average hole in terms of difficulty for the week as it ranked as the ninth easiest hole. Surprisingly it played under par for two of the four rounds . A back right pin location gave up eight birdies against ten bogeys in the final round. During the second round there was a birdie fest as thirty two players took advantage of a front pin placement that proved to be a good risk-reward play. Although the front shelf was a small target it sat in a bowl that funneled balls back to the hole. Taking on the front pin was the only option for the players but it wasn’t without peril as twenty seven golfers made bogey or worse that day.
For the week 50 birdies were made at the 15th against 98 bogeys or worse and the average score was 4.122 .

So the question remains as to why public perception of the relative difficulty of the vaunted 15 is so far from reality? The answer is that our perception is frozen in time, derived from the personal experience of playing that uphill monster or from memories of how it played at U.S. Open set ups. Back in 2009 at the second People’s Open the 15th played to an average of 4.4699, the toughest hole of the tourney.  I’d guess that the  player’s at the Barclay’s were happy to have an easier set up this week compared to the past Open’s . But I’d also guess that he 15th will be back to its most ferocious self when public play resumes.

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Memorable Moments: Deutsche Bank Championship

August 29th, 2012 No comments

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Keep The Black The Peoples Course

August 28th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

An Open Letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey

In 2002 when the USGA brought the U.S. Open to Bethpage Black it was nicknamed the “Peoples Open” and having the Open at a public course was certainly historic.  Showcasing the best public course in New York State brought more fame for The Black and allowed the world to see what a true gem we have in Bethpage Black.

This past week the PGA Tour set up camp on The Black and once again the world got to know more of The Black.  But with the Barclays scheduled to return in 2016 and the possibility of The Black being used as a permanent home for The Barclays we are dangerously close to losing what has made The Black so special all these years.

The Black is first and foremost a public course and thousands of area golfers make playing The Black a high priority.  Nowhere else can a public golfer play such a renowned course on a daily basis.  Having The Barclays on The Black is exciting for fans but a steady diet of professional tournaments defeats the true purpose of The Black.

The Black needs to remain accessible to public golfers and hosting a PGA tournament each year or even every other year is contrary to the purpose of Bethpage and the state parks system.  We need to maintain The Black’s aura of community and its unique atmosphere.  It is on The Black that firemen and laborers, truck drivers and teachers, students and businessmen blend together into that “public golfer” that makes The Black so extraordinary.  It is this melting pot of golfing souls that make a day at The Black unforgettable.   When a golfer plays The Black he knows he is on hallowed ground.

The danger here lies in overexposing The Black with The Barclays year after year.  Hosting a U.S. Open every decade is a more acceptable alternative.  There would be no yearly closure of the course and the effect that hosting an Open is so much greater than a PGA Tour event.  And it appears that if The Black continues to host the tour it may have seen its last U.S. Open as Mike Davis has already voiced doubts that they would return if that was the case.

Surely the golfers that play The Black enjoy seeing the top players walk their course but it means so much more when they are doing it during a major.

I know there are financial matters that go along with hosting but this shouldn’t be about cashing checks.  It should be about keeping The Black the Mecca of New York golf it has become.  Hosting frequent PGA Tour events will only dilute The Black’s reputation.   An Open or even a Ryder Cup every so often would do fine to bring in some profits and only enhance the aura of The Black.

We should be treating The Black as a treasure not a commodity.  Keeping  it the “people’s course” should be the priority not using it as a new revenue stream.

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10 Things I Think

August 27th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

1.  Nick Watney went from Zero to Hero with his win at The Barclays.  After two wins last season his 2012 was disappointing: 2 top tens and a T9 at The Match Play.  He was first in Cup points going into playoffs last year and 49th this season.  This win makes his season and may just get him a slot on the Ryder Cup team.

2.  Sergio Garcia admitted to feeling “a bit jumpy” during the final round at Bethpage Black.  But he was gracious and content with his performance during the past two weeks. “It’s been two very good weeks,” Garcia said. “Obviously I would loved to finish in a different way. But to me, to be able to win last week and put myself in contention here again this week, I had a good shot at winning this tournament on this golf course, which is really, really tough and is testing you all the time. It was good.”

3.  Tiger Woods’ game looked like it still was feeling the effects of that soft hotel mattress that caused him back pain on Saturday.  He pulled his drive on the first right in front of the Master Card Tent.  I spent a few hours there this week and hats off to the folks at Master Card: plenty of cold beverages and all the air conditioning you could handle.

4.  It doesn’t surprise me that thousands of fans still care only about Tiger.  With Tiger and Phil Mickelson’s groups only two groups apart on Thursday and Friday, 99% of the fans were concentrated on one section of the course.  Those “Tiger Only” fans don’t know what they are missing.  All these guys are good.

5.  My brother and I sat at the difficult 15th green on Friday afternoon and with the tees moved up a bit and a very favorable front pin position the players were throwing lofted shots onto the green that rolled back off the upslope and settled close to the hole.  But The greens at The Black weren’t about to yield any easy birdies.  There were plenty of missed four footers.

6.  With all due respect to Watney, Garcia and the rest, the star of the week was The Black.  There are a few times each year when the course steals the show: Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass, Augusta National and the rest of the majors.  The Black is one of those courses and when the greens got a little slick on Saturday the players saw how difficult it could play.  Bethpage Black holds its own with any major venue and a win at The Black is truly special.

7.  Six players outside the top 100 played their way into next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship and continued their playoff run: Graham DeLaet, Jonas Blixt, Tommy Gainey, Bob Estes, David Hearn and Jason Day.

8.  Good news for the American Ryder Cup Team:  Martin Kaymer earned a spot on the European Team.  Now Captain Jose Maria Olazabal has to play him.

9.  With Watney’s win Davis Love now has another name in the hat for his captain’s picks.  Stricker, Furyk, Mahan, Fowler are joined by Watney, Snedeker and even Dustin Johnson as possible Ryder Cuppers.

10.  The best story of the week was fifteen year old Lydia Ko setting the new record for youngest winner in LPGA Tour history.  She’s not only a gifted golfer but seems like a wonderful kid.  They keep getting younger and better.

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Watney Beats Garcia In 1st Round of FedEx Cup Playoffs

August 26th, 2012 No comments
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15 Year Old Lydia Ko Tops LPGA Stars at Canadian Open

August 26th, 2012 1 comment

by Jeff Skinner

While Sergio Garcia was handing over his lead to eventual winner Nick Watney at The Barclays a teenager was making history on the LPGA Tour.  Fifteen year old Lydia Ko stole the golfing show today as she became the youngest player to ever win an LPGA event at fifteen years, four months when she won the CN Canadian Women’s Open.  She breaks the record of Lexi Thompson who just set the mark less than a year ago when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic.

While still a youngster, Ko has some amazing golfing chops.  She won a professional event earlier this year in Australia, the New South Wales Open and claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur two weeks ago.

Ko who is South Korean but raised in New Zealand bested a world class field of women golfers as she cruised to a three victory over Inbee Park.  Playing with former world number one Jiyai Shin and current world number two Stacy Lewis, Ko looked in total control all day.  She showed no signs of stress as she started her back nine with birdies on five of her first six holes.  It was all over but the cheering then and there.

What is even more amazing than her play on the course was her demeanor during the round and her composure afterwards.  She was all smiles all day and showed the nerve and grace of a player with decades of experience not one that is barely half way through her second decade.

Ko was poised and sincere in her remarks afterwards as she thanked her LPGA playing partners, her caddie, the tournament staff and everyone else that happened to be in the area.  She truly seems like an wonderful young woman but while this is a great accomplishment for her what does this say about the LPGA Tour?

This wasn’t an insignificant tournament.  The CN Canadian Women’s Open had a top field of golfers on a world class course and an amateur beats them all?  Is this the type of publicity the LPGA needs, handing the trophy to an amateur and the check to the second place finisher?

And where were the American golfers?  The best American in the world, Stacy Lewis started in second place but faded to a tie for sixth with a 72.

This win is a double edged sword for Michal Whan’s tour.  It was a truly remarkable week for young Lydia Ko but the LPGA needs its members to be the ones making the headlines with stellar rounds and amazing wins.

Lydia Ko is a fantastic story and a very likable kid and it was enjoyable to watch her moment in the sun.  But the LPGA needs its players to be the stars for the tour to stay in America’s sports consciousness.

 

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Sergio Garcia’s Fast Solo FInish

August 26th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

A short while ago I wrote about John Daly and his attempt to make it into the FedEx Cup playoffs.  Big John had a difficult time at The Wyndham Championship but while he was bogeying his way out of contention Sergio Garcia was busy crafting his own story of redemption.

Sergio’s win at The Wyndham marked his first win on the PGA Tour in four years.  The 2008 Players Championship was the scene of Garcia’s last win and at that time many thought that The Players win may have signaled the maturation of a great talent.  But the ensuing years were tough for Sergio with many close calls especially in a few majors that scarred the sensitive Spaniard.

But last week at The Wyndham we saw a different Sergio.  He had jettisoned his caddy and stated that he was going to do his thing alone.  He appeared to have a new attitude, a bit more carefree than the usual “doomsday…woe is me” demeanor that Sergio had worn for so long.

Garcia has already written a stirring story of redemption last week but today he is poised to pen his definitive volume.  Back to back wins on the PGA Tour is no easy task and topping the stellar field at The Barclays should do wonders for an ego that has been decimated by self-doubt.

He already clinched a spot on his beloved Ryder Cup Team and a win here could very possibly earn him a shot at PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year.

Garcia has lived the high life off the course for years but many would tag his professional life as unfulfilled potential.  This year maybe going it alone has agreed with Sergio.  From a distance he seems more comfortable with himself.  As he heads into the stretch run to the Tour Championship and the always dramatic Ryder Cup his confidence couldn’t be higher.

Maybe the new Sergio can finally build on his finish in 2012 to finally master his most elusive and painful task: winning his first major championship.  Today could be another step in his journey “alone”.

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Saturday Swing Tip: Fix Your Posture

August 25th, 2012 No comments

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