“…It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
The above is not a weather report from Stockholm, though its sure fills that role. It’s the ending of Dickens’ famous opening line of a “Tale of Two Cities.” It came to mind after returning from a recent stay in Florida.
There’s no arguing that Florida is the winter home of golf in the United States. Just getting a tee time in South Florida is a challenge, especially on the open to the public courses. This season, it seems that the Canadians have bivouacked on the golf courses there.
I spent a few days up in Orlando for the 2018 PGA Show, and show was the working word. The PGA Show makes one feel like a kid in one of the Orlando amusement parks just a few miles away.
Any item associated to golf was on display. Not just clubs, clothes, shoes and training methods but the latest in technology. You can scope for yardage, listen and talk with bone induction headphones. There were golf carts controlled by your phone via bluetooth. I picked up a gizmo that fits on your belt and through a buzz tells you when you are aligned to the target. If that’s not enough, it doubles as a ball mark that will show the break of green with LED lights.
The amount of expenditure for this gourdful of golf must be incredible. With all this equipment on display gives one the idea that golf is a healthy and growing industry.
But just a few hours down the road, there’s a different picture to see. In the Palm Beach County. In Broward and Dade counties of Florida. The amount of golf course closures in process for 2018 is cause for serious alarm. These closures is at odds with the rosy affectation in Orlando.
In South Florida, vacant land is scarce. Add that with the national trend of failing golf courses, and you have a recipe for redevelopment.
Neighbors of South Florida golf courses struggle to stop the housing projects in vain.
In Palm Beach, 10 golf courses at some stage of conversion to residential development. That is out of 149 18-hole courses in the county.
According to County property appraisers, conversions are up in southern Palm Beach county.
Broward and Miami-Dade counties don’t have as many golf courses. But they have their share of the same controversies.
According to property appraiser Marty Kiar, there are about 45 golf courses in Broward. Three closed in the past five years.
Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia estimates 37 golf courses in his county. The latest proposed conversion is the Calusa Golf Course property in Kendall.
Tony Palumbo is Director of Real Estate for Pulte Home Construction. He and other developer representatives face sometimes-hostile crowds. They are people airing concerns about traffic, scenic views, crime and property values.
When asked why the company is seeking to build so many homes, Palumbo’s answer drew groans: “Why not? There’s a reason it’s not operating as a golf course. It’s the cost to operate and maintain a golf course. They are shutting down everywhere.’’
A cynic might detect a hint of glee in Mr. Palumbo’s response.
What does this mean to the local golfers in these counties? Fewer places to play mean tee times become harder to find in the winter. Fewer golf courses means increased pricing for playing golf. Locals will have to put up with overcrowded winter golf. Or wait until after Easter when the tourists go back north. For some, the answer might be giving the game up.
If fewer golfers play in the summer months, some golf courses can feel the financial strain to stay open. Waiting until the tourists come back is not a good business plan. How many golf courses could survive another year or two of that scenario is anyone’s guess.
Private clubs also feel the strain as aging membership drops and maintenance costs rise. Some do open for public play to the disgruntlement of members who pay climbing club dues.
The extravaganza that is the PGA Show in Orlando is the result of the golf booms of the 60s and 70s. How golf adapts to changing financial and cultural realities is the big question.
Will the future “golfer” be a spectator watching only a few rich people play?
It’s Hard To Beat A Person Who Never Gives Up
First, let me tell you that I am a big fan of the Solheim Cup. I’ve attended three and, believe me, the atmosphere is unlike any other golf event. So to say I enjoyed last weekend’s performance by the teams from the USA and Europe is an understatement.
Kudos to both captains, Juli Inkster for the USA and Annika Sorenstam for Europe. They both told their teams to go out and have some fun and, boy, did both teams listen. The shot making was top shelf and there was no sign of quit in any competitor. It became a game of anything you can do, I can do better. With the pressure that this international event produces made the play remarkable.
One match in particular capsulized what this game golf is all about. That was the opening game of the singles play on Sunday. The captains started their highest ranking players. Anna Nordqvist for Europe and Lexi Thompson for the USA. The players did not disappoint. It was a game for the ages.
Thompson started the game completely out of sorts. Lexi looked nothing like the player who went 2-0-1 over the first two days play. Despondent and disillusion was on her face as she struggled to find herself.
Meanwhile, veteran Solheim player Anna Nordqvist went to work. Nordqvist, from Sweden, sensed the situation when she won an early hole with a par. Anna hit fairways and greens while Thompson struggled. In what seemed a flash, Nordqvist was up 4 holes to none after four holes.
It was then that the American co-captain Nancy Lopez came up and spoke to Thompson. Whatever Lopez said stopped Lexi’s turmoil. At the turn, Lexi was still down four.
Thompson started the back nine with a deficit that would make most players fold their tents. Yet Thompson, with two eagles, proceeded to shoot 8 under par over seven holes. She took take the lead with one hole to play.
During Thompson’s scoring barrage, Anna Nordqvist was a tower of strength and consistency. She never took her foot of the gas. She hit fairways and green for the entire round. And her approach shots looked like she was throwing darts at the flag stick. Her iron play and putting was suburb.
What made this round special for Nordqvist is she played under severe physical discomfort. She has contracted mononucleosis, a glandular virus that can strike in different intensity. The main symptom is a complete sapping of strength. The body is just listless and any exertion can exhaust the person.
Yet Nordqvist showed up to play all three days. She looked exhausted on the back nine Sunday. She had forced Thompson to play beyond brilliant. She never let up on her opponent. Her expression never changed. An almost stoic aura of self control surrounded her. She never blinked nor wavered during Thompson miracle comeback. She continued to put the pressure on, throwing darts at every flag.
She executed in every tough situation. None better than the clutch 8 iron she hit on the final hole. It was so close, Thompson conceded the crucial putt. That put Thompson in a must make situation for the point. Lexi missed and each team earned a half point.
Professional golf has taken some hits lately. The scramble for dollars seemingly more important than winning. When the golf news is more about social media, gossip and fashion. It would seem as if the old value systems are getting lost in the shuffle.
Yet on a Sunday in August in Iowa, USA, two women athletes recaptured the spirit of what competition is all about. Coaches always stress two cardinal rules of competing. One is never quit. Don’t give up on yourself or your teammates. Lexi Thompson did just that with her dramatic comeback.
The second is when the going is tough and you think you can’t go any further you must dig deep within yourself and find the extra strength needed to complete the task. Exhausted physically and under mental duress, Anna Nordqvist somehow found the resilience and kept going.
It was fitting that this match ended in a draw. Both players deserved to win and neither of them deserved to lose. Because of them, on this Sunday in Iowa, the sport of golf came out the winner.
Champagne Golf At Beer Prices
New Jersey is one of the smallest states in the USA. It is also one of the country’s wealthiest and most populous. First claimed by the Dutch and then commandeered by the English, New Jersey, or The Garden State, lives up to its “Liberty and Prosperity” motto these days.
Golf has held a long time relationship with the state. The Essex County Country Club was inaugurated way back in 1887 but it took almost thirty years before a golf course was built for the members’ enjoyment. Golf in the Garden State dates back to the late 19th century and the New Jersey State Golf Association was founded in 1900 only nine years after Ireland formed the world’s oldest golf union.
Golden Age of golf design is found across the state. Courses fashioned by the likes of Donald Ross, Seth Raynor and the prolific “Tilly”, A.W. Tillinghast. But the jewel in New Jersey’s crown is the course that rates not only as the state’s number one, but also one of the best in the world. Let’s hear it for Pine Valley Golf Club.
I caddied at the Spring Lake Country Club, a course founded in 1892 in Monmouth County on New Jersey’s Atlantic shore. The Jersey Shore has been a summer vacation residence for almost 150 years. The beaches of the Shore attracted sunbathers, swimmers and fishermen from the areas around New York City, upstate NJ and Philadelphia. Monmouth County is home to many excellent private golf course for member play only. Monmouth County developed the finest golf portfolio for a county governmental entity in all of New Jersey.
I had the opportunity to play two of the best recently. Here’s my thoughts on the first.
The story of how Hominy Hill came into existence is a fascinating one.
Henry Mercer was a shipping magnate who founded the States Marine Corporation. His early life working for railroads made him and his company develop the shipping containers that we are all so familiar with.
Mercer enjoyed mixing golf and business. Mercer’s home summer club, Rumson Country Club, is located near to the Atlantic Ocean. Rumson had and still has a long established reputation for being rather close-minded when people of dissimilar backgrounds came there. Mercer, in his business, came in touch with Japanese and Greeks who like him were active in the shipping area.
Mercer would entertain his guests frequently at Rumson for golf and entertainment. The leadership of the Club made it a point to tell Mercer such invitations would need to be curtailed. Sensing an ultimatum was brewing, Mercer took a preemptive approach. His response was rather straightforward. He would entertain who he wished, when he wished and where he wished. If that meant leaving Rumson, so be it.
His love of golf was deeply embedded. Mercer was also a member of the Augusta National Golf Club. He owned land located in the nearby community of Colts Neck in which he raised prized Guernseys and Charolais cattle. Mercer engaged the services of architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. who had offices not far from the site in Montclair, NJ.
Jones was at the height of his design career and he created for Mercer an 18-hole layout far beyond what Rumson offered. The course became the ultra-private haven for Mercer, his family and guests. For a number of years the closest the public had ever come to the property was seeing it from adjoining roads. It would not be a stretch of truth to say that more non-members played Pine Valley then played Hominy Hill during its private club status time frame.
Near the end of Mercer’s life a decision was made to sell Hominy Hill to the Monmouth County Parks Department with the caveat that the property would forever to be used as a golf facility open to the general public.
The Hominy Hill course encompasses the motif of a Jones design. Long tees with even larger bunkers with sprawling greens with a number of internal contours. The land is only slightly better than dead flat so mounding was created to give the course some added definition.
One of the dividends in Hominy Hill becoming public was the top tier nature of the turf. The course was far from your normal “muni” course because the pedigree of the layout meant on many days when Mercer owned the property staff outnumbered the total number of people playing.
The course has a few holes of note. The downhill slight dog-leg right 4th is a fine par-5. A pond awaits those going for the green in two if that bold play is pulled to the left. The dog-leg left par-4 8th is a fine hole. The green hugs the nearby out-of-bounds for the approach. Jones added two other risk/reward par-5’s at the 9th and 14th holes respectively.
The par-3, #11 is similar to what Jones created with the 12th hole at Spyglass Hill. The finish is a balancing act of a par-3, par-5 and par-4 closing.The architecture has its moments but it would be a stretch to define it as compelling.
Hominy Hill hosted big time events. It is one of only a few sites in America to have hosted both the men’s and women’s public links national championship for the USGA.
Ironically, what started as a piece of land, reserved for only the select few, has now become a wonderful haven for all types of golfers to enjoy.
From Iceland to Bedminster
We are quickly moving through the summer season. In a few weeks, the third Major (The Open) will happen. Later in July, I’ll be heading to the Jersey Shore to play a few rounds there. Why does summer seem to pass so quickly?
In the meantime, a few items have come across the screen. They caught me eye and I thought they might interest you. From our cousins in Iceland comes an interesting idea.
In a pioneering move to inspire responsible resource use and in a response to changing lifestyles, The Golf Union of Iceland discontinued all reference to hole counts from its championship criteria. Now, 18 holes are no longer a requirement for a golf championships in Iceland. Iceland is a country where around 10% of the population of 330,000 play golf on almost seventy courses, most of which have nine holes.
The original plan was to hold next year’s event on an existing 12-hole course. But the Golf Union decided to implement the idea this year. A few greens on the Westman Islands GC lagged behind in quality due to a seemingly excessive combination of winter salt spray and wind chill. These “bad” holes were simply omitted from the routing. The remaining holes were re-numbered to form a loop of 13 holes starting and finishing at the clubhouse.
The Iceland National Match Play Championships, the KPMG Cup, took place in the Westman Islands 23-25 June. There Gudrún Brá Björgvinsdóttir celebrated victory in the women’s class, defeating Helgi Kristín Einarsdóttir 3/2. Egill Ragnar Gunnarsson defeated Alfreð Brynjari Kristinsson in the final, 5-3. “There were more holes than usual in the final, 26 holes in total. Certainly, this was more stressful, but I found this tournament to be fun,” said Egill Ragnar after the win. “This tournament was different from other tournaments, strange in many ways, but it was a fun tournament,” said Guðrún Brá.
It could be the first time that an established golf nation staged a national championship on a course with fewer than 18 holes in the modern era.
Explaining this novel move, GUI president Haukur Birgisson said, “People’s needs have changed and will continue to do so. This includes people who already play golf and those interested in taking up a healthy form of outdoor life.”
Recent media coverage and industry discussion have revealed growing concerns that an 18-hole rounds of golf are at risk of becoming irrelevant to growing numbers of existing and potential golfers.
“People need more options. We should not stand in the way of innovation among our member golf clubs. Therefore we are introducing more flexibility. For us, this is appropriate on many levels, because the focused concept of golf’s return to flexible hole counts comes from Iceland,” Haukur added, referring to the Why-18-holes concept developed and advocated by Edwin Roald, an Icelandic golf architect.
I have talked about my friend Edwin Roald on these pages before.
Edwin is a golf course architect from Iceland. Edwin is also the founder of the “Why 18?” concept. In “Why 18?” the question of why does a golf course need 18 holes to be considered “real” or championship is considered. “Why 18?” also says that there should be no set number of holes. Read about the concept here.
In other news, they say that if you want to know the true nature of a man, play a round of golf with him. Last week we got a glimpse of the nature of one golfer.
Sure, we can say that because he owns the course, he can do what he wants. I think that if he has so little respect for the course, how much can he have for the game itself?
Yesterday I received a press release in the email from Golf för Vuxna (Golf for Adults). I have talked before about my adventure with this unconventional golf swing.
The founder, Sacke Frondelius, guarantees that you will lower your handicap using his method. If that does not happen after six months of purchasing his online course he will give you 500 SEK. Lower your current handicap using the Golf för Vuxna method or you’ll get money back.
First of all, the Golf for Vuxna swing came to be by accident. Frondelius was in a severe car accident that damaged his back. The damage was so great that doctors had wondered if he would ever walk again. But playing golf, with its twists and turns was out of the question. But determined, Sacke wanted to play golf again.
Here, the Golf for Adults creator tells how he discovered this swing. “After my car accident, I had to find a gentler way to play golf,” says Sacke Frondelius. “As a result of years of testing I came up with a new way to swing. I checked my results with doctors, physiotherapists and PGA instructors. Using the best amateur and professional players I could find, I tested it. I never thought that my new swing would become a safer and better way for anyone to play golf.”
The traditional golf swing has harmful and difficult movements. The Golf for Adults swing strips those away. The result is an easier and more natural swing. The Golf for Adults swing has just a few basic principles that are easy to learn and repeat. The movements follow recognizable everyday movements . The results are straighter and longer golf shots.
I use this swing and can tell you the results are as they say. And after 18 holes, my lower back is never sore.
Sacke Frondelius is sure that his swing will work for golfers of all ages. In fact, he will pay you money if your handicap does not lower after six months of buying his program. Now that is unusual. I’d like to see the face of your present instructor after you ask him for the same deal.
Lexi Asked, “Is this a joke?” After Four Stroke Penalty
Sorry for the delay in this blog. It was on my mind and I wanted to share this last week. Circumstances and a trip to Barcelona delayed my thoughts on Lexi Thompson and the Four Strokes Penalty, which is a pretty good name for a band.
While the golf world forgets the spitting, sour grapes and club throwing of the new Masters champion, let’s go back to April 2, 2017….
Imagine you’re in a race of 40,000 meters over four days. You run 10,000 meters each of the four days. Come the fourth and final race you’re in first place by two laps after ⅔ of the final race completed.
Then a race official comes up along side you. He says that a TV viewer saw you bump another runner on the third day. It was an accident and not a factor in your or the other runner’s position.
Yet, it is a rules infraction and it affected your racing position after the third race. The infraction gives you a penalty of four laps. Now, with only 3,000 meters to go, you’re no longer in first by two laps. You are now behind the new leader by two laps.
This happened to Lexi Thompson during the final round of the ANA Inspiration. Thompson received a FOUR stroke penalty walking off the 12th green. For an infraction that happened the previous day. It was from an e-mail sent by a TV viewer that alerted the judges. The ANA Inspiration is an LPGA Major Tournament.
The armchair referee is nothing new. Old timers will remember it was Craig Stadler who was the first victim. In that case, “While playing the 14th hole of Saturday’s third round, Stadler had found it necessary to play a stroke from a kneeling position. Because the ground was wet from Friday night’s rain, Stadler pulled out a towel and placed it under both knees. (Bob Wolfe, of the LA Times dated 2/16/87)
Presumably, he just wanted to keep his trousers dry. But in doing so he also violated rule 13-3 1/2, defined as building a stance. Stadler, who thought he tied for second, lost over $37,000 that day.
After the penalty, Lexi Thompson, found the fortitude to birdie the next hole. She got into a playoff despite that crushing setback.
Why do the Tours allow judges to watch a video, then go out on the course to assess a penalty that occurred the day before? It’s not fair to the competitors or the fans.
TV cameras, with closeups and replay, create situations that otherwise would not be there. No one present saw a penalty. Thompson said she was unaware of any rule violation. Nobody disputes that. Without the eye of TV there would be no bizarre situations like the one that occurred to Thompson.
The trials and tribulations of Lexi Thompson were newsworthy. As was the execution of penalties on a tip from a couch potato a farce.
But the sad fact of the matter is, it takes a something crazy like this for MSM sports to report on a woman’s golf event. Now that’s a violation.
In Golf, It’s a Small World After All
When I was a kid, I would hear the adults say, “It’s a small world, isn’t it?” I never could make sense of what they meant. I was an avid reader of the National Geographic magazine, so to my mind the world was enormous and mysterious and full of adventure.
But in the last week, the phrase came to me twice and both times it was related to golf.
Englishman Alexander Ward is a teaching professional in Pilar de la Horadada. Formerly associated with the Lo Romero Golf Club, Alex now owns and operates the Golf Stash Golf Boutique. While using the words golf and boutique in one sentence may be rare, in Alex’s case it is true. Alex is an individual with some distinct notions on the game of golf. He believes that the current concept in golf marketing, stuffing every sq.cm with products confuses customers, especially non-golfers who enjoy the clothing styles or may be looking for gifts for their golfing friends. The Golf Stash has plenty of room to amble around and focus on the items at hand.
Anyway, Alex and my Eva were in a discussion so I do what I normally do when I’m not involved in the conversation. I pantomime my golf swing. As I swing a few more, Alex asks me how I hit the ball? Did I draw hook it? Fade Slice it? I answered, “Mostly straight, I guess….” Then Alex said something that jolted both Eva and I. He said, “Golf for Adults?”
For those of you who don’t know Golf for Adults is the English translation for the book by Sacke Frondelius, Golf för Vuxna. I have been associated with Sacke for a couple of years, but to find someone, an Englishman no less, in the middle of Spain who knows Sacke and the book was a trip all right. We found out that Alex represents and is an instructor in the Golf för Vuxna.
3 Fun Finns
This past Friday I played golf at Lo Romero Golf Course, which IMHO gives you the best bang for buck in the south Alicante area. I joined a 3some of Finns who were on a golfing holiday. On the second tee, one of the three, Aulis Ranua, comes up to me and asks if I would write my name on the scorecard. I thought it a nice gesture, he wanting to keep my score. I filled in my name and we proceeded to play the hole.
Aulis Ranua, Discerning Golf Scholar, Ace Photographer and Good Guy.
As we came off the green. Aulis comes up to me and asks if I’m a writer? In my head, my voice says how ITF did he know that but my voice said, “Yes, I am.” My new Finnish friend then says, “Did you write the book, The Swedish Golf Experience?” That sound you just heard was my mind blowing. I was able to mouth the words,”Yeah, I did. How do you know?” “I OWN that book! I love it. I look at it all the time.”
It was a real nice day after that bit of ego boost. I mean it doesn’t come near hearing, “Did you write Moby Dick?” Still, it was cool.
It’s taken a few years but it has become a small world, after all.
Arnold Palmer – The People’s Champion
The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young,
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
– King Lear act V scene iii
The King is dead. We can decommission the Army. As Bill wrote in King Lear, we “Shall never see so much…”
In my lifetime, Arnold Palmer was golf. I remember on rainy Sunday afternoons my Dad and I watching Arnold hitch up those baggy pants and take such a tremendous lash at the ball that his follow through would twirl around his head. Arnie wasn’t the longest hitter on tour but nobody hit the ball any harder. I used to imagine that the golf ball screamed in pain, like the baseballs in the Looney Tunes. A wristy putter, with his scrunched over, knock-knee stance Palmer was deadly on the greens. It wasn’t until he changed to the “normal” putting stroke, with no wrist break, that he lost his touch on the greens, never to return to him.
I have no clear proof, but Arnie was the first pro with a clothing line. Musingwear produced the golf shirt styled after Palmer’s polo style shirt. On Arnie, the shirt highlighted his trim and muscular physique. On his “Army”, that shirt highlighted a different part of the anatomy, having little to do with trim.
Later, Arnie has a canned ice tea named after him. At home, Palmer would drink a mixture of three parts unsweetened ice tea to one part lemonade. The canned tea, distributed by the Arizona Beverage Company is made half and half and is named as such. At The Seminole Golf Club in Florida they spoil you and serve Arnie’s original recipe mixed on the spot. I never enjoyed the can version since.
Today’s pros fly private planes from tournament to tournament. Arnie was the first professional golfer that I know who flew his own private planes and later jets. When I say flew, I don’t mean enjoyed the ride. Palmer actually was the pilot who flew the aircraft.
It was Palmer who renewed the American interest in the British Open. Like I said earlier, my Dad and I watched the grainy B&W images beamed back on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Not since Bobby Jones had the golfers of the British Isles embraced an American competitor. I’m sure it was the rugged image of Palmer dragging on his cigarette, throwing it to the ground and taking that mighty thrash. It was the British Open where “Arnie’s Army” began it’s recruitment. Counting its TV members, that army was in the millions.
I only met Arnold Palmer once. He was playing an exhibition in the State of Washington, outside of Seattle. After smashing his customary tee shot, he began walking down the fairway. I was in a position where he would walk right next to me. As he neared, I nervously wracked my brain for something to say. I stuck my hand out and said it was a pleasure to be here with him and (in shear panic) blurted out, “I love your design at the Semiahmoo Resort.” I never played the course but knew that it opened the year before. He stopped and, while still shaking my hand, said, “Well, thanks a lot.”
My only other contact with Palmer was by Six Degrees of Separation. I met his dentist in Orlando. He was very proud of his friendship with Arnold Palmer. I think he wrote a book about it. And why wouldn’t he?
They say that the modern pro owes much to Tiger Woods for his popularity raising interest in golf worldwide and for the amazing purses they now play for. Professional golf would still be a minor sport watched by dilettantes and played for little money, if not for Palmer.
Arnold Palmer was a man every man admired and every golfer of his era wanted to be.
The King is dead. There is no heir and there will never be one.
My Northwest Passage
This summer I’ve been through three adventures. One was a trip to the United States. I travelled to the Pacific NW to play golf in Oregon and Washington. I played the Eugene Country Club, Tokatee Golf Club, Bandon Dunes, the Gearhart Golf Club, West Seatlle Golf Course and Chambers Bay, the site of the 2015 US Open. The second adventure was a stopover in Iceland to play golf just outside of Reykjavik. The last event was, that after thirty years, I treated myself to a new set of golf clubs.
In the next few weeks I will be giving you some reviews and events based on one or the other or all the experiences. It was a summer packed with golf, some of it good and some not so. What matters is the rules of play that I found at Tokatee.
1. COME RELAXED…..LEAVE HAPPY
2. YOU’LL REMEMBER YOUR FRIENDS MORE THAN YOUR SCORES
3. PLAY OFTEN…..LAUGH MORE
4. PLAY THE TEES THAT MAKE YOU HAPPIEST
5. IT’S MORE FUN WHEN YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE HAVING IT
If I learn anything from this summer, I want it to be those five rules.