Month: October 2007

The Housing Bubble Effect On Golf Courses

The housing market was on a huge upswing through about May 2006. It’s stagnated there for a while and now there is talk of the bubble bursting. The sub-prime market – mortgages made to those who don’t qualify for legitimate mortgages – is a mess, and part of the problem. Overvaluation is also a problem.

Here’s a nice graph of what’s happening with housing prices in 20 major cities (link):

So, what’s the effect on golf courses? Myrtle Beach last year:

Sixteen area courses closed in 2005 and 2006, all with redevelopment plans that included housing developments.

And now…

The rash of course closures has remedied a struggling golf market that had been saturated with layouts, and contributed to the flooding of a housing market that has been burdened with increased listings but slower sales over the past two years.

If courses aren’t now jumping to convert to the housing developments, at least they’re not closing. I suppose that’s an improvement.

Looking at the cities listed in the graphic above, we can get a sense for what “golfing cities” housing markets are hit the hardest. I don’t have any data on the state of golf course closings or developments in these cities, but my best guess would be that course development projects will slow with the housing market.

Halloween Special: Scary Course Names

Sports Illustrated lists the top nine scariest golf course names:

1. Purgatory Golf Club
2. The Devil’s Claw at Whirlwind
3. The Blue Monster at Doral
4. Hell’s Point Golf Club
5. Deep Cliff Golf Course
6. Shark River Golf Course
7. Devil’s Lake Golf Course
8. The Monster Course at Concord
9. Bigfoot Golf & Country Club

My thoughts on the list: Golf course names are, predictably, not that scary. How about these:

  • Scariest shot: Long bunker shot with water behind the green.
  • Scariest closing hole: Long par four with water right, perhaps.
  • Scariest looking golf clubs: Cleveland VAS irons – the ones Corey Pavin used to play. I used them for several years.

Congrats Red Sox

It was nice to see the Red Sox win on Sunday night, although I would have preferred the Rockies to win a couple games. I hate to see anyone get swept in four games as solidly as the Sox took care of the Rockies. There were a couple moments when the games were enticing, but overall the series lacks the drama on which you want a world championship event to end. The resulting chaos of Boston winning in Boston would have been priceless, too. Bitter-sweet. Maybe next year.

Curt Schilling, the Boston Red Sox veteran strike throwing pitching machine, has a blog titled, “38 Pitches,” which I just found today. His comments on the World Series and baseball are worth a look.

Roundup: Beaver Meadows GC – Part 2

Yesterday, I sped to the golf course as soon as my Evidence class ended at 2:30pm. I grabbed my phone and wallet off the car dashboard, slipped on my golf shoes without even a thought of tying them, and hurried into the clubhouse to pay my twilight fee – twenty-two bucks for all the golf I want and ten bucks for a cart. I don’t usually take a cart, but rain was imminent and I didn’t want to get stranded on the outer-reaches of the course without my umbrella, which was thoughtfully left in the closet at home.

Expecting the rain to shorten my round to nine holes or less and wanting to play the back nine for the fist time ever, I started on the tenth hole. The tenth hole was a par-5 with a slight dogleg right. I striped a driver down the center of the fairway with a slight fade. For not warming up on the range, it was a fluke shot. I laughed, and ran back to the gas cart and sped off.

Beaver Meadows is at best a mediocre golf course. It’s draw, for me, is its availability. On fall weekday afternoons there may be ten other people on the entire course besides me. It allows me to play one, two or as many as eight balls on each hole.

The front nine is boring, relatively unimaginative and open. Open is OK, if there is some definition to the holes. The only hole that catches my eye is the eighth hole, which is a par four with a right-to-left sloping fairway. The green is relatively large and has a closely mowed collection area to the front right. It’s bunkered on the left and back.

Playing the back nine was refreshing after having made several semi-loops around the front nine. The back nine was more wooded, which doesn’t make a golf course unless, like me, you grew up in Northern Lower Michigan and you’re used to courses cut through forests. The trees provided some definition, and gave me an idea of what type of shot to hit. More importantly, they challenged me to not hit certain types of shots, lest I wish my speeding golf ball meet a heavily wooded peril accentuated with that distinctive Titleist on bark click.

I birdied the fourteenth hole, an uphill dogleg right par-4 that measured 430 yards, by hitting a fade driver and an eight iron to ten feet. The putt, a slippery left-to-right breaker, made more difficult by the recently punched greens, poured in the front left of the cup. That was the best execution of three consecutive shots I’ve hit all year.

After fighting the wind, avoiding the rain, and trudging through thousands of fallen leaves, I completed sixteen holes. I skipped six and seven on the front to get around a slow walking couple. I flushed two two-irons of the tee on the ninth hole (my 18th). It was a strong finish to a fun round on a late fall day.

Fined for Lack of Effort?!?!

Can you imagine being fined for “lack of effort”?

Fourth ranked men’s professional tennis player Nikolay Davydenko was fined $2000 for just that after losing a match in his home country of Russia to a player ranked outside the top 100.

How’s that for the ol’ heave ho… sigh… sputter… can I go home yet?

Allegations of match-fixing have been flying around for a while in professional tennis, and it’s just now coming to fruition. The organizations are considering an “integrity unit,” whatever that is.

How easy would it be to tell if a top ranked golfer was “mailing it in”? And does it even matter?

I can’t get beyond the “does it matter” question. Golf is such a fickle game that a player in the zone one day can play horribly the next. There is a margin these guys play within, and it’s fairly tight, but even the best players in the world will post a round in the high 70s a few times a year. A round which could be accused of lacking effort.

If the player knows he’s well outside the cut or not in contention on Sunday, some “lack of effort” can be presumed. It’s like a nod to the golf gods that he’ll save his best for the next tournament.

So, does it matter if a player tries his hardest? It might matter to the individual player and his image, but it likely doesn’t matter to the tournament.

Golf has long been known for it’s emphasis on self-regulation. It’s often said that if you want to teach your kids integrity, have them take up golf. Every round of golf offers the opportunity to cheat and to cheat yourself by giving in by becoming apathetic. What builds character is persevering when your fades are hooking and you’re hitting out of divots.

However, there’s no direct opponent in stroke play, so throwing a match isn’t possible. Even if a player does “check out early,” his impact on the tournament is far less noticeable than when a top ranked tennis player throws a match. And no one at home can tell when a golfer is displaying a “lack of effort.”

One of the many great things about televised golf is that it ignores most golfers (excepting Tiger Woods) when they’re not playing well. It’s tough to pull away from a featured tennis match.

(Or maybe professional golf needs an integrity committee along with it’s new drug testing policy.)

Golf Course Architecture

It has been years since I was really into golf. My desire to play faded through college, and went away altogether while I was working in Washington D.C. Law school consumed me for another year and sent me to China during the prime golfing months this past summer. There was always an excuse. And I was lazy and busy, if that makes any sense.

But now, for some reason, I’m returning to the game that I grew up loving. The only problem is that with winter nearing (although, you wouldn’t know it if you looked outside today – 70* and sunny), the PGA Tour winding down and the Silly Season offering only mild entertainment, I’m looking for new sources of golf entertainment to satisfy my recently rejuvenated jones for all things golf.

The topic of golf course architecture has caught my eye. I’ve subscribed to several blogs that write about it frequently – Geoff Shackelford, Ian Andrew’s “Caddy Shack”, On Golf Architecture, and The Golf Course as Art. I have no desire to design a golf course. My interest is form a player’s perspective. If I can understand the courses I’m playing better and the design elements behind them, then perhaps I can better position my shots during a round. The history of it is intriguing, too.

My two home courses while growing up were very different in design. One was the Traverse City Golf and Country Club, a course “designed and built by Tom Bendelow, a Scotsman from Aberdeen who was one of America’s pioneer golf course architects.” The course is a traditional tree lined country club type course and the management has recently made an effort to open up some of the holes with the addition of heather.

The other course was The Bear at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Michigan. The Bear is a Jack Nicklaus designed course, and is very typical of an early Nicklaus design – many holes demand high fade shots.

In fact, the playing experience at The Bear is summarized perfectly by this quote from a recent article in The Weekly Standard titled, “Putting Golf Back on Course.”

On many of [Jack’s] courses, the average player will lose half a dozen balls a round, many of them having found a watery grave in one of the man-made water-hazards of which Nicklaus is so fond. As a player, Nicklaus probably wouldn’t even notice many of the water hazards that litter his courses. But the typical golfer does.

My novice observation is that there is a clash between minimalist architects who favor using what the land provides and fitting a design to the land and new-age architects who strive to define exactly how each hole should be played.

I’ll be reading more about golf course architecture and seeking books and articles as winter settles in.

Roundup: Beaver Meadows GC

I played the front nine of Beaver Meadows Golf Club for the second time this past Wednesday. Like last time, I played about five balls on each hole – usually into the green. The weather was nice – 60* – and I was striking the ball better than a week ago. My biggest complaint is that I seem to be pushing a lot of my tee shots, especially with my driver.

“Getting stuck,” they call it.

Fry’s Electronics Open

The Fry’s Electronics Open starts today in Scottsdale, AZ. Phil Mickelson is a playing, so that’s kind of a reason to watch a Fall Series event. If you care about who keeps their tour card, then that’s another reason to watch. A lot of golf blogs are smothering the issue of what players are on the bubble.

Use your imagination to make the remaining few weeks of the PGA Tour’s 2007 season matter.

These guys’ lives are on the line. If they don’t make the cut, they’re either heading back to Q-School or hunting around for sponsor’s exemptions for a year. Their livelihood is at stake. A guy could be having a baby and need to secure his card to feed the kid. Or he could be waiting on that big win to buy an engagement ring for his sweetheart.

The failure or success of these pursuits is televised. Live. Love could go unanswered. Children could starve. Tune in.

Gatorade Tiger – Biggest Athlete Ever?

Woods to Unveil ‘Gatorade Tiger’ in 2008 – New York Times:

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Golfweek magazine reported last month it was for five years and could pay Woods as much as $100 million, moving him closer to the $1 billion mark in career endorsements.

This reminds me of a debate I had about who was a more prominent athlete, Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. I’m a golf fan and I’m biased. I’ve also grown up following Woods’ accomplishments, starting with his U.S. Junior Amateur three-peat. I’m not a basketball fan, and thus cannot fully appreciate Michael Jordan’s accomplishments on the court.

However, Woods seems to have the edge over Jordan off of the course / court. What would be a good measure? Name recognition? That may be biased because Woods is a contemporary athlete while Jordan’s playing years are history. Who earns more isn’t a great measure, either because of inflation and other market forces.

There’s just a gut feeling that Woods is the bigger athlete. He’s consistently ranked as one of, if not the, most influential people in the sports world.

The drawback to Woods’ career, with respect to being a popular athlete, is that golf being the game that it is, Woods’ impact and image may fade faster than Jordan’s. We still see Jordan in Gatorade and Hanes underwear commercial (among other places). If Tiger remains healthy and his drive to compete continues, he could compete well into his 40s on the PGA Tour. Tiger has already played on the PGA Tour for eleven years. He’s easily got another ten to fifteen years to go. Jordan played fourteen seasons, total.

What do you think?

Seasonal Club Selection

Running with the topic of the last post, club selection, I’m curious whether players often change the clubs in their bag depending on the season. This is probably more of a temperature issue. Hitting a 2-iron in 50* weather is not a fun thing to do, and the sting of a mishit can leave your hands ringing for the rest of the round.

I don’t like 5-woods, but I would consider swapping my 2-iron for a 5-wood. Other than that, I wouldn’t change much.

Limited Club Selection

I just answered a post at TheSandTrap, which prompted:

You can only use five clubs to play your next round. Quick! What do you pick?

My response:

The five clubs I would take are:

1) Putter
2) 56* sand wedge
3) 8 iron
4) 3 iron
5) Driver

Wost case scenario, I’m left with a 120 – 135 yard carry over something and the 8 iron flies too far and the wedge too short. But, I suppose I would do a good bit of positioning during the round to avoid that yardage / situation.

Taking a putter seems to be a given for many people. I’m not convinced I would need it. I do pretty well using the blade of my sand wedge. The driver is somewhat irrelevant, too. I could drive with a three-iron and be sufficiently long to score well. On most courses, with the five clubs above I would probably be using the three-iron off of the tee to position for the eight-iron.

Range Notes: To the Course!

I played for the first time in months today. I’ve been hitting range balls every few days for weeks now, savoring the final golfable days of the fall season in New England. The course was beautiful, empty and quiet. The foliage was in full swing. For nine holes, I walked through a corridor of color. The brick red and muted yellow leaves reminded me of high school golf. Back then, the leaves were distractions. They coved up my ball in the fairway and littered my putting line. This afternoon, though, the leaves were a perfect backdrop.

Saying I played nine holes is a little misleading. I basically took the range onto the course and got my $22 worth by playing five to eight balls per hole. It was much more enjoyable than hitting balls on the range, although my weaknesses were highlighted. I drove the ball well. I hit my irons well. I hit some miraculous flop-shots. Putting it all together, however, is something that I’m saving for my next late-fall round.

Where Have All The Characters Gone?

One of my favorite TV shows lately is HBO’s “Deadwood,” a Western set in the 1870s in what later became South Dakota. The strength of the show lies with its characters, the prime example being Al Swearengen, a saloon owner and general overseer of the town. Al’s authenticity jumps off of the screen. He is cruel, funny and intelligent all at once. And that’s before he’s opened his mouth to swear at you and offer you a drink.

When I watch golf, I’m watching for entertainment. As a good golfer, the players’ performances go a long way towards accomplishing that goal. However, to a less dedicated golfer or to a non-golf fan, golf is very unwatchable. The players performances cannot be appreciated and golf doesn’t seem to conjure up that universal nostalgic feeling that baseball does for many folks. Instead, non-golf fans are left with dorky commentary and an abundance of quickly clipped shots of various no-name golfers.

Part of the reason I became so enamored with golf in the first place was because some of the players of the past had such strong characters. They put their personalities on display instead of tucking them neatly into the side-pocket of their golf bag along with their watch and other valuables. Guys – who seemed more like guys than professionals or men – like Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Travino had fun with the game. They joked with the gallery and seemed to genuinely enjoy what they were doing. Even Arnold Palmer would hitch his pants for the gallery.

You don’t see players’ personalities anymore more unless it’s in a made for TV special. Only then might they cautiously reveal that they’re wine connoisseurs or they like to snowboard. Whoopie. But, get them back on the course and it’s like they’re in a business meeting – a focus fest – an anti-smile-a-thon.

Well, they’ve raised a lot of money lately. Maybe it’s time to give some back. Crack a smile guys. Give a fan a high-five. It’s good for the game and who knows, maybe you’ll inspire some other nine-year old kid to pick up a club and start talking up his game on the range.

Valero Texas Open: Round One

The Valero Texas Open begins today. The Texas Open has been played in San Antonio, TX since 1922, which makes San Antonio the longest running host city of any PGA Tour event.

Colt Knost, who won this year’s U.S. Amateur, is making his PGA Tour debut thanks to a sponsor’s exemption. This guy turned down invites to three of next year’s major championships to try to play his way onto the PGA Tour this fall.

Other watchables include Texan (and Prince Andrew look-alike) Justin Leonard, John “Long Ball” Daly, the owner of the coolest name in golf, Spike McRoy, and one of my all-time favorite players, Corey Pavin.

To the reader: Are you going to watch this week’s Texas Open? Why?

Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf

Considering the reach of the Presidents Cup reminded me of the made-for-TV golf matches cum travel show Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. This show was a tightly edited match between two professional golfers. The show first ran from 1962 through 1970 and then later from 1994 to 2002.

My memories of the show are of host Jack Whitaker droaning on about how wonderfully marvelous the players as well as the course were. It was sappy, to say the least, but hearing the players joke around and seeing them play in the relaxed atmosphere was exciting to me as a young golf fan.

I was wondering whether Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf lived up to its name as a truly worldly show. What I found surprised me. The initial run of the show seemed to be more far reaching in terms of playing locations than the more recent run of the show. Between 1962 and 1970 the show visited destinations such as Tokyo, New Zealand, Singapore, India, the Philippines, Thailand, and many places in North America and Western Europe. The later run from 1994 to 2002 was noticeably less adventurous. Most of the destinations were in the Americas or Carribbean. Only a smattering are in Western Europe.

Golf is clearly more far reaching than ever, but is the curtailed travel schedule of the recent Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf episodes evidence that the Presidents Cup would not go over well with a U.S. audience if played in some of the most far reaching locals?

(Information from Wikipedia.com.)(The Golf Channel is the current home to Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, however their website for the show is semi-defunct and outdated.)