Mike Purkey: Solving the slow-play scourge

Gary Woodland waits to play a shot at the PGA Championship. (Charlotte Observer file photo)

Lost amid the celebration, the pats on the back and the self-congratulations on the success of the PGA Championship, an underlying problem in golf – professional and rank-and-file – bubbled to the surface late Saturday evening.

The last two groups of threesomes in the third round of the PGA Championship played 18 holes of golf in 5 hours, 40 minutes. And no one in charge said a word, at least not publicly. Of all the governing bodies, the PGA of America has the most responsibility to take the lead to solve golf’s biggest issue.

The PGA of America represents 28,000 club professionals in the U.S., who are on the front lines every day, trying to get the golfers at their courses around 18 holes in a decent pace. If you’ve ever been at a daily fee course on a busy day, you know what the pros are up against.

But to ignore such an egregious example of slow play at its biggest championship, the PGA turns its back on its own stated values. How are we to grow the game by giving a blind eye to one of the things that keep people from coming to our game and drive some people away from it.

To be fair, the PGA of America deals with this – or chooses not to deal with it – only once a year. While that doesn’t abdicate its responsibility, we can’t lay the entire blame on the slow-play problem at the feet of the club pros.

Where the real issue lies is with the PGA Tour, whose officials day in and day out are supposed to keep their players moving. If you ask anyone at the level of vice president and above at the Tour if there’s a pace-of-play problem, they will publicly deny it. They mistakenly believe that their internal policing of the time it takes to play is sufficient by itself.

They’re wrong. The PGA Tour chooses to pay no more than lip service to its own inability to have leaders on the weekend play in less than 5½ hours. The Tour hands out a few insignificant fines to a handful of dawdlers and washes its hands of the rest.

Nothing significant will ever happen concerning slow play until the Tour – or any governing body – hits the guilty with penalty shots. That’s the only thing touring professionals understand. They can pay the fines in cash on the spot with what they have in their money clips.

And that’s where the PGA of America should come in. Wouldn’t it be brave of the PGA to hand out penalty shots in the middle of its championship? Wouldn’t it tell the rest of the golf world that it draws a line in the sand about pace of play and intends to seriously do something about it?

But that’s never going to happen. There is a faction that says the best players in the world are playing for millions of dollars every week and are playing for history in the four major championships. They should be allowed to take as much time as they need. Officials of the governing bodies are reticent to affect the outcome of a championship with a penalty stroke for slow play.

And that’s why if we are going to do anything about how long it takes to play golf, we will have to do it ourselves. The USGA tried the “While We’re Young” campaign with little measurable success.

So, speeding up play will depend on you and your foursome. That’s where it starts. Play ready golf. When it’s your turn, don’t waste time. Measure the distance to the flag while someone else is hitting. Line up your putt while someone else is putting. When you’re past double bogey, pick up. When you’re out of the hole, pick up.

We all want to play real golf, but we can do so at a quicker pace. All grassroots movements start with the individual. Play faster. It will rub off on the rest of your foursome.

Pay no attention to the Tour players. Left alone, they will grind big-time golf to an agonizing halt.

 

Orangeburg Country Club gets entire face lift

Orangeburg Country Club’s 13th green after a complete renovation of the entire course. (Photo courtesy of Orangeburg Country Club)

By Bob Gillespie

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – In a golf course architecture career spanning nearly 20 years as his own boss, and including work on 50-plus courses – some while apprenticing under Dan Maples and Georgia’s Dennis Griffiths – Richard Mandell has heard plenty of requests/directives from the people paying his fee.

The Pinehurst designer says he doesn’t recall any quite like what he heard from Orangeburg businessman Frank Tourville.

“He said he wanted ‘the best … golf course in South Carolina,’ ” Mandell said, laughing. “I found out pretty quickly that ‘Mr. T’ doesn’t do anything second-class.”

That was in mid-2009, when Tourville – founder and chairman of Zeus Inc., manufacturers of polymer tubing for medical products and wiring/engineering work, including Boeing airliners – met with Mandell to discuss restoring Orangeburg Country Club, a 1960s Ellis Maples design. Four months and an undisclosed amount of Tourville’s money later, the result was a spectacular success.

Completed around Halloween of 2009, the course features lush Bermuda fairways, dramatic bunkering and Champion Bermuda greens (the first in South Carolina) with quickness and undulations, plus a host of upgraded amenities – a “palatial” clubhouse, pool area, tennis courts, driving range and short-game practice area – beyond what most communities this size (13,196 in 2016) can boast.

“It had been run down for a few years, getting little attention,” Mandell said. “The superintendent (Tom Green) was struggling with resources. But we recognized that the course had great ‘bones,’ and you don’t screw with those.

“It had lost some of its bite, but the course has great variety – long and short (holes), doglegs left and right, straight – all that was in the routing. We just wakened it up (and) put some teeth back in it.”

Tourville acquired the former Country Club of Orangeburg on May 19, 2009, after the 50-year-old facility – its membership down by half to about 300 members – had come within days of bankruptcy.

“The last thing I wanted to do was get into the golf course business,” said Tourville, whose home is off the fourth fairway. “But I didn’t want a cotton field in my backyard, either.”

The 83-year-old bought the course for $1, assumed some $800,000 in debt and pledged to spend $1.5 million for capital improvements over a three-year span. Then he – and Mandell – did much more. Mandell declines to disclose the exact amount.

“We did a lot more than $1.5 million,” he conceded. “As (Tourville) got into it, we had things we needed to finish, and he wasn’t going to let it be (inadequate).

“I will tell you we addressed what needed to be, but we were smart with things,” Mandell said. “He’s prudent with his money, and so am I.”

Case in point: Mandell decided not to rebuild the course’s push-up greens to USGA specifications “because there was a better solution for putting,” he said. “A lot (of owners) insist on that, which is why (some renovations) are so expensive. But these greens were good.”

Good, but small. Using 1963 aerials, Mandell determined the greens had lost a third of their surface area over the years. Mandell, Green and Augusta-based Course Doctors restored the original dimensions, going from 81,775 square feet of putting surfaces to the current 122,881 – “almost a 50 percent increase,” Mandell said.

“We massaged the greens to fit a bigger area,” he said, “and adjusted things to soften slopes for modern green speeds. Once we connected all those things, I think they’re the best greens complexes I’ve ever done.”

Mandell said working with Tourville – who built a once-small company into one of the polymer tubing industry’s innovative leaders – was energizing. “He’s definitely a visionary,” the architect said. “He puts the right people in place. He’s demanding, but he knows how to get the most from people.”

The result is a strong re-addition to the S.C. Midlands, which get less attention for golf than the state’s coastal and mountain regions. Membership is up (to around 450) and the club is pushing for out-of-town members, offering sweetheart monthly dues and no initiation or food/beverage charges.

“If (Tourville) can get where it’s making money each year, that’s what he’s looking for,” said Dan Hydrick, a club member and friend of the owner. “They say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but he disproved it.”

Added Marion Dantzler, a native and longtime mini-tour player: “I’ve played some nice courses around the country, and (Tourville has) given not only Orangeburg but South Carolina a championship golf course in this little town … This is as good as any I’ve played.”

Mandell appreciates that assessment. “Mr. T gave me the resources and the trust,” he said. “I hope he’s happy with it.”

Tourville grins when asked. “If we hadn’t (bought the club), Orangeburg wouldn’t have a golf club,” he said. “So we did it – and we did it right.”

In his mind, at least, he got just what he asked for from Mandell.

 

Bob Gillespie is a former newspaper golf reporter and freelancer living in Columbia, S.C.

 

 

5 must-play courses on the Grand Strand

The scenic 8th green at Caledonia. (Photo courtesy of Caledonia Golf and Fish Club)

We’re entering the time when golf is at its best along the Grand Strand. Golf in the fall on the coast doesn’t get much better. There are about 100 courses in the greater Myrtle Beach area, many of which are high quality. Here are five must-play tracks on any trip to the beach:

Caledonia Golf and Beach Club: Designed by the late Mike Strantz, Caledonia is one of the artist’s best creations. It weaves its way through tall pines, ancient live oaks and wetlands and the beauty matches the integrity of the layout. Caledonia is quite short by modern standards but still is a good test by anyone’s measure.

Dunes Club: The best at the beach for years, the Dunes Club attracts golfers of all stripes. Designed by Robert Trent Jones in 1948, it features sandy, rolling, tree-lined terrain and much more elevation change than you’d expect along the ocean. Every hole is unique, which makes the whole a much grander course.

TPC Myrtle Beach: Opened in 1999, this TPC hosted the 2000 Senior Tour Championship, won by Tom Watson. This Tom Fazio design is one of his best and TPC Myrtle Beach regularly appears on lists of the best courses in South Carolina.

Tidewater Golf Club: Tidewater could be the most scenic course on the Grand Strand, with nine holes along either the Intracoastal Waterway or the Cherry Grove Inlet. Designed by Ken Tomlinson, who once owned Tidewater, it opened to rave reviews .

Barefoot Resort (Love Course): All the courses at Barefoot Resort are worth playing, but if you had to pick one it would be the Love Course. Designed by Davis Love III, it has a distinct Lowcountry feel and minimalist in its design. It is also routed on the front nine through the ruins of a plantation. The Love Course is a regular on the top 100 courses open to the public.

Get a grip with MCC Align

Golf Pride’s MCC Align grips get a golfer’s hands in the correct position. (Photo courtesy of Golf Pride)

It’s a tough sell to convince golfers that a change in grips can make you play better golf. But think about it: The grip is your only contact with the club and if you feel good with the grip in your hands, shouldn’t that mean that you have a better chance to hit a good shot?

The folks at Golf Pride believe they have the answer to that question with their new MCC Align grips. The MCC was already the top hybrid grip on the PGA Tour – cord in the top hand and rubber in the bottom hand. But one important innovation was added – the Align technology that features a raised ridge at the back of the grip.

Reminder ridges have been available in grips for years. And the company says that 1 in 3 PGA Tour players play with reminders in their grips. What sets the Align apart is the notion that the ridge in the MCC has a diamond texture pattern and material that is 50 percent firmer than the rest of the grip to enable the player to have a more pronounced feel.

The result, the company says, is that the golfer has a better chance to lock his or her hands on the club the right way – every time. And if you follow the logic, that leads to a square clubface at impact much more often.

The grips are available in the MCC and the MCC Plus 4, which is larger in the bottom hand section. Both are available in regular and mid-size.

Mike Purkey: Quail Hollow – Great? Or just plain hard?

Quail Hollow’s members now have a brute of a difficult course. Is it enough to test the best players in the world? (File photo)

When Tom Fazio got the call from Johnny Harris in 1993 to formulate a plan to redesign Quail Hollow Club, the vision was to not only bring the PGA Tour back but to bring a major championship to Charlotte.

The major is here but what has happened to Quail Hollow? What once was a course that was so universally praised has become just plain hard. The changes that have been made in last four years have all been designed to make Quail more difficult for the best players in the world and have not necessarily made it better.

What Quail Hollow and its members have now is a stadium built purely for professional golf. We will find out this week if it can defend itself from extraordinarily low scores. But history will decide whether Quail is now a great course.

From 1969-79, the PGA Tour played the Kemper Open at Quail on a 1961 George Cobb design that was fun for the members but not a particularly good test for the pros. Fazio turned Quail Hollow completely on its head. In 1996, the new Quail Hollow opened, which included the new 18th hole, a demanding par-4 with a stream running completely down the left side of the fairway, a place where pars go to die.

What the Quail Hollow members had was a PGA Tour caliber golf course. And the pros raved. Almost to a man, the Tour players who came for the first Wachovia Championship in 2003 gushed about how they loved the new course. Quail Hollow, they said, was a traditional old-style design, not like many of the modern venues they play on Tour.

The players liked the fact that Quail was tree-lined and the holes were right in front of you. The course was not tricked up and it required all of your skill to play. David Toms won the inaugural at 10-under-par 278.

But Harris wasn’t satisfied. In 2013, he had the 16th hole redesigned where the green sits hard by the lake that borders four holes on the back nine. The new 16th was infinitely more difficult than the old one and now Quail had a demanding finishing stretch. The 16th is a par-4 of 505 yards, the par-3 17th stretches to 223 yards and the 18th is 494 yards – now called the Green Mile, arguably the most difficult finish on the PGA Tour.

But Rory McIlroy won the Wells Fargo in 2015 with a 61 in the third round and surely Harris didn’t see a 61 on the new and improved – and more difficult – Quail Hollow.

So Harris and Fazio rolled out plans to build three new holes and modify a fourth. They presented the plans to the PGA of America in January 2016 and the executives couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Construction was to begin hours after the 2016 Wells Fargo was completed. And they had a 90-day window to do it.

With three shifts of rotating crews, Quail Hollow members were playing on the new holes on Day 89. A new first hole – a par-5 for the members – will play as a 524-yard par-4. Make no mistake, this hole was not designed to give the members a gentle starting hole. It was built to strike fear in the hearts of the touring professionals right out of the gate.

The result is less a natural golf course, with ebbs and flows that require thought off the tee and into the greens. It’s more 18 separate holes in which players are required to hit it as hard as they can for the shortest approach shot possible.

The driver will be the most important club at the PGA Championship, particularly with 3 inches or so of Bermuda rough. There are three par-4s more than 500 yards and a fourth – the 18th – nearly so.

But what about the members? Those who belong to Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh have a perverse pride about playing at what might be the hardest course in America, certainly with the highest green speeds. But what fun is it for scratch players not to break 80?

The course rating by the Carolinas Golf Association from the back tees at Quail Hollow is 77.2, which means that an expert player should shoot 77 or better only about 20 percent of the time.

When the PGA Championship leaves and the Wells Fargo one day does the same, the members will be left with this creation. Is it a great course or just hard? It will up to the members to ultimately decide.

 

5 under the radar at the PGA Championship

Matt Kuchar could be one of the dark horses at the PGA Championship this week. (File photo)

Somehow, the PGA Championship seems to produce champions who rank among the unexpected. For instance, like defending champion Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley. Remember Y.E. Yang and Shaun Micheel? While everyone else touts the usual suspects for this week’s PGA Championship, here are five players who are flying under the radar. One of them could be this year’s Dufner or Walker.

Matt Kuchar – Kuchar has to wonder what he has to do to win one of these things. If not for Spieth’s otherworldly turnaround at the Open Championship, Kuchar might have been Champion Golfer of the Year for his first major. But he has the perfect game for Quail Hollow – straight and steady – and would fit the mold of a PGA Championship winner.

Charlie Hoffman – One of the great stealth players on Tour, Hoffman has the knack of appearing on leaderboards, seemingly out of nowhere. He lost in a playoff to Jhonattan Vegas at the RBC Canadian Open and has yet to win on Tour this year. That could all be solved this week.

Daniel Berger – Berger has a victory this year and might have had two if not for Jordan Spieth’s bunker hole-out in the playoff for the Travelers Championship. Berger is sneaky good at a lot of things and has enough game to sneak past all the bigger names this week.

Kevin Kisner – Perhaps the most underrated player on the PGA Tour, Kisner won at Colonial earlier this year, one of the great courses for shotmakers. Kisner has more than enough game to navigate his way around Quail Hollow. He’s not a great putter but if scores turn out to be higher than normal, Kisner could be a good bet.

Kevin Chappell – Chappell won the Valero Texas Open two weeks after a top 10 in a major – a tie for 7th at the Masters. He tied for fourth at the FedEx St. Jude after having a chance to win and had another chance at the RBC Canadian Open but shot 71 in the final round. Once Chappell figures out how good he is, he will win a lot. Maybe even this week.