Mike Purkey: Friends can be competitors and vise versa

Justin Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, competes with good friends Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler on the PGA Tour. (Jeff Siner photo)

On an episode of “The Haney Project” on Golf Channel in 2009, Charles Barkley visited Hank Haney’s house and the two of them started shooting pool. Haney squeaked out a win in the first game and in the second game, Barkley ran the table without allowing Haney a shot, looking like he had done that kind of thing before.

“It’s not personal,” Barkley said with a huge grin. “It’s just competition.”

When Justin Thomas came off the 18th green in the final round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, he was greeted by Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, who had hung around after they finished to see if Thomas could win his first major championship.

Most PGA Tour players would have already hopped aboard their private jets and headed home, shooting their friend a text if he closed the deal. These young players are a little different.

After Thomas won the Dell Technologies Championship on Monday, Spieth was talking to a gaggle of reporters when Thomas walked by. Spieth interrupted the interrogation to walk over and give Thomas a hug, offering his congratulations. He came back and finished the interview session.

Some in the game don’t particularly like the fact that Spieth, Thomas, Fowler and others can be such good friends while they’re supposed to be competing ferociously with them. They think it harms the value of the competition.

You don’t have to hate your opponents to want very badly to beat them. But these young players can fight with 100 percent effort on the golf course, separating the personal from the competitive.

“I mean, I’m probably more excited than anything to get home and see one of my roommates, Tom Lovelady, who just got his PGA Tour card,” Thomas said after winning the Dell Technologies Championship, his fifth victory of the 2016-17 season. “He gets home Tuesday night, and we’re going to have a little dinner, celebrate on Wednesday. I’m more excited to see him and just tell him congrats than I am to celebrate my own victory.”

And if that doesn’t fit the description of selfish, narcissistic individual athletes that you’re accustomed to, welcome to the new normal in professional golf. But that doesn’t mean these players are 100 percent pure in their good wishes for their friends.

“I still get jealous,” Thomas says. “Any time any of my friends win and I don’t, I’m extremely happy for them, I’m pumped for them, I’m excited but I’m jealous. I wish I had three majors right now (like Spieth). I mean, I’m obviously pleased with one but I wish I had three.”

Make no mistake, this is not the first instance of close friends competing with one another on the PGA Tour. It goes back as long as there’s been a Tour. But there have been no other players who make their friendship as public as these guys do, sharing tweets and Instagram posts of their spring break trips with the world.

Spieth, Thomas and Fowler are the most visible of the friends, but Smylie Kaufman and others are included in this group. And it’s just a happy coincidence that they played junior golf against each other, played summer competition against each other and college golf against each other. They have just chosen not to go their separate ways once they came to the PGA Tour.

“I just think we grew up together,” Spieth said. “I think that happens with the people that — I mean, you grow up and you watch each other work from when you’re 14 years old. We roomed together when we were 14 years old. (Thomas is) one of my best friends in the whole world.

“Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods), if you’re going to use that as an example, they didn’t grow up together, room together, all that stuff, stay in touch through college and play in the same tournaments. I think it’s just a different situation when you kind of grow up, spend a lot of time. Justin and Rick(ie Fowler), they live on the same street and they spend most of their time at home together.”

Spieth knows that his friendships are unusual and concedes that not everyone might understand.

“We can share experiences with each other that we can’t really describe or explain to anybody else that’s our age, or very few, I should say, and it creates a unique relationship,” he says.

Atlantic Dunes named S.C. Course of the Year


The island green par-3 ninth hole at Atlantic Dunes on Hilton Head Island, which was redesigned by Davis Love III. (Photo courtesy of Atlantic Dunes Golf Club)


For at least 30 years, Davis Love III has had a soft spot in his heart for Sea Pines Resort, especially Harbour Town Golf Links and its annual PGA Tour event, the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. And that’s not just because Hilton Head Island is a short drive from his home on Sea Island, Ga.

In 1987, Love won the first PGA Tour title of his career at Harbor Town – it was the MCI Heritage Classic then – and took home a tournament-record five tartan jackets as champion (1991-92, 1998, 2003). The last was the 17th of his 21 Tour victories.

Love, now 53 and winding down his PGA Tour playing career, most recently serving as U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 2014 and 2016, still plays the Heritage each April. But the past two years, he and members of his Love Golf Design firm spent even more time there, crafting Sea Pines’ third golf course – formerly the Ocean Course, Hilton Head Island’s oldest – into Atlantic Dunes, a creation that complements Harbour Town and the resort’s other Pete Dye design, Heron Point.

How good a job did Love, his brother Mark and design associate Scot Sherman do? In August, Atlantic Dunes was named Golf Course of the Year by the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association, ahead of Isle of Palms’ Wild Dunes Links Course (built in the 1980s by Tom Fazio) and Myrtle Beach’s Man O’ War, a Dan Maples project.

Both Harbour Town (2004) and Heron Point (2015) also previously won the award. Not bad company.

“(Course design is) a fun way to extend your career,” Davis Love said at the course’s opening last November, after a month delay due to Hurricane Matthew. Atlantic Dunes is Love’s 21st design, three in South Carolina.

Sherman, a Furman University graduate and Greenville, S.C., resident, also had personal ties to Hilton Head, being a Pete Dye protégé and former associate of Irmo, S.C. native Bobby Weed. Atlantic Dunes totally re-imagined a 1995 renovation of the old Ocean Course by former Tour player Mark McCumber.

Sherman says Love’s goal was to “improve playability” on what had been an old, flat layout, upgrading the infrastructure to “make it more memorable.” Some 500-600 trees were removed and 55,000 cubic yards of dirt moved, as well as adding 14 miles of drainage pipes and 19 miles of irrigation – oh, and 15,000 tons of sand, which is apparent in the course’s numerous dunes.

The Love team added 50,000 native plants, seaside grasses and coquina shells to the site’s 42 acres, which is twice the footprint of Harbour Town. “We replaced everything: grass, irrigation, drainage, and moved three acres of water,” Sherman said. Total cost: nearly $11 million.

Cary Corbitt, vice president of sports and operations for Sea Pines, calls Atlantic Dunes “the ideal complement to Harbour Town and Heron Point. We’re honored to receive” the SCGCOA award, he said. Atlantic Dunes previously was named No. 7 in Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play in South Carolina.”

Sherman says Atlantic Dunes reflects Love’s philosophy (shared by Dye) of making a golf course that looks tough but plays easier than it seems.

“The course can intimidate you visually,” Sherman said, but in fact, its fairway corridors are the widest of the Sea Pines courses. “Alice (Dye, Pete’s wife and an architect herself) always says you want to give every level of player a place to go,” he said.

Difficulty for better players is a result of the extensive use of water, which is around or in play on most holes, plus 81 bunkers and plenty of large dunes that frame most fairways.

When it was the Ocean Course, “it didn’t feel like it was near the ocean, and we wanted to evoke that in the Atlantic Dunes feel,” Sherman said. “Even the bridges have rope railings.” The course’s variety of holes requires a variety of shots, but the designers say playability is the main ingredient.

“We (golf course architects) have made the game so hard for the average guy, but you have to make a fit for everyone,” Love said, referring to the resort clientele. “We’ve dialed back the degree of difficulty.”

That said, the threat of water reveals itself early and continues to the course’s last four holes. The signature hole is the uphill, par-3 15th, playing 137 to 205 yards, and with the beach backing the green, it’s one of two oceanfront holes on Hilton Head.

The short (323-394 yards) dogleg right 16th demands accuracy to avoid dunes, and then Atlantic Dunes has two long, water-guarded finishing holes: the par-5 17th, which ends at a peninsula green, and the muscular par-4 18th, which plays up to 462 yards and was a par-5 in its previous life.

“I have a reverence for Harbour Town,” Sherman said. Of course, everyone knows how Davis Love feels about the island and its courses. For information about Atlantic Dunes, visit www.seapines.com/golf, or call (866) 561-8802.


Day Trip: Tobacco Road Golf Club

The first hole at Tobacco Road Golf Club, designed by Mike Strantz. (Photo Courtesy of Tobacco Road Golf Club)

Where: Tobacco Road Golf Club, Sanford, N.C.

The Skinny: Tobacco Road was designed by the late Mike Strantz, who was not only a golf course architect but an artist and a visionary. Strantz might be best known for his designs at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue in Pawley’s Island, S.C., but his work at Tobacco Road is nothing short of remarkable.

The land on which Tobacco Road sits was once used for raising tobacco but later became a sand quarry. Through Strantz’s vivid imagination, Tobacco Road became an artistic creation. The land heaves and swells and fairways are bordered by sandy waste areas and native grasses. The player also needs a good imagination to play Tobacco Road, as visually, the course demands that you choose a shot and commit to it. Strantz said that he wanted to test “a player’s eye, determination, and wits.”

Tobacco Road was Strantz’s fifth solo design and opened in 1998. Strantz worked for Tom Fazio as an on-site designer before venturing out on his own. He studied the writings and philosophy of Dr. Alister Mackenzie and put many of Mackenzie’s design characteristics into his own. Caledonia was his first solo design.

Strantz died in 2005 after a fight with cancer. He was 50.

Says Golf Club Atlas: “Mike Strantz stood out as an architect capable of building something different and exciting – sometimes shockingly so. ‘I have never seen anything like this before’ is the standard cliché after playing your first Strantz course.” That’s exactly what you will say after playing Tobacco Road.

The Tab: Monday through Thursday, greens fees are $100 per player and $130 Friday through Sunday.

For More: www.tobaccoroadgolf.com


Bridgestone’s Tour B offers something for everyone

Bridgestone Golf has revamped its popular premium golf ball line. Beginning Oct. 2, the company will introduce the Tour B series with four different models, depending on the individual player’s needs. The Tour B replaces the company’s long-running B330 series.

Bridgestone is noted for its ball fitting process and has a database of more than 3 million in-person and online ball fittings that it used in the development of the new Tour B models. They used this data to determine how specific characteristics would benefit different players.

The Tour B X and XS are for the low-handicap player who is seeking enhanced feel. Due to a softer urethane cover, the X and XS give the better player more spin and control around the green.

But that’s not all, says the company. The X and XS deliver more distance because Bridgestone’s signature 330 Dual Dimple design has been improved and enhanced. The X is for the player looking for more accuracy and the XS is for increased distance.

The RX and RXS are for low-to-mid handicap players and have a different Dual Dimple design, with 338 dimples. The RX will deliver more accuracy, the company says and the RXS is for players looking for better feel.

According to the company, Bridgestone owns more than 1,000 golf ball patents and has more than 900 engineers worldwide.

“The secret to our success is in the data, as we rely on our database of millions of swings to understand how golfers of all skill levels are hitting the ball,” says Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone Golf marketing manager.  “We then start to build out player personas based on trends and collaborate with third party golf industry data sources to further fine-tune each persona bucket.

“Once we have established exact needs of different players we determine which of our proprietary technologies can help them rise above the competition.”


Mike Purkey: Why the City Amateur is important to Charlotte

Xan Law (left) and Braxton McLennan, the executive director of the Charlotte City Amateur. This year’s tournament was played in honor of Law, who died last December. (Photo Courtesy of Braxton McClennan)

The day was over and Braxton McClennan had finally taken a moment to slow down. The Charlotte City Amateur had concluded, the historic trophy was presented to young Will Stewart and the crowd that had come to celebrate Charlotte golf had begun to disperse.

McClennan took a deep breath with something cold to drink in his hand. McClennan is the executive director of the City Am and another successful event was in the books. It is 10 years since McClennan and others saved the City Am from what looked like a certain death.

In 2007, there was no City Am for the first time since 1958, when the tournament began. Some of Charlotte’s top golfers thought that was no less than a crime. A committee was put together and it included former champions Todd Smith, Robby Kirby, Chip Hunter, John Fitch, Robby Kirby, Nolan Mills and others.

One of the others was Xan Law, who won the City Am in 1969. Law died last December of cancer at age 75. He was a force on the committee and this year’s championship was dedicated to Law. Tournament officials wore shirts with an “X” embroidered on the sleeve in Law’s honor.

Law led the charge to recruit the best clubs in town to host the event. Other committee members were skeptical. But Law reached out to Charlotte Country Club and Quail Hollow Club and others and asked them to participate. And they did.

Each year, the tournament is spread out, with one round each at three different clubs. This year, Cedarwood Country Club hosted the first round, the second round was at Carmel Country Club’s North Course and Quail Hollow hosted the final round. That reduces each club’s commitment, making it easier to say yes when the City Am comes calling.

The City Am is not the biggest golf event in Charlotte, but it might be the most important. The heartbeat of the game in any city is the players. They support the daily fee courses and private clubs. They buy the golf balls and equipment. They rally behind charitable causes that use golf as a vehicle to raise money. They buy the tickets to the Wells Fargo Championship and the PGA Championship.

The City Am identifies the best player in Mecklenburg County for the year. But the tournament contributes much more.

“It’s important to Charlotte because it brings the community together,” McClennan said. “It brings people who love the game together. It builds such wonderful relationships with the people you meet in this tournament. It’s such a great community centered in the game of golf.”

And the championship is democratic with 205 players entered this year from all walks of life, from public courses and private clubs, from juniors to seniors. All hoping to be part of the deep and rich history of Charlotte golf.

Former City Am champions include Smith, who was a former ACC champion, former U.S. Amateur finalist David Strawn, former PGA Tour players Terry Mauney and Skip Dunaway, the storied Leon Crump, and six-time champion Joe Jaspers.

And in 1958, the first year of the event, a young Charlotte News sportswriter named Ron Green finished second to Bill Williamson. The City Am trophy now bears the name of Ron Green Sr., who contributed more than anyone can imagine to golf in Charlotte and who was in attendance on Sunday at Quail Hollow, mostly watching his grandson, Jake McGlone, finish tied for ninth in the championship.

For the longest time, the top players didn’t compete in the City Am for a number of reasons, which included the venues and problems with pace of play. But that’s all been solved.

“It feels good to have the best players in Charlotte come up and tell you this is the tournament they put on their calendar first, before any other event,” McClennan said.

And now, 10 years on, McClennan and the committee spend long hours creating a championship worthy of the city it represents.

“I do it because I care,” McClennan said. “I love Charlotte and I care. It’s a labor of love.”

McConnell COO: Private clubs alive and well

Providence Country Club has undergone $1.3 million in renovations after having been bought by Raleigh-based McConnell Golf. (Photo Courtesy of McConnell Golf)

“I have to disappoint you,” said Christian Anastasiadis. “We haven’t picked an architect yet.”

We were calling to get an update on the renovations at Providence Country Club, which was bought by McConnell Golf in early 2016. John McConnell, the CEO of the Raleigh-based private club group, had promised that the golf course would be redesigned by an architect with a recognizable name.

“There are three (McConnell) has in mind,” said Anastasiadis, who is the chief operating officer at McConnell Golf, without revealing any names. “Two of the three have been to the facility and the third has not yet visited.”

What Anastasiadis could tell us is that $1.3 million of renovations to the clubhouse are about to be completed. The fitness center and golf shop locations were reversed and as a result, the fitness center doubled in size and the golf shop has been completely renovated. Private trainers are available and there is a playhouse activity center for children and teens. “It has truly become a family center,” Anastasiadis said.

McConnell Golf now owns 12 private clubs in the Carolinas and Tennessee and if you’re a member of one, you are a member of all 12. Anastasiadis suggests there is a rejuvenation of interest in private clubs, particularly among younger people.

“Millennials love private clubs,” he said. “They love clubs, period. They want to be a part of a community, to be part of a group. The private club industry has an opportunity to capture that.

“We are building clubs of the future and we have to create the culture from the inside out. When clubs make changes, very few people outside the board members and staff members know why they are making those changes. We are telling people why we are there. We believe in being involved in the community.

“When you tell them why, you will create such enthusiasm they want to be part of it. You will attract people who believe what you believe.”

Anastasiadis says there is a significant uptick in membership at Providence Country Club for all those reasons.

“You can’t just tell people you have a great golf course,” he says. “That’s not enough. There are a lot of great golf courses. And attracting people to golf has to change. We need six-hole loops or three-hole loops so that people can come after work and play a few holes.

“If you build sustainable golf courses, this is a message that will start to impress.”