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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Twelve Toughest Courses I've Ever Played

Recently, Golf Digest put out a list of America's 50 Toughest Golf Courses. I've been thinking about it a little since I'm playing the super-tough Bethpage Black this weekend, which is sixth on the list. I've played six other courses on the list and am scheduled to play the TPC Sawgrass in November. So, I can claim to be credible on the subject. Plus, as a mid-handicapper, tough courses expose my weaknesses much faster than your average course.

What makes a course tough? Lots of things. However, for me it is two things. 1) Super-long par 4s, and 2) Raised green complexes that require precision approach shots. Lots of hazards and funky or fast greens don't bother me too much. Usually my score goes up when the distance is packed into the par 4s and the greens are tough to hold. A third thing that can get me (because I'm a mental midget) is tight driving corridors.

Here's my personal list of 12 Toughest Golf Courses:
1) Princeville Resort (Prince)
2) Wild Dunes (Links)
3) Merion (East)
4) Galloway National
5) Tot Hill Farm
6) The Course at Yale
7) Bulle Rock Golf Club
8) Mattaponi Springs
9) Long Island National
10) The Gauntlet at Curtis Park
11) Bayonne Golf Club
12) Golden Horseshoe (Gold)

Has anyone out there in Networked Golfer Land played a doosie I should check out in my spare time? Disagreements?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The March to 1,000

This week marks a significant milestone in my quest to play 1,000 different golf courses by the time I'm 70. I will be playing courses #200, 201, and 202. It seems like forever ago that I hit 100. Hopefully #250 will come sooner than later.
The lineup looks like this:
Friday: Three Little Bakers in Wilmington, DE
Saturday: Tallgrass Country Club in Shoreham, NY
Sunday: Bethpage State Park (Black) in Farmington, NY
Looking to go as low as possible...

Golfing in Nova Scotia

I have visited over thirty countries, and I will say without cracking even a slight smile that Canada is one of my six or seven favorite countries. I won't go into all of the reasons why, but if you haven't visited, check it out. The best time to go is either June, September, or October (unless you're a skier). And, a bonus is that Canada has some amazing golf courses.
A couple of weeks ago, Sara and I headed up to Nova Scotia for her birthday. I had been wanting to go there for about the past five years, mainly to play Stanley Thompson's famous course, Highlands Links, on Cape Breton Island. I played it and loved it. It's firmly in my top 10 favorite courses of all time at number six. However, I was a dunce because I chose not to bring our camera with me on the course. Since I was a single joining up with three other people, I didn't want to be "that guy" who is snapping pictures throughout the round.
Fortunately, Sara caddied for me a couple of days before at a beautiful nine-holer in Gusyborough called Osprey Shores. She brought the Nikon, and took the following shots. The course is being upgraded by the new owner, Glynn Williams. I believe he has plans to toughen it up, but I like it just the way it is. One would be hard-pressed to find a better setting. The course is on a peninsula on Chedabucto Bay, and from every part of the property you have a view of the water. I played with rentals because United screwed up, but I hit the ball very well, as they were a brand new set of Adams. I hope you like the photos.

From top to bottom: 1) A typical view from the fairway, 2) Teeing off next to the bay, 3) The dutiful and beautiful caddy, and 4) My approach shot at #7

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Phenom Update

With all due respect to El Pato, I'd like to take the focus away from the US Open for a moment.

If you haven't noticed, there are some very young players making bold statements in the world of professional golf. Two of them played in the US Open, and one was in the Nationwide event held over the weekend. They are all age 22 or under, so it would be safe to call them phenoms. They are Anthony Kim, Pablo Martin, and Jaime Lovemark.

I mentioned Lovemark in my June 14th post. You may not have heard, but he lost a playoff on Sunday to Chris Riley (the Chris Riley of Ryder Cup infamy) at the Rochester Area Charities Showdown after shooting a 65 in the final round. The NCAA individual champion looks like he's ready to step up to the next level -- and he just finished his FRESHMAN year at Southern Cal. If the trajectory of his game continues, he'll be one of the hottest tickets in golf by 2009. Mark my words.

Pablo Martin is a much-heralded Spanish golfer who just left Oklahoma State to turn pro. He turned 21 two months ago, and a couple of weeks shy of his birthday, Martin (pronounced mar-TEEN) became the first amateur ever to win on the European Tour. I think that his victory is the most overlooked golf story of the year. I'm sure many of you didn't even know it happened. Then, almost immediately after finishing school, he qualified for the US Open and finished in a tie for 30th. He was right in the thick of it before shooting 77 on Saturday. That's pretty stellar playing for a guy who was in college a month ago. In fact, I have a feeling that he will fulfill the promise that Sergio Garcia has not yet reached. I've watched him play, and he has major game, a fearless attitude, and lots of maturity.

Today is Anthony Kim's 22nd birthday, and he is the one with whom you should be familiar. He left Oklahoma after his junior year (he didn't get along with the coach), and in his first PGA event last, he tied for 2nd. Since then, he has backed it up by nabbing nine top 25s and four top 10s in eighteen events. And, his 67 on Sunday at Oakmont was the second best round of the tournament, and the best in the final round by two strokes. In nine months on Tour, he has zoomed from no status to number 66 in the world. He is now ranked 44th in the President's Cup rankings, and if I were Jack Nicklaus, I'd pick him as a wild card. Kim is a fiery personality who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Thankfully for him, his golf has been doing most of the talking lately.

Sometimes phenoms don't pan out. There is a new set of "young guns" just about every year who are touted as the guys who will take down Tiger. These three may not ever break Tiger's records, but they will be giving him a run for the money in the years to come. I can guarantee it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Where Should the US Open Be Played in the Future?

There's always controversy surrounding US Open venues. After two rounds, it looks like Oakmont is standing up as a perfect course for the championship. Winged Foot was also lauded for its challenge and setup. However, not all venues are created equal.

Next year, Torrey Pines South will be hosting the Open. I think this is a mistake for several reasons. First, the course is thought to be boring and very straightforward. It lacks character. If it didn't play on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, the green fee would top out at $79 on the weekend. Secondly, the decision to give it the Open was triggered by the success of the Open at Bethpage back in 2002. The USGA tries its hardest to put forth a non-elitist image, and hosting Opens at public courses (especially munis) is too tempting for them to resist. Third, Torrey Pines is a regular stop on Tour every spring. Why do they need to play there twice in a three month period?

After Torrey Pines, the schedule looks like this:
2009 - Bethpage - This is a good venue, but the Open was played there seven years prior. That's too little time between championships.
2010 - Pebble Beach - It's hard to argue against Pebble. I think they play there every ten years, which is fine. The only negative is that it serves up another highly likely major for Woods.
2011 - Congressional - This is a fine choice. No complaints.
2012 - Olympic - It's another fine venue and always a strong test.
2013 - Merion - It's been a long time since the Open has been to Merion, but it's about time. I'm glad they figured out how to make it work given the tight spaces around the course for fans and media. My only concern is that the club might have made a deal with the devil: supposedly they are going to redo the greens after the 2009 Walker Cup. I've played Merion, and if they screw with the greens, the members are going to regret it. I guess it's another million in Fazio's pocket.

Beyond 2013, no one except the suits at the USGA have any clue where the Opens will be held. Here are my recommendations:

2014 - Pacific Dunes - The pros would love this course, and the weather would be perfect in June.
2015 - Los Angeles Country Club - The membership won't want it, but it would be worth pleading for it.
2016 - Chicago Golf Club - Classic venue with tons of history. It would be cool to see this exclusive course on TV.
2017 - Shadow Creek - Wouldn't it be totally awesome to have the US Open in Vegas?
2018 - Wade Hampton - This course outside of Asheville, NC would be unlike anything ever seen in an Open. A mountain course would be a totally different and fresh test for the best in the world.
2019 - Scioto - This is Jack Nicklaus' boyhood course. He's going to be redoing the greens this year, and 2019 would be the 60th anniversary of his first US Amateur title. Cool, huh?

My guess it that of all of my recommendations, the only two that have a legitimate shot at hosting an Open anytime soon are Pacific Dunes and Chicago Golf. During the 2014-2019 period, several past venues will most certainly be picked. That's a bit unfortunate, because the PGA of America has been trumping the USGA of late in picking new and different courses, such as Whistling Straits. The USGA should never lose sight of its tradition, but they should not be blinded by it.

Any suggestions from the Networked Golfer faithful?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

USGA Says: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Just for kicks, I thought I would list a few players who were shut out of the U.S. Open this year because they were not exempt and didn't make it through qualifying. Even though all of the "very top" golfers play in the Open every year, I tend to think this tournament is too exclusive and hands out about ten too few exemptions. It's also ironic that an "Open" is so exclusive. Thoughts?

Raphael Jacquelin - won earlier this year in Europe...currently 9th in the Order of Merit standings
Thomas Levet - often plays well in majors...lost playoff to Els at Open Championship in 2002
Paul McGinley - Ryder Cup stalwart year after year
Jean van de Velde - he needs no introduction
Matt Kuchar - former US Amateur Champ who has been playing very well lately
Heath Slocum - my second favorite player from Milton, FL...currently 35th on the money list
Bill Haas - former US Amateur runner-up...nice player
Bo Van Pelt - makes lots of money but can't find the winner's circle
Jesper Parkevik - former top 10 player in the world looking to regain form
Troy Matteson - five top 10s in 2006
Tom Lehman - Ryder Cup captain played in the final group of the US Open three years in a row
John Senden - winner on Tour in 2006...ranked 62 in the world
Jamie Lovemark - recently won the NCAA individual title...swept every college award
Jose Coceres - ranks 4th in scoring average and 80th in the world rankings...has two second place finishes already in 2007
Jason Gore - played in final group of 2005 US favorite who has struggled lately
J.B. Holmes - winner as a rookie in of the best young bombers on Tour
Corey Pavin - former US Open winner at Shinnecock
Tommy Armour III - all-around fun guy
Mark Calcavecchia - won already in 2007 and a dozen other times before that
Miguel Angel Jimenez - one of the best players from Europe in the past 20 years

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Guest Article by Bryan Nourse: Unfair or Challenging?

The following article was submitted this afternoon by the one and only Bryan Nourse, of Fishers, IN. As a single-digit handicapper who has played courses from Cypress Point to L.A. Country Club, Noursey Boy knows his golf. Bryan dissects the course, its history, and how the players will stand up to Oakmont's challenge as one of the toughest golf courses in the world. Enjoy!

The US Open will be taking place this week at the very historic Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is hosting its 8th US Open and the most in US Open history. It has also hosted 5 US Amateur Championships, 3 PGA Championships, 1 women’s US Open (they let women out there?) and several NCAA Division 1 Men's Championships. Much of the talk this year is whether the course is unfair or just challenging to the world's best.

Is it unfair? Let me give you some numbers and commentary. Oakmont Country Club will be playing at a par 70 at 7,355 yards. Its current course rating is 78.6 with a slope of 150. It has a par three (8th Hole) that is measured at 288 yards where most players will be forced to hit driver and will undoubtedly come up short. Out of the 213 players on tour, only 71 of them currently have an average driving distance of 288 yards or higher. The 3rd tier rough is cut at 5 ½ inches. The average fairway width is only 27 yards. Players unanimously agree that par will win this tournament. When The Golf Channel asked Tiger Woods in a press conference what he thought was the easiest hole on the course, he merely responded with, “The 19th.” Analysts are predicting +3 as the winning figure. Sergio mentioned it could possibly be 4 more than that. Phil Mickelson was quoted as saying holes 7 thru 10 are the toughest holes in golf. The greens are a chilling 13-14 on the Stimpmeter, and the undulations are described as excruciating. The greens are so fast that the great Gene Sarazen had a putt in the 1935 Open where the ball finally came to stop at the bottom of a bunker. Palmer three putted 11 times in the 1962 Open. Speaking of sand and bunkers, Oakmont has 210 of them. And if there is a tie after 72 holes, you still gotta go another day to get your name on the trophy. Is it unfair?

Or, is it just a challenge? Let me give you some numbers and commentary. Oakmont is only 7,355 yards, not exactly short, but by no means the longest on Tour. The players say it’s not a bombers course. Oakmont has cut down more than 5000 trees over the past 10 years, which has opened up tee shots. Oakmont once had 350 bunkers, but they have been reduced to 210 over the years, and there is absolutely no water on the course. Good scores can be made. Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round in the ’73 Open at Oakmont. Ben Hogan and Ernie Els have both won an Open at Oakmont with a total score of 5 under. Ben didn’t even have the benefit of the technological advancements in golf equipment or the golf ball. And finally in his practice round this Tuesday, Trevor Immelman aced the par 3 eighth hole with a pulled 3-wood.

So I ask you…unfair? Or just a challenge? My vote is this Open is gonna be one hell of a challenge.

Interactive Poll: Who's going to win this week?

Networked Golfer would like to hear from you about the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Let's see how much you know!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Networked Golfer Makes the Early Call on Wie

Humbleness aside, I have to say Networked Golfer was on top of Michelle Wie's phantom injury before most of the press. It's looking like her act is wearing a little thin. It's about time, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Excellent Article on Donald Trump and His Golf Empire

This article by Michael Bamberger of SI made me laugh. Love him or hate him, you have to hand it to The Donald. He's a piece of work.

Now I need to figure out how Networked Golfer can get Bamberger's kind of assignments...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Arriving at the Course in Style

With my 12 handicap, I don't always play very well, but I try to look good on the course to distract my playing partners from my wayward shots and missed five footers. The white belt I purchased this spring from Beltmaster has really helped me in the style department. I also like wearing threads from Loud Mouth Golf to stir the pot.
However, looking good on the course is only half of the recipe. Looking good on your way to the course makes even the most pedestrian round worthwhile.
I was very pleased with myself last year because I played three different rounds of golf in which I took a boat to the course. The first one was in Bermuda, the second was in Coeur d'Alene, and the third was at my brother Jimmy's club, Bayonne Golf Club. I had never taken a boat to play golf in my life, and here I was doing it three times in about eight months. No matter what kind of rig you drive, boating to the course just feels cooler.
Still, it's not as cool as arriving for your round in a private plane or a helicopter. I have not partaken in either of these indulgences (maybe I need some new friends...), but brother Jimmy will be utilizing Bayonne's helicopter tomorrow. It's about a seven minute flight from Manhattan, and they will land on the course's helipad near the driving range, which is a chip shot from the eighteenth green.
Do you have an experience you'd like to share about arriving to the golf course in style? Maybe your friend has a Bentley or a Rolls that you've rolled up in. Or, a Gulfstream V?
Share your stories in the comments section.