Pictured above: Keith Pelley, CEO European Tour
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Rory McIlroy won the European Tour’s final event and the Race to Dubai but he needed an assist from Tour chief Keith Pelley to waive the minimum event rule just to get into the field. A lot of players grumbled that the rules should not have been broken to let McIlroy be there? Did Pelley make the right decision?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Yes, he did make the right decision. Is the Tour only there to satisfy the players, or to engage and delight the fans? Without McIlroy, you have diminished fan and media interest, and diminished interest means fewer viewers and spectators, and disgruntled sponsors. And perhaps eventually, a disappearing sponsor and a fired Commissioner. If the players were so upset, then they should’ve just gone out and beaten Rory on the golf course, to make their point. Instead, Pelley made his point.
Craig Loughry, GAO Director of Handicapping (@craigloughry): I’m sure the sponsor appreciated it – and the fans too. Players? Meh, not so much. But to grow that Tour, I think Pelley will have to try and break down some of these barriers. Star power is selling power and collectively the Tour and players will benefit from this type of decision.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I think Pelley did what was in the best interest of the sport, but not necessarily what was in the best interest of his players. If I was a European Tour player, I would be legitimately pissed. You’ve positioned yourself, after however many round this year, to have a chance at the Race to Dubai and then it is stolen away from you by a player who was given an unjustified berth into the tournament in the first place. I declare Shenanigans! Not cool, McIlroy! Not cool, Pelley!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It hasn’t taken our man in Wentworth long to earn the right to the ‘Crazy Canuck’ sobriquet. He’s in tough trying to keep the Euro Tour alive in the PGA Tour/Majors/WGC events world. Giving Europe’s and nearly the world’s best player a one-tourney break for a broken ankle was a no brainer. But he lost me when he went way out there dissing BMW after decades of support and sucking up to the sheiks and the creators of that Exhibit A that the world has gone mad: Dubai.
Matthew MacKay, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTours): For a Tour that is trying to stay relevant in an increasingly fractured world golf scene, he made the right call. Star power is what sells in sports, and Rory is about as big as it gets in the sport of golf. This is similar to when Tiger was at his peak and many players complained about all the attention and preferential treatment he was receiving, failing to remember that Tiger was a powerful tide that was raising all boats and making everyone oodles of money.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m absolutely fine with that decision by Mr. Pelley. I realise it might set a precedent, but it’s a decision they had to make. Rory was injured and had to miss some tournaments, so he couldn’t play enough events. He still had plenty of money/points to make the finals, so he should have been there. The players that are grumbling are jealous because Rory took advantage and won the Race. Just stop complaining and play better.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Absolutely. McIlroy is a star and despite playing half as many events as most other players, he still led the European Tour money list. The other players should realize that the fans and sponsors pay to see Rory and ultimately their own well being is driven by his popularity, much as it was for PGA Tour players during the Tiger era.
Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: I have to assume a couple things in answering this question. First, that Pelley decided to give McIlroy an “assist” to be able to play in the Race To Dubai after carefully considering the evidence. Rory claimed he would be unable to play in the required 13 events (4 more than he did) due to his ankle injury over the summer in addition to previous commitments like the FedEx Cup. Furthermore, Rory said the recovery program prescribed to him by his doctors limited the amount of weeks he could play in a row. If I make the second assumption — that Rory’s claims are true — I don’t have an issue with what transpired. He still had to come out and win, and not only did he take the Race To Dubai, but also won the DP World Tour Championship this weekend (the Euro Tour’s final event of the season).
This week Davis Love appointed Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk as Ryder Cup assistant captains for the matches which are still eleven months away. All three could make the team as players too. What do you make of Love’s decision and the timing of it?
Rule: When I first read the news, I was a bit surprised, but the more I think about it, I like the decision. It would be interesting if all three made the team, but I don’t see that happening. It might make it tough for him to pick any of them as “Captain’s Picks” if he ever wanted to, but the reason I like them choosing those three as assistants is that they relate to the players. One of the criticisms of Tom Watson was that he wasn’t around the tour much, and didn’t relate to the younger players. These guys are still very active with the tour, and are respected by the younger guys. Hey, they have to try something different to reverse the trend of getting smoked every two years, so why not this tactic? I like it, and think it will work.
Quinn: The decision is fine because no one in that threesome is making the team. But the timing was bizarre, unless he just ran out of things to say of any interest whatsoever as host of the weekend’s satellite tourney. Stricker and Furyk were probably cool with it, but can’t imagine Eldrick reacting with anything printable. Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, he still sees himself as one of the top guns and not a clipboard holder.
MacKay: I think it makes me feel old! I do like the idea of using younger, more relatable captains, but it makes me sad to think that Tiger has been relegated to a golf cart driver at the biggest team event in golf.
Mumford: I don’t get it. How many assistants does Love need? And what are they going to do for the next eleven months? Choose shirts? Learn how to drive a cart and use a walkie talkie – at the same time? Gimme a break! This announcement could have waited until a month or two before Hazeltine and Love would know if any of them had qualified for the team. This has the look of a government committee appointed to find out why cows fart into the wind.
Mastroianni: Just to be clear, are we talking about Tiger Woods — the 394th ranked golfer in the world as of this writing — making the Team? The best part about the timing of this announcement and Love picking Tiger is that it all but confirms he’s as washed up as Krispy Kreme in Canada. Tiger is grasping at every straw possible to stay relevant, virtually begging Davis for a spot. I’m willing to put the “Frank Guarantee” on the fact that Tiger won’t be making the team. And if he does, well then I’ll give you a refund. Furyk and Stricker are another matter. Not only can they make the team, but Davis can too! With that said, I really don’t see either Love or Stricker making the team on points. Love because he won’t play consistently well enough and Stricker because he won’t play enough. Regarding Love’s timing, I don’t think it makes a difference unless they really believe any of them will be making the team, and I really don’t think they do.
Kaplan: Well, at least we don’t have to speculate anymore … I think this announcement demonstrates just how seriously the Americans are taking this year’s Ryder Cup or it could just be a timely reaction to a conversation that has been brewing since Tiger Woods phoned Fred Couples in South Korea a little over a month ago. I like the selections. I think that all three assistants will have a lot to offer and I think that Woods’ presence will draw additional ratings, regardless of whether he is golfing or carting alongside the action. I’m also calling right now that NONE of the three captains make the team as players. There is just too much young American talent out there right now.
Deeks: I think it was a good decision, and good timing, in that it gets all the nauseating speculation of “will Tiger make the team?” or “will Tiger be a Captain’s pick?” out of the way. If any of them actually do play their way onto the team, well, bully for them… I’m sure Love can find another assistant at any time (although I wouldn’t be calling your former best friend Fred Couples in a hurry, Davis.) I find it interesting that Tiger agreed to be appointed to an assistant role… it’s somewhat of an admission from him that maybe the glory days are, indeed, over.
Loughry: Clearly Love is trying something different to shake things up and garner success. The US needs a little something different looking at their last decade of performances in the Ryder Cup.
Nick Faldo has suggested that golf course designers need to be more creative in developing layouts that are more fun and cater to people’s needs in today’s culture. Twelve hole courses for example can be played in less time, require less land to build and are cheaper to maintain. Is he right or is it just another gimmick like 8” holes or foot golf that do little to attract new golfers?
MacKay: He is absolutely right. It seems like every round I play, when I get to the 14th tee, I proclaim that it’s a shame that 18 holes became the standard for golf centuries ago. 14 holes seems about perfect for me. 9 holes is certainly not enough, 12 is getting closer, but after the 14th hole I feel satisfied and ready to shake hands and head in for a beverage. If someone were ever to have the courage to build a good, 12-14 hole golf course, it would become my place to play.
Quinn: The gimmicks didn’t work, but the reduced holes per ‘round’ and shorter courses should work to introduce a generation to the game, and keep an aging one in it. Whistler GC for years has had a play 3-6-9 or 12 package of options, which is brilliant. (IE: if you have time for 3, they drive you out to the 7th tee, and so on). In the Vancouver area, the muni pitch and putts are terrific. I’ve yet to walk one without seeing parents or grandparents with young children, beginners and solid players, young couples on dates, seniors, or foursomes (ok, maybe the odd fivesome or sixsomes) of young guys with caps on backwards and baggy pants having a blast. They are golfers too. The game on the big courses is hard, really hard, demanding a lot of time and money for practice and playing. That’s the end game. Getting there requires little steps at first. Getting the message out about the joys of pitch and putts (Golf Digest did a terrific piece on the P&Ps of Ireland a few years back) through public and high school phys-ed programs would help. More P&Ps and shortish 9-holers would help too. Golfers grow into the game and have to have a chance to find out early if they want to become lifers.
Kaplan: This is coming from the guy who designed “The Rock”?! Sure, some tracks could be MODIFIED to better cater to the average golfer, but I don’t think that is what is keeping this game from booming again. This 12-hole golf course idea really grinds my gears. We already have a condensed version of golf if you are pressed for time … it’s called 9 holes. Or even better, go to the driving range and practice. If these golf courses are really so concerned with saving on some operation costs, get rid of your small armies of marshals and back shop employees. They don’t actually do anything! The best way to grow the game nationally and attract new players in the process is by seeing one of our own succeed on the PGA Tour. This country loves a winner! If Canada can throw a male golfing superstar into the world ranks, this country will be reinvigorated with its love for the sport. Just look at what happened with the Blue Jays this year!
Deeks: Faldo’s suggestions are hardly new, and aren’t silly by any means… especially for new resort developments. But good luck getting existing golf courses to accommodate such changes! Course owners and operators realize that their current, quasi-guaranteed bread-and-butter are the traditionalists and regular players who like 18 holes just fine, thank you… and don’t you dare load up the course with beginners who are just trying 6 or 12 and want pizza-sized holes… or we’ll be taking our clubs down the road. In my view, the smartest solutions are: to FORCE people to play the appropriate set of tees for their handicap… allow people the green fee option of 9 or 18… and stop building courses with high-walled bunkers, and knee-deep fescue, and long water carries, and roller coaster greens, and 460-yard par 4’s. It ain’t brain surgery. (And as for 8” holes, they should all be filled with dog pooh.)
Rule: I don’t disagree with him, but I’m not sure how easy it will be to change an existing golfer’s mindset to a 12-hole round of golf. It might be easier to attract new golfers, but they won’t play enough to justify a 12-hole course as a viable business in my mind. So nobody will take that chance. Unless it’s part of an existing facility, or maybe traditional courses start offering 12-hole rounds on their courses, that’s more likely. Golf does need some new ideas to attract the younger crowd, so Sir Nick isn’t wrong, I’m just not sure what those creative ideas are.
Mastroianni: Faldo isn’t suggesting anything groundbreaking with 12-hole golf courses. This concept has been thrown around plenty of times before by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Greg Norman and others. With that said, I agree 100%. I often wish I could stop playing after 12 holes already. It’s more conducive to today’s lifestyle and modern day time constraints. I wouldn’t call it a gimmick in any way. In fact, The Old Course at St. Andrews was originally 12 holes. So was Prestwick, home of the first Open Championship. And if you haven’t already inferred, that also means The Open Championship was once comprised of 12-hole rounds (and 36 hole tournaments). These examples weren’t just experiments; golf was played this way for quite some time. People might look at it as something new, but it’s actually an idea that is very old, tried and true.
Loughry: Faldo is off base. I won’t argue that 12-hole courses for the most part would be cheaper to maintain but that’s about where it stops with my agreement. There is NO reason that existing courses can’t offer 6, 9, 12, 14 or 18-hole rates. I would recommend NOT building NEW facilities. There are areas that can sustain them but existing facilities can simply be used differently. And we already have an array of courses with mixed yardages and degrees of difficulty and price ranges. I know I’m not suggesting anything that hasn’t been thought of but apparently Faldo hasn’t gotten that message. What we could use are more pitch and putts with an 18-hole putting course. Now that would be cool, especially if they were part of a PUBLIC PARK – that would do something for communities and the game.
Mumford: Faldo is right but rarely has the decision of what to design and build been left to the architect. It’s usually the developers and owners who always want bigger, better, longer, tougher etc. Almost every existing 18-hole golf course tries to be everything to everybody and most are afraid to break from the herd mentality and try something new, even when their business model isn’t working. They could try promoting 6, 9 or 12-hole games for those who are time challenged. Instead they resort to third party retail and massive discounting to push the same old 18-hole format. Most new golfers want real golf – maybe shorter courses or fewer holes – but they still want it to be real. Not goofy or gimmicky and definitely not played with a foot.