Could course set-ups like Riviera resolve the distance debate?

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.

Riviera Country Club bared its teeth on the weekend and showed the best players in the world that it’s not always about length. Following on the heels of Pebble Beach and a few weeks ahead of Hilton Head, the shorter courses on Tour are demonstrating that architecture and agronomy can still be effective weapons against the bomb and gouge crowd. As the USGA contemplates a distance roll-back for the golf ball or bifurcation, which nobody seems to want, do you think PGA Tour spectators can learn to love penal golf: more trees, more strategic bunkers, deeper rough, tighter fairways and higher scores at more events? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’m not sure that PGA Tour spectators would really recognize the difference between current and “more penal” layouts… other than in the scores at the end of the day.  I think serious, knowledgeable spectators would appreciate seeing somewhat higher scores, versus the -15-20s that seem to win most non-major tournaments nowadays.  Non-serious, less knowledgeable spectators who love birdie-fests need to learn that a birdie or an eagle should be earned, not expected.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Riviera is a great track, I played it once, and can still remember every hole.  It is tricky, and sure did test these guys last week. I don’t think more penal golf is good for the game long term. I do think limiting how far the ball can travel and what it does once it lands on short turf would be good for the game overall. I get it, everyone digs the long ball, but what I hate more than that is the fact that Augusta has had to buy surrounding property and build new tees to combat the technology advancement in the game to stay pace. I also hate the fact that so many great golf courses for mortals simply aren’t a consideration to be played on Tour, a Major or elite Amateur Championship because they are simply not long enough. I’m pretty certain the players would feel the same way. Any more additional increase in distance and you might as well write off the Old Course at St Andrews from hosting another Open Championship. And that would be a tragedy. Yes, you can trick shorter courses up, but I don’t think that eases the pressure on maintenance budgets for the industry, never mind Tour stops. Sure, grow the rough, spend more money on water and chemicals to make sure its healthy, sure you might save a little by cutting less, but I suspect the net outcome of this is an increased cost. Plus, if everyone is crying about pace of play these days, what do we think happens if we toughen courses up (on Tour or elsewhere), do we expect the average round to take less time to play? Unlikely. And so, I don’t see how changing maintenance practices in the end will help PGA Tour Players and spectators enjoy the round more. Generally speaking, this happens a few times a year now in the US Open, and a handful of other stops. That’s enough for me.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: The masses are enjoying blasting balls further and straighter even though the average score of the average player is unchanged in many years. Frankly, they don’t know what the game is really all about. Riviera doesn’t visually look to be penal but once a player hits a shot into the wrong place it sure is. Much of this is in the design of the greens. With tree-lined fairways, it is imperative to keep the ball in play so you can get at the pins. Otherwise, one mistake begets another. I believe in bifurcation! My ‘control’ of distance would come via the golf shaft. A driver shaft should be a maximum of 43″ and not weigh less than 120 grams in it’s ‘raw, un-cut’ state. This would reduce the clubhead speed and the MOI (trampoline effect). In turn, there would be a reduction in yardage.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I don’t see how fans aren’t already clamouring for more of these penalizing components already. The bomb and gouge style of play is exceptionally boring to watch in person. The pros are much more fun to watch when they are escaping trouble—or attempting to, in the case of Ryan Palmer over the weekend—than when they are smashing their balls 325 yards down extremely wide and open fairways on every hole. Forget bifurcation. Tight fairways, deep rough and nasty bunkers should be par for the course on the PGA Tour. Every tournament should be a brutally tough test for the world’s best golfers, and majors should be almost impossible to win. I’d be happy if I never saw another score of -20 or lower for a tournament.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I love how Riviera was set up.  It wasn’t overly difficult but provided enough challenge to beat some guys up on the weekend.  I do like courses that challenge all aspects of the players’ games and personally could get used to seeing the type of course every week on tour.  I hope that St George’s is set up to provide a similar challenge in June!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Riviera’s greens took it to another level, one that no player or spectator could possibly enjoy. (Couldn’t help thinking about the members teeing it up Monday and not getting a sniff of their handicaps). The putts missed inside five feet were entirely too numerous and took any Sunday charge (or recovery) out of the equation. Too bad. Golfers enjoy playing and watching the best play great designs demanding every shot in the bag, as they used to say. Eldrickmania yobs don’t. TV golf, because that’s what we’re talking about, has to find a balance. That will be determined by audience and ad revenue numbers. At least there always will be four or five tournaments each year for golfers and the game’s fans.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Distance and accuracy are both skills. Courses that only reward bombers can be boring while courses that always demand pin-point accuracy can be stifling. A good mix provides opportunities for both skill sets. This isn’t rocket science. The tools are there to curb distance on the PGA Tour and still reward fans without tinkering with the ball. The only thing missing is the willingness to do it.

The World Golf Hall of Fame established minimum criteria for eligibility in 2014: 40 years of age, 15 or more wins on an approved Tour or two majors. Neither Tom Weiskopf (16 wins, 1 major) or Corey Pavin (15, 1) is in the Hall of Fame. Both players have resumes that include many more accomplishments than their playing records: Weiskopf is a noted golf course designer, Pavin was a Ryder Cup captain, etc. Why aren’t these guys in the Hall of Fame?

Deeks: I’m probably not the right guy to ask about Halls of Fame, having had my issues with the Canadian version for several years.   I also have an issue with the WGHOF, which has refused to recognize the huge contributions of Tom Bendelow to the development of the game over 100 years ago.  In the case of Weiskopf and Pavin… if they meet the criteria (as they do), I think their induction should be automatic.  Weiskopf was never a very popular guy, with a huge ego, prickly personality, and a tendency to whine a lot about his misfortune… so maybe that’s why a few unadmiring electors have kept him out, which is unfair.  Not sure about Pavin and his past.  But human relations plays a big part, and if you weren’t a nice guy along the way, you can easily be a victim of payback or apathy.

Loughry: I don’t think either of those players amassed a playing record worth a Hall of Fame induction. Fine players but for me the Hall is for exceptional accomplishments, anything other simply tarnishes the Hall itself, what’s the point if virtually everyone gets in? Anything else significant they do other than a player might make them eligible to go into the Hall under another category (like a builder). Captaining a team (even if winning) IMO isn’t that noteworthy, no offence Corey. But I also believe that the two categories cannot be combined under one submission or consideration. My point, Deane Beman, a fine Amateur and Professional playing career, but not worthy of Hall of Fame induction. His Administrative career and vision for the PGA Tour (builder)…uh, yes very worthy and deserving of the nod.

Schurman: What a coincidence it is for me to be asked about a Hall of Fame! The World Golf Hall of Fame has put themselves in a bind through inductions. They have a couple of dubious inductees and now they are trying to clean up a mess. Weiskopf and Pavin qualify easily under previous criteria and now are in the middle of the controversy – they ‘sit’ as border-line entrants.  A big problem is the Players Championship and where it should be rated compared to a major. I think it is a ‘major’ and therefore the records of a couple of players changes. Then once that happens the scoring MUST become 15 and 2 which is the lowest denominator of all the current inductees. It isn’t how I’d like to have seen it, but it is the only fair path to correcting the situation. By the way, as it stands now, Andy North qualifies with 3 PGA TOUR wins, 2 of them being US Opens. Not exactly a Hall of Fame career.

Kaplan: I can’t really speak to why Weiskopf isn’t in the Hall of Fame because he retired from the PGA Tour three years before I was born and I never had a chance to see him compete, but I’ve always found it weird that Pavin hasn’t yet been inducted. The man won 15 PGA Tour events, including a US Open; recorded a victory on five different continents; and played on three Ryder Cup teams and captained one in 2010, achieving all of these feats as one of the shorter-hitting players on the circuit. Doesn’t sit right with me . . .

Rule: Golf has always been known as one of the hardest HOF’s to get into.  I do believe that accomplishments away from the course should matter, and Weiskopf and Pavin seem like locks to get in some day, in my mind.  In contrast, although he has multiple wins and two majors, not sure if someone like John Daly should get in – although he did provide entertainment and probably help grow the game more than many others!

Quinn: When a former colleague got into the Hockey Hall as a “journalist” I called around thinking he’d died. Nah. Let alone not die, he didn’t have the decency to retire for another decade. That ended any interest in the HOF industry in any category (and it seems to be a growth industry).  Set the bar (high enough please) and let it play out. Must confess, in all my years in and out of sport media and life its own self, have known only one person who has visited a Hall of any sort — he went to see his junior hockey jersey in a glass case. Enough for me.

Mumford: The World Golf Hall of Very Good shot itself in the foot with the inclusion of Fred Couples. Great fan favourite but really not enough W’s to get a nod. That lowered the bar and now the expectation is if you meet the Freddie standard, you should be in the HOF. Weiskopf and Pavin have surpassed that ridiculously low bar but induction requires an election and that’s still subjective. I think Weiskopf should get in based as much on his golf design accomplishments as his playing record. Some of his courses are among the best in the world. I’m less inclined to support Pavin’s induction because there’s just not enough More in the More category. Time to raise the bar.

Max Homa got a fair amount of attention during the golf broadcast on Sunday, not just for his golf (T5), but also for his sense of humour and large social media following. Phil Mickelson also has a lot to say on his Phireside with Phil podcasts. A lot of it is just meaningless chatter but occasionally there’s a nugget of good information or useful advice. Are there any golfers, active or retired, that you think have something worthwhile to say and would be worth a follow?

Deeks: Two come to mind: Geoff Ogilvy and Lee Trevino. Both may do podcasts or blogs, but I haven’t come across them. But both, in very different ways, are thoughtful observers of the game… Ogilvy from a course design perspective, in particular; and Trevino because he’s interesting, original, and often very funny on just about every aspect of the game. In fact, considering his background, Trevino may be the most fascinating person to ever have been a superstar, in almost any sport.

Loughry: Max is certainly a character, and like it or not social media is changing how we consume our sports figures and pretty much everything in life in general, but it also has exposed the staleness of the traditional broadcast of an event too. That said, I just like to be entertained, I don’t need to hear a players view on politics, or any other social issues, just make me laugh with goofy stuff you do off days or tell me a good story, or show me some cool interesting stuff on your practice habits. Who can do this for me and is worthy of my follow: Feherty but he’s been doing it for years now, Joel Dahmen is really good too along with Homa. Phil is OK, but I still find him a bit annoying. And I follow Tiger, because, well he’s Tiger. I’m sure there are a few others, but most of the players seem to be using social to whine and complain, and well, you lose me in a second there or earn an un-follow.

Schurman: Raymond Floyd, Geoff Ogilvie, Bruce Crampton and one of the greatest commentators of all-time, Lee Trevino. My dream TV show would be a series of fireside chats with pre-arranged discussion material with 4 old-timers on each show. Jack, Lee, Ray, Tom Watson, Tom Weiskopf, Hale, Gary, Nick, Greg, Vijay, Johnny, Lanny, Ernie, Crenshaw, Kite, Doug Sanders, Furyk, Curtis, Gieberger, Goalby…….you get the picture. Let them talk for 2 hours about the old days, rules changes, travel, the future etc. Let it run for 10 or 12 weeks. BLING! Sorry, I must have dozed off.

Kaplan: Ian Poulter puts out some solid content on his Instagram account, but the man is a talented troll and I do not recommend following him if you get offended easily. Bubba and Rickie Fowler also feature some great content on their accounts and are certainly worth following. To be honest, I don’t really listen to any specific golf podcasts, unless I know a specific golfer or personality is making an appearance. Between watching golf every week and then writing about it in both the Shag Bag and the Round Table, I’m not exactly starving for additional commentary and perspectives about the sport. I much prefer listening to the irreverent segments and general sports chatter of the Dan LeBatard Show podcast when I’m walking my dog.

Rule: I’ll admit I follow Max Homa, and really like his sense of humour on his Twitter, and it makes me cheer for him on the course.  The sport is in dire need of personalities to add some intrigue off the course, and in turn that translates into the tournaments.  Sadly, there are more Dustin Johnson’s on tour than Max Homa’s!  As for follows, there aren’t many that jump out off the top of my head. I do follow Zac Blair because of his knowledge and interest in golf course architecture, and Phil has created some good content.

Quinn: As a recent podcast guest, Koepka once again demonstrated that he’s the most candid and honest guy out there. Secure in his talent and position in the game, he’s fearless and well worth listening to. But, he’s not the type to plug in his own bully pulpit so we’ll just have to wait for straight from the shoulder responses to podcasters’ queries. Other than Rory, no one else has the cred for the honest answers. For insight and knowledge and articulation, Geoff Ogilvy would be worth following.

Mumford: As a fan of golf course architecture, I’m always keen to read what’s on the minds of Geoff Ogilvy and Ben Crenshaw. I also love the way Brandel Chamblee researches a topic and delivers his findings, and David Feherty is almost always funny and very entertaining. Unfortunately, most of the social media chatter is either pandering or ranting and barely worth the bytes it’s displayed on. McIlroy often colours outside the lines, which is a breath of fresh air; and anytime you get inside Koepka’s head, it’s a real eye opener. Just today he said Reed cheated. Finally, someone telling it like it is. Thank you Brooks!

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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