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.
Following the Pebble Beach Pro Am a couple of weeks ago, much was written about how good the tournament was without the amateur sideshow and how both it and the American Express Championship (former Bob Hope Pro Am) would be better off moving forward if the amateurs were just eliminated. What’s your take on that?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Other than for the amateur participants and their families at home, I don’t think the Pro-Am nature of these events has the slightest interest for television viewers, and simply gets in the way of the professional tournament that we all tune in to watch. I doubt that 2% of the audience knows, or cares, how the Pro Am scoring even works… or cares that Billy Bob Jones, the Pro we’ve never heard of, and his Am partner Billy Joe Smith, the Chairman of Bigwig Corporation, are 37 under par. For me, of course, the presence of the obnoxious and unfunny Bill Murray, and D-list celebs like George Gomez, make the AT&T a definite WON’T WATCH. So, to answer the question, yes, please, just eliminate the amateurs. (Figuratively speaking.)
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Pro-Ams still have a place, I don’t need to see them every week, but a couple of times a year is just fine with me. It is one of the things that sets golf apart from other professional sports. You won’t see amateurs or celebrities skating around in the NHL during games EVER, not during NFL/NBA or MLB games, they just don’t have that luxury. Golf is setup for that, so its OK to see once in a while for me.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: That’s a tough call! The amateurs bring so much $$$ for the charity but it does interfere with the player’s ability to shoot a low score. Part of the problem is the amateurs aren’t always a celebrity in the sense of being in the entertainment business. Many are simply people who earn mega $$$$ and can afford the $10,000 entry fee. There is also a difference in the Pro’s personalities. Some might thrive in the amateur venue while others require a greater degree of concentration.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m not a fan of watching the amateurs play, I want to see the pros, but there is a place for Pro-Ams. It’s a format that raises lots of money, and as long as the broadcasts show only pro shots on the weekend, I’m happy.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I used to think it was tolerable since it only happened a couple of times per year but then the major league entertainers and real celebrities gave way to the B listers and corporate honchos, none of whom I care to see. I really enjoyed the Pebble Beach event this year without the Ams and would be quite ok if they made that change permanent.
It was announced last week that former LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan has been hired as the new CEO of the USGA and will start sometime this summer. The hiring is clearly a case of getting the best leader available, not just finding someone in the USGA mold. What does Whan bring to the USGA and should we expect a major shift in how the USGA looks at issues?
Deeks: I don’t really know what Whan will bring to the USGA, other than a phenomenal track record of success in rebuilding the LPGA over the last decade… what would have appeared at the outset to be an impossible challenge. But does that mean that what he did THERE will work HERE? And/or, is the USGA so hidebound and stuck in tradition, and is their Board so powerful and anti-progress, that they’ll hinder Mike from doing what he does so well? I sure hope he gets a free rein. I’m all for tradition and history and all that, but eventually even the best-tailored blazers can get worn out and threadbare… and then it’s time for a new fitting. Go Mike!
Loughry: Whan brings vision and business savvy. He is one of the most respected people in golf, and he certainly has perspective. It will take time for him to have impact on the organization, I think he’ll bring some much-needed change with him, certainly more empathy.
Schurman: Mike Whan might provide something the USGA has lacked since inception; a Personality. They have been a little less efficacious under the guidance of Mike Davis, but they have a long way to go. Mike Whan has made a career out of making various partners feel valued and certainly has proven he knows how to manage an organization dominated by women. There is no greater opportunity to grow the game than to make it more appealing to women but the USGA and the R&A have basically ignored that fact.
Rule: Not only is he the best leader available, but he knows the game, so it was a no brainer decision it would seem. He has had success everywhere he has gone, strengthening relationships with other organizations, so you would expect him to do the same at the USGA. His first task will be to make a decision on the distance debate and finally bring that saga to a close.
Mumford: It appears that Mike Whan is a good listener and a consensus builder. His past successes at the LPGA, TaylorMade, Wilson, etc. were based on his abilities to build and encourage a strong team. Those are good assets for leading any organization. The USGA will be different than his previous stops though. More frustrating, certainly more issues, some that have far-reaching effects on the game of golf, definitely more impactful than achieving a sales target or adding to the bottom line. On some issues there may be no middle ground or consensus. Those will test his leadership capabilities to the max – making the tough calls or taking a stand that may not be popular and will make some stakeholders furious. Whan will also be hampered to some degree by the USGA culture, an organization not noted for moving quickly, and one still rooted to a large degree in the private club world. He’ll need to move the USGA to be more open and transparent, to embrace the public side of golf and be more inclusive. That’s a tall order for any CEO. I hope he’s up to it.
If you had to choose one course to play for the rest of your life, which one would it be? (Note: must be a course you have already played).
Deeks: Sunningdale Old, in Berkshire. With Natalie Gulbis as my caddy.
Loughry: Kiawah Island – Ocean Course. Its an absolute gem of a course, especially the shoreline holes coming in (16-17-18) when normally a stiff wind picks up. Easily my favourite that I’ve played.
Schurman: I actually think about this occasionally. My conclusion is always the same, I can’t pick just one. So here are my top five in reverse order: The Island Club (St. Simons), Summit, Shinnecock, Riviera, Pebble Beach. I wish I had been able to play in the UK, but they are still on my bucket list.
Rule: You’re going to make me choose just one? That’s a tough one, but as much as I tried to find another course that could compete, I have to choose the Old Course. It’s just so fun to play, it gives you different options for shots, and allows you to play in all weather conditions that provide different challenges. If you get favourable conditions, you can also score on the Old Course as it’s not that tough, and it’s easily walkable, which will be important as I get into my later years. There’s also something so magical about playing that course, making the turn and looking at the Auld Grey Toon in the distance while playing the inward nine. Can’t be beat.
Mumford: Being a golf writer, heck maybe just being a golfer, is all about making lists – Best Courses, Favourite Courses, Top 10 Courses, Bucket List Courses, Mountain Courses, Seaside Courses, Desert Courses, Resort Courses, etc. I have all those lists but distilling them down to one choice is a tough call. For much of my adult life I would have chosen Royal Dornoch – a truly magical spot in the Scottish Highlands – but it’s been 35 years since I was last there, so maybe it’s not the same anymore. Cinnamon Hill in Jamaica is another spot I could play forever. Ditto Pinehurst No.2 or Ballybunion. Or Brantford G&CC or The Paintbrush. Wow, this is really tough. Can I choose a rota of favourites? No? OK, I’ll have to go with Highlands Links in Cape Breton. Brilliant routing, spectacular scenery, memorable mix of seaside and mountain holes and walkable. I could be happy there.