Harbour Town, N’Awlins and the Shark’s latest move

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.

The RBC Heritage delivered plenty of drama with up to a dozen players in contention on the back nine Sunday. Harbour Town Golf Links is short by today’s Tour standards but very tight and it features the second smallest greens on Tour. Precision shot making is the usual recipe for victory, but some players complain that the course has become overgrown and the sightlines are too narrow. How do you see it?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I haven’t played Harbour Town in over a decade, so I can’t comment on whether it’s overgrown… although I can’t see the course managers not constantly trimming branches and maintaining a consistent degree of playability. To be honest, it’s never been one of my favourite courses; I’ve always said the last three holes are great, but the first 15 are like bowling lanes.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Courses come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It may be a bit quirky, but it sure provided a compelling leaderboard by top players. I’d take watching that over bomb and gouge, bomb and gouge, bomb and gouge. We saw lots of short game wizardry on display and some creative shot making from waste area and trees. This is why I make extra effort to watch more of this tournament.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: This is absolutely true. Tree-lined courses require constant maintenance and should have a long-term plan for the replacement of strategic trees. Augusta National has every tree on the property numbered and catalogued. In fact, they took seeds from the Eisenhower Tree and are currently cultivating new prospects to replace it. A big question to ask is “What would the course be like if had no trees”. Sahalee in WA is a fine course with or without trees as is Summit G.C. Harbour Town would be Mickey Mouse.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m personally not a huge fan of the golf course as it’s a bit claustrophobic for me. But for a tournament, it certainly delivers, since it brings a lot of guys into the mix.  Generally, length isn’t as much of a benefit as pretty much every other tournament course, it’s all about ball placement and chipping. I wouldn’t like to see that every week but it’s a nice change from the norm and typically results in interesting Sundays.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Like all courses Harbour Town has grown up a bit as time marches on, and Dye and Alice did design it multiple decades ago. The current curators have made some changes. But this is still a shot-makers’ course inviting (if not demanding, in the Dyes’ usual template) creativity. Fun to watch, great to see drone views of the layout. Love it. Good to see a strong field too.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It’s always been one of my favourite tournaments to watch because just about anyone can win and there’s usually a tight race to the finish. Harbour Town is really tight but so what? It’s a nice antidote to the usual menu of bomb-and-gouge courses on Tour that just turn into putting contests.

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans kicks off this week with a unique format featuring two-man teams. Cam Smith and Marc Leishman are the defending champs but there are some intriguing pairings such as Collin Morikawa / Viktor Hovland and Patrick Cantlay / Xander Schauffele. Do you like the team format and who do you think will win?

Deeks: I like the format, and I commend the Tour for having a few alternatives to the same-old 72 holes of medal play. I haven’t had a chance to review the pairings, but if there’s a Conners/Hadwin team, I’ll put five Ben Franklins down on them!

Loughry: I like the team format, but I wish they played one round as a scramble, and final round stays as 4-ball. I do like courses for horses, and so I like Team Aussie defending. Cam Smith seems to be in fine form and Leishman is no slouch!

Schurman: I’d like to see either a scramble or individual score at some point. The scramble is exciting, and the individual adds credibility. However, alternate shots is no ‘piece of cake’. This is a great opportunity for Hadwin/Svensson. Both are playing well yet each is still reaching for that one tiny unknown to put them into the Winners’ Circle. I like Lowry/ Poulter. Both can drive it well which is important in a team game, and both can putt. Poulter is always tough in team formats. My heart says Fleetwood/Garcia, but my money says Leishman/Smith. Both are playing well, and both can putt.

Rule: Not sure I’ll watch much of the event this weekend, it doesn’t do much for me. I like that they are trying new things, and typically I like team play but this tournament just doesn’t do it for me. They draw a good field though, which is great. If the Canadians are in the mix on Sunday, I’m sure I’ll catch a bit of the action then.

Quinn: Okay, let’s admit we’re all golf nuts, or just nuts. Love the variation on the theme, have to mix it up, but my golly miss molly, how much golf can one fan watch while attending to their own game and family and job and relationships (or whatever)? Don’t know if y’all have wandered Bourbon Street early on a Sunday morning (hey, what happens in N’Awlins, stays….) but by my vague recollections, golf wasn’t top of mind. Love the format. Go Aussies!

Mumford: As much as I like team golf, this one’s still a bit of a snoozer. It doesn’t attract a particularly strong field, the course isn’t much of a test and scores will be really low. One round of scramble and one round of combined score might have spiced things up a bit. Hard to bet against Cam Smith and Marc Leishman but I’ll go with Patrick Cantlay for a bounce back after last week’s playoff loss and his partner Xander Schauffele who always seems overdue for a PGA Tour win.

Greg Norman has altered the format for the first two seasons of LIV Golf, making it eight individual events per year rather than a League, so that players don’t have to join a League or competing Tour, just get a release to play one or more events. The prize money still the same and each week someone will pocket a $4 million cheque starting this June. The format change seems like a smart move on Norman’s part to avoid direct confrontation with the PGA Tour and their promise to ban anyone joining the Saudi-backed League. What’s your take?

Deeks: If the Saudis want to give Ian Poulter and Colin Montgomerie a shot at $4million, who’s to stop them from doing that? But who’s going to attend, and who will bother watching? For that matter, what TV network will bother sending a truck, unless the Saudis pay for everything? I think the whole thing is dead in the water, along with the real reason for this sham tour: Greg Norman’s revenge for having been thwarted in his megalomaniacal manoeuvring for a new Tour 27 years ago. (Hey, here’s a fun idea: drink a bottle of Greg Norman Shiraz, then say “megalomaniacal manoeuvring” quickly five times.)

Loughry: Norman’s switch may work but seems like semantics. It’s still backed by the same people. Interesting to note, the same people also invested in FedEx (for Saudi expansion) to the tune of $250M US dollars (and FedEx, some $1.5B investing into Saudi Arabia). I’m not sure if this change in wording from Norman (event vs league) is enough for the Tour to “grant” releases. I’d be interested to see who they haven’t given releases to in the past and specifically for what reason or purpose. I also wonder if they will have to tell the player the reason the request is denied. Get the popcorn out, key dates are April 25 (player applications for release deadline) and May 10 (when Tour responds to requests).

Schurman: Greg Norman turned his #1 in the world standing into a business empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He isn’t stupid. This is a brilliant move. The PGA TOUR gave permission to play events in the Middle East over the past few months so they will be hard-pressed to dis-allow them here. The players must agree to play the corresponding US event once in the next 3 years. All Norman has to do is schedule his events the week before or the week after next year. Wait until someone wins $4M and the tour players around the world see the scores that earn $1M or $500, 000. etc. Wait until the media start reporting the Saudi events. I hope you fastened your seatbelt. This is going to get good.

Rule: Well, he’s doing everything he can, isn’t he? And this move makes a lot of sense, particularly when the wording that the Tour is using involves penalties for joining a “league,” but not single events. Sounds like he has a few Tour players interested in playing. I sure hope he doesn’t get a better field than the Canadian Open in the first tourney. That would hurt.

Quinn: So, you make the huge bet, and then you read the table, and then back off a bit. Then you make a big bet, wait and wait, and then change the game. All golf its own self needs is the names of the suspects. Hope they’re not too many we recognize.

Mumford: I think it’s a very smart move. All the players will need is a release from the PGA Tour, just like any other non-Tour event. If Jay Monahan doesn’t issue a release, sooner or later, some PGA Tour players are going to rebel against the Tour’s bullying and say, “I’m an independent contractor. You can’t tell me where I can and can’t play.” And they may get suspended or banned and eventually that will get tested in court, which may have the unintended consequence of jeopardizing the Tour’s non-profit status. Monahan doesn’t want to go there, and I think he’ll reach some accommodation with Norman before things get too ugly.

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

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