Scary holes and fantasy matches

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 and Dustin Johnson are scheduled to play a charity match in the Philippines at the end of November. Which two players would you most like to see in a head-to-head match?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): If we’re talking fantasy, I’d love to see a match between Bobby Jones and the 2000-vintage Tiger Woods, playing Augusta National.  Both would use the equipment of their time, and Jones would play a much shorter course than Woods, as he would have when Augusta opened.  If we’re talking two present-day players, I’d pay money to watch Jordan Spieth off the men’s tees vs. Brooke Henderson off the ladies’ at a course neither is familiar with, like Turnberry.  Or maybe Lee Trevino vs. Andrew “Beef” Johnston… they wouldn’t have to tee off before Trevino would have everyone dying with laughter.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): My fantasy match would be Tiger in his prime versus Jack in his prime. As that is impossible, in today’s game I’d like to see Jason Day versus Dustin Johnston. That would be quite an event.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I think that McIlroy/Johnson is probably the best possible marquee match-up right now.  J-Day is injured and Spieth hasn’t played particularly well all season.  You could make a case for McIlroy/Reed, but I don’t think that a 1-on-1 charity match between those two would carry anywhere near the same levels of intensity as their Ryder Cup duel.  Let me suggest an alternative: John Peterson vs Andrew Beef Johnston. That would surely be the most entertaining and hilarious match-up.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The taxpayers of the Philippines will be dancing in the streets when they find out how many millions of hard earned foreign currency dollars (US) the boys get for their exhibition. It’s the Wonderful World of Appearance Fees — where are you now Jack Whitaker? — but if there was ever again an unassailable sponsor like Shell Oil, and it was a wonderful world of Saturday afternoon match play golf, I’d like to see Hogan and Woods in their primes, 36 holes, neutral course but not longer than 7,200 yards.  If anyone in the gallery moved a boulder or shouted ‘You da man’ or ‘Go in the hole’ they would be bodily removed from the property. Smoking allowed.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): These matches are just for hits and giggles. The sponsors and their clients all have a good time and both players walk away with more money than an average Filipino will make in his lifetime. For the rest of us it’s a big yawn. For the matches to have any attraction at all there has to be something tangible on the line to bring out the passion and determination in each player. Witness the incredible duel in July between Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson with the Open Championship on the line or the match between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed at this year’s Ryder Cup. Most of today’s players are friends and have way too much money to really care about the outcome. You need a couple of players with some contentious history and prickly personalities who would go to their grave before they gave the other an inch. Players that really hate to lose. I’d love to see a Greg Norman / Tiger Woods match when both were at their peak. And make them play for their own money too.

The Acushnet Company (Titleist and FootJoy) went public last week and executives were naturally optimistic about the golf industry and the Company’s future. With Nike exiting the equipment business and TaylorMade up for sale, those companies may be suggesting the future of the golf equipment business isn’t so rosy. What do you think?

Deeks: I’m thinking the future of the golf equipment business isn’t so rosy.  And I’m thinking they’re all victims of their own aggression.  When golf participation is increasing, then obviously there are thousands of new potential customers; conversely, when it’s shrinking, as it has been for 8 years, there are far fewer people needing equipment.  The market for getting existing players to upgrade or replace their equipment has been shrinking, too… partly because people won’t or don’t have the money to spend, and partly because most people have come to realize that the “longer, straighter, more bite, lower scores” claims are a bunch of BS and therefore, they don’t need new stuff.  In other words, the market has matured, and there just isn’t room for all the competition.  (Analogy: the American car business, which ultimately alienated consumers with brand new models and silly new claims every year until they were superseded by the Japanese and the Germans, who promised quality, period.)

Loughry: Just because some golf companies are up for sale doesn’t mean you can’t make money in the golf market. Net sales for Acushnet Co. were $1.5 billion in 2016, repeat: that’s $1.5 BILLION. I’m pretty sure they can make ends meet to keep the lights on and then some. Love the NYSE listing for the stock – it’s GOLF.

Kaplan: It seems that with Nike out of the picture and TaylorMade in limbo, Acushnet pretty much has the premium market cornered.  The company believes that the demand for golf equipment is still steady amongst its targeted market of the 7.5 million dedicated golfers out there who spend money on new equipment annually.  If that is true, then Acushnet will be just fine going forwards.  However, if they overestimated their market, similarly to how they overestimated the initial value of their IPO last week, then the company is in for a rude awakening.  Only time will tell.

Quinn: As I’ve mentioned around this table, and others, the massive over-build of courses in the 1990s was driven by non-golf people; and the over-producing of the ‘driver-of-the -month’ club was fuelled by similar miscalculations by people of influence who unfortunately had no confluence with the game its own self. I think Acushnet’s CEO Wall Uihlein is right – the surveys are registering drop outs from the game in the “I play 1-7 times a year” category. That drop out sets off the wrong alarms. Dedicated golfers are still there and young people are taking up the game. Good golf equipment will always have a market. The big guys just don’t have to bring out a longer driver every three months.

Mumford: Not so rosy. The price of the IPO showed that the market isn’t quite as optimistic about Acushnet’s future as the company is. Whether the golf industry is in decline is open for debate but it has at least plateaued. There won’t be much growth in the equipment sector for the foreseeable future. Nike and adidas have already recognized that. When markets mature, all the players are essentially trying to steal market share from one another and the winner is almost always the low cost producer. Acushnet derives 35% of its revenue from its ball franchise but new ball manufacturers like Dean Snell (who invented the Pro V1) and now Costco with their Kirkland brand are in the game and selling premium balls that look, feel and play just like a Pro V1 – at half the price. There are other disrupters in the market for shoes and clubs too and Acushnet will be fighting to retain market share for premium priced labels when many (most?) golfers will be OK with Brand X at a fraction of the price.

In honour of Halloween, what’s the scariest golf hole (or course) you’ve ever played?

Deeks: It might be the 13th at The Dunes in Myrtle Beach.  A long, very tough par-5 winding all the way around a bay… with 14 HUGE alligators lounging on the bank the day I played.

Loughry: This one is easy for me. #10 at The National Golf Club of Canada. At least 80 feet downhill, par 3 where the wind is always gusting into you, and they extended the pond to cover the front, you can’t bail left because of the tree, and if you go long you go into a bunker you don’t want to be in (no matter the hole location). Oh, and to top it off a green with severe contouring. For those that know, how about a back left hole location….yeah, scary.

Kaplan: The 2nd hole on Bondhead North strikes fear into me every time that I play it.  As does the 12th on Bondhead South, a 670-yard par 5 that begins with an uphill tee shot. No. 9 on Muskoka Bay requires two perfect shots or you are dead! The 4th hole at the National GC is gorgeous, but an absolute brute. In my opinion, however, Cherry Downs takes the cake for scariest golf course as the 3rd, 5th, 9th, 14th, 17th and 18th holes all haunt my dreams.

Mumford: Everybody talks about the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass but I think the 18th is actually more foreboding. The fairway looks about as wide as a cart path with water all down the left side and trees on the right. If you can hit that narrow ribbon of short grass, the approach is equally terrifying with ball swallowing mounds on the right and hazard left. The green slopes hard from right to left and even a well hit shot can roll into the water. There’s no bail out anywhere on the hole and the only way to play it safely would be to hit four or five wedges, then hope the last one sticks. Or just walk in after 17.

Quinn: Without fear or favour, the scariest for me was the first at St. Andrews Old Course. Of an evening, having a quiet dram or few with the late great Dick Thornton — All-American, All-CFL with the Bombers and then the Argos — at a fine establishment in Edinburgh, our conversation was interrupted when the barman handed a phone to Tricky Dicky saying: “You have a call from Canada.” On the land line was then-Labatt head honcho with the best brew name in the industry, Dick Bradbeer, telling Dick that he had an 8 am at St Andrews the next morning that he couldn’t make and did Dick want it? Dick couldn’t make it, so asked if I could. Damn straight. We rounded up three happy volunteers from the bar and I ended up driving from the hotel — right-hand drive, stick shift — at 4 am. We made it by 8. Just. The 1st hole of golf’s home is 129 yards wide taking in the 1st and 18th, and combined cover 7.2 acres. I almost missed the entire package. I was so nervous on that tee, thinking about my maternal grandmother growing up playing these very links, the history, how lucky I was to be standing there, how hungover I was…The screws on my Hogan persimmon caught the edge of the balata and carved an arc probably never duplicated in the 500 years or so the Old Course has been in play. That yanker ripped across the 1st, then flew the entire breadth of the 18th and only a favourable bounce off a lovely white fence post along the side of 18 kept me in play. On the 1st tee at St. Andrews I almost hit the Auld Grey Toon. That was scary. (Not that it matters, but I parred that hole and the last four for an 81.)

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

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