What’s the toughest record to break in professional golf?

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 AT&T Byron Nelson moved to a new course this year with mixed reaction from the players. Some loved the Bill Coore / Ben Crenshaw designed Trinity Forest while others were less complimentary. The course is an attempt to emulate British style links golf without an adjacent ocean and has wide sweeping fairways, huge bunkers, massive greens and no trees. Do you think Trinity Forest is a good venue for a PGA Tour event or should the Tour leave links golf to the British?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): The problem with links courses is they aren’t very photogenic, and on TV you just can’t appreciate the depth and the contours and the subtleties of design.  Golfers who haven’t played links tend to think they look like cow pastures, and even many who have played links courses find them ugly, boring, and often unfair because of the quirky bounces, fescue and gorse, magnetic pot bunkers, and undulating greens.  Coore and Crenshaw are probably the purest designers in the game right now, so I can’t imagine that their version of links would be anything less than great.  And I see no reason why links courses can’t be emulated anywhere on the planet, including Texas.  So I would suggest to the complainers about Trinity Forest, open your eyes and open your minds.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I liked the course. There are plenty of examples of “links” styled courses that are inland and while you can’t add the design feature of an ocean, the dunes, bunkering and rolling greens can be. The players should be thankful to have the opportunity to play this style of course without having to go all the way to the UK to prepare for the British Open.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I welcome the change, even if some players weren’t too fond of Trinity Forest in their debuts. The PGA Tour can get stale from year to year with the same courses being recycled ad nauseum. Even though I love Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, PGA National and Riviera, I don’t want to see them hosting events every single year. There are so many other great courses out there that the PGA Tour has never even considered, and many of these iconic courses lose their allures and mystiques by being overexposed to fans. If it were up to me, only Augusta National would get a perennial tournament. Every other event on the calendar would work off of a three-course rotation.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m a huge Coore/Crenshaw fan when it comes to course design.  I think they have it right, make it playable and fun for everyone, but add angles and slopes to make it challenging for the top players under the right circumstances.  The fact that the winning score was 23 under shows that it wasn’t that tough, so for the pros to complain seems a bit petty.  I like when the Tour goes to different venues that offer a bit of a different look, so I’m in favour of it. But let’s be clear, it’s not links golf!  Leave that term to the properties that fit the description!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Links golf is left to linksland, but the Coore-Crenshaw courses on wide open spaces are terrific. Certainly they are inspired by links topography which is fine and that is dictated by the sites. There are more than enough parkland layouts in North America, absorbing all the water. Hard and fast — and wide open — is fun. It will be tweaked before the whiners get a chance to skip it again next year.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): North America is proving to have some very good links courses themselves (Cabot Links, Bandon Dunes to name a couple) so the Brits don’t have a monopoly on that. As far as inland links are concerned, despite it being something of a contradictory term, I liked the look of Trinity Forest and welcome the Tour trying different styles. The ultimate test should be if the players are challenged and the fans are entertained.

When it’s not hosting the AT&T Byron Nelson, Trinity Forest is an extremely expensive, ultra-exclusive private club that is lauded as being a very tough course for amateurs. At a time when golf is suffering because it takes too long, costs too much and is too hard, should the Tour be using host venues that are symbolic of golf’s problems or do they bear some responsibility to be leaders and take the Tour to sites that would be examples of how golf needs to evolve in the future i.e. more fun, more affordable etc?

Deeks: I don’t think the Tour should feel it has to dumb down the game.  I think its responsibility is to provide a good test for the players, and choose a variety of venues and “types” of courses to showcase the variable playing surfaces that make the game challenging and interesting.  I doubt that more than a handful of viewers were aware that Trinity Forest is tough, time-consuming, or expensive.  If Trinity Forest encouraged a few golfers to go to Scotland, Ireland, or Britain to play true links, then jolly good show, I say!

Schurman: Criticizing the PGA Tour for holding an event at Trinity Forest for being an exclusive, expensive, difficult course opens the door for a major discussion. Many of the courses the Tour use are similar in this regard. How about Augusta National or Congressional? Fans want to watch the best players perform at their best. To do that they must play on the best courses. The only problem I see is when other clubs try to emulate the tournament conditions as being their regular daily standard. IMO a green stimping at 12 to 13 is far too difficult for average member to play……10.5 is plenty. Fairways cut at 1/4″ are unplayable for the average player. 4″ rough is unplayable for the average player. These are the main reasons for high costs and the length of time it takes to play.

Kaplan: Every one of the public courses on the PGA Tour will cost you an arm and a leg to play and you need not even bother trying to get onto the private ones unless you’ve got a couple Fortune 500 CEOs in your contact list. I’d like to see the tour make more of a concerted effort to add some of the United States’ more affordable and lauded public tracks to its schedule in the future. Here’s a couple  tracks that I think would be great additions: Arcadia Bluffs (Michigan), The Highland Course at Primland (Virginia), The Quarry at Giants Ridge (Minnesota), Fallen Oak (Mississippi), Paa-Ko Ridge (New Mexico), and Wolf Creek (Nevada).

Rule: I’m not sure the average golf fan has any clue if a course is public or private when a PGA Tour event is played on it, so having the tourney on an ultra private golf course doesn’t impact the game as a whole.  When a big event like the US Open or Open Championship is on a course that anyone can access, that’s great because it gets more exposure than other events, especially amongst the casual golfers.

Quinn: Members of the 1 % club don’t usually tolerate the invasion of the riff raff trailing after the mercenaries. It certainly is a better experience and better for the game to watch the pros dismantle a course that civilians can play. But it’s not bad to occasionally see where the extremely rich spend their idle time.

Mumford: One of the things that makes golf hard for most players is firm, fast greens. They add strokes, time and frustration to every round and are a direct by-product of PGA Tour set-ups. Unfortunately, the Tour is a business and its product is entertainment. Anything that weakens the product or makes it less entertaining isn’t good for business even if it has a positive consequence for golf in general. While the Tour may bear some responsibility to be leaders, don’t expect them to do anything that cuts into their Nielsen ratings or their bottom line.

Speaking of players who had an unfavourable view of Trinity Forest, Matt Kuchar missed the cut for the first time in 30 starts. He was the closest to breaking Tiger Woods’ record of 142 consecutive cuts made. What’s your favourite record in professional golf and do you think it will ever be broken?

Deeks: I have two, neither of them very original:  Jack’s record of 18 majors, and Bobby Jones’s Grand Slam.  I don’t believe either of them will be broken.  Jones’s, of course, involved two Opens and two Amateurs; but even when modernized to the four professional majors, I just can’t see one person being able to win all four in the same calendar year… although I concede that Tiger did the feat consecutively within twelve months in 2000-01.  Mind you, I do believe that every one of my colleagues on the Round Table has the talent to pull off a Grand Slam, with just a little extra effort!

Schurman: Making consecutive cuts is one of the most telling stats of a player’s performance. However, I think the most unreachable record is Byron’s 18 wins. In fact, he also finished 2nd seven times that year, making 25 top two finishes. FYI He also won 11 in a row that year finishing with a win at Thornhill Golf Club in the Canadian Open.

Kaplan: I don’t know how the answer could be anything but Byron Nelson’s 18 wins in 1945. Yes, the competition was nowhere near as stiff as it is today, but that accomplishment is just otherworldly. For comparison’s sake, neither Tiger nor Jack was able to win more than 9 tournaments in a single season!

Rule: That was a pretty impressive run by Kooch, but it just goes to show that Tiger’s cut streak will be tough to touch!  But it won’t be as hard to match as Byron Nelson’s 1945, where he completed his streak of 11 straight victories at the Canadian Open, and won 18 total events that year.  Sure some guys weren’t there because they were serving in the war, but it’s still an impressive record that will never be touched.

Quinn: This record speaks to what modern golf is all about — Briny Baird, come on down. Before a back injury halted his record run, Baird had won $13.18 Million but had not won one of the 365 tournaments he played. That took some doing. Sadly, his mark will very likely be broken with today’s inflated purses.

Mumford: I think there are three records on the PGA Tour that will never be broken: 1. Tiger Woods’s cut streak. It’s the equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive game hitting streak and is unassailable. 2. Byron Nelson’s 18 total wins in a season. That’s a great career for most golfers but nobody will be able to dominate like that again. The competition is just too strong. 3. Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors. Unless Tiger Woods finds the fountain of youth or Phil Mickelson puts on a senior blitz, the next closest active player to Jack is Rory McIlroy with four majors. He would need to win at least one a year until he’s 44. As George H. W. Bush might say, “Na ga happen.”

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

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