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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trump Bedminster New Course - Impressive Test

The rolling hills of New Jersey's Somerset County make not only great horse country, but great golf country as well. Among the gems in the area is Trump National Bedminster, just a few minutes off I-78. Donald Trump opened the New Course last year after receiving rave reviews for the Old Course that debuted on the property in 2004. Tom Fazio did the first one and his nephew, Tom Fazio II, designed the New Course. The two will host the 2009 USGA Junior Amateur Championship and Girls' Junior Championship concurrently July 20-25.

The New Course has six sets of tees, with the tips stretching a monstrous 7,534 yards, including a par three that plays 270 from the black tees. It's slightly downhill, but still..... That hole, like most of the others on the course, has a spacious green full of not-so-subtle (would you expect anything else from Trump?) humps, bumps, curls, and contours.

Another consistent feature of the design is really well-placed fairway bunkering that turns what could be mediocre short and medium-length par fours into strong tests of driving skill. The 17th and 18th holes are particularly challenging. The 17th is only 374 yards from the blue tees, but a nasty bunker intrudes from the left and cuts the fairway in half at the landing area about 210 yards out. It takes a 250-yard carry to clear it. The second shot is a tester, too, with a two-club elevated green protected by bunkers right front and left side. It's probably one of the smallest greens on the course.

The finishing hole is 420 yards from the blue tees and plays uphill all the way. There's a particularly deep swale in front of the severely-humped green, so many players are going to end up playing it as a three-shot hole whether they intended to or not.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but the man builds good golf courses. The New Course at Trump National Bedminster is an impressive test of golf.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, June 22, 2009

U.S. Open Won By Qualifier Lucas Glover

Lucas Glover photo C USGA/Michael CohenOne of the great but overlooked stories of the 2009 U.S. Open is that three of the top four finishers all got into the event through the sectional qualifying tournaments. Lucas Glover, the winner, played his way into the tournament by shooting 133 in the qualifier at Columbus, Ohio, as did runner-up Ricky Barnes.

Barnes, who led after the first two rounds, has been playing on the Nationwide Tour. David Duval, who tied for second, was also a qualifier, having rebuilt what looks to be a promising game after years in the cellar recouping from a precipitous drop from his British Open win in 2001.

The last time a qualifier won the tournament was New Zealander Michael Campbell in 2005. Steven Jones did it in 1996, which was the first time in 20 years. In other words, Glover is one of only three qualifiers to win the U.S. Open since about the time Tiger Woods was born.

A record number of golfers entered the U.S. Open this year, according to the USGA. 9,023 players entered the qualifying tournaments. Entries were received from golfers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 71 foreign countries.

The stellar performance by qualifiers is particularly apropos at Bethpage, where top tour pros and weekend hackers are equally welcome to play.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A U.S. Open Green With Teeth

Another significant change the USGA has made to the course setup for this year's U.S. Open is to strive for consistent green speeds over all four days of the tournament. In my opinion, this will improve scoring as well, since the players will not have to make daily adjustments as greens get faster during later rounds as has been the case in the past. The weather, of course, is going to make it harder for the goals to be achieved, but the principle remains the same.

Mike Davis, USGA senior director for Rules and Competitions, said this morning:
Last night, after six days of trying, we finally reached the lower end of our desired range – an average of 14 feet on the Stimpmeter. With the rain overnight and early Thursday, the greens have likely slowed to the low- to mid-13 range.
That's still pretty speedy. As a note of comparison, the faster greens at most private clubs will peak out around 11, with an occasional masochist greens committee chairman who presses the superintendent to push them up to 12 or 13. Most public and resort courses will register closer to 8 or 9.

Most of the greens at Bethpage aren't particularly severe. Unlike Winged Foot, they lack the huge undulations and steep slopes that make putting a hit-or-miss proposition much of the time. That's one reason the USGA is pushing the envelope with speed this year.

There are exceptions, however. The eighth hole slopes significantly from back to front and the extension of the green toward the pond in front, coupled with a shaved bank, will make putts above the hole a real test of nerves. Eleven has a substantial false front, too, and seventeen is split by a ridge that can keep things interesting.

Nothing compares with the fifteenth green, however. Without question it's already the toughest hole on the course, requiring a laser-accurate drive to stay in the fairway followed by a second shot to a blind putting surface perched fifty feet above the player's head. The green is brutal, with a six-foot drop from back to front exacerbated by tiering. According to the NY Times, only three percent of the green's surface is level enough for a hole. Check out their graphics for a great overview of the hole.

I've putted (and chipped) from above the hole under normal conditions and can guarantee it's no fun. Honestly, I can't imagine doing that at U.S. Open speeds.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

US Open Holes To Watch

As I wrote earlier, this year's US Open at Bethpage Black will be a substantially easier scoring event for the pros than the 2002 tournament. Here are a few holes where you're going to see lower numbers, especially from big hitters:

Number 6 - 408 Yards Par 4 - The hole is short under normal conditions, but will play much shorter this year. As traditionally laid out, you had to play a conservative shot to a tiny landing area on top of the hill between two fairway bunkers, leaving a short iron to the green that's 50 feet below the driving area. Hit anything longer off the tee and you were in the rough that covered the hillside to prevent balls rolling down to the bottom fairway. The USGA did away with that rough for the Open this year, which will allow a tee shot over the left fairway bunker to catch that slope and roll down to within flip-wedge distance to the green. It won't have to be a driver, either, since the carry is only about 270 yards from the back of the back tee. I can envision some bigger hitters going with a driver, though, and making the greenside bunkers, which aren't particularly punitive by Bethpage standards.

Number 7 - 525 Yards Par 4 - The USGA is touting this as the longest par 4 in US Open history and, at 525 yards, it sure looks like it on the scorecard. Again, though, the hole won't play that long especially since the tees may be moved up to encourage more risk-taking. Even from the back, a 300-yard drive will clear the dog leg and leave less than 200 yards to the green. The USGA has actually widened the fairway to encourage players to challenge the oak trees that guard the right side. Count on that happening a lot. Even a player that doesn't cut the dog leg will be left with a mid- to short-iron.

Tiger Woods at Bethpage, courtesy of USGA/John Mummert
Number 9 - 460 Yards Par 4 - This was the easiest hole in 2002 and, despite a new tee some 40 yards back and a new bunker off the fairway to the left, I still don't think it will pose problems for the big boomers. They'll be able to carry that bunker, possibly with something less than a driver, and leave themselves a wedge to one of the easiest greens on the course.

Number 13 - 605 Yards Par 5 - The new tee and new deep bunkers left of the driving zone will make this a harder hole for everyone but those guys who hit 320 yard drives with regularity--which includes an awful lot of players in the US Open field. The green will be reachable in two by those guys, with the vaunted cross bunkers not a factor for them (or really for anyone else). There is a bunker that appears to guard the approach to the green that should make someone think twice about trying to reach on the second shot, but it's actually 30 yards in front of the putting surface, so running the ball onto the green will happen fairly often. Even the player who lays up for some reason will have an easy third shot that should set up plenty of birdies. There is no real punishment for taking a chance here, so players who shoot par will have definitely lost a shot to the field.

For a really good overview of the entire course--with expert commentary by my friend Brian Crowell--check out the NBC flyover videos. Brian and I may be friends, but we definitely have a few differences of opinion!

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Succeeding At Ping - Part 4 of 4

This series looks at what's next for Ping Golf as the company celebrates it's fiftieth anniversary this year.

John K. Solheim is often considered the heir apparent at Ping. Yet, he says,
"Talking to my dad, I don't get a lot of that. He hasn't anointed me. Both of my father's brothers retired at 65, but I'm not sure what the plan is for him." Andy says he'd like the CEO job, too. "I don't know what my dad's plans are," Andy says. "I look at the third generation, and most of us are pretty young."
Leslie Dashew, a family business advisor in Scottsdale, says it makes sense for a business leader to take a cautious approach to succession decisions.
"When families are [carefully] thinking through this process, it provides a great deal of security to employees," she says. "If you want to run the business well, you run it like a business. You find the best talent. That may or may not be a family member."
Doug Hawken, 58, Ping's non-family president and COO, says he's not privy to the succession planning but feels good about the prospects.
"We have a good balance of family members and non-family members at leadership levels," he says. Hawken might be considered a prospect to succeed John, but the two men aren't that far apart in age. Hawken says he only wants one thing: "Whoever takes on that leadership role at this company has to have the same passion as Karsten had and John has. You don't just assign somebody that passion -- they either have it or they don't."
John turned the company around, streamlined it and worked through many of the rough spots, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Golf in the U.S. isn't a growing sport, but the international market is just waiting to be tapped.
As John K. points out, "In Japan, we don't even have 1% of the marketplace. And that's the second largest golf market in the world!"
In recent years, Ping opened new assembly facilities in both Japan and Europe as part of its strategy to take its rapid delivery system to the international market.

There is also some low-hanging fruit domestically, according to John K.
"We've been a little slow to adjust to the market's move from green-grass [golf course pro shop] outlets to retail stores," he says. "They've really taken over the hard goods side of the business. We have great relationships with the golf course owners and operators, but, at the end of the day, the consumer isn't buying product there."
Doug Hawken watched the generational transition from the vantage point of a non-family insider and offers a positive outlook for the future:
"Since John has taken control, we've returned to a good position within the marketplace," he says. "We've had four years of growth now, but he's willing to listen to the fact that we need to get our group together to go forward."
This article appeared in Family Business Magazine, Summer 2008

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lost At The Open

The famous "difficult course" sign on the first tee at the Black might also apply to the freeways on Long Island. I went bright and early to Bethpage this morning to pick up my media credentials, managing to beat most of the crowd and avoiding the lines, probably for the last time this week.

It was fun watching a little of today's practice rounds. I also hung around the practice tee for awhile, then went over to the practice green, where at least half the spectators on the course were gathered to watch Tiger. He wasn't practicing, you understand, just standing there chatting with Steve Williams and Hank Haney and a couple of guys I didn't recognize. As far as the crowd was concerned, though, he was putting on a show. You could see them just drooling for him to walk along the fence and shake a hand or two, which was the furthest thing from his mind, of course.

I had to get home, however, so I walked back to catch the shuttle to the media parking lot where I'd left my car. Considering how far away it was from the course, I might as well have parked at home. When I asked one of the helpful USGA volunteers where to catch the shuttle, they directed me to a trailer. When I told the even-more helpful volunteer inside where I wanted to go, she hopped right to the task, called a driver over, and handed him the keys to a courtesy car!

The volunteer driver, an older man from Farmingdale, drove over an orange traffic cone in his eagerness to be of service, told me he knew exactly where I had parked, and we were off.

As we left Bethpage State Park, nothing looked familiar to me, but the driver assured me he knew where he was going, so I sat back to enjoy the ride. Thirty chat-filled and wrong-way minutes later, we pulled into the wrong hotel parking lot. Finally, I convinced him to follow the directions I'd been trying to give him all along. Eventually we got there.

Next time, I'll wait for the shuttle.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, June 14, 2009

GlenArbor Teaches Life Lessons

Not all the good things that happen on a golf course involve little white balls. The fine folks at GlenArbor in Bedford, NY, have found a way to make great use of their facility for another fun--and very worthwhile--endeavor: environmental education.

GlenArbor Environmental Education
A group of kids from West Patent Elementary School recently visited the course for a hay ride tour with Superintendent Ken Benoit that included stops at a bluebird nest box where they discussed nesting and predators and at a stand of rare Dawn Redwoods where the talk was about the importance of trees to the air we breathe as well as the aesthetics of the golf course. They made a visit to the 17th green to talk about grass as an oxygen-producer and the many substances that make up healthy soil, and finished at a lake on the course where they observed fish, two types of turtles, and ducks, swans, and a Great Blue Heron.

Near the 15th tee they stopped to see the wetlands where the swans nest, then it was off to the 14th tee to see the nearby wild flowers and their pollinators, the bees, butterflies, and humming birds. Along the way, they looked for other wildlife that inhabits the course and surrounding countryside including fox, coyote, deer, turkeys, hawks, rabbits, raccoons, and skunks. The day included a honey bee hive demonstration, slide show, and even a box lunch served near the short game practice facility.

The kids had a great time and learned a bunch about the world we live in.

Next time I'm searching for a ball in the tall grass or cursing that big tree between me and the green, I hope I can step back and enjoy the place I'm playing the same way these kids did.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ridgeway For Sale?

Ridgeway CC #8
Officially, Ridgeway Country Club in White Plains, NY, is on the market. A recently-published article says the asking price is $20 million for the 130-acre tract which is zoned for single-family homes on three-quarter-acre lots. When I was there recently for a MGWA event, though, club president Henry Shyer said a sale will be a last resort. He's hoping to attract members to replace the 50 or so who resigned this year by offering sharply reduced membership fees and a monthly payment plan.

Head pro Pete Donnelly, a White Plains native and congenial chief of the Ridgeway pro shop for 29 years, said changing lifestyles are making club memberships less attractive to younger people, which only compounds the difficulty of replacing the members who left because of the sharp downturn in the economy. The club membership has been declining for several years.

Donnelly added that the club now regrets its deal-killing hesitation to accept an offer from local real estate developer Louis Cappelli to buy 150 memberships for use by guests of his nearby Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which opened last year. Given the economic climate, that offer is most certainly off the table now.

It would be a shame to lose this venerable member of Westchester's golf community. The course was built in 1923 and has gone through several iterations resulting in today's version with narrow fairways, tiny, slick greens, and some interesting bunker complexes. The club also has 10 tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool, and a fitness room. It's also known for fine dining. Having sampled the fare, I can attest that the food is as good as the golf.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Succeeding At Ping - Part 3 of 4

This series looks at what's next for Ping Golf as the company celebrates it's fiftieth anniversary this year.

When John Solheim took over the management of Ping in 1995, the change supercharged the company. He expanded the product line into metal woods, set up a rapid-delivery system to hold on to the company's position in the custom-fitting market and hired Ping's first advertising agency. He also divested several other operations that weren't directly related to the company's roots as a club maker.

Not long after, his own sons moved into management positions in the company.
"At our age, the third generation has a lot more influence than the second generation did at the same age," David Solheim observes. "That's a credit to the second generation for allowing us to get our hands dirty."
Andy Solheim, 31, is director of customer relations. Domestic and international customer service, credit and club fitting and repair all fall under his aegis. Like his brothers (and his father, for that matter), he's never worked anywhere else. He says he learned what it means to be a Solheim early in his career.
"One time, I had just finished my master's degree and had helped do a video for a national sales meeting," Andy recalls. "I was just going to show up, watch the video then go back to the office, so I was wearing shorts and a casual shirt. My father gave me 'the look.' Fifteen minutes later, I had a suit on."
John's oldest son, known as John K., is 33 years old and the one who inherited his grandfather's engineering talent. He holds an MBA as well as a degree in mechanical engineering. As vice president of engineering, he says, he has tried to expand the design function beyond the one-man-one-idea operation it was under Karsten. He's hired several design engineers with backgrounds in the sport and has concentrated on speeding the time to market for new products. One of the company's biggest changes came with the purchase -- at John K.'s urging -- of a supercomputer, which shortened the wait time for design analysis from 15 hours to 15 minutes.
"The Cray Supercomputer was one of those times when my dad and I were on the same page," John K. says. There were plenty of other times when they weren't, including several disagreements over product design. In fact, their relationship bears some resemblance to the one between Karsten and John, according to John K.: "We may have to name another road 'John's Way.' He has his own way of doing things."
That may not bode well for the looming management transition from the second generation to the third, although John says he's working to ensure a smooth handover of operations.
"My dad was well into his 80s when he finally turned it over, and I don't intend for that to happen," John says. "I'm not in any hurry to leave, but, at the same time, we have to have the best person for the job. The family members have to compete with everybody else."
The family is working with consultants to help them address succession issues.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rye Golf Club Leaps Forward

One of the best surprises I've had in a long time came when I played the Rye Golf Club for the first time in about five years. Since I was there last, the venerable municipal course has undergone some major revisions and taken giant leaps forward in conditioning. Now, I'd rank it among the best publicly-owned courses I've seen.

One of the unique features, as head pro Mike Rapisarda never tires of telling people, is that it is the only course in Westchester where you can hit a ball into Long Island Sound. In fact, there are two holes where that dubious feat can be accomplished. One is the 315-yard par four twelfth hole that just begs for a big hitter to drive the green, thereby bringing the sound into play on the left. The other is the tortuous par three seventeenth, seen below at low tide. The green is about the size of a dinner napkin and the wind can easily take your ball out to sea if you're not careful.

Rye Golf Club #17
The par 71 track was originally laid out by Devereux Emmet in 1921, but I don't imagine the old boy would recognize it today. The course has been stretched to 6500 yards, every tee and bunker has been rebuilt, the fairways converted to bent grass, and hundreds of trees have been taken down to open more of the course to those wonderful Sound views. All of the work, by the way, has been designed and carried out by Superintendent Chip Lafferty, who came to the course in 2003.

The course is owned by the City of Rye, NY, and is open to members and their guests. I recommend you find a member and beg an invitation.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, June 4, 2009

U.S. Open Hopefuls Vie In Westchester

Only those with a ticket can get into Bethpage to see the U.S. Open, but you can get a good taste for free Monday, June 8, at the Sectional Qualifiers. The drama is just as intense and the golf just as good as top players vie for slots in the big show. In my neighborhood (literally), Old Oaks and Century host the qualifying rounds in Purchase, NY. There are some interesting players in the field whose names will be familiar to Westchester golfers.

2008 NY State Open winner Rob Labritz, Director of Golf at GlenArbor will compete here along with Mike Diffley, head pro at Pelham CC, and Ben Hoffhine, head pro at Wykagyl. Also playing is Gregory Bisconti of St. Andrew's, Anthony Casalino from Willow Ridge, and Keith Dicciani of Metropolis. An amateur of note in the field is 2007 Carter Cup champion Max Buckley of Rye, N.Y.

Andrew Svoboda of Larchmont, NY, finished 71st at last year’s U.S. Open after getting into the field as an alternate. He was a semifinalist at the 2004 U.S. Amateur and also played in the 2006 U.S. Open. Both of those events were at Winged Foot, where his parents are members and where he has won the club championship.

Michael Allen of Scottsdale, AZ, recently won the 2009 Senior PGA Championship in his first start as a 50-and-over player. He has played in five U.S. Opens, tying for 12th in 2001. He is a former assistant pro at Winged Foot.

Andrew Giuliani of New York City, the son of former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani and a former member of the Duke University golf team, earned the final qualifying spot at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn.

Brad Faxon is a member of the PGA Tour who has played in 20 U.S. Opens. His best finishes came in 1989 and 1994, when he tied for 33rd. He played on the victorious 1983 USA Walker Cup team.

French-born Jean Van de Velde of Dubai has played in two U.S. Opens, including a 45th-place finish in 2002 at Bethpage. He is best known for his runner-up finish at the 1999 British Open. Other prominent Tour professionals in the field include Mathias Gronberg of Sweden and Scott Dunlap.

Former Met Junior champion Michael Quagliano of White Plains, N.Y., will attempt to qualify on June 8 in Memphis, Tenn.

The field of 77 players will compete over 36 holes of stroke play for one of four spots in the championship. The event is open to the public and spectators are welcome at both clubs. Food service will be available.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the