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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Watson DVDs Make Great Fathers Day Gift

Ray Watson first introduced his 6-year-old son Tom to the game, so it's only fitting that World Golf Hall-of-Famer Tom Watson just released the Lessons of a Lifetime II revision of the best-selling original DVD set just in time for Father's Day.

"I felt it was time to provide further instruction in areas not just about hitting the shots, but also about the mental approach of playing the game," says Watson. "One of the many great things about golf is that it can never be mastered. Sure you can have a good run of play, but sooner or later the wheels will come off. I've been experiencing the game for half a century, and I promise you I'm still learning."

The original DVD set was released in 2010 and has become one of the best-selling golf instructional video programs of all time, having sold 70,000+ DVD sets in five languages in more than 40 countries. The new lessons cover many advanced topics, including pre-shot routine, the importance of the bottom of the arc, head movement, how to benefit the most with your time on the practice tee, handling pressure, the 40 yard wedge shot, controlling trajectory on chips, chipping with a putting set up, several putting lessons and instruction for kids and seniors. 

The new 2014 lessons can be purchased in two ways:
The first, Tom Watson Lessons of a Lifetime II With New Advanced Lessons ($49.95), features three discs (including the original two-disc DVD set) and a 20-page booklet.
The second, Tom Watson Lessons of a Lifetime II: The New Advanced Lessons ($24.95), features one disc (only the new lessons) and a five-page booklet.

These DVD programs are available for sale at TomWatson.com, Amazon - U.S., Canada, U.K., Japan and select golf and sporting goods retailers. Both programs are can also be purchased by telephone at 800-993-5589.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Friday, May 30, 2014

Historic Seaview Bay Course Hosts LPGA ShopRite Classic

Seaview Resort & Spa

The unofficial start to the summer golf season in Atlantic City takes place this week on the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club’s newly renovated Bay Course. It's the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer.

Defending champion Karrie Webb joins fellow Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Se Ri Pak, who are set to tee it up with future legends of the game like teen phenom Lydia Ko and major winner Lexi Thompson. Additionally, the field features fan favorites such as Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis, as well past champions of this event like Stacy Lewis, Cristie Kerr and Brittany Lincicome.

The May 30 to June 1 LPGA event features the world’s Top 10 ranked players in the Rolex Rankings and reigning champions of all five LPGA majors — along with 94 out of the top 100 players on the LPGA’s money list.

The real star of the show, though, may well be the Seaview Bay Course, a 6,366-yard Donald Ross design that will test every player, pro or amateur. The track is one infuriating short hole after another, with wind, wind, wind, and more wind pushing your ball away from the tiny greens.  The course underwent a renovation earlier this year to celebrate its centennial, but it didn't lose its traditional feel despite adding new tees on four holes and refreshing some of the bunker complexes. It's still seaside golf in all its glory.

A hundred years of golf history at Seaview are reflected in the wooden bunker rakes and flag sticks, not to mention the many crowned greens with approaches that reward an effective bump-and-run ground game and a careful reading of putts.  In an earlier, gentler time, Warren G. Harding played the course and Sam Snead won the 1942 PGA Championship here. In addition to Juli Inkster, two other Hall of Famers, Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez,won the LPGA ShopRite Classic on the Bay Course.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shore Gate Rates a Trip to Jersey

Shore Gate Golf Club is one of the many under-appreciated golf opportunities on the Jersey shore.  Since it opened in 2002, it's been named to numerous "best of" lists, which is completely understandable once you play the demanding, scenic layout that winds through the pine forests of Ocean View, NJ. Daily fee (and membership) rates are reasonable, the golf is good, and there are plenty of amenities to add to your experience, including Atlantic City just 30 minutes away.

The course was designed by Ron Fream and David Dale and built on 245 acres with plenty of dramatic elevation changes and rolling terrain. The architects mixed features of both parkland and link-style golf to make things interesting.  Fairways are tight, greens are expansive, and you'll find plenty of water and sand to challenge your game. From the tips, Shore Gate stretches over 7,200 yards, but there are four other sets of tees to make par accessible for every level of golfer. Given the amount of trouble on the course, I'd recommend sticking with the 6,391-yard whites (rating/slope of 70.7/132) for anyone except the longest-hitting single handicappers.

Shore Gate #9 - 577 yard par 5
There are 88 bunkers on Shore Gate (as well as seven ponds and lakes), making even the shorter holes a test of your game. The toughest hole on the course, though, is the longest. It's the ninth, which measures 577 yards from the white tees--you don't even want to think about playing the black at 648!  the ninth hole is also a true par five, wrapping in a u-shape around a water hazard on the left side of the fairway that also squeezes in front of the green.

Among the many short-hole delights is the 371-yard seventh hole, aka "Bunker City." A dramatic sand chute runs the entire length of the right side of the fairway from tee to green, making the dog-leg a slicer's nightmare. Even straight hitters can get in trouble here, too, because they can drive through the fairway and end up with trees between them and the green.

Among the other golf pleasures of Shore Gate is the practice area with multi-tiered driving range featuring both bent grass and artificial tees, a huge putting green, and a practice bunker. Peak time green fees run $115 during peak season, but twilight rates are around $70. For the best prices--and the best weather--enjoy Shore Gate in September and October, when you can tee it up for as little as $50.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cameron Wilson Grabs NCAA Title

MGA standout Cameron Wilson captured the NCAA Individual championship yesterday in a sudden-death playoff that went three holes on the Prairie Dunes course in Hutchinson, Kansas. His win puts him in pretty heady company: The other Stamford players who hold the title are Sandy Lyle and Tiger Woods.

Wilson's overtime win came against Georgia Tech's Ollie Schniederjans, a frequent NCAA opponent and, according to Wilson, a good friend.  Wilson missed a putt on the last hole of regulation to end up in the playoff.

The win caps a stellar year for the Connecticut native. He won the Fighting Illini and the Western Intercollegiate and at one point had a streak of 197 consecutive holes without a double bogey or worse.

Last year, Wilson won his second consecutive Ike championship, bringing to five the number of MGA wins he's logged. He was named MGA Player of the Year in 2009.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Monday, May 26, 2014

Craig Thomas Low Club Pro at Sr. PGA Championship

Craig Thomas
photo by Montana Pritchard
Craig Thomas, head professional at Metropolis CC in White Plains, was the lowest-scoring club professional at the Sr. PGA Championship played at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The multiple-championship winner tied with Bob Friend, Director of Golf at Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown, WV. Both finished three over. Thomas had rounds of 72-70-74-71.

"I started every round wanting to put up a good number and once I made the cut, Saturday and Sunday felt like a little bit of a bonus," Thomas said. "It was a little bit easier, a little bit freer, you're really not worried about what the number is going to be, 2 or 3 or 4 over you go out and play golf and make a few putts and see what you do."

Craig Thomas
photo by Montana Pritchard
Among his many outstanding competitive performances, Thomas tied for 23rd in the 2013 Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship and tied for fourth in 2009 PGA Professional National Championship.

Colin Montgomery won the event, his first title won on American soil--and his first major championship anywhere in 71 attempts. He beat Tom Watson by fours strokes.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Tallgrass Named to Golfweek NY Top Ten

Tallgrass Golf Course has again been named one of the top layouts in New York by Golfweek Magazine. The publication’s 2014 “Best Courses You Can Play” state-by-state public course rankings puts Tallgrass Golf Course at number seven on the list. It joins Bethpage Black as the only other Long Island golf course recognized in the prestigious top ten.

Tallgrass was designed by New York native Gil Hanse, the 2009 Golf Magazine “Architect of the Year,” who has become one of the most sought-after designers in the industry.  Hanse was selected from among a stellar field of international candidates to design the golf course for the Rio 2016™ Olympic Games, and he also recently re-designed the famed Blue Monster at Trump National Doral.
Tallgrass represented one of Hanse’s earliest designs when it burst onto the Met area golf scene in 2000.

 “At Tallgrass, we focused on creating interesting holes that would focus on strategy and angles that would reward the thoughtful golfer as opposed to the long hitter,” said Hanse. “The combination of beauty in the landscape, creativity in the design and fun and interest in the play of the course is what makes Tallgrass special.”

Tallgrass is the only public access, authentic links course on Long Island.  The 6,587 yard, par-71 course features expansive fairways and undulating greens framed by rugged pot bunkers, large sandy waste areas, and thick fescue grass that give the course its name.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Friday, May 23, 2014

Do You Have a Coach AND/OR a Teacher?

Taking regular lessons from a PGA professional is the single best thing you can do for your game. Once you’ve learned the basics, though, it may be time to change your student/teacher relationship to player/coach. “Teaching and coaching are two different things,”  says GlenArbor GC Director of Golf Rob Labritz. “With a beginner, you teach them the basics of the golf swing. With a more experienced player, coaching how to play the game of golf becomes more important.”

Tom Willson with Rob Labritz
photo by John Fortunato
Labritz, by the way, is speaking as a player, not a coach. The four-time PGA Championship competitor and 2103 Met PGA Player of the Year has worked for thirteen years with Tom Willson, who retired last year as head professional at Bonnie Briar CC. The two met in Florida. During the season, Labritz sees Willson about once a month but frequently sends him videos of his swing for commentary.

“There is no one perfect swing,” Willson points out, “but there is a perfect swing for Rob.”

“We talk about strategies, too,” Labritz says. “We’ll work on different lies and how to get the club on the ball to make it do what we want.”  They have worked tougher enough that they can even talk about course situations over the phone and come to conclusions about what Rob needs to do. At big tournaments like the PGA Championship, Willson will often travel with him and accompany him on practice rounds.

When it comes to the player/coach relationship, Labritz says, “It’s more than the golf swing. You get to know how people think, how they feel, how their emotions act on the golf course. Once you get to that point, the trust grows.”

Trust your coach, trust your swing—your game is bound to get better.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Happy National Golf Day!

Capitol Hill Golf Day
National Golf Day, 2013
Today is National Golf Day and WE ARE GOLF, a coalition of the game’s leading associations and industry partners, returns to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress and discuss golf’s nearly $69 billion economy, $4 billion annual charitable impact and many environmental and fitness benefits.

Jack Nicklaus, 18-time major winner, will join golf industry executives in D.C. for The First Tee Congressional Breakfast. Golf’s leaders will meet with Members of Congress throughout the day to share stories about the game’s nearly 15,000 diverse businesses, two million employees, tax revenue creation, tourism and ecological value.

“Our primary goal is to communicate to Congressional members that golf is a major U.S. industry and generates almost $4 billion annually for charities – more than the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL combined – with the majority of funds going to causes unrelated to the sport,” says Steve Mona, CEO of World Golf Foundation (WGF) and administrator of WE ARE GOLF. “The May 21 event is an ideal opportunity to bring industry stakeholders together on Capitol Hill to showcase the game’s benefits to society and explain why golf courses should be regarded like any other small business.”

Organizations participating include the Club Managers Association of America, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), National Golf Course Owners Association, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, The First Tee, United States Golf Association, United States Golf Manufacturers Council, WGF and others.

National Golf Day will feature a day-long exhibit in the Cannon Caucus Room with live lessons for Members of Congress and staff from 2012 PGA Teacher of the Year Michael Breed, host of “The Golf Fix” on Golf Channel, and LPGA Professional Dana Rader. Special exhibits and activities include a “Closest to the Pin” contest utilizing an aboutGolf simulator, the exclusive on-air provider for the Golf Channel and official licensed product of the PGA TOUR; state-of-the-art swing analysis from GolfTEC; Birdie Ball, the latest at-home training technology; and a Republican vs. Democrat “Putting Challenge.”

“We look forward to representing the two million men and women who rely on the golf industry to make a living while providing significant benefits to local communities,” says Rhett Evans, CEO of GCSAA and WE ARE GOLF Coalition Chairman. “When passing legislation, we want Congress to appropriately recognize the size and scope of the golf industry so we are treated similarly to other businesses.”

To join the conversation, visit the social media hub at www.wearegolf.org/social-media/national-golf-day. From May 1-31, be sure to use #NGD14 and tag @wearegolf for Twitter and Instagram to show your support for the golf industry.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

CEO Advice on Growing the Game

Andrew Glaser, founder and CEO of Club Crown, the manufacturer of high-tech films that are professionally installed on the crowns of drivers, fairway woods and hybrids, provides this guest post about stopping golf's attrition.
Andrew Glaser
Andrew Glaser, CEO, Club Crown

Golf is in trouble.  Participation rates have dropped 25% over the last decade and no one knows how to stop this attrition.  The industry has tried many things yet the numbers say that nothing is working.  As you would expect, there continues to be a stream of commentary and ideas on how to increase participation and I do believe in the concepts behind a number of the initiatives.  That said, I feel that the stakeholders (USGA, PGA, OEMs, retailers, etc.) need to broaden the scope of their analysis, beyond golf, to understand what initiatives the industry needs to pursue to successfully reinvigorate participation.
When pundits talk about decline rates, they invariably bring up one of the following:  1) golf is too hard, 2) it's not fun, 3) it's too expensive or 4) it takes too long.  I think the answer is more complicated and focus groups are not always the place to look for answers.  Golf is a recreational activity and golf, as a leisure activity, competes for golfers' free time.  If one activity becomes more attractive than another, then one will gain at the expense of the other.

I believe that Golf is seeing decline rates principally because people have found other activities that, for a variety of personal and cultural reasons, they have prioritized.  For example, gyms are popping up everywhere.  A Reuters story cited an International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) survey showing that gym membership among the 55-plus group in the United States jumped from 1.5 million in 1987 to 9.9 million in 2007, a 560% increase.  Won't that have an impact on the amount time that people spend at the golf course?  The younger generation is also spending more time at the gym, playing video games, on social media and browsing the internet.  These are just four competing activities that I bring up.  There are no doubt others.  As a result, consumers might say in a focus group that golf is not fun or too expensive.  Yet what they are really saying is golf is less fun, more expensive for the enjoyment, less trendy and less of a priority than other activities.

A different but better question we can now ask is, how do we get consumers to choose golf over video games, working out and Facebook?  This is the wider lens we need to be looking through when trying to discover the causes of golf's decline in participation.
With golf having such long-term traditions, more so than any other major sport, I think it would be very difficult to change the overall structure of the game.  i.e., make the holes bigger, make non-conforming clubs, separate rules for amateurs (shortening the round probably has merit).  This will be an uphill battle.

Instead, I would start by incorporating the activities that are taking share from golf, into golf. The good news is that there are some enterprising companies that are already making great strides in this direction.

  • VPAR - A mobile golf scoring system designed for competitions between any number of teams. social tech
  • Game Golf - Allows easy automatic stroke by stroke capture with mobile upload.  Golfers can share their rounds on social media.
  • Top Golf - Revolutionizing the driving range space with competitive target scoring (like video games), bars and an overall great entertainment space.  It's a place where young people will want to hang out and have golf entertainment at a reasonable price.
  • Loft Golf/JoeyD (Jupiter, FL) The Golf Pit (Toledo, OH) Golf and Body (New York, NY) - There are also all encompassing golf fitness/fitting/social centers that are on the right track.  All offering club purchase/fitting, simulators, gyms and physical therapy under one roof.  If baby boomers are going to the gym, bring the gym to the golf practice facility!

It's great to see that creative entrepreneurs are already taking the initiative and there is no doubt more will pop up to profitably take advantage of these thematics.

I would encourage all golf stakeholders to try to view their growth initiatives through this wider lens.  We should augment the existing initiatives and add initiatives that better evolve with the overall recreational trends that are pulling people away from golf by working to incorporate those trends into golf.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Touch of Class from Ryan McCormick

Here's an open letter to his fans from a class guy--and a golfer with a great future ahead of him.

Ryan McCormick at Big East Championship
photo by Stephen Morton
courtesy of Big East
Hey all,

I wanted to thank you for your continued support of our program now and throughout my four years at St. John's. Everybody who is on this email list has shown support for our program in some way and I wanted to let you all know how much I have truly appreciated that.

I have been asked many times if I would have gone to a different school if I could have gone back and done it over again. Like most people who go through college and especially those who have competed in a sport, there were times where I doubted whether I was at the right place. After finishing my final collegiate round and my last final, I can truthfully say that I went to the right place and I would do it all over again here at St. John's. The St. John's "family", as I refer to it, all the people who are associated with our program, is something that is truly unique. I have never been apart of a group like this in my life that genuinely cares and looks out for each other. I also can't tell you the amount of people we have met or come across on the road that have had a connection with St. Johns.

The experiences that I have had as a Johnnie playing for this program have been magnificent. I have had the opportunity to travel and play golf in different places and at the finest courses that I never dreamed that I would have played four years ago. There have been countless memories with great guys and teammates who are still my friends. I will never forget some of the trips and practices we had together.

I have also had many people help me the past few years but two people deserve recognition. Mike Diffley and my coach Frank Darby. Mike and I have been working together for three years and I am so fortunate to have help from one of the smartest and kindest men I have known. Mike is not only a teacher to me, but also a great friend. Coach Darby has always been supportive throughout my four years and I credit him for allowing me to grow as a player and a person. He allowed me to do what I thought I needed to do get better, and although sometimes he didn't agree with it, he was always supportive and I thank him for that.

I have many great stories as do most of you who are associated with St. John's golf, however I would like to include how I came to St. John's. My father got a call from Coach Darby during my junior year of high school and told him that he could offer me a full scholarship. When my dad came home to tell me I laughed and thought, "I'll never go there, why would I want to stay in the northeast and play for that team, they suck!" At the time I was a hotshot junior who thought I was better than I was. I came to realize that they didn't suck and that the northeast was where I called home. I knew that St. John's was the place for me after meeting the team and Coach Darby.

I am so happy to have spent my last four years here at St. John's.

Thank you for all your past and future support.

I will be continuing my playing career as a professional and have earned exempt status for PGA Tour Canada this summer. I hope to join Keegan and Andrew soon on the PGA Tour.

Ryan McCormick '14

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Use the Ground in your Golf Swing

For the golf scientist in all of us, here's a guest post from Dr. David McGhie, the head of research and development for Swing Catalyst. In case you're not familiar with the product, Swing Catalyst is a complete swing analysis system used by instructors, coaches and golfers around the world.

McGhie has a PhD in biomechanics from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where he did research on traction and impact absorption of artificial turf. He's also previously published a paper on muscle activity and force in cycling, and taught biomechanics and data collection/analysis at both undergraduate and graduate level at the university. Here's what he has to say about using the ground in your golf swing:

Body Mass, Weight and Pressure

Weight is often used to describe mass, since it corresponds to the notion of how heavy something is. You would typically say that your weight is 85 kilograms or 187 pounds, although you would actually be describing your body mass. By traditional definitions, weight (measured in newtons) refers to the force of the gravitational pull of the earth, and is defined as mass (in kilograms) multiplied by the acceleration of gravity (9.81 m/s²). To illustrate the difference, consider an astronaut who's weightless in space. His body mass is still 85 kilograms (187 pounds), but his weight has changed because of the change in gravity. In short, weight is the force of your body mass caused by gravity.

The Swing Catalyst Balance Plate measures the pressure applied to the ground by the golfer. A common source of confusion in the Swing Catalyst software is the apparent lack of synchronization between pressure and body mass, illustrated here with PGA Tour player Kevin Streelman. Why does the Swing Catalyst software show that most of the pressure is on the trail foot (R) when the video shows that the golfer has most of his body mass placed over his lead foot (L)?

First, it's important to know that pressure is force working over an area. This means that pressure is the result of the force exerted on the ground by the golfer. When standing still at address, the golfer's weight usually causes the pressure to be distributed fairly evenly between the feet, because the body mass is distributed fairly evenly between the feet (the Tour players we've studied normally favor the lead foot slightly at address, typically displaying a 55-45 distribution). However, weight only determines the distribution of pressure in a passive situation, such as when standing still. During the swing, this relationship is not as clear. This is because the golfer can also actively push down, increasing pressure through force produced by the muscles. Note that this force is not the same as the weight, the force caused by gravity alone.

Now consider the transition from backswing to downswing, the point where this confusion often arises. A golfer will push down with the trail foot to initiate the downswing. In the picture, this can be seen in the greater pressure on Kevin's right foot (R). The body mass, on the other hand, will start to move toward the lead foot in the transition. Notice that Kevin's body mass is favoring his lead foot (L), even though the pressure is favoring his trail foot (R). This is because he actively increases pressure on the trail foot (R) through muscle force. From this we can see that the distribution of pressure does not always follow the distribution of body mass. It will quickly "catch up" with the body mass in the downswing, though. Most good players shift their pressure rapidly to the lead foot after the transition, illustrated here by the straight grey line in the center of pressure trace from Kevin's trail foot (R) to his lead foot (L).

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Friday, May 16, 2014

You'll Never Get Better Unless You Try

Want to step up your game? Check out this guest post from Dan Berger:

Andrew Giuliani, Dan Berger, Peter Goodman, Lokesh Reddy
You may not learn how to drive the ball 300 yards, but you can pick up a host of invaluable information if you play with better golfers from time to time. With that goal in mind, I joined two other amateurs for a round with notable professional Andrew Giuliani at Westchester Hills. Giuliani, winner of the 2009 Met Open and two-time star of the Golf Channel’s Big Break, currently competes on the mini tours and was more than helpful to us all. Here’s what we each learned during the round.

Lokesh Reddy, no handicap: “I’m new to golf and it was fascinating watching how Andrew approached his shots and calmly stepped up to the ball and effortlessly struck shots that made the ball just soar. I learned you have to relax and just hit the ball.”

Peter Goodman, 20 handicap: “Andrew was very accommodating and gave me pointers that seemed to help.  I was jabbing my putter and Andrew explained and demonstrated how I should putt more in a pendulum with an even bringing back of the putter head and then pushing through with the same length through the ball.  It was nice hearing it and watching him do it.”

Dan Berger, 8 handicap: “Andrew’s got game and it takes a ton of hard work and dedication to keep the dream alive.  He works out, keeps physically fit and practices all the time.  He keeps looking to improve his game.  He works with Old Oaks head pro Bobby Heins on his swing and with Darrel Kestner on his putting. While it seems glamorous being a professional golfer, you need great skills and dedication to continuously improving your game.  It’s a grind too.”

Giuliani explained how he approaches rounds with amateurs: “The main thing is to have some fun. Guys get nervous, but they need to remember we hit bad shots too. Sometimes it’s difficult to give advice on the golf course. That’s not the best time for the amateur to try something new or to make a correction. It’s going to feel awkward. I suggest we go to the range after the round and hit a few balls instead.”

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Friday, May 9, 2014

Caddies Enhance Your Game

Tommy Accamondo
Trump National Westchester
photo by John Fortunato
What would Phil be without Bones? Or Furyk without Fluff? Or Adam Scott without Stevie Williams? There’s a reason these caddies are almost as well-known as their players—they’re integral to their success.  If you want to get the most out of your game, hire a caddie every chance you get.

We are very fortunate in Westchester that nearly all of the private clubs have active, effective caddie programs that not only give employment to hundreds of deserving guys and gals, but raise the level of play in numerous ways. That’s not the case everywhere in the country, so we should count our blessings!

What’s a caddie for? Sure, they’ll tote your bag and find your ball and rake the sand trap after you messed it up, but they’ll also help you read your putts, choose the right club, and guide you around a course if you’ve never played it before. Their local knowledge is indispensable, whether it’s the unseen prevailing break on the greens or the fact that a given shot is uphill even though it looks flat. The caddie, who walks the course as many as ten times every week, knows things about it you’ll never know.

Nearly all of Westchester’s caddies get started with an intense MGA training program held every spring for newbies to the game. They then serve an apprenticeship of sorts (depending on the club policies and needs) where they work under the watchful eye of an experienced looper and the caddie master. Most clubs also enlist helpful, knowledgeable members to mentor the beginners until they’re ready to solo. The caddies get a solid grounding in the game and how to best assist their player.

If you’ve never played with a caddie on your bag, it can be a bit confusing at first. After the introductions, the caddie will count and arrange the clubs in your bag. He may watch you hit a few on the range to get a feel for your game, but don’t be intimidated—he’s definitely seen swings worse than yours!

When you get on the course, don’t be surprised if the caddie gives you a target line, hands you a club, and heads on down the fairway before you tee off. He’s going to a place where he can make sure the coast is clear and he can see where your ball lands. Normally, the caddie will walk ahead of you so he can check your ball’s lie, the distance for the next shot, and be ready with the info you need when you arrive.

On the green, the caddie will also usually get there before you. He’ll mark and clean your ball and be ready to offer advice on the line and speed of the putt. Some players slavishly follow the caddie’s instructions, others prefer to heed their own counsel. Guess what? You’re the boss, so follow the routine that works for you! The caddie won’t mind.

After the round, the caddie will clean and again count your clubs. Now’s the time to pay him. Rates at most clubs in Westchester range from $60 to $100 per bag for 18 holes —plus a generous tip. A good practice is to ask the caddie master or starter before the round what the members usually pay. That should be your minimum--just consider how many strokes the caddie saved for you.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Monday, May 5, 2014

Bio of Trent Jones, Warts and All

Some of my favorite golf courses were designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., but that's not why I consider the story of his life written by James R. Hansen, A Difficult Par, one of the best biographies I've read in a long, long time. What I really enjoyed about the book was the totally unvarnished view it presents of the man's life and accomplishments, good, bad, and otherwise. Quite frankly, most golf biographies are hagiographies barely worth the effort it takes to turn the pages. This one I couldn't put down.

Robert Trent Jones, Sr., may well have been the most influential golf course architect of the game's flowering in the second half of the twentieth century. He was an English immigrant who arrived in the U.S. just as golf was on the verge of becoming a popular past time. His up-by-the bootstraps early life is a prelude to the ego-driven success he enjoyed as the premier designer of his day. As Hansen presents him, Jones was a brilliant architect and a shameless self-promoter. The interplay between the two sides of the man gives the reader rare insight into his spectacularly successful career.

Hansen gives excellent descriptions of everything from the design concepts to the political and financial relationships behind most of the top courses Jones created and renovated, which makes for fascinating reading for golfer and non-golfer alike. His renovation work at Augusta National, the National Golf Links, and Winged Foot, for example, may have been lost with the passage of time, but was important in the history of the game. Many of his post-war original designs are atop every aficionado's "best of" list: Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach, Hazeltine, Spyglass, not to mention the Robert Trent Jones Trail of excellent courses across the state of Alabama.

Golfers in my neck of the world are probably aware of the many contributions Jones made to the quality of the game in the Northeast, particularly in New York, but may not realize how much of that came in the form of public, daily fee courses.  Among them are Montauk Downs, Eisenhower Park's White and Blue courses, Marine Park, Bruce Memorial in Greenwich, and Casperkill in Poughkeepsie (originally built for IBM).

Hansen also explores the failures as well as the fabulous successes in Jones's career, many of which illustrated the man's weaknesses as a businessman instead of his strengths as an architect. He pulls no punches when it comes to the less-than-savory history of Jones's relationships with some partners and collaborators both early and late in his career. The complicated relationship between and among Jones and his two sons, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and Rees Jones, gets full play, too, although in a perfectly respectful manner. The book doesn't drag anybody through the mud, but the author doesn't hesitate to show you the puddles along the way.

In many ways, A Difficult Par resembles Jones's favorite design concept: a good golf hole is an easy bogey but a difficult par. It moves along as an easy read with plenty of drama and entertainment value. If you want to dig deeper, however, the well-researched history Hansen presents is well worth careful, studious consideration.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Friday, May 2, 2014

Bill Smittle's Putting Palace

Bill Smittle demonstrates putting science technology
We all know that every missed putt is a stroke lost forever while an errant drive can be wiped from the scorecard with a good recovery shot. We also know that putting amounts to about 50% of our scores. So why do we spend hours on the range whapping the big stick and just minutes on the practice green wafting the flat one?  Maybe it’s because we don’t know how to practice our putting—or even what a good putt looks and feels like in the first place!

Bill Smittle, head professional at Scarsdale GC, went to England to study the latest putting techniques at the Harold Swash School of Putting Excellence, which may sound like someplace Harry Potter would go to play mini golf but is actually the home of teachers who have sharpened the putting skills of leading European players like Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Henrik Stenson, and Martin Kaymer. Smittle returned a as certified instructor in the putting (and teaching) techniques that helped the Euros to carry home the Ryder Cup in 2012.

He’s created a state-of-the-art putting studio to analyze student’s strokes using numerous high-tech tools like Science & Motion’s Putting Lab that uses ultrasound to measure and analyze 28 different putting stroke parameters. When I went through a session with Smittle, I found out that my aim was 2.3 degrees closed to the perfect line and my stroke was 2.2 degrees open—which sounds like it would send the ball on the correct path but actually gave my putts some hook spin (not a good thing). Those were just a couple of the significant flaws that need correction in my putting setup and stroke.

“We’re not trying to build a perfect stroke,” Smittle says, “but rather to give you a consistent one. Most three-putts are because the player hits the first putt the wrong distance.  If you don’t strike the ball with a consistent strike, you can’t control your distance.” That consistent strike includes hitting the ball at the same place on the club face, keeping the club face square to the line, putting the right amount of top spin on the ball, swinging with the proper amount of force….you get the picture. It’s a science.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf