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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Golf Isn't Dead!

Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America
The death of golf, it seems, may not have occurred, at least according to preliminary results for 2014 from a leading industry data collection and benchmarking service.  At last week's PGA Merchandise Show, the PGA or America and NGCOA (National Golf Course Operators Association) announced that 29 states showed growth last year.

PGA PerformanceTrak reported that according to preliminary year-end results, golf rounds played per days open in 2014 were up nearly 1% when compared with 2013 data.  PGA PerformanceTrak is the largest single source of rounds played data in the golf industry, with more than 2,600 facilities contributing to the report on a monthly basis.

According to PerformanceTrak, overall rounds played in the U.S. were down 1.4% in 2014 when compared with 2013 data, while 2014 also marked the fewest days open in the past 9 years. However, a new metric, rounds played per days open reinforces that, when weather conditions are acceptable, consumers are making the choice to play golf. In fact, 29 states and 36 of 70 major metro markets experienced growth in rounds played per days open in 2014.
PGA PerformanceTrak data also accounts for weather’s impact on other key performance indicators such as Golf Fee Revenue and Golf Merchandise Revenue. Golf Fee Revenue per days open realized an increase of 1.5% while Golf Merchandise Revenue per days open realized an increase of 2.6% when compared with 2013 data.

“While we are not in the business of predicting weather patterns, we felt it was necessary to establish a new metric to better reflect the true impact weather conditions have on days open, rounds played and ultimately facility revenue in the majority of markets,” said Derek Sprague, President, PGA of America. “When weather conditions are acceptable, consumers are playing golf and spending money on golf fees and merchandise at the facilities at a pace that is higher than 2013, which is certainly a positive trend for the golf industry.”

Other key findings:
• Food and Beverage revenue increased by 4.1% in 2014 when compared with 2013 data
• Total facility revenue increased by 1.4% when compared with 2013 data
• The average fee for an 18-hole round of golf was $25.35 in 2014, in 2013 it was $25.19

Through data maintained by the National Climate Data Center, a division of NOAA, 20 states had 2014 precipitation levels that were above normal, with the majority of impact occurring in the Northwest, Midwest and Northeast regions of the country.  In fact, both Michigan and Wisconsin recorded their 114th wettest years in NOAA’s 120 year history of tracking this data. To compound matters, much of the High Plains, Midwest/Ohio Valley, Middle Atlantic, Southeast and Southern regions of the country registered below average to much below average temperatures for the year, while the Northwest and Southwest regions had above average to record temperatures with California, Nevada and Arizona setting 120 year records for the warmest average temperatures.

When the weather's good, so is the business of golf.

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pound Ridge Annual Plans

Pound Ridge Golf Club, New York’s only Pete Dye design and Westchester County’s award-winning daily fee course, has released its 2015 Golf Plans featuring Individual and Deluxe options.

New for 2015, the Deluxe Plan is a $15,000 debit account offering the holder and all guests 20% off peak weekday and weekend rates. The Individual Plan is a $3,000 debit account entitling the holder to 10% off applicable green fees. Both plans include exclusive access to the entire 2015 tee sheet for booking advance tee times, are non-refundable, non-transferable and for golf, only.

“The Deluxe and Individual Plans are two strong values for serious players who relish convenience and exclusivity,” says Pound Ridge General Manager Todd Leavenworth. “Paired with the recent expansion of the clubhouse, these annual programs present a viable alternative to the multi-year commitment of private clubs.”

For game tracking and improvement, the Individual Plan includes USGA handicap tracking via GHIN and use of all practice facilities (range, short game area and putting green) 4 p.m. to close, Monday through Thursday (April – Oct.). For more information, visit www.poundridgegolf.com/golf-plans or call the golf shop at (914)764-5771.

Ranked top five in New York by GOLF Magazine and Golfweek, Pound Ridge is less than an hour drive from New York City and a half-hour from White Plains, Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk (Conn.). All guests receive a complimentary yardage book, bottled water and range balls. Carts are equipped with GPS for obtaining dead-aim-accurate yardages from any position.

Offseason (through May 3), peak-season (May 4 – November 1), and nine-hole rate information and policies are available at www.poundridgegolf.com/rates-policies.

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Difficult Par Honored by USGA

One of my all-time favorite golf books has just been honored by the USGA. Here's the text of the announcement:

In recognition of its high standard of achievement in golf literature, James R. Hansen’s A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf has earned the United States Golf Association’s Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for 2014.

Hansen’s profile of renowned golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. is an expertly researched and written reflection on the life and career of one of the most prolific, well-respected and transformational figures in the history of golf.

“Robert Trent Jones was a colossus of the game and his contributions to golf course architecture undoubtedly influenced the way championship golf has been played over the past 65 years,” said Michael Trostel, senior historian for the USGA Museum. “In A Difficult Par, James Hansen uses exhaustive research methods to deliver a comprehensive depiction of the man who shaped the landscape of modern golf, skillfully weaving together the story of family and business to break new ground on one of the game’s most celebrated and significant designers.”

“To have the USGA and Herbert Warren Wind associated with a book that I wrote is a huge honor,” said Hansen. “There is no name in golf writing more respected or more prestigious than Wind. As a writer, it is the ultimate distinction in my career.”

With the help and cooperation of Jones’ sons, Robert Jr. and Rees, who shared letters, documents and personal stories of their father, Hansen pieced together the life events and struggles that the British-born Jones encountered on the way to creating his legacy.

A gifted and passionate golfer, Jones served as the first golf professional at Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club in Sodus Point, N.Y. During his tenure, he caught the eye of club president James D. Bashford, who sponsored Jones and encouraged him to enroll in Cornell University’s architecture program.
At Cornell, Jones tailored his curriculum in landscape architecture and agronomy to create a degree in golf course design and management.

Upon graduation, Jones struggled to find work in a U.S. economy that was mired in the Great Depression. His patience, timing and relentless pursuit of his dreams eventually paid off, as he passionately and successfully promoted the construction of new golf courses as a wise use of public money and labor that had become available under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of the New Deal initiative.

A Difficult Par focuses not only on Jones’ achievements in design and architecture, but also on the personal and financial challenges that he faced throughout his career. Hansen carefully details the family dynamics and professional rivalries that occurred during the latter part of his career.

“Of all the architects, I think Robert Trent Jones was the most significant in the development of American golf courses,” said Hansen. “It wasn’t just the longevity of his career, but also how his courses came to be the dominant venues for championship golf.”

Jones designed or redesigned nearly 450 courses in 42 states and 28 countries, including 11 courses that have hosted a combined 34 U.S. Opens. His design philosophy of challenging the best golfers while making the game enjoyable for players of all abilities became essential in making the game attractive to casual players and made him an archetype for future designers.

The Herbert Warren Wind Book Award was established in 1987. The award recognizes and honors outstanding contributions to golf literature while attempting to broaden the public’s interest in, and knowledge of, the game of golf. Wind, who died in 2005, was a famed writer for The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated who coined the phrase “Amen Corner” at Augusta National Golf Club. He is the only writer to win the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor.

Hansen, a professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University since 1986, has written 10 books about the history of aerospace, including First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, as well as numerous articles for golf publications. The Herbert Warren Wind Book Award will be presented to Hansen on Feb. 7 at the USGA’s Annual Meeting in New York City.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Don't Miss Central Florida's Mission Inn

For an Orlando golf vacation without the traffic, hassle, and crowds of Mickeyland, Mission Inn Resort & Club in nearby Howey-in-the-Hills is an excellent choice.  The friendly, casual resort offers two fine golf courses as well as a full menu of other activities--and the Orlando attractions are only 30 minutes away if you absolutely have to spend the day with Pluto.

Mission Inn traces its beginnings back to 1917. That year, the El Campeon course was laid out by George O’Neil, one of America’s first native golf professionals and course architects. It was part of the original hotel complex built by William “Bill” Howey, who tried developing that part of central Florida for land sales.  After a fire destroyed almost everything in 1920, a new hotel was built and the golf course renovated by Captain Charles E. Clarke, a native of Troon, Scotland. By the time of its reopening, the course was being declared “the sportiest in Florida.”

Renamed “El Campeon” in 1992, the course today still retains its old-school classic lines.  It's a little shorter than its sister course, Las Colinas (6601 vs. 6829 from the blues), but carries an equivalent slope of 135, indicating it can be just as difficult for the bogey golfer.  Members consider it more of a shot-maker's course, which is probably a good assessment.

It also, though, could be considered a scuba-diver's course, since water is found on thirteen holes--almost always in play!  Even when the hole is dry, well-placed bunkers keep you from flailing away with no regard for direction.  The signature hole on El Campeon is the seventeenth, "Devil's Delight," a 538-yard par five that threatens your immortal soul (or at least your scorecard) with both sand and water.  You'll find both, actually, on your approach to the tiny green, which is fronted by a bunker and a pond.

El Campeon is also one of the oldest courses on the newly formed Florida Golf Trail.

Las Colinas is an excellent example of a resort course that's also challenging enough for enjoyable play by members who see it frequently.  It's long but not brutally so, well-blessed with water, trees, and bunkers but not so many you can't avoid them, and the greens are contoured markedly but not roller-coasterish. The original Gary Koch design was updated by Ron Garl in 2007.

The basic strategy for playing Las Colinas is to take an extra half-club on most approaches  Don't go a full one, though, because you'll want to stay below the hole whenever possible. The greens roll true and fast--surprisingly fast for a resort course.

It's also a good idea to take advantage of the front side's scoring opportunities because it's shorter and less demanding than the back, playing almost 40 yards less per hole on average.  There are also several good birdie opportunities like the 488-yard par-five fifth hole and three par fours under 400 yards on the front.

The back nine is a different story.  It's longer and tougher with a couple of real round-wreckers on the way home.  The tough holes include the eleventh, a 196-yard one-shotter that plays almost entirely over water, and the 218-yard fifteenth, which has a massive tree blocking, not just guarding, the right side of the green--the place you'll find the pin most often.  It plays a bit uphill, too, so don't be shy about your club selection.  The 468-yard twelfth hole looks like a birdie opportunity on the scorecard, but "Alligator Alley," as it's known to the locals, has some serious teeth.  The chute through the trees off the tee is no more than thirty yards wide and if you miss it, you'll be in jail.  The second shot has to thread another pair of fairway-blocking trees just to give you a chance to aim at the flag for your second or third.

The Mission Inn, home to the two courses, is a charming, friendly place that offers not only a good golf experience but several restaurants, a marina, spa, tennis, fitness center, trap and skeet shooting, and the nearby Yalaha Bakery, which is not to be missed.

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bette & Court Goes Sporty Exotic

Bette & Court has announced some new looks for women golfers (and others with an active lifestyle).

"The Fall 2015 collection combines global inspiration with athletic lines and sporty details. Exotic and graphic prints march to an ethnic, tribal beat in bright, rich colors of the season," says Justina Cordova-Bottomley, Senior Designer at Bette & Court.  "Think Mandarin Twist with pops of Margarita and Cornflower, complemented by Sangria. In keeping true to our brand and highlighting the "sportswear as a fashion" trend, we focus on performance and technical fabrics. We cannot stress enough the importance of sun protection, which is why all of our garments are now UPF 30+ and our ever-popular Cool Elements is UPF 50+."

The new collection also includes two new leggings, to keep up with the active lifestyles of Bette & Court customers. The Extension Legging is a practical bottom that gives compression in all the right places. Seamless construction adds perfect flex for any activity; wear them running, to practice yoga, or layered under a skirt while playing nine holes. The Core Legging and matching Core Jacket are fleece lined and warm -- perfect for cooler days. Coordinating performance socks and caps round out the Fall 2015 collection.

"Our mission is to enhance our customer's lives, becoming an everyday pleasure," says Lara Burchfield, Marketing Manager at Bette & Court. "Our products aim to be a woman's go-to within her wardrobe - the metaphorical 'favorite shirt' that feels great, performs well, and makes the wearer feel that she looks terrific. We've positioned ourselves as a consistent, quality product line that enhances a woman's lifestyle through a blend of performance, fashion, leisure and personal comfort. Our clothing always lifts you up and elicits a deep, confident internal smile. It's perfect for active women who seek everyday performance for a wide range of activities, all without foregoing fashion at a competitive price."

Bette & Court is a division of Sport Haley, Inc., located in Denver and sold online and at private and public golf shops throughout the world.

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

Westchester Strong in Golf Digest Rankings

Nearly a third of the best thirty golf courses in New York state are located in Westchester County, according to the latest Golf Digest state-by-state rankings.  Here's the list of Westchester courses along with their rank:

 3. Winged Foot G.C. (West), Mamaroneck
10. Winged Foot G.C. (East), Mamaroneck
11. Quaker Ridge G.C., Scarsdale
12. Hudson National G.C., Croton-on-Hudson
15. Sleepy Hollow C.C., Scarborough
19. Fenway G.C., Scarsdale
23. Westchester C.C. (West), Rye
26. (-) Old Oaks G.C., Purchase
27. (-) Century C.C., Purchase

Fenway made a big jump from the 2013-14 rankings, moving up to 19 from 27, while Old Oaks and Century weren't in the top thirty last year.

Manhattan Woods G.C., just across the river in West Nyack (Rockland County), is ranked at 25 on the list.

Long Island neighbors Shinnecock Hills G.C. and National Golf Links of America are ranked first and second in the state.

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

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cool Clubs For Those Who Need Shaft Data

The technology march continues on, with Cool Clubs stepping up the game with a testing system designed to measure all manufacturers' shafts with data points that allow complete apples-to-apples comparisons.  The Cool Clubs S3 (standing for "Shaft Simulation System") will measure and analyze multiple parameters of a golf shaft on a single machine. In roughly two and a half minutes, it will analyze a shaft's straightness, consistency, deflection and stiffness profiles, frequency, and torque.

The S3 been a concept in Cool Clubs founder Mark Timms' mind for quite some time, but it became reality with the help of the company's new Research & Development Manager Simon Grondin.

The machine is fast, repeatable and accurate, eliminating the human-induced error present in several of the industry's current shaft profiling techniques. What makes the S3 even more unique is that it tests shafts in a manner that simulates how they will be loaded during a golf swing.  Over 100,000 points of data are used to profile each shaft.

The data that's currently being collected from the S3 machine at the company's Scottsdale headquarters will be used to help club fitters around the world understand shafts and do a better job fitting as well as to educate the golfing population on shafts and how important the right shaft is.

"Our aim is to continue to improve and develop technologies for fitting and building, so that players everywhere can PLAY BETTER GOLF" says Timms. New York metro golfers can access the technology through NY Golf Centers in Manhattan.

Just in case you need to check some shaft data yourself, much of the data from the S3 machine will be available to all golfers through the Apple App Store in the near future  Both an informative free version and a more detailed upgraded version will be available by the PGA show in January 2015. An extremely advanced web based version for golf industry professionals only should also to follow shortly after that.

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Poppy Hills Thunders Back

Poppy Hills #17
One of the most successful course renovations in recent history was revealed last year at Poppy Hills, the home course of the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) on the Monterey Peninsula just a few minutes from Pebble Beach.  Robert Trent Jones, Jr., totally transformed his original 1986 design to make it better integrated with the natural landscape and more playable for golfers at all levels.  He didn't make it easier, just better.

Poppy Hills now features wider fairways with less artificial mounding and fewer out-of-place bunkers that previously punished seemingly perfect shots in the fairway. To keep it challenging, there's now very little grass rough to keep your off-line drives from rolling into the trees of the Del Monte Forest. That unfortunate roll also happens more frequently now, too, because the fairways were rebuilt to make them firm and fast. Hit it straight and you'll be happy.

You'll also see many new sandy waste areas, many of them in front of tees, that not only give Poppy Hills the scruffy, natural look favored today but greatly reduce the water and chemicals required to maintain essentially unused acreage. The look and playing conditions aren't far from the new Pinehurst #2.

Poppy Hills plays tougher than the yardage, so don't let elevated testosterone levels push you into a set of tees you'll regret.  Basically, you can add 300 yards to the numbers on the scorecard to dictate your optimum length. The three-poppy (white) tees at 6,299 yards (70.5 rating/126 slope) actually play more like 6,600 using that formula.  From the tips, it's 6,672. The shorter tees measure 5,215.  Par, by the way, is 71.

Extensive bunkering and ample elevation changes aren't the only things adding difficulty to Poppy Hills. The greens and approaches now play hard and fast just like the fairways. Unless you've got a wedge game that drops the ball with a parachute, it's best to land your approach in front of most greens and let it run on. That's true on the par threes, too. It's no fun playing from behind most of these devilish greens.

Like the Pebble Beach Resort courses, Poppy Hills is a daily-fee facility that gets heavy play. NCGA members get some preferential treatment, so make your tee times as early as possible. Carts are available as are pull-carts, but arrangements for caddies should be made in advance with a call to the pro shop.

Local knowledge helps greatly here, so consider playing Poppy Hills two or three times--you won't regret it.

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