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From the Office of the Tour’s new Slow Play Czar | Feb 20, 2019 Press Briefing

From the Office of the Tour’s new Slow Play Czar | Feb 20, 2019 Press Briefing

The following transcript is from the February 20th, 2019 evening press briefing of the PGA Tour’s newly-appointed Slow Play Czar—a position created earlier this week on Monday morning after the nearly six-hour final round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.  More updates on the newly created Office of the Slow Play Czar will be given to the press as they become available.

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[The new Czar enters the briefing room in the Club de Golf Chapultepec clubhouse in Mexico City, site of the WGC-Mexico Championship, and approaches the microphone as reporters settle into their seats with notebooks and margaritas in hand—it is 6pm local time after all…]

Czar:  Thank you. Thank you, everyone. Please take a seat. Thank you. I appreciate all of you taking the time to be here for the briefing this evening because I know that slow play is a very important topic to a lot of people. A lot of people. It’s huge! And I cannot begin to overstate that fact. Let me start by thanking Commissioner Jay Monahan for creating this position and appointing yours truly to take the reins as we work together in a bipartisan manner to resolve this issue.  I also want to thank the player advisors who are with us this evening: Brooks “Fast Lane” Koepka, Dustin “Speedy” Johnson, and Bill “Hustle” Haas for agreeing to work as co-chairs of my first committee and for being player representatives for implementation of the exciting new policy we will be discussing here this evening.  I should also note that I politely declined Ben Crane’s offer to assist…

I will be presenting the 30,000 ft view of the new policy and how our office will implement and enforce the policy, but we’re not going to drill down too deeply just yet.  We have a framework, but the details are fluid right now and subject to change—not unlike the putter of a player struggling with Strokes Gained Putting.  Now for the reason we are all here: Slow play is killing the game of golf! I know it, you know it, everybody knows it.  If we want to grow the game with juniors and millennials, we must reduce the time it takes to play 18 holes from just above glacial formation to just under four hours.  The PGA Tour has finally realized how bad the problem is (thanks to the outpouring of spite and hatred on Twitter after the Genesis Open and the ATT Pro-Am the week before that) and has appointed me to implement my new system to not only address the issue, but to solve it once and for all.

As you know, the European Tour has shot clocks and they seem to be making an impact.  We thought about doing the same thing using a cooperative crossover with Rolex, but a recent study showed that most young American viewers cannot read an analog clock face…so we nixed that idea.  That said, I don’t want to put a bandage on the gaping, sucking wound that is slow play.  I want to heal that wound forever before we have to amputate.  So instead of addressing the issue player by player with a shot clock, we are going to drill down to the source of the problem.  After that, I hope our peers at the USGA and the state and local golf associations will allow the “trickle down economics” of saving time to work their magic so that amateurs will reap the benefits of following our lead.  If so, soon young players will emulate Rory McIlroy’s pace of play and not—well, some of the slow players—and millennials will find renewed interest in playing actual golf, hopefully catching an Uber to play 18 at their local muni instead of TopGolf or playing disc golf at the park or (Heaven forbid) soccer.

Now for some of the more pertinent details of my solution.  My approach utilizes a new methodology I have invented and patented called the TTI Index (or Time To Impact Index).  We were originally going to go with Seconds To Impact, however polling showed that the acronym STI caused confusion and HIPPA concerns among some of the younger single players…but I digress.  The TTI Index, used in conjunction with my three-prong enforcement approach, will rid the Tour of five and six hour rounds within months, increase the enjoyment of viewers, quiet the trolls on Twitter, and allow Nick Faldo and Jim Nantz more quality time with their families at home instead of staying over on Sunday nights to finish events on Monday mornings.  As an added bonus, the TTI Index is easier to calculate than Strokes Gained Putting (not to mention easier to understand for the viewers at home) and not nearly as confusing as, say, the NFL’s Passer Rating. Any questions so far? Yes. You there in the front row. Question?

Reporter 1:  Who are you and why would the Commissioner appoint you as the Slow Play Czar?

[Awkward pause as reporters shuffle nervously in their seats]

Czar:  Next Question.  Yes, you there in the fourth row.  No, not you. Yes, you. Your question?

Reporter 2:  How is the TTI Index calculated and what is your three prong enforcement approach?

Czar:  Both excellent questions.  The TTI—or Time To Impact—Index measures the amount of time it takes a player to actually play a shot.  No more ridiculous “guidelines” that are never enforced like 50 seconds for the first player, 40 seconds for the second, and so on.  Every player in the field of each event will have an Index and that Index is measured in three separate categories:  Tee Shots, Putts, and Others.  The TTI Index for a tee shot measures the time in seconds between the instant the player places the ball on the tee until impact.  For putting, the TTI measures the time between placing a marked ball back on the green and stroking the putt.  It’s important to note that tap-ins are not used to calculate a player’s TTI because that would artificially skew the Index lower.  The Others category includes approach shots to greens, layups on par-5 holes (though most of these guys don’t do that anymore anyway), and pitches, chips, flops, bunker shots, and the occasional shan—  Sorry. I forgot we’re not supposed to say that word.  Are you with me so far? Yes. You have another question?

Reporter 1, again: Back to you being appointed as Czar…

Czar:  Good! Moving on!  Because the TTI Index is measured in seconds and tenths of a second, the lower a player’s TTI Index, the better—much like the game itself.  The TTI for every shot in a round is measured and divided by the number of strokes played in that round—except for tap-in putts of course.  That average for the round is the player’s TTI Index for that round.  For a tournament, the four round average would be used to calculate the player’s tournament TTI Index.  Don’t worry.  If a player misses the cut, they will still have their two-round TTI Index calculated—we don’t want anyone to miss out on the enforcement phase. That’s when the fun begins.  We have a question right here in the front?

Reporter 2:  You would have to have an army of people to measure the TTI for every player on every shot.  How can the Tour afford that?

Czar:  That was an initial stumbling block. We know the Tour has very limited funds and struggles some weeks to even fuel the corporate jet.  There have even been times when some of the top officials could only fill the tanks on the jet to ¾ or even…well…fly commercially [the crowd of reporters gasps audibly].  That’s why the first prong is technology.  We will use the ShotLink system that’s already in place at every Tour event to measure the TTI of every shot of every player.  If we already have a system so advanced that we can tell you Phil Mickelson is 321.8 yards from the tee and 172.3 yards from the pin on a given hole—in real time with cool video game graphics and tracer technology—surely we can connect a stopwatch to it! We just need to make a few upgrades.  So the infrastructure is already there and my 13-year old nephew and his friends tell me they will have it up and running for testing by next Monday, depending on how far they get in the Fortnite tournament this weekend. Yes, you from ESPN in the back with the very large and quite manly beard. Question?

Reporter 3:  Can you explain how the TTI index is used to implement your three pronged enforcement?

Czar: Ah yes! That’s the genius in all of this.  After technology, the second and third prongs are money and public shaming.  And before you ask about that last one; I know it’s 2019 and we’re all supposed to be “woke” and not shame anyone anymore, but desperate times call for desperate measures! Plus, I think I saw on the news the other day that it’s cool now to shame millionaires…

Bearded Reporter 3:  Again, how does this speed up play?

Czar: Another great question, oh bearded one.  As I said, the second prong is money.  PGA Tour members are essentially contract laborers and like any contractor, the goal is to earn as much money as possible whenever they are working.  As the old adage goes, you have to “make hay while the sun shines!”  Although there hasn’t been much of that the last two weeks.  We will use a player’s TTI Index each week to hit the slowest players where it hurts—in the checkbook!  But we will also reward the fastest players by TTI index where it hurts us—in the checkbook!  It’s a real carrot and stick approach.  If your TTI Index is bad, you get the stick and a fine, if your TTI Index is good, you get a bonus and a carrot-infused smoothie or latte—your choice!  The top 25 and ties in best TTI Index each week will receive cash for their fast play.  The bottom 25 and ties in worst TTI Index each week will pay a fine to the Office of the Slow Play Czar, which we will in turn use to pay the players on the top of the list.  If you’re in the middle, you’re safe—that week.  We thought about letting the bottom 25 make a donation to a charity of their choice, but we don’t want to be handing out tax write-offs. We want the fine to hurt like the sting of an old school knit head cover across their sun-burned faces (below the tan line of their caps of course).

Reporter 1 again, while drinking from a carrot-infused latte:  How much will the fines and bonuses be?

Czar:  We’re still working out the details on that.  We want the fines to be enough to encourage players to not want to be in the worst 25, but not so much that they can’t afford their plane ticket to the next Tour stop.  Maybe we’ll do it based on a percentage of the purse like we calculate winnings.  And as an added incentive not to be on the bottom of the list, that fine must be paid to the Czar before the player will be allowed to play in another Tour event.  There is one caveat: if 92.6% of every round for the field for the week is below 4 hours and 15 minutes, there will be no penalties or public shaming that week! I mean, I’m not an animal…

Reporter 2:  And the public shaming?  How will that work?

Czar:  Most of you have a pretty good handle on that already.  Just ask Matt Kuchar…  But to answer your question, we will be listing the worst 25 players and the best 25 players by their TTI Index and the amounts paid in or received each week on the Tour’s web site and on the new Slow Play Czar app, available in the Apple Store or Google Play for those of you still clinging to your Android devices.  And we’ll encourage player shaming on Twitter and other forms of social media as well as praise for those consistently in the top 25 in TTI Index.  Again, we feel the shaming aspect of enforcement will come naturally to most every fan using social media anyway, as evidenced by tweets the past two weeks.

Reporter 3, wiping carrot-infused smoothie from his whiskers:  How will all of this make a difference?  The system in place already isn’t being enforced.  Why do you think this will be different?

Czar: Man, you ask some great questions!  First, the old system is gone.  Never again will J.B. Holmes be told he’s “on the clock” by a timid Tour official concerned about becoming the focus of his ire and steely gaze.  Besides, that disrupts play for the other players in the group and why should Matt Every have his round bumped or risk being assessed a penalty because he’s paired with Kevin Na?  Instead, the new system will be lurking in the subconscious of every player for every step they take…every move they make…every smile they fake…we’ll be watching. Think about it!  The nagging thought that their TTI Index is quietly being calculated by a bank of IBM laptops in a discrete Tour trailer on the periphery of the clubhouse parking lot will always be in the back of every player’s mind.  They will be forced to train differently and think differently.  They will have to put in time on the range to alter their pre-shot routines and have them finely tuned for competition.  Their trainers, sports psychologists, life coaches, and shamans will have to realign their thinking to always be mindful of improving their TTI Index.  But they can’t take improvement for granted because real time data will not be made available during an event.  They will not be allowed to ask Roger Maltbie, “How’s my TTI looking, Rog?” when he’s walking with them because no one will know until the weekly numbers are calculated, verified by the accounting firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe, and made public on the web site after the final round.  Every player on Tour will always be thinking “I wonder what my TTI was today?” and therefore be incentivized to speed up a bit on every shot—just to play it safe.

Reporter 1:  What role do the television networks play in your new program?

Czar:  None really.  This is an in-house Tour program.  We don’t expect the networks to put clocks on the screen—they have enough graphics distracting from the actual golf as it is.  But it’s a different business than it used to be when I was just a young little czar.  Back in the day, they would cut off coverage if the final round ran long on a Sunday to be sure viewers didn’t miss the start of “WKRP in Cincinnati” or “Charlie’s Angels.”  Now when they run long, they just shift coverage over to another network—sometimes even a competing network! We know some of you in the media have become jaded and think that both the Tour and the networks turn a blind eye to slow play because it means more time to sell more commercials, but I stand before you today to say that could not be further from the truth! Now excuse me while we take a 60-second “limited commercial interruption” for a word from our press conference sponsors…

[Press conference pauses for commercials from two sponsors]

Reporter 5:  You know this idea sounds crazy, right?

Czar:  Am I crazy?  Or is this idea SO crazy that it might actually work?  If the existing system isn’t being enforced, then why have it?  If police don’t enforce the speed limit, then everyone will speed.  Wait, bad analogy. This is the opposite of speeding…  Anyway, we have to throw out the old system and think outside the box.  Time is money, money is time, and we have to do something for the future of the game.  To sit idly by and say things like “Well, they play for a lot of money, so it only makes sense to take 7 minutes to line up a putt before they miss it anyway” is placing an individual’s narcissism ahead of the game and the respect for one’s fellow competitors.  [Czar turns to Brooks Koepka and pats him on the back].  Brooks here plays fast and he’s won a time or two recently—including three of the last six majors!  Look folks, something must be done and hand-wringing, complaining, and social media snarking are getting us nowhere.  If more players like Brooks would stand up and say something, it might help; but most players are not comfortable telling other players to speed up.  It’s awkward, it’s not their job to police other players, and it makes for a very uncomfortable ride on the Gulfstream back to Juno Beach.  The TTI Index is the only fair way to address the problem.  The computer has no favorites because the system sees only seconds on a clock.  No one has to slip out onto the course to explain to Jason Day that he needs to speed up or he’ll be put on the clock—because EVERYONE is on the clock on every shot!  Its true genius is in its simplicity!

Reporter 3:  When will this new system be implemented?

Czar:  We hope to test it in New Orleans at the Zurich.  We think players will be more relaxed there because of the team format—and the Hurricanes from Pat O’ Brien’s.  We’ll see how that works and then hopefully do a full roll out after The Masters.

Reporter 4:  Will this apply to The Masters?

Czar:  You’ll have to ask their Czar.  My office only handles sanctioned PGA Tour events and the PGA Championship.  Which reminds me:  you guys on the Web.com and Champions Tour need to step it up too.  We’re coming for you next.  Now I know it’s getting late, or early depending on who you’re going out on the town with tonight…so any more questions?  None?  Good deal.  I have to fly back to Ponte Vedra and clear out my condo before the Realtor comes over to list it and then skedaddle over to Friscoe and move my stuff into Jerry Jones’s guest house.

Reporter 2:  You’re friends with Jerry Jones?

Czar:  No, but his guest house is so big I’m hoping he doesn’t realize I’m there before I find a house.  Thanks again for coming this evening and if you need any more information, you can visit the official Slow Play Czar web site at SlowPlayCzar.com and follow our office Twitter account at @SlowPlayCzar for updates.  And for those of you who went to public school like I did, Czar is spelled C-Z-A-R.  Once again thank you, God bless you, God bless America, and God bless this beautiful game!

[Reporters clamor to their cameras to report the news back to their respective networks as the Czar exists stage left]

*  END OF TRANSCRIPT *

______________________________________________

Note:  Obviously, this is satire and I have not been appointed as the Slow Play Czar for the PGA Tour; but someone should be appointed.  That said, I think some derivation of the plan I have laid out here is an answer for addressing slow play on Tour because the TTI Index system treats every player with 100% equity and is completely meritorious.  Hopefully, someone will have the nerve to try some version of this in the near future–for the sake of the game…

                                                                                                    — Nathan Crace, ASGCA

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Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Golf, Professional Golf

 

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Sam Dunning: A Man So Full of “Content,” It Wouldn’t Fit in One Cover Story

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I wrote the August 2018 cover story entitled “Hunting for Unicorns” for Golf Course Industry Magazine (GCI) about one of the rarest creatures of all: the disappearing Pro/Super.  One of the Pro/Supers still working today who was kind enough to sit down and be interviewed is Sam Dunning.  Sam has been the Golf Professional and the Superintendent at Cleveland (MS) Country Club for more than 4 decades—yes, you read that right: he’s been the Pro/Super for 41 years!  Sam is a colorful and engaging guy (you’d have to be to stay at one club for that long without getting fired) and notes from his interview spanned pages!  There was simply too much information and not enough room in the magazine for all of his insight, humor, and stories from his time at the helm.  So now that the August issue of GCI Magazine is available online and the printed version is headed to mailboxes as we speak, I present to you my unedited notes from the interview with Sam Dunning.

Enjoy the following and let me know what you think on Twitter by tweeting me @lipouts.

All the best,

Nathan


When did you start at Cleveland CC?  July 11, 1977. I was 25 years old and they said here it is. I came for interview in June. They had over seeded greens and they kept them watered for an event in June and they were immaculate.  I took the job and started in July. I got there and the rye grass had died and there was hardly any grass on the Bermuda greens.  Holy cow! That was my first experience with grass. Unfortunately that was the beginning for me to start learning.

Were you hired to be the pro/super from the start or hired as one or the other and then given the other responsibilities?  I was hired as pro/ superintendent. Cleveland CC was a 9 hole course and actually very few golfers. So, at that time of my career, I spent lot more time on course. We had one other employee and quick couplers for water. Heck we were glad just to have water. We built another 9 holes in 1995 and also an automated irrigation system. I used to go out and push buttons and water whether it needed it or not just because I was so happy that it was automated. Whew, what a pretty sight after moving sprinklers and hoses every hour for 20 years! Now 18 holes and 400 members and I’m finding myself spending most of my time in the pro shop, preparing and running events, lessons, teaching juniors, and more of a consultant on the golf course. Of course when something goes wrong on the course, it’s still Sam’s fault [laughs].  Also, through the years I have found out when the course is perfect, it is because of rain and good weather.  When it’s not as good, it is always the fault of Sam and Avent–our head golf course supervisor and the real worker on the course.

Are/were you a member of both the PGA and the GCSAA? I have been a Class A PGA member of the Gulf States Section [PGA Hall of Fame 2008] for past 41 years.  I’m also a member Mississippi Turfgrass Association.

Why do you think there are so few Pro/Supers and why do you think young people are not choosing to go that route? Actually now, the demands and expectations for each position is overwhelming at times. To meet the expectations of most members at most clubs, you have to specialize in only one area. It is not appealing to youngsters because of the training process and education that is involved in each career. I also think the financial return is probably not very attractive as some other jobs they could pursue. Plus working weekends and holidays can turn people away.  I was so fortunate to learn turf, even though I am still learning, growing up at Canton CC in Canton, Mississippi.  I worked for a legend pro/super, Robbie Webb, during summers and weekends while in high school, and college at Mississippi State. I also worked for Mr. Webb as a PGA assistant professional at Canton CC for the last 3 years before coming to Cleveland CC. I worked on the golf course, in the pro shop, and anywhere else he told me to go. I also learned to cook great hamburgers and mix some really strong drinks working in the clubhouse. The hours were extremely long, but as I look back, it was a great learning experience. Plus I always had someone I could call or rely on when things might get a little shaky.

Biggest challenges of being a Pro/Super today?  Time!!!  Finding the 8th day of the week to catch up. But heck I have been trying to catch up for 41 years. It is very easy to cut yourself too thin and find yourself not doing a good job efficiently at either job. Obviously, I have been truly fortunate to have great staff on board. Avent Payne is phenomenal on the golf course. Also, a very supportive manager, Aaron Lasker, and board of directors, and fantastic membership seem to go a long way in making positive things happen. The time away from family life is a huge challenge. Being at work every weekend and on holidays goes unnoticed at work, but your family sure notices you are never home. Every day I go to work feels like my first day on the job 41 years ago. Those 19 greens are like children. I feed and water them and also many times seem to be punishing them with aerification and verticutting. There is always something to do; but you have to realize that doesn’t mean I always do it.

Biggest advantages/rewards of being a Pro/Super today? Biggest advantage is first, both of us seem to get along okay and we work great together when it’s time to coordinate events with course work. [laughs]  We are always trying to peak course for every event. But seriously, to see the golf course look so awesome and peak for an event, knowing how much work Avent Payne, my chief boss man for 24 years, Willie Scott, who has been with us 19 years, and his crew have done to make it happen. Also, for me to get outside on the course and take notes and push water buttons, just to get away sometimes from problems that occur inside. I could never be an inside man permanently. Way too many phone calls and issues to deal with that occur inside.  It’s good to get out on the course and clear my head.

Do you think the golf industry could be helped if there were more Pro/Supers? Definitely depends on the club situation. Possibly a smaller 18 hole club or definitely a nine hole club could benefit tremendously. But it can be overwhelming at a bigger club and would take a very special person to be able to handle both positions. He or she must have their heart in the job to make things look good. It is not a 40 hour a week job and you have to know what’s going on everywhere. I went to a nice club a couple of months ago and asked the professional what kind of greens they had, meaning which variety of bermuda (Champion, TifEagle, etc.)? He said “I think some kind of bermuda, but I’m not sure.”  That really woke me up.

If we could train young people to be Pro/Supers, which would be easier:  turning a young super into a Pro/Super or turning a young pro into a Pro/Super?  Why?

I definitely think turning a pro into a superintendent would be easier route to go. I’m sure there are cases where superintendent could become pro, but I haven’t heard of that situation. Both require extensive training. To become a PGA professional is a 3 ½ to 5 year process. Plus you must pass a playing ability test. I know there a lot of superintendents who can play well, but I don’t think most of them would want to go through the PGA process. Most supers aren’t trained to teach and most don’t really want to tackle that avenue.

On the other hand, most PGA pros have grown up playing quite well, and some have also worked on the course when they were younger.  It is easier to go through playing requirements early in career when you still have time to play, before the time of not having much opportunity to play once you start taking care of a course. But most pros also don’t have the technical training to do what an agronomist does.  That’s a tough question.

But I also absolutely believe a super should play as much as possible. You can tell so much more how a course is playing than just looking at it every day.  Oh and never get cocky about grass when it’s looking good.  It will turn around and bite you when you get a sense of complacency.

Share with me any stories or anecdotes about your time at Cleveland CC that you think the readers would find interesting. 

Oh my, where would I begin after 41 years?

I do remember in 2006 when we renovated our greens with Champion ultra-dwarf bermuda, I had a member after several days when the sprigs looked somewhat brown (but the roots were green), say to me “Any fool can tell these greens are dead already!” Miraculously, those dead sprigs have grown into fabulous greens.

Back in 1984, we were sprigging some tees and fringes and I had members tell me those upside down sprigs will not grow.  Amazing how those fringes and tees turned out so awesome.

I had been here 8 years and I had a ruling during our club championship that was not favorable to one of my favorite members and he said “Don’t you think you been pro here long enough?”  Then he just walked off.

Also, during a club championship, I had a member whose ball was clearly out of bounds between two stakes that were about 10 yards apart. He said he should be in bounds because if I had painted a line between the stakes to define out of bounds, I usually make the line more toward the houses and therefore he would be in bounds. He argued for a year.  An entire year!  Wow!!

A few years ago, I had a member kept telling me the holes weren’t set properly. He was lipping out every putt. I finally told him, do you realize how much you are raising the edges and also damaging the hole every time to get your ball out of the cup with you putter head instead of your hand? He said “Oh no, I don’t damage hole at all. I’m careful and press the hole with my foot when I finish every time.”

I remember one Christmas, I got a call about 9:00 a.m. “Sam, could you come mow the greens? My family can’t celebrate Christmas in Christmas Day this year and a couple of us would like to play.” The greens didn’t get cut that day.

This would be a very typical day:  I will have three members come in who just played together. One will say “These greens are slow as molasses!”  The very next guy will say “These greens are too fast! Did you spray bikini wax on them?”  The next guy in the group says “These are absolutely the best greens I have ever putted in my life! Good as Augusta National!” Guess who won all the money that day?

As I look back to the early and mid-nineties, my job as Pro/Superintendent, Delta State University Head Golf Coach, the building of an additional 9 holes at Cleveland CC, serving as Gulf States Section PGA President, those days were the most fun, educational, and learning experiences of my life.  And most importantly, I married my beautiful wife Mary Louise then too.

Anything to add?

In closing, after all the bumps in the road and headaches for the last 41 years, the biggest surprise of all came August 18, 2017 at the grand opening of our fabulous and amazing new pro shop.  The club president surprised me by announcing they were naming the golf course at Cleveland Country Club the ‘Samuel T Dunning Golf Course.’  I thought they were crazy, but what a great honor!  And I’m not even dead yet!

[END]

Be sure to check out 8 years worth of humorous stories from the world of golf in my archives at www.lipouts.com and buy my book “LIPOUTS: The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” on sale now!  The eBook is only $1.99 and the paperback is on sale for $8.00, but only through Moonbay Media using this link >> BUY THE BOOK

 

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“A Day with Pete Dye” (a reprint from August 2001)

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Today is Pete Dye’s 90th birthday!  An iconic figure not only in the world of golf course architecture, but also of the game of golf itself.  Decades ago, he changed the way many thought about the design of golf courses and drove Tour pros insane (something many suspect he quite enjoyed).  But on his birthday today, I’ve been digging around the archives and pulled this story I wrote in my monthly Lipouts column from back in August of 2001.  It was actually written about spending a day with Mr. Dye and Tim Liddy walking the grounds of one of Pete’s first designs–originally named Marsh Island GC in Ocean Springs, MS.

The course had already been closed for years at the time (a victim of Hurricane Georges) and we were working with a developer to try and breathe new life into the old course.  That project never made it out of the planning phase due to regulatory red tape and now the property is dotted with what’s left of homes after Hurricane Katrina.

A few things I remember vividly about that day:  it was Election Day 2000 and it was pouring rain!  Not just raining cats and dogs–absolute deluges as waves of rain came whipping across the property as a cold front dipping down from the upper Midwest came crashing into the warm air of the Gulf of Mexico.  We were ground zero.

The other thing I remember was what Pete remembered.  By that, I mean we walked (on foot) the entire grown-up golf course through waist high grass at times and the edges of marshes and we had to hustle to keep up with Pete as he recalled a hole here or a dogleg there.  It was a great time!

I also thought it timely to re-print this because Pete’s wife Alice (an accomplished architect and player in her own right and also a Past President of the ASGCA) was just announced as teh recipient of the Donald Ross Award at our annual ASGCA meeting in May of 2017.  As you read the following, please remember that it was written by a 29 year-old me (so it may sound a little “fanboy-ish” at times.  But  if you are a fan of golf, you’ll understand and forgive me for that.  With that said, please enjoy from 15 years ago (when he was a spry 74 year-old youngster), my story “A Day With Pete Dye.”

It was cold. And wet. And miserable. And I couldn’t have been happier. As I watched the cold winter rain drizzle over the tidal marsh in the distance, it almost appeared that the tall upright marsh grass (turned a grayish brown from the winter temperatures) was stretching out to meet the rain as it fell from the sky. This was Election Day 2000 and it was also the day I was to meet the man some call a living legend. You could even argue that he has had the most influence on the game of golf of any architect since Robert Trent Jones. I was going to be one of a handful of people spending the day with the Pete Dye regarding an upcoming project on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Pine Island course (shut down since Hurricane Georges in October of 1998) was one of Dye’s first courses. The course — then named Marsh Island — was built in the late 1960’s for less than what we spend nowadays on eighteen green complexes. The owner felt that having Dye involved with the project again would not only bring notoriety to the Ocean Springs course, but that it was also the right thing to do since he was the original architect—good call.
I don’t really know what I had grown so nervous about as we sat waiting on Mr. Dye to arrive—his plane delayed by the bad weather. I have met a number of “famous” people in my life such as actors, comedians, politicians, and professional athletes, but for some
reason I had never been especially impressed by these others—let alone nervous about meeting them. However, meeting Pete Dye was going to be different. This insurance salesman turned golf course architect icon was self-made and time-tested for longer than I had been alive, with hundreds of golf courses around the globe to his credit.
To be honest, my first impression was that he wasn’t as tall as I had envisioned him being from seeing pictures in magazines. In fact, to the untrained eye Dye might even go unnoticed in a large crowd. No flashy clothes or fancy shoes. Maybe I assumed he would take over the room when he walked in like some well-traveled celebrity. That’s not to say he didn’t have the attention of everyone in the room—he did. But it was more like the respect all of the family gives your Grandfather when he prepares to bless the Thanksgiving dinner. Pete Dye is more of the quiet, thinking type than some might assume of a person with his extensive background.
There we were: eight of us trudging through the weather following Mr. Dye across 18 holes of overgrown rain-soaked fairways, along acres of tidal marsh, and through countless puddles of cold water up to our ankles—all on foot because he likes to walk a course. We spent about three hours walking the property and I got the impression that some would have had a difficult time keeping up with the 70+ year-old Dye if he had not kept stopping to admire the views from the course and out across the tidal marsh. Remarkably, he remembered a great deal about the course he had not seen in thirty years, commenting of certain holes that stood out in his mind.
As sunlight began to fade across the bay, about five or so of us decided to get cleaned up and go out for dinner before Mr. Dye had to catch his late flight home that evening. Just as he had been the entire day, Mr. Dye remained conversational and “down to earth” at the restaurant as he shared stories from years of travel and hundreds of projects around the globe. I tried to keep quiet and listen—at first not even mentioning our Indiana connection (both of us having family roots there). I wanted to hear what he had to talk to about and, after all, I can hear myself talk anytime. I learned from my parents at a very early age to take the time to “listen” to the stories of older generations and not just “hear” what they had to say. So, notwithstanding his impressive resume as an architect, I listened. And I learned. And believe me: you cannot imagine how difficult it is to spend a day with
someone like Mr. Dye and force yourself not to “pick his brain” at every chance you get.
As dinner drew to a close and we all said our goodbyes, we snapped a couple of photos and I ran off into the rain-soaked darkness, climbed into my car, and drove two hours home to my family—appreciating even more the value of time well spent with people worth admiring.
Copyright 2001 — Nathan Crace and Lipouts.com
 

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“The Short Game Doctor”

Before Christmas, I did an interview with BackSpin Magazine for the March issue about growing the game by designing and building short game facilities. They did a great job to keep it informative and fun to read. It just hit news stands and there’s an online version on their web site.

Click here to read “The Short Game Doctor” on BackSpin’s web site.

 
 

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The Venerable Ken Venturi — Passing of a Legend

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ken Venturi today at age 82, just 12 days after he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.  I’m glad he was on Feherty last year and I still have that episode recorded (I’m willing to bet we’ll see a re-run of it on Golf Channel–as well we should). As my tribute to Ken Venturi, here’s a e-print of the column I wrote in 2002 about Venturi and what I learned from his time on CBS and as a player.  Thoughts an prayers are with his family.  He will be missed….

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“The Venerable Mr. Venturi”   from June 17, 2002

When I was young—say about 8 or 9 years old—my parents used to tell me to take time to speak with our older neighbors and listen to what they had to say. And not just when they were yelling at me for cutting the corner through their daylilies on my bike after school. Take some time to sit down with them, ask them questions about how things were when they were young and listen to what they had to say. I was assured that I would be amazed not only at how much had changed in the world, but also at how much had NOT changed.  These were the men who had fought our World Wars and the women with more grand and great-grandchildren than they could keep up with at times.

Of course, getting that to sink in for a nine year-old with ball games to play and dogs to play fetch with was surely an unenviable task. Later in life, as these elderly neighbors and friends of my parents began to pass on and I grew more mature, I realized all of the potentially fascinating life stories about their lives that would go untold—at least to me. Procrastination is a nasty habit, especially when it costs you the time that cannot be relived. But to a child, there’s always tomorrow to talk to the older folks.

The 2002 Kemper Insurance Open was the last time Ken Venturi would sit in the CBS tower behind the 18th green calling the shots for the viewers of CBS’s PGA Tour coverage each year.  Although Ken Venturi the man has not passed on, his television legacy has—leaving an indelible mark on more than a few of us. He was one of those announcers you found yourself inexplicably drawn to due to his true emotion and sense of “been there, done that.”

Unfortunately for me, it took a few years for me to realize exactly who he was and that makes his exit more noteworthy to me than perhaps to others. When I first got hooked on golf at about age 10, I would sometimes spend entire afternoons on weekends watching CBS’s golf coverage. Early on, I grew tired of Mr. Venturi’s ramblings and seemingly obvious comments. “This putt is all speed and direction” was one of my favorites. As a pre-teen who knew everything there was to know about the game (except who this Venturi guy was), I knew that all putts were speed and direction. Right? Then again, it’s always been difficult to bridge the generation gap—especially when it requires two bridges over three generations.

As I grew older and began to play competitive golf in junior and senior high school, I still watched as much golf as possible when I wasn’t actually playing golf. For me, the small screen provided an eye on the golfing world and an outlet for my desire to play more. The reason was simple: no one in my family played golf, there was no course in my hometown, and I wasn’t yet old enough to drive. I didn’t mind not getting to play as much as I would have liked and—in hindsight—it probably benefited my career today by spending more time watching golf on television. I got to see some of the best courses from all over the world instead of the same course every week.

So there we were: Ken Venturi and myself going over every shot on every hole week in and week out.  Sure there were weeks when NBC or ABC would grab a share of the market to cover a major or a Skins Game; but the majority of the time was spent with Kenny in the tower on 18—there was no Golf Channel.

Then at about age 14, I had an epiphany by “accidentally” learning who Ken Venturi really was. I couldn’t believe what an idiot I had been! I read a story about him in a magazine that I can’t remember the name of today. It began with the story of his childhood and how he turned to golf to escape the taunts he endured as a result of a speech impediment. Speech impediment? “How could someone with a speech impediment make a career of sports broadcasting?” I thought.  It went on to tell of how he lost the 1956 Masters as an amateur with a final round 80—losing by one stroke! He then turned pro and won no less than 10 times in the next four years on Tour before hitting a dry four-year spell that nearly cost him his game. He said he had to borrow money to play in the 1964 U.S. Open—an Open that is now a part of golf history. The same 1964 Open he won by playing through dehydration and 100 degree heat for a 36-hole final that forever defined Venturi the player.

Now we’ve come to the end of a 35-year long career in the booth that has seen Ken Venturi win the hearts of millions of viewers. Forget the critics. So what if people thought he wasn’t as critical as NBC’s Johnny Miller. Venturi was a straight talker, but a consummate gentleman—a genre that has be slowing slipping away from your television in contemporary times because it’s hard to sell to the younger generation. The viewers are what count and remembering Ken Venturi is what counts to him. Will the Masters really be the same to us without him in the booth? Only time will tell.

The viewers and players alike will surely miss you Mr. Venturi. Enjoy your retirement and the much-deserved time off. Just remember: like putting, retirement is all speed and direction.

 

 
 

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Why the 2012 PGA Championship and Ryder Cup Will Be More Important to Me

The following was written in Aug 2012 for Mississippi Sports Magazine and is re-printed here at blog.lipouts.com
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Why the 2012 PGA Championship and Ryder Cup Will  Be More Important to Me  |  By: Nathan Crace

In my life, I’ve written a few articles about the Ryder Cup every couple of years.  I have tried to avoid the mundane statistics or “inside baseball” angle and instead tried to focus on the peculiarities of the long-standing rivalry of the matches between America’s best and the best of the Eurozone golfers, the fervor that seems to wind the Euros together tighter than a Camilo Villegas polo, or—speaking of clothing—the poor choice of uniforms the Americans insist on making more often than not.  While I’m on the topic, please tell me that Corey Pavin’s wife is NOT designing the team uniforms this year.  With all due respect, it was bad enough that our guys had to buy rain gear from the souvenir tent in Wales in 2010 because our team’s gear leaked; but to have our rain suits look like the Globetrotter’s basketball warm-up suits from the 1950’s?  Between you and me, I still suspect that’s the real reason our guys said they needed new rain gear—not that they actually leaked. But I digress…

This year the Ryder Cup is special to me not because of who is playing or where the matches are being played, but instead because of where the matches are not being held.  The Americans will host the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago the month after the PGA Championship will have been decided at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island—hard against the Atlantic Ocean (as the name indicates) in South Carolina—where the infamous “War on the Shore” took place twenty-one years ago.

The 1991 matches at Kiawah were contentious for a number of reasons ranging from alleged trash talking between a particular pair of Spaniards and Paul Azinger to Corey Paving showing up in a camo hat in support of our troops in the first Gulf War to Steve Pate’s pre-match limo accident.  The tension came to a head in the last match on Sunday afternoon in a nearly made-for-TV showdown between Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer that featured a questionable bounce off a volunteer’s spinal cord for Irwin’s tee shot on the 17th hole and a missed near gimme for Langer on the 18th that would have halved the matches and retained the cup for the Europeans.

Flash forward to the spring of 1993.  I had the good fortune to play the Ocean Course during spring break that year on a golf road trip with my best friend.  We left Mississippi State in the late afternoon after our last Friday class and drove through the night to Charlotte, North Carolina for a pit stop at his home before continuing the next morning to Myrtle Beach.  We played golf at The Witch (a fun Dan Maples layout), Tidewater (and excellent track between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway), and a couple of other courses I cannot remember (it has been nearly twenty years ago after all) before topping off the trip on the last day with a drive south to Kiawah Island for the icing on the cake.

When we arrived, it had been raining off and on already that day and the ocean looked angry and grey like the North Sea rolling into the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland on an early spring day.  In fact, it rained off and on for about 12 holes during our round; but we couldn’t care less.  We knew the Ryder Cup had just been there just eighteen months earlier and we were ready to tackle the course head-on.  Or so we thought.  I assumed we’d probably never get a chance to play the course again, so we decided to play the course as far back as we could and since the course wasn’t busy we spent a considerable amount of time searching for hidden back tees on many of the holes that probably had not been used since the Ryder Cup.  I would speculate that Pete Dye never intended for all of the holes to be played from the back tees on the same day anyway because the course goes out and back in a clockwise loop to the north and back south along the dunes on the front nine and counterclockwise to the south and back north along the ocean returning home on the back nine—ten holes adjacent to the ocean.  I assume that the extra tees were to allow flexibility to lengthen the downwind holes and shorten the holes playing into the wind on any given day, but I’ve never asked Pete.  (story continues below)

Bear in mind this was before Google Maps and smartphones (we didn’t even have cell phones because it was still the stone age) so we had to walk-off the yardages from the hidden back tees because none of them had yardages that we could find.  To the best of our rain-soaked abilities, we calculated that the course played in excess of 7,800 yards when totaled up from all the way back on every hole: a monster.  The official yardage published for the 2012 PGA Championship is a mere 7,676 yards.  At the time, we also calculated that keeping score would be an exercise in futility so we stopped somewhere on the back nine to protect our respective egos.  Besides, I was too busy taking pictures with a disposable panoramic camera for my collection of photos of favorite golf courses to worry about keeping score.  Yeah, that’s a good excuse….

The highlight of my round came on the par-3 17th hole.  The rain had stopped momentarily but the wind was howling off of the Atlantic from our right to left.  The wind was helping a little (quartering from behind us a bit) and I remember hitting a three-iron (it was all I had short of a 3-wood and that would have landed me back on the mainland if it got up into the gale force wind and headed left).  As I went through my pre-shot routine and set up over the ball, Scott reminded me that this was the same hole where Mark Calcavecchia had choked during the Ryder Cup and shanked the ball into the water hazard—forcing the Cup to come down to the last match.  I smiled, took an extra waggle, and hit a soaring tee shot that seemed to start so far right that it might boomerang back to the southeast and come back toward the tee.  But I was counting on the wind that had my pant legs flapping like a pair of hurricane flags to turn the ball back toward the green…it did.  The ball cleared the hazard by what appeared from the tee to be millimeters and rolled to a stop just inside three feet from the cup.  After holding the obligatory I-just-hit-the-best-shot-of-the-day-scratch-that-the-best-shot-of-my-life follow through pose for what seemed like an hour, I simply turned and said “He’d have killed for that one in the Ryder Cup.”  We both laughed and proceeded to the green where I left what I recall as my only legitimate birdie putt that day about one-half inch short, dead in the jaws of the cup for a smooth tap-in par.  Routine.  That ball now resides in the bottom of the water hazard on 17.

So when this year’s PGA Championship is played at Kiawah Island in August I will have fond memories of that day in the rain nearly twenty years ago.  And when the Ryder Cup is played the following month at Medinah, it will be hard for me to watch without thinking back to the day we played Kiawah eighteen months after the historic Ryder Cup at Kiawah.  However, what will make it most difficult is the fact that the numerous text messages and phone calls my best friend and I typically make during the majors will have to go unmade this time.  Tragically, Scott was killed in a one car accident in Jacksonville the week of the Masters this year, leaving behind a wife and a young son.  After being asked to speak at his funeral service that week, I haven’t written about it because it seems too unreal even to this day.  Even now, four months later, I find it hard to accept.  But Scott and I played a lot of golf together in four years at Mississippi State and even a few times since going our separate ways after college.  We always managed to keep in touch over the years.  He was in my wedding and I was in his and two of the best courses I’ve ever played (Kiawah Island and TPC Sawgrass, both Pete Dye courses) I played with him.  That’s why this year’s Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship will be different for me.  Not because of some rivalry between professional golf’s greats or the story of the “War by the Shore,” but because of a day spent playing golf in the rain on one of the best courses I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, not caring about the score—and doing so in good company.

 

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