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.
Here’s the digital version of my latest column for the November 2014 issue of BackSpin Magazine, in case you have trouble sleeping tonight:
“Resurrecting Donald Ross”
By: Nathan Crace Date: August 28, 2007/August 28, 2013
The following is a re-print of my original column with the same title that was published exactly six years ago today, with some revised content for today’s reader:
It’s no secret to those who read this column on a regular basis that I am of that group of individuals who believe the unbridled advances in golf technology in the past 15+ years (specifically the ball, the driver, and the newer wedges) have damaged the game of golf and endangered the classic courses of the past by rendering them defenseless against the long ball and the “bomb and gouge” approach. But recently, I have also been watching more and more of the classic courses working to “restore” themselves to their former glory. And as with any other niche industry, there are a number of smart golf course architects making a name for themselves by channeling the deceased architects of the glory days while they restore these courses.
I’m the last person to second-guess another architect because (by the very nature of what we do) there is no one right way to renovate or design a golf course. It’s their project, let them do as they wish and leave the second-guessing to the pundits. But I do wonder why there is such a rabid fervor by some club members and owners to put courses exactly back to the way they originally were. While in my opinion, a properly designed/built/managed golf course is a work of art, is it not Michelangelo’s Statue of David or a Van Gogh painting. Those can be restored. Golf courses are organic living things that change and adapt over the years. One of the reasons the game itself is so unique is that each course is unique and that creates diversity. So why do we want to keep courses the way they were or spend millions in a futile attempt to turn back time? Is it for the nostalgia? For the history? For the assumed wishes of the original architect?
Enter the “ghost whisperers.” Most will use old sketches or photos of the course in question or maybe even the original construction drawings that were found in the footlocker of the original club president when his great grandson was cleaning out the old family stable. They spend a lot of time to painstakingly recreate what used to be there and resurrect the designs of Donald Ross, Tillinghast, MacDonald, MacKenzie, Colt….the list goes on and on. To their credit, most do an excellent job of re-creating the features to the way they used to be and should be commended for their ability to do so. But my question is this: Is that really the best thing to do in every situation for every old course? Would is really be what they want? And by “they,” I mean the original architects. One of my favorite lines I keep hearing repeated is: “I’ve renovated so many [insert dead architect’s name here] courses, I know what he was thinking.” Really?
I must profess that I am a student of the history of the game and love the rich history of the architects of the past 100 years and I am awed by what they achieved with limited resources. That being said, my job is to respect the past while looking toward the future—not looking over my shoulder to appease the dead. Not to sound aloof, but the client hires me to renovate a golf course and make it aesthetically pleasing, easier to maintain, and fun to play again. Things have changed in the past 30, 50, 100 years since the course was originally built and for many courses, there can be room for debate regarding whether or not the dead architect credited with a certain design did more than make a site visit once—if at all. One architect in particular, whose pinnacle was after the Great Depression, is credited with nearly 300 designs! In an age without jet travel, staffs of design associates, or bulldozers—and considering he passed away in his 60’s (early by today’s standards)—that would be an incredibly grueling work load. But I digress. Not only have changes in golf equipment changed the game, but improvements in agronomics have also made drastic changes to the older courses by improving the quality of turf.
Which brings us to the core point of my theory: The men who designed the courses so famous from the past “glory days” of golf course architecture were obviously intelligent men who understood the game and how to fit a course to the land they had at their disposal. They were not stupid people. Therefore, I have to believe that if we could magically resurrect these great architects and show them the way the game and the industry has evolved, they would not want to “restore” their courses to the way they were. They would want to help them evolve and adapt. Enlarge the greens, perhaps soften some contours and change bunker styling, add and expand tees, etc. Pinehurst’s greens were originally sand, not grass. And the courses with turf for putting surfaces most certainly were not running 9 to 12 feet on a Stimpmeter—which was invented in 1935 because Edward Stimpson thought the greens at the US Open that year at Oakmont were unfairly fast! Most greens in those days (the US Open notwithstanding) were more akin to the fairways of some of the better courses of today. Who do you know that would settle for putting on the fairway at your course? Greens in their day had to be humpbacked to assist in drainage and subsequently were not receptive to approach shots. If you were to reconstruct a green from the 1930’s and mow it to stimp at 13, it would be so small and fast that you would never be able to keep a ball on the green.
So the next time you see where an architect has been hired to return an old Donald Ross course to “exactly the way it was in the original photos,” ask yourself what Mr. Ross would think given today’s game of golf. There’s a difference between respecting some of the original design elements in the context of today’s game and trying to create an exact replica of what once was, but restoring the course of yesterday may actually do a disservice to the game and is shortsighted given the advances in technology. History is to be appreciated and I hate more than anyone when a classic course is forced to change by adding hundreds of yards or dozens of bunkers simply to defend against technology. Evolution of a golf course is a natural progression that should be embraced and properly planned—not retroactively regenerated. That is unless we will all be playing these “new” old courses with hickory-shafted niblicks and gutta-percha golf balls. There are, of course, exceptions to my theory as there are with other theories, and the recent Coore-Crenshaw renovation of Pinehurst #2 is an example of restoring certain facets of the original course while respecting both the original design and the needs of the future—including the removal of acres of grown-over turf, replacing it instead with the native sandy soil and wiregrass for rough. But notice they still have turf on the greens instead of a sand surface, internal drainage in the greens, and an automated irrigation system. Yet something tells me Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore understood what the course needed for the future without dismissing the past. And they didn’t walk the course consulting a Ouija board to make it happen…
Copyright 2007/Revised 2013 Nathan Crace. Nathan Crace (on Twitter @lipouts) is an award-winning golf course architect, published author, and member of the Golf Writers Association of America. You can purchase his book “Lipouts, The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” from Moonbay Media on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in the iTunes Bookstore.
I’m using a true story for my “Lipouts” column in the August 2013 issue of Backspin Magazine (www.backspinmag.com). Subscribers to this blog can get a sneak peek below:
Regrettably, the following is a true story: As I sat there alone in my truck under the cover of darkness, I wondered how it had come to this point. I was barely into my forties with a wife and kids, but there was no turning back now. I quietly stepped out of the truck and wondered what mitigating circumstances determined “premeditated.” Reaching into the back seat for the bag of supplies I had picked up from the hardware store earlier (and stupidly paid for with my credit card), I admitted to myself that no one would see this as a spur-of-the-moment act. In truth, it had been spiraling out of control for a couple of years and this would be how it ended, for now—whether I wanted it to or not. Frustration has a way of creeping up on a person until it becomes too big to manage, options seem limited, and you feel trapped. Some can walk away from it, but that was not an option for me. Others go to more desperate measures. It seemed as though I would fall into that category this night.
I quietly walked up the driveway and slipped through the already unlocked door. There was just enough light from inside the house emanating through the window in the door and into the garage for me to make my way around the car parked inside, a stack of boxes, and a couple of bicycles to the corner where I paused, trying to talk myself out of it. What seemed like an hour was probably no more than a minute, but I sat there staring at the target of my “mission” until I could wait no longer. There simply was no turning back. I reach into the bag when, suddenly, the garage light came on—blinding me for a second—and I heard the door open and a dog bark. A woman’s voice echoed into the garage.
“Nathan,” she asked. “Is that you? What are doing in the dark?” My cover was blown and I had to come clean.
“Hey hon,” I said sheepishly. “I was looking for my old Ping Eye2 irons. I’m going to re-grip them and start playing them again.”
An almost cathartic feeling of relief washed over me. There it was. No more sneaking around. It was out in the open. I was finally ready to admit that I was in my forties and could not hit the ball the way I used to and was now willing to re-enlist a 25 year-old set of irons in a desperate plea for help. The plan went into motion at a Nike Demo Day at The Refuge in Flowood, Mississippi two days earlier. While talking to others who were trying clubs, I innocently grabbed a Nike Covert 6-iron from the demo bag and took a swing at a ball on the range. It flew high and true with a bit of a draw. Surely it was a fluke. So I hit another. And another. And another. I had been playing a set of Titleist cavity-backed forged irons for more than seven years, but as family and work obligations took precedence over time spent playing golf, my iron play had shown steady decline. Now here I stood in amazement at how well I had stuck the ball with a game improvement iron! Almost reflexively, I glanced at the shaft label…regular flex. How much more emasculated could I feel?
I put the demo iron in the bag and walked slowly back to the club house, shoulders slumped, with my tail between my legs. How did it come to this? Was I suddenly so old and so bad that I needed a game improvement iron with whippy shafts? As I sat in the grill pondering what had just happened and drowning my sorrows in a cocktail of Dr. Pepper and self-loathing, it dawned on me that I had a set of game improvement irons stashed away in the dark recesses of my garage. A set of irons that, if I was honest with myself, was the set that I played when I was striking the ball the most consistently I ever had in my life. I had always assumed that it was simply because I was younger and playing nearly every day from my late high school career through college, but now it dawned on me that it was the equipment! That’s when I decided to dig my 1988 black dot Ping Eye2 irons out of storage, re-grip them, and put them into play.
The first thing I noticed when I took the clubs to the course was that I did hit the irons much better than the forged irons I had been playing—and more consistently. Curiously, the lofts of my 1988 irons are slightly more than one club weaker than modern-day irons and that took some getting used to. For example, where I was hitting a smooth 7-iron before, I would now have to hit a hard 6-iron. Also strange was how the square grooves (these irons were before Karsten began rounding off the grooves that got him into a legal battle with the USGA) would shred the cover of the new Titleist ProV1x. After a few holes, the ball looked like every drive had landed on a cart path.
I don’t think I’ll keep the old Pings in my bag because there are so many newer options on the market today from multiple manufacturers (and I still cannot stomach hitting a “6-iron” from 155), but what I did learn was that sometimes we have to swallow our pride and dial down the testosterone. Golf should be fun and should be enjoyed…fanning iron shots, missing greens, and scrambling for pars on every hole is not fun. Understanding that I don’t get to play as much, I’ve begun the hunt for a more forgiving set of irons and will probably choose—yes—regular flex shafts. But all golfers know that cosmetics at address have a big impact on how we “feel” about clubs and I still prefer a thinner top line and smaller clubhead than the game improvement irons on the market. It took me a trip back to the future to prove it to myself, but now that I’ve admitted that scoring is more satisfying than an ego linked to yesteryear and I’m ready to make the change. And now I won’t have to sneak around in the dark stumbling through my garage to do it.
Copyright 2013 Nathan Crace. Nathan Crace (on Twitter @lipouts) is an award-winning golf course architect, published author, and member of the Golf Writers Association of America. You can purchase his book “Lipouts, The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” from Moonbay Media on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in the iTunes Bookstore.
The following was written for the June 2013 premier issue of the new Backspin Magazine (www.backspinmag.com). This is a sneak peek.
The USGA has officially dropped the hammer on the anchor. Across the country, young players who’ve never putted with a 35” flat stick are dazed and confused while older players with shaky hands who have found refuge from the yips with the assistance of a broomstick are congregating in 19th holes and drinking like soldiers in a Civil War field hospital waiting for the doctor to operate. I don’t have a dog in the fight (personally) because I prefer the opposite approach—my putter is cut down to 32.5” because I like to extend my arms fully when putting—and I think it’s unfair to judge others based on the size of their equipment. I’ve used a short putter since my high school golf days in Indiana eons ago when woods were actually wood and balls were full of miles of rubber bands and covered with balata (pronounced bah-lah-tah for you youngsters). I do, however, find humor in the debate much the same as I find humor in anything where people draw arbitrary lines for the sake of…well, drawing arbitrary lines.
On one side, there are the “traditionalists” who claim that anchoring a club against one’s body takes the skill out of the stroke and is essentially a crutch for those who struggle with putting. Most stop short of calling it cheating, but if this were 1913 instead of 2013 and we weren’t all so politically correct I think there would be plenty of public name-callin’and finger-pointin’. But seriously, could you imagine Bobby Jones with a putter jammed into his sternum? It gives me the creeps just thinking about it.
One the other side, there are those claiming that loosening the rules helps to “grow the game” by making is more accessible and more fun. For years, I’ve countered that the unintended consequence of “growing the game” in this manner has actually been making it less accessible. Drivers and balls that fly farther have caused courses to be designed and built longer, necessitating the need for additional land, renovating great older courses, driving up the costs, and passing those costs along to the end user. Take a couple of decades, factor in supply out-pacing demand with the perfect storm of a down economy plus a dose of busted housing bubble and more courses are now closing than opening. But I digress….
I remember when Bernhard Langer started bracing the grip of his putter against his forearm in the early 1990’s to settle his putting stroke and everyone whispered that he would never be the same again. Remember when Rocco Meditate started using a long putter and the old guard could not believe what they were seeing? He started using it because of back problems, but his success with it brought it to the attention of others battling similar maladies. Then someone struggling with short putts started using a long putter by bracing it against his stomach or chest to create a pendulum stroke with no wrist action. Now there are major champions (read Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson) who have always used long putters since their days as junior golfers.
So just as the USGA is apt to do, they now ride in to town after sunset while the buildings are ablaze and announce that there might be trouble headed this way. Much like the failure to read the tea leaves of balls that travel like Tomahawk cruise missiles and driver faces with more spring in their step than a young Sergio Garcia at Medinah when Tiger may have actually had a reason to worry about playing him head-to-head, the USGA is about 10 years (give or take a biennial) too late in the anchoring ruling. Their ban on 60 degree wedges is due out in 2016…
Do I think bracing a putter against your stomach cheapens the game and gives you an unfair advantage over me? Not really. Notwithstanding players who grew up playing with a long putter, I think if you are using a long putter for any reason other than back problems, then you probably have more mental bats in your golf-psyche belfry than you know what to do with anyway. However, what I do think is ridiculous is some of the hypocrisy surrounding the issue. Like a certain PGA Tour player (whom I’ve always respected) who just a few years ago demanded that the USGA and R&A immediately ban belly putters, who did call those who used them “cheaters,” who then started using one himself, who later won a major with said putter, and who—when asked about his earlier statements—used the excuse that he would “keep cheating like the rest of them” while long putters were legal. That is what cheapens the game.
Copyright 2013 Nathan Crace. Nathan Crace (on Twitter @lipouts) is an award-winning golf course architect, published author, and member of the Golf Writers Association of America. You can purchase his book “Lipouts, The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” from Moonbay Media on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in the iTunes Bookstore. Nathan appears in Backspin by special arrangement.
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….
“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.
The following was written in Aug 2012 for Mississippi Sports Magazine and is re-printed here at blog.lipouts.com
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.
This week, the PGA Championship will be played where the infamous “War By The Shore” 1991 Ryder Cup was played–the Ocean Course at Kiawah on the Atlantic Coast of South Carolina. Some say it may be Pete Dye’s best work (if not his most demanding). I had the good fortune to play the course the spring after the Ryder Cup, but that story cannot be posted here yet because the magazine for whom the story is written diesn’t publish until later this month (check back in a week or two because it’s a good read and not for the reason you might think).
But as I read the many stories about the “evil” genius that is Pete Dye, I am reminded of Election Day 2000 when I and a handful of others were lucky enough to spend a cold and rainy November day in Ocean Springs, Mississippi following Pete Dye around one of his very first 18-hole designs–and one that doesn’t get any attention anymore because it has been shut down for nearly 15 years and overgrown by trees and marsh. I wrote about the day in the August 2001 edition of “Lipouts” and it is republished below. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed spending the day with the “evil genius.”
“A Day With Pete Dye” — By Nathan Crace, Copyright August 2001
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.
The last time The Open Championship (or what we Americans call the British Open) was held at Royal Lytham & St Annes was more than ten years ago. And do you remember who won in 2001? A world-dominating David Duval. Of course, much has been written, speculated, and read from a teleprompter regarding exactly what happened to Duval as he plummeted from grace following his Claret Jug win. Recently, I saw an interview with Duval and it reminded me of an open letter I wrote to Duval asking him, frankly, what happened? It is perhaps the most honest and heartfelt question from one guy to another: What happened to you? As in “What happened to you? You use to be an awesome player?” or “What happened to you? You used to meet me at the gym every morning?” or “What happened to you? You used to have hair?” It’s the type of question one guy asks another guy when they haven’t seen each other for a few years. It’s not mean, it’s not rude, it’s simply sincere.
When I wrote the open letter in my “Lipouts” column that appeared in some regional golf publications, I actually received some emails and letters from people accusing me of “picking on” Duval. Some said I didn’t understand him or I should leave him alone! I’m pretty confident that Duval wasn’t reading “Lipouts” at the time (or now), but I couldn’t understand why people thought that a series of thoughtful questions was mistaken as being “mean.”
Since the Open is returning to Royal Lytham later this month, I thought I would re-publish the original open letter to Duval here and let you decide for yourself. I’d love to see Duval play well enough to put himself in contention at the Open like he did at the US Open not too long ago. Maybe we’ll see lightning strike again this year across the pond!
“An Open Letter to David Duval” — June 18, 2003
Dear Mr. Duval:
Those of us who enjoy watching the game of golf played by the best players in the world have banded
together to collectively ask one simple question: “What gives?” To say you have been conspicuously absent from the PGA Tour on the weekends this year would be an understatement at best. Your 145 total after the first two rounds at this year’s Memorial served to bring your string of seven—yes seven—straight missed cuts to an end. Although a pair of 78’s on the weekend put the brakes on your “comeback.” Not too long ago, finding your name on the first page of the leader board was as easy as finding someone with a liberal arts degree serving up a double mocha cappuccino at Starbucks. So again we ask, “What gives?”
I understand that a number of pundits have been quick to explain the demise of your game over the last two years. Tumbling from the number one player in the world to a guy who would have lost his Tour card if not for the exemption that is part and parcel of your 2001 British Open victory. Some say it’s your breakup with your long-time fiancée, others say a lack of commitment. Some even say that you need to decide between snowboarding and golf—a strange decision to have to make. But for those of us who enjoyed watching the seemingly difficult to understand player behind the wraparound shades play the game, we just want to see you back in action.
We breathed a collective sigh of relief following your second round 62 during the FBR Capital Open this
year, hoping it was the beginning of the end of the slump. Your one-under-par finish was good enough for a
tie for 28th place come Sunday afternoon (your best of the year) and seemed to have you poised for a strong finish at the US Open. I guess I don’t have to tell you that +10 didn’t make the cut at Olympia Fields. Then again, I also don’t have to tell you that you have only managed to make 4 cuts in 14 events this year either.
So it comes to this: what can you do to regain the magic that we remember you best for? To be honest, we miss you. You were the man who dethroned Tiger. The player who would give him a run for his money
each week. This generation’s Arnie versus Jack. We understand that a bad back can be more than just an aggravation and make an action as unnatural as a golf swing about as comfortable as bamboo shoots under your fingernails. So taking a closer look at your statistics, here is my humble opinion. You rank in the top 115 in only one major statistical category: putting average (where you rank 29th). Don’t worry about
putting—you have many, many more important areas to work on. Namely, driving the ball. Out of 475
possible fairways, you’ve only found the short grass on 224 through the US Open—ranking 183rd on Tour.
Strangely, you also rank 183rd in greens in regulation. So the driver needs tuning, the irons are off, yet the
putter is working well. Why is this? A certain left-handed fellow Tour player may believe that the demise of
your game is not so coincidently tied to your switch to “inferior equipment.” But we’ll leave that up to
someone else to ponder.
So David—can I call you David? Do your fans a favor and yourself an even bigger favor. Pick up the
pieces, drop in for some range ball time with David Leadbetter, and stop listening to the talking heads who
now pontificate your fate and the reason for it because their games are washed up and they have nothing
better to do with their time. The last thing I want to see is the complete disappearance of David Duval from
the game, only to re-surface twenty years from now as a television commentator/Champions Tour
comeback player after your professional snowboarding career has come and gone. We’ll be watching. And
waiting. A few more rounds like that Friday at the TPC at Avenel and maybe we’ll see you on the leader
board (if not the winner’s circle) by, say, The International? Keep up the comeback, forget the pundits and
most importantly, buy a new driver and get the ball in the hole.
There’s a lot of talk this week about Kevin Na’s “prolonged” pre-shot routine and the subsequent impact on the pace of play. I can relate because I had a similar issue playing varsity golf in high school and I know other kids hated being paired with me. In fact, some would walk ahead instead of wait. But I got over it eventually on my own. If you remember, Sergio Garcia had a similar problem in 2002 that was so bad he was constantly heckled by patrons at the US Open at Bethpage. But Sergio got through it and hopefully Na will too. I wrote a column later in 2002 about how Garcia got over it and I’ve re-printed it here in it’s entirety. Maybe all Na needs is a guiding mentor…..
“A New Grip on Life’s Lessons” Originally published August 16, 2002
Pick your target. Set your right foot. Then your left. Double-check the target. Grip the club. Regrip.
Re-grip. Re-grip. Re-grip. Re-grip. Re-grip. Re-grip. Re-grip. If you’ve seen any golf on television
during the past two years, you know where this is going. Sergio Garcia’s relentless habit—we’ll call it a
nervous twitch—of re-gripping the club more times than you can bear to watch before hitting a shot. Any
shot. At the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, it became such a torment to spectators that the less-than cordial crowd of New Yorkers was sure to give him their opinion of the situation. The groans and moans echoing through the massive crowds earlier in the week soon turned to heckling and disparaging remarks about the young Spaniard’s family origins and his superstar tennis pro girlfriend Martina Hingis.
Such a shame. Sure the habit is annoying. It’s almost painful to watch. But I can relate in a different way.
Granted I’ve never played in the U.S Open—or anything remotely close in importance to the golf
world. However, I have had to work my way through a nervous twitch that almost forced me to quit the
game. A twitch that was eerily similar to Garcia’s. Playing varsity golf in high school in Indiana, I developed what others called a “twitchy thumb.” I would take my stance over the ball preparing to swing and stand there twitching my right thumb over the grip—some 15 to 20 times before swinging. It got so bad that my own teammates would ask the coach not to be paired with me—especially in important matches. Why did I do it? When did it begin? No one knew. Especially not me. It’s not as though I wanted to stand there twitching. Nor was I a nervous person. But that thumb consumed my golf game and when I could not stop it, it nearly stopped me. I finally forced myself to get over it—only twitching once nowadays.
So I felt bad for Sergio at the U.S Open and although I found myself thinking to the television “Just hit the ball,” I also found myself wanting to make all of the raucous members of the crowd disappear for his sake. I felt sorry for him because I could relate, in part, to the frustration. He has enough on his shoulders as the one the media has picked to de-throne Tiger without having to deal with a nervous twitch—and the fallout from the fans.
Fast forward to the made-for-television Battle at Bighorn in the desert southwest. Nicklaus and
Woods versus Trevino and Garcia. The cagey veterans had their share of the limelight with a handful of
crowd-pleasing shots and Tiger put on a proverbial clinic of shot making and scoring. But the bigger story
from where I stood was Garcia’s re-gripping—or lack thereof. It had nearly disappeared for the most part, or at least had been severely minimized. “Good for him,” I thought. And apparently, so did Jack Nicklaus.
During a commercial timeout, a camera and a microphone captured an intriguing sound bite for those of us in our living rooms—the type of glimpse inside the game we don’t much get to see. Nicklaus was telling Garcia how proud he was of him to overcome his habit. “It makes me happy to see guys be able to change things to improve their games,” he told Garcia. Sergio was beaming and, with his arm around the shoulder of the greatest golfer to ever play the game, smiled back and said simply “thank you.”
If ever there was a reassurance that he was doing the right thing in getting rid of his nervous twitch, there it was: the undisputed master of the game giving him a lesson in life on changing things within himself for the better. Not because of pressure from hecklers in an overzealous crowd or sports critics. That is one reason why golf is so different from other sports we see in modern times. Young stars of the PGA Tour are not being tried for murder or being led from their home in handcuffs by undercover FBI agents. Is it because of the relationship between the veterans and the young guys? Is the difference, in part, because they have someone to turn to when they need help, someone to take them under a wing for some serious one-on-one “father-son” talk in a stressful and “on-the-run” occupation? Someone to learn from because they’ve been there and done that?
Although I cannot verify its authenticity, one of my favorite stories relating to this topic is of a young Arnold Palmer in his rookie year on the PGA Tour. He was meeting veteran player Byron Nelson for a practice round prior to a tournament. They met in the pro shop and Nelson asked the club pro behind the counter what the course record was and who held it. As they made their way to the first tee, Palmer figured Nelson wanted to know the course record because he was going to set a new one that day, but he asked Nelson why he wanted to know who held the record? Nelson replied that if the club pro had the record, he didn’t want to break it. After all, it was the club pro’s course, not his. This is the type of life lesson even the man who would become King can learn from the game of golf. The type of lesson Nicklaus so graciously takes the time to pass on to Garcia and countless others.