AVONDALE, La. – A century ago, the grounds of TPC Louisiana were likely an alligator-infested swamp. On this day, however, it was site to a celebration of an era long passed.
Seven PGA Tour players – Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Camilo Villegas, Keegan Bradley and Ben Crane – gathered together for an authentic reenactment of a three-hole exhibition from 1912.
Dressed in garb reminiscent of turn-of-the-century golfers, the seven were supplied with a small set of hickory-shafted clubs to get around the stretch of TPC Louisiana shortened to accommodate golf's equivalent of the quill.
About 150 people followed the sevensome, behaving like crowds must have at the showdowns of Ouimet, Vardon, Braid and others. They walked the fairways, lined the holes, and a misbehaving young boy was playing in a bunker with a rake (not furrowed), while the players enjoyed themselves.
The first hole, however, was a collective struggle. Only Villegas made it look easy, converting with a fairway and a green in regulation for an easy par.
Villegas tipped his cap after his approach, saying, 'That was a smashie niblick.' Translation: he hit whatever club that the cheat sheat tethered to the players' bags suggested.
Two others made par – Keegan Bradley from behind the green and Ben Crane out of a greenside bunker.
'That's the spoon there,' Crane exclaimed.
Luke Donald found his tee shot near the adjacent driving range on the first hole, but at the second, hit a perfect drive and an early 20th century flop shot to hole out for eagle. Immediately, Donald transported himself to the 2011 Masters with a fist pump mirroring his last shot that year at Augusta National.
'One hundred years ago, and nothing changes,' Graeme McDowell said. 'Luke Donald. Wedge.'
Donald retorted, 'That was pretty good. I'm thinking about putting that in the bag.'
Northwestern golf coach and Donald's swing coach Patrick Goss was on hand and worked with the world No. 2 to change his compact swing to work with the new sticks.
'Get long and then cock your wrist,' Goss explained, marveling at the change in technique over 100 years.
With the lead on the final hole – TPC Louisiana's par-3 ninth – Villegas stalled on the tee. He struggled with which club to hit. At this point, the seven players were passing around their own clubs like a game of Old Maid.
They collectively settled on the mashie niblick. McDowell stuck it close. Crane went closer, to 15 feet.
McDowell whispered to Crane, somewhat fascinated of the translation to modern equipment, 'Feels like a 9-iron, maybe a wedge.'
As they approached the green, Rose, who dunked his tee shot into the water, took his place along emcee Gary Williams like Gene Sarazen from 'Shell's Wonderful World of Golf.'
'This is like the FedEx Cup,' Rose joked as Crane sank his birdie to tie Villegas.
Perhaps contrived, sure, but the brief exhibition showed a time warp only proved to liven up the game - with one exception.
'The shirt was really tight,' said Fowler. 'Maybe with a shirt I could swing with, I'd have played a little better.'