The long and short of golf courses

By John HawkinsApril 17, 2012, 7:34 pm

For reasons I’m still not sure of, I continue to hold memberships at two private establishments in southern Connecticut. One was founded in 1895 and features a course designed by A.W. Tillinghast, paddleball courts and a stately clubhouse erected at the highest point on the property. It is usually in immaculate shape and has hosted several U.S. Golf Association events over the years, most notably the 1987 U.S. Senior Open.

My other club is a 5,800-yard mousetrap we call the Little Brown Dog. In addition to a lack of space, the course has drainage problems and two or three holes that make no sense from an architectural standpoint. Speaking of which, I have no idea who is responsible for the layout at LBD.

Some would consider it a waste of four hours, others would call it quirky, but I call it home. I play a vast majority of my golf at the Little Brown Dog, which is about 1,000 yards shorter than the Tillinghast but every bit as difficult, especially if you’ve played it no more than 20 or 30 times. When it comes to local knowledge, LBD is basically Harvard with a little more mud.

I’m enlightening you with all this useless information because professional golf, at least in recent years, has gravitated toward venues with gigantic greens, lots of room to miss off the tee and a collection of 500-yard par 4s. Now more than ever, the game is rewarding faulty distance, blithely catering to players without anything close to a full skill set.

Not to pick on TPC San Antonio, site of this week’s Valero Texas Open, but after back-to-back stops at Augusta National and Harbour Town, two of the most ingeniously designed courses to host a golf tournament, we’re looking at a 7,500-yard behemoth with all the sign-of-the-times components requisite to befriending the PGA Tour. The posh, on-site hotel and spa. No par 5 shorter than 567 yards, which might be why TPC San Antonio’s par-5 scoring average (4.94) was the Tour’s highest in 2011. The outrageous green complexes and oversized putting surfaces, surely as competitive compensation for the sheer length of the course itself.

Add it all up and you’ve got a 21st-century shrine to modern golf. A place where Greg Norman, a renowned and very talented architect, had all kinds of room and all kinds of budget, then went out and waged his own little war with equipment technology.

Take a good look at the field. It is one of the weakest all year, which is not the fault of the tournament, which is happy to be part of the regular-season schedule after time spent in the Fall Series. The turnout is simply a function of the dates – smack in the middle of what Tim Rosaforte, my longtime colleague, has referred to as the “dead zone.”

Harbour Town, however, has done pretty well despite batting right after the Masters, in part because a good number of Tour pros – perhaps a dozen I’ve talked to over the years – consider it one of their favorite courses. It is very tight in spots, somewhat spacious in others, but without fail, Harbour Town requires precision. The targets are small (or narrow), the penalty for errant play unyielding. It is a test in every sense of the word, and players definitely like challenges that are unique, not silly.

I find it interesting that a majority of pros, at least in my estimation, would prefer Harbour Town over TPC Sawgrass – both Pete Dye products with strikingly similar aesthetic characteristics. Perhaps it’s just the relaxed atmosphere of Hilton Head and the exhale of post-Masters steam. Or maybe it’s the tiny greens and miniaturized margin for error they find so appealing, the notion that just reward is best gleaned from proper execution.

For all the talk in recent years about the sensibility and lovability of short par 4s, it’s a trend that simply hasn’t caught on. The few that made it such an endearing premise are still the common standard. When Sergio Garcia refers to TPC San Antonio’s 410-yard 12th hole as “short but dangerous” in his online description of the venue, I beg his pardon, albeit with a smile.

My Little Brown Dog has one par 4 in excess of 410 yards. And when the state’s best club pros gather for our charity pro-am, very rarely do more than a couple of them shoot par or better. As Jeff Sluman told me years ago when former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson began lengthening Augusta National, “If you really want to Tiger-proof the place, if you really want to give everyone a chance, you don’t make it longer. You make it shorter.” Amen.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm