Public Access: The Old Course

By Mercer BaggsJune 10, 2010, 9:03 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The look on his face said more to his disappointment than the one-word, four-letter expletive he tried to keep under his breath, but let get caught in the morning breeze.

It is 6:30 a.m., a half-hour before the first scheduled tee time, and there are already 17 people ahead of Tim Powell.

“Guess I’ll get here earlier tomorrow,” he says.

Andrew and Stephen Reyes were advised to show up before 5:30 in the morning. The brothers obliged, but were still fifth and sixth, respectively.

In the ultimate spot of envy for this crowd is Mark Baldwin, a soon-to-be 50-year-old and 9-handicap from Richmond, Va.

It took a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call, a 3 o’clock leave of absence from his wife, and a 4:20 arrival for him to earn his position at the front of the line.

His prize for such diligence? The best possible chance among the wanting group to play the Old Course at St. Andrews.

“It is THE course I always dreamed of playing,” Baldwin says. “It’s not like I’m getting on Augusta.”

The Old Course is golf’s most venerable venue. It’s birthplace. Aged over 600 years, walked or won on by nearly every legend the game has ever produced.

For the first time in major championship history, three of the four majors will be contested on public courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links (U.S. Open), the Old Course at St. Andrews (Open Championship) and the Straits Course at Whistling Straits (PGA Championship).

It might require a bit of savings, but if you can afford the cost and make the time, all three golfing landmarks are accessible to everyone.

As for the Old Course (greens fee runs roughly $175), a phone call or click of a computer button can book an advanced tee time. There is also the daily ballot, a simple process which allows groups of 2-4 to enter an on-site lottery system where names are drawn to fill out the following day’s tee sheet.

If the lottery fails you, forethought is not your forte, or you are a single golfer, there is yet another option:  Get in line (and get there early).

When ballots are pulled, the tee time is granted to whoever is on the card. If that’s two players, then only two players are listed. That leaves a couple of open spots and the possibility for two 11th-hour singles to join – if the original group complies.

Groups have the right to say no. For instance, a threesome consisting of family members might not want to take the chance of adding a possible 18-hole yapper.

Monday, May 24, there are 12 open slots on the tee sheet. Once the starter arrives, at 6:38 a.m., he tells hopefuls that number is more of a false front; it’s closer to nine.

“There is an indication on the ballot if groups are receptive (to add-ons),” says Old Course starter James Johnson.

Russ Tobias, a 54-year-old research and development director for Kodak, was in Birmingham, England for a conference when he decided to fly to Edinburgh and make the subsequent trip to St. Andrews.

“I had to,” says the 5-handicap from Dayton, Ohio. “I couldn’t come all this way and not play the Home of Golf.”

Tobias showed up at 4:30 a.m., about 10 minutes after Baldwin, and stands second in line. Behind him are Rob Noble and Jim Eichenberg.

A resident of Brisbane, Australia, a 22-handicap and 60-year-old semi-retired business consultant, Noble was on his way to Paris to celebrate his wife’s 60th birthday with family and friends when he made a planned pit stop at the Old Course.

“My father played here in 1977,” Noble tells. “It was a bit of a dream come true for him, and kind of became a dream of mine.”

Like Noble, Eichenberg has never played the Old Course. Only six months removed from divorce, the 41-year-old sales rep from Las Vegas decided to begin a quest to play his “bucket list of courses.”

“No better place to start than here,” says Eichenberg, a 13-handicap, who won a sales contest for five nights at any Fairmont hotel and chose, without hesitation, the locale in St. Andrews.

“I’m proof that even a hack can get a chance to play a course like this.”

Adds Tobias, “It’s great to watch on TV and follow your heroes, but what a thrill to play the courses that they play.

“Golf should never exclude the public.”

With 18 people anxiously waiting in line, the starter takes names and handicaps, putting them on a numerical list and telling some to hang around and others to check in later.

Baldwin relays his information and then makes a hasty exit off course premises. For all his doggedness, he is still in need of one thing:  golf clubs.

After renting a set of Callaways, he returns and is soon greeted with that which he has so desired:  a 7:20 a.m. tee time on the Old Course.

Mike Amrine and two of his fellow servicemen from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany have graciously allowed Baldwin to make their group a foursome.

“It’s golf,” says Amrine, a 45-year-old 19-handicap. “The more the merrier.”

Hitting clean-up in the third group out this morning, Baldwin stands over his ball facing 200 yards worth of horizontal fairway and nary a heavy eye on him.

Yet the pressure is palpable. After the second striker hooks his drive into the adjoining 18th fairway, he walks back to his friends and says, “My hand was shaking putting my tee in the ground.”

Baldwin’s tee shot barely clears land on takeoff and races down a straight line to the green, kicking up dew in its wake.

He exhales a deep breath, smiles, looks over and says simply, “Unbelievable.”

Shortly thereafter, Tobias and Noble are granted entry into the 7:50 slot.

“I can’t wait to tell my wife,” Noble says giddily, before scurrying off to the putting area near the first tee for some final preparation.

While others on the waiting list, like Eichenberg and the brothers Reyes, stick around to see if they get the call, Craig and Kayli Wicker head back to their hotel.

The father-daughter duo was 14th and 15th in line, and after checking back with the starter around 9:30, they are told their chances of playing the Old Course are “bleak.”

They kindly ask the man in charge to phone their hotel should circumstances change, and then go to nearby Balcomie Links for a last-minute, 10:10 a.m. tee time.

Kayli is a 21-year-old rising senior on the women’s golf team at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. She’s a 2-handicap, while her father, 52, is a 10.

Craig is paying off a bet to his daughter for earning her first collegiate top 10.

“The bet was for Scotland,” Kayli says. “I told him as long as we play the Old Course and Carnoustie, you can pick the rest.”

The last time Kayli won a bet like this was the first time she beat her dad. The reward:  a trip to Pebble Beach, where she played on July 27, 2004 – her 16th birthday.

Kayli, who is studying abroad this summer in Paris and London, has never played the Old Course; Craig has. When he did, he came home with plenty of stories for his daughter.

“I threw a hissy fit,” she says of her reaction.

The two already have a scheduled tee time for Carnoustie on Wednesday. If they don’t make it on the Old Course this day, and don’t win the lottery for the next, they have a plan:  “Be first in line [Tuesday],” says Kayli.

After shooting 73 to a par of 68 at Balcomie, Kayli enjoys a lunch of fish and chips with her father.

The two return to their hotel about 5 p.m., where they are informed the starter has called with a possible two-ball opening at 5:40, the last tee time of the day.

“We raced down the street and checked in,” Kayli later wrote via e-mail. “It seemed like forever before the other two players arrived and we were introduced. They were very gracious and agreed to let us play.

“I was going to get to play the Old Course!!!”

Amped with adrenaline, Kayli and her father have no issues walking another 18 holes. They aren’t able to procure caddies this late in the day, but one of their playing companions is a local.

“He was able to give us some of the history of the course and tell stories about various holes or bunkers, and the events that happened during prior Opens. That really added to the round,” Kayli said.

A par on the famous Road Hole 17th is the highlight of Kayli’s 75 on the Old Course.

That, along with playing the world’s most famous course with her father, an experience on offer to anyone and everyone who has the dream and the desire to make it happen.

“It’s amazing, just standing on the first tee and realizing who has walked here,” Craig said. “And that you can play the same course as the game’s all-time greats.”

“It was,” Kayli said, “a truly magical journey.”

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Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.