For the USGA, brown is the new beautiful

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2014, 4:40 pm

The text message arrived just as eventual champion Martin Kaymer was making the turn on Sunday at the U.S. Open: “What is wrong with that course? Is it supposed to look like that?”

While that opinion on Pinehurst No. 2’s conditioning and aesthetic value was a common theme in social media circles last week, the sourcing of Sunday’s scathing review was a bit surprising.

Your scribe’s mother-in-law has had a regular Friday morning round since we can remember, and she is something of a bandit on the course thanks to a travelling handicap. And, it seems like much of the American golf populace, she likes her golf courses green and gorgeous.

The U.S. Golf Association always knew its new “brown is the new green” initiative would be a hard sale to a generation of golfers conditioned to think that every course should look like Augusta National, but not even consensus builder Mike Davis could have envisioned the armchair pushback that the retrofit No. 2 caused.

“What we really are after is a couple of things. One is just less water used on golf courses, firmer conditions,” the USGA executive director explained late Sunday.

“That doesn't mean we're looking for brown golf courses. Some golf courses with some type of grasses, if they get brown they are going to die. The other thing is just trying for less manicured golf courses when you get off the fairway, so the concept of the maintenance down the middle is to literally reduce some of the costs and so on.”

That kind of altruism, however, didn’t seem to register with many who depend on 140 characters to make their point.

Perhaps the most disappointing, and loudest, voice of discontent came from Donald Trump, who for better or worse has became a major player in golf with his connection to Doral (site of an annual WGC event) and the news earlier this year that two of his courses – Trump National-Bedminster and Trump National-Washington, D.C. – will host the 2022 PGA Championship and 2017 Senior PGA.

“The only reason I am critical of the Pinehurst look is because I’m a lover of golf, and that look on TV hurts golf badly,” Trump tweeted Monday, followed by a second tweet Wednesday, “I was right. TV ratings for (the) U.S. Open are way down from last year. People don’t want to look at a burned out, ugly course.”

“The Don” seems to have missed the point.

Davis & Co. are not “Chicken Little” types. Perhaps the sky isn’t falling at one of Trump’s opulent clubs, but sustainability and affordability are two of the biggest challenges facing the game right now.

As Davis pointed out, the dry and dusty look isn’t for everyone, particularly at northern courses that must use grasses that can’t sustain the parched conditions like Pinehurst. Nor did the USGA expect everyone to jump on the bandwagon.

“By having the national championship of the United States at a golf course like this, I don't think you ever change public perception overnight, but over time if we go places where we show there are options and there are sustainability issues, it helps move that perception somewhat,” said Dan Burton, chairman of the USGA’s championship committee.

The dust bowl that Pinehurst turned out to be was never going to be everyone’s brand of vodka, particularly those who grew up watching replays of the ’99 and '05 Opens on the No. 2 course.

Trading 35 acres of Bermuda grass rough for sprawling natural areas dotted with wiregrass was always going to be a gamble, the architectural equivalent of putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

But the playability of the parched turf was beyond question. Ben Cranshaw and Bill Coore’s handiwork was almost universally applauded by players, which is always the ultimate litmus test for an architect, if not the viewing public.

Trump and his army of Monday morning quarterbacks should also prepare themselves for this new normal.

Unless North Carolina’s sand hills endure a monsoon the next few days, it will be more of the same for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open and next year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay – a links-like layout in Tacoma, Washington that had a similarly brown and bouncy look when it hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur.

And don’t forget next month’s Open Championship at Hoylake, which is still referred to as Royal Yellow Brick Road in some circles following the great Dust Open of 2006.

“I would contend and many other people would contend that it makes for more interesting golf when you do that,” Davis explained to a group of largely deaf ears.

If last week’s fallout was any indication, it will take some time to change the public’s perception of what a golf course should look like. But know this – brown, at least for some national championships, is here to stay. Just don’t tell our mother-in-law.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 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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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.