Players Not Sold on New Houston Open Course

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HUMBLE, Texas-- The Shell Houston Open will move to the weekend before The Masters next year, a change organizers hope will lure a more star-studded field.
 
It's not the date, but the course that could keep many away.

The Tournament Course at Redstone, where Stuart Appleby shot 19 under last weekend to win the event, got a lukewarm response from the players, most of whom were seeing it for the first time.
 
Vijay Singh won the previous two Houston Opens at the adjacent Jacobsen/Hardy course at Redstone. The event moved to the 7,457-yard Rees Jones layout this year.
 
Singh said too many of the holes look the same.
 
'The golf course did not grow on me,' said Singh, the 2000 Masters winner. 'Normally, the more you play, the more it grows on you. I just hope they go back to the old golf course next year. I think that's the consensus of most of the players.'
 
Bob Estes, who finished second to Appleby, didn't like the distance between holes. The second tee was more than a quarter mile from the first green and though players had carts waiting to shuttle them, Estes said the process backed up play.
 
'It's just so spread out, the rounds were really long, and that's the downside of it,' Estes said.
 
Appleby led wire-to-wire and won by six shots. Naturally, he liked the course, but said it was not the ideal tuneup for Augusta. But he added that no course really is and said most players only play the week before majors for the competition.
 
'Certainly, if I play like this next year going into Augusta, I'll have the next event to gain the momentum and the vibe going in,' he said.
 
Others did have compliments for the new course north of Houston, which former PGA champion David Toms helped Jones design.
 
John Daly, who drew the largest galleries last week despite finishing tied for 59th, said the new course was more demanding than the old one off the tee.
 
'The other one, you can rip driver on all the par 4s and par 5s and this one here, you can't,' he said. 'But I do like it. It's an awesome golf course.'
 
Outside of a few long walks, Estes enjoyed it, too.
 
'It's definitely hard enough to challenge all of us,' he said.
 
Larry Mize, who won The Masters in 1987, said The Tournament Course does have similarities to Augusta.
 
'You've got big, undulating greens and your iron play is as key as it is at Augusta,' said Mize, who finished at even-par last week. 'You can get some Augusta-like putts out here. I think it can work as a warmup.'
 
The Houston Open was often played the week before the Masters in the late 1980s and early '90s. It was two weeks before The Masters in 2002, the final year it was played at the TPC at The Woodlands.
 
It got the late April time slot in 2003, and tournament director Steve Timms said organizers asked the PGA Tour for a change. While acknowledging organizers hope to draw more marquee stars with the move, Timms said the request was also made to protect the course's condition.
 
Last week, the course was in transition between its winter and summer grasses, requiring more water. Estes said the fairways felt overwatered.
 
Timms said the course will play firmer and faster -- and more like Augusta -- in late March because of a reduced need for water. The Jones layout will host the event for at least the next six years.
 
'We're on a heavily overseeded golf course, and playing earlier, with the temperatures here as they are in late March, that works perfectly for us,' Timms said.
 
Timms isn't expecting Tiger Woods to change his usual routine of skipping the tournament before any major. But Timms expected to draw a few more marquee names than this year's did.
 
'We were going to take whatever date we got and do the best we could,' he said. 'This will give us a higher probability of attracting a good field. Now, it's just up to us to do all the things we need to do to make this an event players want to play in.'