A number of us who talk about golf for a living got the chance to play the course that Appleby & Co. lit up this week. We had the same pins, and played from the tips. As we discussed later, there has only been one previous opportunity to play a course where 59 was shot the day before on the PGA Tour.You learn quite a bit about the skill of a Tour player by doing that. Yes, the Old White course can be overpowered. I can carry the ball about 280 when I am really hitting it well. I didn't have to hit driver on most holes, but I did because attacking certain bunkers and blowing it over trouble was the best play. When you can carry the ball as far as Appleby or Jeff Overton, your caddie should break your 3-wood if you ever try to reach for it. It is no surprise that the two players at the top can play the long game with the best of them.
But, before you diminish Appleby's 59 because the scoring was so low and because the course is not long by modern standards, consider this: the architecture allowed that strategy.
So many times on the tee box at Old White, CB MacDonald told you exactly the best strategy to make birdie. Hit it over this bunker, and the hole opens up for you, he said through the design. But, if you miss, you will suffer the consequences.
The 12th hole is an eagle opportunity, but only if you hit it up the right side, where trees can knock down greedy tee ball out of bounds. On the 13th, you can drive it up the right side, but if you do you can't see the flagstick. And as you saw on the 18th hole, if you hit the wrong club on the finishing par 3, you will have the craziest putt of your life.
Length helps. Length puts wedges in your hands. But what we saw distinctly on Monday was that precision mattered from inside 100 yards. So many pins were three paces from a severe slope or a bunker that could turn birdie into bogey if your short game was not sharp.
What made the Old White such a pleasure to play was the fact that great reward was possible when a bold tee shot was matched with short game precision. Modern golf courses have a tendency to bludgeon a player with length as the defense. Swing as hard as you can, then do it again, and again, and again. This MacDonald/Raynor gem refurbished by Lester George takes a more surgical approach. The course invites you to overpower it if you can. But you had better be a wizard with the wedge to score. There is more than one way to play the course, based on your skill and nerve.
But you better have both.
Most pros do, which is why the scores were low. But only one of them shot a 59. Only one put a new tournament on the map with a putt on the 72nd hole that showed great confidence as well as great skill.
What can a truly classic golf course do? It can avoid the trap of trying to handcuff talented players. By allowing them to display their talents, those same players can put on a brilliant show.