St Augustine Course Faces the End
Its the Ponce de Leon, a resort course in the northeast city of St. Augustine ' yes, St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States. The course has been around since 1916, but appears doomed if something isnt done quickly. Developers have purchased the property and plans are to demolish the course and replace it with a 749-unit upscale housing development.
This week, several entities failed in their effort to raise $5.5 million to buy the course. Unless something is done by June, developer Chester Stokes, CEO of Stokes and Company, will start the transformation.
Stokes is sympathetic toward those who want to preserve the golf course, but he is also a developer. He, along with just about everyone else, realizes that most golf courses today are losing propositions money-wise ' especially when compared to the $35 million that the land upon which the Ponce sits is appraised.
The course is built on marshland with stunning vistas to the north of the city. These vistas, which front the Intracoastal Canal, are what make the property so appealing.
When I came up here and played here for the first time, it was like, it was probably the way God intended golf to be played, said Rosalie Russo, a Ponce member.
The course has a grand history. Numerous professionals have played here, including Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen. Johnny Farrell, who was the 1928 U.S. Open champion, was the first club pro.
I look at the vistas on this golf course, I look at the marsh and the Intracoastal, and I know that if this golf course disappears, there will never be another Ponce de Leon, said Micheal Fay, executive director of the Donald Ross Society. It ought to be a part of our history.
There was a grand and wonderful place here in 1915. Its still a grand and wonderful golf course in 2003. Theres only so much history, theres only so much tradition. It cannot be replaced, it cannot be manufactured.
Stokes, the man who sits in the middle of this firestorm, tries to be realistic about the situation. A Georgia Tech alum, he says, The markets just not there, its just that simple. Its an economic decision, its unfortunate.
I try to be as friendly and try do everything that makes sense for anybody. But its got to make sense for everybody - including us. When you get right down to it, its very difficult to make a golf course work.
And so goes the charm of the Ponce de Leon, which has been likened to a Van Gough painting that is about to be lost forever. But Stokes says that the course no longer measures up, either in monetary value or as a golf course.
To be honest with you, the Van Gough got trampled on a long time ago, said Stokes. Five of the holes on the golf course just dont even fit the character of a Donald Ross golf course.
Nicholas Melszer is a commissioner of St. Johns County, the county of which St. Augustine is a part. He has tried mightily to save the course, but he realizes he is probably fighting a losing battle. The figures that Stokes throws out makes it virtually impossible to ignore that the land is extremely valuable as a housing development ' but not as golf course.
Hes not wrong, says Melszer of Stokes. He is absolutely not wrong.
But if you want to preserve the oldest Donald Ross golf course in Florida, and (preserve) the archeological sites, and the bird sanctuaries, and the environment and the Intracoastal ' AND preserve the golf course in addition to all that - you have a different perspective.
Mark Knight of the St. Augustine planning and building board looks at both sides of the impasse and says, If they dont have the business end of it that would support operating a golf course, the golf course wouldnt be operated. It would become a development at that point in time.
Meanwhile, the clock is quickly still running. Stokes is paying approximately $120,000 interest each month on a $20 million bank loan he used to purchase the course property. He says if anyone has a plan that is viable, that is equitable to all concerned, they had better come forward quickly.
If anyones interested in preserving it, theyve got to go out and raise the money somewhere. Just to say youd like to see it stay, thats not enough, said Stokes.
The whole community seems saddened. But its a battle of preservation vs. progress, and just as always happens, progress appears to have the upper hand.
My personal feeling is, there will always be places to develop, says George Gardner, the mayor. But there will never be places that occurred in history once theyre plowed under.
Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite
Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.
Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.
Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.
Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:
12/1: Dustin Johnson
16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose
20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm
25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods
30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed
40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton
50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick
60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson
80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele
100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen
Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC
If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.
Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.
Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.
There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.
There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.
Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.
John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.
Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.
Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.
Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.
“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”
Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.
“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”
But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.
“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”
Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.
Hoylake in 2006.
That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.
So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?
“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”
With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?
“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”