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Lee Trevino: Golf is too long and difficult

Lee Trevino
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Young Kim misses a putt on the 18th green during the third round at Newport Country Club, site of the 2006 U. S. Women's Open in Newport, Rhode Island, July 2.Photo by Al Messerschmidt/  - 

Growing up in the Dallas area as a caddie in the 1950s, Lee Trevino has always had his own way of doing things. He didn't start playing tournament golf until he got out of the Marines in the 1960s and he certainly had a unique swing.

His way was good enough to win 29 times on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, including six majors, and make it to the World Golf Hall of Fame. While he can appreciate the modern player, he also wonders what's happened to some of the traditions of the game and why new golf courses are so built to be so difficult to play. Trevino says that it's one of the primary reasons golf has a difficult time attracting new players and keeping the ones they have.

Mike Bailey sat down with Trevino recently and asked him about the state of the game and golf course design.

Mike Bailey. What is the state of the game right now?

Lee Trevino: I think it's in trouble. I know that it's very exciting on tour, but it's not exciting to for a lot of people to have to play these courses that they're building for the tour players. They build these hard golf courses, and now they're talking about playing the forward tees (Tee it Forward). They should have never built those back tees in the first place. Why do you want a golf course that's 7,400 yards long? I mean the majority of your members are elderly, and they can't hit it anywhere.

Bailey: So you're not a big fan of the Tee it Forward program?

Trevino: Guys feel like they're going to the ladies tees when you push them up forward. They don't like that. Golfers want to be macho, play it from the tips. Why they're building these golf courses longer than 6,900 yards is beyond me.

Bailey: But don't they have to build the courses longer to accommodate the modern game?

Trevino: We build these courses that are supposedly going to challenge the pros. Well, wait a minute; we build hundreds and hundreds of golf courses in this country that most people can't play. They take too long to play because they’re too difficult. And also it costs too much for maintenance. And that, in return, sends the dues (and green fees) up and people are dropping out. We're in a lot of trouble right now.

Bailey: Do you think we should go more toward what they do in Great Britain, just a couple of sets of tees that everyone plays?

Trevino: Yes. And the greens are open in the front and you can run the ball up. In other words, a high handicapper can bump and run the ball on the green. These new modern courses they've built in the last 30 years are all carry. There are a lot of people who can't get it in the air or they get it in the air and it's low, and they don't have a chance to run the ball to the green. They've got to carry bunkers and false fronts. We've really gone the wrong way.

Bailey: But don't you think modern equipment combined with great athletes is making many of these golf courses obsolete?

Trevino: The guy with the lowest score wins, whether it's 9-under, 12-under or 22-under. Who gives a damn? The problem is who pays for that course and the maintenance of that course? It's the member, and thousands and thousands are dropping out.

Bailey: You've dabbled in design work a little, right? How come you haven't done more?

Trevino: No. 1, I don't need any jobs and don't need the money. But if people wanted some redos, I'd go back to traditional. If you hire me to redo your golf course, and you've got bunkers in front of your greens, I'm going to take them out. You're going to have a way to get in there. All these forced carries are stupid. Of course there are a lot of golf courses that have to have it because they only have so much land and they have to leave so much natural land.

Bailey: Is that what you did at Golf Club of Texas in San Antonio?

Trevino: Charlie Mahanna, my architect, and I sat down for two days and looked at their plans from the original architects out of Atlanta. We liked what they did, but we changed a couple of bunkers and stuff. People don’t understand: At a public course, time is money. If you build it too hard at a public facility, then it's going to take them five hours to play, and it's going to cost you tee times and money.

Bailey: What do you think of Donald Trump buying Doral Resort & Spa in Miami?

Trevino: He wants a U.S. Open. It could work there. He just hired the guy who's going to do the Olympic Course (Gil Hanse) to redo it and reroute the Blue Monster. I don't think the 18th will be changed because that's the signature hole. But I think if he changes everything else, and you get that Bermuda grass up in June in Miami, it could be a hell of a U.S. Open course because it's a traditional (Dick Wilson) golf course.