golf balls

“Roll” Back

USGA Executive Director Mike Davis recently met with Jack Nicklaus and what was there main topic of conversation?… Rolling the golf ball back. Jack stated, “I’m happy to help you, I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years.” His golf course designs are fantastic, one of my favorites being The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan, but I very much disagree with his stance on the golf ball. New golf courses have gotten much longer, yet your average golfer isn’t gaining 10, 20 or more yards per year. The golf companies sure try to tout that with each new driver launch, every half year, you will gain more distance. But your average golfer isn’t changing physically like the players on tour now are. The era of Tiger and intense strength training, along with golf club technology, is accentuating the newer golf ball distance. 

The average drive of your every day male golfer is 214 yards, with his swing speed coming in around 93 mph. The leading driver of the ball on the PGA tour is Tony Finau at an average of 327 yards with a swing speed of 124 mph. His backswing is also about as short as a 80 year old golfer. If golf’s governing bodies (USGA and R&A) were to roll back the golf ball, this would effect your daily golfer much more than your long hitting tour pros. Even across the PGA tour, you are going to continue to reward your long hitters more as they are still going to be able to reach long par fives. They might have to use a longer iron or possibly even a 3-wood, but all of your moderate and short hitters on tour are now no longer going to be able to hit that par 5 in two. 

Mike Davis made the statement, “Throw Dustin (Dustin Johnson (DJ)) an 80 percent golf ball and say, ‘Let’s go play the back tees,’ and guess what, it would be a great experience for him.” If Dustin is hitting the ball 315 yards and he then uses an 80 percent golf ball and is only hitting it 252 yards. Your average male golfer at 214 yards is still significantly behind DJ and no where near the caliber of player. How is that going to be a great experience for Dustin? We would all love the opportunity to play with a PGA Tour player but there is nothing saying it makes it any less fun playing a different set of tees. 

I love seeing pros shoot low scores. Even though the US Open is an amazing golf tournament, the fact that they like trying to keep the score around even par to me is not as much fun to watch. I would much rather see birdies being made versus players nearly breaking their wrists in six inch thick rough and only advancing the ball 30 yards. When you hear announcers and tournament organizers talk about normal golfers being able to relate to making a bogey, par, par, bogey, bogey… sure maybe they can relate to the overall score or barely advancing the golf ball, but its not because of the extreme conditions. Its because your average golfer is that much different than a tour pro. 

Golf course architects keep talking that the only solution is to lengthen courses. But take a look at this week and last week on tour. Both Riviera and PGA National (Jack’s course) are playing at less than 7400 yards with water, bunkers, rough and narrow landing areas all keeping the long ball in check. Both of these courses could do even more to shrink down and force long hitters’ hand when putting the ball out there that far. If you look at last year’s US Open at Erin Hills, playing at around 7800 yards, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson were the only players in the top 25 shooting under par (with an average drive of less than 300 yards). All of these players scored because they were in the top ten of Fairways Hit, Greens Hit or Average Putts. An 80% golf ball would have not allowed these players to reach some of the holes they were reaching, and would also have made them have to come in with a longer iron or wood most likely making them less accurate.

I am not saying that I am against golf governing bodies making a change, I just don’t think the golf ball is where it should be done. 

Golf Equipment Review: Seamus Feel Player Golf Shoes

One of the many things I love about my wife, Kelly, is that she likes to spoil me with awesome presents.

Kelly knows my favorite golf brand is Seamus, and although she’s not a golfer she knows it resonates with me. Similarly to Ashworth’s Golf/Man campaign (R.I.P. Ashworth), Seamus celebrates the game’s rich heritage and traditions with classic style that features super-high-quality materials, fabrics and craftsmanship.

Early last year, Seamus announced a new venture: Feel Player shoes. They were accepting pre-orders for up to 200 pairs, and luckily Kelly saw the email blast and knew I’d love them.

I can’t say it was easy waiting for these to arrive! Not only did images of the prototype look great, but I was excited in general about getting something as exclusive as “200 pairs pre-ordered.” I’m also a huge advocate of walking golf, so the thought of having a shoe that feels like a moccasin intrigued me.

Feel Player boxed

A great example of Seamus Golf’s always masterful packaging/marketing

 

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The Seamus Feel Player golf shoe (photo credit: Seamus Golf)

 

Minimalist in style, the Feel Players debuted at $195/pair with the option of adding a “Supporter kit” for an extra $100. The supporter kit included a shoe bag, shoe horn, special ball mark, coaster, a tartan pouch for the little items, an extra pair of reflective laces, a hand-signed note of thanks from the shoe’s designer, Michael Friton, and Seamus owner, Akbar Chisti, and a cleaning kit from one of their local Portland, Oregon companies.

The 200 pairs took three weeks to sell out, and most were purchased during the first week.

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America’s Best On-Site Non-Course Golf Facilities

One of the trends I’ve loved witnessing over the past few years has been the addition of non-course golf facilities at top-ranked resorts. These value-added venues give players fun options when they’re off the tee sheet to settle bets, enjoy the land, be social and bond especially during trips to remote golf destinations.

One of the first of these I ever had the pleasure of checking out is still my favorite: The Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford designed H-O-R-S-E Course at The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

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One of an infinite number of potential tee boxes on the Horse Course at The Prairie Club

 

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“Routing” for the Horse Course – there are no actual teeing locations, and the next green can always be anywhere

 

Like in a game of basketball H-O-R-S-E, the player in charge calls a teeing location and green. From there, the competition usually goes one of two ways: Closest to the pin or fewest strokes to hole out.

Even with no official tee boxes or routing, the Horse Course at The Prairie Club was ranked the #10 Most Fun Course in America by Golf Digest in 2015.

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The 2018 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando: My 10 Favorite Things

Known as the “Major of Golf Business,” this past week’s PGA Merchandise Show consisted of four activity-filled days at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, headlined by the industry’s newest and best products, trends and technology.

Nearly 40,000 industry professionals attended this year’s show with representation from 87 countries and all 50 states. Over 1,000 golf companies presented within the hall’s million square feet of demonstration, exhibition and meeting space, allowing 7,500-plus PGA Professionals and buyers to plan their 2018 shop and operational strategies.

The scale of the PGA Merchandise Show is staggering… Imagine your local golf expo – for example, the Greater Milwaukee Golf Show – then multiply it by A TON.

Exhibitors line the aisles as far as the eye can see, and throughout an entire day’s attendance I saw just two of the outer walls.

I’m sure I left plenty of gems undiscovered, but of all the great things I did see at the 65th annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, here are my top ten favorites:

1. Golf simulators

Simulators have come a long way in the past couple years! The simulator industry was well-represented by suppliers this year, including:

  • aboutGolf
  • Ernest Sports
  • Foresight Sports
  • Full Swing Simulators
  • GolfZon
  • High Definition Golf
  • HomeCourse Golf
  • Kevic
  • Greenjoy
  • Sports Coach Simulator Ltd
  • TrackMan
  • TruGolf

My friend, Kyle, was tasked by the North Hills Golf Committee to look in to potential simulators for our club, so we did our best to stop by quite a few of the booths above.

My favorite is [I’m assuming] the most expensive option: GolfZon’s Vision system. The Vision system has a bent screen, overhead sensors, self-collecting and -teeing technologies (and you can set the height of the tee for each player, etc.), a moving swing plate and multiple surface types: Teed-up, fairway, rough and sand.

The moving swing plate / self-leveling platform is a little odd to get used to as it adjusts your stance to go along with the playing surface on-screen. We got there pretty early in the day, and I was among the day’s early leaders for the closest-to-the-pin contest: 28 feet was good for third place… For about 10 minutes.

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Lining up my 8-iron approach shot from 152 yards out at Pebble

 

The biggest trend in simulators this year is the addition of other sports-related games, including soccer and hockey (eg: Shoot-out mode), football (eg: Quarterback challenge), dodgeball and others.

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Big Things in the Works at The University Club (FKA Tripoli)

I recently had the opportunity to check out a local private club I’d never played before: The University Club. You probably know it as Tripoli, and great efforts are being expended to change that.

Debuting in 1921, The University Club is part of the northwest side of Milwaukee’s “Murderer’s row” of classic tracks off Good Hope Road, alongside The Wisconsin Club (fka Bryn Mawr), Brown Deer Park Golf Course, and a mile or so from Milwaukee Country Club.

I was really impressed with The University Club. The conditions were terrific, I enjoyed the variety of hole layouts and was pleasantly surprised by the topography and scale of the property. I expected a smaller footprint and had no idea there’d be as significant of elevation changes. Plus, I thought their men’s locker room is awesome (full wraparound bar with TV’s and seating areas).

The University Club is one of the most intact Tom Bendelow courses in the country. In fact, sixteen of the course’s greens survived numerous renovations over the past 96 years and are absolutely stalwart Bendelow designs. Highlighting those are the putting surfaces on four and thirteen, both strategically as good as you’ll find in the Milwaukee area.

A  look at the 13th green, both undeveloped when Bendelow originally envisioned it and as a finished product nearly 100 years later:

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The 13th green – now and as raw land when Bendelow originally designed it (photos courtesy The University Club)

In conjunction with their recent merger with The University Club’s downtown dining location, the FKA Tripoli Country Club is making huge updates to their golf facilities, bringing in nationally renowned course architect and a friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design.

While attention will be put toward improving the course’s play-ability and environmental sustainability (potentially including strategic tree removal, utility updates and some course design adjustments), one of the highlights for Staples’ renovation is the development of a world-class on-site practice facility.

The University Club short game area plan

Staples’ concept for a new short game practice area (links to SGD website)

Adding in the practice area will require adjusting the 12th green and making several other tweaks to the area it will occupy, as laid out above.

While modern architecture rains praise on Bendelow’s best designs – Medinah, East Lake, Mission Hills and Olympia Fields, to name a few – there are factions of the golf world who for a time were critical of his general body of work based on the volume of courses he designed between 1898 and 1933.

Coined the “Johnny Appleseed of Golf” by Golf Digest Senior Editor of Architecture Ron Whitten, Bendelow designed between 600 and 1,000 courses and also served as the initial Superintendent at the country’s first municipal course: New York’s Van Cortlandt Park, starting in 1899.

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Tom Bendelow

As a salesman for Spalding sporting goods, Tom worked hand-in-hand with A.G. Spalding to bring the great game of golf to the masses. Scores of courses were developed, new players were introduced to the game, and you guessed it – Spalding sold a ton of golf equipment.

Tripoli was one of Bendelow’s first projects after leaving Spalding to work full-time for American Park Builders, the group responsible for arranging the construction of Tripoli, in 1922.

The original criticism against Bendelow was that he was the “18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” architect during his time with Spalding. Basically, that he would show up and put stakes in the ground to denote where tees, fairways and greens should be – all in a single day – and move on to the next project. I’m not sure anyone could do more than that and be attributed with designing 1,000 golf courses, especially in the early 1900’s when travel was I’m sure at least a little less convenient.

“18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” changed when Bendelow took over for William Langford at APB. Now having access to staff and other great resources, Bendelow was able to contribute the time and on-site TLC toward his projects that greatness requires. Tripoli was an original benefactor of that.

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Tom Bendelow’s design of Tripoli as shown in a 1922 APB brochure; this is the most detailed original color rendering of the course that includes fairways vs rough, greens and bunkers

One thing noticed on Bendelow-designed courses is the ease of walking from green to tee. While I could tell The University Club would normally be a great walking course, it was far from an easy hike on our dreadfully hot 95-degree September morn. Several of the uphill climbs actually left me a little dizzy toward the end – as I was saying earlier, there’s a lot more elevation than I expected.

While having the next tee nearby makes for easy transitions, advances in golf equipment technology have made shots that were heroic during Bendelow’s days not only realistic now, but to long-ish hitters almost standard.

At 440 yards from the tips, and 418 from the first tees in, for example, the 16th should be a challenging par four. The course institutes in-play out-of-bounds to discourage players from trying to cut the corner, but a 240-yard carry here leads to a really good reward… And it’s not like someone who can carry 240 ever mishits the ball, which is a great thing because directly along the line of that 240 is the 12th green.

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The dogleg left par four 16th at The University Club

One potential solution to get players to play the 16th the way Bendelow meant for it to be played could be as simple as relocating the tee boxes further right. This would make the direct route toward the green much less possible and force players to aim down – or nearer to – the hole’s fairway.

Having to hit long- or mid-iron in over the creek to a heavily contoured green would bring back the bite on this pivotal par four.

Tripoli 16 & 2 & 12

The ideal tee shot on 16 is ~240 yards directly over the 12 green

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The 16th hole green complex and Tripoli windmill

Playing The University Club with Andy, it was fun to visualize his thoughts on the redesign. His great respect for the architecture that’s made golf’s golden age courses thrive over the past century I think will lead to changes that are often subtle to the eye, but will help reinstate Bendelow’s strategic themes while promoting a more fun environment for championship golf. These “subtle changes” should make massive impacts for a course that already has a lot going for it.

As shown in Bendelow’s 1922 color rendering (earlier/above), a lot of his time and efforts were spent on design features that have since been covered by trees.

It’s easy for club members to freak out when “tree removal” is mentioned. We hear numbers in the hundreds, even thousands, and imagine a course we’ve come to know and love looking like scorched earth (picture Lawsonia’s Links course or the updated Blue Mound Country Club). The truth is that most courses can lose hundreds, if not thousands of trees and leave the course visually comparable but strategically and environmentally better off.

“We don’t have a total number of trees in mind at this point. What I would say is, many courses of this age have seen trees planted for a variety of reasons, and now that they are 50-60 years old their impact on the course in terms of playability and turf health is significant. We’re going to concentrate on providing sunlight and air movement for all of the greens, and do our best to open up angles of play and approaches to greens that are more in line with how the course was originally intended to play.  This isn’t to say we’re going to remove all the trees.  We’re going to highlight the architecture through thoughtful removals and in some cases replacement, thinking about how members actually play golf.”

-Andy Staples

A few examples of areas where Bendelow’s design strategy has been overrun by tree growth:

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Mounding now in the trees on the right side of the fairway on 13

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Bendelow’s mounding on the right side of 15

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Looking toward the location of Bendelow’s original bunkers on the left side of 16

A notable up-and-comer in the industry, GolfWeek recently email blasted their entire readership with a list of four keynote speakers headlining their 2017 Architecture Summit at Streamsong this December: Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Rich Mack of Mosaic (developers of Streamsong), and Andy Staples. That’s some good company to keep.

An expert in the field of sustainable golf design, his most famous work is probably the development of Sand Hollow in Hurricane, Utah. A famously tough critic, Even Tom Doak gave Sand Hollow one of the highest scores (an 8/10) in volume two of his Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.

It’s Staples’ recent renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, Michigan, though, that is probably most relevant to The University Club project.

Host of the 1955 PGA Championship, Meadowbrook celebrated their 100-year anniversary by hiring Staples and closing down for 18 months to make course updates. They entered that shut-down with 86 members on a waiting list to leave… And emerged with a full membership of 325 plus a waiting list to join¹.

Staples’ work in Northville has been hailed as a massive success, and Golf, Inc Magazine has named it one of five finalists for the world’s best course renovation project in 2017. It’s easy to see why from the pictures – it looks spectacular:

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Meadowbrook CC renovation project: Hole 8 (par 3) – links to mlive article

Like at Meadowbrook, I’m sure it’ll be tough for the membership at The University Club to endure a season without golf, but I think they made the absolutely right choice in hiring Staples, and I’m excited to follow the renovation’s progress and see all the great things he and his team do when it reopens down the road.

 

¹ Source: Crain’s Detroit article: “Meadowbrook Country Club Golf Risk Pays Off With Membership Surge,” July 23, 2017