Sunday, 10 November 2013



The pace of play, or as some would say, “while we are young” is a problem for the game of golf but not the only one.

On the PGA Tour the number of players on any given Thursday or Friday makes it impossible for a threesome to complete the round in less than 4:45 give or take 10 minutes.

One of the missions of the PGA Tour is to maximize the playing opportunities for its members.  Therefore, most events have 144 players competing on the first two days before the cut.

Using both the 1st and 10th tees to start the morning half of the 144 man field with 10-minute tee times, if the first group off the 1st hole plays their first nine in less than 2:05-2:10 they will have to wait for the last group teeing off the 10th hole.  It’s not possible to get 144 players around on any given day in less than 4:20-4:30 minutes if everything goes perfectly.

Mike Shea, the former head rules official for the PGA Tour, said “Four hours and twenty minutes would be a perfect day.  4:30 would be a very good day.  4:45 would be a good day. If you have wind, rain, heavy rough or several rulings a 5-hour round can be expected.”

The other factor that pushes play on the PGA Tour to 5 hours is the driving length of the average tour player.

It used to be that at least two par 5’s on a par 72 course were 3-shotters that would allow an extra group to be on each nine.  That is no longer the case.  In any group today one or more players is going for the green in two.

And if there is a drivable par 4 -- that is in such vogue today -- you can add an additional 5 to 8 minutes to each round. If the field is 150 or 156 add 20 to 30 minutes; and you are now in the 5-hour to 5:20 range.  You can’t beat the math.

Five-hour rounds for everyday golfers are unacceptable; and I don’t discount the PGA Tour’s role in influencing pace of play for the golfing TV viewer who watches the meticulous examination of all the information exchanged between player and caddy before each shot.

Maybe we should ask the TV networks to convey to golfers that there is a valid reason for a 5-hour round on the tour with a full field but the average round at your home course should not exceed 4 hours.  The weekend rounds on the PGA Tour do go down to the 4-hour to 4:15 range.

The experts tell us golf is not growing because it takes too much time, costs too much and that most courses are too long and tough for the average golfer.  It’s no fun to shoot a big number every day.

Pace of play has an influence on the cost of play.  If play were faster at your local private or public course, you could accommodate more members and players.  With more members or public play theoretically you could charge less for the privilege of playing, or if it took less time golfers might play more often.

The size of the greens has a direct influence on pace of play, the cost of construction and the cost of maintenance.  When a player misses the green and is preparing to chip, he doesn’t go back and forth taking the extra time as he would on a long putt on a large green.  He steps up and hits it.  Players take more time to navigate around a course with large greens.

It could be that one of the answers to the pace of play and financial health of the game is as simple as: most modern courses are too long, have too many forced carries, have too much lush rough and have greens that are too big, too complicated and too fast for the average player at their skill level. Of course, the ultimate elephant in the tent is the cost and availability of water for our courses.

There are any number of reasons we have ended up where we are in the game of golf today.  I’m sure those in attendance will be pursuing many paths to the pace of play, golf’s recovery and sustainability.

Here are a few that I advance for your consideration:

I view with caution the advisability of the USGA’s being in complete lock step with the R&A on golf rules and policy issues; and I say this with admiration and respect for both organizations.

The R&A’s sphere of influence is worldwide where golf is mostly growing.  Golf has major problems here in the U.S.  The two organizations face far different problems; and solving them here in the U.S. might take more flexibility than the R&A may be willing to concede.

Bifurcation of the rules for equipment needs to be more fully examined.

No sport has been hurt by different rules for different levels of play -- including golf.

For decades the R&A rules allowed a smaller ball than the USGA rules allowed.  I won the 1959 British Amateur with the small ball and the 1960 U.S. amateur with the larger American sized ball.  I learned to adjust and thought nothing of it. It did not lessen my love for the challenge of the game.

Today non-conforming grooves in wedges are allowed for everyday play until 2026 and the anchored putting stroke will still be with us until 2016. Major championships and most worldwide professional events use the one ball rule; everyday players could care less.  None of these bifurcations have done any visible harm to the game of golf.

Why is it now so important to eliminate bifurcation?  There is no evidence that bifurcation has hurt the popularity of our game -- just the opposite can be creditably advanced.  Golf’s popularity was surging in the 1950’s and 60’s when two different size golf balls were played around the world.  Don’t let the stance on bifurcation stand in the way of addressing some of golf’s problems.

Baseball has not been harmed because in the big leagues you cannot use metal bats like in college; and softball with different rules and field size has helped millions of girls and women to be interested in baseball.

The powers in baseball were flexible enough to accommodate a designated hitter in one pro league versus the other.

Football has not been damaged because the football is a different size for the pros; and the rules of play for high school, college and the pros are all bifurcated.

Is the stance against bifurcation of the rules in golf really protecting the integrity of the game?  Or is it an unfounded notion that is standing in the way of fixing some of the challenges we must face? 

Anchored  putting, the pros hitting it too far and too straight with less than perfect swings would be a lot easier to address if the average joe golfer could still take advantage of the technological progress that makes the game easier for them to play at an enjoyable level.  Shorter courses can be just as challenging as they used to be for the world’s best players.  In 1969, the U.S. open was played on the longest course in U.S. open history -- the Champions Golf Club was 6,967 yards long.

I’d like to see one of my old pals, who can’t eat peas any more because his hands shake so badly they fall off his fork before he can get them to his mouth, keep his anchored long putter.

I’d like to see todays best players be challenged by a course 6,967 yards long using a ball that spins more thus curves more, and a driver that, if you mishit the ball at 120 mph, would soar off into the unknown. If you miss the sweet spot on the modern 460 cc driver by ½ inch it will only cost you about 5 yards and will probably go dead straight. Ben Hogan must be turning over in his grave.

Golf is a tough game to learn.  Are we stubbornly standing in the way of making the game more inviting, easier to learn and more enjoyable for the average novice?

The problem of slow play, as well as the decline in the growth and financial viability of golf in the U.S., has some of its seeds from the well-intended notion that in order to identify “a worthy champion” in major championships, it was necessary to alter the playing field to accomplish that objective.

The Red Sox won the World Series and they are the undisputed world champions of baseball.  Baseball did not feel the need to add another 10 feet to get to first base, grow longer grass in the infield or move the home run fence farther out.  They also have bifurcated rules that allow a designated hitter in one league versus the other and were able to make a mutual accommodation for the World Series for the good and harmony of the game.  None of these actions would lessen the crown that Boston wears or harm baseball as a popular sport.

In football the Super Bowl champ is the undisputed champion.  The NFL didn’t need to make the field 110 yards long or put the uprights higher or narrower to make it tougher for the competitors and identify a champion.

The U.S. Open of tennis does not need to make the net higher to crown their national champion.

None of these possible alterations to the playing field would make these champions more worthy.

Because the golfing public has bought into the dubious notion that major champions are more worthy because of the tougher conditions of the “championship course” they have over time wanted their own “championship course” on which to play. Golf course designers and builders have had a bonanza rebuilding old and building new courses at the cost of billions. As a result, we have ended up with courses that cost too much to maintain, are too long, have too much rough, too many forced carries  and greens too big and too fast for the general public’s skill level.

These courses take too long to play and use too much water. It’s an unsustainable model that must be fixed if golf is to grow in the future.

If the only way to identify a worthy champion in golf is by altering the playing field so only the few can survive. How can we expect the average golfer to get around these “championship courses” in a reasonable time (i.e. pace of play) with a reasonable score that would encourage him to play more golf?

I hope we are finally coming to the realization that it takes the average golfer too much time to play these courses. He can’t score very well on them, nor can we afford them?

Let’s do something about it: "While we are still young enough to play.”

Thursday, 11 October 2012

By Adam Schupak

There's been a lot of talk about PGA Tour members such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy,Charl Schwartzel and others competing in the Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals, a non-sanctioned big-bucks boondoggle featuring eight of the world’s top players. The problem? It goes up against the PGA Tour's Open in California. Several media outlets have reported that Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem granted competing-event releases for all eight players in Turkey but required each player to play the Open at least once within the next three years.

This quid pro quo was touted as "unprecedented." Not so.

In fact, this isn't tournament director Duke Butler's first rodeo with this situation. I refer to page 271 of "Golf's Driving Force." Butler was then the executive director of the Houston Golf Association, and his duties included overseeing the Houston Open. The week of the 1985 Houston Open Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Bernhard Langer (an alternate) participated in a Skins game in Australia.  Losing that much talent to an exhibition would be damaging to the Houston field. Beman granted the player release but required each player to play Houston (then run by Butler) once within the next three years. 

"Deane was an enforcer as commissioner, and his philosophy protected the sponsor and, in some ways, saved the Houston Open," Butler said.

One year later, Nicklaus kept his word and made his first start there since winning the Masters. (Ballesteros needed an extra year, but made good on his promise and played there in 1989 and 1990.)

In 1986, the Independent Insurance Agents of America signed on as a new title sponsor. Coincidence? I think not.

"Having those titans got us a title sponsor," Butler said.

Just a little historical context for you.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Deane Beman Recalls His Trip to the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic Club

Deane Beman burst on to the national scene by qualifying for the 1955 U.S. Open as a 17-year-old. Members of Bethesda Country Club, his high school teammates and friends helped fund his trip. Beman convinced his teachers to let him skip final exams so he could arrive a week early and practice. (The shop teacher who doubled as the golf coach was the easiest mark.)

“I was out there in California at Olympic Club by myself, a junior in high school, first time I’d traveled that far, and I met a man who was going to maybe win the U.S. Open that week,” Beman recalled. “He and his wife took the time to see this youngster and put him under his wing, and fed him dinner a couple of nights. I missed the cut, but I made a friend for a lifetime in Jackie Burke.”

Saturday, 12 May 2012

By Rick Young, Scoregolf

"With the 30th anniversary of The Players and Stadium Course in mind I waited until today to post a review of Adam Schupak’s wonderfully crafted narrative, Deane Beman: Golf’s Driving Force. Somehow it feels appropriate. Despite closely following the PGA Tour for over 30 years, I, like many others, have been left to piece together the organization’s business formation, growing pains, goals and ultimately its landmark success through a patchwork of sources. Much of it comes though from limited perspective. That’s not a criticism. Without Beman’s take on his years in the commissioner’s chair (1974-1994), a great deal had never been said.
That’s what makes the Schupak/Beman compilation a fascinating read. Deane Beman: Golf’s Driving Force is an unfiltered account of how the former commissioner single-handedly altered professional golf forever. Without question, it is the best historical rendering of the PGA Tour ever penned. By the way, shame on a bunch of publishers who missed out." Click here to continue reading...  

Thursday, 10 May 2012

EXTRA HOLES: The First Wet Ball at TPC 17th

By Adam Schupak

David Thore had a forgettable career on the PGA Tour between 1977 and 1985. But he has one claim to fame in Players Championship history: he's the first player to hit in the water at the par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass during the tournament.

"I think about it every year when the broadcast comes on," he told me.  "It's not what you want to be known for."

In researching the 17th hole for my book, I was amazed how spot-on writers' were in their assessment of the hole prior to its debut. Golf World’s own Dick Taylor predicted the TPC "will be golf’s equivalent of the Christians versus the lions" and create "dizzying changes in fortunes for an exciting telecast, excitement for those who, like Romans at the Coliseum, ring the 17th waiting to see how many Christians survive."

He added: "It may be sadism but it also will be sensational.”

The 17th has been a lion's den, all right. It got its baptism in the first round at precisely 8:59 a.m., when the first group off No. 10 tee rolled through. Thore, a 28-year-old pro from Reidsville, N.C., was paired with John Adams and Skeeter Heath. Thore was first to hit.

"It played 122 to the front, 140 to the back," he recalled. "Easy 8-iron for me. Just blocked it."

Kerplunk. Thore would be the first of many to make a splash landing. Ed Fiori had the lead at five under par until he dumped two balls into the lake for a 6 and an eventual 70. A total of 20 balls met a watery grave that first day. Many more would follow.

"I really wasn't nervous on the first shot," Thore said, "but my knees were shaking on the second one."

His ball landed safely on the putting surface but he three-putted from 50 feet to make 6.

A few hours later, Thore walked off the 9th green and a tour media official informed him a reporter from The New York Times wanted to speak to him.

Thore made a face. "He wants to talk to me? But I shot 77."

“Congratulations,” said Pulitzer Prize winning sports writer Dave Anderson. “You’re the first ever to put it in the water on No. 17 in competition.”

“Thank you,” Thore said with a smile. “And after I put my next shot on, I was the first ever to three-putt it in competition, too.”

Anderson scribbled the exchange down. Of the menacing island green, he wrote: "Although only 132 yards, the 17th is suddenly golf's most notorious new hole."
Anderson's story ran March 19, 1982. At least one of Thore's supporters got a kick out of it.

"My mom took it across the street and showed the neighbors that I was written about in The New York Times," Thore recalled. "She didn't realize it wasn't a good thing."

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Beman Wins First PGA Tour Title in Texas

By Adam Schupak 

At the 1969 Texas Open, Deane Beman won his first PGA Tour title when he rammed in a 20-footer on the first playoff hole.

Beman shot a course-record matching 65 for 274, 10 under par on the 7,138-yard, par 71 Pecan Valley Country Club course.

This victory was gift-wrapped for Beman by journeyman pro Jack McGowan. All he had to do was sink an 18-inch putt on the final hole for victory. But McGowan, whose lone victory was in an obscure event, the 1964 Mountain View Open, missed the par putt that would have nailed down the biggest payday of his career ($20,000).

For Beman, with his lavish amateur record, the victory was special. It was his first win since he turned professional at the advanced age of 29. He had been through lean times proving himself and proving that a short hitter could sometimes match the scoring punch of golf's new power boys, said one report.

After finishing second to Arnold Palmer in the 1968 Bob Hope shortly after his pro debut, Beman developed an ear disorder that affected his equilibrium. Week after week he began to miss the cut. He failed to qualify for several tournaments. With his health restored, his game again took flight. He finished second at the Monsanto and in the 1969 Bob Hope tournament closed from nowhere to tie for fifth with a closing 62.

"It was the most unspectacular spectacular round I've ever seen," his playing partner Tommy Aaron had commented. "Down the middle, on the green, in the hole."

At the Texas Open, the golfers played 36 holes the last day since the first round had been postponed when hail and rain left the course unplayable. By now, the weather had warmed. The hot and humid conditions made for a tough day to play two. Beman was paired with Dave Hill and Steve Reid, who noticed that Beman's energy level was on low.

"Deane was white-faced," Reid recalled. "Dave remarked to me, he has no way to finish here. There should be an ambulance out here following him."

Beman battled on. At the 54-hole mark Beman was four strokes back, and it didn't seem McGowan, 38, a pro since 1951 who had won only $5,004 in official money going into the tournament, would falter after a front-nine 32.  Beman, meanwhile, was playing what he called "seek and find" golf. 

"He got up on the first tee to start the second round and Hill and I each hit 2-irons to layup and Deane took his driver out and skied it," Reid remembered. "He had a fairway wood for his second shot. Dave and I hit 6-irons in. Deane hit short of the green to the right by an overhanging pecan tree. The only way to hit it close was to carry it under the tree over the bunker and land it on the down slope in the rough to stop the ball. That’s what he did. Made a par." 

Beman one-putted the first three holes of the final round to save pars, and with birdies on 4, 6 and 9, needed just 11 putts on the front side.  

"We got to the 10th tee and you had to hit a solid driver to clear a ditch," Reid said. "There was no way Deane could get over it. But he took out his driver and tried and, of course, he hit it in the water. That left him with a 200 yard shot off a downhill lie. His shot seemed to run the last 80 yards up onto the green and he holed a 15-footer for par. Every hole was like that. He never hit a solid shot. He could’ve shot 90 but shot 65."  

Beman birdied 11, 12 (from 3 inches -- guessing that one was pretty solid!) and 13, and used 24 putts on the day.

McGowan held a two-stroke lead through 15, but at 16 he missed the green and lost a shot. And then came his misfortune at 18. McGowan's approach was to the right of the green, but he chipped up 18 inches from the cup. "Casually he stroked the ball toward the hole -- too casually," wrote one reporter of McGowan's blunder.

Reid was sitting with Deane in the scorer’s tent when McGowan missed the putt. "Deane jumped out of his chair," he recalled.

The pair returned to 18 for the sudden-death playoff. McGowan's second shot ran through the green and crowd, but he made a magnificent chip back to within two feet and sank the putt for par. Then Beman rapped in the putt for victory. He had won at last.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Remembering Furman Bisher

By Adam Schupak

The golf world is mourning the loss of one of its greatest writers, Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Furman Bisher. He died from a heart attack on March 18 at age 93.

A few years ago at The Players Championship, Bisher was sitting alone in the media lunch room. I wanted to grab a bite and go watch the leaders on the course but figured here was a chance to someday claim that I had lunch with a legend. So I pulled up a chair and spent an enjoyable half hour or so listening to Bisher tell tales. He also recounted two of my favorite anecdotes in the book on Beman. The first recalls the ongoing feud between Beman and Seve Ballesteros regarding playing exemptions.

In one of the more amusing press room exchanges, Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Furman Bisher asked Ballesteros after his second round at the 1986 Masters, “You played like you were on a crusade today. Are you trying to prove something to the PGA Tour?”

Ballesteros snapped, “Did Deane Beman pay you to ask that question?”

Bisher said, “No, it’s a legitimate question. Are you on a crusade?”

“Crusade? What is this crusade?” Ballesteros said with a shrug as he fell back on his broken English.

“You ought to know what crusades are,” Bisher retorted. “Your people started ‘em!”

As writer Dan Jenkins noted, “Seve didn’t have a kicker line because, like most everybody else in the press building, he’d never learned that the crusades had actually started in Rome.”

Then there is the closing scene of the opening chapter when Bisher attended the gala retirement dinner for Beman during the 1995 Players Championship in Jacksonville:

To punctuate the evening, both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus offered a salute to the former commissioner.

“Some people will object,” Palmer said, “but those of us in the game will give Deane a nod for a job well done.”

“He’s responsible for a lot of what happened with the Tour today,” Nicklaus chimed in.

Furman Bisher, the longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist, said the admiration was the first time they had said anything kind about Beman in years. But it wasn’t a complete love-fest. Bisher noted that seating for 10 at the tables sold for $5,000. When Golden Bear, Nicklaus’ company, was solicited, it passed.

Furman, thanks for your contributions, and to borrow your trademark phrase from the end of your column, selah!