--Longshore Golf Club professional, John Cooper.
In the context of golf's present struggles, this qualifies as a dissertation. Cooper isn't suggesting that his Westport, Conn., muny, which rose from an onion field in 1922, represents any startling design, or that it threatens to make a list of courses Golf Digest considers great. He's certainly not going to argue that Longshore is a "stern test of golf." If it's any test of all, it's an open book quiz, with the curve running pretty high. It's "sporty," he says. And you give him that.
Longshore measures only about 6,000 yards from the back. Its par is 69. It is flat and its greens are not superfast, running in the 9-10 range. Bunkers, of which there are about 70, are a work in progress, and a bit stony.
But visit Longshore on a weather-friendly weekend or weekday afternoon and you see the sport all those industry meetings and symposia seem to be pleading for: men, women, boys, girls, couples, families, buddies and retirees, carrying, pulling carts or riding, but moving steadily -- four hours even on Sunday afternoons, a pace most places don't even aspire to anymore -- around a pretty course where bunkers are eye-browed with golden fescue and the fairways are cut not too tight and plenty wide.
The second gift the course got was a First Selectman, Jim Marpe, elected two years ago. Marpe plays golf, was one of Accenture's founding partners, and ran partly on a campaign to bring Longshore Back. His "This is not right!" video from the pockmarked first green went viral. Marpe hired a Parks and Rec man who raised golfing kids here and who has a membership at Pinehurst. ("I don't think you can ever go wrong by having high standards," says the director, Charlie Haberstroh.) They hired ValleyCrest, the course maintenance firm, a year ago, and what had become a rundown track with abominable greens got turned around and became Longshore again. It isn't recording the 40,000-plus rounds it did in its heyday, but numbers are creeping back into the mid-30,000s.
I played Longshore a lot this summer with a group of guys who liked to tee off about 1:00 on Sunday afternoon and be off the course by 5. It never failed. A couple of us belong to private clubs but found the pace and the convenience of those afternoon rounds irresistible. The fact that we could "score" was nice, too. Longshore is, above all, playable.
So in the middle of industry meetings convened to solve the problems that keep players away from our game -- time, expense, difficulty -- I kept coming back to this "easy" little muny. When architect Bruce Charlton told last month's USGA Pace of Play Symposium, for example, that "If we kept designing courses like we did in the 1980s" --- meaning very challenging ones -- "we'd be out of business."
The acknowledgment that playability is an important factor not only in pace of play, but also in the sport's attraction to new players, is a theme that's been repeated often lately. David McLay Kidd, who designed Bandon Dunes, said in a Golf Digest story on the year's Best New Courses, "I'd gotten romanced by notions of defending par and resistance to scoring. So I built courses that were difficult. I admit it." Those courses, says Kidd, "took some of the joy and enjoyment out of the game," he says. "I wanted to put the idea of fun back into the game."
At Longshore, fun for beginners is a par or two. For the studs, it's threatening or even breaking par.
Data is the word in golf initiatives these days. The USGA and its affiliates are measuring walking speed, the effect of tee-interval variance, course flow based on hole sequence, the role of the first group of the day, play patterns, you name it. With that data they hope to be able to advise operators on how to make their facilities more friendly, and "pace-ful."
But it also makes sense, if you find a place where it all seems to be working, do the data in reverse. Like finding the ingredients in Coke, sort of. So here is Longshore's formula.
1. Gentle Course Rating (68.8) and Slope (122).
2. Group spacing. Nine-minute tee time intervals
3. Easy start: A 350-yard par 4, a 150-yard par 3
4. Balance, part 1: Half of par 4s short (350 and under), half long (390 and up)
5. Balance, part 2: Half par 3s 150-to-170, half at or over 200. Even strong players are proud of staying even on the par 3s.
6. Fairways: Wide, 30 yards at least.
7. Greens: Well-maintained with reasonable speeds: 9-10; short but real rough.
8. Pace: Marshals move things along and help find balls (!) especially in the fescue. They don't lecture. Pace was once a big problem. "We spend a lot of time monitoring and tracking marshals, and I've got some good guys now," says Cooper.
9. Options: Walk anytime, pull anytime, drive a cart anytime.
10. Dress code: Up to you.
12. Levels of play: All. Active 18- and 9-hole women's groups.
13. Beginner programs. "Get Golf Ready is the best thing to happen to golf," says Cooper. "We had people come from as far away as Milford (20 miles away). "I said, 'How did you end up here?' Lady said, 'You're the only one who called me back!'"
14: Cost. Longshore is delightfully affordable, just $26 on the weekends for residents, and $19 for juniors during the week.
It's tempting to assign part of Longshore's popularity and success to its setting, and there's no doubt that helps. From the course itself you get glimpses of the water, though no holes abut it.
You're more likely to notice on the road that leads into and around the course and its accompanying inn, dog walkers, bikers, joggers and nature-appreciating photographers who occasionally stop to watch a golf shot or, politely, wait for a tee shot to happen. The feeling is a little "beachy," as Cooper puts it, but mainly of a park dedicated to fitness, with golf being part of, but not the sole object of, that goal.
"Longshore is challenging for those who want to be challenged and straightforward for those who are there for a recreational experience," says First Selectman Marpe. "It's kind of a country club experience without the cost or complications that can come with a country club."
And that's working.
Tom Weiskopf spent nearly every day at TPC Scottsdale's Stadium course this summer overseeing renovations at his course.
Though he calls Montana his full-time home, TPC Scottsdale is still one of Weiskopf's signature designs (along with co-designer Jay Morrish), which is why Weiskopf wanted to return to Arizona to oversee the entire course refreshing.
The course will re-open on Nov. 15 after being closed from April-November to implement the changes. Superintendent Jeff Plotts, who has been at TPC Scottsdale the last 10 years, gave me a tour of the facility last week before it opens. Here's a photo summary of the touch-ups that you'll see when the PGA Tour heads here again for the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Super Bowl weekend.
The view down No. 1 tee will look pretty similar to anyone who's seen it. Moving some desert off the fairway will give players more options off the tee. This slight tweak reflects the theme of the changes overall at the Stadium course: an aesthetic "refreshing" of the course to modernize it both for the PGA Tour player and the daily resort player.
As a fan of classic architecture, Weiskopf added a coffin bunker on the front of the par-5 13th is a nod to St. Andrews. It's a change intended to add some signature to the par 5. And if you go for the green from the tightened fairway, there's certainly a chance you'd end up in here.
One of the more significant changes to the Stadium course comes at the par-3 fourth hole. Weiskopf elevated the green significantly, to add more difficult to this hole that will play about 195 yards now from the championship tees.
As another nod to classic design elements, Weiskopf has redone the fairway bunkers here at the 18th hole to include church-pew rows, a la Oakmont. The carry over the water had become a standard line for pros (above photo). Now, these church pews about 305 yards off the tee will put even more of a premium on an accurate tee shot on this home hole.
The 14th green at TPC Scottsdale is a completely new look. Previously, the green on this par-4 was situated to the right. But at the suggestion of Plotts, the green was moved way right and elevated. Now you'll find some memorable views of the Superstition Mountains in the distance on this elevated green.
There are actually completely new greens at Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 14. And all the greens were resurfaced, a change that Plotts said was definitely necessary. Here's the view of the new second hole green.
And we couldn't not provide an inside look at No. 16. It was awesome to stand on the tee and watch the stands being built months before the tournament. With the Super Bowl the same week, the Thunderbirds aren't going to have any problem selling seats this year. Should be another raucous scene at the party-hard 16th!
Photos: (top) Getty images; Previous look at the 18th hole: Jensen Larsen; others: Jeff Plotts
It's a sad day at TPC Sawgrass, as we are losing one of the most recognizable trees on property, due to poor health. pic.twitter.com/DavXa9kfm9— TPC Sawgrass (@TPCSawgrass) October 30, 2014
Sad from a visual perspective perhaps, but pros probably won't miss the visually-intimidating tree that altered strategy on the short par four. Bob Estes, for one, was quick to chime in.
"We were only a few years away from having to tee off with a putter. #truth"
UPDATE: The PGA Tour has released a statement about the removal of the tree. Here's a snippet:
The overhanging Live Oak to the right of the No. 6 tee box, which has impacted tee shots over the years, recently developed a large crack in its trunk due to old age and disease and became a safety concern due to the weight of its overhanging limb, thus necessitating removal of the tree today.
"The Live Oak on the sixth hole was one of the more recognizable trees on the golf course and influenced the tee shots of amateurs and professionals alike from the time the golf course opened in October of 1980," said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. "Unfortunately, over time it became more fragile and susceptible to disease. Just recently, a significant fissure developed in its trunk, making it a safety concern. There simply was no way to save it, as much as we would have liked to."
“Me being a golfer, I try to incorporate that into anything I do work-related,” Scott Edwards said. “So I proposed the idea and it got accepted.”
The idea has come to fruition with the launch of the Florida Historic Golf Trail, 50 publicly accessible courses built before 1946 and stretching from Pensacola on the Florida panhandle (A.C. Read Golf Course and Osceola Municipal Golf Course) to Key West at the southern tip of the state (Key West Golf Club).
“We wanted to make sure all the courses are open to the public, that anybody could walk up and play any time,” Edwards said. “We chose the time frame from the turn of the century through World War II because that was a big part of Florida’s development and its national development.”
The objective, Edwards said, “is to promote these historic golf courses, but also telling Florida history through these golf courses.”
Arnold Palmer, who resides part of the year in Orlando, was enlisted to do a commercial for the project. Jack Nicklaus, a North Palm Beach resident, also provided an endorsement. “As a proud Floridian for close to 50 years, I know the state of Florida has its own storied history in our game,” he said. “The Florida Historic Golf Trail included important chapters to our golf story.”
A potential incidental benefit is bringing new players into the game, Edwards said. “That’s what the golf industry people have latched onto, that it’s a new way to grow the game. And if you’re a golfer and have been around the game, you love the history, and this is a great source of history.”
A scorecard has been developed, allowing players setting out to play all 50 to check off the courses they’ve played and input a score.
“Groups of people already want to go out and start playing these,” Edwards said. “It’s gone beyond what I thought it would. That’s what we want. We hope it drives tourism for them and get exposure they’ve never had.”
Scottsdale's JW Marriott Camelback G.C. (13th hole at the Ambiente Course, shown) is among the courss offering discounted rates to college students. (Lonna Tucker)
Marriott's College Links program is designed to give students a break. The program allows college students to play at the nearly two dozen participating Marriott Golf properties nationwide from now through June 1, 2015.
Students showing their college ID after 3 p.m. will be charged a discounted twilight rate ($29-$69) plus a twilight voucher for a future round.
Go to collegegolflinks.com for the complete list of participating courses.
But since the U.S. Open is coming here in 2015 and golf fans are eager to see what the youngest course to land the national championship looks like, the good folk at Chambers Bay slackened their retro-purist principles for a morning and let us film a ride.
It was my first time on a GolfBoard. Brock Sabo, the GolfBoard sales rep who met me in the parking lot, didn’t need my help unloading the unit from his car. After a tentative introductory minute, I was comfortable to set sail on the course at full speed, or 11 mph. The motion is similar to any type of board riding -- I’m fairly experienced with the snow and skate variety -- but getting wholly accustomed to the throttle, a Bluetooth-enabled device held like a water pistol, took a few holes (Then again, I’ve never been outside the bell curve for rubbing my belly and patting my stomach simultaneously). The vertical handlebar mount, which can aid steering but is mostly there for security, was the design addition “that convinced insurance companies it would be safe for the public to rent without helmets,” says Sabo. Which was an important development, because hitting quality golf shots is hard enough without a helmet.
Is it fun to ride? Does Ricky Barnes wear a funny hat?
Riding a GolfBoard is a more physically involved act than driving a cart. By no means a workout, but the more you throw your weight around, the more you are rewarded with deeper, more thrilling carves. Like walking, the tendency is to become more attentive and engaged with the topography of the golf course. Also like walking, the fun’s in the fairway. Traipsing through the rough at low speed looking for a lost ball isn’t fun in any mode of ambulation. My theory is far from being proven, but I think the GolfBoard might actually help one stay in the fairway. The rhythmic weight shift of the carving motion bleeds nicely into a pre-shot routine.
A major reason Chambers Bay shuns golf carts is to protect its 100-percent fescue turf. A GolfBoard is five- to six-times lighter than a typical golf cart and has smaller wheels, so it at least partially assuages that concern. However, the kneejerk fear of most courses considering the GolfBoard will be safety. How many golfers will ride recklessly and get hurt? Who knows, perhaps an even higher rate than already do with golf carts. Like a golf cart, you won’t get hurt on a GolfBoard unless you purposefully push the boundaries.
Laird Hamilton, the legendary pro surfer and design consultant of the GolfBoard, has his own handle-less model that allegedly goes 60 mph.
Maybe Oakmont Country Club will let us film in advance of the 2016 U.S. Open. Laird, you available?