The Local Knowlege

Geoff Shackelford

Pete Dye gets in their heads even when he’s not trying

By Geoff Shackelford

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Look past the torrid Players opening round scoring and notice a new theme developing in player observations: the TPC Sawgrass tees are intentionally misaligned.

Not the actual tee markers, which are placed to precision by the tour staff each morning using things like paint cans and T-squares. No, the player and caddie buzz has turned to the actual tee "boxes" and the way they set up tee shots.

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“You got tee boxes lining you up in wrong directions and you're having to hit across a lot of fairways,” Rory McIlroy said after his opening round 70. “The depth perception is hard with the way the trees are. It's just, visually, it's a typical Pete Dye golf course, it's just visually very awkward.”

Awkward would be music to Pete Dye’s ears. The man loves to make great players work for their living. But crediting him for misaligning tees is giving more credit than he deserves. Renovated many times over the years with mowing patterns that shift subtly over time, there is no question that some tees appear to point a little right of center on select holes (check out the 5th and 13th during this week's telecast). 

“The tee boxes here all aim right,” said Ernie Els after a 68. "I've always felt very uncomfortable on the tees here. Today again, because I got to get myself a little spot in front of me, I can't just aim down the tee, because I'm aiming 20 yards right.

Els added, “Pete Dye's a genius, but he's a sinister man."


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Courses & Travel

To purists who dislike 15-inch cups: marble greens are not pure either

By Geoff Shackelford

Self-described "purists" have been dismissing Hack Golf's push for 15-inch cups. While I admire those who want to protect the integrity of our courses and rules, let's get something straight: The evolution of the modern green into a marble-like surface is not pure. Nor is it healthy. And for most people, super-slick greens are not really that much fun.

Yes, there's a thrill in first stepping up to a green measuring double digits on the Stimpmeter, but that's usually more a sense of awe at seeing how man has tamed turf by being able to mow it so tight and taut. After the first few three-putts or the stressful six-footer -- which could turn into a 20-footer coming back -- the entire exercise becomes tedious and time-consuming. Think of the hours of our lives we've spent watching a group (or sadly being part of one) agonizing over short putts to 4.25-inch holes that play smaller the faster greens get?


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If purists want to see great architecture shine, they have to remember that the faster putting surfaces get, the more the design from tee-to-fringe loses its importance. Too many rounds over-emphasize putting both regarding the overall score and time-spent playing.

This is why I'm fascinated by larger cups. The 4.25-inch size was an arbitrary number reached at Musselburgh after the first cup cutter was invented, and the R&A made it official in 1891. Greens were Stimping about 5 back then. Putting greens were merely a continuation of the fairway. Speeds gradually climbed over the next century until the last decade or so, to a game with a pursuit of speed not just in tournament golf, but in daily setups that view 10+ as essential for Stimpmeter readings. With a manufactured, shockingly distinct surface rolling infinitely faster than ever on nearly all golf courses, the hole has remained the same size.

We've learned that the more man's hand intervenes in golf, the less golfers accept bad breaks or extreme setups. Conversely, the more nature plays a role in our fate, the more we tolerate the madness. Excessive green speeds seem cool but never quite capture our senses because they are artificially propagated. The introduction of a larger cup potentially diffuses the over-importance of green speed in the modern game and could re-invigorate the game for those scared off by excessive short-game difficulty or a scarcity of time.

That's not to say 15-inch cups are the best answer. Moderating green speeds is. But purists should be open to trying a version of golf that restores the putting surface to a more sensible place in the cosmos.

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News & Tours

Masters Mood Guide: All things Adam Scott

By Geoff Shackelford

Now that you've been supplied with a playlist and podcasts to hear about all things Masters, the mood setting requires you do a little reading. Celebrating all things defending champion is a great tradition of the Masters because no winner of this event can turn down the many inquiries to relive their epic triumph.

Related: This playlist will put you in the mood for the Masters

Adam Scott has been no stranger to writers grilling him about last year's epic, and why not? A dreary and lifeless-by-Masters-standards final round exploded in the final 90 minutes to produce a thrilling playoff win for Scott over Angel Cabrera.

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Golf Digest's Tom Callahan's April issue column focuses on Scott's triumphant return home to Australia last December and Scott's gentle nature. And in case you were wondering about Scott's recent struggles at Bay Hill, Callahan reminds us that the putter acted up all the way up until Sunday's back nine.

The Sunday that Scott won the Masters, he didn't putt well, you know. "I was very, very shaky with my speed control," he said, "leaving everything short on the front nine, incredibly short. On the back nine I just told myself, This is it. You have to be bold now."

Golf Magazine's Alan Bastable filed a lengthy Q&A where Scott shows how he is one of the more underrated interviews in golf. An unfortunate photo accompanies the piece, but just scroll on by that and get to the good stuff about the win, Augusta and his views on some of the course changes.

The Augusta Chronicle has won countless awards for their stories on defending champions, and Scott Michaux undertook the grueling task of visiting Australia to see the Alister MacKenzie courses built prior to Augusta National, checking out the great Barnbougle Dunes resort in Tasmania (positively nothing to do with Adam Scott!) and Michaux reconsiders the amazing sportsmanship that places the 2013 Masters in the pantheon of great tournaments. But the main Chronicle story focuses in depth on how Scott rebuilt his approach to majors after hitting rock bottom in 2008, with extensive tracing back to the early part of Scott's career with many details that may surprise you.

Many factors contributed to his professional free fall - a broken hand that got smashed in a car door before the U.S. Open; a break-up with his longtime girlfriend, Marie Kojzar; a "mystery illness" that haunted him with recurring throat infections doctors could best attribute to fatigue; and a kneecap he dislocated running out of the surf in Queensland at the end of 2008.

Related: Adam Scott's singular style

The Augusta Chronicle also featured this video of a Scott Q&A in Australia where he talks about the Green Jacket and various rules associated with its care while he is champion. You will also see just how much his win meant to the great sporting nation of Australia.

http://youtu.be/W-BNUQKVVag

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News & Tours

Masters Mood Guide: Podcast edition

By Geoff Shackelford

Now that you have a nice playlist to get you going to set the Masters mood, it's time to hear some old stories in a new medium. Mitch Laurence, whose worked on both sides of the camera and the microphone, has put together several TheGolfDirector.com podcasts that will get the Augusta juices flowing. Mitch's passion for the game is evident in his research and preparation for interviews, as I can attest having been the subject of a recent chat about this year's Masters.

Related: Our guide to being a fan at the Masters

But of far more interest are Mitch's chats with Ben Wright, Frank Christian and John Derr.

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Wright talks about all things Masters and shares some stellar stories, while indirectly reminding us what a shame it is not to have him part of the broadcast team.

Christian, the longtime club photographer who followed his father in that role, tells us about a hickory club and a lesson given to him by Bobby Jones and shares insights into Augusta National's co-founder.

And Derr is the 96-year-old former professional who covered the 1935 Masters, befriended O.B. Keeler and got to meet other sportswriting legends Grantland Rice and Damon Runyon. Even better, Derr talks about covering the Masters at 17 and his memories of that week 79 years ago prove to well worth listening to.

Related: Masters Mood Guide, Music Edition

Even better, hearing the old stories serves as another reminder of the great heritage of the Masters, which is now less than two weeks away. Soak it up!

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News & Tours

Masters Mood Setting: Music To Download

By Geoff Shackelford

No offense to the Valero and Shell Opens, but it's time to get in the mood for the Masters. You know, The Masters. The one that gives us goose bumps on a Thursday afternoon when first hearing the first sounds of Dave Loggins' iconic theme music. 

Over the next few days I'm going to offer a few tips on getting brushed up on all things Augusta and the Masters for your traveling or viewing pleasure. And what better way than to start musically?

Before I travel I like to put together a musical playlist with ties to the area I'm headed. Thanks to the wonders of digital music, I've put together an Augusta playlist to consider for your pre-Masters mood building. Because the Masters theme is not available for sale and I would never advocate that you run a search with the words Masters Theme and "television tunes" to download a free copy, you can always just go to YouTube and listen here.

Related: The Top 100 in Music

But wait. Don't do that. You want that Masters Thursday thrill of hearing the iconic theme to induce bumps, so instead, support some artists and consider these tunes.

For starters, you must own a copy of the tune that inspired Herbert Warren Wind's branding of holes 11 through 13 as Amen Corner. Mildred Bailey's rendition of Shouting at Amen Corner makes for a perfect playlist opener.

I'm a big fan of anyone who throws in a mention of Alister MacKenzie, so run to your favorite online store and download Billy Mac's Augusta Sweet Augusta. This lovely piano ballad is from Mac's 2010 LP, Tee It Up where he also croons with just enough sentimentality without getting carried away. Other tracks include beautifully written tunes about the Old Course and Pebble Beach.

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Did you know that Willie Nelson teamed with big band singer and former pro golfer Don Cherry in 1995 to pen an album titled Augusta, with a title track also referencing the Masters and sampling the tournament theme? Cool stuff.

Related: Our first ranking of the top musicians who play golf

To mix things up, at this point I've worked in a couple of tunes from Augusta natives, starting with jazz trombonist  Michael Dease, whose Four is not a golf song but instead just elegant jazz.

After taking the pace down, let's kick things up with a James Brown classic, I Got You (I Feel Good). Though the Augusta native never wrote songs about the Masters, who cares. Everyone should own this and classics such as Living In America or Get Offa That Thing.

For the country enthusiasts, here's where current hipsters and Augusta natives Lady Antebellum's hits Need You Now or Compass would fit nicely. Or Christian crooner Amy Grant, another Augusta native, could add to your playlist.

To wrap things up, Augusta by The Golf Champs is another song rich with historic references that'll bring a smile to your face and remind you of some past champions.

If you want to be a total fanatic, a little searching will turn up ringtones for the Masters theme and a 1986 "Yes Sir" tone that can be used for text messages. Yes, it's a bit much but remember, the Masters only comes once a year. Like Christmas music for Christians, Masters and Augusta playlists will get your ready for golf's biggest week.


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News & Tours

A letter to The Donald, from Geoff Shackelford

By Geoff Shackelford

Donald Trump
Trump World Headquarters
New York, NY

Dear The Donald,

Now that the bluster has settled and the rejuvenated Blue Monster says goodbye to the world's best golfers, I have a few thoughts from afar. Namely, how your course should be presented going forward.

Before addressing the design, a quick congratulations on having Patrick Reed win. To have such a modest, humble world top-five player win must be something you can relate to. 

As for the Monster, well, its namesake was restored and then some. Generally, I would advocate you ignore player comments so soon after the heat of battle, but instead, elicit their views after they've had time to assess the week. Today's pros are getting better at separating course setup defects from architecture, and after Friday's high winds it was telling how so few critiqued the renovated course and how so many questioned the setup not taking the predicted winds into account.

Related: The 17th At Doral: Not Every Hole Has To Have Water!

I would concur that with a few setup tweaks, particularly on the back nine, the course will play better in high winds. Just having a year to mature will do wonders, as the thatchless but otherwise beautiful putting surfaces had that new green bounce that often even repels a spinning shot. Besides, there were still signs that good play was rewarded and poor play penalized. The field still managed nine rounds under 70 on Sunday after the players had been beaten up for three days and with some pretty tough final-round hole locations.

Now, about your comments to Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller about lengthening the 15th hole and blowing up the current 17th green to get water back into play. If you noticed the player feedback, they were pretty unanimous that there was too much water affecting play. There were 318 balls hit into the water last week, surpassing 2004's previous high of 220. This means you do not need to make the devilish little 15th any longer, in fact, I was saddened we didn't see it play super short with a front hole location. Anything would have been more interesting than that dreary final day hole location in the back right that limited birdies and took fans cheering for a ball rolling toward the hole out of play.

Related: 7 things Gil Hanse would have you know about the new Blue Monster

As to the waterless par-4 17th, it played as the toughest driving hole all week, and the players didn't exactly hit great approach shots into that huge, artfully bunkered green. More than that, the 17th provided a nice contrast to the other water-filled finishing holes and gave everyone a breather before the 18th, which was set up way too long for the winds.

Anyhow, that's all I have for you. You have the number in case you want chat.

Congrats on reinvigorating the Blue Monster. 

Yours In Waterballs,

Geoff

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News & Tours

Remembering Harold Ramis, the non-golfing golf hero

By Geoff Shackelford

Without Harold Ramis, there is no "Caddyshack."

Thirty-four years after the classic film's release, iconic lines are repeated daily at golf courses across the globe. And while Harold Ramis did not deliver any of those lines, the improvisational genius of the film's iconic cast shines through due to the directorial brilliance of a man who did not play golf.

As we learned from Kate Meyers in a May 2004 Golf Digest story on the film's 30th anniversary, the caddie tales came from Brian Doyle-Murray, the country-club satire from producer Doug Kenney and the timelessness of the jokes in "Caddyshack" are a product of Ramis' direction.




Take the epic Cinderella-story scene with Bill Murray swatting flowers and announcing to himself. The script merely called for Carl Spackler to be in front of the clubhouse swinging a club. Ramis huddled with Murray and asked if he'd ever talked to himself, pretending to be an announcer covering the finish of an event. Ramis had done it as a runner to push himself to finish a workout, and as soon as he mentioned the idea to Murray, the fellow Second City alum knew exactly what the director had in mind and ran with it.


Beyond his comedic touch, Ramis somehow held together a drug-infused set that was in chaos, with massive ego clashes left over from their "Saturday Night Live" days leading to tension between Murray and Chevy Chase. When the producers figured out that the two stars were not on screen together, Ramis brought them together and mapped out the late night "playing through" scene that led to classic lines about having a few things on order and Carl's new grass, with its strains of Featherbed Bent and Northern California Sensemilia.

On the other side of the equation, Ramis managed the extreme insecurity of Rodney Dangerfield, who huddled with Ramis nightly to soothe anxiety for the next day's scenes, even though by all accounts, Dangerfield was killing it, taking a scripted character with a small part and turning him into the indelible Al Czervik.


Ultimately Ramis' grand vision for a film inspired by the Marx Brothers -- a mix of a budding romance, established upper-class resistance and the antics of three nuts in the form of Czervik, Spackler and Ty Webb --  has allowed "Caddyshack" to age so well. Harold Ramis makes golfers laugh more than 30 years later just trying to hold all of the converging stars together. 
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News & Tours

How the loss of Augusta National's Eisenhower Tree could be a good thing

By Geoff Shackelford

When reality had sunk in that the Eisenhower Tree was no longer, we architecture wonks got excited. No, not at the site of a majestic specimen getting taken down by a silly ice storm. That's sad.

Related: Ice storm takes down Augusta National's Eisenhower Tree

Instead, we ever-so-briefly dreamed of the possibility that Augusta National's 17th hole might be re-examined.

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Let's face it, this 440-yard uphill hole hasn't been quite the same since Tom Fazio littered both sides of the landing area with pine trees that would have stifled recovery shots of Nicklaus and Norman. Once a great birdie opportunity that still produced terribly inconvenient bogeys too, Augusta National's penultimate hole has become laborious. Then what better time to reassess everything about its architecture than now, so close to the Masters when they surely could not replace such a massive, iconic tree so close to the tournament?

What could I have been thinking?

This is Augusta National.

As I type, a majestic replacement is probably already dangling from a Sikorsky, with ex-Navy Seals leading Operation General (Ike's Secret Service name). Crews are guiding a loblolly grown for this day into a hole, where all of Ike's roots have already been taken out, placed in plastic bags for safe keeping, and fresh soil imported to ensure clean living for the replacement, which will spend the next century swatting down unsuspecting drives.

Related: Little-known facts about the Masters

As for all of those dreams of an Old Course-replacement fairway bunker, removal of the recently planted pines or digging up MacKenzie's plans to see what else could be done to the 17th hole? Save 'em. You can bet the folks at Augusta National already have this one covered.

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News & Tours

Riviera's 10th Hole Challenge! Lay-up, Lay-up, Lay-up, Lay-Up

By Geoff Shackelford

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Just because a strategic hole offers options, does not mean you have to use them all.

The great myth of Riviera's ingenious 10th hole -- confirmed repeatedly during round one of the Northern Trust Open -- is that it's 311 yards of all bluff and only one option: lay up. Left. Every. Day.

Not that this guarantees success. Scott Verplank carded a first-round 8 after laying up, but his troubles came from imprecision. He later carded two double bogeys and withdrew after nine holes. 

Wonky architecture buffs -- guilty as charged -- will not want to hear that the options don't really matter. After all, there should be many ways to the hole, so the democratic view says.

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Sometimes that is the case with Riviera's 10th. By and large, however, this George Thomas-Billy Bell masterwork is averaging over par again because too many players are not laying up in with the best angle of attack. Or worse, they are trying to drive the green.

Related: More from Geoff Shackelford

Padraig Harrington, knowing full well the carnage that had already taken place early into the round, spotted AP writer Doug Ferguson in his traditional perch behind the green.

"If you were a lawyer you'd be chasing ambulances."

Kevin Chappell, a bright guy from UCLA decided not to drive the green for the first time in his life today. Just guessing, but he's probably played the hole a hundred times in his young existence and only now did he choose to lay up after playing it so poorly for so long. He hit a fine approach in but missed the putt. Here's guessing he's going to be laying up a lot more.

Related: A closer look at Riviera Country Club

After watching half the field go through and average just barely over par (4.2 for those driving the green), I've decided to offer a challenge to those who have chosen to lay up short and left, then hit the 100-yard-or-so approach: do it three more times and let's see what your scores add up to.

The winner will receive their very own personalized tour of the media center! Because there's a pretty good chance, come Sunday night a visit will be coming here. Just lay up!

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News & Tours

If economics prevail, practice rounds could be a thing of the past for spectators

By Geoff Shackelford

A few observant fans noticed something funny about this week's Northern Trust Open at Riviera: Tuesday's practice round is closed to the public. Not even those with week-long badges can come out to watch the PGA Tour's finest prepare for Los Angeles' annual tour stop. The tournament's official dates start with Wednesday's pro-am.

After inquiring with the PGA Tour, I learned several events (including the Farmers Insurance Open and WGC-Cadillac at Doral) no longer allow Tuesday access to the grounds. Several others still do sell tickets for Tuesday practice, including the upcoming Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens and the WGC Match Play in Tucson, where Monday access is even possible.

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The reasons, according to PGA Tour Executive VP Ty Votaw, are financial. Citing "cost-benefit analysis" work done by the tour, Votaw said the expense of busing fans to the course "exceeds the revenue they produce," ultimately meaning "fewer dollars for charity." Votaw also cited the reprieve this gives to volunteers, requiring one less day they have to work. 

The decision to end practice round access to events is a mistake.

Related: More from Geoff Shackelford

Yes, operating shuttle buses is expensive, but Tuesdays are often the days that dreamers and diehards come out to study players preparing for the tournament. For most fans, practice rounds are dull affairs, but if you know what you are looking for they can also be the most rewarding days to learn about the game or see a player you like.

When I was an aspiring player in college, Tuesday was my favorite day to go to Riviera. I can remember lugging my enormous video camera out and shooting Jodie Mudd's beautiful swing, only to have the cantankerous former Players Champion stop and demand to know why I was recording his swing. When I replied matter-of-factly that I liked his swing, he demurred and even asked if he could look at his move.

Related: Why did Peyton Manning play a practice round with Bill Belichick?

Then there was Grant Waite. A former winner on Tour who is now an instructor quietly building a stable of players, Waite saw me watching his practice, started chatting me up, and even asked if he could look at the tape. When he went out on the course to practice, Waite invited me to follow him inside the ropes for a few holes.

Whatever I paid for that practice round made it the bargain of a lifetime. Those connections also made me a fan for life.

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