The Local Knowlege


A quick walk through the Jack Nicklaus room at the USGA Museum

Wednesday was the official opening and dedication of the Jack Nicklaus Room at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, NJ. For the people who go to these sorts of things, the experience is always the same: You can't walk 10 feet without bumping into someone you know, or are supposed to know, wearing his blue blazer. If you know the face but not the name, you buy some time by asking if they've been playing much golf lately. And if it's 85 and humid, like it was yesterday, brace yourself for the answer.

Regrettably, I spent only 15 minutes in the new room, which at 1,200 square feet is surprisingly intimate and houses just 82 artifacts. It's a lean version of the sprawling Jack Nicklaus Museum in Columbus, Ohio, which loaned items for the exhibit and will continue to rotate more. Several short videos and an interactive course-design feature pack additional layers of depth, but the impression is that the main concern of the curators was accessibility. The placards for each object are succinct and written in the first-person voice of Jack.    

"[The USGA] did such an efficient job of not being overbearing with a big room," Nicklaus said. "They've put it tastefully in a place where it's not going to get lost, where you can see it very quickly. There are three people that come to these rooms — streakers, strollers and scholars.  Streakers spend about a half an hour and they're done with it. Strollers spend a couple hours and get a lot of information. A scholar could spend all day, or more…I think that's what they've tried to accomplish."

Someday soon, I'd like to return on at least the level of a stroller. But to offer at least a taste from my manic visit...


nicklaus putter.jpg
"I bought this putter in North Berwick, Scotland shortly before the 1959 Walker Cup. It helped me to more than a dozen amateur titles, including both my U.S. Amateur wins."

Easy to forget that Jack Nicklaus actually used a hickory shafted putter. With it, he holed what he's said is the most important putt of his career; the final putt in the final match to defeat Charlie Coe in the 1959 U.S. Amateur.


tie case.jpg
"I played in my first Masters in 1959, as a 19-year-old. I hit 31 greens in regulation, but had eight three-putts and missed the cut. I realized then that I had better learn how to putt those greens - and I did."

Tie case? You mean there's a better traveling method than crumpling it in the breast pocket so you don't forget? Just another reason the rest of us don't have green jackets.


A cannon for a driver? If that's the most cutting satire a caricaturist can think of, you're untouchable.



"Though I was happy to have made the cut in my first tournament as a professional, my official prize winnings represented one-third of last-place money."

Tiger Woods' professional debut wasn't much stronger. He finished T-60 at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open but did bring home $2,544. 

Will there ever be a Tiger Woods wing at Far Hills? Already, Tiger's nine USGA championships eclipse Jack's eight, and Big Cat hasn't even had a chance at any U.S. Senior Opens. But more than trophies, yesterday's dedication was to Jack Nicklaus' character, as a family man and ambassador for the game. The reputations of the four other golfers with dedicated rooms — Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright and Arnold Palmer - are as impeccable.


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Golf & Business

Artist sets the scene at Chambers Bay in new U.S. Open poster

Washington's Chambers Bay is a first-time major-championship venue and the first course in the Pacific Northwest to host the U.S. Open. The historic moment gave Lee Wybranski what he describes as a "clean canvas" while working on the official commemorative poster for the 2015 championship.


The Flagstaff, Ariz.-based artist visited Chambers Bay last May and was taken by the sandy turf, water view and train tracks that run past the course. "I love diagonal compositions because they provide a great deal of depth and drama and really pull your eyes in," says Wybranski, who has painted the official Open poster since 2008.

Wybranski admits to taking some artistic license with his portrait of the 16th hole, bringing in the Olympic Mountains and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, while incorporating Chambers Bay's lone tree.

"My intention is always to find an original view of the course that hasn't been done before, but also is recognizable," he says.

The poster is $32 and is available online at

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News & Tours

Why the USGA thinks the timing is right for a Senior Women's Open

NEW YORK — It seems too much of a coincidence that the USGA, in the first year of its 12-year, $1.1 billion TV deal with FOX Sports, would announce the debut of the U.S. Senior Women's Open, a championship whose financial viability had previously been considered a stumbling block in its creation. Yet as the economics of introducing the new championship, which will be held for the first time in 2018, are certainly more favorable, USGA executive director Mike Davis maintained the decision to add a 14th national championship to the USGA calendar was predicated on more than dollars and cents.

"We looked at it many times [over the years] and it always got back to making sure that if we were going to start it we knew it was going to be successful long term. Not just one year, but long term," Davis told prior to the start of the USGA Annual Meeting in Manhattan. "And what's changed now is we have just seen this continued consistent growth in women's golf."

loop-usga-annual-meeting-senior-women-560.jpgDavis (above left) noted specifically a rise in entries in recent years for all its USGA women's championships, including the Women's Open, Mid-Amateur and Senior Amateur. He also said that seeing the increase in the number of members of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional division and female members of the PGA of America, suggested that the quality of the field would be strong enough to make it viable.

"So it really got down to saying we now have great confidence when we start this in 2018 that this will not only be successful championship but successful in perpetuity," Davis said. "That's the difference."

Related: How the Fox Sports/USGA TV deal came to be

The championship will be a 72-hole stroke-play event that will have a 36-hole cut. Minimum age to play will be 50. Still to be determined is the host venue for the inaugural event, along with what time of year the championship will be played, field size and purse, along with qualifying procedures.

USGA president Tom O'Toole (above right) said that discussions about launching the championship got serious last June at the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst, with the Executive Committee formally approving it last November.

"Simply, the time is right," O'Toole said. "It serves a population of our golf community that is hungry to compete for a national title."

Photo: USGA/Chris Keane

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News & Tours

Why golfers need to rearrange when they serve their Thanksgiving meals this year

For most American sports fans, Thanksgiving typically consists of oversize helpings of turkey and football, the consumption of the latter frequently determining when the former actually gets served.

Now golf fans will have another offering to fill up their plate/throw off their dinner schedule.

Fox Sports, which officially becomes the broadcast partner of the USGA in 2015, gets an early jump into golf this Thursday with the rebroadcast of the 60-minute documentary "1962 U.S. Open: Jack's First Major." The film originally aired in 2012 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' playoff win over Arnold Palmer at Oakmont Country Club and was the first documentary produced by the USGA for broadcast TV.

It won't take much to get die-hard golfers interested in watching the program, but here's a trailer for the film to tease you:

The film airs at 3 p.m. EST, preceding Fox's NFL Pregame show and the 4:30 p.m. broadcast of the Philadelphia-Dallas football game. Our suggestion: Gobble down your turkey at 2 p.m., push away from the table to watch Jack and Arnie at 3, then go for seconds on the turkey at 4.

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Golf & Business

The real cause of slow play isn't what you think

You know that guy who takes three practice swings and reads putts from both sides of the hole? And that other guy who tells long jokes when it’s his honor on the tee box? Turns out neither are responsible for the preponderance of five-hour rounds in this country. 


The second annual Pace of Play Symposium was held at the USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., last week. The purpose was “to exchange thoughts, ideas and solutions for improving the pace of play in golf.” While this sounds like a grandiose version of the same futile, finger-pointing conversation overheard at the low-handicapper’s table in the men’s grillroom, it wasn’t. Discarding assumptions and embracing the scientific method, the results of 17 research projects, conducted by people from all corners of the world, were presented over two days. The data was as robust as the coffee. And Golf Digest sat through it all so you didn’t have to.  

If there was one common finding among the independent projects, it’s that the overriding factor is course management. No, not the kind that comes from reading yardage books, but how golf courses are actually operated by those who own them. This is encouraging, as the solution entails changing the behavior of a few thousand motivated stakeholders versus millions of unwitting Kevin Na copycats.

Rather than get bogged in the weeds of how the data was gathered (in one project, USGA interns spent their summers handing out GPS tracking devices to recreational players on the first tee and then collecting them on the 18th), let’s simply highlight the key points. 

The average round of golf in America takes 4 hours, 17 minutes, according to Lucius Riccio, Ph.D., who analyzed 40,460 rounds. The average time of dewsweepers, or the first group out, is 3:46. The length and Slope Rating of a golf course has almost no correlation with pace. The only statistically significant variable is how busy a course is. Golfers move like cars on the interstate. Rush hour is bad. Make too many merges too quickly, and gridlock ensues. 

So the most effective change course owners can make is to increase tee-time intervals. In the 2014 LPGA Tour season, the average round time was reduced 14 minutes by switching from 10- to 11-minute intervals. “While competitive golf is a much easier nut to crack because we can enforce faster play with referees and penalties, the same principles apply to recreational golf,” said Kevin Barker, assistant director of rules for the R&A. Many public facilities operate at eight-minute intervals. On the surface, moving to 10-minute intervals costs a course roughly 15 percent in revenue because fewer golfers can be accommodated on the tee sheet. 

However, faster rounds means a course can go later into the day before charging twilight rates to players less likely to finish. It also means they can operate with fewer carts. Poppy Hills Golf Course sold 10 carts from its fleet after significantly improving its average pace of play. 

Course setup is the second most important factor. Pete Rouillard, senior VP of golf operations for SunBelt Golf Corporation, which manages the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, pays strict attention to tees. During busy weekends, he’s had success pushing the tees back on par 5s and reachable par 4s, to deter longer hitters from waiting to have a go at the green, and also moving the tees forward on par 3s to result in more greens in regulation for everybody. The idea is “to make every hole transition to a short par 3 at some point to improve the flow of a round.”

Andrew Tiger, Ph.D., is big on flow. “Disney World has it figured it out, they make you wait while you think you’re on the ride,” he says. “A round that takes 4:18 where you don’t wait feels infinitely better than a round that takes the same time where you wait for 18 minutes.” Tiger has built a sophisticated model to predict how long a round will take depending on the precise features of each hole, the ability of the golfers playing, the number of golfers in a group and so on for as many variables as can be inputted, like say, if a group is playing a Scramble or Stableford format. The model is still a work in progress, but the USGA plans to work with Tiger closely in 2015. The goal is to be able to predict pace so acutely that courses can make management decisions and redesign accordingly.

The early returns suggest redesigns are indeed where you can pick up the most pace. Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, Va., shaved 45 minutes off its usual five-hour round by removing bunkers, making others less severe and overall increasing the playability of the course by removing large swaths of rough, which were costly to maintain and easy to lose a golf ball in. “The best players at the club say they’ve never had more fun playing,” said Lester George, who oversaw the redesign. “You still keep the challenge, golfers like getting it thrown back at them once in a while, but you increase the shot options.” 
“Golf courses used to be run on emotion, but as we go forward we’re going to see them run more like businesses,” said Stephen Johnston, founding principal of Global Golf Advisors.
And if that means making them run faster, customers will be happy. It’s quite possible the most useful conversation ever on slow play took 16 hours last week in New Jersey.   

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News & Tours

The USGA and LPGA do the math: longer tee-time intervals lead to shorter rounds

It takes a mental leap to accept that an effective way to speed up play in golf -- whether at the competitive or recreational level -- comes by putting more time between groups on a course. Spreading out tee times intuitively would appear to have the opposite effect, making everybody's round end later.

USGA technical director Matt Pringle spent parts of both days at this week's Pace of Play Symposium in Far Hills, N.J., attempting to dispel the seeming contradiction. Arguably the best data he had to prove it came out of a joint partnership that the USGA entered with the LPGA in 2014 to try and improve pace of play on the women's tour -- one in which the average round time was reduced by 14 minutes.

At the start of the season, the LPGA employed 10-minute intervals between its starting times when playing in threesomes. Officials tracked times for the first six events of the year and passed this information on to the USGA. During these events the average time for a round was 4 hours 54 minutes, with the average time for the longest round of the day being 5:12 and the longest round recorded overall taking 5:35.

Analyzing the times, Pringle recommend to LPGA officials to try 11 minute intervals in their tee times, suggesting that part of the reason for the long rounds came from players waiting on groups ahead of them. LPGA chief tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said there was some apprehension initially from players concerned it might lead to more delays, not fewer, but they eventually agreed to try it figuring they could always go back if it didn't work.

In short order, the times actually did drop, with the average round taking 4:49, the average of the longest round of the day falling to 5:04 and the longest round overall coming in at 5:24.

Additionally, the LPGA also made a change to its own pace-of-play policy on tour, which went into effect at the Kingsmill Championship in May. Rather than assign a time par for all groups to conform to, only the lead group would now be required to meet the time or be subject to warning and individual timing over shots. Subsequent groups, meanwhile, would be responsible instead with maintaining position on the course in relation to the group preceding it.

"The time par policy [for all players] had people focusing on groups behind them and whether they had people waiting on them," Daly-Donofrio said. Conversely, the new policy emphasized focusing on the group ahead and making sure you're not too far back.

The combination of the new policy and 11 minute intervals has results in even faster play. The average round time fell to 4:40 -- 14 minutes quicker than at the start of the year. The average of the longest round was 4:54, the amount of time that previous was the overall average. And the longest round total dropped to 5:13, an improvement of 22 minutes.

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News & Tours

The year's most talked about women's amateur is missing the year's biggest women's amateur event (Don't worry, it's a good thing)

By Ryan Herrington

loop-lucy-li-spotlight-290.jpgThe U.S. Women’s Amateur began Monday at Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y., and picking a favorite to claim the Robert Cox Trophy remains the proverbial fool’s errand. Rising Alabama junior Emma Talley is the defending champion and is a reasonable choice to win again, but don’t go betting little Sally’s college fund on it, if you know what I’m saying.

More notable perhaps than who is in the field this week who could win is a golfer who is not in the field and who, obviously, can’t. Never mind that she might just be the most talked about female amateur of 2014: 11-year-old Lucy Li.

After winning her age group in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National in April, Li made even bigger news in May when she became the youngest player to ever qualify to compete in the U.S. Women’s Open. The Redwood Shores, Calif., resident failed to make the cut at Pinehurst No. 2, but won over many fans with her game (she did manage a pair of 78s, not bad for an 11-year-old) and carefree personality.

Unlike with the men’s U.S. Open, where amateurs who simply qualify for the championship receive automatic exemptions into any other USGA amateur championship for which they are eligible, female amateurs who qualify for the Women’s Open must play 72 holes to earn additional exemptions. So it was that if Li wanted to play other USGA events this summer she had to attempt to qualify for them.

And here is where it gets kind of interesting. Li, surprisingly, decided to give it a go in just one other USGA event: the Women’s Amateur Public Links in July, where she advanced to match play but lost in the first round to Alice Chen. That meant choosing to skip last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, an event Li has never competed in. It also meant bypassing the Women’s Amateur, the tournament in which her name first surfaced a year ago when she became the youngest player qualify for the championship in its 119-year history.

According to USGA officials, Li and her parents (Warren and Amy), didn't want to overload the Lucy’s schedule after her Pinehurst appearance, instead having her play in local and regional events in Northern California and then giving her time to be, well, an 11-year-old. What a refreshing concept.

Indeed while many pre-teen phenoms -- not to mention their folks -- seem to run toward the spotlight when it shines, Li appears to be doing the opposite. The family has turned down the majority of interview requests since she qualified to play in the Women’s Open, preferring to maintain some privacy.

That included my request to ask about her less-than-packed summer schedule. So if Lucy is reading this post, here’s what I would have said directly: Congratulations on not getting wrapped up in celebrity just yet.

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News & Tours

Want to know why the USGA's Pub Links events met their demise? Sadly look at their final playings

By Ryan Herrington

It's generally poor form to speak badly of the dead, so I'll type gingerly. Lost amid the hoopla of Rory McIlroy's British Open coronation in England, a pair of funerals were taking place in Kansas and Washington.

Last Saturday marked the final playing of the men's and women's Amateur Public Links championships, the USGA having announced their retirement early in 2013. In their place, the governing body will debut men's and women's four-ball championships in May 2015, with qualifying for the new events beginning next month.

The shuttering of the APL/WAPL was an unfortunate but understandable decision, even if the former event was the USGA's fourth oldest championship dating back to 1922. The original intent of the competition when it started in 1922 (the women's version beginning in 1977) was to promote public golf and provide municipal-course golfers the opportunity to play in a national championship that they might not otherwise have been afforded. Yet that mission was no longer being served, the number of true public golfers competing and contending having dwindled in the last two decades.

Sadly, but perhaps fittingly, the final playing of the two events proved prime examples of that fact. At Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan., University of Pacific senior Byron Meth, 21, defeated incoming Texas freshman Doug Ghim, 18, in 37 holes.

loop-byron-meth-apl-518.jpgBy all accounts, the championship showdown was riveting, Meth (above) making 11 birdies on the day and Ghim countering with seven of his own and three eagles. No matter who pulled the match out, however, the same fact would have been true: for 19th straight year a player who was in college, just out of college or just entering college would have won the APL title. You’ll have to go back to 1984 and Bill Malley, a truck driver from Hayward, Calif., to find the last true blue-collar golfer who could claim victory.

Similarly, at The Home Course in outside Tacoma, Wash., 15-year-old Fumie (Alice) Jo (below) made history by becoming the first player from mainland China to win a USGA title when she outlasted 14-year-old Eun Jeong Seong, 3 and 2, in the final.

loop-fumie-alice-jo-wapl-515.jpgJo's win made her the second youngest player to claim the WAPL title, behind only Michelle Wie and her 2003 triumph at age 13. Notwithstanding the significance of Jo’s accomplishment for Chinese golf, it meant that the oldest ever winner of the WAPL was Amy Fruhwirth. She was all of 23 when she was victorious in 1992.

Photos: Meth (AP Images); Jo (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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News & Tours

Scott Verplank is no longer a hot young golf star, but competition still drives golf's newest senior

By Bill Fields

loop-scott-verplank-sr-open-518.jpgEDMOND, Okla. -- Upon realizing Scott Verplank would be in the field at this week's U.S. Senior Open -- he turned 50 on Wednesday, the day before the event started at Oak Tree National, where Verplank won the 1984 U.S. Amateur -- I started thinking back to covering him three decades ago when he was golf's hot young star.

Any number of bright lights have blazed lots of promise with their early exploits, but Verplank stood out with an efficient style of play, the hallmarks of which were a relentless confidence and a magical putter that could demoralize opponents. As demonstrated by the way he beat Sam Randolph in that U.S. Amateur final, he seemed to have an extra gear owned by the greats, his not based on power but precision and persistence. Verplank didn't come up hard, the way Ben Hogan did, but there was something in his golf grit reminiscent of the Hawk.

Once, recalling to me the summers in his teens when he, having been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 9, would play as many as 54 holes a day in the sweatbox that can be Houston on visits to his grandparents, he said, "I didn't know you were supposed to get tired."

After winning at Oak Tree, Verplank won the 1985 Western Open in a playoff over Jim Thorpe, becoming the first amateur to capture a PGA Tour title since Doug Sanders at the 1956 Canadian Open. That year he won 11 of the 26 collegiate, amateur or pro events he entered and had 21 top-10 finishes. When he turned professional prior to the 1986 U.S. Open, it was on the heels of winning the NCAA individual championship, an achievement diminished in his mind because his team, Oklahoma State, blew a final-day lead and lost to Wake Forest.

The greatness that seemed to be ahead for Verplank would be derailed by multiple injuries -- he has had five operations, including reconstructive surgery on his left wrist in 2011 -- and being an elite athlete with diabetes was never as effortless as he sometimes made it seem.

Between his second tour win (1988 Buick Open) and third (2000 Reno-Tahoe Open), there were severe elbow problems. In two seasons, 1991 and 1992, he made only two cuts in 39 starts. That kind of competitive valley would have been too much for many golfers to overcome, but Verplank persevered. He has five career wins, two Ryder Cup appearances for the United States (2002 and 2006) and has been in the top 100 on the money list 18 of 28 years.

He flirted with winning the 2011 PGA Championship when he was 47, finishing T-4 and leaving it to a wild scrum between eventual winner Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner after hitting it into the water on No. 17 at Atlanta Athletic Club and making a double bogey. A few weeks later he had the surgery on the wrist that had plagued him for two years.

With the joint still not 100 percent and the physical limitations having seeped into the mental part of the game Verplank used to be so good at, he has made only one cut in 12 tournaments on the 2013-14 PGA Tour schedule. As much as he wanted to excel at Oak Tree, in the city where he settled and has raised his family, Verplank knew it would be a long shot despite the local knowledge and lovely memory of 30 years ago.

An odd summer wind -- from the east -- blew on a hot Thursday afternoon at Oak Tree. And despite his recent struggles, it seemed strange to see Verplank unable to conjure any magic at a place he once commanded. The first few holes of his opening round were downright ugly. A par to start was followed by a bogey, double bogey and double bogey. Five over through four, he finished with a four-over 75 that could have been much worse. He topped a tee shot. He saw places at Oak Tree he has never seen.

"Fairly embarrassing," was Verplank's assessment of a round in which his score, without some lengthy par putts, could have been well north of 80. "I can get in a little rhythm on the range and feel OK, and I go on the golf course and it's terrible," he said. "All I know is, I've been hurt a lot of times in my career and I'm hitting it like I'm hurt. I'm going to have to fix that somehow. I hit it short, crooked, unsolid."

Including Verplank, there are 14 players competing in the Senior Open who played in the 1984 U.S. Amateur. If you've followed golf even a little, you've heard of most of the men who sought that 1984 national championship. Billy Andrade, Jerry Haas, John Inman, Jeff Maggert, Rocco Mediate and Duffy Waldorf are among the group. They were on the way somewhere then, to journeys they could imagine but filled with details only time and circumstance can provide.

"I may get a good night's sleep and come out tomorrow and things feel better," Verplank said. "I know I can still play. It's been a hard road. I just haven't gotten back to the level that I want to be at."

If there is any golf justice, Verplank's Friday will be a day of long-enough, straight and solid. The game owes no one, but he deserves that.

Photo: Hunter Martin/USGA

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Golf & Business

We've got upwards of 1 million reasons somebody might want to slap their logo on Martin Kaymer's golf bag

By Mike Stachura

Players often finish majors upset about missed opportunities, but rarely is it the winner -- or more specifically, his sponsors -- doing the missing. From a marketing perspective, that's what happened with Martin Kaymer.

loop-kaymer-logoless-bag-518.jpgDespite having deals with TaylorMade, Hugo Boss, SAP and Rolex, Kaymer is the first U.S. Open champ in decades to carry a bag free of sponsors' logos (the sunflower was a tribute to his late mother, Rina, who died of cancer in 2008). Had one been on the bag, it could have paid off handsomely. Eric Wright, president/executive director of research at Joyce Julius & Associates, which studies sponsorship value, estimates Kaymer's in-broadcast exposure during the final round alone was worth "in the range of $600,000 to $1 million."

Without a bag sponsor all year, Kaymer might not remain that way for long. His agent, Johan Elliot of Sportyard, predicts a sponsor could sign on "in-the-not-so-distant future."

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