As always, the season starts in April at Augusta National and The Masters Tournament. The golf course is completely different from that laid out my Messrs Jones and MacKenzie back in the 30’s, but it is still captivating both in person and on television. I was very fortunate to spend an overnight there recently and the golf course was in its usual perfect condition. I spotted a couple of minor changes including “softened” 7th and 16th greens. Both will have more accessible pin positions - that treacherous 16th hole top right pin looks like it will be a tad easier for the pros – I still three putted, so what do I know!
Onto the U.S. Open in June and Olympic Club. Now I haven’t played the golf course, but having seen it and played the other great courses in San Francisco – it may be the third best golf course in the city – after The Cal Club and San Francisco Golf Club. The Lakes Course, designed by Sam Whiting and (redesigned by RTJ Sr.) has a history of unexpected winners. From Jack Fleck in 1955 , Billy Casper in 1966, Scott Simpson in 1987 through to Payne Stewart’s loss to Lee Janzen in 1998 the golf course does strange things to those leading at the end of round 3. That said, they do have one of the great logos in golf! (see above)
Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club was founded in 1886 and the actual Open venue constructed in 1897. It has hosted ten Open Championships, two Ryder Cups and several other major tournaments. It happens to be one of my least favorite Open venues despite all of the drama that has happened there over the years. The stories are legendary - from Bobby Jones having to pay to enter the event after leaving his player badge behind and not being recognized at the gate, Seve’s magic around the greens and the car park in 1979 and 1988 with Woosie having one driver too many in 2001. All great stuff, but it’s not a golf course to love – the houses around the golf course are intrusive and Colt’s improvements and the subsequent R & A tweaking have done nothing to endear the golf course to the hearts of most players.
And finally on to the magnificent Ocean Course at Kiawah for the final major of the year. (PGA of America – please stop with “Glory’s Last Shot”). I first played Kiawah after the 1991 Ryder Cup and it was hands down the hardest golf course in America – we played off the secret tees making the golf course over 8,000 aided by 210cc metal woods and I may not have broken 90! In 1997 I was the Commercial Director at The World Cup, won by the Irish team of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley and the course was considerably easier than at the Ryder Cup. Since that time the magnificent Sanctuary has been built, the 18th improved by moving it closer to the ocean and the rest of the golf course made more playable for the average resort guest. Don’t get me wrong, when the wind blows at The Ocean, it is as good as it gets and a whole lot of fun to boot! It will be a fitting golf course to end to the Majors season.