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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"It's just a bit of a mess,” said Rory McIlroy.

A very accurate quote by the world number one. The mess he is talking about is putter anchoring - the hottest topic in golf right now. Following the decision, a couple of months ago, by the USGA and R&A to ban anchoring the putter in 2016, every golfer on the planet seems to have an opinion. The governors of the rules strangely allowed a 90-day window to hear opinions from professional tours, amateur bodies and anyone who could type or write. It's almost as if they didn't have the strength of their own convictions and this hesitancy has opened a huge can of worms.

With only a few days to go before the 90-day window expired, the politically trained Commish, Tim Finchem came forward with the views of the PGA Tour. There has been much discussion on the pro tours amongst the players, including those guys like Tim Clark and Carl Petersson who have used anchored long putters for years. Some are opposed and some are for it, but is seems the majority are against the ban. Cue The Tim!

And when did The Commish choose to announce the defection - yes, that's right on the NBC telecast during the final of the Accenture World Matchplay. Oh, the sponsor must have been thrilled at that decision, but clearly Finchem was making a big statement and on live TV. He knew what he was doing and the coming days and weeks are tantamount to a stand off between the organizations. The governing bodies on one side, perhaps joined by The European Tour, Augusta National and on the other side The PGA Tour and the PGA Of America who are supporting the Commish. Could this really be the start of bifurcation? But not as anticipated - this would be bifurcation between tournaments!

So, potentially a player couldn't use an anchored putter in the Masters, then back to the Tour with a different anchored stroke, over to The Open Championship and no anchored stroke, onto the PGA Championship and anchoring again....if he couldn't putt well before, this will really get in his kitchen! Clearly, some kind of solution will emerge, but I don't see the Commish backing down any time soon, so this is the first real test of Mike Davis' leadership at the USGA. Watch this space!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Streamsong - First impressions of Red and Blue (and the gorgeous clubhouse)

The first thing I noticed on arrival at Streamsong, near, (actually, not near anything) in Florida was the magnificent clubhouse. Contemporary, but not over bearing, the architect has made gorgeous use of natural materials and created a stunning building. It is located between 3 massive dunes and Alberto Alfonso's building is befitting of this new development that may well be the first serious contender to Bandon resort in Oregon in many years. Of course they will need more than two courses, but with thousands of acres available that is surely a matter of when, not if.

Inside the building is warm, inviting and service levels are first class, in keeping with everything Kemper Sports (the managers of the property) does in golf. Check in was great and our caddie for the day, Rich was a gem. It's somewhat disconcerting having a mini-tour player as a caddy, but he calmly and kindly put up with our tops and shanks and really made the day. The new 216-room hotel is under construction in the distance. The hotel is quite a way from the clubhouse and the red and blue courses and begs the question "Why build it so far away unless one or two more courses are on the way?" There are currently 12 guest rooms in the clubhouse, but securing one of those requires an advance reservation many months out - we tried!

So, the real reason we traveled 84 miles south of Orlando was to play golf. We began on Coore and Crenshaw's Red Course. The first tee is 30 yards from the back door of the clubhouse, right next to the large putting green. The condition of both courses was exceptional, with the greens stimping at about 12, which with the sloping greens was perfect. The superintendant and his team have done a remarkable job growing the golf course in and it's hard to believe Streamsong has just opened. On the way to the first tee we walked by the "Bye Hole", which a nice glimpse of what is to come. Here it is:

I have been fortunate to play many Coore and Crenshaw courses from Bandon Trails in the west to Hidden Creek in the east and I am a big fan. I suggest you add "Red" to their growing list of must play golf courses. There is plenty of room from the tee and I used every club in the bag. That said, prepare yourself, because this is also the hardest golf course from C and C I have ever played. My golf game these days is what I call fragile, so bring your game! Missing the wide fairways you will still find the ball and have a recovery shot from the sand. If you move the ball back a couple inches in your stance it really is not a hard recovery shot. Here's one example of a journey I made into the sand!

The greens complexes are fair and a number of holes are reminiscent of their opening design in Nebraska, the majestic Sand Hills. Here's a memorable and much photographed hole on the Red, the tough par three, 16th.

Following a quick (and excellent) lunch in the clubhouse we ventured up a huge dune to the first tee of the "Blue". This is a Tom Doak design. I'll start by saying I am a Doak fan and his Ballyneal course in Holyoke, Co is one of my top 10 courses in the world. So, I guess you know where this is going. You're right...this is not his best golf course and I suspect the main reason is he didn't have the best land to work with - most of that seems to have been used on C and C's "Red". For me the only stand out hole is the par three, 6th and even with this hole an awkward routing necessitates a walk back and forth across a wooden bridge to access the green. It also seemed to me that the left side of the green will require some work. The caddies said players regularly putt into the water hazard from the green...mmm, not good. That said this will be the most photographed hole on the course. The course is by no means easy, but it is much more forgiving on a player's game and I recommend playing "Red" and then "Blue" as we did - playing the closing nine on the Red with a tired swing will be very tough! Don't get me wrong, the "Blue" is a very good golf course - it's just not as good as the"Red"

Streamsong is a wonderful addition to the Field of Dreams philosophy of "build it and they will come" started by Mike Keiser at Bandon. It's miles from anywhere and a brave decision by the mining company, Mosaic to commit to building a first class resort. It provides great golf and a much easier travel alternative to Bandon and based on my observations of operations, the owners have a real winner on their hands. I expect more courses are in discussion on the property and Streamsong is going to provide the perfect winter destination for those from Chicago to New York looking for world-class golf and sunshine.

Here are another couple of photographs - looking at the clubhouse from the "Red"

We were blessed with gorgeous weather - 50 degrees warmer than D.C!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

MacDuff Monthly News

As more and more of you are reading our blog, perhaps you would like to receive our monthly e-newsletter. We talk about golf, cool products, books and much more. Just email us at nick@macduffconsulting.com with MacDuff News in the subject line and we'll add you to the list. You can see the February Issue that came out today - here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Romance of Golf Ball Names

Take a look at the picture above and observe the wonderfully inventive names used by the manufacturers back in the golden age of golf. The Ace, The Nimble Shilling, Tee Me and more. All romantic and fun names for the white orb. As a kid playing and growing up in the 70's some of these cool names were still in existence and I regularly played the Spalding Dot, Penfold Ace and the ubiquitous Dunlop 65 (named after Henry Cotton's remarkable score of 65 in the second round of the 1934 Open Championship at Royal St. Georges.) At that time my choice of golf ball was mainly dictated by what I found in the various ditches at North Hants Golf Club! I remember the sheer joy of finding a brand new Titleist in the trees and saving it for a special round - happy days! But I digress. In the last couple of decades the romance of golf ball names has all but disappeared - Pro V1, E5, B330, Tour iX dont conjur up much magic to me - as good as they all are technically.

It's interesting that TaylorMade, who have come up with many crazy names for their products in recent years have recently launched a golf ball with a name rather a mixture of consonants. It is called Lethal and though I haven't tried it, the name alone makes me want to give it a shot. Callaway also has their Diablo - a great name in my opinion. Let's hope that more of the manufacturers opt to add some more colorful names to their golf ball offerings - from a marketing perspective it's easier to build the brand with a name, rather than a bunch of numbers and letters. Consumers can then make an emotional connection to the name and build an affinity to a specific and interesting name.

Once more thing while I am on the subject - when will one of the golf ball manufacturers go old school and individually wrap the balls and package them in threes - what will that add to the cost - a couple of pennies? For those of you who don't remember wrapped golf balls - it was a special sensation unwrapping a new ball for a big game. It would be a great marketing differentiator and add some golden age romance to the game!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Slow Play - Keep It Moving People!

The USGA's new President, Glen Nager has been vocal recently about the curse of the game in America, namely slow play. It was the main topic in his recent speech at the USGA annual soiree and he was quoted as saying:

"Slow play has now become one of the most significant threats to the game's health" and "six hour rounds threaten to drive players away from the game"

Well, let's ignore the fact that new players are not coming to the game, so presumably he is talking about existing golfers leaving the game. But his point is well made, that slow play in America is an epidemic within club golfers. A recent experience highlights this fact - A group of us were at a wonderful golf course in the Pinehurst area, Tobacco Road. Now, we are all reasonable players and in front of us were two groups who literally could not hit the ball and despite our protestations with the clueless marshalls no one was asked to leave, no one was let through, no action whatsoever. And so after 5 1/2 hours for 13 holes we walked off. We raced to the airport, likely never to return.

This is fascinating on many levels.

1. How does a golf course not kick off players who can't actually play?
2. How does a golf course allow guys making $0 manage the golf course?
3. How does the Pro not know what is going on when his 0730 is still not in the clubhouse at 130?

Growing up playing golf in England and Scotland, it was the norm to walk the golf course comfortably in 3 hours. During tournaments (in the days when I could actually play!) rounds would creep up to 3 1/2 hours. This is still the case in the UK, the land of fewer carts, cheaper golf and less GPS devices.

So, the question is what happened and when did times start creeping up and up and is anyone to blame? And what can be done about it? Well, here are some random musings on these questions.

There's no doubt the professional tours are in part to blame - Tour players continue to take an age and the Oxford shirts at PVB just will not discipline anyone, even though everyone knows who the culprits are. Can you believe the last guy to get fined a shot was Glen Day (also known as All Day!) in 1995. Twenty years and no one has been out of position, not one...amazing!

I didn't grow up playing in a cart and for me it is THE worst possible way to play the game. I get it - they generate revenue and some people do need them. But if you have 2 good legs, get off your xxxx and walk - it's quicker and healthier. More and more clubs are giving players the option to walk or take a pull cart. And don't tell me carts are quicker than walking - they aren't!

I would posit that US golfers have considerably less knowledge of the etiquette of the game than those in other countries and this impacts the speed of play dramatically. No one is questioning your manhood if you let some one who is playing faster - everyone wins and yet is really happens here.

Maybe the "clubs for profit" model is to blame? Squeezing more tee times into an hour just to drive incremental revenue. Again, that model doesn't exist at most clubs in the UK as they are private member clubs without tee sheets and designed to end the year with $1 in the bank. They will gladly accept outside play, even at the very best, such as Muirfield, but you better keep up with the group in front or you really will be politely asked to leave.

Some organizations in golf have been trying for many years to address the problem addressed by Mr. Nager. Namely the American Junior Golf Association who have a strict tournament policy of ready golf, move onto the next tee when finished, tee off when you are ready regardless of who won the hole - all of which have contributed to them cutting 30-45 minutes from playing times and made for a more enjoyable game. I wish clubs would adopt a similar model - maybe the AJGA should rollout their tournament model in conjunction with the USGA to clubs across the country?

I think we all know there is no silver bullet here - it is going to take a concerted effort from everyone to speed up play and to make the game more enjoyable for playing partners and those behind you! It's great that Mr. Nager has chosen to highlight this huge problem during his tenure and use some of the USGA's considerable resources to create greater awareness and hopefully some practical solutions.

I have been vocal on this subject before - You can read my slow play blog from April of last year - The Curse of the Game and 5 Culprits here)