Gerry Dulac: Pinehurst experiment could blow up in USGA's face
April 26, 2014 10:26 PM
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Fans can expect to see Champions Tour newcomer Miguel Angel Jimenez at Fox Chapel at the end of June.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
San Francisco Giants pitchers Matt Cain, left, and Ryan Vogelsong talk with LPGA golfers Paula Creamer, right, and Michelle Wie Friday night at AT&T Park. Creamer and Wie were on hand as part of a promotional appearance tied in with the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in Daly City, Calif.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The idea of playing the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in back-to-back weeks at Pinehurst No. 2 might seem to be a strange and potentially troubling format, fraught with endless possibilities of logistical nightmares.
But the concept was hatched several years ago at Oakmont Country Club. That's when Mike Davis, executive director of the United States Golf Association, was setting up the course for the 2010 U.S. Women's Open, three years after he did the same for the 2007 U.S. Open won by Angel Cabrera.
"I just remember hearing so many comments, questions, of, how are the women going to handle Oakmont," Davis said. "I always felt that those were really unfair questions, because it just showed almost a lack of appreciation of how good the women play the game."
Even though the championships were three years apart , Davis said he tried to set up Oakmont the same way for the women as he did for the men.
"We had greens that were 14½, 15 [on the Stimpmeter] for both weeks," Davis said during a news conference at Pinehurst No. 2 Monday. "The women handled it beautifully. Same fairway widths, same relative length on distance. It was great."
Then he added, "So I think given the fact that these are back-to-back, it's going to showcase I think just how good the females can play the game."
Playing the U.S. Women's Open immediately following the men's national championship on the same course is a disaster waiting to happen on many fronts. At the very least, it is a disservice to the best female players in the world who deserve to have their own venue, their own spotlight, far away from the enormous attention devoted to the U.S. Open.
But it's more than that. How about being asked to play on a course that has just handled 156 players for at least four days and galleries of up to 40,000 people for seven days?
What about the many divots in the fairways? And U.S. Open greens get stressed to the limit for one week, how will they stay alive for two? Especially if the USGA plans to use almost the exact same hole locations for each championship, including the so-called "Payne Stewart location" on the 18th green?
"I mentioned at the LPGA players meeting a few weeks ago, I said, well, divots are just part of the game," Davis said. "I think half the players scowled at me and half of them laughed.
"But, in that vein, what I would tell you is that, if you think about it, if we want the women hitting roughly the same clubs into greens as the men, their drive zones are going to be a little closer to the greens to begin with. So we don't think divots -- well, we really don't think divots -- are going to be part of the story."
As for the greens being stressed for two weeks in the North Carolina heat, Davis said, "Some of it we can't necessarily control. If we get two straight weeks of 95-degree weather and it's just oppressive, listen, it doesn't matter whether it's resort play, the greens are going to stress a little bit.
One final thought: What if there is an 18-hole playoff on Monday? That further cuts into the time the women can prepare for what is supposed to be their most important major championship.
Well, the USGA plans to accommodate by letting the women play practice rounds beginning at 6:45 a.m., in advance of a noon starting time for the playoff, and after the playoff has started. On Sunday, the women can use the practice facilities at Pinehurst No. 2, but only in the afternoon.
Davis lauded the changes at Pinehurst for being cost-effective -- pointing up that the second-most expensive item in a golf course's budget is bunker maintenance.
At Pinehurst, the sandy, waste areas that have replaced the rough along the fairways will make it cheaper for the resort to maintain. They will not need groomed, edged, raked or maintained. Davis said it's a "great statement" for golf.
"Think about that -- it's a hazard," Davis said. "And golf courses are spending huge sums of money on maintaining bunkers. But this idea of spending hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on an annual basis to maintain something that's supposed to be a hazard and to have every single lie consistent, it's not something that's good, it's not something that's sustainable, for the game."
Sam Depe III, owner of Hickory Heights Golf Club in South Fayette, would agree.
Since he bought the 18-hole public facility five years ago, Depe has removed 32 bunkers, many of which were the steep-faced sand bunkers that were installed when the course was designed by Michael Hurdzan.
The reason: Those bunkers were maintenance nightmares, Depe said, because the sand would wash to the bottom of the hazard every time there was a hard rain. Their removal not only saved money, it made the course more player-friendly and improved the pace of play.
"It only made financial sense," said Depe, a PGA professional whose course has improved dramatically under superintendent Mark Yates. "They were tough to maintain."
Age no factor
Bernhard Langer, 56, wasn't surprised he was one of six players 50 and older to make the cut at the Masters. Or that he finished tied for eighth. Or that he made five birdies on the back nine on Sunday when the seven players who finished under par combined to make only 10.
"Just because we're Champions Tour players doesn't mean we can't play golf," Langer said. "The golf ball doesn't know how old we are."
Five of those six players -- Langer, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Fred Couples, Larry Mize and Sandy Lyle -- are expected to be in the field for the 31st Constellation Senior Players Championship at the Fox Chapel Golf Club June 26-29.
Jimenez, who finished fourth at Augusta National, is not yet eligible for the Senior TPC. But, after winning his Champions Tour debut last week at the Greater Gwinnett Championship, it should only be a matter of time before he qualifies.
"Certainly I'm coming back," Langer said in a recent interview. "It's a wonderful venue for us. It's a fantastic golf course and they treated us wonderfully. Everybody looks forward to coming back there."
Dissa and data
■ Former Allegheny assistant Tony Traci has been named head professional at South Hills CC, replacing Jeff Ellis. Ellis is director of instruction at the re-opened Cool Springs Golf & Sports Complex in Bethel Park. Former South Hills assistant Anthony Colamarino has been named head professional at Timber Ridge GC.
■ The 36th annual Young Life Golf Classic is May 19 at Willowbrook CC in Apollo. Entry is $225 and includes dinner and gift. Call 412-242-1625 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com; twitter: @gerrydulac. Listen to "The Golf Show with Gerry Dulac" every Thursday 6-7:30 p.m. on 970 ESPN.
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