Tour Confidential: Tiger the Course Designer

October 21, 2014

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Tiger Woods recently toured Bluejack National outside Houston, which will likely be his first U.S. course design when it opens next year. Many great champions have gone into the design business. Which former player’s courses do you like the best, and what do you expect from Tiger as a course designer?

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Bluejack National, named for a local species of oak, will be his first U.S. course, but his first course design likely to open will actually be Diamante’s El Cardonal, which is still on pace to open in mid-December of this year in Mexico. Tiger has told me on several occasions that he favors family-friendly, walk-able courses with an emphasis on options, visibility and variety and a minimum of forced carries and lost balls. He’s really fond of St. Andrews and Pinehurst No. 2 and the ground-game features. Look for that to be a hallmark of his designs. As for former players, I like Ben Crenshaw’s designs done in collaboration with Bill Coore. They display incredible imagination, with especially clever contouring on and around the greens.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tillinghast, Ross and MacDonald were all good players who played in national championships, but I’m going with C.B. McD., for National Golf Links. Among the kids, Crenshaw. As for Tiger Woods, I am ready to be pleasantly surprised. A good architect can put himself in the shoes of other people. I have never known Woods to have that ability, but I don’t pretend to know him.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Ben Crenshaw and Tom Weiskopf have done the most playable and interesting courses. I have no idea what to expect from Tiger, because how much of the design will be his and how much will be his corporate underlings? 

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I’m sure Tiger will be fine as a designer, and it’ll be interesting to see how his playing career affects his business. Would one more major title double his design fee? It seems possible. The Old Course is No. 1 on my personal playlist, so that makes Old Tom Morris, who redesigned the 1st and 18th holes, my favorite player-architect. Tiger is playing for second.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Bill Coore does the heavy lifting, but Ben Crenshaw has his name stamped on some of the best public-access courses I’ve played, (Lost Farm, Streamsong Red, Cuscowilla, among others). As for Tiger, if he designs courses suited to his own game, his work will have to accommodate the two-way miss.

2. The World Golf Hall of Fame announced its class of 2015: players David Graham, Mark O’Meara, and Laura Davies, and course designer A.W. Tillinghast. What did you think of the class and were any worthies snubbed?

VAN SICKLE: When the Hall of Fame took the vote away from professional golf journalists and gave it to a board of celebrity rubber-stampers, I lost interest in who gets inducted. Graham and O’Meara didn’t look like they were ever going to get in with a modest 24 PGA Tour wins between them. Davies was long overdue. But at this rate, a 10-win career will soon be considered Hall-worthy.   

SENS: No glaring snubs come to mind, in part because the Hall had such lax criteria for so many years. By the current standards, these inductees all make sense, but I don’t think anyone is going to walk by Mark O’Meara’s plaque and feel as if they’re stepping in the shadow of history. And that’s the World Golf Hall of Fame’s problem in a nutshell. Compare it to Cooperstown, which for all its problems with steroids, is meant to recognize sustained greatness. Should a very solid career punctuated by one standout season suffice? I’m not so sure.

PASSOV: Solid class and well-deserved, given some of the recent Hall inductees, though it’s pretty clear that these aren’t A-List Hall-of-Famers. Tip of the hat to Davies, who had a stellar career (though it’s not quite over), and who helped elevate the Solheim Cup to relevance in the early days, but due to rigid LPGA Hall guidelines, she’ll likely never make that HOF. Also, with all due to respect to Mr. Tillinghast, if we’re talking about the impact they had on golf through their designs, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Pete Dye are equally deserving candidates — maybe even more so.

BAMBERGER: Good class and no snubs. All the worthies will get in in time, including Meg Mallon, Davis Love, and likely Ian Woosnam. Butch Harmon and Eddie Lowery I don’t know about. Jerry Ford should be in.

RITTER: Great selections all around. Laura Davies seemed especially overdue. Davis Love might have a small complaint, mostly because he’ll now have to wait until at least 2019, since Tiger will take his spot in the next round.

3. Tiger Woods turns 40 in December 2016, so he’ll be eligible for the HOF’s next class in 2017. Which PGA Tour players younger than Tiger Woods but older than Rory McIlroy will be eventual Hall of Famers?

RITTER: The guys in that age 25-38 window with multiple majors are probably the favorites — Kaymer and Bubba. I can also see Adam Scott and Justin Rose playing themselves in. Everyone else feels like a long shot. Maybe Zach Johnson (38) can win four more titles and/or bag another big one. Maybe Luke Donald becomes more clutch in majors. Maybe Dustin Johnson turns his life around and his career rebounds with it. It’s not a long list.  

PASSOV: Adam Scott is a slam-dunk with one more major, which I think he’ll get, but I think he’ll get in anyway, based on his career money and his international record. After that? Vexing. Sergio Garcia is next, even without a major. If Monty can get in without one, Sergio is deserving. Finally, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer have to get in eventually. Both have two majors already. A couple more wins apiece means enshrinement.  

SENS: I’d put my money on Justin Rose and Adam Scott.

VAN SICKLE: Padraig Harrington should get in with three majors. But predicting who belongs in the Hall and who gets in the Hall are two different things. The Tour has been inducting so many Famers in order to produce a TV show that pretty much everybody you ever thought of is going to get into the Hall eventually. There is no suspense. They’re all going to get in. Maybe even John Daly.

BAMBERGER: Dustin Johnson. What a talent. All he needs is another 12-15 wins and a couple majors. Or maybe just one. Of course, he has to return to golf first. 

4. Billy Horschel added his voice to post-Ryder Cup criticism of the PGA of America, saying this week that while the PGA of America does “a heck of a job with the PGA professionals around the country,” when it comes to the PGA Tour “they don’t get it because they’re not out here on a regular basis.” Is the PGA of America too out of touch with the pro game for the Ryder Cup? Should the PGA Tour take a more active role in the process?

VAN SICKLE: The PGA of America’s goal regarding the Ryder Cup is to make as much money as possible. Winning is simply a perk that comes along with it, although not very often anymore. Horschel has a point. Why would an organization whose mission is to support and advance its members, club professionals, be adept at herding Tour players? It’s not all that adept at running its own PGA Championship. (See Kiawah Island for details.)

PASSOV: I disagree. The Ryder Cup belongs to the PGA of America. It’s an exhibition. It yields huge amounts of cash and generates incredible interest. Generally, the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship run like clockwork. So we lost again. We got outplayed, by better players, on their home turf. They don’t need more involvement from the PGA Tour. For that matter, however, we need less involvement from the PGA of America. We need a captain to make some pairings. We’re not choosing an Ebola czar.    

SENS: With all due respect to Horschel and other sensitive souls out there, I’m not sure there’s really all that much ‘to get.’ What is the PGA of America supposed to do, gather them all together for trust-falls and get-acquainted name games? 

BAMBERGER: It’s really about the same thing as an Augusta member running the Masters and making its rules decisions. In that Woods ruling debacle at Augusta in 2013, the rallying cry was that Tour officials would have handled it the right way. And that’s likely true. But I wouldn’t want to see the Tour takeover the Ryder Cup or have more of a voice in the Masters for that matter. Dysfunction, or imperfect function, makes the world more interesting.

5. TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas had spectator swimming pools at the finishing holes for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Good idea? What else should the Tour’s fall events do to boost attendance?

VAN SICKLE: I don’t see swimming pools as a way to attract more spectators. Take a lesson from the Phoenix Open and start building serious luxury skyboxes. Golf is a challenging spectator sport. Walking along to watch shots isn’t for everyone. Sitting in a luxury box with great food and a bar and TVs works in every sport and it works in Phoenix.

RITTER: Fans who pay hard-earned money to watch tournament golf deserve a world-class spectating experience. Swimming pools are a great idea. So are water slides, lazy rivers and those big-wave tsunami pools. I have just one concern: the pH levels, with an emphasis on the “P.” They need to post pool pH levels on the scoreboards right alongside the tournament leaders, so everyone has up-to-the-minute information. Golf scores and pH levels can turn quickly on a hot afternoon. Until those numbers are accessible, I’ll be in the grandstands.

SENS: Boxing round-girls as scorecard carriers. Does that identify me as a philistine? 

PASSOV: I’m not sure we need booze and swimming pools mixing at live sporting events, but I guess it works pretty well at Arizona Diamondbacks games, so splash away! To boost attendance further, I like the Greenbrier’s idea of awarding cash prizes to fans who are present during an ace, or offering giveaway incentives tied the sponsor or the city — the way Quicken Loans offers to pay somebody’s mortgage after a hole-in-one by a pro. Give me extra reason to go, since I won’t be witnessing the game’s real stars.

BAMBERGER: I am not a good person to ask. I like an off-season.

6. Speaking of Vegas, has picked the 13 Unluckiest Breaks in Golf History. What’s the unluckiest break you ever saw on the golf course?

VAN SICKLE: Hands-down it’s got to be luckless Joe Daley at Q-school when his putt went in, bounced off the bottom of the cup and came back out. He missed by one. That was awful.

BAMBERGER: Joe Daley and his Tour school putt that was in and out. You gotta see the clip. All it cost him was a Tour card.

PASSOV: Locked in a tight duel late in the round with my best friend Brad back in 1980 at Rolling Hills Golf Course in Tempe, Arizona, I pulled my drive. It hit a rock in the desert and caromed out-of-bounds into the Arabian Oryx exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo. Suffering from a lack of funds at the time, I endeavored to find — and perhaps retrieve my ball — but when we encountered a rattlesnake slithering in the rough, on the edge of the desert, I wisely, if reluctantly, conceded the hole and eventually lost the match.  

SENS: A buddy of mine once shanked a drive in Myrtle Beach. The shot rocketed across a wetland area and knocked a blue heron out of the air. The heron fell into the water and thrashed around momentarily before being taken into a death roll by an alligator. Terrible break for the bird, and another blemish on golf’s environmental record.

RITTER: In a 1995 high school match I was getting drubbed by the top player on the opposing team, when the kid played a shot from a greenside bunker and on his follow-through struck a hornet’s nest inside the lip. He was swarmed, suffered multiple stings, withdrew from the tournament, and (I think) had to be rushed to the hospital. But don’t worry, golf fans, the story has a happy ending: I won the match.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.