There have been a few times in our sport’s history where it seemed the world held its breath to watch golf. It likely happened in 1930 when Jones capped off the unthinkable ‘Grandslam’ win. Again in Augusta, Georgia, when Nicklaus awakened from hibernation at the age of 46 to win his sixth green jacket. Most recently, Tiger in 2008 as he hobbled to victory on a torn knee. It’s moments like these that become the greatest marketing campaign our sport could ever get.
There’s arguably no other sport where the perception of a level playing field exists — even the early duffer can sink a 40 footer every now and then. While with other sports, it becomes certain at point, playing baseball at Wrigley or dunking on Lebron is unlikely.
Despite our game’s significant advantages in appeal, it takes considerable effort to understand and appreciate its depths. The idea that you can be just as good as Tiger on one hole won’t resonate with the average golfer until they’ve played enough to develop confidence and skill. The feeling of striking the perfect shot is addicting. Yet, knowing that perfect shot is still in you after the third duffed shot in a row is the ultimate enigma. But golf is in a decline; if it were a stock, Wall Street would be yelling “sell!”
Even a polished Power Point presentation couldn’t disprove the numbers. “Rounds played per year” is the standard barometer of measuring the sports popularity, however a much more alarming data point comes from a source most of us use every day: Google. Search terms with the word “golf” have steadily dropped year after year since 2004. It’s down 40% since 04’. You can see below, each summer, the game hits its annual peak, falls in the winter months, only to rise again during Masters’ time (indicated by bump in April).
Sand Hills Golf Club
Location: Mullen, NE
Architect: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw
Year Constructed: 1994
Played: July 22-25, 2010
Sand Hills Golf Club is located in Mullen, Nebraska which according to the 2000 census has a population of 491. Unfortunately, I don’t know a single one of those 491 folks. Even if I did, I’m not sure it would help as nearly all of Sand Hills’ members do not live in Mullen. The club’s membership is mostly national members and therefore spread all over the country (probably the world). When you couple the spread out geography with the fact that the club has less than 200 members, meeting a member becomes quite the proverbial needle in the haystack .
Sand Hills Golf Club is the brainchild of one man, Dick Youngscap. Mr. Youngscap is a Lincoln based developer who was presented with an 8,000 acre parcel of land in 1990 that he thought might be ideal for a golf course. To put the enormity of this property into perspective, my home course is built on a piece of land that is roughly 150 acres. Theoretically, a person with 8,000 acres would have enough land to build more than 100 golf courses. The sand hills are an enormous region of Nebraska and undeveloped land is abundant. The photo below is a map that hangs in the clubhouse which has the sand hills region highlighted in brown. This shows exactly how large of an area we are talking about (it must be equal to ~1/5 of the state).
Merion Golf Club (East Course)
Location: Ardmore, PA
Architect: Hugh Wilson
Year Constructed: 1912
Played: June 20, 2008
Merion Golf Club . . . so much history has happened here that a book could be written on that alone. With a current count of 17 USGA events having been contested over Merion’s East Course that is more than any other course in the United States. Bobby Jones’ first major was the 1916 US Amateur played here, he won the US Amateur here in 1924 and of course his historic US Amateur win for the Grand Slam in 1930. Ben Hogan executed a miraculous comeback to the game here at the 1950 US Open after a near death automobile accident just 1 year earlier. Lee Trevino defeated Jack Nicklaus in a dramatic 18 hole play off to become the US Open champion in 1971. As much great history as there is, the story is far from finished for Merion. The USGA will be coming back to Merion for the Walker Cup in 2009 and the US Open will return in 2013.
Until 1941 when the club changed it’s name to the current version the club was known as the Merion Cricket Club. There are two courses here, the West and the more famous East. The club was originally founded in 1896 and played on the original golf course in neighboring Haverford. In 1910 the members decided to build a new course and sent member Hugh Wilson, a Scottish immigrant, to Scotland and England for 7 months to study golf course design. He returned with a head full of ideas and proceeded to layout the East Course which opened in 1912 and then the West Course which opened in 1914. That is a pretty incredible turn around time for getting courses built considering that it was done without the help of modern machinery in those days. Another amazing feat is that the East Course covers just 126 acres which is nothing compared to other golf courses. Augusta National covers almost triple that acreage at 365. If you want to get a chance at playing a Hugh Wilson course you have very few options. The only other courses he designed besides Merion’s East and West are Cobb’s Creek and the last 4 holes of Pine Valley. Continue reading “Top 100 Courses: #7 Merion Golf Club (East Course)”
There is little that can better spice up a good golf game than waging a little bet with friends. Most of us keep it small and simple, betting a couple of bucks or a round of drinks. However, golf folklore is infamous for costly, outrageous, and just plain wacky bets.
Have you ever bet that you could make a hole in fewer strokes than your partner? So did Sir David Moncreiffe and John Whyte-Melville in 1870, but they probably played with a little higher stakes than your average bet. The records of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews report that the bet was literally life or death and the loser had to die. Although the records omit the outcome of the match, it is recorded that 13 years later, John Whyte-Melville gave a speech where he lamented “the causes that led to…” the death of Sir David Moncreiffe.
Such wagers in early Scottish golf were not uncommon, especially among the aristocratic class. Restrictions were even formally set by the Honourable Company in the mid-18th century to limit the amount one could bet on a game of golf, but were not followed as elite gentlemen continued to play for large sums.
In the early 20th century, golf bets became less extreme but far more unusual. There are stories of a man who bet he could win a game wearing a suit of armor, and another of a man who bet he could score under 90 in a dense fog.
There are also tales of golf debauchery in order to make sure a bet to swings in one’s favor. Infamous gambler, Titanic Thompson, bet that he could sink a hole in one 40 feet away. His poor opponent probably gawked in amazement as he made it in, unaware that Titanic payed a greenskeeper to lay a track straight to the hole. Don’t get any ideas!
More about Titanic Thompson, the man who could “sink” everybody.
The game and cigarettes have always had an interesting relationship. After reading Bernard Darwin’s essay titled The Golfing Cigarette, a post was warranted. Growing up, cigarettes were a part of my experience – the long drag remains in my father’s pre-shot routine.
In Darwin’s essay, he conveys 5 (of many) different types of cigarettes on the golf course. They are:
There is the one that a man lights on the tee just to steady him and help him over the first hole.
There is the one, particularly applicable to medal rounds, which follows a disaster in a bunker leading to a six or a seven.
There is, in a match, the one that is felt to be absolutely necessary when a nice little winning lead of three up or so has suddenly been reduced to a single hole.
There is the cigarette to be smoked at the turn, irrespective of the state of the game, but because the turn is a definite occasion and an occasion calls for tobacco.
Finally and most blissful is the dormy cigarette…
Golf and cigarette’s relationship has been like any other; good times and bad times ebb and flow. In the early years of competitive golf, it was viewed as disrespectful to smoke in a match. Americans slowly morphed the perception as even the great Bobby Jones took a few drags during critical moments.
Unquestionably the pinnacle of golf and cigarette’s relationship was during the commercialized boom years of golf. The years of post-war golf seemed to curb the stigma and when the likes of Ben Hogan and others made it a habit, the act was more accepted; proven by the King’s promotion of LM’s (image below).
The relationship of cigarettes and golf today is still strong, but more subtle. Although, an opponent lighting up a Camel is in no sign of disrespect, it’s more likely to be perceived as a weakness. Vernacular has even changed. Smoking cigarettes, is no longer called smoking cigarettes, but ‘ripping nails’ is just as easily interpreted in the golfing elite’s terminology.
Cigarettes and golf will always be married together. Both need each other: cigarettes because without golf, there would be less moments needed for them, and golf, because without cigarettes, the game would be that much more difficult.
The chart below shows the cycles of greatness on the PGA tour since its inception in 1916 through 2004. The chart includes 57 players that have won at least 15 events on tour, as well as the most dominant players, whose rise and fall are graphed out over time. Click on the link to be taken to a page where you can zoom in and view the details of the chart (and can also buy a print, if you would like).
While a lot has been recorded about Scotland and the history of golf, but long before St. Andrews existed a more primitive form of golf emerged in present-day Netherlands and Flanders in the 13th century. Colf, as it was called, was played with wooden clubs and balls.
The game was not played on an actual course, but was played in the streets, churchyards, and open fields. However, this sometimes resulted in the breaking of windows and the hitting of innocent bystanders. When this became a major issue, the game was banned from the towns and relegated to open fields.
The rules of the game are largely unknown, but a lot can be garnered from dutch paintings of the time. It was probably a team game with one target. The target could be a tree, a post, or even a hole, and the goal was to reach it in the fewest number of strokes.
In the 16th and 17th century, the Little Ice Age forced colvers to play on small frozen bodies of water. The colf ice fields were very crowded, so the nature of the game evolved from a distance oriented game to a more target oriented one. The conditions of colf during this time required specialized equipment, like Scottish cleeks and leather balls.