This column features recollections of the author’s 36 years as a golf writer. These installments stem from his many travels and experiences, which led to a gradual understanding that the game has many intriguing components, especially its people.
Here’s a look at golf’s future and past.
Virtual Tours Launched
Two new professional golf tours are underway. Though neither involves “real” golf courses, actual cash can be won.
NEXT Golf Tour is a virtual tour created and overseen by the Danish company, Trackman, which manufactures the eponymous golf simulator and launch-monitor system. A recent online tournament was “held” at The Concession Golf Club. Its $47,000 purse was funded by Trackman and participants’ entry fees. Most contestants – both men and women – play on second- and third-level pro tours around the world.
NEXT can be viewed as a developmental cousin of TGL, another new high-tech league under development by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy that will debut in January 2024. This endeavor will have six three-player teams featuring PGA Tour players.
Besides Tiger and Rory, TGL commitments include such headliners as Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Billy Horschel, Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, Max Homa, Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, and Matt Fitzpatrick. As of mid-March 2023, the PGA Tour-backed circuit touts that its players have amassed 181 PGA Tour wins, 27 major titles and 880 weeks at No. 1 on the World Golf Rankings (guess who’s responsible for the bulk of those numbers).
TGL events will be played in a custom-built arena now under construction at Palm Beach State College in Florida, four hours from the Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach. Fans will attend these Monday night matches over a 15-week regular season, followed by playoffs and a championship match.
“Having an arena like this, which we’ve never done before, is something where we are going to have excitement, we’re going to have something different, something that is passionate,” said Tiger Woods in a PGA Tour press release.
Players on the NEXT Golf Tour needn’t travel anywhere. There are none of the typical financial burdens of airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms or caddies. The entry fee is $130 per event. To compete, players download the Trackman app and play the virtual tournament course at any indoor golf venue with the right equipment. Those with the proper Trackman set-up can even play at home.
“What Tiger and Rory are doing with their TGL series, it’s an entertainment vehicle and revenue stream for guys at the top of the game. We wanted to do something that was more, say, grassroots and from the bottom up,” Bernd Linde, vice president of marketing for Trackman told Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski (https://www.golfdigest.com/story/next-golf-tour-provides-legitmate-competition-for-real-money-via-virtual-setting).
“If we wanted to put $100,000 out there in prize fund, we doubt Rory or Justin Thomas or any of the elite players would get super excited. But it means a lot, it means the world, to the players we have. This is about giving men and women a way to earn a little money and chase their dreams.”
The winner of the February 12 event “at” famed Medinah near Chicago was Denmark’s Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen, a former University of Oregon player and now a member of the Nordic Golf League. Nielsen earned $19,351 for her victory. “It’s fun to play against the men, to see the leaderboard and [know] you can play among them,” Nielsen said in a wire service report. “And then, especially, to win it, that’s very, very big for me. I haven’t really realized it yet, but I think I will in a few weeks when the money comes.”
For information about Next Golf Tour, visit https://www.nextgolftour.com/. For more about TGL, visit https://tglgolf.com/.
Rolling Back the Ball
On March 13, the USGA and R&A announced plans to limit the alarming distances that top players are now propelling golf balls. The hope is that, through new testing standards, current ball performance will be reduced by 20 yards or more.
The governing organizations will soon start their “due diligence” in discussions with the world’s best players. By the end of 2023 they’ll decide whether to proceed further and, if so, the provision will go into effect on January 1, 2026. If implemented, a “model local rule” will be a guideline for any level of tournament that wants to adopt it. At this point in time, the rule will be applied only for top-level professional golf competitions such as golf’s four major championships.
These “bifurcation” proposals have tried, and failed, before. Jack Nicklaus has long preached the need to “rein in” modern golf balls as technological equipment advancements which, coupled with stronger and fitter players, have rendered shorter – and many of the world’s classic – golf courses obsolete.
Golf-ball manufacturers have been notified about these proposed changes. It’ll be interesting to see whether this most recent “rein-in” proposal is implemented, or sputters well short of the target . . . like a vintage Dunlop golf ball.
Kiwis Getting Amazing Coastal Course; Another Par-3 Track Coming to Bandon Dunes
Eight years after the unveiling of the highly touted Tara Iti (https://www.taraiti.com/), a Tom Doak design an hour north of Auckland, comes the neighboring South Course at Te Arai Links (https://tearai.com/). Set to officially debut in October 2023, Te Arai was crafted by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
Both courses occupy sandy stretches of linksland within a burgeoning resort envisioned as “a 17-mile Drive for the Southern Hemisphere,” a nod to the famed golf-rich area on California’s Monterey Peninsula. In addition to stellar golf courses created by two much-heralded architectural entities, guests have access to 75 suites, cottages, and villas; a 2-acre putting course; spa and fitness center; dining areas; surfing; horseback riding; local hikes; and fishing.
“We invite the Monterey Peninsula comparison because we believe it’s apt,” said Jim Rohrstaff, a partner in Te Arai Links and its managing director. With partner Ric Kayne, Rohrstaff was also part of the development team at Tara Iti, ranked #2 among all golf courses located outside the U.S.
“Our good friend Mike Keiser [developer of Bandon Dunes; see below] believes the South Course has as much ocean frontage as any golf course in the world. It’s that connectivity with the sea that distinguishes the South Course from most links’ experiences, from the golf experience in Monterey, even from Tara Iti just up the shoreline,” Rohrstaff added in a press release. “On the South Course, the beach is just so close. There’s the visual sensation of seeing the waves crashing. But golfers can also hear them crashing – on more than half the holes.”
For this author’s golf experiences in New Zealand, visit https://www.golfcoursetrades.com/part-1-golf-in-the-land-of-beauty-and-sheep/ and https://www.golfcoursetrades.com/part-2-of-down-under-series-new-zealand-supers-share-kinship-with-american-cousins/.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean, a seventh course is underway at the ever-expanding Bandon Dunes along Oregon’s southern coast. The 19-hole, par-3 and as-yet unnamed short track was designed by the Canadian architectural firm of (Rod) Whitman, (Dave) Axland and (Keith) Cutten, known as WAC. The new layout, now under construction, is being built west of the Bandon Trails course atop sand dunes overlooking the ocean. Sporting holes ranging from 68 to 151 yards, Bandon’s upcoming attraction will open in October 2024.
From the Future to the Past
In an earlier “Making the Rounds” column (https://www.golfcoursetrades.com/club-histories-making-the-rounds-part-20/) I mentioned being involved in the writing and publication of a few centennial books for private golf clubs. Now, after delving much deeper into these projects, I determined that the archival efforts of golf clubs vary greatly.
All I can say about this is: “The more the merrier.” In other words, the more materials saved over the years – such as old photos, news clippings, newsletters, tournament souvenirs (programs, badges, results), club events, course and clubhouse changes, and members’ stories/anecdotes – the better.
One of the histories I’m working was greatly aided by the prescience of early-day members. In 1924, the year the club was founded, members began saving and properly storing early records as well as the above items. Another, sadly, dropped the ball on this. The latter underwent several clubhouse remodels, during which some critical, one-of-a-kind materials were thrown away – the worse possible outcome for a historian and the club itself.
Writers create the narrative, which can be considered the story’s “skeleton.” Photos – whether historical or contemporary – and reproducible (scanned) memorabilia provide the essential elements that “flesh out” a private club’s body.
So below are a few tips for preserving your club’s history, regardless of how old it is now. It’s incredible how fast time flies.
- Do your best to place into safekeeping what might be considered “trivial” but unique items at the time it was produced.
- Be sure to take photos of the course while it evolves, as well as the people, plants and animals that embody the inherent nature of the place.
- Interview and photograph particularly memorable and/or important folks who’ve stood out and strengthened the club’s culture over the years.
- Document how your course has adapted to industry trends in equipment (maintenance) and the service sector.
People are so consumed with “today” that they often ignore “tomorrow,” a time that one hopes will be endowed with ample documentation to reflect what happened before.
Part 23 Correction:
Part 23 (https://www.golfcoursetrades.com/another-peek-at-recent-golf-news-making-the-rounds-part-23/) had an incorrect reference for the source of its “Preaching to the Choir” segment. The source was not socialgolfer.com, but www.socalgolfer.org, an official SCGA Member Club. Please accept my apology.
Jeff Shelley has written and published nine books as well as numerous articles for print and online media over his lengthy career. Among his titles are three editions of the book, “Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest.” The Seattle resident was the editorial director of Cybergolf.com from 2000-15. He also co-founded the Northwest Golf Media Association in 1995. For seven years he served as the board president of First Green, an educational outreach program that is now part of the Golf Course Superintendents of America and Environmental Institute for Golf.