Global Golf Calendar

This week in golf

Champions Tour
June 25-28: U.S. Senior Open, Del Paso Country Club, Sacramento, Calif.

PGA Tour
June 25-28: Travelers Championship, TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Conn.

LPGA
Jume 26-28: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Rogers, Ark.

Out there

Grey Goatee Golf Association (3GA) Tour
July 11: 10th Annual Howl at the Canal, Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club, Union, Wash.

USGA
July 9-12: U.S. Women’s Open, Lancaster Country Club, Lancaster, Pa.

LPGA
July 9-12: U.S. Women’s Open, Lancaster Country Club, Lancaster, Pa.

It’s a wrap: Johnson’s frustration is Spieth’s elation

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Nobody around here minds that Jordan Spieth won the U.S. Open, but nobody likes the way Dustin Johnson lost it.

It looked like Spieth’s three-putt double-bogey on 17 would open the door for Johnson to slam it shut on his first major championship. Instead, he slammed the door on his finger. So “ouch”  was the word of the evening for Johnson, and what does he do to come back? Put a band-aid on it?

“I can’t seem to wrap my head around the finish of today,” Spieth said afterward. “I’ve tried to think about it since it ended and boy, I feel for Dustin. It’s the same feeling I had on 17; I just was able to have another hole to rebound.”

***

U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth meets the press

Open champion Spieth meets the press

Spieth said he got off the golf course by a TV screen with caddie Michael Greller while Johnson putted on 18.

“He just said, ‘Dude, be positive.’ I was sitting there going, ‘I think Dustin is going to make this, what did I do? How did I possibly let this happen?’” Spieth said.

“Michael said, ‘Be positive. You just never know.’ I was sitting with him when that second putt missed. My eyes were wide looking at the TV screen and he was silent as well. We didn’t really know what to do. He said, ‘Dude, give me a hug, you did it.’ It was really cool. It’s amazing.”

Greller, whose local ties run deep (he got married two years ago at Chambers Bay), downplayed his knowledge of the course where he once caddied:

“I’ve worked hard the last couple of weeks, but I haven’t been out here in five years. The course has changed. The guys that I’ve caddied for usually can’t break 90, or it’s myself playing and I can’t break 80. I’m sure Jordan’s being nice, but it comes down to Jordan just being one of the best players in the world.”

***

Spieth is the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones won the 1923 U.S. Open and the youngest to win two career majors since Gene Sarazen in 1922. He’s the sixth in history to win the U.S. Open and Masters tournament in the same year, joining Craig Wood, Ben Hogan (twice), Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

“That’s a piece of golf history,” Spieth said, “and as a golf historian, that’s very special. It gives me goose bumps.”

A last look at The Lone Fir Tree

The Lone Fir Tree

The Lone Fir Tree

It survived a working gravel and sand mine. It lived on through the abandoned site’s conversion to a championship golf course. It’s a Douglas fir tree, not very large or symmetrical, but now that the U.S. Open is here (and soon to leave), it makes No. 15 at Chambers Bay Golf Course the postcard hole to the world.

The following is excerpted from a story that first appeared in Cybergolf.com:

The tree that draws your eye, beyond the 15th green, is, of course, the only tree at Chambers Bay, the smallish Douglas fir that earned big notoriety in golf and agronomy for being grievously wounded by vandals — and surviving.

David Wienecke, the golf course superintendent at the time, is the man who can tell (its story) best. His first reaction, when he saw the deep gash in the tree trunk that morning in 2008, was disbelief.

“Just shock,” he says today. “First of all, did this really happen? And then, why would someone do this?”

Someone, or more than one person – he’ll never know – had spent hours with a hatchet, Wienecke believes, trying to cut the lone fir down. “If they’d had an axe I think they probably would have succeeded,” he says.

They still call it the Wienecke Tree around Chambers Bay. But the man who did more than anyone at the golf course to save the tree, and help it live on, no longer works at Chambers Bay.

Wienecke arrived at work at Chambers Bay in pre-dawn darkness, as usual, that day in late April 2008. When he got around to the tree, the first thing he saw was the mess – the beer bottles and cigarette butts. Then he noticed the wood chips, and then the foot-and-a-half slash, eight inches deep, on the Narrows Bridge side of the trunk.

Wienecke immediately summoned two arborists to the scene, and for 12 straight hours they worked feverishly to save the tree. A non-toxic epoxy was applied to fill the gash, and braces were attached to shore up the compromised part of the tree. In the days that followed, Wienecke heard from agronomists and arborists from around the world weighing in with their thoughts about the lone fir tree.

As they studied the tree to devise a strategy for saving it, Wienecke and the arborists discovered that the tree, small for its age – which Wienecke estimated at 50 to 70 years old – was in general poor health. Development of the golf course, which involved reviving degraded terrain, watering and improving the soil, had actually been beneficial to the tree, Wienecke says.

But finally, it was the serious injury to the tree, and the care lavished upon it, that saved its life.

The Douglas fir he worked hard to save, the Wienecke Tree, is now healthy and strong against the winds that whistle through the Puget Sound Narrows, ruffling the needles and tiniest branches but leaving the trunk and largest branches unmoved.

“I appreciate that as a legacy,” Wienecke says. “It was a heroic effort that turned out well for a priceless part of the course.”

Grey Goatee Nation walks the Open walk

First of all, boys and girls, yes, there is a blimp at the U.S. Open. You might have seen it. It’s big. It says Goodyear on it.

It’s called “The Spirit of America,” one of three semi-rigid airships in the Goodyear fleet. It was launched in 2002. It’s 246 feet long, 65 feet wide, and 58 feet tall. It flies way up in the air.

This information is just off the top of my head … just after visiting goodyearblimp.com, a pretty informative Website the gist of which is, according to the good folks at Goodyear, blimps are groovy.

***

You don’t want to go into the Champions Pavilion in Spectator Square in the middle of the tent city at the U.S. Open. For one thing, they don’t let media types in. I learned that from the over-officious volunteer checking credentials at the door. I thought it was like a museum of past Open winners with videos of guys in knickers doing slow-motion fist pumps while the music swells. No. They do “hospitality” in there, i.e., something dark and “corporate.” That’s all I’ll say. You don’t want to go in.

***

Right next door to the Champions Pavilions is the Merchandise Pavilion. You might want to go in there, if you don’t mind waiting at the door and waiting in line. Lots of cool merch, and pay no attention to THE corporate symbol around here this week plastered on it all – by which we mean USGA. The United States Goffin’ Association knows how to put on a show, but it will actually be a relief when the honchos leave town. Grey Goatee Nation will get its (ridiculously difficult and overpriced) golf course back.

‘A thinking golfer’s championship as well as a shotmaker’s?’

by Bart Potter

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The early line on who will win the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course is … Chambers Bay Golf Course.

The world’s best players might leave the course in shreds – four days of play will tell – or leave the tournament in tears. Nobody is betting much on the former. The golf course, its designer and the shaper of the bumps and turns and twists of the course setup were in the front of the conversation Tuesday at Chambers Bay.

The golf course: fast and firm and anything but flat.

The designer: Robert Trent Jones Jr.

The  shaper – and master manipulator – of the length of holes and the placement of pins and tees: Mike Davis, USGA executive director, as hands-on as any exec who ever had a hand in a championship setup.

Tiger Woods’ press conference Tuesday morning yielded an unusual question from an atypical questioner: Trent Jones Jr.

JONES: Tiger, this is Bobby Jones. We’ve known each other since you were 14. I appreciate you being forthright and honest about my golf course and all the odd bounces you’re going to get. Do you think we gave you enough alternatives to play it in different ways, and is this a thinking golfer’s championship as well as a shotmaker’s?

WOODS: Well, it’s a golf course in which how you built it is that we have so many options. What we don’t know, none of the people in this room know and all the players don’t know, we don’t know what Mike (Davis) is going to do and when he’s going to do it. What tees he’s going to move up, what tees he’s going to leave back, and to what pin locations, where he’s going to put them at. We have a general idea. But it’s unlike any other major championship I’ve ever had to prepare for, having to hit so many different tee shots. There’s three or four different tee shots on almost every hole.

So many different options that it’s …  one of the harder Opens, or any championship, to prepare for given that there’s so many variables. Yeah, can you run the ball up? Yeah, you can. But then again sometimes you really can’t. You’ve got to throw the ball up in order to keep it somewhat from going over the back.

It’s going to be interesting to see what Mike does. I’m kind of happy that I’m playing actually in the afternoon the first day, get a chance to watch what some of the guys do in the morning to get a feel for it and see what’s going on.

***

Players as designers: Woods, and later Phil Mickelson, were each asked about their work as golf-course designers.

Q. Could you talk about how your work in design has maybe helped you see this course and what you take away from it that you really like that you’d like to incorporate elsewhere?

WOODS: My design work … my favorite golf is links golf. And I love being able to use the ground to run the ball up. I love that option. Not having forced carries. Most amateurs can’t hit a 3-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron straight up in the air and have it spin. And it’s hard. I like having run-up areas so amateurs can run the ball up. This golf course allows us to do that.

I’ve always been against forced carries unless the topography absolutely forces you to do it. I’ve never been asked so far in my early design work to design a championship golf course … for a tournament of some level. That’s not what the landowners have wanted from me, and hence my designs are certainly much easier than our championship venues that we play. If I’m ever asked to design a golf course that ultimately will host a big event … then, yeah, I’ll make some different choices of how I design the golf course.

But the courses I’ve designed have been on the softer side and (I) try to make sure that the guys and women find their golf balls when they play, and not (have) forced carries. The most frustrating thing is when you lose golf balls. I think that it’s nice to have a round where you don’t lose golf balls. And on top of that, it speeds up play. We’re talking about how can we speed up play. Well, design golf courses that are a little more friendly, not so hard and not so forced to hit the ball straight up in the air with spin.

Q. Phil, is it true that your golf course design team was in on this piece of property before it became Chambers Bay? And if so, how involved were you on that? Is this something that you would have envisioned the way it came out?

MICKELSON: We were involved in the bidding process and one of the final selections. And I thought it was a spectacular piece of property. But it wouldn’t have turned out anything like this, no. Not good or bad, I think it’s a wonderful course. My vision was totally different.

The Open comes to Grey Goatee Nation

The media center at Chambers Bay.

The media center at Chambers Bay.

by Bart Potter

Grey Goatee Global Headquarters, this week, is the media center at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash., which for geographical exactitude is south and west of Tacoma but is better described, this week, as the center of the golf universe.

They’ll play a golf tournament here this week, then they’ll take down the tents (huge), and the media horde (even huger) will go home, and Chambers Bay will go back to being a golf course (huge, and empty, and looking much better for it). Other topics will replace it in the golf news of the day — in Grey Goatee Nation and the rest of the world — and this curiosity of a place will be the same vast, tough, insanely pretty golf course it was before the USGA messed with it — and left the U.S. Open stamp on it forever.

It is just a golf course, and the public can play on it, and maybe it’s the kind of course a dumbass hackaround can feel OK about, after this week, when he hits it in Bobby’s Bunker or winds up bad when he hit it pretty good … because, hey, the best players in the world did the same things.

This week, in Grey Goatee Nation, won’t be about golf so much as all the rest of the spectacle — the Lone Fir Tree, the course designer, the way the media cover the tournament and themselves. Is there a blimp? I need to ask that question.

Sahalee Country Club a major forerunner in the Northwest

Tiger Woods with then-caddie Steve Williams at the 2002 NEC Invitational at Sahalee. Photo by Mark Ursino

Tiger Woods with then-caddie Steve Williams at the 2002 NEC Invitational at Sahalee.
Photo by Mark Ursino

Sahalee Players Championship carries on legacy of premier championship golf in the region

by Craig Smith

WHEN YOU LOOK at how much Pacific Northwest golf history has been made at Sahalee Country Club, you might think the course opened in 1869, when Washington was a territory, instead of 1969.

Sahalee has been around less than a half century but has made a huge footprint in the sport. Like most of the nation’s notable golf clubs, it is already full of lore, tradition and stories.

One man with a unique perspective on Sahalee is John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of rules, competitions and equipment standards for the United States Golf Association (USGA). Before taking his current job in 2011, Bodenhamer was the longtime executive director of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and Washington State Golf Association.

“Sahahee has had a profound impact in Northwest golf because in many ways the club set the bar when it comes to championship golf,” said Bodenhamer, a native of Tacoma. “Hosting championships was important to the founders.”

Indeed it was. Sahalee’s mission statement proclaims: “The vision of Sahalee Country Club is to have the finest golf course in the Pacific Northwest, to be highly regarded in the national golf community and to periodically host major championship events.”

Sahalee made national headlines in 1998 when it was the site of the PGA Championship, won by Vijay Singh. The club then hosted the 2002 World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational (won by Craig Perry) and the 2010 U.S. Senior Open (won by Bernhard Langer).

Mike Davis, the USGA executive director, is most familiar with the 2010 event and said: “The people who organized the U.S. Senior Open raved about the quality of the golf course and how supportive the city was. What I was told was very positive.”

The 1998 PGA Championship was particularly satisfying to the founding members of Sahalee.

When it was over, the late Carl Jonson said, “We have a place in history.” Thirty years earlier, Jonson, a member of the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame, had spent his weekends hitting golf balls down dirt fairways when the course was under construction to make sure it would be championship caliber.

The word Sahalee translates as “high, heavenly ground” from Native American dialect. Sahalee’s three nines were designed by Ted Robinson. The first head pro was Paul Runyan, who won the 1934 and 1938 PGA Championships and won 29 times on tour. He was on four Ryder Cup teams. A dining room at the Sahalee clubhouse is named in Runyan’s honor.

Sahalee hosted the Pacific Coast Amateur in 1978 and the winner was Mike Gove, now the PGA head professional at Inglewood Golf Club in Kenmore, Wash.

Sahalee has hosted an elite men’s amateur event – the Sahalee Players Championship – since 1992. It started as a Northwest event but soon began attracting top national and international players. The roll call of winners includes many who went on to PGA Tour careers: Kyle Stanley, Jason Gore, Nick Taylor, Daniel Summerhays, Ryan Moore, Arron Oberholser and Casey Martin.

Since 1981, Sahalee has been the site of the collegiate Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational, with the University of Washington women’s golf team as host team. Past participants have included Annika Sorenstam and Juli Inkster.

Bodenhamer is proud that the PNGA has assisted Sahalee with the Sahalee Players Championship since its inception. He remembers a breakfast meeting with tournament founder Mike Jonson (Carl’s son) where Jonson explained what he envisioned and Bodenhamer agreed to have the PNGA assist.

The PNGA now schedules its prestigious men’s amateur championship the week after the Sahalee tourney so that out-of-state players can play two quality events on the same trip to the Northwest, calling the tandem the “West Coast Swing.”

The 22nd Sahalee Players Championship is set for June 29-July 1 this year, while the 114th PNGA Men’s Amateur Championship will be July 7-12 at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort.

Bodenhamer calls the Sahalee tournament “a tremendous tradition.”

“If you sit in my chair (in Far Hills, N.J.), you become aware that the Sahalee Players Championship is considered among the premier amateur competitions in America and internationally. Salahee is on the list of most of the top players. I don’t think that’s recognized in the Northwest as much as it should be.”

Bodenhamer said holding a tournament in mid-summer represents a sacrifice for club members.

“It’s not easy to do,” he said. “You have to give up your course in the prime time of the year. Yet they’ve stepped up to the plate.”

Jeff Shelley, a Seattle-based golf writer and co-author of the book “Championships & Friendships: The first 100 Years of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association,” is generous with praise for Sahalee.

“The big tournaments – 1998 PGA Championship, 2002 NEC Invitational and U.S. Senior Open – at Sahalee helped bring international attention back to the Northwest and the Puget Sound area,” Shelley said.

“After the region held some important golf events in the 1940s, there was a long gap afterward until Sahalee – and Pumpkin Ridge near Portland – got on the national radar. So the club helped re-establish the region as a viable place for future major golf championships. The big, enthusiastic galleries also showed that the game matters in the Northwest, which certainly helped convince the USGA to take a serious look at Chambers Bay before selecting it for the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open.”

Asked to describe what he considers special about Sahalee, Shelley had plenty to say:

“Sahalee is the quintessential west-of-the-Cascades golf course. With its towering trees and claustrophobic fairways, it’s what people from outside the region stereotypically think of Northwest courses, giving the tournaments held there a clear identity and playing strategy. It looks pretty cool on TV, too.”

Chambers Bay head pro Brent Zepp said he deals with many out-of-town golfers who play Chambers Bay and then Sahalee, sometimes even on the same day.

“I’ve played Sahalee a number of times and it’s one of my favorite places,” said Zepp, who likes to call it “Sa-Hall-Way” because of the tight fairways. “I like to say one course has the most trees in the world (Sahalee) and the other has the fewest (one).”

One thing they share is a role of giants in Northwest golf.

(Visit www.sahaleeplayerschampionship.com for more information, or call Mike Jonson, championship director, at 206-626-0339. Visit www.thepnga.org for information on the PNGA Men’s Amateur.)

Craig Smith is a freelance writer, formerly a longtime sports reporter and golf writer for The Seattle Times.

This damn game 8: Dictionary edition

The United States Golf Association has a different definition of “failure” than most of us. When we golfers experience “success” on a golf course, it means something, in the USGA’s eyes, went wrong.

By USGA definition, failure is when the golf course lets everybody hit the same shot and land in the same place.

Robert Trent Jones Jr.  said last week, in a conversation with me, that the job of golf course architects is to “defend” against golfers, to design and build defenses into the golf course against new and better golf equipment and bigger, stronger, more athletic players. When players succeed too much and too often, he has failed.

I like the phrase the kids throw around – “epic fail” – to describe ambitious, spectacular failure. It’s like, yeah, you failed, but you were epic, dude.

I had an epic fail yesterday on the golf course. It wasn’t my golf game, which didn’t rise to epic in any way, and can’t even be called a failure, which would imply I expected success.

No, my failure was I got hit by a golf ball struck by my playing partner. That was YOUR failure, you ask? Absolutely. I failed to place myself in a safe position when he hit, and while it took a spectacular “fail” of a golf shot to get anywhere near me, I shouldn’t have been standing there. I know better; I’ve played with the guy before.

He felt terrible, but it was my fault. My failure.

In the end, I failed to die. Which is a success, I think.

This damn game 7

It’s golf … how bad can it be? It can be bad. It can bring a guy to his knees. It can bring tears to his eyes.

It’s a game. It’s a stupid game. It’s a stupid goddamn game. But it’s a game. Today, I played it in soft overcast on a lush golf course with a couple guys who don’t care if I play badly but do care about me and whether I’m about to pop a blood vessel over the next chicken-wing chili-dip chunky-fat shit I call a golf shot.

Today, my game was bad. I raged, and despaired, and tried everything, and then tried some other things the moment they popped in my head. I thought too much, focused very little, and along the way I came to zero insights about life or golf.

Golf is too important to be too important. Funniest thing: I said the same thing once about sex. Let me just say this: If my round today was the worst four and a half hours of my week, then my week couldn’t have been too bad.

Voodoo Vinnie couldn’t play, and he hates to miss a Grey Goatee Golf Association event. He was home, I expect, watching sports on TV, maybe even golf. Vin has cancer, of a kind that is ridiculously aggressive. He played in our opener last month, but didn’t get on the tee sheet this time.

I spent some time with Vinnie yesterday afternoon at his house. It was the best hour of my week.

Masters Week: The price of perfection at Augusta

I’d love to see Augusta National, and play it, and watch The Masters in person, but with today’s crazy-good electronics, it’s the major made for TV. Only one other golf tournament in the world – The (British) Open Championship – compares as a television spectacle.

If Augusta had any blemishes, the high-def cameras would pick them up and magnify them for the world to see, like the individual pores on the face of a guy like Jason Dufner. But there aren’t any, and the grass and flowers and water features are posed as if for a spring-issue snow globe, with dogwood blossoms standing in for the snowflakes.

– Grey Goatee Golf and Travel, April 10, 2014

He describes it as ”a woodland cathedral,” this peaceful glade far enough off the path of play that no golfer would give it a thought or even know it was there.  The rough trail in, just big enough for a superintendent’s golf cart, joins out-of-play parts of holes 13 and 14 on the Red nine at Eagles Pride Golf Course at Joint Base Lewis McChord, south of Tacoma.

When his day brings him here, David Wienecke can pause and soak in the quiet. He can look around and appreciate that there are no noxious, invasive species as far as his practiced eye can see. There is no more completely natural spot on the 600 acres of the Eagles Pride property, only 40 percent of which, Wienecke is happy to point out, is given over to the 27 holes of the golf course.

Wienecke is sustainable operations and environmental manager for Eagles Pride and Whispering Firs, its sister military course on the base. He’s far from Augusta, Ga., in miles, certainly, but even more in his philosophy of golf course maintenance.

“It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” Wienecke says of Augusta National Country Club, site of this week’s Masters Tournament, “but it’s just all artificial. It’s like Disneyland. I mean, nobody thinks Disneyland is natural. It’s a theme park.”

Across Hodge Lake to the 14th green: What natural looks like at Eagles Pride

Across Hodge Lake to the 14th green: What natural looks like at Eagles Pride

Wienecke, who was the original superintendent for Chambers Bay Golf Course, site of this June’s U.S. Open, visited Augusta National when he worked for the United States Golf Association.

“I know what their product is,” he says.

Wienecke works constantly to reduce, minimize or eliminate chemicals and fertilizers at his courses. He’s set aside dozens of acres of grass that will never again feel a mower blade. He lets the natural woodland landscape live and breathe.

At Augusta, every strand of grass, every flower, is managed.

“They do amazing things to make sure they bloom right at the Masters,” Wienecke says, by which he means “tons of chemicals” and heaters and artificial lighting to regulate the environment of the flowering plants.

The greens at Augusta are creeping bentgrass, a cool-season grass in a warm-season environment. Agronomist Wienecke suggests Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass, a totally different genus, would work much better.

“The creeping bentgrass barely hangs on by its fingernails,” he says, “then they have to do heroic things to keep it alive through the summer, for the next year’s event. They have disease issues, insect pest issues, fertility issues …

“It’s too hot and humid, so they have to put shade cloth over the greens.  It’s just a real challenge to keep that going.”

As he stood on the bird-walk trail looking over Hodge Lake toward the 14th green of the Blue nine — another of his favorite places at Eagles Pride — Wenecke said golf courses should be one with the environment, be a part of the environment.

Augusta is not that, he says.

“It’s not golf the way it was meant to be.”