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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mandell

The Classics are Back

In: Aronimink, St. George’s, The Old White Course, Sedgefield

Out: TPC Avenel, Glen Abbey, Liberty National

Although ten TPC courses still hosted PGA Tour events this season, a slow shift back to classic venues is in the works. There was a time where it seemed the PGA Tour was on a one-way route to a TPC tour with the elimination of layouts like Congressional, Memphis’ Colonial Country Club (site of Al Geiberger’s 59), and most recently Westchester Country Club in favor of courses such as TPC Avenel, TPC Southwind, Liberty National and others.

The concept was driven by the Tour itself in a way to generate more revenue but the result was golf tournaments at un-memorable layouts which led to un-memorable events won by golfers who were criticized by their lack of memorability. One focus was on length as a replacement for those more traditional layouts which were chock full of character derived from their sites. Coupled with turnstile sponsorships, the PGA Tour lost much of its identity.

There is something very unnatural about a golf course that is made specifically for a golf tournament. Maybe it is the forced strategy that is created by the architect. Maybe it is the antiseptic routings that ensure enough sight lines for the spectator as well as space for skyboxes and a media center. I would much rather take the occasional uphill blind shot over perfect venue seating for the spectator anyway. Besides, with the high prices of tickets, most golf fans are better off staying on their couch.

This past summer, the PGA Tour has had two 59s and three 60s. In the history of men’s professional tournament golf (a span of roughly ninety years) there were only four other times when the sixty barrier was broken. Why this recent run of low rounds? Dry weather conditions can be a major contributor, but it can also be the golf course. Although two of those rounds came at the TPC Deere Run, the other rounds came at St. George’s Golf & Country Club and the Old White Course at the Greenbrier.

Whereas some have criticized the low rounds and pointed to the golf courses as culprits, what these scores have done is bring excitement back into many of the Tour’s events which have gotten stale over time. With the big names out of the picture for the majority of this season, the golf course has taken center stage and provided a battle royal almost every week as of late.

So what if twenty under wins tournaments? So what if the pros are hitting wedge into one too many greens. Birdies and eagles are exciting. Whereas an event such as the U. S. Open is to identify the golfer who best can battle par, we don’t need to see that every week. The fact is that we golfers get to see high scores coming out of our own bags all the time. Why would we want to see the best golfers in the world lull us to sleep with a string of pars? The best thing about this resurgence of classic venues is that it puts the focus on the variety of golf course design out there in the world.

This week, the Barclays returns to a classic A. W. Tillinghast called Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. The west course at Westchester Country Club played host to this event for many decades. Next year it will be played at another northern New Jersey classic – the Donald Ross designed Plainfield Country Club. It took me by surprise that the Barclays did not return to Liberty National Golf Course after its debut last year. I thought the PGA Tour hand-picked that venue for the event. I do not know why Liberty National lost the event, but I am good with it because of the possibilities Ridgewood, Plainfield, and a possible return to Westchester can present.

A great piece of architecture at Ridgewood will play host to the top 125 players on tour and in a few weeks, the Tour Championship will be held at another twenties classic, Ross’s East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Although re-designed by Rees Jones over a decade ago, the quirkiness of East Lake is still very relevant. Just as we saw at the Old White at the Greenbrier earlier this summer, the final hole at East Lake is a par three that can create some excitement to the very end.

The return of these great old golf courses to the forefront of golf will re-introduce the importance of the land in golf architecture more than the expense that newer golf courses have required. Architectural vanilla-zation will be replaced by character once again and perceptions will be challenged such as the ‘taboo’ of finishing a round of golf on a par-three. It’s playoff time and the fun is in a Fenway more than in a Busch Stadium.

About Richard: Richard Mandell is a Golf Course Architect in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).

Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008

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