Friday, July 29, 2005

Texas Tour Stops in Trouble?

The most recent issue of Golfweek has an interesting article about the coming negotiations between the PGA Tour and the television networks for the Tour's next TV package. All three major networks that televise golf - CBS, NBC and ABC - are losing millions of dollars on the current deal. USA Network is also losing money.

So the Tour is faced with having to possibly take a more than $100 million "pay cut" in its next TV contract, or coming up with ways to convince the networks that ratings will go up (thereby justifying the current contract figures).

How might the PGA Tour help boost the networks' ratings? From various things I've read and heard, it seems clear the Tour is focusing on only one possibility: rearranging - and shortening - the PGA Tour season.

The Tour now plays what is essentially a yearround schedule. Only December is completely free of PGA Tour events. The Tour Championship closes out the "official" PGA Tour season the first week of November (a WGC event and various "silly season" tournaments continue through November and December).

The Tour's thinking seems to be two-fold:

1. Move the Players Championship from March to May. This gets the "fifth major" out of competition with the NCAA basketball tournament and plops it down in a month that currently does not have a major. Ratings for this one tournament should increase significantly by virtue of not having to compete with "March Madness," and the prestige of the tournament - the Tour has always wanted it to be considered a real major - probably also goes up.

2. Shorten the season. The Tour Championship, according to speculation, moves to mid-September and the official PGA Tour season ends a month and a half earlier, removing competition for TV viewers posed by early season NFL games. There might also be some sort of "points race," ala NASCAR, to get into the Tour Championship. Fewer tournaments should lead to the Tour's best players facing each other more often.

It's No. 2 that should concern Texas golf fans. The first question that comes up when you hear the Tour might stop playing in mid-September is: What about the Texas Open? The Texas Open is played in mid-September.

But a lot of the "Fall Finish" tournaments - those played after the PGA Championship, which usually feature weak fields and weaker TV ratings - might be on the chopping block.

The Texas Open does have two things going for it: It's one of the top tournaments of the year in terms of money raised for charity, something the PGA Tour greatly values; and in a couple years, the tournament is slated to move to the Tour's newest TPC course. Would the PGA Tour kill a tournament played at one of its own golf courses? San Antonians better hope not.

There are three other tournaments in Texas, the Byron Nelson, Colonial and the Shell Houston Open. All three are played in the meat of the PGA schedule, in April and May between The Masters and the U.S. Open. But May is where the Players Championship might be moving.

There's no way - none - that the Byron Nelson would be discontinued as long as Mr. Nelson is alive. (After he passes, all bets are off - because a lot of golfers who currently consider the tournament a must-play would no longer think of it that way. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, among others, seem sure to drop the Nelson once Lord Byron is gone.)

The Shell Houston Open seems very safe, too. It has a major, major sponsor and is moving to a sparkling new golf course next year.

Fields at the Colonial have dropped off dramatically over the past decade, following the death of Ben Hogan. And the golf course - long considered a classic by players - is no longer a favorite. It's short, tight and with a lot of doglegs. The big bombers can't bomb it at Colonial, and many of the them don't play it anymore.

So if the PGA Tour schedule is shortened and some tournaments bite the dust, what does it mean for Texas tour stops?

  • Nothing to worry about: the Byron Nelson and Shell Houston Open.
  • Something to worry about: Colonial and Texas Open.
I believe Colonial is the most vulnerable, and despite that tournament's great history I believe that if one of the Texas tournaments is cut, Colonial will be that one.

Wedgewood Falls

If you're in the Houston area, you've surely heard of (and might have played) Wedgewood Golf Club in Conroe. The course recently got new owners, and those owners plan to make the golf course the centerpiece of a $120 million new development. From the Conroe Courier:

Jim and Tim Logeman didn't start out with the idea of transforming Wedgewood Golf Club into the synergistic centerpiece of their $120 million development on Conroe's west side. Eighteen months ago, the father-and-son homebuilders were simply searching for a site on which to relocate their company headquarters.

Over time, however, their modest plans evolved into a multi-faceted development. Like a row of neatly aligned dominos, each piece of their burgeoning project fell into place; culminating with their $1.6 million purchase of the daily fee course on July 18. Acquisition of the golf course proved to be the linchpin, allowing the Logemans to move forward on their ambitious project.

Their newly named Wedgewood Falls development will feature a trio of office buildings along west Texas 105, a $40 million, 400-unit complex of apartments, condominiums and town homes, and three tracts of single-family homes totaling 90
acres and approximately 300 homes.

Hmm, sounds like Wedgewood might have to change its marketing copy, at least the part about it being "situated in a natural setting amongst towering pines, majestic oaks and beautiful dogwoods."

Or maybe not. Hopefully the Logemans appreciate that it's that natural setting, that sense of seclusion, that makes Wedgewood (and so many East Texas courses) fun to play.

The developers do plan some changes to the course, however:

... the Logemans plan to reposition the clubhouse, driving range and the par-four first hole. The clubhouse and the first hole will be moved to the north, away from Texas 105. The new clubhouse will be constructed where the current driving range is located.

The tee box on the first hole will remain opposite of the clubhouse, while a new driving range will be built just to the east of the opening hole. Clearing of eight acres for the new range has begun, Logeman said. A mixture of apartments, condos and town homes will be built on the original driving range.

To make room for those alterations, the first hole will be re-routed, while some reworking of the par-four second will be necessary.

"We're not planning on changing up the yardage on those two holes," Jim Logeman said. "We're going to move the green (on No. 1) back onto a 20 acre area we own."

With the addition of some ponds, Logeman said he hopes to make the par-four first into the course's signature hole. But for all the changes on the course, the amenities that will be available in the new clubhouse should transform Wedgewood Golf Club into an "affordable Bentwater," according to the developer.

The full story in the Conroe Courier can be read here. You can also check out the Wedgewood Golf Club website.

For Whom the Beall Tolls

The Beall tolled for a bunch of high school golfers in El Paso this week. We posted a while back about the 13-year-old phenom from El Paso, Tye Beall. The El Paso Times newspaper has another article about him - he just blitzed through a field of older boys to win the El Paso Junior Championship.

Let's Hear It for Little Linksters Champs

The Southern Texas PGA's Little Linksters program held its season-ending Tournament of Champions recently. Let's give shoutouts to the champs in each division:

Boys - Ages 10-12
Justin Jeggle, Magnolia

Girls, Ages 10-12
Catherine Herrera, Houston

Co-ed, Ages 7-9
Benjamin Arnett, Houston

Way to go, kids! The tournament was played at River Ridge in Sealy. Info on the Little Linksters program can be found at the STPGA website.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifying

Sectional qualifying is in progress right now at sites around the country for the United States Amateur Championship. One of those sectionals was held at Lantana Golf Club a couple days ago, with two spots in the Am, plus two alternate positions, up for grabs.

Who did the grabbing? Bill Alcorn of Abilene and Raul Lemus of Mission earned trips to the Amateur; Ryan Posey of Dallas and Anthony Broussard of Beaumont gained alternate status.

Yesterday there was a qualifier at Blackhorse Golf Club in Houston, this one with three spots in the field available, plus two alternate positions. Ryan Baca of Richmond, Bronson Burgoon of The Woodlands and Jordan Hasbrouck of Spring are the winners; Brandon Burgoon of The Woodlands and Jhonnaton Vegas of Venezuela are the alternates. (How much you want to bet that the Burgoon boys are twins?)

Update: Here are the results from a qualifier at Great Southwest Golf Club in Grand Prairie: Zack Reeves of Arlington and Franklin Corpening of Fort Worth are the two qualifiers. Mike Camp of Southlake and Bobby Massa of Dallas are the two alternates.

Other qualifying results can be found on the USGA website.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Two-Sport Star

The highest-placing Texan at the Senior British Open was not, as most would have guessed beforehand, Tom Kite. It was Frank Conner.

Who?

That's the great thing about the Champions Tour - players without much fanfare can pop up on the radar screen with very interesting stories. Remember Robert Landers, the golfing farmer?

Frank Conner has had his Tour card in years past on the Champions Tour, but never for long. He's had provisional status in other years. This year, he failed to make it through the Champions Tour Q-School, but he headed over to Scotland and qualified for the Senior British.

Although he's not a native Texan, Conner has lived in San Antonio since his days as a tennis star at Trinity University. That's right, Conner's best game in his youth was tennis. He won many big tennis tournaments in college and is a member of the Trinity Sports Hall of Fame.

Here's Conner's biggest claim to fame: He's one of only three people in history to play in both the tennis and golf U.S. Opens. Ellsworth Vines, a tennis hall-of-famer who won five times on the PGA Tour, is the second. And I always forget who the third is. But Conner is one of them.

So while he hasn't had the best of Champions Tour careers, he's certainly had some remarkable achievements. It's great to see Frank Conner back in action.

Happy Birthday

Dustin Thompson is a senior-to-be at Granbury High School. He recently played the Texas Legends Junior Tour Match Play Championship at Spanish Oaks Golf Club in Austin, where he had quite the birthday week.

First, Thompson got his first-ever hole-in-one. That came in his first-round match. Then, in the finals - played on his 18th birthday - Thompson defeated Midland's Tommy Sikes for the championship.

Your first ace, your 18th birthday and a tournament victory all in the same week. Too bad Thompson isn't old enough to go buy a beer to celebrate. Then again, he is in high school, so I bet there's beer somewhere.

Abilene's Todd Wins TGA West Texas Amateur

Congratulations to Trey Todd of Abilene, the winner of the Texas Golf Association West Texas Amateur Championship. The tournament, played at Lubbock's Hillcrest Country Club, was a three-round competition that concluded this past weekend.

Here is the tournament summary from the TGA:

Lubbock - The Texas Golf Association West Texas Amateur Championship came down to the final nine holes of play with Trey Todd of Abilene birdying two of his last three holes to capture his first TGA title.

Jim Neumann of Frisco matched Todd shot for shot all day long and only trailed by one heading into the par five 16th hole. Todd’s two-putt birdie on No. 16 gave him a one-stroke cushion heading into the final two holes of play.

Jeff New from the Woodlands put the heat on the final group by posting a (210) six under par tournament total. New fired a blistering final round of seven under par 65, which vaulted him from tied for sixteenth to second place overall.

However, Todd finished in champion style by holing an 18 foot birdie putt on the demanding par 4 18th hole to win by two strokes.

In the Senior and Super Senior divisions, Chuck Bubany of Lubbock completed his dominating performance by firing a twounder par 70, saving his best for the final round. Bubany’s performance left the rest of the Senior and Super Senior division players shaking their heads. Robert Cleland of Trophy Club shot a solid one under par 71 to grab second place alone.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bryan-College Station Golf Glut

OK, so it's not a glut for "regular" golfers, but for those who can afford memberships at (sometimes) swanky private clubs.

In the past year, two new private clubs - Traditions and Miramont - have opened in Bryan-College Station, joining the two existing country clubs, Briarcrest and Pebble Creek. The local newspaper has a lengthy article about the longterm viability of four private clubs in this not-so-wealthy city. It's a good and interesting read - check it out.

Briarcrest and Pebble Creek have been around for a while, and you'd think would have some loyal members. But everyone is attracted to what's new and shiny. And Traditions has the added boost of having a marketing agreement with Texas A&M University, and the cachet that comes from being the "home course" of the Aggies' golf teams.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Some Guys Have All the Luck

I'm still waiting for my first hole-in-one, but Jack Kendall of Houston recently got two of them. In the same round. At Pebble Beach.

I hate Jack Kendall.

The story is in the Houston Chronicle.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Tourney Time for Amateurs

There are quite a few excellent golf tours around Texas that are designed for amateurs or for golfers who want to play for money but at their own skill levels.

One of those is actually a national tour, the Michelob Ultra Golf Tour. The MUGT currently has tournament schedules in about 40 cities nationwide. It also has three tours in Texas areas: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin-San Antonio.

MUGT events are divided into five flights based on the golfers' skill levels. You don't have to be particularly good to play an MUGT event (unless you're hoping to get into the best flight, of course), but you do have to have a love of competition and an eagerness to get some experience in tournament golf.

If you've ever thought of dipping your toes in tournament golf, check out the MUGT. You can navigate to the websites of the three Texas MUGT tours from this page.

Monday, July 18, 2005

All Hail Haney

OK, can we stop hearing about Tiger Woods' swing changes now?

Tiger claimed major championship No. 10 at the British Open, leaving just eight shy of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors. There seems little doubt that Woods will smash the Bear's record, barring injury.

Woods' resurgence this year vindicates all the work he did with Texas-based instructor Hank Haney over the past couple years. An endless spate of speculation took place while the swing changes were in motion - why is Tiger doing this? is he ruining his game? why did he leave Butch Harmon for Hank Haney? are Tiger and Hank both crazy? - but all that is past, and Tiger is Tiger again.

Hank was always Hank, of course. There's an interesting interview with Haney here; it appeared in a recent Golf Digest. It's a good read; Haney explains how he hooked up with Tiger, and even dares to take a shot at a fellow instructor.

Yep, times are good for Haney. He's No. 4 in GD's rankings of the Top 50 instructors. And his practice facilities are even getting noticed. Haney's home base, the Hank Haney Golf Ranch in McKinney, was recently named one of the Top 10 Short Courses in America by Golf Range Magazine.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Unplayable Lie

Never a good thing to stumble across on the links: Golfer finds body on East Side course (from the San Antonio Express-News, registration required).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

New Course at Redstone

Last week, the Houston Chronicle's weekly golf notebook included information about the new Tom Fazio course at Carlton Woods. This week, there's news of an addition at Redstone.

Redstone, of course, hosts the Shell Houston Open. Beginning next year, the tournament will be played on the new course designed by Rees Jones and called, not surprisingly, the Tournament Course.

The Chronicle reports:

Redstone Golf Club's new Rees Jones design, straightforwardly named the Tournament Course, hosts the Shell Houston Open beginning in 2006 and is almost
ready for daily-fee play.

A tour of the layout with Redstone's Charlie Epps and pro Billy Sitton turned up interesting holes that make this a great track to play and a better one at which to watch a golf tournament.

The new track will open for daily fee play on Aug. 1. More info is available at www.redstonegolfclub.com.

Gasp! Boot Ranch Makes a Sale

Boot Ranch, the Hal Sutton-led luxury golf club and neighborhood being developed outside Fredericksburg, has finally made a few sales:

The Texas golf resort for which a Louisiana police retirement system borrowed millions made its first sales: Two home sites and five club memberships.

That leaves 60 homes and 295 memberships still up for grabs.

The announcement Tuesday comes months after Boot Ranch - a 2,200-acre luxury development in Fredericksburg, Texas - missed two mandatory sales deadlines.

The project was supposed to make $9 million by December and $18 million by June to prevent the Louisiana Municipal Employees' Retirement System - or MPERS - from yanking a $30 million loan it guaranteed.

"Wow. Now we're only $29.5 million short of what we put into the project," said Gonzales Police Chief Bill Landry -- one of three Louisiana police chiefs who filed a still-pending class-action lawsuit in Baton Rouge state court to stop the Boot Ranch investment and get someone else to manage the fund.

This story has been covered extensively by several Louisiana papers because of the Louisiana pension fund's involvement. With the spotty history of Boot Ranch to date, I'd be concerned, too, if I had money in that pension fund.

A news release from a Boot Ranch public relations firm does not say how much the homes and memberships sold for, nor any information on the buyers.

E-mails and phone calls to Boot Ranch's offices in Fredericksburg and Shreveport were not returned Tuesday. A call to the cell phone of Gilbert Little - who is overseeing the project - was disconnected and several subsequent calls not returned. Tiffany Cole, a San Antonio-based spokeswoman for Boot Ranch, referred all inquiries to Little.

MPERS lawyer Randy Zinna said he doesn't know yet the amount of the sales, but is expecting similar announcements "on a regular and consistent basis now. They're having a strong response to leads."

In the news release, Shreveport professional golfer Hal Sutton, who is developing the project, said only that he is "extremely excited with the contracting of the first two home sites and the fact that five members have seen the great value of joining me as a member of the Boot Ranch golf club and community."

Boot Ranch is a golf club and residence community in Texas Hill Country that developers have dubbed the "Augusta of Texas." Home sites range in size from three acres to 28 acres and are priced from $400,000 to $1.75 million.

It includes a signature course that Sutton designed, a 40-acre practice park, fine dining, on-site fishing, trap and skeet, spa and fitness and local hunting excursions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Senior Open Qualifying

An 18-hole qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open was played at River Crest Country Club in Fort Worth on Monday. Three spots in the field, plus four alternate spots, were up for grabs. So who did the grabbing?

Qualifiers
Chip Stewart, Irving, 66
Perry Arthur, Plano, 66
Tom Doughtie, Amarillo, 67

Alternates
Ed Brooks, Fort Worth, 67
Bobby Cornett, Arlington, 68
Mark Hayes, Edmond, Okla., 68
Wayne Wright, Fort Worth, 68

Monday, July 11, 2005

Odd Choices in Golf Digest's "Best Golf Cities in America" Rankings

In the August issue of Golf Digest, which they dub their "All-American Issue," the magazine issues its rankings of the best golf cities in the U.S. The rankings are 330 cities long (or actually, 330 metropolitan statistical areas - MSAs - long) and 27 Texas MSAs are included.

The first thing that jumps out about the overall rankings is that big cities don't fare well. The best golf city in America, according to GD, is Auburn-Opelika, Ala., with a population of 120,407.

In fact, not a single MSA with a population of more than 1 million appears in the rankings until Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, N.C., checks in at No. 64. Actually, the good showing of smaller cities vs. bigger cities is even more stark than that: Of the 63 cities ranked ahead of that first 1 million-strong metropolis, the most populous has 656,064 residents (and just happens to be McAllen-Edinburg-Mission).

Famed golf cities such as Orlando, Columbus, Ohio, Reno, Nev., Tucson, Ariz., Las Vegas, Albuquerque, San Diego, Denver and Chicago - not to mention Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston - are ranked behind such "legendary" golf destinations as Iowa City, Iowa, Sumter, S.C., Macon, Ga., Decatur, Ala., and Janesville, Wisc., to name just a few.

So these rankings include some choices that are, on the surface, odd. It's probably more striking for most of our readers to consider just how the Texas cities fared.

The best golf city in Texas, according to Golf Digest, is Waco. Killeen-Temple is way better than Austin-San Marcos, according to GD, and Texarkana and Victoria beat San Antonio, Dallas and Houston by a wide margin. (The full list of Texas cities and how they are ranked by GD appears in the next post below.)

Does that seem strange to you?

Let's look at how the Golf Digest rankings were compiled. The magazine considered four factors: access to golf, weather, value (based on average green fees) and quality of the courses (based on average ratings in Golf Digest's Places to Play).

Each MSA was ranked in each of the four categories, which were rated thusly: Access accounted for 45-percent of the total; weather for 25- percent; value and quality for 15-percent.

So access, in the estimation of Golf Digest, is worth three times more than quality (not to mention value). Access is worth 15 percentage points more (50-percent more as a ratio) than value and quality combined.

How does Golf Digest define "access to golf"? It is "a blend of four factors: the number of golf holes in an MSA compared to its population; number of golf holes compared to the number of avid golfers; percentage of public versus private courses; and a measure of the number of rounds played compared to capacity."

That definition, and the weighting of access relative to quality, means that larger cities start out with a huge disadvantage. The higher the population, the lower the number of golf holes will be compared to population; the higher the population, the more likely there are to be larger numbers of private courses.

Bigger cities also take a hit in the value category. Big cities are likely to have more resort courses and high-end daily fee courses. Those courses drive the average green fees up and hurt cities that offer highest-quality conditions.

I believe that access should be weighted more heavily than quality or value. After all, before you can play a great golf course (or even a lousy one), you have to be able to find one and get onto it. But I think Golf Digest erred in weighting access so much more than quality and value. I also believe they put too much emphasis on weather (the MSAs of Scotland and Ireland wouldn't fare very well in these rankings, either - Auburn-Opelika ahead of St. Andrews?).

I'd re-jigger the percentages to look like this: Access, 35 percent; quality, 27 percent; value, 23 percent; weather, 15 percent. I don't know what the exact effects would be of these new percentages, but I'm guessing they would have prevented some of the obviously wrongheaded rankings that we see in the Texas list below.

Scroll down to the next post to view the list of 27 Texas cities and how they fared in the overall rankings.

Golf Digest Rankings - Overall

Here are the Texas MSAs that appear in the Golf Digest rankings of the best golf cities in America. We rank them in the order that they appear on the GD list (the number in parentheses is where the city ranks overall on the GD list; Waco, for example, is No. 1 in Texas but No. 11 overall).

1. Waco (11)
2. Killeen-Temple (29)
3. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (32)
4. Longview-Marshall (60)
5. San Angelo (66)
6. Wichita Falls (78)
7. Beaumont-Port Arthur (79)
8. Lubbock (86)
9. Texarkana (97)
10. Amarillo (114)
11. Abilene (127)
12. Victoria (150)
13. Brownsville-Harlingen-San Benito (155)
14. Galveston-Texas City (160)
15. El Paso (203)
16. Odessa-Midland (212)
17. Sherman-Denison (230)
18. Laredo (237)
19. Austin-San Marcos (241)
20. Fort Worth-Arlington (243)
21. Brazoria (249)
22. San Antonio (250)
23. Corpus Christi (255)
24. Dallas (256)
25. Houston (263)
26. Bryan-College Station (273)
27. Tyler (295)

I've got nothing against the golf in Killeen and Temple - I've had some fun rounds there - but the idea that Killeen-Temple ranks that far ahead of San Antonio and Fort Worth-Arlington as a golf MSA is just plain nuts.

Scroll down to the next post to see how Texas cities ranked just in the value category.

Golf Digest Rankings - Value

Here is the list of Texas cities in the Golf Digest "best golf cities in America list" ranked only on their showing in the Value category. We rank them in the order that they appear on the GD list (the number in parentheses is where the city ranks overall on the GD list; San Angelo, for example, is No. 1 in Texas but No. 6 overall).

1. San Angelo (6), $23.83
2. Wichita Falls (8), $24.41
3. Beaumont-Port Arthur (15), $25.59
4. Longview-Marshall (24), $27.25
5. Corpus Christi (29), $27.80
6. Amarillo (33), $28.50
7. Abilene (51), $29.81
8. Lubbock (53), $30.29
9. Waco (65), $30.79
10. Killeen-Temple (73), $31.03
11. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (80), $31.48
12. Laredo (97), $32.07
13. Brownsville-Harlingen-San Benito (105), $32.70
14. El Paso (107), $32.31
15. Bryan-College Station (112), $33.00
16. Brazoria (126), $34.03
17. Texarkana (130), $34.27
18. Victoria (154), $35.93
19. Galveston-Texas City (163), $36.38
20. Odessa-Midland (168), $36.71
21. Tyler (207), $40.60
22. Sherman-Denison (216), $41.73
23. Austin-San Marcos (225), $44.50
24. Fort Worth-Arlington (232), $44.89
25. Dallas (235), $45.62
26. Houston (237), $46.22
27. San Antonio (264), $51.30

Texas has some good showings in the Value category - five cities in the Top 30 nationally. Good to know you can still find cheap golf in Texas.

But the Value category is problematic for a couple reasons. As we pointed out in our introductory post up above, bigger cities are more likely to have resorts and high-end daily fees, which drive up the average green fees. Most golfers want to have resorts and high-end daily fees nearby, however, even if they only play them on special occasions.

Secondly, you get what you pay for. Sure, a low average green fee in a city is great. But I'd rank cities with a good mix of golf courses - cheap municipals, 9-holers, low-end daily fees, high-end daily fees, resort courses - ahead of cities that just have a handful of cheap courses.

Value is more than just a low average green fee - it's also getting your money's worth. If you want lush conditions and a great layout, you're probably willing to pay a little more to get it.

Scroll down to the next post to see how Texas cities fared specifically in the Quality category.

Golf Digest Rankings - Quality

Here is the list of Texas cities in the Golf Digest "best golf cities in America list" ranked only on their showing in the Quality category. We rank them in the order that they appear on the GD list (the number in parentheses is where the city ranks overall on the GD list; San Antonio, for example, is No. 1 in Texas but No. 18 overall).

1. San Antonio (18)
2. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (41)
3. Killeen-Temple (42)
4. Fort Worth-Arlington (45)
5. El Paso (68)
6. Lubbock (71)
7. Austin-San Marcos (91)
8. Dallas (96)
9. Houston (110)
10. Waco (132)
11. Amarillo (134)
12. Odessa-Midland (143)
13. Beaumont-Port Arthur (174)
14. Brownsville-Harlingen-San Benito (237)
15. Tyler (253)
16. San Angelo (259)
17. Abilene (262)
18. Brazoria (267)
19. Galveston-Texas City (271)
20. Longview-Marshall (287)
21. Corpus Christi (290)
22. Wichita Falls (297)
23. Sherman-Denison (298)
24. Bryan-College Station (313)
25. Victoria (316)
26. Texarkana (326)
27. Laredo (329)

Here's where we really see the problem with the Golf Digest rankings. Look at Laredo: it's down there at No. 329. There are only 330 cities ranked by Golf Digest, which means Laredo is rated the second-worst city in the U.S. in terms of the quality of its golf courses.

It's even worse than that for Laredo, actually, because the city at No. 330 - Jersey City, N.J. - doesn't have any golf courses.

So Laredo actually ranks last in Quality. Yet, in the overall rankings, Golf Digest says that Laredo is a better golf city than San Antonio, which the magazine ranks No. 18 in the U.S. in quality! Laredo is ranked No. 237 overall, which puts it ahead of Austin-San Marcos, Fort Worth-Arlington, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, among others. All of these cities rank 200
spots ahead of Laredo, or much better, in Quality.

When a city that is dead last in Quality is ranked ahead of a city that is in the Top 20 in the country in Quality, you should know your rankings have problems.

But as to the specific list above for Quality: San Antonio deserves to be No. 1 in the state. I believe Austin, Dallas, Waco and Houston should be higher, as should San Angelo, Abilene and Victoria.

But hey, that's just me.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Death on the Course

Another golf course death: A Texas boy, playing golf while with his family in Kentucky, fell onto a golf club that had snapped in half. One half of the club pierced his chest and severed his aorta. Story in the Houston Chronicle.

Texas Two-Step

It was a great weekend for Texans on tour as both the PGA and LPGA tournaments went to linksters with Lone Star ties.

At the LPGA Corning Classic, University of Texas ex and current Fort Worth resident Heather Bowie claimed the first win of her career. And on the PGA Tour John Deere Classic, Lubbock native Sean O'Hair got his first victory, too.

The three players in contention down the stretch at the Deere were all Texans of a fashion: O'Hair; Dallas native Hank Kuehne; and Horseshoe Bay resident J.L. Lewis.

I think it's time to update my original rankings of the best Texans on the PGA Tour. Through the Deere, here are the Top 5:

1. Justin Leonard
2. Sean O'Hair
3. Scott Verplank
4. Chad Campbell
5. Bob Estes

I limited my original rankings to native Texans only, so Bart Bryant, J.L. Lewis and Joe Ogilvie, while now Texas residents, don't qualify.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Hey, Didn't You Used to Be David Gossett?

David Gossett's week at the John Deere Classic wrapped up early. He missed the cut, and the scoreline tells it all:

84-81--165

Gossett finished in dead last among all players who completed two rounds, a full 13 strokes behind the next-to-last finisher.

Who are you, and what have you done with the real David Gossett? It happens from time-to-time on the PGA Tour: a player suddenly loses his game. When it happens to a star - Ian Baker-Finch or David Duval, for example - everyone talks about it. When it happens to someone like David Gossett, almost nobody talks about it. The player just slowly ... fades ... away.

Just a couple years ago, Gossett was one of the brightest newcomers to the PGA Tour. In 1999, while still at the University of Texas, Gossett won the Big 12 Championship and the U.S. Amateur Championship.

He turned pro in 2000 and joined the PGA Tour in 2001. That year, he won the John Deere Classic (which is how he got into this year's event). He had a couple top 10s in 2002 and easily finished in the Top 125 on the money list to retain his card. In 2003, he improved his standing on the money list to 84th.

Gossett wasn't setting the world on fire, but he was a young player with an amateur championship and a PGA Tour victory. Everyone expected his game to develop in a good direction.

Instead, it went in the opposite direction. The bottom fell out in 2004. He made only two cuts in 25 PGA Tour events, winning only $21,250. And he wasn't missing cuts but just a little: Only once in those 25 events did he finish his tournament under par. His scores included a +26, +23, +16 and +15 showings.

It hasn't improved in 2005. Gossett lost his PGA Tour card, so he's played four times on the Nationwide Tour. He hasn't made a cut. In fact, he hasn't shot below 74 in any of his eight rounds.

Prior to the 2005 John Deere, Gossett told his hometown newspaper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "I've been hitting the ball better. I obviously have good memories playing here ... so I'm just going to go tee it up."

Sadly, these days, memories are all that Gossett has of a golf game that got away.

Role Reversal at The Quarry

The famed Quarry Golf Club in San Antonio has a new look this summer, according to an email from the club I just received: All play will begin on No. 10 (the holes that descend and then wind up out of the abandoned quarry that gives the course its name).

What's not clear from the email is whether this is a permanent change affecting all golfers, or is in place only during the summer months or possibly even just for twilight play. So if this change matters to you, you'll definitely want to call the club before heading out.

It could just be a response to the heat of the summer. The heat is even worse down in the quarry, so Quarry management might be thinking that it's better to let golfers play the signature part of the course at the beginning, when they are fresh, rather than after they're already feeling the effects of the heat.

At any rate, playing The Quarry in the summer heat is definitely the best time to do it. Frankly, I've always thought this course was overrated, and especially the quarry holes. It's a very interesting setting, that's for sure, and any golfer is going to love it the first time around. The second time around, however, you might start noticing that there's really nothing that special about the individual holes themselves (I further believe that holes 1-9 are better than the quarry holes).

Plus, The Quarry costs more than $100 to play, at full price, which makes it, in my opinion, not worth the money. However, in the summer heat The Quarry offers specials that - pardon the pun - rock. Regular rates of $35 are not hard to find during the summer, and green fees as low as $25 can sometimes be found for twilight rounds. At those rates, The Quarry is worth every cent.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Bogey to Texas Open: Wie is Waiting for You

I've written before of my belief that the Valero Texas Open should be pleading with Michelle Wie to head to San Antonio in September. (Short version: The Texas Open needs all the help it can get.) Wie is coming off another strong showing in a PGA event, this time missing the cut by just two strokes (but finishing under par) at the John Deere Classic.

And something she said after her play at the Deere was over caught my eye:

"On the LPGA Tour, I made the cut on my fourth try," she said. "My fourth try is coming up, so I'm really looking forward to that." (quote taken from this AP story)
Her fourth try at making a PGA Tour cut is coming up? Is she simply saying that her next PGA Tour appearance - whenever that might be - will be her fourth, or is she giving a clue that she knows a fourth try is coming soon? Has she already accepted a sponsor's invitation into another PGA Tour event this year, or is she considering doing so?

The folks in charge of the Valero Texas Open need to get on the horn to the Wies right away and get her to Texas! Wie is a marketing goldmine, and she's as good or better than most players who get sponsor's exemptions anyway.

Besides, I'm convinced she would make the cut at the Texas Open. One, it's a weak field; two, it's an easy course.

Wie could put up a 65 or 66 at the Resort Course at La Cantera, there's no doubt in my mind (last year, it took 3-under to make the cut), and she'd almost be a lock to break par in both the first and second rounds. She'd be hitting wedge into most par-4s and three of the four par-5s are easily reachable in two for her. It's a short course to begin with but plays even shorter because so many of the holes play downhill. Heck, I shot a 78 there about two months ago and I stink!

Plus, most of the fairways are generous and the bermuda greens are much more like what she's used to putting on in Hawaii.

If the Texas Open becomes Michelle Wie's fourth try at making a PGA Tour cut, then she'd be right to think No. 4 will be the charm.

Good for Hackers

Got an email today from Robert Walker with The Hackers Tour, that included an interesting tidbit from the National Golf Foundation: "core golfers," those who play an average of 37 rounds per year, shoot an average score of 95.

So next time you shoot a 95 and feel like throwing clubs, just think: All I have to do is shoot one stroke less - a 94 - and I'll be above average! The NGF says that only one-third of all golfers will ever break 90 in a single round. That actually seems a little high to me, but if the NGF says so ...

And speaking of The Hackers Tour, if you are anywhere in or around the DFW Metroplex and haven't heard of The Hackers Tour, you might want to get to know it. It's a very well-run tour for golfers like you and me; it offers a ton of tournaments, great formats and payouts.

As it says on the tour website, by way of introduction:

A passion for golf has always been the driving force behind the creation of The Hackers Tour. The number one reason for starting The Hackers Tour was to create
the fairest competitive venue for average golfers with the opportunity to play for cash prizes.
Check out The Hackers Tour website for info.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Fazio Course at Carlton Woods

There's a brief update in the Houston Chronicle about the new Tom Fazio-designed course at Carlton Woods.

"We had a lot of land to work with," said Fazio.

"Natural elevation and drainage gave us the opportunity to create something distinctive."

Fazio, who has more courses on Golf Digest's top 100 list than any other architect, said this one won't have as much bite as bark.

"Visually, it looks harder than it will actually play," Fazio said. "There's lots of room ... to miss."

Uniquely here, the course features hybrid Zoysia grass on its fairways, rough and tees. Fairways are sand-capped to expedite drainage, and greens are reliable Tif Eagle.

The course is supposed to be ready for its grand opening in October, when it will join the Jack Nicklaus course already at Carlton Woods.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

State Father-Son Championship Embraces Stableford

In many parts of the world, Stableford is one of the most common scoring systems used. In England, for example, you're as likely to find the club championship being contested at Stableford as at stroke play.

Not so in the U.S. Stableford is a scoring system we usually only hear about when the PGA Tour's International rolls around each year.

The Texas Golf Association, however, is putting Stableford into the mix at this year's State Father-Son Championship in Kerrville. The tournament, July 8-10 at Riverhill Country Club (one of Byron Nelson's favorite courses), will use Stableford in all but its Championship Flight.

In past years, the State Father-Son employed a mix of scoring methods for its three rounds. Teams have previously played four-ball stroke play in the first round, combined score of the two partners in the second round, and then four-ball stroke play again in the final round.

That will still be the format for the championship flight, but all other teams will turn to Stableford.

"Many of the teams that have played in the Father-Son over the years have given us very positive feedback about this event," said Ryan Finn, TGA Tournament Director. "However, there was such a large spread in the scores after the combined total round, they were telling us to consider a way to make it more competitive for more teams. By using the net stableford scoring format for the non-championship flights everyone can be more competitive in their flight."

Kudos to the TGA for listening to its participating teams, and for giving Stableford a shot.

A Driving Range Without ... Driving?

What do you call a driving range that bans drivers? An ironing range?

We'll find out soon, because Ten Cups driving range in San Antonio has banned the use of drivers. I know what you're thinking - it's a short range. That's not uncommon in cramped quarters - many golf courses have short ranges where only irons, or even just short irons, can be hit due to the short length of the range.

That's not the case at Ten Cups, where the owner, David Fineg, says he's just tired of digging balls out of the woods that have been hit by golfers who have no business trying to hit a driver. (Hat tip to Richard Oliver of the San Antonio Express-News for first publishing this story. You can Richard's blog by clicking on the Oliver's Twist link in our sidebar.)

"As far as I'm concerned, drivers are useless to amateurs," Fineg told the Express-News. Hmmm. As far as I'm concerned, a driving range that bans drivers is useless to golfers who need to practice ... their driving. That's what a driving range is, after all: a practice facility. How is a golfer supposed to get better with a driver when the practice facility says, "Sorry, you can't hit that club here"?

Now, Fineg is correct when he says drivers are useless to most amateurs. Let's face it: recreational golfers stink when it comes to hitting driver. As elevated a figure as Lee Trevino has said many times that amateurs shouldn't even carry a driver, they just get you into trouble.

But, c'mon, hitting driver is fun. That rare big bomb down the middle is what keeps many weekend hackers coming back to the game. The quest for a consistent, deep driver is what sends many of those hackers to driving ranges to practice.

So Fineg's choice at Ten Cups is odd ... but, then, so is Fineg. Check out the Ten Cups website for a taste of Fineg's eccentricities.

Meantime, we'll be watching to see what effect the new no-driver policy has at Ten Cups.

Monday, July 04, 2005

NGT Retooling Texas Series for 2006

The National Golf Tour is a development tour for golfers aspiring to play professional tournament golf. The NGT is one of the fastest-growing tours in the U.S. with regional series in numerous states. Texas is one of those states; the NGT's regional tour here is the Lone Star Series.

The NGT Lone Star Series teed off in 2005, but the tour has announced major changes to its 2006 operations in Texas. The changes should result in bigger fields, bigger purses and bigger rewards to Lone Star Series participants.

One of the biggest changes for 2006 is that all NGT Lone Star Series tournaments will be played in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The tournament schedule will run from August through October, with the NGT national championship in November at Pinehurst Resort.

Twelve tournaments in all will be scheduled, each 54 holes in length with a cut after 36 holes. Assuming a full field of 144 players, the purse for each event will be $130,000, with $18,500 going to the winner.

Golfers must pay up front for the full schedule, but a $500 deposit will reserve a spot on the tour. The deadline to pay in full is April 1, 2006, and players will be able to buy and sell tournaments as the Lone Star Series progresses.

Golfers interested in learning more about the NGT's 2006 Lone Star Series, or in registering, can call 214-460-9917 or email the national tournament director, Chris Carter, at chris@nationalgolftour.com.

Ward Wins Conso Bracket at LPGA Match Play

Wendy Ward, a graduate of San Antonio's Churchill High School, scored one for the Texas natives at the LPGA's World Match Play Championship. Ward made it to the final four, then beat Candie Kung for the consolation championship (third place overall).

So good for Ward. But I wonder how the LPGA is feeling today about its inaugural match play championship. This was a big tournament for the LPGA, coming a week after the attention-getting U.S. Women's Open, featuring a huge (by LPGA standards) payday, and garnering some rare network television coverage.

And it bombed. I don't know what the ratings were for CBS' weekend broadcasts, but I'm guessing they barely registered. No Sorenstam. No Gulbis or Creamer or Grace Park or Rosales or Kerr. The finals: Marisa Baena vs. Meena Lee. Wake me when it's over.

That's just a built-in risk with match play, and the men's event has suffered the same fate in the World Match Play Championships. Steve Stricker and Kevin Sutherland (yawn) have won that tournament.

The LPGA made one mistake prior to the event by not figuring out a way to get Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel into the field. But mostly, there's nothing the LPGA could have done to spruce up this event. Who knew Annika's putting woes from Cherry Hills would carry into a second week?

Better luck next year, LPGA.

Friday, July 01, 2005

You Know You're Getting Old ...

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, my golf buddy and I would meet at Oso Beach Municipal in Corpus Christi around 4 or 4:30 in the summer afternoons. We could easily get in 18 holes before the sun went down, walking and carrying our bags.

One day, we were paired up on the first tee with two older gentlemen, probably in their 70s. They were engrossed in conversation when we walked up to introduce ourselves. Turns out they were comparing notes on bowel movements. My friend and I were regaled for the entire round with stories of the old guys' latest medical problems.

They were very nice guys and, let's face it, medical problems are an unfortunate topic of conversation for most older people. My friend and I, as young'uns are wont to do, reminded each other several times throughout the round, "If I start talking about my bowel movements when I get old, stop me!"

Don't worry. This post isn't about my bowel movements (I'm not old enough yet to start telling those tales). But is about how golfers' attitudes and conversations change as we get older.

A couple days ago I headed out to the course in the mid-afternoon, around 2:30. It was hot, close to 100 degrees. These were the types of days I walked 15 years ago, carrying a bag. I recall hundreds of rounds in Corpus, not to mention Sinton, Kingsville, Alice and other literal hot spots inland from Corpus Christi. We wouldn't be caught dead walking back in those days - carts were for wusses.

Of course, during this round a couple days ago we got a cart. I played great the front nine, but as soon as we stepped to No. 10, I crated. The heat had completely sapped me, and my partner, too. Our swings were gone. Even my putting stroke abandoned me. We shuffled to and from the cart focused more on the next water stop than the next shot.

It's not that you know you're getting old when you ride in heat that you used to only walk in, and it still saps your strength anyway. You know you're getting old when you talk about doing that as you're doing it.

You know:

"Man, remember when we used to walk on days like this?"

Man, are we old. It's a good thing neither of us is incontinent (yet) or we would've talked about that, too.