A Fearless Ryder Cup Prediction

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OK, here it is right at the top…the USA will win the Ryder Cup going away thus restoring both team pride and the Cup to these shores after what, as my English friend says, has been “a very rough patch.”

We are all familiar with the history–American dominance ended in 1983 and since Europe has won 10 matches and USA 4 with one tie.

The American team still has to choose four members making it very early for predictions but there are some significant things which lead to the conclusion Team USA will do the job for Captain Davis Love III.

First the players. Team USA so far has one rookie (Bruce Koepka) and Team Europe has six, half of Captain Darren Clarke’s squad. Though in the past some first timers have risen to the occasion, having so many on the team multiplies the odds the intense pressure will be a problem for the Euros.

Next is the American players desire to win on top of all those losses and after what can only be called a humiliation in 2014. Only Phil Mickelson has been on winning U.S. teams, 1999 and 2008, meaning the six veterans on the 2016 team have never hoisted the Cup. As an aside, Jim Furyk (Mr. 58) was also on the 1999 and 2008 teams so he may be a possible pick this year.

Thirdly is home field advantage. Not only will the greatest number of fans be cheering for the Americans but Hazeltine National Golf Club, this year’s venue in Chaska, Minn., is a quintessential American parkland design by Robert Trent Jones in 1962 with updates beginning 1991 by Rees Jones. The Euros are used to playing on this style course so the home field advantage is not the site but the enthusiastic thousands outside the ropes.

Finally, the secret (which really is no secret) to winning a Ryder Cup is making putts and by any measure the eight Americans on the team so far are much better on the greens than the 12 Euros. Considering the most likely four players that could be added to the U.S. team—Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar—Kuchar is 21st and Fowler 46th in strokes gained putting on Tour and both Watson and Holmes though ranked in the 130s have the reputation of being able to go low. So putting for a change will be a strength for Team USA.

We all know however, regardless of dressing it up with facts, predictions like this one are really from the heart not the head but like millions of other fans I will be glued to my television the end of September.

Wintergreen Golf – Love at First Sight

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By ED TRAVIS

Some may think “Virginia Is For Lovers” is just another marketing slogan but at least in the case of Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort and from a golfer’s perspective there’s a lot to like if not love.

Wintergreen has a well-deserved reputation as a family-oriented ski resort but the rest of the year it’s a destination where the same mountains offer visitors the chance to play some really memorable golf. The 11,000-acre Resort is located in the jaw-droppingly-beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains which if you have never been there should be immediately put on your list of places to visit. Near the Blue Ridge Parkway on the eastern side of the mountains southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, Wintergreen is about a two hour drive from Richmond and three hours from Washington, D.C.

Wintergreen’s two courses, Devils Knob for resort guests and Stoney Creek open to the public, are very different and each is worth playing.

Describing Devils Knob the first and most important thing (you will thank me for this) is bring your camera and don’t think you can get by with the one in your smartphone. The 1976 Ellis and Dan Maples design has views and vistas deserving the best pictures you can take.

ThDevils Knob Elevation signe sign near the practice green lets you know this is mountain golf and in fact Devils Knob is the highest course in Virginia at 3,523 feet. Laid out before you is the panorama of the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys with some of the furthest mountain peaks 50 miles away.

Devils Knob is a very playable 6,712 yards par-70 from the back tees but to have the most fun be sure to select the proper tees for your game. There are three additional sets from which to choose allowing golfers of all skill levels the opportunity for an enjoyable round: white 6,123 yards, gold 5,625-yards and red 4,443-yards.

As you might expect many of the holes play either up thWintergreen Devils Knob #16_640x425e mountain or down the mountain and the routing traverses through tall stands of oaks and maples. There’s also the opportunity to see lots of wildlife including both deer and bears since the 6,000-acre Shamokin Springs Nature Preserve adjoins the course. Run by the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, the Preserve’s Nature Center can be seen near Devils Knob’s 17th hole.

The greens of mountain have the tendency to break towards the valley and though we found them to be receptive to a well struck iron shot, mishits had the annoying habit of running down into greenside chipping areas or one of the many bunkers. There are also lots of granite outcroppings, mostly out of the line of play, but some very odd bounces into some unfortunate places can be the result of ball-rock contact.

The very first hole shows what to expect during your round at Devils Knob. The par-4 (411-yards from the blue tees) bends slightly to the right around a bunker and with a drive in the fairway the green should be easily reachable. But be cautious with your second shot. The putting surface is not very large, only 27 paces deep, and from the fairway looks like there’s a bit of a false front but that’s an illusion created by the elevation change. Number one however does offer you the opportunity to get your round started with a par or even a birdie.

The strength of Devils Knob is in the par-4s and 16 is one you will enjoy. Again downhill from the tee but your attention will be challenged by the spectacular view of the valley below. And speaking of views, on fourteen before hitting your drive through the chute of trees leading to the fairway, look behind you. The miles and miles of mountains you see are worth a second or even third look and are a real photo opportunity.Wintergreen Devils Knob #4_320x480

The other course at Wintergreen is Stoney Creek and it’s not on the mountain but below in Rockfish Valley. The difference in elevation, almost 3,000 feet, and topography makes a totally different experience than Devils Knob. There are three nines here; the original 18 holes, now the Shamokin and Monocan nines, and the Tuckahoe nine. All are Rees Jones creations with Shamokin and Monocan opening in 1988 and Tuckahoe in 1998.

Jones is often called “The Open Doctor” because of the many times the United States Golf Association has called in him to overhaul courses in preparation for holding our national championship. Seven times in all Jones has worked his magic on Open venues including Congressional Country Club and Bethpage Black plus his talents haven’t been missed by the PGA of America since he has redone eight PGA Championship venues including Baltusrol for this year’s PGA Championship.

His talent and inventiveness are apparent at Stoney Creek with each of the nines having a distinctive character. Perhaps the one of the best memories visitors will take away from a day of golf at Stoney Creek (aside of the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains rising above you) is that there is something for every skill level of player.

The 8th hole at Tuckahoe for instance plays 165-yards over water from the back tees but is only 100-yards from the forward tee which is positioned so the water does not need to be carried. Or number 4 on the Monocan nine which plays downhill with mounds on the right and bunkers on the left from the tee. Playing the tips from 420-yards necessitates a long straight drive however the most forward tees are 80-yards less, setting up a chance for a drive that could roll all the way to the bottom of the slope.

Completing the Wintergreen golf experience is the Golf Academy which is located at Stoney Creek and there are several one-day and multiple day packages to get your game the fix it needs.

Not matter how you look at it both Devils Knob and Stoney Creek are fun to play and best of all will provide a challenge to every player.

Wintergreen was purchased in 2012 by coal billionaire Jim Justice for $16.5 million and, before reselling it in 2015, invested a reported $12 million in capital improvements. Justice, who is currently running for Governor of West Virginia, is also owner of The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The present owner of Wintergreen is the publicly traded EPR Properties, a real estate investment trust (NYSE: EPR), and Pacific Group Resorts, Inc. operates Wintergreen under a long term lease.

So, Wintergreen Resort is not just for skiers. The rest of the year it’s a mecca for outdoors activity with lots of stay and play packages plus an extensive tennis program, the Wintergreen Spa, hiking trails not to mention several restaurants. The one we liked the best is the Copper Mine Bistro with the menu alternating some really interesting choices. Visitors also like the Edge Restaurant with its casual atmosphere and what can only be labelled as a spectacular mountain view.

Wintergreen Resort should be on your short list for golf especially if you’re looking to for a break from summer heat or the opportunity to see the autumn colors along the Blue Ridge.

New From New Balance

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New Balance is known primarily for their high quality running shoes but they also make top notch golf shoes that have been tested and worn by this writer since their introduction. The company is based in Boston and among their worldwide manufacturing facilities are five plants in the U.S. that make more than 4 million pairs of shoes each year. This allows them to use the “Made in the U.S.A.”  label when over 70% of a shoe is domestically produced.

Golf shoes from New Balance were first seen at the PGA Merchandise Show in 2014 with six styles for men and women and since then the new player in the market has been able to effectively compete with the more established brands.

The latest from New Balance are the NBG2004 due to be at retail Sept. 15. These are good looking athletic-style golf shoes that don’t weight a lot (11.6 oz.) and have seven low profile cleats using the Champ Slim-Lok Zarma Tour system. The upper is waterproof microfiber and the NBG2004 makes use of New Balance’s REVLite midsole for comfort.

Designed with a wider forefoot that lets the wearer’s toes spread out for better balance, the instep is slightly lower to promote feeling of being “connected” with the ground to help with a more powerful swing. The PW-1 last also has a narrower heel for stability and a shallower toe area to lock in the front part of the foot. The upper is waterproof microfiber leather with plenty of support and a form-fitted tongue.

The REVLite midsole was first created as lightweight cushioning for runners and works similarly for golfers. There’s also a two year waterproof warranty.

The NBG2004 will be offered in three color combinations: White/Red, Grey/Blue and Black/Green. Suggested retail price is $119.95.

Olympic Golf – A Big Success…But

Park&Rose_Gold_640x480Olympic golf was a smash hit but will that success help to accomplish the goal of those who believe the inclusion in the XXXI Olympiad summer games could result in significant numbers of people taking up the game? Will the Olympics reverse golf’s decline in participation?

There is no question how much being on the Olympic stage meant to each of the 120 who played. It was an experience of a lifetime and each felt some of the magic of being on the world stage.

Got it. Understand it.

However, the cynic in me doesn’t get how the hoped for mystique surrounding golf returning to the Olympics will somehow solve the steady leakage of players from the game. All that was missing from the Golf Channel’s coverage was the shot of a kilted bagpiper marching over a dune into the mist at sunset playing “Scotland the Brave.”

One of the primary reasons, indeed the biggest reason, the push was made to again have Olympic golf was the worldwide exposure would somehow help “grow the game.” Well, golf is already a worldwide sport with a history of championship play older than the Olympics so if you’re looking to showcase the game an Olympic field of just 60 players is ridiculous.

If its exposure we’re after let’s have the best in the world playing, a Team USA and a Team Great Britain and a Team China competing together not as individuals. Excepting the final round, individual play turned both events into just one more 72-hole march. Hasn’t anyone heard of a two player scramble or alternate shot? Both could be done with the total score counting for four rounds maybe with one round of individual play.

Regardless even if those changes are made we are left with the sobering question. Will any of those who watched Olympic golf, perhaps seeing the game for the first time, take up the game?

It might happen but in any appreciable numbers is inconceivable. One interesting outcome worth watching though is the effect Shanshan Feng winning the Bronze will have in her home country of China where the population is more than four times the U.S.

Developing countries with their large number of non-golfers are said to have a great potential for new players but generally they struggle to feed and house their people. They certainly don’t have the money to create programs for newbies to say nothing of building golf courses. This would seem to make an insurmountable problem for all the “grow the game” folks.

By now we should have figured out people play golf for a variety of motivations stemming from their own character, social needs and culture plus of course that’s assuming they have the time and can afford it.

Golf in the Olympics changes none of those things.

Millions of us golf nuts were thrilled to see the competition and hope in four years it will be even better but thinking that Olympic golf is going to somehow cure the industry’s participation ills is unrealistic. It’s not going to happen.

 

10 Rounds with Exotics DG Tour Series Putter

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There are lots of reasons to pick a particular putter from “it looks good” to of course, “it works…at least for now.” There’s even settling on a new flat stick because of the designer has a reputation for making putters used by Tour pros regardless of whether it’s suitable for you.

But I think my reason for interest in the new putters from Tour Edge Golf, the Exotics David Glod Tour Series, may be a first. The company’s chief designer David Glod (who is also the owner) creates quality woods and irons that are top performers when compared to clubs from much larger club companies and usually at a much more pocketbook-friendly price. I have sung the praises of his clubs for several years, especially the fairway woods and hybrids.

I like them so much they are in my bag even after numerous head-to-head comparisons with the latest from just about every other maker. It was because of the performance of the long clubs from Tour Edge I was looking forward to giving the DG Tour Series putters a thorough try over 10 rounds.

I wasn’t disappointed.DG_2345_250x370

The model tested was the 5.1, a face balanced small mallet head with a Superstroke Mid Slim 2.0 grip and from the first putt the overwhelming impression was the solid feel of the impact with the ball. Alignment is easy aided by the white line and the edges of the cavity that takes up more than half the top of the head.

Did it fix all my putting problems? No, but it wasn’t too long to have my confidence rise and all questions about the performance of the putter in my hands disappeared.

Glod talked about his designs in the DG series which include two modern blades and three mallets. All have a distinctive face milling, a weight of 350 grams and offer a choice of black PVD or silver bead finish. Each is CNC milled from a single block of carbon steel and priced at $249.99 or $279.99 with a Superstroke grip.

According to Glod the main idea behind the design of the DG Tour Series was, “To improve on popular models with special nuances and create all new versions like V4.1 and V5.1.”

He produced the DG Tour Series putters with a distinctive milled “X” pattern rather than an insert in the face because, [an] “X pattern grips ball better with sharp diagonal edges for less skid,” and the head being milled from a single steel block since, “A block of steel is more pure for best the feel.”

Which it does without question.

Negatives: You may have heard this before but that doesn’t make it less true—get fitted properly. Even though the cost of a fitting session with a competent professional adds to the cost of any putter, if you rely on pure chance the odds is getting a putter that fits your stroke are slim. For example, do you know if a face balanced putter or one with toe hang or how much toe hang is best for you? I thought so.

Recommendation: The Exotics David Glod Tour Series putters are of the highest quality and though they may not cure all your putting woes at least you’ll know it’s not the putter.

A short video from Tour Edge may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeYmZ2Nai50

One Less Slice to the Pie

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The golf equipment industry is evaluating the potential effects of Nike Golf announcing Aug. 3 it would getting out of the club, ball and bag business to concentrate on its golf apparel lines including ones under the Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie brand names. Club manufacturers have spent the last several years trying to find ways to increase sales and now the slice of the pie that belonged to Nike is up for grabs.

The question is what the remaining club companies will do to take over Nike’s share of the market and if the strategy involves reduction in the prices of clubs to attract sales the golf consumer could benefit.

Nike is the smallest of the big four by a significant margin with sales of $706 million this past fiscal year trailing Callaway Golf ($844 million sales in 2015), TaylorMade-adidas Golf ($989 million) and Acushnet ($1.5 billion).

However the scrum for the sales that had been going to Nike will take place in a muddy field.

There is uncertainty surrounding the two largest companies. Acushnet, the parent of Titleist and FootJoy, has registered with the Security and Exchange Commission to make an offering of stock to the public. Adidas has put its TaylorMade Golf division with the Adams Golf and Ashworth brands up for sale though details of any potential deal are unknown.

Smaller companies are also making moves that add to the list of possible outcomes such as Srixon’s Cleveland brand changing focus to wedges and putters while Srixon and their upscale XXIO lines market woods and irons. Tour Edge Golf has increased efforts to further penetrate the market for irons with well received new models.

Undecided for now is the fate of Tour players who endorse the Swoosh clubs and the list starts with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie but also includes veteran Paul Casey and rising stars Tony Finau and Bruce Koepka. Woods has said he is actively looking for a new relationship with a club company with the mostly likely candidate could be Acushnet-Titleist since longtime rival Phil Mickelson is the chief spokesman for Callaway and the question marks surrounding the sale of TaylorMade.

Jordan Spieth endorses Titleist clubs and golf balls but is contracted with Under Armour for apparel.

Additionally, money paid to endorse a given club line has been put under close scrutiny by every manufacturer as profits have shrunk. The huge sums Nike has paid in the past for marquee stars are most likely not part of the equation. It has been reported Woods earns $50 million annually from Upper Deck, Rolex and Nike endorsements even though he has not played a single event in the past year. Woods’ Nike deal includes both equipment and apparel.

Three years ago McIlroy signed a 10-year deal for between $200 and $250 million according to published stories including apparel as well as equipment.