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Fairways on the Rock; "Sharp" on Cypress

Last year, The Rock, the struggling course that won a big award but found few players, shut for the year. This spring the course, designed by David Moote, Brit Stenson and Nick Faldo, reopens, though there has already been some discussion about the fees golfers will pay to play it.

It was with some interest that I opened Fairways magazine, a local Toronto golf publication, to find a passionate defense of The Rock from editor Peter Mumford. Now there’s always been the perception that the covers of Fairways are less about editorial and more about advertising. I’m not saying that’s always the case, though I do know of a director of golf who edited the piece on his course before it landed in the magazine. And I don’t know if Mumford’s opinion is swayed by anything other than his take on the course, but The Rock is on the cover of this month’s magazine.

While there’s no article on The Rock, Mumford’s editorial argues that The Rock was a good course, even if golfers failed to fill its fairways. He argues for dictatorial golf, one where the designer almost gives players instructions and tells them how to play each hole. He starts the editorial by saying “I love the Rock.” It devolves from there:

“Critics would have you believe that it is wrong for the architect to dictate the type of shot you hit. They say this takes the thinking out of the game and makes it a game of execution. Would these same critics design a ski hill where all the runs were green circles? Not likely.”

However he also admits this strategy didn’t attract players, which is really the goal of every course:

“As a public course, some of the holes were extremely difficult, perhaps unfair, and that led to prolonged playing times and so much frustration that many vowed never to return.”

Hard to figure how those two passages fit together. The truth is the old Rock, at least before most of the changes, forced players to hit driver most of the time, and often to landing areas that would not hold the requested shots. So Mumford is correct when he says Faldo and co. presented golfers with a stern, one-dimensional test to see if their games were up to the task. I actually don’t think Mumford is being a contrarian here; he’s short, but straight off the tee and a fine player with a good short game. The Rock, at 6,500 yards from the tips is perfect for Mumford’s game. However, for everyone else who doesn’t necessarily hit it 245 off the tee and straight, The Rock was confounding.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Mumford thinks The Rock has options:

“The Rock has plenty of options – they’re just different than the type you get on a typical links course. Where is it mandates that every hole has to be designed so you can hit driver? … If you are a double-digit handicapper, you have no business being on the back tees of any course. You’ll score better and have more fun playing from the forward tees.”

Truthfully, options means more than the choice of hitting driver off the tee or not. It is about being able to approach a hole in a variety of ways, from using a 3-wood off the tee for position to being able to approach a green with a running shot or coming in high with a lob. The Rock rarely presents these sorts of options. The first three holes in the original configuration, forced players to hit driver on the first and third hole, and a long iron on the second. There were no real options, and for most high-handicappers it would be extremely difficult to play the holes even if they were short, but straight. It had nothing to do with hitting driver vs. not hitting driver. It was a question of forced carries and landing areas that weren’t receptive to the expected shots. It was about a course so questionably designed that Faldo was discussing changes while he played the opening round with the owner.

Mumford concludes by saying the redesigned version is “kinder and gentler.” What about “properly designed?” I’m not so concerned about the concept of kinder or more fair — but at least I want a course that rewards the appropriate shots. The old Rock didn’t do that very often — perhaps the new one will.

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This morning with my Globe and Mail came some new men’s magazine called “Sharp,” that is apparently published out of Toronto and has Leo Rautins on the cover. There’s also an article on a series of golf courses, including Banff, Turnberry, Kauri Cliffs and, most interestingly, Cypress Point. The article, written by Edward Wilkinson-Latham, says that not only is Cypress Point owned by Clint Eastwood, but that it can be played by resort guests at nearby Pebble Beach for $495. If only. Too bad none of that is true and that Cypress is one of the most private courses in the world. Sharp indeed.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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