I know people often complain that the Toronto Golf Show is nothing more than a travel show. I’ve never really had an issue with that — and I can rarely walk more than 10 feet without running into someone I know, so it makes the show a great networking event for catching up after the winter and finding out what gossip is going on.
This year started a little differently, as I hustled down to the Toronto Convention Centre to spend some time with famed swing doctor David Leadbetter. I’ve interviewed Leadbetter before, but it was for five minutes in a building on Bay Street two years ago when he was in town doing a Callaway promotion. This time I was scheduled for 20 minutes, but that became closer to an hour when another interview canceled.
I’m going to write about the conversation in my Sympatico column later this week. Needless to say, the talk was wide ranging and included everything from discussion of Michelle Wie and whether she really loves the game of golf through to whether Tiger Woods will be the same player when he returns. We also talked about the influx of Korean golfers into the LPGA, and Leadbetter had some strong remarks in that regard as well, saying he thinks they are mechanical, but don’t have the drive and fascination for the game that leads to lengthy careers.
On the role of swing coaches:“In some cases we get too much credit. I got a lot of credit when Faldo broke through. The fact that we worked hard for two years… that was a different case. That was a solid two years of work. These days you don’t do that with players. These days it is on the job work. They can’t afford to take two years to make a change.”
On Tiger: “You had this image of Tiger as being Mr. Perfect. The way he dressed, the way he played, the family, the way he worked out. Everything was perfect. And that image has been shattered. I dont think the level of his play will decrease in any way. In some ways he might be even more determined to prove himself. But I think the other players will see him in a different light I think he intimidated so many players for so long that basically playing with Tiger was a transformation … he would find an extra gear and they couldnt. Now you have the players like Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler and they are going to go in with an attitude that this guy isnt perfect, hes human after all and they have a chance. And really believing it, which is a big difference.”
On Wie:“She has the ability, whether she wants it or not that badly… life is a choice. I know she definitely wouldn’t enjoy playing golf 24 by 7 like some of these other girls. She has other things in her life, other interests. It is healthy to some extent. But within certain limitations to what she wants to achieve, she could be very dominant. She and Suzann Pettersen are the best going. Nothing against these Koren girls out there, who are very good players, but there is no dominant player among them.”
On Stack and Tilt: “There’s no point in the game where a method has ever worked. And stack and tilt is a method. Those commercials they have on TV — do any of them work with them any more?”
We also talked about swing coaches and what leads to a lengthy career. Canadian Sean Foley’sname came up several times, including a conversation about former Masters winner Trevor Immelman, who moved to Foley last year, only to head back to Leadbetter soon afterwards:
“He went to Sean and they tried to everything different from what they did with me. But Trevor was hurt and it didn’t really work out. Eventually it was, ‘Well what was Lead doing with you?’ And Trevor was like, ‘If I’m going to do what Lead was suggesting, why not work with him?”
I attended two golf course launches, something that will become more rare in coming years. The first was for Oak Bay, a course in the Georgian Bay region, that is part of a housing development with designer Shawn Watters creating the course. Nine holes are complete and seeded, and nine more are nearly finished and should be seeded when the weather warms. The course won’t likely open until next year. I spoke with Watters about the course, which he says “has the flavor of a Muskoka golf course.”
He also pointed out the course will have plenty of great views: “Many [Muskoka courses] don’t have the vistas of the water,” he said. “We have five holes with those vistas.”
Interestingly, the course is only 6,700 from the tips, a smart move in the era of resort golf being 7,400 yards. Many don’t know Watters as a designer — he’s largely done smaller projects — so it’ll be interesting to see whether that changes with this course. The routing has a couple of drivable par-4s, which is cool, and the front nine looks walkable. The back nine, on the other hand, is really spread out, and I’m worried the course might feel disjointed.
The other course launch was for the badly named “The Lakes” in Cape Breton. Considering it resides in a place called Ben Eoin (pronounced Ben Yawn), it is hard to determine how someone came up with such a generic name, one that sounds like a gated community in Florida. That already looks to be changing and there was lots of discussion about calling it “The Lakes at Ben Eoin.” That’s a step. The course is part of a ski facility, has a bunch of government cash in it, and some crazy number of partners involved in the ownership group. The design was created by Graham Cooke (with associate Yannick Pilon working on it as well), and is on the side of a hill. Cooke, who was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame last week, was his typical gracious self, and after his presentation told me the course wasn’t that difficult to route considering its location. Once again he talked about the views, adding the course wasn’t going to be exceptionally hard: “When you play this golf course there are about five areas that transfix you,” he said. The Lakes opens in May.
Finally a comment on the show itself. While there were the typical groups of golfers looking for freebies, the private clubs that are looking for members are now staying away, as are a lot of out-of-town courses. Gone are the likes of Firerock in London, and all the private clubs that flocked to the show a few years back in hope of scoring members. I suspect most of the private courses simply found attendees were more interested in a 4-for-2 or a free round than potentially paying $6,500 per year to play golf. I guess the market just isn’t quite right.
I also participated in a panel discussion with some other notables — golfer/announcer Jim Nelford, CanTour commissioner Rick Janes, golf teacher Henry Brunton and course builder Dick Kirkpatrick — that was interesting for me, but not well attended. Richard Zokol had a public discussion about Sagebrush with Score’s Jason Logan that was also pretty quiet. That’s too bad — it was a neat concept. But I think if given the choice about filling their bags with coupons versus listening to pundits talk golf, the coupons always win out. Which is fine with me…