Toronto Golf Show: Leadbetter on Tiger; Cooke on Cape Breton and new course near Barrie

Coach's corner: Swing doctor David Leadbetter talks Wie, Woods and Faldo

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?”


Oak Bay's opening hole -- the Georgian Bay course will open late this year or in 2011

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…

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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.

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  • It was Moe Norman that first said “Lead-Beater took the world’s number 1 player (Faldo) and made him beatable.” Actually it was Al Balding who called him Lead Beater first.
    It’s stuck, in Jamaica I actually introduced him to someone as David Lead Beater.

  • Robert, you mentioned the turnout was light for the talks with yourself, Nelford, Rick Janes, Henry Brunton and Kirkpatrick, and then also light for Jason and Zokol. All mentioned are people that we know, the average show goer has no idea who you are. I would bet that the people who did listen are also people who knew you guys.:-)

  • Last time for my appearance at any Toronto golf show. All the freebies and so called 5000 rounds of golf are all gone by the time any normal person gets there. Even event staff took a 5 minute break to scoop up Copper Creek green fees. After $25 to get in and park, I got nothing but a feeling of where am I….Golftown. What a ripoff show. Walked away with nothing.

  • RT,

    Like you…I enjoy the show as it gives me an opportunity to touch base with business colleagues, public golfers, members and tournament contacts. I think it is kind of the unofficial start of the season and I like the fact that it gets people excited about and talking about golf. In the two full days I was at the show, I got to meet a lot of great people that simply love the game and I look forwrad to seeing a number of them this year at the course.

    I for one support the Toronto Show and hope that it continues to grow, develop and improve.

  • Robert:

    Oh yeah I agree with David Leadbetter: Suzann Petterson and Michelle Wie are “the best going” with, what, 2 wins between them over the last two years??

    That’s much more impressive than those non-dominant Korean girls like JiYai Shin who has 6 wins over the same time period, 3 when she wasn’t even a member of the LPGA.

  • I wonder why Immelman left Leadbetter in the first place. I heard that Foley told Immelman to go back to Leadbetter because he wasn’t interested in teaching him Leadbetter theories. Suzan Petterson and Michelle Wie are the best thing going???? Leadbetter must teach them too.

  • What really would have been interesting is if someone mediated a discussion between Zokol & Brunton about player development.

    I doubt Brunton would go for it.

  • The show attracts people looking for free rounds and freebie handouts. Meanwhile, the people who would be interested to listen to the panel discussions stayed away.

  • Brunton is by far the worst teaching procoach who currently claims such prowess and fame. He has an award on his website as the U.S. Kids Top 50 teacher. Who gives a shit. I just find it interesting that as long as he has coached(drove busses and booked flights) the national team for, he does not work with any of the players once they stop paying their way. Not a single professional. Henry is fantastic at displaying other people’s findings, but the guy has never had an original thought. They are all a bunch of fakes of who pull the wool over peoples eyes when if you put there resume to the test it is a lot of smoke and mirrors. As a CPGA member I find it emberassing that they champion guys like him. Zokol would have emberassed him.

  • It’s interesting to see that Oak Bay went with a real clean line, bright sand look, instead of the ragged edge/fescue/ blow-out style that seems to be the latest rage/sexy look for most new courses.

    Your thoughts Robert?

  • Geoff: I suppose you can’t see the eye rolls through the Internet, or the WTF expression on my face. Other than that, thanks for the story. How quoting someone else becomes reflective of my opinion is part and parcel what is wrong with both readers and journalism these days.
    Anyway, the story is fascinating. Thanks.Love Elling. Good to read a real journalist at work.Ahem.

    CPGA (or as I understand it, a non-renewed CPGA member): How in the world did this become a rant on Henry Brunton? Emberassed indeed.

    Weekender: Interesting indeed. Very Graham Cooke! I see nothing wrong with it if it fits the site. Haven’t seen the actual course so I’ll reserve and comments until then other than the routing raised some flags.

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