The Rose Factor-The State of the Game

As 2005 winds down, it’s time for my annual review of the golf industry, in an effort to give you some idea of what the heck you might expect in 2006. In traveling the region from January to September, I found many reasons for optimism, and then just around the next corner, a course closing, sold for real estate development(and who can blame them, at 3 times the value). Overall rounds are generally down a bit, weather, be it too hot or too wet, seems to be a negative either way.

The extreme heat and humidity closed several courses, including Aronimink and Merion, with many others suffering burn out. The next day I might find another course in excellent condition, their greens smooth and fast, rounds up, everyone happy. It’s really a mixed bag. New course openings in 2005, really there was only one. Raven’s Claw GC opened 12 holes in June, 18 holes in July. Vineyard Golf at Renault and White Clay Creek are now in full swing after soft openings in late 2004. All three courses are challenging, beautifully designed and very playable. If there are enough golfers to go around, all should do nicely.

The overall economy is iffy, gas prices aren’t any help, and who knows which way interest rates are headed. Some private clubs have long waiting lists, others are giving away their memberships. About to close for good are several old public courses, Valley Forge GC and The Hills at Perkiomen. The East course at Blue Heron Pines will partially be headed toward housing, like the afore mentioned pair. Rumors abound about a few other established names, Reading CC and Meadowlands, going the same route. There won’t be an equal number replacing them either. Ledgerock GC in Reading, a high-end private club designed by Rees Jones, should be ready to open next summer, along with one other private club, the much anticipated Saint Anne’s Club in Delaware, designed by Jim Furyk. The new municipal course in Lower Salford is another set for 2006. Haven’t really heard of any others being constructed or even in the planning stage. That’s very unusual to say the least.

The optimism for the future is in the bigger and bigger number of youngsters picking up a club. The FIRST TEE program is making it happen, now with 5 major centers in our region. Kids in Atlantic City, Wilmington and Eastern Montgomery County have joined the growing programs in Philadelphia at FDR, and the Chester County program at Wyncote GC. The Tiger Woods factor is still there, and so to is the influence of Michele Wie, Morgan Pressel, and LPGA Tour winner Paula Creamer, the eldest at age 19. Just look at the average age of the top amateurs in this year’s GAP Amateur, Montgo Amateur and US Amateur at Merion.(happy to say that the likes of Chris Lange, Frank McFadden and myself helped to bring the average age up). TV ratings for the PGA Tour are down, despite Tiger, Phil and VJ battling it out, numbers for the LPGA are up thanks to Annika and Michele. Seems somewhat strange don’t you think. Who are you watching?

If there’s a place where optimism and excitement are extremely high, it’s got to be at Merion Golf Club. After 3 years of course reconditioning, much planning and sweat, and meticulous preparation, Merion’s East course was on display for all to re-evaluate at the recent 105th USGA Amateur. Everyone wanted to know if the old Hugh Wilson course could again bring great players, and especially today’s long hitters, to their knees. Is the Main Line’s best tough enough to host another US Open? The smiles on Merion’s members told the story. Now lengthened from 6400 yards to over 6800 yards, with two 500+yard par 4’s, with the brutal high, gnarly rough and hard, fast, tiny, Merion greens, the numbers were incontrovertible. Average score for the 312 top amateurs, 75.3, only 2 players were under par, shooting 1-under par 69’s. PGA Tour veteran Bob Tway(following his son Kevin, the US Jr. Boys champ), called the course as tough as any. USGA officials, from Fred Ridley down, found the course to be ready for the best touring pros. Other obstacles obviously need to be considered for Merion to again host an Open. Odds are slim. Merion will next host the Walker Cup in 2009. By then, we’ll know for sure about a future Open. After this year’s successful Amateur, I vote for more events at Merion, the perfect size and style for the “amateur” majors.

Golf’s Stay & Play

Many of you have told me how much you’ve enjoyed my diaries of my tournament trips to Scotland and England. With no 2005 trips overseas, here are two mini-diaries of my recent tours to the far reaches of North and South Jersey.

July 24, 2005 – Wife Sally and I hit the road, headed to the Crystal Springs Resort in Vernon, New Jersey, north on the Garden State Parkway and hang a couple lefts. Arrive at 5PM, just in time for a late 9 holes on the Minerals course. Our room is just a throw from the pool, so we catch a late dip before dinner. We’re ready for a really good burger, and we get it, along with a great salad and dessert. Before I knew it, time for bed, and the really big day ahead.

July 25 – Get up not too early, but in time for the big buffet breakfast. I overeat as usual. Next up, the 10AM massage at Crystal Springs Minerals Spa. Now that’s what I call living. An hour-long massage, with relaxing music. I didn’t want it to end. We then go to another room for 10 minutes, where we sit with our feet in a warm tub, while sipping cool water. A long shower follows, and on to the next activity, buffet lunch!

Stuff myself again and I’m ready for our 1PM tee off on Crystal Springs’ Ballyowen course, rated among the top 5 in New Jersey. The course, and moreso the heat, get both Sally and I. Time for another shower, and then our next challenge, wine tasting, appetizers, and this time a gourmet dinner. With 6 great golf courses, the hotel, the restaurants and that Spa, a two-day visit just ain’t enough.

 

August 25, 2005 – Sally and I are off again on another two-day excursion, this time to South Jersey to check out the new golf course at the Renault Winery and Tuscany Hotel. We arrive at around 5p.m., our favorite time for a late 9 holes. Peaceful and quiet, we zip around the front nine at a 90 minute clip. Vineyard Golf At Renault takes you around and through the grapes, really interesting and a great test of golf as well. We enjoyed the links-style play, and watching a pack of wild turkeys race into the vineyards. As the sun set, we were done, perfect!! We’re both starving. We check into our room, beautiful, designed in a Tuscany setting, with a view overlooking the course. Dinner is served, in Joseph’s Restaurant, and we order everything from soup to shrimp/crabmeat cocktail, New York prime sirloin, dessert, the works. Just a preview of what’s ahead tomorrow.

August 26 – Still stuffed from the previous meal and aware of the food planned for later, we do just a light continental breakfast. At 11:30AM, our Renault hosts, owner Joe Milza, and managers Kevin McCarty and Martin Mongiello, invite us to meet the chefs, just before they are about to prepare for the evening’s big event, “Dining with the Chefs – Splendor under the Sea”. We then quickly head to the first tee, for our 18-hole round. Even with the bad heat of the summer, the Vineyard course has held up well. I expect that course conditions from mid-September through the winter should be perfect. Sally birdies the first and fifth holes, unprecedented! I finish with a late birdie but lose to Sally, again! Back to the room to rest, and prepare for the big dinner. At 6:30, it’s cocktail time, as we head to the winery to sample the Renault wines and their highly acclaimed gourmet food. We’re among over 300 attending the feast at Renault, for one of their six yearly theme dining experiences. Seafood is the theme, as each chef prepares his favorite dish – one is lobster, the next is shrimp, scallop, and crab, and finally the main course, Chilean sea bass. The dessert chef then whips up something fabulous with fresh peaches. What a great place, either with golf or without, any time, any season. Diet starts on Monday.

 

Players of the Year

It’s time to pay tribute to the golfers whose play has been above and beyond the performance of their fellow competitors. Let me start by saying that the caliber of play in 2005 continues to improve. In the past, if there was a 36-hole qualifier, any score under 150 was usually a lock. Not true today, as indicated by the US Amateur scores, where a score of 143, 1-over par, was a playoff. At the US Mid-Am in Harrisburg, it took 2-under to qualify. Similar scores were needed to make the US Juniors and Seniors. In no particular order, here are the Delaware golfers who had career years.

All year long in Golfer’s Guide, and for that matter last year as well, I have been telling you about a young man whose play has represented a new standard for junior golfers to follow in the future. Robert Galbreath, Jr., now still only 14, is being compared with other young phenoms like Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia at the same stage of their careers. I’ve been fortunate to watch him play since age 5, where then and now, he’s been the best player at his age or under. In 2005, Robby added to his growing list of excellence by winning the GAP Junior title for the 2nd consecutive year. Remember that this is for golfers age 17 and under! At age 12, Robby was the youngest ever to play in the GAP Amateur. This year, before turning 14, he became the youngest to ever qualify for match play. In winning a 5-way playoff at the Amateur, he also became the youngest ever to qualify for the Phila. Open, joining an elite group of 45 pros and 15 amateurs for 36 holes at Aronimink, where he played well, finishing in the top 25. But for a late triple bogey at Llanerch, he would have been the youngest in recent years to qualify for the US Amateur. In the GAP Junior point standings, Robby’s 535 points more than doubled the 2nd place finisher. It’s back to school now, but Robby will be playing some IJGT and AJGA national events over the Fall and Winter, being joined by my Honorable Mention junior, Cole Wilcox of Phila CC, who played well most of the year, highlighted by his qualification for the US Amateur at Merion. These kids are unbelievably good and there’s plenty more on the rise. It should be fun seeing what they’ll do in the years to come.

Speaking of having fun, who’s having more fun this year than my PGA rookie of the year, Sean O’Hair. Besides winning his first PGA event at the John Deere Classic, finishing 2nd at the Byron Nelson, and making an incredible 19 out of his last 20 cuts, Sean got to play in the British Open at St. Andrews, watched Jack Nicklaus play his last Open there, and by the way, finished top 15. Although probably no award in this category, I’ll give the “Caddie of the Year” to Sean’s father-in-law, Steve Lucas, who while being a successful insurance executive, has guided Sean through the media circus that’s been ongoing. The future is boundless for Sean and we look forward to following him through the 2005 Tour Championship and then in 2006, as he’ll play at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, and on to his first Masters at Augusta. You can be sure that Golfer’s Guide and the Rose Factor will be in Augusta with Sean and Steve every step of the way.

In men’s amateur play, younger players dominated for the most part, with Clint Deibert of Doylestown winning the GAP Amateur title, by manhandling the par 5’s at Cedarbrook and defeating a list of top players along the way, including Tug Maude of Merion in the 36-hole final. Collegian Tug also gained big points by qualifying for the US Amateur at Merion. But there was one other player whose play was outstanding, above and beyond anyone else, and he gets my POTY vote for 2005. That golfer is 50-year old Chris Lange of Overbrook GC, who repeats his 2004 honor. Look at this list of performances: Chris wins the GAP Mid-Amateur at Spring Mill, thus becoming the first golfer to win the “amateur” career grand slam, consisting of the Amateur, Mid-Am, Patterson Cup and the Silver Cross. Chris lost to Clint Deibert at Cedarbrook, but shot 4-under par with no bogeys. Tough way to lose. What really swung my vote, Chris qualified for 3, that’s right, 3 USGA events; the Senior Open, the US Amateur and the Mid-Amateur. Unprecedented in my memory. As that Ford commercial for Phil Mickelson might say, “What will Chris do next?” I can’t wait for 2006 to find out.

Time to give the ladies their due, and 2 names top the list as my co-POTY’s of 2005. Meaghan Bolger, playing out of Tavistock CC, but spending most of the year as Univ. of Mississippi golf coach, won her 7th consecutive WGAP Amateur title, dominating her competition from start to finish. She played well in other national events too, the most impressive being a semi-final loss to US Amateur champ Morgan Pressel at the North-South at Pinehurst. Also playing well at Pinehurst, was Talamore’s Dayna Burleigh, an All-American senior-to-be at Michigan State and WGAP Amateur finalist. Dayna played well all summer in national events, and topped it off with a win at the Pa. Women’s Amateur at Lancaster. Both are players of national stature and will be among the many young amateurs that you’ll read more about in future issues of Golfer’s Guide.

Excuse my “senior moment”, I forgot to mention the region’s top senior for 2005. No surprise that it’s 2004 champ David Brookreson from Huntingdon Valley CC. Like last year, “Brooky” finished the year strong, with wins at the GAP Senior at Torresdale, winning by 4 shots with 72-69, winning the Senior Silver Cross, and going national, winning the North-South Senior Am at Pinehurst, shooting 6-under par over three rounds and winning by 6 shots.

 

 

 

 

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