The Big Three and the TPC

tpc

The big news coming out of 3M Championship media day Tuesday was the announcement that the “Big Three” of Nicklaus (that’s Jack), Palmer (that’s Arnold) and Player (that’s Gary) would compete in this year’s Greats of Golf competition during 3M Championship week July 28-Aug. 3 at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine.

My story for the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the announcement can be read here: http://www.twincities.com/sports/ci_25982107/golf-3m-championship-reuniting-arnold-palmer-jack-nicklaus

Surprising news? Somewhat, especially considering the 74-year-old Nicklaus never plays in regular Champions Tour events anymore (hasn’t since 2005) and only rarely plays in exhibitions or charity events (he did play as part of a “Big Three” appearance in this year’s Insperity Championship at The Woodlands, Texas).

But I wouldn’t call the news shocking. Not with Hollis Cavner running the show.

Cavner, the 3M Championship tournament executive director, regularly outdoes himself in terms of landing A-listers. Last year’s coup was adding a women’s team for the Saturday “Greats of Golf” competition, with a pairing of Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley captained by Palmer. I followed that pairing for three holes and was floored by the grace and precision of Sorenstam’s swing. Not sure I’ve seen a better one.

Anyway, as for Cavner, I wouldn’t put anything past him. Best guess for next year’s 3M: He’ll land Old Tom Morris.

A couple of leftover nuggets from Tuesday:

– Here is what fans, who incidentally can attend at no charge, will be watching when the Big Three take to the sprawling greens at TPC Twin Cities: a combined 34 major championships and 191 career victories on the PGA and Champions tours. The breakdown: Nicklaus, 18 majors, 73 wins on PGA Tour, 8 on Champions Tour; Palmer, 7 majors, 62 on PGA Tour, 5 on Champions Tour; Player, 9 majors, 24 on PGA Tour, 19 on Champions Tour (he is credited with 163 worldwide victories).

– Defending champion Tom Pernice is having a strong 2014 season. Pernice, 54, won the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, has four top-10 finishes and ranks eighth on the Champions Tour money list with $591,917.

– Pernice, who was on hand for media day, on the Big Three’s appearance at the 3M Championship and on the TPC Twin Cities course, designed by Palmer and Tom Lehman:

“It’s special for me. I grew up idolizing and watching these guys. I played with them a little bit at the beginning of my career. To have Arnold, Jack and Gary – he’s ageless at age 70 whatever he is (78, to be precise) – it’s going to be exciting.

“… What I like about the golf course is that it has variety. The par 5s have risk and reward to them. You can make eagles; you can make bogeys. … I’m just amazed, with the winter and spring you’ve had not being very good, at how good of condition the golf course is in.

“It’s exciting to me to know that at one time this was a flat piece of land; it’s pretty hard to believe. I like that the water’s in play, but it’s not overly in play. It gives you freedom to play. It’s not scary, but it’s there.

“We’re in the entertainment business; it’s good to have birdies as opposed to bogeys. We’ve all played U.S. Opens, and those are great if you’re trying to find the truest champion, but those aren’t necessarily fun weeks. … That’s their career (PGA Tour players). We’re on the other end of our careers; it’s good for us to come out and enjoy ourselves. To be able to see the greats come out and play on Saturday is a huge deal for us. The players love it; I personally love it; I get to see them, talk to them, say hello to them. It’s pretty special stuff what’s going on here at the 3M Championship.”

Awards season

Two honors so far for “Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses”:
– A bronze medal (bronze-medal tie, to be perfectly accurate), in Mid-West Non-Fiction in the “IPPY” Awards (Independent Publisher Book Awards, with more than 5,500 total entries from 34 countries).
– Selected one of three finalists in the Recreation/sports category in the Midwest Book Awards competition (winners will be announced May 14).
Teamwork can do wonders. I had three terrific colleagues who made this book a winner: designer Tami Dever, photographer Peter Wong and editor Gary Derong. A heartfelt thank you to them, and to all the wonderful people I met who told me about lost golf courses.

Edinburgh USA renovations begin

The grounds were bustling Friday at Edinburgh USA in Brooklyn Park. The driving-range stalls were nearly full, 24 high school boys golf teams were in action in the highly regarded Tri-State Invitational, and even with all that, there was a short stop in progress.

No, not a shortstop. A short stop.

The short stop was mine. I checked in briefly at the pro shop while on, well, business. I’ll get to that later.

More significantly, I was the beneficiary of an update on changes that are coming to Edinburgh USA. The city-owned course, designed by Robert Trent Jones II and opened in 1987, home to an LPGA Tour stop for seven years and the 1992 U.S. Public Links Championship, is about to get a facelift. The backhoes are set to be cranked up Monday morning as work begins on an extensive course renovation. Trees have been and will be removed, much of the course’s sand will be dispensed with, and two greens will be redesigned. Trent Jones II will handle the redesign work as well.

Club pro and golf course manager Don Berry — a week removed from a second-place finish in the Senior PGA Professional Championship that earned him a berth in next month’s Senior PGA Championship — said the changes will have the cumulative effect of making the course easier for medium- and higher-handicap players, though he noted that the course still will be a challenge for better players. (Edinburgh USA measures 6,904 from the back tees and requires an astute hole-by-hole game plan.)

Berry didn’t use the word “playability,” but it’s apparent that increased playability is one aim of the redesign. On Saturday, Berry told ESPN 1500 Golf Show hosts Craig Teiken and Joe Stansberry that 40 percent of the course’s sand will be removed. He had told me the day before that there would be much more grassy and fairway area around the greens than currently exists, so presumably higher-handicap players will be able to play their way onto the greens with more ease, buoyed by the prospect of fewer bunker shots. It seems likely that pace of play will improve as a result.

Berry also told Teiken and Stansberry that work would be done three holes at a time and should be completed by Aug. 1.

Those familiar with the course will notice a difference right away. The first hole (pictured below), a 492-yard par 5 from the middle tees, currently has three bunkers just inside the left rough. The three-bunker configuration will turn into a single bunker with the redesign, and there will be fairway on both sides of the bunker.

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Edinburgh USA’s best-known hole, and one of the best-known in Minnesota, the par-4 17th featuring an “island fairway,” will be one of the least-changed holes with the redesign, Berry said. (Can’t say it’s one of my favorites, but I’m probably just sore because the first time I played it, I double-cross-pull-hooked my tee shot left of all of the water, a feat that likely has never been repeated, wound up with a 30-degree sidehill lie in no-man’s land and shortly penciled in a snowman on the scorecard.)

In a January web posting, Berry wrote this of the prospective changes:

“Edinburgh USA will be starting an extensive golf course renovation in the spring. All the bunkers and surrounding areas will be completely re-done; new sand, new design, new liners and some fairway grass around the bunkers to completely modernize the course. Also, the first and third greens will be re-designed and re-grassed. What this means for the golfer is that some bunkers will be closed during your round and we will have a couple of temporary greens for the first half of the golf season. We feel the wait will be worth it as the golf course will be amazing when completed.”

Edinburgh USA’s website is www.edinburghusa.com.

As for the business I was on, it falls here under the category of shameless self-promotion. If you stop by the Edinburgh USA pro shop, you can not only view detailed, hole-by-hole sketches of the redesign work, you can pick up for $19.95 a copy of my book, “Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999.” Makes for a great Father’s Day or Mother’s Day gift. (Full disclosure: If you look to the right on this web page, you’ll see that Berry pre-read the book before publication and offered a short review.)

Fore! Not gone.

Reports of their demise were not premature, because one of these Minnesota golf courses was indeed shuttered and the other was set to be. But, having been among those who reported that these two courses were permanently closed, I am compelled and pleased to re-report that they now are open again:

  Mississippi National, Red Wing: After lying fallow during the 2013 season, all 36 holes — both the Highlands and Lowlands courses – have reopened for 2014.

The course, which opened in 1990, shut down after the expiration in autumn 2012 of a lease between the City of Red Wing, which owns the land, and Wendell Pittenger Operations, the longtime course manager. But a group of Mississippi National players was determined to not let the course die. They organized as Red Wing Municipal Golf Corporation and pursued reopening the course. The city required the group to raise $400,000, according to new MNGC pro Nathan Gale, which the group did, as well as forming a new business plan. The city accepted, and the course reopened this spring, with a five-year operating lease for Red Wing Municipal Golf Corporation.

The course remains as it did before closing. Renovations are being made to the clubhouse, among other infrastructure changes. Longtime course superintendent Randy Juliar has returned. Gale is the new pro; he most recently worked for the First Tee program of Minneapolis and before that for Trump International in Florida.

One change to the fee structure is the addition of a resident rate, $25 for Red Wing residents. The course’s website is http://golfredwing.com.

  Sundance: Google “Sundance Golf Bowl,” and every indication is that the course in Dayton (north of Rogers, northwest of Anoka) has been closed. That was the expectation through much of this winter, but the Allen family, which owns the course, reconsidered and reopened.

That is no doubt a popular decision in the northwest metro. Though there is little chance Sundance will ever bid to host, say, a Ryder Cup, the nine18-hole, public layout is popular with league players and those of beginning to intermediate skills. The course, opened in the 1960s, “was established for that blue-collar worker,” said Todd Anderson, the new general manager at Sundance.

Rates will remain the same as in 2013, Anderson said, adding that a senior rate has been established. Mark Wittig is the new pro at Sundance. The course will have a new website, sundancegolfbanquet.com, Anderson said. (At last check, that website was not active, though Anderson indicated it would be soon.)

Masters form chart

There are a thousand statistics that could be extracted and a hundred thousand permutations that could be configured in compiling a “form chart” for the 2014 Masters, or any other pro tournament. Without (much) editorial comment, what follows are key players and some of the key stats, in my mind, five days before Adam Scott grabs a green jacket by the shoulders and holds it up for the new Masters champion to slip into, assuming he isn’t slipping it on again himself.

A few notes, first:

– Odds given are those as quoted late last week by Glantz & Culver

– Top-10 finishes combine those on the PGA Tour and European Tour (PGA Tour top 10s are taken from the “Results Overview” chart on each player’s web page on PGATour.com).

– I’ll apologize in advance for what very well could be a chart that doesn’t display well on some computer screens. I tried for almost two hours Sunday to stumble across coding for charts like this so that it would look good, but everything was way beyond my feeble technological capabilities. So it is what it is.

– My brief picks for the tournament follow at the end of the chart.

PLAYER           Odds          Masters    Best        Average     World         2014

                                                  played   finish        finish           rank         top 10s

Rory McIlroy     7-1                   5              15                  34                  9                  5

Adam Scott       9-1                 12              1                   25                   2                  3

Phil Mickelson 14-1              21      1 (3 times)         14                   5                  1

Jason Day         16-1              3                 2                      2                   4                   2

Dustin Johnson 18-1           4               13                    30                 11                 5

Henrik Stenson  22-1          8               17                    47                   3                  1

Bubba Watson   22-1          5                1                     30                   12                5

Matt Kuchar        25-1          7                3                     28                   7                  6

Justin Rose         25-1          8                5                     21                    8                 3

Zach Johnson   28-1          9                1                     39                    10                 4

Sergio Garcia    30-1         14               4                     34                     6                  6

Brandt Snedeker 35-1      6                3                     26                   19                  1

Keegan Bradley 40-1        2              27                     40                   18                  2

Charl Schwartzel 40-1     4                1                      26                   17                  3

Jordan Spieth     40-1       0               –                       –                    13                  4

Hunter Mahan   45-1        7                8                       36                 32                   4

What’s it all mean? It means the same thing form charts usually mean — they might offer a hint of who’s likely to play well, but it’s still all a crapshoot. In any event, maybe based on the form chart and maybe not, here are my three picks for players to watch this week:

1. Rickie Fowler: Yeah, I can see that he’s not even given consideration by the oddsmakers. And that his world ranking isn’t overly impressive (39th). And that his FedEx Cup ranking is even lower (46th). And that his best Masters finish is T27. And that none of his individual statistical rankings are very impressive, and that he has only one PGA Tour win, and that he has been style as much as substance in five-plus years on Tour. But he is coming off a top-10 finish at Houston, and it seems like he should be about ready to break through. So why not this week …

2. Sergio Garcia: He is in fine form, he is heading into his 15th Masters so should know the course front and back and dip and swale, and he faces the likelihood of less external pressure (i.e. fewer catcalls) than he will in the other two majors on U.S. soil. So I like his chances.

1. Dustin Johnson: My pick to win. Picking a power player to win at Augusta National always makes sense, and Johnson is eminently powerful, averaging a herniated disk for most of us off the tee (translated, that’s 310.8 yards). At 29 years old (30 next month), it seems like a prime time to win a major. I look for him to play the par 5s in about 11 under and parlay that into an invitation to the Butler Cabin on Sunday evening.