PGA Tour

A Few Thoughts on Florida Golf

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

“Golf” in Florida is not golf. It’s Swamp Hockey.

Setting aside the unconscionably boring Dove Mountain last week, the last couple of weeks on the PGA Tour have been amazing to watch. There are few things more enjoyable for the spectator than to see great courses like Pebble Beach and Riviera played so skillfully by the best players in the world.  And apparently there are few things more enjoyable for the pros than playing these courses, as evidenced by the recent Golf Digest survey of the favorite courses on Tour (Riv and Pebble came in at #3 and #4, respectively).

But watching the Honda Classic this weekend, despite a packed leaderboard filled with big names like Rory and Keegan, the tournament is devoid of any entertainment value.  Why?  The track — PGA National — is just garbage.  Complete garbage.

I don’t mean to single out PGA National, though.  Having played a fair bit of golf down there in my college years, I’d put all but about six courses in the entire state of Florida in the exact same “class.”  Every course is basically a series of overwatered bermuda alleys connected by a ribbon of concrete winding through a mosquito-infested real estate development.  Granted, the topography of the state does not lend itself to too many interesting designs.  But that’s no excuse for the lack of imagination–not to mention the profit-driven development mindset–put into most of the state’s most noteworthy layouts.

The Florida Hole Templates

There are really only four basic hole types in the entire state of Florida.  With a little help from Photoshop, I’ve sketched them out below:

#1 The Water-on-the-right-OB-on-the-left Hole #2 The Water-on-the-left-OB-on-the-right Hole
#3 The OB-on-the-left-OB-on-the-right Hole #4 The Water-on-the-right-Water-on-the-left Hole

Clearly there are exceptions to these rules, like Seminole or World Woods.  But they are extremely few and very far between.  Probably the most interesting design features on most courses are drainage and cart path positioning.

Time to give some real estate back to the gators and flamingos, I say.

To their credit, at least Finchem and the boys dropped TPC Heron Bay, which ranks as the absolute most boring–not to mention easiest–golf course I’ve ever played.  But even the supposedly “world class” courses in the PGA Tour’s “choice” rotation — PGA National, Bay Hill, Doral, and Sawgrass — all basically follow the script above.*

But the PGA of America is even more culpable than the Tour for setting such a low standard for architecture in this country, with its fine examples in Palm Beach Gardens and Port St. Lucie.  The professionals’ association in this country is helping sow the seeds of demise for the game which it was founded to promote.  How can golf be expected to grow when its most famous venues are these nadirs of creativity and natural beauty? Would the Red Sox or Cubs still draw nearly as many fans as they do now if they’d been playing in the Alameda County Coliseum or Tropicana Field since the mid-70’s instead of Fenway or Wrigley?

Would a Scot or Englishman from the late 1800’s even recognize the “sport” on NBC this afternoon as “golf”?

The bottom line is that no matter the sport, surroundings matter.  The PGA would do well to study its counterpart overseas–the English Golf Union, headquartered at Woodhall Spa–for a little inspiration.

And back to the Tour, for all I care, it may as well stage every event in the Florida swing at The Villages. I won’t be watching until Augusta anyway.


(*At least Sawgrass pushes the design envelope a little.)

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