Last week concluded the Tour Championship, and with it the 2019-20 PGA Tour Season. Dustin Johnson came away with the victory, finishing at -21, 3 strokes ahead of the runner-ups, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele. Johnson was also crowned the FedEx Cup Champion, as well as remaining the number 1 player in the World Golf Rankings. Due to the format change in the Tour Championship, Johnson was at the top of the Leaderboard from the start and never gave it up. It was a dominating performance, and quite a way to capture his third win of the year in a remarkable season (keep in mind that U.S. Open and Masters are yet to come before we can totally close out the 2020, so we still have a lot of great golf to watch). It has been a difficult year for both the players and fans, but there was a lot of great golf and of thrills. The players who made the biggest impact this season were obviously Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, and the PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa. It was a relatively lackluster year for Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and Jordan Spieth—but the U.S. Open and Masters are yet to come, so there is still a chance for one of them to make his mark on the 2020 season.
The Safeway Open
This week begins the Safeway Open played on the North Course at Silverado Country Club, part of Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, California. Following the FedEx cup playoffs and the Tour Championship, the field for the Safeway has traditionally not been quite as deep as some of the other Tour venues, but there are still some very big names teeing it up. Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, and Shane Lowery (the reigning Open Champion) will all be in attendance. Unfortunately, Cameron Champ, one of the young guns on tour, has decided not to defend his championship, opting to rest instead after competing in all three FedEx Cup playoff events. Normally played in October as part of the fall event series, the Safeway was moved up in the schedule this year due to Covid-19.
Silverado Country Club is a 36-hole public facility, part of the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa Valley California. The North course was originally designed by Ben Harmon and John Dawson in 1955, and remodeled by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in 1967. RTJ also designed the South course, and both courses have been modified and updated over the years by two-time U.S. Open Champion and World Golf Hall of Famer, Johnny Miller. Silverado hosted The Kaiser International Invitational from 1968 to 1980, a PGA Tour event with champions who included the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, and Johnny Miller himself. Silverado offers two great tracks, wonderful accommodations, spectacular views of Napa Valley, as well as the Johnny Miller Golf Academy. When you are planning your next golf getaway, take a good look at Silverado—you will be happy you did.
Last week concluded the BMW Championship, (second leg of the shortened 2020 FedEx Cup playoffs). The scoring was very high as Olympia Fields showed its teeth and only five players were able to finish under par. John Rahm and Dustin Johnson both ended the week at 4 under, and Rahm took the title with a birdie on the first playoff hole. With the victory, Rahm moved all the way up to second place in the Cup standings, just behind Johnson who maintained his over-all lead going to the Tour Championship. The course was set up much like what you would expect at a U.S. Open venue, and unlike so many regular tour events, par was a very good score. Not that I enjoyed seeing so many great players struggle to make par (OK, I kind of did), it certainly made for a ton of excitement. As of now, the standings have Johnson in the lead, followed by Rahm, Thomas, Simpson, Morikawa, and Daniel Berger.
This week is the start of the Tour Championship, played at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA. As you would expect, the field is stacked with veteran powerhouse players like Johnson, Thomas, McIlroy, Rahm, DeChambeau, Finau and Matsuyama. But there is also a host of young phenoms including Collin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler, Victor Hovland, Cameron Champ and Joaquin Nieman. The Tour Championship went through a format change in 2019, and now the winner of the Tournament is also the definitive winner of the FedEx Cup. From 2007 through 2018 the format allowed for two champions (a Tour Championship champion and a FedEx Cup Champion), and in four of those years the winner of the two was not the same player. Now, thankfully, it is assured that only one player will be deemed the over-all champ. The top 30 players in the FedEx Cup playoff standings will all tee it up to identify who that player will be. Under the new format, the top 25 players in the standings start the Tour Championship under par, laddering down from the leader (Dustin Johnson) who starts at -10, to number 25 (Marc Leishman) who starts at -1 (26-30 start at even par). Everybody has a chance to win, but the players who performed the best throughout the year have a pretty big edge—as they should. The Tour Championship was started back in 1987, played in November, and was hosted on different venues on a rotating basis. The first was Oak Hills Country Club, followed by Pebble Beach (88), Harbour Town Golf Links (89), Pinehurst No 2. (91-92), The Olympic Club (93-94), Southern Hills (95-96), Champions Golf Club, (90, 97, 99, 01, 03), and East Lake Golf Club (98, 00, 02, 04 to the present). When the FedEx Cup playoffs began in 2007, the Tour Championship moved to September and became the final leg of a four-tournament season finale. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 2020 playoffs had to be shortened from four events to three.
East Lake Golf Club was founded in 1908, originally designed by Tom Bendelow, and remodeled by Donald Ross in 1913. The course was later updated by George Cobb and most recently by Reese Jones in 1994. In addition to the Tour Championship, the home course of the legendary Bobby Jones has hosted many prestigious championships over the years, including the 1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1963 Ryder Cup and the 2001 U.S. Amateur. With a USGA course rating of 76.2 and slope rating of 144, East Lake is a fitting test to crown the FedEx Cup champion each year.
The 2020 U.S Amateur, one of the most memorable in history, was staged at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. Twenty-two-year old Tyler Strafaci, a senior at Georgia Tech narrowly defeated nineteen-year-old Charles “Ollie” Osborne, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University. Although I consider myself a golf fanatic (I follow both the PGA Tour as well as the Champions Tour pretty closely), the Amateur events never really piqued my interest—until now. In fact, I had never even watched a U.S. Amateur before, other than a highlight or two on golf channel. I know what you must be thinking–how can I call this one of the most memorable U.S. Amateurs in history, if it was the first one I’ve ever seen. Well, that would be a fair point, but I’ve watched the final round of nearly every major professional golf championship, whether it be live or on tape, and the final match of this U.S. Amateur was one of the most exciting displays of quality golf I have ever seen. My dad, who has seen many U.S. Amateurs, shared the same view. With the exception of perhaps the Stenson/Mickelson duel at Troon during the 2016 Open Championship, I’d say the final match at this year’s U.S. Amateur would be hard to beat.
The U.S. Amateur begins with 36 holes of stoke play on Monday and Tuesday and then moves to match play from Wednesday through Sunday. Normally, non-professionals with a handicap index of 2.4 or better qualify for the tournament at a variety of venues around the country to fill out a field of 312 players, but this year COVID-19 forced the USGA to cancel qualifying and instead use the World Amateur Golf Rankings to determine a field of 264 players. The stroke play portion is similar to what you see every week on the PGA tour, where players tee it up and try to make the lowest score they can. Once the stroke play portion of the tournament is completed, the 64 players with lowest score are seeded based on score and advance to match play. Match play is where the excitement begins to build, with players going head to head in a format where if you lose your match, you go home. In match play, each hole stands alone and you either win it or lose it, regardless of the score you make. The first day includes 32 matches with the winners moving on to the next round on Thursday. The field is cut in half each day until two players remain to compete in the final on Sunday, a 36-hole pressure packed head to head battle of wills where grit and determination is more important than talent alone.
There were plenty of high points throughout the tournament, but one particular moment stands out, demonstrating the pressure of the U.S. Amateur and the heartbreak that it can include. It came during the third round between Tyler Strafaci and Segundo Oliva Pinto, in a match that was closely contested throughout. They came to the par 5 eighteenth hole with the match all square, and Pinto put his third shot into the green side bunker. Strafaci was just short of the green, looking at a lengthy birdy opportunity, so it was critical that Pinto make a good bunker shot and save his par—no easy task with many of the damp, windswept bunkers at Bandon Dunes. Caught up in the moment, and in an effort to go the extra mile for his player, Pinto’s caddie jumped down into the bunker and tested the sand with his fingers so he could give him an idea of how firm it was. Unfortunately, touching the sand is a rules infraction and the penalty is loss of hole, and in this case loss of match as well because it was the last hole of an even match.
Another memorable moment came in Tyler Strafaci’s semi-final match against Aman Gupta. Entering the field as an alternate, Gupta came into the week as a long shot–but boy did he put on a helluva show. After qualifying for the match play portion as the number 5 seed and knocking off three opponents to reach the semi-final, he found himself 4 down to Strafaci through 12 holes and it appeared the match was over. Refusing to quit, Gupta proceeded to win 4 out of the next 5 holes and clawed himself back to even going to the par 5 eighteenth hole. Bandon Dunes is a tricky, links style course, where an aggressive play and unlucky bounce can land you in a world of trouble—which is exactly what happened to Gupta when his tee shot found a fairway bunker. Strafaci was in good shape with a solid chance to reach the par 5 in two, and Gupta chose an aggressive play over the steep face of the bunker in an effort to get as close to the green as possible. Unfortunately, his week ended when the shot failed to clear the face of the bunker and ended up back at his feet (as did his next attempt). It was a tough way to lose, but he can certainly hold his head high after displaying so much grit and determination (not to mention a great many quality golf shots).
After so many great matches, I wondered if the final between Strafaci and Charles (“Ollie”) Osborne could possibly measure up, and to my amazement, it certainly did—and then some. The long-hitting, and quite imposing, Osborne took a big early lead over Strafaci at 5 up through 12 holes. And even though the final is a 36-hole match, that’s a big deficit to overcome. Strafaci fought hard though, as he did in every match throughout the week, winning 4 of the next 5 holes to get within one, and then squaring it with a win on the 20th hole. The match remained even until Stafaci took a one up lead by winning the 25th hole, and held it for the next five. Osborne squared the match with a win on the 31st hole, and the final 5 holes included some of the best golf you could ever see as each player traded shot for shot. Strafaci won the 32nd and 33rd holes to go 2 up, and then Osborne won the 34th and 35th holes to square it up again. It all came down to the par 5 final hole, where Osborne pounded his drive right down the middle and Strefaci responded with a beauty of his own. Strefaci was away, as he had been many times throughout the match, and promptly striped a laser-like 3 iron to 15 feet, putting the pressure right back on Osborne. Ollie finally cracked when he pushed his approach to the right of the green, and was unable to get up and down for birdie. Strafaci two putted for the victory, capping off a terrific final match.
This win was particularly emotional for Strafaci, as his family has deep ties to amateur golf. His late grandfather, Frank Strafaci, was something of a legend among serious amateur golfers, having won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links championship as well as winning the North and South Amateur twice (an accomplishment that Tyler matched in 2019.) It was also fitting that Tyler’s father; Frank Jr. was on his bag to share the moment as the family legacy was carried forward. It will be interesting to see if Tyler will try his hand on the PGA tour, or maintain his amateur status and add to his accomplishments (either way, it is certain we have not seen the last of Tyler Stefaci). Ollie Osborne, at nineteen years old, looks like a shoe-in for the Tour at some point—but the field at 2021 U. S. Amateur will have to play some serious golf if anyone hopes to stop him again.
It seems like just yesterday the PGA Tour returned to our television sets, and yet the first week of the FedEx Cup playoffs is suddenly here. The playoffs are the most exciting weeks on the PGA Tour, including three tournaments with the field being reduced after each event until the FedEx Cup champion is crowned. Right now, Justin Thomas is leading with 2,458 points, although top players like Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, and Jon Rahm are hot on his heels. I think it’s safe to say that the next few weeks will be exciting as we cap off the end of the 2019-20 season.
Last week concluded The Wyndham Championship, and it was a true nail biter. Former club-pro Jim Herman fired a final round 63 to hold off Billy Horschell by one shot. With all of the young guns on tour these days, it was nice to see a veteran underdog topple one of the big names in golf. The win was Herman’s third victory on the PGA Tour, and it landed him a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs, rocketing from 192 to 54th in the standings. Jim’s success on the tour is a great story. Originally an assistant pro at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster New Jersey, Trump convinced Herman to give it a shot on the tour—and it has paid off for Jim in a big way. Hopefully he can have another strong showing at the Northern Trust this week, and he should be brimming with confidence after finishing the Windham with rounds of 61 and 63.
As expected, the field for the first event of the FedEx playoffs is packed with top-rated players including Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, and the new PGA Champion Collin Morikawa. Conspicuously absent from the field is Brooks Koepka, who withdraw due to a knee injury that has bothered him throughout the season. Since Koepka was sitting at 97 in the standings, the withdrawal means that his season is over—although he has every intention of teeing it up for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot that was re-scheduled to September (now technically part of the 2021 season after the postponement). Tiger is in the field this week, and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds after his poor showing at the PGA Championship. The Northern Trust is going to be make or break for many in the field, so we can expect some pretty aggressive play.
The Northern Trust is played at various venues on a rotating basis (Ridgewood Country Club-NJ, Liberty National-NJ, Bethpage State Park-NY) and TPC Boston was added to host the 2020 championship. TPC Boston was originally designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay in 2002, and subsequently updated and enhanced by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon. A par 71 eighteen-hole layout, the course is a stiff test of golf with a USGA course rating of 77.2 and a slope of 154.
The championship was originally held at Westchester Country Club in New York, and known for many years as the Westchester Classic. It was also traditionally played in June, either the week before or after the U.S. Open. In 2007 the tournament was rescheduled for August and incorporated as the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Northern Trust became the title sponsor in 2017.
Last week saw a riveting finish to the PGA Tour’s first major of the year. Collin Morikawa fired off a blistering final round 64 to join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in winning the PGA Championship at the tender age of 23. Morikawa was calm and collected throughout with a sold round tee to green, while displaying a silky-smooth putting stroke–but two magnificent shots carried the day. On the difficult 14th hole, facing a delicate uphill chip from a tight lie with little green to work with, where getting it up and down to save par under major championship pressure was no easy task—he chipped in for birdie. And then on the reachable par four sixteenth hole, where many in the field were laying back with irons or hitting 3 wood to leave a short chip, he pulled out his driver and drove the green, shaping a gorgeous fade to about eight feet—and then drilled the putt for eagle. With his two-shot victory over Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson, Morikawa moved all the way up to number 2 in the FedEx Cup standings, closing in on Justin Thomas, who retained his number 1 spot (for now). And with all of the excitement surrounding Morikawa’s huge win, John Rahm’s move to number 1 in the world rankings went almost unnoticed. Brooks Koepka, the pre-tournament favorite and reigning PGA Champion, faded early on Sunday and finished well back with a final round 74. Koepka stirred up a bit of controversy on Saturday with a comment he made about 3rd round leader Dustin Johnson. When asked if he thought he could catch him and make it three in a row, Koepka pointed out that Johnson only had one major title under his belt, and said “I like my chances.” The comment raised more than a few eyebrows, and brought on a response from Rory McIlroy who said “…sort of hard to knock a guy that’s got 21 wins on the PGA tour, which is three times what Brooks has.” Tiger’s performance was largely uninspiring, and his trusted putter seemed to let him down on every hole, finishing well back at 1 under par (T37). With the level of talent on the PGA Tour right now, Woods will have to raise his game a couple of notches to compete as we head into the FedEx playoffs. And Morikawa wasn’t the only youngster opening eyes at the PGA either, as Scottie Scheffler (Age 24, T4 at -10), Matthew Wolff (Age 21, T4 at -10) and long hitting Cameron Champ (Age 25, T10 at -8) all made a strong run at the championship. When you add so many fresh young faces to an already star-studded field, the next few months is guaranteed to be exciting.
The week following a major often doesn’t include a particularly deep field, but with so much talent on the tour right now, in a truncated season, the Wyndham will include plenty of big names, with Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and PGA runner-up Paul Casey all teeing it up. It will be interesting to see how Koepka rebounds from his disappointing finish at the PGA, particularly in light of the remarks he made about Dustin Johnson. Don’t be surprised if Brooks puts the hammer down with big a week at the Wyndham; and keep in mind that Paul Casey went out of his way to say that his wonderful play on Sunday at the PGA was helped by the class Koepka displayed while struggling with his own game in that final round.
First played in 1938 as the Greater Greensboro Open, The Wyndham Championship is one of the oldest events on the PGA tour. Currently held at the venerable Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, NC, Sam Snead won the championship an astounding eight times. In addition to Snead, champions include legendary players such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Billy Casper, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Julius Boros, and Seve Ballesteros. J. T. Poston is the reigning champion, and he will be in the field this week to defend his title.
Sedgefield Country Club, founded in 1925, is an original Donald Ross design that was updated over the years by notable architects including Gene Hamm and Willard Byrd. In 2007 the course was lengthened to accommodate current equipment, and restored to the original Ross layout by Kris Spence, acclaimed for classic course restorations including Memphis Country Club (Donald Ross), Forsyth Country Club (Tillinghast/Ross), and Mimosa Hills Golf Club (Donald Ross).
The 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota, closed out July with tour journeyman Michael Thompson winning at 19 under par, two shots ahead of runner up, Andrew Long. The win was Thomson’s second tour victory, the first one at the Honda all the way back in 2013. The 2020 season has been difficult for Thomson, making the cut in only 8 of 17 events, but a top 10 at the Heritage in June was a sign that his game was starting to come around. Proving that hard work and fortitude can pay off, Thomson secured a two-year tour exemption along with entry into this week’s PGA Championship at Harding Park and the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September. In an emotional interview following the final round, Thomson credited his wife, Rachel, for keeping his confidence up and believing in him when things got tough, saying “My wife has been a rock for me.”
August opened up with the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational, and saw Justin Thomas mount a dramatic come from behind charge to victory with the legendary ‘Bones’ Mackey on his bag. Everyone expected the hard as nails Brooks Koepka to come away with the win, but the pressure Thomas applied seemed to shake a normally unflappable Koepka and he ended with a double bogey six on the last hole, finishing runner-up. This victory gave Thomas a 713-point lead in the FedEx Cup standings over Webb Simpson, currently in the second spot.
After a rocky showing at the Memorial Tournament, questions have again started to bubble up with regard to Tiger’s back. Before starting the Memorial, Tiger put the kibosh on speculation about the condition of his back when he said that his delayed return to tournament play was strictly due to an abundance of caution concerning COVID-19. While Tiger didn’t appear to be in obvious pain at any point in the tournament, his swing didn’t have the fluid freedom we saw at the end of 2019, and a pair of 76’s only add fuel to the rumor mill. Tiger says that he just needed to knock off some rust, and we’ll get to see for sure when he continues his pursuit of Jack’s major championship record this week at Harding Park. Stay tuned.
As with all major championships, The PGA Championship will include a tremendous field of top-ranked players, each hoping to bring home the Wannamaker Trophy, awarded to the winner by the PGA of America. In addition to Tiger, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, and Phil Mickelson will all be teeing it up this week. The player to watch is most certainly the reigning two-time PGA Champion, Brooks Koepka. Koepka gained momentum at the FedEx, in spite of the hiccup on the final hole. After poor finishes at the Workday, Memorial, and 3M, Koepka turned up his game with a blistering 62 in the opening round, and recorded solid rounds of 68 and 69 over the weekend. With his explosive display at the FedEx, Justin Thomas (also a former PGA Champion) is another player to watch closely this week. Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantley, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, and Patrick Reed have all been playing well of late, and each would dearly love to add the Wannamaker to his trophy case. And don’t be surprised if Dustin Johnson suddenly jumps in the mix and walks away with his second major victory. Of course, The PGA has been known to deliver the unexpected, suddenly launching an unknown name into the spotlight (John Daly, Rich Beem, Y.E. Yang, Shaun Micheel, Jeff Sluman, and Wayne Grady come to mind). One thing is for sure, this is going to be a great week for watching golf.
TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California will be hosting a professional major championship for the first time in its venerated history. Harding Park was originally designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting, opening in 1925. A municipal course, owned by the San Francisco Department of Parks & Recreation, Harding Park hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 1937 and in 1956, and the Lucky International Open on the PGA Tour until 1969. Due to budget cuts, Harding Park’s condition had begun to decline and the tour was ultimately forced to end their relationship. For the next thirty years, Harding Park was largely forgotten, with the most humiliating moment coming when it was used as a parking lot for the 1998 U.S. Open that was played at The Olympic Club. 2002 brought about a revival, however, when Arnold Palmer Golf Management was brought in to operate the park. Former USGA President Sandy Tatum played a key role by enlisting the assistance of Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour, with PGA Tour course architect Chris Gray tasked with returning Harding Park to Watson’s vision—and he did a masterful job. 2005 proved to be another groundbreaking year for Harding Park, as it hosted its first World Golf Championship event (The American Express Championship). Ten years later, the course hosted the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. Both World Golf events at Harding were thrilling nail-bitters, with Tiger Woods narrowly defeating fan-favorite John Daly in a playoff at the American Express, and Rory McIlroy defeating the hard-charging Gary Woodland at the Cadillac Matchplay. Harding Park also hosted the 2009 Presidents Cup, and is scheduled to host the 2025 Presidents Cup. In 2010, Harding Park became a member of the TPC network, and is now operated by PGA Tour Golf Course Properties. Joining Bethpage, Torrey Pines and Chambers Bay among municipal courses that have hosted a major championship is yet another fitting tribute to Harding Park, and a testament to how far the game has come in making great courses available to everyone.
When you start thinking about your next golf get-away, give serious consideration to one of the many great golf trails that have sprung up throughout the U.S. Golf trails offer the opportunity to play a wide variety of courses, while at the same time enjoying the diverse scenery and local cuisine in various regions of the country. Trail packages offer group discounts on greens fees, accommodations and dining—or you can plan your own journey along the trail. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama offers many of finest courses you will find anywhere in the country, and wonderful weather is pretty much guaranteed throughout the year.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
The RTJ Golf Trail includes eleven locations and twenty-six courses, from the southern-most point of the Appalachian mountain chain in northern Alabama to the tranquil waters of the gulf coast, each offering first-rate golf and gorgeous scenery. In addition to the great courses, eight of the locations offer wonderful accommodations including the Marriott Grand Hotel at Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear on the gulf, and the Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. All of the courses on the trail are either Robert Trent Jones, Sr. original designs (in collaboration with Roger Rulewich), or courses that were remodeled and updated by RTJ, with the exception of Ross Bridge that was designed by Roger Rulewich and Bobby Vaughn after Jones passed away in 2000.
Established in 1992, The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is the largest golf course project in history, with eleven locations, 26 courses, and 468 holes of golf. Stretching almost 400 miles from the gulf coast to Muscle Shoals in the northwest corner of Alabama. The concept for the RTJ Golf Trail sprung from the vision of David G. Bronner, head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, which manages the pension funds for Alabama state employees. Bronner’s goal was to provide the residents of Alabama with world class golf facilities, strengthen the economy of the state and diversify the assets of the pension fund. The RTJ Golf Trail has achieved all of these, and provided every golfer in the country an unforgettable opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Alabama and the genius of Robert Trent Jones. To date, more than 13 million golfers have visited the trail—an experience you definitely should include in your bucket list.
Robert Trent Jones is one of the most celebrated golf course architects in history. His original designs include Spyglass Hill, Bellerive Country Club, Firestone Country Club and Hazeltine National Golf Club. He has also updated and remodeled many of the great courses in the country, including Congressional, Oak Hill, The Olympic Club, and Baltusrol Golf Club. RTJ also collaborated with Bobby Jones to design both the 11th and 16th holes at Augusta National, and President Eisenhower asked him to design a putting green for the White House. Roger Rulewich received a degree in civil engineering from Yale University in 1958, and began working for Robert Trent Jones in 1961. Together they designed hundreds of great courses, including the Apple Rock course at Horseshoe Bay Resort in Texas, which was awarded best new resort course by Golf Digest in 1986. Since the passing of RTJ in 2000, Roger Rulewich has established himself as one of the finest course architects of his generation, with notable designs that include Ballyowen Golf Club in Hamburg, NJ and Grande Dunes Golf Course in South Carolina.
If you are considering membership at a private golf club, choosing the right one for you is a decision that should definitely not be taken lightly. We’ve outlined a few important things to consider when weighing your options—keep reading and save yourself a lot of time and money.
Advantages of a Private Golf Club
Since there are more than 12,000 public golf courses to play in the United States, why would anybody want to spend money on a private club? Here’s a few of the best reasons:
Access: Public courses need to book as may rounds as possible to turn a profit, and weekends are obviously the most popular with a premium on the morning. That means it’s likely to be tough finding a tee time at a good golf course if you work during the week and want to get a round in on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Not a problem at a private club, where membership is limited and a good tee time is always available.
Finding a game: Unless you have an extensive network of golf buddies to call on whenever you’re looking for a round, it’s likely you will often be playing with strangers at your local public course. Not the case at a private club, where in very little time you will get to know everybody and finding a game will never be a problem.
Course condition: As mentioned earlier, public courses need a lot of play to maintain profitability, and that means a lot of rounds, seven days a week. All that play takes a toll on the course, and even top-notch public facilities with a high maintenance budget have a tough time keeping up. Not so for the private club, where limited membership translates to far fewer rounds, much less damage to the course, and generally much better conditioning.
When it’s time to choose, ask yourself a few questions:
1. What else can a club membership offer
Family: If you have a young family, look for a club with amenities that include a pool and tennis courts, so while you are out golfing, your spouse and kids can have some fun as well.
Business: The golf course is a great place to interact with clients, so if you’re looking to enhance your business profile, find a club with a quality course and top-notch dining facilities.
Social: If you like to entertain family and friends, ask what kind of special events are held throughout the year such as holiday galas, music, or outdoor festivities like barbaque and fireworks.
2. What is most important to me
Prestige: The year a club was founded and the stature of the architect who originally designed the golf course are directly related to the “prestige” associated with a club. Clubs that were founded a hundred and more years ago with a course designed by one of the master architects (Donald Ross or A. W. Tillinghast for example) will also be among the most prestigious in your area—but likely come with a hefty price tag as well (along with a level of exclusivity whereby acceptance is not necessarily a foregone conclusion).
The track: A course doesn’t have to be a hundred years old to be great, and there are a number of modern-day architects that will be considered among the masters as time marches on (Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio come to mind). If you are a serious golfer and want to be challenged, look to see who designed the course and check the current USGA course and slope rating (a rating of 73 or better along with a slope of 130 or more will likely suit your needs).
Variety: Some clubs offer 27 holes as three 9-hole courses, or two 18-hole courses. In addition to not having to play the same course all the time, it will also help with the pace of play.
Practice facilities: The scope and quality of practice facilities can vary a great deal, even at private clubs. If you like to work on your game, be sure to take a good look at the driving range and short-game facilities—particularly the amount of grass area that is available so you are not hitting from the mats too often.
3. Can I swing it financially
Membership at a private club can be a significant expense, so you need to weigh the benefits outlined above against the costs that will be incurred—the most common of which are listed below:
Initiation fee: An initiation fee is pretty common, generally non-refundable, and can be a pretty big number, so it’s the first question to ask when you are considering a club. It’s also the biggest reason you want to be sure of your decision.
Bond: With private equity clubs, each member owns a portion of the club so you will be required to purchase a bond. Again, the bond can be expensive—but the good news is that the value of the bond is refunded when you leave the club.
Dues: Annual dues are generally paid in advance at the end of each year, although payment may be spread over a period of months or throughout the year.
Minimums: Often a club will require a minimum spend on food and beverage, and if you are a golf-only person it may be tough to meet your monthly nut—but generally a few lunches or dinners will get it done (or even ordering take-away every so often).
Assessments: When a club undertakes extraordinary improvement projects, like updating or remodeling the golf course, expanding the clubhouse, or building a new practice facility, the expenses are shared equally by the membership. Large expenses generally require a majority vote of the members and, if approved, the costs are passed along to all of the members—even if you voted no. The good news is that improvements to the club will increase the value of your bond, while you also enjoy the benefit of an enhanced facility.
Ancillaries: Additional expenses to keep in mind when joining a club include golf bag storage, cart/caddie charges, and guest fees.
What’s my travel time
To get the most from a membership you need to use it often, so you don’t want a haul getting over to the club (and as they say, time is money). Optimal distance is within a 20 minute drive, but you may want to extend that for business accessibility.
Making Your Decision
Choosing a private club is a long-term decision, so you need to give it a lot of thought. Hopefully the considerations we’ve outlined will help bring your choices into focus, and assure that you pick the right club for you.
Check out the GolfDay Rating to see the best private clubs in your area.
Last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club delivered not only excitement, but our first bit of controversy as well. Bryson DeChambeau, nicknamed “The Mad Scientist” for his uniquely scientific approach to the golf swing, put the emphasis on “mad” after making a poor shot out of a greenside bunker on the par 5 7th hole during Saturday’s 3rd round, failing to get up and down for birdie. After angrily swatting the sand and then muttering various expletives while leaving the green, he then accosted a camera man for filming his less than professional display. Blowing his top at a camera man for simply doing his job raised a few eyebrows, but in spite of the momentary lapse, DeChambeau charged from three shots back of Matthew Wolff with a sizzling 65 on Sunday and cruised to victory. A new found power surge that he credits to an offseason change in diet and robust exercise regimen has him bombing it off the tee (one of his drives was measured at 375 yards). While he won’t be in the field for the first leg of the “Muirfield Double” at Jack’s course in Dublin, OH, we’ll get a chance to see him the week after for the Memorial where he recorded his second career win in 2018. Bryson has also vaulted to the odds-on favorite for winning one or more of the three majors coming up later this year.
The WorkDay Charity Open
The inaugural WorkDay Charity Open, and first leg of the “Muirfield Double” at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio begins this Thursday (July 9). The Jack Nicklaus masterpiece, and venue for the Memorial Tournament, has perennially drawn one of the strongest fields on the PGA Tour—and this year we get to enjoy it two weeks in a row. The powerhouse field will include Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, and Bubba Watson. Brooks Koepka’s younger brother, Chase, will also be teeing it up this week (the Tour graciously added him to the field after he qualified for the Travelers Championship but withdrew after learning that Brooks’ caddie had tested positive for COVID-19). In addition, the deep field will include Xander Schauffele (2017 Tour Championship winner and runner up in 2019), Hideki Matsuyama (2014 Memorial Champion), and Patrick Cantley (the reigning Memorial Champion).
Muirfield Village Golf Club was designed and founded by Jack Nicklaus in 1974 while he was at the height of his PGA Tour career (and he won the Memorial twice, in 1977 and 1984). Jack is notorious for designing difficult tracks, and Muirfield may be the toughest of all with a course rating of 78.6 and a slope of 155. In addition to Jack himself, the list of past winners at Muirfield reads like a who’s who among golf’s elite, including Tiger Woods (5-time winner of the Memorial), Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Hale Irwin, Vijay Singh and Fred Couples. Known for its thick rough, tight fairways and firm greens, year in and year out Muirfield provides a test where the biggest names in golf can display their skills, and identifies the player who is at the very top of his game.
The Travelers Championship starts today at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, CT. and while the previous three tournaments provided plenty of thrills, I have a feeling the Travelers may be the best yet.
First some unfortunate news–Brooks Koepka announced yesterday that he was withdrawing from the tournament because his caddie, Ricky Elliot, had tested positive for Covid-19. Web Simpson, Cameron Champ and Chase Koepka (Brook’s younger brother) also announced that they would withdraw. Although none of the players have tested positive, they each had been in close proximity to Brooks and his caddie, so felt that caution was the most prudent course—hopefully they will be returning soon. The field, however, will still be packed with big stars like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed. Now that Phil has joined the 50+ club, it will be interesting to see how he fares. A two-time winner at the Travelers, Phil is comfortable with the layout at River Highlands and with his window of opportunity closing a little bit more in a star-studded field, don’t be surprised if we see the hyper-aggressive Phil of years past. The Travelers will be the third tournament in a row for Thomas, Spieth, Rose, Johnson, Rahm, and McIlroy, so fatigue may start to become a factor—although they may also be super sharp after playing so much competitive golf. And with the exception of Johnson and McIlroy, all of them were in the hunt at the previous two events, but came up just short. Meanwhile, we are still eagerly awaiting the debut of Tiger Woods. While no official date has been set, Tiger was seen playing golf with his son Charlie on St. Simon’s Island, so perhaps he is starting to tune up for a return in the near future (The Memorial is a good bet, since Tiger has rarely missed Jack’s event).
The Travelers Championship is held at TPC River Highlands, a private club in Cromwell CT. The course, originally name Edgewood Country Club, was designed in 1928 by Robert R. Ross. Pete Dye did a redesign in 1982, modernizing and stiffening the course to stand up to current equipment as a TPC course, while maintaining the natural beauty of the landscape and layout. In 1989, the course underwent further remodeling and updating by Bobby Weed. As a par 70 measuring 6,841 yards from the tips, the softness of the course makes it play significantly longer, and tight fairways with small greens will present a challenge to the players. Still, River Highlands is considered one of the less demanding courses on the Tour schedule (USGA course rating of 73/Slope rating of 131). The course record of 58 was set by Jim Furyk in 2016, but the fact that he did not go on to win is evidence that River Highlands has teeth and can bite back.
Past champions at the Travelers include bombers like Bubba Watson (twice), Phil Mickelson (twice), and Greg Norman, as well as great putters like Jordan Spieth and Brad Faxon. Illustrious ball strikes including Nick Price, Paul Azinger and Lanny Wadkins have also claimed this championship, but precision and grit can carry the day—as seen with the reigning champion, Chez Reavie. Other past winners here include David Frost, Curtis Strange and Peter Jacobsen (twice).
With this field, on a course that allows so many different styles of play the opportunity to win, we should be in for a treat. Be sure to tune in, you will be glad you did.