We are often reminded professional golf is about ‘entertainment’ and ‘we are in the entertainment business’.
Maybe, but what constitutes entertainment?
Some think it simply revolves around birdies and eagles. Maybe, but is that the ‘mashed potatoes’, ‘baba-booey’, ‘get in the hole’ crowd or the galleries following last weeks World Cup play at Kingston Heath? Not once did we hear a spectator invoking the inane comments we hear so often from the telecasts of the American Tour.
At Kingston Heath we saw a great golf course entertaining both the players and the spectators. The equipment has long ago distorted the intent of designers Alister MacKenzie and Dan Soutar if the clubs they hoped players might hit into the greens is the measure. Thomas Pieters drove his partner Nicolas Colsaerts ninety meters off the first green on Saturday on a hole, which until the late 1960s was a par five.
Perhaps some were ‘entertained’ by Pieters’ drive but the vast majority of observers would surely rather have watched Colsaerts hit some sort of middle iron into the green as opposed to a flick wedge.
More interesting and entertaining to watch was how the field played the short par 4 4th hole (the club’s normal 3rd) There was a wide variety of clubs played from the tee in Saturday’s foursomes play with Rickie Fowler leaving Jimmy Walker a full nine iron to the flag while Soren Kjelsden, the shortest of the top players last week, left his partner Thorbjorn Olesen with barely anything more than a chip from the perfect angle.
A few matches ahead the New Zealanders Ryan Fox and Danny Lee made a comedic mess of a seemingly simple hole by playing it completely the wrong way despite hitting two perfectly good looking shots.
Fox hit a well-flighted, long iron to the right half of the fairway about seventy meters from the flag.
With the pin cut in the back right it was about twenty meters from where he should have played but I wonder if he even realized there was a very good reason MacKenzie cut a bunker twenty-five meters from where his ball lay. The strategy, the question the hole asks, is simple and obvious. You drive to the edge of the hazard to open the line into a green designed to be played to from over by the fairway bunker. Every yard you play from the sand a yard more problematic the angle.
Lee looked to have righted the ‘mistake’ by playing what appeared to be a perfect pitch straight at the flag. He had changed clubs, opting for the more lofted wedge and the shot, struck firmly and high headed straight at the flag. The problem was it was not the shot MacKenzie was asking for. The ball screwed back almost to the front third of the green from where the Kiwi’s easily three putted. The right shot was to play a less lofted wedge, hit low and with no spin but here was a brilliant hole entertaining those who understood the twin mistakes of two very good players.
Almost 40 years ago Severiano Ballesteros came to a similar length hole at Royal Melbourne in the 1978 Australian PGA Championship. The 10th hole on the West Course is drivable with modern clubs but it wasn’t back then. Not even for Greg Norman, who played safely with an iron and a pitch.
Not Seve who flew drivers straight at the flag every day. He never quite made it and nor did he probably expect to but what entertainment it was and what indelible memories he left to those who saw it.
It almost goes without saying he flipped little wedges out of the sandy heath by the green close enough to make three birdies and a par.
Great courses provide entertainment by asking thought-provoking questions. Great players do the same by hitting brilliant shots and great crowds respond and in their own way add to the entertainment.
Mindless golf on boring courses may be a recipe for birdies and eagles but it entertains no one. Kingston Heath showed off professional golf at its best last week and it was the real star of the show.
Alister MacKenzie well understood golf was about daring play and he made courses where it was properly rewarded.