Date: November 13, 2011

An unforgettable Open

This comes from the heart. I m lucky enough to travel to all corners of the globe, watching and reporting on golf tournaments featuring the very best players on the planet. And this Australian Open, ladies and gentlemen, was one of the best and most enjoyable I ve seen in 25 years as a journalist. There was a little bit of everything this week at The Lakes. You guys had a terrific field, boosted, it must be conceded, by the presence of so many participants in the upcoming Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. The golf course revamped by the estimable Mike Clayton and his design team produced a worthy winner in the touchingly emotional Greg Chalmers. And the spectators, a reassuringly golf-savvy bunch for the most part, came in gratifyingly large numbers to see Tiger and the gang in action. For me, however, the star of the show was The Lakes. A few years ago I played the course before Clayton got out his chainsaw and set to work. It was, sad to say, the worst state I have ever seen a decent track get into. Overgrown to an unbelievably exaggerated degree, any strategic thought had been completely lost amidst the dense foliage. Only one question was asked of the player on almost every tee: can you kick your ball through the goalposts represented by the tree lines on either side of what was left of the fairways. Now, however, The Lakes has been gratifyingly transformed. Stand on those same tees now and you are presented with multiple options. Now it is up to the player to decide how he navigates from tee to green. And, no matter his level of play, he can have some fun doing so. At the highest level, of course, that freedom translates into great players being able to shoot really low scores when they perform close to their best. That s what the very best courses do: they allow players to play without restriction and fear. And when they play well, they shoot low scores. There is no shame in that. My mind goes back to the 2007 US Open at storied Oakmont, a wonderful course that would be even more wonderful without the suffocating long grass that borders every fairway and green. Such a penal set-up only suffocates flair and imagination, both of which received plenty of encouragement here at The Lakes. Look at the leader board at the end of this wonderful tournament. It is no coincidence that the top-ten is littered with some of the professional game s very best ball strikers. Tiger Woods. Geoff Ogilvy. Adam Scott. Nick Watney. John Senden. Jason Day. And yet the shorter, more accurate players are up there too. Chalmers, Nick O Hern and Aaron Baddeley all made the top-ten. So The Lakes was playable for all types of golfer, another indication of great design. Which is not to say that The Lakes is easy. Wide the fairways may be, but accuracy remains paramount. Simply hitting the fairway isn t enough; you better find the correct side of the short grass to set up the easiest approach. And that s why those players not on top of their games struggled. Take a look down the list of those who played 72 holes. You ll find that the likes of (world number five) Dustin Johnson, former USPGA champion David Toms and two-time Open champion Greg Norman failed to match par. So there was a little bit of everything out there, especially if you knew where to look. I hope you enjoyed the four days as much as I did. And see you next year.