COULD THERE HAVE been a bigger contrast in the venues for the first two major tournaments of the golfing year? Pristine, manicured, highly treated and lavishly watered Augusta National where the mere sight of a daisy brings club members out in a cold sweat and the wild, wonderful, ragged Donald Ross masterpiece at Pinehurst 2 in North Carolina.
The USGA is taking conservation on golf courses increasingly seriously and, through course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, drastically cut back on watering at Pinehurst with 1,150 sprinklers being reduced to 450 as well as removing 40 acres of turf to restore great swathes of sandy waste that figured in Ross’s original design.
Bunker edges were left ragged and the ‘natural vegetation’ re-introduced could even be described, and don’t let any Augusta member hear this, as common or garden weeds!
Inevitably there were complaints, none more so than from that supreme self-publicist Donald Trump, whose name seems inexorably linked with any high profile golf course that currently becomes available in Great Britain and Ireland.
Amongst a salvo of posts on the Saturday night of the championship Trump tweeted, ‘I’d bet the horrible look of Pinehurst translates into poor television ratings. This is not what golf is about.’ Those more concerned with the soul of the game rather than simply its ability to generate huge sums of money would disagree.
Phil Mickelson, who has won five more major championships than Donald Trump and finished seven over par at 287 on the par-70 layout, said, ‘It was a fun week. It was – I just loved the golf course, the setup, how it played, how fair it was.’
Certainly for the British viewer there were only two things that could possibly have marred the enjoyment of the US Open as a televisual spectacle. First would have been Colin Montgomerie’s expert summaries on Sky TV where his enthusiasm to persistently mention himself and, in particular, his inspirational captaincy at Celtic Manor in 2010 that so infuriated the 2012 Ryder Cup TV audience have been replaced by more sombre and clipped statements of the blindingly obvious.
The highlight of his Saturday night contribution to viewers’ enlightenment came when he gravely opined, ‘And that putt will run an awful lot quicker downhill that it will uphill.’
The second major damper came from what Sky anchorman David Livingstone informed us was ‘German efficiency,’ admirably demonstrating that the hackneyed cliché is not solely the preserve of football commentators. Quite simply, Martin Kaymer produced golf of such a spectacularly brilliant and consistent nature that he left the rest of the field nowhere, which rather dented the drama so often associated with the closing holes of major golf tournaments.
Kaymer’s brilliance was not dimmed by the USGA’s decision to make things even tougher for the field on the Saturday when greens were left unwatered to roll at 12+ on the stimpmeter and pins were placed in the tightest possible positions. ‘Probably the hardest setup I’ve ever experienced in a major championship,’ was Kenny Perry’s summation of the weekend’s golf.
What it meant was that none of the closing pack could risk taking an aggressive charge at Kaymer. The armchair golf fan could therefore take the dog for a walk; enjoy a late supper and even a leisurely shower before returning to the screen knowing that Kaymer would still be well clear of the field.
This is to take nothing away from the German- imagine what sort of fanfare the world’s media would now be laying on had Tiger Woods won the Players’ Championship and the US Open by eight shots in the same year.
Kaymer produced one of the most impressive performances in the history of the event and should be rightly lauded for his display. The other big winner was Pinehurst 2 itself, proving conclusively that courses do not have to be manicured, crimped and preened to verdant perfection to be great; something, incidentally, that most Royal Ashdown members would be fully aware of.