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Q&A: Dick Rugge, outgoing USGA technical director

Adam Schupak

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dick Rugge has a one-way ticket to this week's USGA annual meeting, on Feb. 1-2 in San Diego. When everyone else heads to the airport after the gala dinner, he'll simply drive home. By that time, the sun will have set.

"When I realized the annual meeting was being held in San Diego, it seemed meant to be," Rugge said. "I can say goodbye to a lot of people."

Rugge, 65, is calling it quits this week as the USGA's senior technical director. He was an executive at TaylorMade when the USGA hired him to oversee golf equipment testing procedures, and led a team of 18 full-time employees that tests more than 2,500 clubs and golf balls a year. To do so, he uprooted his family from Carlsbad, Calif., but he always hung on to the family house with a promise to return someday. His wife committed to 10 years in New Jersey. They stayed for nearly 13. "I've been working on borrowed time," Rugge told me.

Over the years, he has been generous with his time. You never needed to contact a media official to schedule an interview. He returned phone calls ...

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'Benevolent dictator' Patino left no detail overlooked

Alistair Tait

Jaime Ortiz-Patino liked to think of himself as a “benevolent dictator.” His words, not mine.

Patino, who died Jan. 3 at the age of 82 (read the obit here), was owner of Valderrama Golf Club in southern Spain. With a fortune made from tin mining in his native Bolivia, he had the money to spend on the course that became his true love.

No detail was overlooked in his quest to build the best course in Continental Europe. For 16 years, Patino’s layout hosted the European Tour’s season-ending Volvo Masters. It was the venue for the 1999 and 2000 WGC–American Express Championship. More recently, Valderrama was home to the Andalucia Masters.

However, his greatest triumph came in 1997 when Valderrama hosted the first Ryder Cup in Continental Europe.

Make no mistake about it: Patino used his vast fortune to buy the Ryder Cup, just as Michael Smurfit did in 2006 and Terry Matthews in 2010. However, unlike Smurfit and Matthews, Patino knew what was needed to maintain a golf course to tournament and Ryder Cup standard.

Patino was awarded the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America's Old Tom Morris Award in 1999. It was no honorary ...

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Klein: Process to Old Course changes feels rotten

Bradley S. Klein

If they really want to protect par at The Old Course at St. Andrews, all they need to do is buy a big wind fan. Or at least make sure that the one the Big Guy upstairs provided is humming along nicely for the one week every five years when The Open Championship returns to the Scottish town.

Obviously, this is a busy week for the esteemed Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. In conjunction with the U.S. Golf Association, the R&A, which is based at St. Andrews and serves as the governing body for rules and championships worldwide except in the U.S. and Mexico, is about to announce its decision on whether to ban the anchoring of long putters. Got to protect tradition, especially in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that using the long-necked goose of a putter doesn’t really look like a golf swing.

So why, if the R&A, is so tradition-bound with this club, does it feel the need to change the sacred Old Course, to the point where it has started changing bunkers, undulations and flattening out a portion of the 11th green to recapture a hole location or ...

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Rude: Anchoring ban? Might as well ban fun in golf

Jeff Rude

Your correspondent’s research shows that all top 18 players in last week’s PGA Tour putting rankings regularly use a conventional putter. Not a belly nor a broomstick to be found on that top shelf. Yet golf’s powers that be are expected to ban the anchoring of such longer implements.

Perhaps then, the czars have it backward.

If there is a competitive advantage in stroking the standard flat stick, then outlaw its use and load up the trash bins and eBay lists.

There is another reason to endorse such a notion. If long and belly putters supposedly are so great and practitioners of conventional versions are so stupid that they don’t switch, then take away their toys as punishment.

Frankly, I’m shocked they’re even considering a change. When, after all, was the last time you were afraid of an opponent who walked up carrying a long putter? For years it has been a symbol of deficiency.

Yet golf’s two governing bodies apparently feel anchored putters violate the spirit of the game. The contrary view, subscribed to here, is that said weapons make playing more enjoyable for the masses – in a game that continually loses ...

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Post-election lessons for golf and politics

Bradley S. Klein

Turns out the golfer won, but you wouldn’t know it from the immediate reaction of the industry. Not, that is, if you judge by the withering tweets of former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger (“Americans chose big govt, big entitlements, and big taxes. . .“) and others in golf.

Perhaps more representative of the professional golf industry’s political tone throughout the presidential campaign was evident in Jack Nicklaus’ effort aside Mitt Romney out on the campaign trail. Nicklaus said he regretted not coming to the defense of golf-playing Gerald Ford in 1976 against non-golfer Jimmy Carter.

President Barack Obama’s love of golf is well known. It's so well known that it became an object of criticism earlier this year, when Republican candidates during the primaries took aim at the commander-in-chief for his visits to the links, saying the nation’s pressing business should have claimed his attention. Apparently, bosses are not supposed to take some time off and de-stress. It’s a line of political attack that was famously self-imposed by President George W. Bush, when he announced he was swearing off golf while American troops were fighting in Iraq.

But in Obama’s case, and in the ...

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Rugge's USGA legacy: Harmony with clubmakers

James Achenbach

Early in 2000, just after Trey Holland had been elected to his first term as U.S. Golf Association president, I sat down with him for breakfast and conversation at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Holland, normally a quiet and introspective man, was overflowing with conversation. He had not been seated more than 45 seconds before announcing, “We have hired Dick Rugge as senior technical director.”

Rugge, 64, announced his resignation Nov. 5 after nearly 13 years on the job. He will step down Feb. 2, ending a regime that took a giant step toward clarifying current and future golf equipment rules.

What captured my attention 12 years ago was the confidence with which Holland was speaking. “We are very, very pleased with this decision,” he said with conviction.

My reaction: Gulp!

Rugge was one of my closest friends in golf, but I had no idea this was about to happen. I called him, and Rugge explained he had been contacted by a firm whose job was to create a short list of candidates for the USGA.

The search for a leader of the USGA Research and Test Center was widespread, but few observers expected the final choice to come from ...

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Els turns to IMG for management

IMG, the management and marketing giant, announced today the signing of Ernie Els to a representation deal, marking a rebound for the firm beset by recent agent and player defections.

IMG will manage business affairs on a worldwide basis for Els, 43, who captured his fourth major title at this year’s Open Championship. The South African, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011, has more than 65 titles to his credit, including 19 on the PGA Tour. One of the Tour’s marquee players, Els has expanded his off-course endeavors to include golf course design and wine businesses.

The victory at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in July revitalized the career of Els, who had undergone a couple of management changes. After a long tenure with agent Chubby Chandler, Els signed last fall with Pros Inc., a new firm launched by industry veterans Buddy Marucci, Vinny Giles and Giff Breed. According to an IMG statement, Els’ “management at Pros Inc. will be moved to IMG.”

Explaining his decision to join IMG, Els said: “IMG has a global network of offices, loads of experienced and dedicated golf staff operating in every aspect of the game so ...

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The First Tee’s fundraising effort tops $106 million

From 1997 through 2011, The First Tee impacted more than 6.5 million youth, according to the organization.

By 2017, it expects to influence an additional 10 million youngsters.

It’s an ambitious goal, but the group already has cleared the biggest obstacle to achieve its vision: Earlier this month, the First Tee announced it has raised $106.2 million in gifts and pledges to finance its drive for greater participation.

The sum exceeds the $100 million target set by the fundraising campaign, which launched in July 2011. The First Tee Campaign for 10 Million Young People, however, will continue to raise funds through the remainder of the year. (For more information about the initiative, visit www.thefirsttee.org/campaign)

“An extraordinary commitment is being made by many to support the work of The First Tee at chapters and schools, and the investment will greatly enhance our ability to positively impact millions more young people,” said Joe Louis Barrow Jr., The First Tee’s chief executive.

The First Tee’s mission is to build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices among young people through the game of golf.

The funds raised will be used for several initiatives, including ...

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Another Tiger stop? Euro Tour adds Turkish Open

Alex Miceli

ANTALYA, Turkey -- In a year when events have been dropping off the European Tour schedule like leaves on a tree, Turkey has stepped up and committed to a tournament that ultimately will be the penultimate event to the Race to Dubai, that concludes the European Tour season.

The three-year deal will bring the $7 million Turkish Open to a tour that has lost much more than that in prize money and prestige over the last three years, but now gain one in a place that is at least close enough to call it Europe with the Antalya region, in the Asian part of Turkey.

The announcement was made fittingly during the second day of the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final by Keith Waters, CEO of the European Tour, Ahmet Ali Ağaoğlu (President of the Turkish Golf Federation) and Andrew Chandler (Managing Director of International Sports Management).

“Turkey is one of the fastest developing golf nations in the world,” Ağaoğlu said. “I am very honored to make this announcement and to be able to bring a top-class European Tour event to Turkey. We believe that Turkey, and in particular Belek and Antalya, is the best golfing destination in Europe and one ...

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Spain's standing on Euro Tour takes another hit

Alistair Tait

It’s just as well that the European Tour expanded its horizons globally many years ago. As the news from Spain reveals, the Tour can’t rely on traditional markets anymore.

The cancellation of the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama brings to four the number of Spanish tournaments that have been scrapped this year. In a news release Sept. 12, the tour announced that despite a formal legal agreement with the Junta de Andalucía, the Oct. 18-21 has been canceled.

“This is extremely disappointing news to receive, especially at such a late date,” said George O’Grady, the European Tour’s chief executive. “We have been long-term partners with the junta for over 25 years. We have worked together to promote the region, and the Junta de Andalucía and the European Tour have enjoyed an exceptionally strong and committed long-term partnership.”

Add the Andalucia Masters to the Madrid Masters, Castillo Masters and Iberdrola Open as Spanish events to drop off the 2012 European Tour calendar. Last year, there were seven Spanish tournaments on the European schedule. This year, the number is down to three: Andalucia Open, won by Julien Quesne; Spanish Open, won by Francesco Molinari; and the Volvo World Match ...

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Northern Texas PGA teams with school golf initiative

A seamless transition from school-based golf education to playing the game at neighboring courses.

That's the vision the Northern Texas Section of the PGA of America and TGA Premier Junior Golf intend to make a reality.

The partnership announced Aug. 30 between TGA – a franchise business that organizes youth golf programs in schools – and the Northern Texas PGA aims to better shepherd juniors and their parents into the sport.

With more than 750 members working at more than 300 facilities, the Northern Texas PGA will align with local TGA programs to develop activities and events that help shift learning from school gyms and playgrounds to courses. For example, the partnership will promote the NTPGA Team Golf initiative that introduces children, ages 7-14, to "fun, social" tournament play through 9-hole, team stroke play competition.

"By reaching the general public through school-based enrichment programs, it makes golf accessible and affordable… and the Northern Texas PGA is a perfect partner to create a pathway for growing the game and creating avid golfers for the future," said Joshua Jacobs, chief executive officer of TGA.

TGA enables franchisees to offer its golf curriculum – which also emphasizes academics, health education and character-building – at schools, childcare ...

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Trump's Scotland course among best

Bradley S. Klein

• For Bradley Klein's rater's notebook on Trump International Golf Links Scotland, click here

ABERDEEN, Scotland - Sometimes it takes several holes to realize how good a course is.

With Trump International Golf Links Scotland, the light went on in the middle of the fourth fairway, as I surveyed my second shot on a dramatic par 5 and realized I had several options – all of them with meaningful consequences for the ultimate path to the green.

That’s when I had to acknowledge that despite all the blaring horns and blithering hype about the place, this actually is a very sound layout.

But goodness, was there an awful lot of clutter and hype to sort through on the way to the first tee. Don’t these owners (and their advisers) know that when you tout a place as “the world’s greatest golf course,” it creates ridiculous expectations that no place can meet? Apparently, that’s what Donald Trump figured he needed to get the Scottish people to back him during five years of political wheeling and dealing in one of the most controversial course-development projects that Scotland – or for that matter, the entire golf industry – has ever seen.

For ...

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Highlights, lowlights from PGA's TV coverage

Martin Kaufmann

A look at some of the highlights and lowlights from final-round coverage of the PGA Championship by TNT and CBS:

8:58 a.m.: The CBS crew can barely contain their excitement as Tiger Woods birdies No. 13 to get to -1, five shots off the lead.

9:17: “Oh, boy. Oh, my goodness,” Gary McCord moans as Woods blocks his drive way right on No. 15. “That’s the closest we’ve had anyone to the ocean this week,” anchor Jim Nantz says.

10:17: Third-round play ends. TNT host Ernie (“EJ”) Johnson says final-round play will begin at 11:44 a.m. Until then, Johnson says, we’re going to be showing you some of what has gone on already. That means more Tiger highlights. I’m kind of bummed that TNT isn’t switching to the “Falling Skies” rerun that was supposed to run in this time slot.

10:18: TNT’s Vince Cellini asks Woods how he likes the long final day. “That’s why we lift all of those weights, run all of those miles is to be fit and ready for these things.” Cellini: “You’re looking good. Keep lifting, man.”

10:20: EJ ...

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PGA of America to support Sticks for Kids

Continuing its full-court press to grow the game, the PGA of America is partnering with the Golf Course Builders Association of America Foundation to expand the Sticks for Kids program.

The GCBAA's youth initiative provides golf courses with 10 sets of junior clubs for use at no charge. The program currently has 450 participating sites, with a presence in all 50 states and 17 international military bases. More than 63,000 children are playing the game as Sticks for Kids beneficiaries.

The PGA plans to pair its junior development program – the PGA Sports Academy powered by United Healthcare – with Sticks for Kids, providing youth with quality instruction with minimal or no cost.

"It’s important that the PGA of America support any program that makes clubs more accessible, and this program does exactly that,” said Allen Wronowksi, the association's president.

Since its founding in 1997, the Sticks for Kids program not only has promoted the game of golf to youth, but has served as an advocate for environmental stewardship and physical activity. The GCBAA is a nonprofit trade association for course builders and suppliers to the course construction industry. The foundation is its charitable arm.


PGA of America's team golf targets youth, parents

If there's a common complaint about the game of golf, it's this: It lacks the shared thrill and camaraderie of team sports.

Of course, there are exceptions such as the Ryder Cup, but, typically, team golf has been reserved for elite pros and amateurs. Until now.

A newly created team version of golf – endorsed by the PGA of America – not only may raise the sport's profile, but could be the long-awaited catalyst the golf industry has been seeking to spark interest among youth and their parents.

What's being called PGA Junior League Golf, industry leaders hope, will be golf's answer to Little League Baseball.

PGA Junior League Golf already is underway, albeit still in a developmental phase. But with more than 120 teams in 22 markets participating, the PGA of America just announced that the program is ready for a national rollout in 2013.

Much like other youth sports leagues, PGA Junior League Golf features teams with as many as 14 players on a roster – all adorned in team jerseys (with uniform numbers on their backs). Head-to-head matches against other teams are conducted as two-person scrambles – underscoring teamwork and reducing pressure on any one player ...

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