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My year in golf: Gene Yasuda

Reflecting on another year that has come and gone, my mind gravitates to an unsettling thought: Why did I play so little golf in 2011?

Borrowing runners' jargon, I didn't set a "PR" – or personal record – for rounds played. In fact, I guess you could call it a "PW," or personal worst.

At first blush, the story of my absence from neighborhood courses could lead any local newscast depicting the economy's impact on consumer spending. Frugal might as well be my middle name for a variety of reasons: Spiraling college costs (one kid in school, another getting ready to go next year). Unexpected health-care bills. My plummeting home value. All of these factors make me want to stuff my savings under my mattress and sit on it – a symbolic, and likely futile, protest to preserve what I have.

My love of the game, however, certainly hasn't diminished. So, I'm convinced if course operators had given me greater encouragement and incentives to play I would have overcome my economic handicap. But for the most part, they didn't. Which leads me to golf's biggest issue in 2011 and one that's sure to top the agenda ...

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Finalists selected for Olympic course design

Bradley S. Klein

Competitive bidding for plum course-design assignments is nothing new for golf architects.

But it’s fair to say that the industry never has seen a bigger project pursued by so many distinguished teams as is the case now with golf’s return to the Olympics for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

What began as an open call for qualified designers that drew more than two dozen applications has been narrowed to an elite eight: Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Martin Hawtree, Robert Trent Jones II, Gary Player and the design teams of Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam; Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa; and Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett.

The applicants signed confidentially agreements. As a condition of the project, the three-man team representing 2016 Rio Olympics has set a fee of $300,000 – a fraction of the normal design rate most of these architects receive. The big prize here will be the prestige of having designed a showpiece for the global game.

The site itself is an undistinguished, virtually flat, land-locked parcel on the far southwest side of Rio de Janeiro near the planned Olympic Village. Technical specifications, as well as budgets, environmental issues and timeline, will be shared ...

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Tait: World Cup doesn't live up to expectations

Alistair Tait

I just can’t get into this week’s World Cup in China. Seems I’m not alone. I’m not convinced it resonates with much of the golfing public, either.

I’m all for events that are different from the run-of-the-mill, steady diet we get of 72-hole stroke-play tournaments. So the World Cup should be right up my street. It isn’t.

How many sports have a World Cup or championship that clashes with other tournaments? Think about it: the football (soccer, for my American friends) World Cup doesn’t clash with anything in the sport. It stands alone because it is the pinnacle of football.

The World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, The Ashes and Rugby World Cup stand alone because they are the premier events in their respective sports. Not golf’s World Cup. This week, there are tournaments in South Africa (the SA Open Championship) and Australia (the Australian PGA Championship).

Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen shouldn’t have to choose between playing in their national championship and representing their country in the World Cup. Yet that’s the absurd position they find themselves in. They’ve both opted for China.

There is a pretty good ...

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Finchem pushes Tour expansion in Asia

Alex Miceli

SHANGHAI - The PGA Tour is continuing to fine-tune its plan for growth in Asia, commissioner Tim Finchem said while visiting China during the WGC-HSBC Champions.

The status of the WGC-HSBC Champions, which counts as an official victory for winner Martin Kaymer but not official money, could change as soon as next year but more likely in 2013, Finchem said.

Full status for HSBC would be in conjunction with changes proposed for the Nationwide Tour and Q-School (click here for more details on this proposal), which would allow the new season to start in the fall.

“That’s the road I'd like to go down,” Finchem said of the Nationwide Tour proposals. “But there are issues with it, and the players need to support it. I don’t know anybody that has a huge problem with the specifics, but change is change.”

Should the Tour's Policy Board approve the plan, HSBC would become a full-fledged event on Tour, with official money. If the board doesn’t OK the changes, Finchem said there are options, without elaborating.

“We’ve been at this a year, and I think it's mainly getting players to understand the details,” Finchem said. “We have ...

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Tait: Money earned in golf is mind-boggling

Alistair Tait

Anyone else feeling a little uneasy about the amount of money swishing around in professional golf these days?

I am.

While many are struggling in these austere economic times, big-name tour professionals still seem to be coining it in. They don’t seem to be living in the same world as the rest of us.

How many of us can point to a salary increase in recent years? Very few. Even those lucky enough to get salary increases won’t be much better off, because it’s almost a sure bet the increase won’t match inflation.

Yet look at the money lists of the professional tours, and you wouldn’t know we were in dire economic times.

Eighty-nine players on the PGA Tour earned more than $1 million this year. D.J. Trahan took the 125th card, the last guy to qualify for 2012 Tour membership. Trahan earned $668,166 for finishing last. How many people reading this would gladly take that sort of money to finish last?

Bobby Gates earned $666,735 for finishing 126th and isn’t guaranteed a steady job next season. Imagine telling friends and family you earned $666,735 and failed!

The money in ...

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Changes to Rules of Golf unify the world of golfers

James Achenbach

Finally, golf’s official rulebook will look the same in golfing countries around the world.

On Oct. 24, the U.S. Golf Association and the R&A, announced identical formatting worldwide for the newest Rules of Golf, the 2012-2015 edition.

In anticipation of golf’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro, the layout and format of the Rules of Golf will be the same in every country. For example, the content of page 62 in the United States will match the content on page 62 in Britain or Asia or South America. All will contain identical rules, illustrations and photographs.

The only differences will be in the native languages.

This is unprecedented for golf. In the past, the rules were the same around the world, but individual countries or golf associations often created their own layouts and formats.

The rulebook is reissued every four years by the USGA and R&A, the two governing and rules-making bodies that oversee golf around the globe. This time, they vowed to produce a uniform rulebook.

“Well, it may sound easy, but it wasn’t,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s director of the Rules of Golf. “It was ...

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Nationwide Tour adds Chile Classic for 2012

The Nationwide Tour announced Oct. 13 the creation of the Chile Classic presented by Pacific Rubiales, the first official PGA Tour event in the South American country.

The Chile Classic, which will be played March 8-11 at Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, is part of the Tour’s further expansion into Latin America.

“With golf being added to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the Chile Classic takes on additional significance in contributing to the growth of the game in the region during the run up to the Games,” Nationwide Tour president Bill Calfee said.

The Chile Classic will likely be part of a Latin American swing to start the next Nationwide Tour season. The Nationwide Tour has large gaps in its early-season schedule, a problem it hopes to address with additional events in Latin America.

The Nationwide Tour added an event in Colombia, the Bogota Open, in 2010. The tour also conducts events in Mexico and Panama. The Panama and Colombia events kicked off the 2011 season in February and March. Adding the stop in Chile allows the Nationwide Tour to begin with three consecutive events, giving the tour a “more stable, more impactful” start to ...

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Martin: Location of Fowler's win doesn't matter

In little more than two years as a professional, Rickie Fowler has appeared in Tiger Woods’ video game, a feature-length film and a music video. No one will say Fowler, a favorite of fans and media, has received too little exposure.

And yet, the biggest moment of his career was nowhere to be found Sunday on TV.

The fact that Fowler’s first professional victory, at the OneAsia circuit's Korea Open, wasn’t broadcast in the United States shouldn’t lessen its significance. He wrapped up his six-shot win over Rory McIlroy before many Americans woke up Sunday morning.

After his victory, Fowler tweeted, “First win...@KOLONKOREAOPEN feels really good!! Now time to get my first on the @PGATOUR!!”

Fowler, who's twice failed to convert a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, led after each round in Korea. He pulled four shots ahead of the field with a third-round 64, then finishing things off with a closing 68.

No, the Korea Open wasn’t the strongest tournament this week. Yes, Fowler needs to win on the PGA Tour to appease his critics. But the fact that Fowler so handily defeated McIlroy on Sunday adds something to his accomplishment ...

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Equipment makers step up for Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and golf equipment makers are taking steps to raise awareness and provide financial support for the cause.

Since 1995, Pinnacle has been associated with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. And the long-time partnership takes a new twist this month as Pinnacle unveils its new Gold Ribbon ball.

The packaging for the latest Pinnacle product showcases the Komen for the Cure icon, and each ball is stamped with the Komen pink ribbon logo – the universal symbol for breast cancer awareness and a reminder to pursue early detection.

Acushnet Co., parent of the Titleist, FootJoy and Pinnacle brands, makes a significant financial contribution to the foundation and has been recognized with the Komen Award for Corporate Philanthropy.

In a statement, Mary Lou Bohn, vice president, golf ball marketing, advertising and communications, said: “This is just one way for us to generate exposure and support for the Komen Foundation in its effort to provide funds for breast cancer research and education to eradicate this disease.”

Wilson Sporting Goods has been a steadfast ally, too, in the fight against breast cancer. It has supported The Breast Cancer Research Foundation since 1998, donating more than $2 million ...

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Orender to lead women’s initiatives for ‘Golf 2.0’

PGA of America executives want to “reset” the golf industry.

In other words, they’re launching an all-out effort to fix golf’s ills and intend to make the game more affordable, more inviting and less time consuming.

Considering the steady decline in participation and economic challenges that are causing consumers to re-prioritize how they spend their discretionary dollars, the PGA’s push is long overdue. Campaigns to grow the game are nothing new, but this initiative is accompanied, finally, with a sense of urgency that ultimately may differentiate it from previous efforts.

Says Allen Wronowski, PGA president: “Golf 2.0 is one of the most important initiatives that the PGA and the entire industry has undertaken.”

Golf 2.0, as the PGA calls its strategic plan, aims to strengthen “core golfers,” re-engage “lapsed” players and recruit new ones. With the help of the Boston Consulting Group, the PGA has identified nine consumer groups and plans to design tailored programs to attract each to the game. And when it comes to inviting women, the PGA has turned to a familiar ally: Donna Orender, a former PGA Tour executive and more recently, president of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Orender ...

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National School Program plays key role for golf’s future

It’s sometimes difficult to appreciate long-term initiatives when your short-term outlook isn’t promising.

With golf participation declining and many courses starving for play, teaching the game to school children who may – or may not – grow up to become golf consumers hardly seems pressing.

But gaining students’ undivided attention while they’re in a safe, familiar learning environment is an opportunity that simply can’t be missed. The First Tee National School Program isn’t more important than short-term participation solutions, but it’s a vital element in fixing golf’s overall ills.

This academic year, NSP will introduce golf to elementary school students at more than 4,200 schools in nearly 600 schools districts across the U.S. The custom-designed golf curriculum will be offered as part of regular physical education classes (K-5). Not only does the program teach motor skills associated with the game, but it addresses personal and social values as well. And this year, with input from the Annika Foundation led by former world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, NSP also will tackle health and wellness topics.

Educators, not just golf industry professionals, have acknowledged the effectiveness of the school program that was launched in 2004 ...

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Acushnet plans to accelerate growth in Asia

Back home in South Korea, Gene Yoon is widely regarded as a rainmaker.

After all, he engineered one of the most successful initial public offerings in the history of the Korean Stock Exchange when he took Fila Korea public in 2010.

Don’t be surprised if Yoon – who recently led a consortium of Korean investors to acquire Acushnet Co., which owns Titleist and FootJoy – orchestrates an encore in golf.

At a media event held Aug. 31 near Acushnet’s headquarters in Fairhaven, Mass., Yoon provided a glimpse of his ambitions: To take Acushnet public, perhaps as soon as four years.

“We’re going to try to create the kind of opportunity (in which) all the investors can make the big money they’ve never seen before,” said Yoon, Acushnet’s new chairman. Sensing that he might have said too much, Yoon added with a touch of humor: “By the law, I suppose I (should) not say that specifically.”

Though he can’t guarantee such riches, Yoon made clear the new ownership group’s plans to fulfill its bullish intentions. The investors, led by Fila Korea Ltd. and Mirae Asset Private Equity, acquired Acushnet for more than $1 billion from Fortune ...

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Viking withdraws as Miss. PGA tournament sponsor

JACKSON, Miss. — The director of Mississippi's PGA Tour tournament says Viking Range Corp. of Greenwood is pulling out as sponsor, and he needs to find a new sponsor or sponsors by the end of September.

Randy Watkins tells The Clarion-Ledger that if he cannot, the tournament could lose its spot on the 2012 PGA Tour calendar. He says just under $1 million a year is needed

Watkins says Viking decided last week to drop the sponsorship.

The company makes high-end kitchen appliances. It has been hit hard by the recession, laying off more than 300 workers since 2008.

Viking has been the title sponsor for the last five years and four tournaments. Rain canceled the 2009 event.


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Fisher shows promise with Czech Open win

Alistair Tait

The future just keeps getting brighter for the European Tour. Add Oliver Fisher's name to a long list of good young players on the Euro circuit.

Fisher's victory at the Czech Open, his first Tour win, is long overdue, and hopefully heralds the first of a slew of victories from the talented Englishman.

Many pundits - me included - thought Fisher would push Rory McIlroy hard these last few seasons for the honor of best young European player. While Rory has gone from talented amateur to major winner in one seamless stream, Fisher found that the road to success doesn't always follow the "star is born" script.

These two young men were chosen for greatness years ago when they first met as members of Sir Nick Faldo's elite squad of youngsters. I first saw both as 14-year-olds and they stood out from their peers by miles. I watched Fisher play in the McEvoy Trophy, and he looked as good as boys four years older than him.

It came as no surprise when Fisher was selected to the 2005 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team - at 16 becoming the youngest Walker Cup player ever. Nor was it a surprise ...

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Seeking growth, China LPGA Tour taps Octagon

In another sign of golf’s growth in China, the China LPGA Tour announced it has teamed with sports marketing agency Octagon to develop corporate partnerships.

The CLPGA Tour, in its third year of operation, is the country’s domestic professional tour and organizes tournaments nationwide, including the China Ladies Open.

“With golf set to be in the Olympics for the 2016 Games, the CLPGA Tour is an important component in ensuring China’s women professionals have a platform to prepare them for international  competition,” said Chris Higgs, managing director for Octagon Global Events.

According to the multi-year deal, agency executives in the U.S. and in Asia have been charged not only with business development duties, but raising the level of competition on the tour and promoting women’s golf, in general, within China. Octagon’s Beijing office also will handle athlete representation efforts.

In a written statement, Jennifer Li, the tour’s CEO, said: “(Octagon’s) philosophy and approach is highly compatible with ours and we are excited to have this alliance, particularly at this important moment in our organization’s development.” 

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