Tiger Woods often seems to dictate my professional life. I’m hardly unique in this regard. If you work in the golf media, Woods never is far from your thoughts. If he’s playing, we’re there to watch. If we’re not there, we’re watching on TV and commenting.
If he’s designing a course, we’re there to review it.
If he appears in a commercial, we’ll critique it.
If he’s not making news, we’ll find some reason to talk about him because golf fans have displayed an almost insatiable desire for all things Tiger.
It’s against that backdrop that the boss – Golfweek’s editor, not Woods – asked me to go to Ridgedale, Mo., just north of the Arkansas border, in April. Tiger Woods Design is building a course there for Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, and Woods was scheduled to pop in to put on a golf clinic for the locals.
No, that’s not quite right. Other pros put on clinics; Woods does events.
Some 7,000 locals turned out, many arriving three hours early. Children who had never seen Woods win a tournament chanted “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” Men cheered. Women swooned (“Tiger, I love you!”).
To be honest, Woods’ 28-minute appearance wasn’t terribly memorable; his on-course charisma doesn’t translate to that format.
Morris put on a far more impressive show that week. I had visited the area eight years earlier and thought it was a nice regional destination, especially given all of the theaters and live entertainment a few miles away in Branson. It would be a good drive-in destination for Midwesterners.
This time around, however, I could picture golfers flying long distances to experience what Morris has created. Golf needs more people like Morris, though the truth is, I’m not sure there are many people like Morris.
It’s not just that he has invested millions of dollars building golf courses with the game’s top architects – Fazio, Coore & Crenshaw, Nicklaus and Player. What’s most striking is Morris’ attention to the tiniest details – on his golf courses, at his Big Cedar Lodge, in his clubhouses and museums. The museums alone are worth the trip.
There’s not much golf development occurring these days, but what Morris is doing in the Ozarks is worthy of national, even international, attention.
Pete Dye’s legacy graces Maryland
I don’t often get the chance to revisit a destination. In this job, we’re always looking for something new to share with readers – the occasional new course, a renovation, a spiffy new resort hotel, an amenity-rich community.
This year was a little different. I went back to southern Missouri to see Morris’ reinvention of that area. And I returned to my home state of Maryland to see an interesting project that I first visited 18 years ago and never thought I’d have cause to revisit.
The draw on that initial trip to what was then known as Harbourtowne Resort in St. Michaels, Md., was that it was said to have been one of Pete Dye’s earliest designs. Dye celebrates his 95th birthday today. There probably also was the promise of crabs and shrimp straight from the Chesapeake Bay. If you’re from Maryland, that’s more important than the golf.
What I remember most from that visit in 2000 was my regret at not having purchased mosquito spray in the pro shop before my round.
This time around, what I most remember was how charming the entire setting is. If the water-side Inn at Perry Cabin looks like something out of a movie, that’s because it is (it had a cameo in “Wedding Crashers”).
The redesigned golf course, now known as The Links at Perry Cabin, will have some historic significance; it will be the last course on which Dye played a significant role. And if you’re looking for a quaint bayside town to escape to in the Mid-Atlantic, you’d be hard pressed to top St. Michaels. Hopping local restaurants, fresh seafood, live music. That’s hard to top on a summer weekend.
Moving the game beyond the hitting bays
Exciting, well-financed projects such as these give me some hope for the game’s future. There are more that we don’t have space to discuss here. But the fundamentals continue to work against us.
Rounds played are on pace for another decline in 2018. Through October, Golf Datatech reported that rounds were down 3.9 percent.
This unfortunately has become a familiar story. Americans are playing less and less traditional golf with each passing year, though smart operators such as Topgolf are filling the void.
Perhaps that’s the future of golf – self-contained, time-constrained, videogame-inspired, alcohol-fueled slap-arounds with friends after work.
And that’s fine for what it’s worth.
We can all enjoy the game in that format in small doses. But here’s hoping that we can get some of those folks out of the hitting bays and onto the fairways at some of these destinations to enjoy the game as it was meant to be played.