Greg Norman has done what nobody else could do in my seven years
on the PGA Tour: Get all the players to agree about something.
Norman designed the new TPC at Sugarloaf, in Duluth, Ga., site
of last week's BellSouth Classic, and the course was a unanimous
hit. But that made me wonder: Why aren't all 25 of the
Tournament Players Clubs--especially the 16 that are venues for
regular Tour and Senior tour events--just as good?
All TPC courses are owned, operated or licensed by the Tour, and
we should be proud of every one. That's not the case. Sugarloaf,
Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where we have the Players
Championship, and Summerlin, site of the Las Vegas Invitational,
are superior courses. The other seven that hold Tour
events--Scottsdale (Phoenix), Heron Bay (Honda), the Woodlands
(Houston), Las Colinas (Nelson), Avenel (Kemper), Southwind
(Memphis) and River Highlands (Hartford)--could be much better.
I don't have a problem with how they're designed, which is
subjective. I'm talking about conditioning, a Tour player's No.
1 concern about any course. One would think that the Tour would
make sure its courses are perfect when we play them. Too often,
though, they're not.
Earlier this month, at the Shell Houston Open, conditions at the
TPC at the Woodlands were embarrassing. The greens had been
recently rebuilt, so I could live with the bumpy putts, but the
grass on the fairways was also sparse and the ground underneath
was way too mushy. That was odd because a couple of courses
right across the street were in perfect shape.
The greens at the TPC at Scottsdale always get chewed up during
the tournament, which made what Steve Jones did there this
year--shooting 26 under par--unbelievable. The good news for
Phoenix is that the Tour pooh-bahs finally realized having
bentgrass greens in a place where the temperature can hit
120[degrees] is a bad idea. The greens are being torn up and
reseeded with bermuda, and the course will reopen in June.
I've heard all the excuses. At River Highlands, the funky New
England weather is the culprit. The heat and humidity of Memphis
are to blame at Southwind. Avenel was not the only local course
to suffer through a freaky Washington, D.C., winter. I'll buy
those reasons--once, but not year after year.
TPCs should be the best courses in their areas, for us and for
the amateurs who play them 51 weeks a year. In Houston I heard
one player say TPC stands for Totally Putrid Conditions. I
laughed, but it's not funny. TPC should stand for Totally
Perfect Conditions. It does at Sugarloaf, Sawgrass and Summerlin.
Patrick Burke, 35, had a pair of top-10 finishes on Tour in '96.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Burke: Some TPCs are rough going. [Patrick Burke golfing]