The inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open has been a smashing success. It's brought a breeze of fresh air to the golf world. Over the years, professional golf has morphed into over-commercialized and manipulated entertainment. Players are surrounded by entourages, equipment reps litter the range and fans are kept dozens of yards from the golf being played. The professional game regularly plays second rate courses that are maintained to reward bombing tee shots off every tee and wedging it close. This week at Chicago Golf has been a throwback to the game’s roots. No ropes, equipment reps or entourages, just families and fans walking the fairways their golf heroes at one of the best courses in the world. Here's what I have liked and disliked from this week in golf.
Like: The U.S. Senior Women's Open
This week has been pure golf, women competing out of their love for the game. After spending a day on the grounds, I was inspired. The golf was pure, the play was fun, strategic and interesting. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was watching golf the way it was intended to be played. A game of chess with players making thoughtful shots that counter the hazards the golf course presents. A stark contrast from the usual contest of who can bludgeon the golf course the most. The senior women's lower trajectory and spinning shots force them to play strategic golf. It was the most enjoyable spectating experience I have ever had.
An example of the difference in the game came as I was leaving the property. I stood in amazement after a player missed a fairway and chipped out because the nested lie in the rough would make carrying a cross-bunker 100 yards away difficult. If it was a PGA Tour player, a high lofted mid-iron would have been aimed at the center of the green.
The women's throwback style of play fits the golf course to a T, it's the ultimate golf for historic, well-designed golf courses such as Chicago Golf Club....
Like: Chicago Golf as an example
Chicago Golf Club was a fundamental part of the development of golf in America. The first 18-hole golf course in the United States became the centerpiece to golf in America's heartland. Chicago Golf Club is one of the country's finest golf courses and also one of the most exclusive. Despite hosting eleven USGA championships prior to this week's event, it will be the first time that Chicago Golf Club is shown on TV.
The course gets less than 10,000 rounds a year, and like most exclusive clubs, it is kept in pristine shape. In a recent podcast, golf architect Andrew Green talked about how golfers should focus on the themes they can take away from the world's best courses. He mentioned Augusta and their restraint on bunkers, with only 22 when the course opened and 44 today.
At Chicago Golf Club, the takeaway is how achievable great golf can be. Unlike most golf courses listed in the top 20 of the rankings, Chicago Golf Club isn't on a stunning property. It's a former farm that has a modest roll of land movement in it. It's property that is no better than thousands of golf courses in the country. So why aren't thousands of golf courses like Chicago Golf Club?
They try and do too much. Chicago Golf Club's greatness comes from its stellar routing, variety of holes and spectacular green complexes. It's a simple formula for great golf. Unfortunately, the majority of golf courses in the United States tried too hard. The trend is finally pointing back towards minimalism and the idea that great architecture is simple and achievable for all.
Love: "Golden Age Maximalism"
When Raynor redesigned Chicago Golf Club in 1923, he was at the forefront of "creating" golf. Originally an engineer, Raynor moved dirt like few others. Ironically, Raynor started the trend of maximalism that ruined golf design from 1950-2000. His designs of Yale and Lookout Mountain were the two most expensive projects of the Golden Age Architecture. These courses were terrific feats of engineering and golf course design. Yale was heralded as a top ten course in the country. Unfortunately after the Great Depression and WWII, maximalism evolved and led to more manufactured golf courses by architects with less talent and understanding of the principles of great golf architecture.
By today's standards, the type of design that Raynor employed is minimalist. It's the type of design that's thriving in architecture. 1920's maximalism is today's minimalism. Moving dirt only when needed to create interesting, strategic golf. Chicago Golf is a course that everyone should look at and say, “my course should be like this.” Strategic from tee to green, possessing a variety of different holes and cheap to maintain.
Don't like: The lack of coverage
I don't have many gripes from this week, but the big one is the lack of television coverage. I am sure this will change over time, but only having two hours of coverage on Saturday and Sunday is disappointing. It's the inaugural edition of the event at one of the country's greatest and most historic courses and deserved more.
Don't like: The scheduling
We live in the 21st century, I don't think that it's too much to ask for a little collaboration between the biggest golf organizations. This week, the U.S. Senior Women's Open took the stage opposite of the Senior Players Championship at Exmoor C.C. and the John Deere Classic in Moline, IL. This scheduling gaff limited the popularity of each event by making fans choose. It's a shame that some golf fans will make the choice to bypass Chicago Golf for one the other events. It's also unfair to Exmoor, a great Chicago golf course with rich history, to have to go up against Chicago Golf Club. One of the best golf cities in America deserved better from the governing bodies.
Like: JoAnne "Big Mama" Carner
No player possessed the spirit of love for the game more than 79-year-old JoAnne "Big Mama" Carner. Despite having not walked a golf course since 2004, Big Mama showed out, walking every practice round and the first two rounds of the event. Carner flirted with making the cut, shooting a 79 (her age) and an 83 in round two. Carner did it while ripping cigarettes on an every other hole and using a new wedge after her 30+ year old Wilson R-90 wedge was deemed non-conforming.
Like: The Future of the U.S. Senior Women's Open
The style of play from the senior women opens the door to watching a different and fun style of golf on some of America's greatest courses. I am not talking about the hard U.S. Open venues, I am talking about the quirky fun, make-you-want-to-play-everyday courses that can no longer host thanks to the business end of golf. Next year, the senior women will tee it up at Pine Needles in the Pinehurst area. From there, I would love to see the USGA explore America's best courses that have been labeled "too short for championship golf". Courses filled with quirk and Golden Age features that were rendered extinct by today's version of golf. Here are a few off the top of my head:
The Misquamicut Club - Westerly, RI - Seth Raynor and Donald Ross
Somerset Hills C.C. - Bernardsville, NJ - A.W. Tillinghast
Myopia Hunt Club - Hamilton, Ma - Herbert Leeds
Claremont Club - Oakland, CA - Alister MacKenzie
Bel-Air C.C. - Los Angeles - George Thomas
Eastward Ho - Chatham, Ma - Herbert Fowler
White Bear Yacht Club - Dellwood, MN - Donald Ross
Crystal Downs - Frankfort, Mi - Alister MacKenzie
Maidstone Club - East Hampton, NY - Willie Park Jr.
Palmetto Golf Club - Aiken, SC - Alister MacKenzie
Cape Arundel - Kennebunkport, Maine - Walter Travis
St. Louis CC - St. Louis, MO - C.B. Macdonald
Valley Club of Montecito - Santa Barbara, CA - Alister MacKenzie
Blue Mound G&CC - Wawautosa, WI - Seth Raynor
University of Michigan Golf Course - Ann Arbor, Mi - Alister MacKenzie
Wannamoisett C.C. - Rumford, RI - Donald Ross
Links at Lawsonia - Green Lake, WI - Langford & Moreau
Country Club of Buffalo - Buffalo, NY - Donald Ross
Glens Falls C.C. - Glens Falls, NY - Donald Ross
Fox Chapel Golf Club - Pittsburgh, PA - Seth Raynor
Kirtland C.C. - Willoughby, OH - Charles Alison
San Francisco Golf Club - San Francisco, CA - A.W. Tillinghast
I never thought I would say the words "I'm all in on the U.S. Senior Women's Open," but I am. It's the most interesting and fun golf I have watched in some time. Watching a game of finesse and strategy is intoxicating. It leaves one to hope that we see the professional game return to a closer form with an equipment rollback.