Course draws decent scores from seniors

Playing to expectations, Caves praised

bunkers, greens only complaints

July 01, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The reviews came in one by one as the golfers walked off the 18th green at Caves Valley. The U.S. Senior Open provided all the suspense anyone could have asked for, and the golf course largely lived up to its billing as one of the finest clubs in the mid-Atlantic region.

"It's a very good golf course," said Hale Irwin, who turned in a final-round 68 to finish at even par for the event. "There were a lot of good holes that required a lot of good golf shots ... and enough trouble to keep us on our toes."

The layout was challenging and the high heat and humidity tested the endurance of the 50-and-over field. Don Pooley and Tom Watson finished 72 holes tied at 10-under par, and needed five playoff holes before Pooley made a birdie putt to win the championship.

"The golf course played to my expectations," said Watson, who finished yesterday's extended round at 4-under par. "I thought it would play 6- to 10-under and that wasn't quite enough. Caves Valley held up as a very good Open venue."

Of course, it wasn't all bouquets and glowing praise. There were enough difficult pin placements to get under the skin of a few contestants, and several contenders questioned the consistency of the greens and the bunkers.

"We kind of felt the whole week that the greens rolled a little inconsistent, but it's a great venue," said former Morgan State student Jim Thorpe, who finished at even par for the tournament. "I'm not going to make excuses.

"There were certain putts you couldn't putt. I made birdie on 17, and if I didn't hit the hole it's going to roll off the green. If you're above the hole, you're going to get beat because you're going to putt defensively."

The 17th green left a lot of players shaking their heads, but the course gave up enough solid scores to get decent marks from all the contenders in yesterday's final round.

"Sure [it was fair]," said Jay Sigel. "Look at the scores. I don't think it played as hard as it could. The greens were receptive for the most part. If you drove it on the fairway - and the fairways were ample size - you could play.

"You like any golf course you play half-decent. It's a wonderful venue. Magnificent layout. Great conditions. Great crowd."

Irwin and Thorpe found some fault with the bunkers, because the density of the sand varied at different depths.

"It's inconsistent," Irwin said. "There was a lot of sand up on the lips and not enough at the bottom. That's characteristic of bunkers like these. The sand gets raked up. If there is going to be a lot of bunker play, maybe it should be a little more equitable.

"Soft lips and a firm bottom. That's a good thing, but not on a golf course."

Those minor complaints aside, the event was a runaway success, from the striking landscape of the historic valley to the fantastic finish that carried Pooley to a $450,000 payday - by far the biggest of his professional career.

Tom Kite, who finished third with a 7-under total of 277, felt the course was slightly more forgiving than he anticipated.

"I thought a score of 6- to 8-under would probably win the tournament," he said. "I think if we hadn't had that rain earlier in the week to soften it up, that would have been the winning score. You have to hand it to Tom and Don. They've done some amazing things out there."

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