Greens need regulation, some say

Roberts, other players suggest adjustments to putting surfaces

Senior Players Championship

October 09, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

Those who played in the inaugural Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship at Baltimore Country Club in Timonium left Sunday afternoon with mostly good feelings about the event, the course and the setting for the last major of the season on the Champions Tour.

But their one concern was the slowness of the greens, even from the player who ran away from the field to win.

"It's a great golf course, but if they want to take that extra step, they could probably speed the greens up and firm the greens up just a little bit if they wanted to," Loren Roberts said after shooting a four-round score of 13-under-par 267 to win by six strokes over Tom Watson. "I hope they don't hear me say that, but ... "

Roberts echoed the sentiments of many players who appreciated the old-style layout of the 81-year-old Five Farms course and the original design of legendary golf architect A.W. Tillinghast, but he said modern technology and the severely back-to-front sloping greens are not necessarily a good match.

Hall of Famer Ray Floyd said that when the course was built, "they were only mowing twice a week and it made sense to have that kind of speed and slope in the greens." Floyd suggested that the club and the Champions Tour consider "buffering" the greens so players won't be penalized so drastically.

"Raymond could be right," two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw said. "The slopes are tough, there's no question about that. The first championship here to prepare something like this, I'm sure they're looking at the speeds, the play. They're tough, they're really tough."

Veteran Jim Thorpe also took issue with the way the greens were cut and the pins were placed.

"It's not a bad golf course. I don't think it's a golf course that's quite ready for a major," Thorpe said Saturday. "I think there are some things they should have done different. I think the greens were a little too inconsistent.

"I think they cut the greens at three different levels. They're very limited when it comes to pin placement. It's in great condition, but I think we need a little more variety in pin placements."

Those who return next year likely will not find much difference in the way the course plays.

"There were 78 players and probably 15 to 20 only broke par; that's a pretty good indication of a really good golf course," course superintendent Tim Kennelly said Sunday. "The golf course has been that way for many, many years. Change doesn't come around as a knee-jerk type of thing.

"I don't think any changes to the golf course will be driven by what's best for the players. It's still a members' club."

Kennelly said the weather also affected the way the course played. Anticipating that cooler fall temperatures would make the course play fast, the greens were slowed down from the speed at which the members play them. The humid weather softened the greens and slowed them down even more.

In all, Champions Tour president Rick George was pleased with the way the tournament played out.

"We thought the galleries were actually better than we anticipated, the club was terrific, the golf course was fabulous. We're off to a great start for a major championship being in Baltimore," George said Sunday. "We're excited about the future."

Though tournament officials declined to announce attendance figures, the event drew small crowds. As he walked down the 17th fairway Thursday afternoon, Roberts was asked about the size of his gallery. "I wish there were a few more," he said.

Sandy Clark, a Baltimore engineer who attended three of the four rounds and took his 12-year-old son, Ian, for both weekend rounds, said, "I thought that from some of the other tournaments I've been at, especially the fact that this is a major, there would be more people than there were on Saturday and Sunday."

Not that Clark minded the low turnout.

"I thought intimacywise it was really cool," said Clark, who followed Watson most of the time. "You could get closer to players and talk to them; that's one of the neatest things. It just seems like at Champions events, the players are a lot more accessible."

How the tournament did in terms of its charitable donations will be determined shortly. According to Constellation Energy chief executive officer Mayo Shattuck III, the regular Champions Tour event at Hayfields Country Club in Hunt Valley had raised about $800,000 in the three years preceding its transformation into a major.

Tournament director Steve Schoenfeld said yesterday that the tournament would wait about 60 days until announcing its donations to four local charities.

"We're going to let the dust settle," Schoenfeld said. "But the feedback we're getting from our sponsors has been positive."

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