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REARDON: The Course, the Contest and the Field

Dan Reardon
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A course scenic of the 12th green during the final round of the BMW Championship held at Bellerive Country Club on September 7, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

A course scenic of the 12th green during the final round of the BMW Championship held at Bellerive Country Club on September 7, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

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With the 2013 Senior PGA Championship presented by Kitchenaid now on our doorstep, allow me to share three concerns that could impinge on the event’s overall success as the tournament unfolds.

The Course – Ever since the runaway success of the 1992 PGA Championship, Bellerive has been star-crossed in its subsequent offerings. In reverse order, the 2008 BMW Championship lost Tiger Woods to a broken leg and lost an opening round to a major rainstorm. The 2004 US Senior Open was also reduced to a three-day event because of weather, wrapping with a 36 hole final day. The 2001 American Express Championship was a casualty to the events of 9/11 without a single stroke being played.

For this year’s tournament, the golf course condition has been a challenged aspect of the planning and preparation. As long ago as two summers past when it hosted the 2011 Missouri Women’s State Amateur Championship, the condition of the fairways has been less than up to the club’s usual standards. In the summer of 2012, an extended stretch of extreme heat and drought stressed the course yet again.

Although to the spectators seeing the course from beyond the gallery ropes, things will appear as superior as they would expect for a major, the jury is still out on how ideal the fairways may be.

Still struggling last fall, the zoysia surfaces have been doing their best Rip van Winkle impersonation since the onset of cooler temperatures over the winter. A wet and chilly spring that stretched into early May left them still drowsy in the weeks leading up to play.
Every effort has been made to offset the lack of cooperation from Mother Nature.

The only thing more rare than the sight of mowers on the Bellerive fairways this spring has been the presence of member’s carts off the cart paths this year. A trickle of warm days has brought some green to the dormant surfaces, but the players will likely find some uneven conditions even if they successfully navigate to the short grass over the four days.

The Contest – With the baseball team on the West Coast for the week, it normally would have left the sports focus in town on the Seniors. But the surprise addition of a soccer exhibition on the night of the opening round could have consequences. The game between Manchester City and Chelsea was enthusiastically received by the soccer community and sold out in record fashion. Because of the different constituencies for soccer and golf there probably was minimal impact on the advance sales for Thursday’s opening round. The same may not be true for its coverage.

Admitting that the soccer starved St. Louisans deserve their night of big time ‘football,’ I suspect the ink and airtime it will consume will treat it like a local World Cup final. In reality the game has no competitive significance. It is the equivalent of Tavon Austin running shadow routes at Rams rookie mini camp – fun to watch but meaningless. I think I could have spent the last week standing outside a Schnucks store offering one hundred dollars to any shopper who could name a single player on either exhibition squad and left with my C-note in my pocket.

Yes the event at Bellerive is an “over 50” affair, but it is a real competition for the participants, and it has just under three quarters of a century of history. If the local media truly buries the first round in favor of the spotted ball competition, the tournament will lose an important day of momentum to build the walk up for the weekend that is already challenged by Memorial Day plans.

The Field – The Championship can rightfully boast that it has virtually every player available for the spectators this week. Only a senior-denying Vijay Singh and a Colonial bound Corey Pavin will be absent. But the Champions Tour is once again becoming as thin in viable marquis names as the hair on many of their players’ heads. Yes you have a crowd pleasing Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer showed he has game at Augusta. But the rest of the top ten on the Champions Tour includes, Frost, Pernice, Mediate, Toledo, Sauers, Allen, Sluman and Cook. (Cook should win an event presented by Kitchenaid) All are fine talents, with commendable records, but hardly turnstile turners.

Reigning champion Roger Chapman is a great story and a wonderful gentleman, but a Chapman-like finish next weekend may leave the tournament short of maintaining Bellerive’s record of exceeding expectations. It would be beneficial if Tom Watson or Hale Irwin or even Jay Haas would have a Ponce De Leon week for the locals. In the final year of the Boone Valley Classic, the organizers tried to offset waning interest in the Seniors by going to a match play format. It was a game effort, but when the final match pitted Leonard Thompson against Vincente Fernandez you could count the following gallery by hand.

Thanks in advance to our spectacle delivering club and good luck to it members who deserve at least a measure of ’92 success.

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