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Letters to the Editor: April 2004

This is a brief comment to Mr. Duncan's first article on strategy - Mr. Duncan, you are right to suggest that the discussion of strategy can be complex, if made so. I think you make a good analogy with pyschology in that often times the more seemingly complex questions in life can be over analyzed. I recall a story about a famous therapist who had written very indepthly about the meaning behind why people smoke cigars, tending to suggest that smoking a cigar often reflected on the character flaws in a individual. Attending a seminar on the subject he proceeded to light up a cigar, which drew the question from the moderator of the seminar, "Dr., you preach about the negative meaning that smoking cigars can suggest, and yet you are now smoking a cigar", to which the Doctor responded, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". Strategy in a golf course is not a complex issue if you relax and let it just be and enjoy it.

Overanalyzing a golf course can be the downfall of many a player, even the greats, but it is not the golf course's fault. I assure you that there are times better players simply want to get it in the fairway and on the green. It is dependent on the way they are playing that day. Some will suggest that this mindset is the highest form of state you can put yourself in, where you simply do not think. However, the more a golf course makes a player think, making it more difficult to not think, the more challenging it can be to simply execute. The comment you make that better players will learn a course to the point of knowing the right way to play the hole when the pin is here or the wind coming from there and then simply execute is idealistic at best.

Conditions do change and a player can have a general idea, but while even Tiger Woods can have a strategy before he even tees it up, he still must execute and I assure you his "skill set" differs from day to day, cauing him to react constantly to the minor variations he encounters to his plan, and then execute.

So, I will suggest to you that there is an obvious strategy that can be attained, but the more subtleties that exist in the course to affect the way a player reacts to variation, the more mentally taxing a course can be. I would suggest that modern courses too often provide obvious strategy, no matter how "option oriented" it is, that the better player can easily read and adapt to, but they lack the subtle features that have the most profound impact on the ability to adapt and execute. Obvious strategy is meaning on the surface where you can rationaly discuss strategy, but it is the subtle things in a golf course that are the deeper meaning that can be hard to uncover.

You are also right that the level of strategic sophistication in a golf course can be impacted by the level of sophistication in the participant (the player). The same holds true for many things in life where if a person has a higher sophistication and understanding (ability), the better they can appreciate the higher form. Some people don't want to explore why, they simply want a pretty picture they can enjoy looking at.

Tripp Davis, Norman, Okla.

I routintely enjoy your well written and informative publication. However, I must take exception to some of the comments in Shane Sharp's "Is We Ko Pa Overrated" article. First of all, I have no bias toward the Golf Week ratings (I'm a Golf Digest Top 100 panelist-have played all of the courses on the current list). The Golf Week ratings reflect a trend toward pure golf. One of the components of pure golf is a thoughtful routing that includes walking. We Ko Pa along with Talking Stick and Apache Stronghold emphasize this integral part of the game.

On a national level, we are enjoying more pure golf experiences on both a public (Whistling Straits, Bandon and Pacific Dunes) and private (Friar's Head and Mayacama) that are not dumbed down cartball venues. All of the aforementioned courses are strategic and require thoughtful decisions. We Ko Pa incorporates hazards such as bunker complexes (9th hole), small mountains (10th hole), water hazards (18th hole) and even trees (13th hole) directly in the line of play ala the Roaring Twenties masterpieces such as San Francisco Golf Club and the Garden City Men's Club. Both Fazio (with the noteable exception of the wonderful Victoria National) and Rees Jones are guilty of not placing hazards and therefore shotmaking decisions directly in the line of play but rather as eye candy and/or containment devices off to the sides with a bumper car guard rail effect.

Lastly, great courses such a Pine Valley, Merion and Shinnecock Hills do not have "signature" holes but rather a beautiful flow of holes that fit well together. The concept of signature holes was created by developers and their marketing arms to sell real estate and tee times and was not a consideration for the master architects such as Raynor, Mackenie, Tillinghast and today Coore/Crenshaw and Doak. Just a few well intended thoughts from one of your readers. Look forward to future articles.

Bill Schulz, Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Stewart Cink controversy is just as stupid as Ken Venturi's allegations against Arnold Palmer. If the player has discussed the process with a rules official and is granted permission then it is a MOOT point. To belabor the point is a total waste of time.

Gary Jones, via email

I think most golfers have different definitions of "cheating". for instance, I think belly putters are cheating, and the rules of golf support my definition. Most golfers I play with, play "winter rules" in August... you know, preferred lies, or pick up those 3 footers. Most corporate outings I attend encourage cheating by allowing participants to "buy mulligans" for the scramble round... but then again, that's corporate America and we all know they make cheating a business, but that's a symtom of our society which allows cheating.

Listen, all this "cheating" is players taking a few minor liberties to make the game easier, and in most cases, faster. Those who do cheat, probably feel it makes their round more enjoyable as they score better. Golf is a hard game. With rounds down over the past years and more golfers leaving the game, the golf industry is in a tailspin, and realize they must create ways to make the game easier to attract more participants. Oversized clubs, straight balls are only part of it, the industry needs shorter, wide open courses with no hazards, even bigger cups.

Doing everything possible to make the game easier, more enjoyable, short of cheating, may help develop those participants into real golfers... and real golfers don't have to cheat.

James Ellis, via email

70 percent cheating levels are not only surprising but evoke a sense of shock and awe that should create alarms in even the most passive of observers, especially since it is often said that personality and character for business can be assessed by how a person plays golf. The phenomenon implies that the competitive stress levels are so high and the guilt so low (as a byproduct of rationalizing the necessity of cheating) that the environment is emotionally, if not mentally unhealthy, which often leads to loss of physical health.

That conclusion can mean one of two things: either the game has been so fraught with competitive pressures that it is no longer seen as a game where personal integrity has more value than competitive wins, or 2) the game is being used to create or confirm value in individuals where they feel unduly self conscious and vulnerable. Either case is a problem for golf and doesn't contribute to the USGA goals and mission of fostering ideals and attitudes that are "good for the game."

Because golf has been characterized as an addiction for many, the ability to look upon these potential flaws as negative byproducts of addiction management may be warranted, and the industry may want to assess the extent to which these attitudes may be fostered by their management of the golf environment.

Golf is too beneficial a game, and too fun a game, to allow it to become afflicted by these vulnerabilities that can destroy the environment and the game, not to mention the profits possible from cultivating the pleasure that should be available from golf and its management and development. In one sense, the bar may be too high, and in other aspects, it may be too low, creating the negative impact of people who suffer from the schizophrenic reaction of having a love/hate relationship with the game which should be all pleasure despite the desire to improve their own performance for their own sake, and not for personal measurement in the context of others, the reason there exists a handicap system in the first place to reduce the differentials attached to different playing abilities so people can play together without having to alter scores or to cheat, indications that either people are basically dishonest or they have no respect for the game, as a game, and it has become work (essentially, an exercise in rule manipulation that rewards both loophole finders and rule breakers that maximize the outcome) to increase the power of public performance for personal gain. Bringing fun back into the game might help cure the problem.

Pat R., via email

I was very pleased that you pointed out some of the differences between tees ("Women are picky, and we know what we want in a golf resort," by staff writer Cynthia Boal Janssens). I would further suggest that tees should remain challenging for women; yes, they should reduce the length of the holes but should also require a level of skill to each shot to record a good score. All too many times I have seen the situation where the forward tees are clearly an afterthought and are placed so that the hole is much easier to play from the forward tee as opposed to just closer to the green. Thank you for your attention to this issue

Geoffrey Guenther, Syracuse, NY

Cynthia Boal Janssens' article, "10 ways to charm your lady," should be printed on the front page of your website. I especially like the point about "not looking up"! My wife and I play together and have met many couples on the first tee. Playing golf together is a great way to spend time with your wife - it is quality time and gives you additional topics for conversation.

Women are very competitive by nature and do not want any favors on the golf course. Let her play her own game - this gives her a sense of accomplishment. A husband or boyfriend should praise the good shots and let her know it is OK to miss shots. Teach her on the driving range or let her professional fix swing flaws during her lessons.

John Klein, Life Member, PGA of America

To say Augusta National is a boring course, and then to bash it in your piece is completely ridiculous. Nothing could be further from the truth. You must employ a staff of democrats - liars!

Hunter Hustead, Tempe, AZ

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