Golfing gods smile on Greensboro: Will PGA?
Carl Pettersson wasn’t the only winner at last week’s Wyndham Championship, only the most obvious. While the strapping Swede who was a Whirlie for two years and a Wolfpacker for four took home the big bucks and the Sam Snead Cup, there is a long list of winners who may rightly bask in his reflected glory.
If Bobby Long, chairman of the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation board that oversees the event, said it once he said it a thousand times: “We’re making this an A tournament,” and, “This is a win-win for everybody.” And, by golly, he got it right. The foundation won, Sedgefield Country Club won, the course itself won, Greensboro and the surrounding area won, the charities who will benefit from it won, Wyndham Worldwide won and the throngs of fans won. It was, as Long predicted, a win-win situation. The foundation made a bold and controversial move by breaking their long-term contract with Forest Oaks, host of the event for the past 31 years. But now virtually everyone connected with it agrees that relocating the tourney to its ancestral home was the right move. The only possible move, really. The pros had no respect for the layout, the fans had dwindled to a precious few, sponsors had come and gone.
The event that began in 1938 was on life support and the PGA was on the verge of pulling the plug. The one area where Long and tournament director Mark Brazil had hedged their bets was on the size of the galleries. They were reasonably certain that the course was up to PGA standards, that the hospitality, volunteers, parking, player services, concessions, security, traffic flow and a hundred other details were under control. They were elated that the skyboxes had sold out and corporate support was skyrocketing. And even after Rocco Mediate and Angel Cabrera dropped out at the last minute, they felt the caliber of the field was respectable. A $5.1 million purse and $918,000 first-place check, after all, would guarantee a quality field, if not the elite of the elite. But it was wondering about those darn galleries that was causing Brazil and Long to lose sleep. “The economy is not our friend,” commented Brazil a couple of weeks before the tourney. “In a good economy I would guarantee a slam dunk, but the way folks are having to tighten their belts, this may be one of the things they can do without.” Apparently not. Brazil had said during that same interview that they had printed
25,000tickets for the Saturday and Sunday rounds, which he felt would be morethan adequate — and they ran out both days. Running out of tickets is aproblem any tourney director would like to have, and one that Brazilhad not experienced in his eight years in Greensboro. Four-dayattendance was put at 78,000, which is reminiscent of the first coupleof years at Forest Oaks and the hey-day at Sedgefield during the late’50s early ’60s. By way of comparison, last year at Forest Oaks thecrowd numbered 17,000 — for all four days. While the Donald Rossredesign by local architect Kris Spence drew universal praise from thepros and fans alike, the low scores surely must be a bit of a concernfor tourney organizers. Pettersson’s winning score of 259 was only fiveshots off the PGA record, and his Friday round of 61 must have turnedheads at PGA headquarters. But which way were they turning? Obviouslythe pros weren’t complaining about shooting such low scores, and thefans were delighted to see so many birdies and eagles. There are onlyso many ways to protect a course by narrowing fairways, lengtheningrough and raising difficulty of pin placement. So, if the PGA is happywith everything they saw about this year’s Wyndham, there is one waythey can ensure that scores will be higher in the future. And thatdovetails with Bobby Long’s mission — to get the event a better date,preferably in early- to mid-spring. The obvious reason is theoppressive mid-August Carolina heat — which, believe it or not, wasquite bearable all four days — but there is another factor that makesfor an equally convincing argument. In spring, golf courses in theSouth can use rye grass, rather than Bermuda,for the rough. Rye is much thicker and can be grown much higher, whichmeans players would actually be penalized for missing the fairway. Evenin the second cut of Bermuda,they are able to blast out relatively easily, which makes narrowing thefairways a moot point, at least for the PGA pros. Long has said onnumerous occasions that the best the Wyndham could do this year andnext would be to position itself for consideration of a better date. Itdid just that last weekend and there is no reason to assume next yearwill be anything but better. Then, to mix sports metaphors, the ballwill be in the PGA’s court. The Wyndham Championship has done all it can do, and then some.
Ogi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth on ABC 45 at 6:30 a.m. Fridays and on WMYV 48 at 10 p.m. Sundays.