Rory, Professional Golf and Obsolete Golf Courses

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Images from YouTube

It’s no secret that Rory McIlroy speaks his mind.

The Northern Irishman’s PGA Tour interviews are always interesting, not only for their content but also because the world top-five player consistently holds nothing back. McIlroy made headlines for finishing second, again, in this year’s U.S. Open. His post-round observations were heartfelt and honest, where one could feel sympathy and empathy for him at the same time.

Therefore Rory would’ve been excused if he’d simply told reporters that he didn’t have anything to say the next week during the Travelers Championship, which had the unenviable position of coming after one of the four yearly majors and a mere few weeks before the next one. In past years, players have liked to rest and prepare, but not in 2023. The Tour upped the purses for designated events, of which the Travelers was one.

But instead of taking a “mental” break in Connecticut, McIlroy was his usual outspoken (in a good way) self. Rory admitted that he didn’t enjoy the tournament despite finishing at 18-under and yet another top-ten finish. John Schwarb reported at SI Golf:

“[McIlroy] didn't love the birdie-fest at TPC River Highlands, where eight rounds of 62 or better were turned in during the week, and didn't mince words when asked after his final round.

“’I don't particularly like when a tournament is like this. Unfortunately technology has passed this course by, right? It sort of has made it obsolete, especially as soft as it has been with a little bit of rain that we had,’ said McIlroy, who shot a pair of 64s in his 18-under-par total.

“’So, again, like the conversations going back to, you know, limiting the golf ball and stuff like that, when we come to courses like this they just don't present the challenge that they used to.’”

As a mid-handicapper, I’ve found that no course is “obsolete”, though it’s amazing to note how the muni tracks I grew up with seem a lot smaller these days when strolling down the memory lane fairways. But, to most of us, these old golf courses are still playable and enjoyable, even if the visuals don’t quite match those of newer, trickier layouts.

Whereas every sport offers a wide gap between so-called “average” players and pros, it’s hard to think of a bigger disparity than in golf. Simply put, I haven’t seen many every week-type players who can hit an eight-iron a hundred and eighty yards – or more when they feel like dialing it up. The typical white tee duffer can’t reach the hazards from the tee box, but these pros are ignoring the bunkers altogether by airing it out 300-yards or more.

In other words, if the golf course itself can’t punish poor club and shot selection, what good is it? But your local golf superintendent can always move the tees back if the members and guests complain that the course is too “obsolete” (not that they ever would), but in the pro game, there are few other options in terms of course set-up to do the trick.

It’s a shame, because McIlroy’s candid thoughts equate to many, many golf layouts being ruled out as potential tournament venues. Kingsmill Resort, for example, hosted a PGA Tour event on its River Course until the early 2000’s, then moved away permanently because the Pete Dye-design wasn’t long enough.

Local economies are impacted as are longtime golf fans who can’t journey to “bigger” venues to see great players make the big bucks. The professional game becomes all the more estranged from the regular guy’s day at the course. Is that a problem, or just reality?

I’ve often said men players can learn a lot from going to LPGA tournaments, since the game is more akin to what most folks experience. And you can gain an appreciation for how good the ladies are when they’re hitting from the same tees that you do and still shoot below par. Golf is more than hitting bombs and wedging it to the green at these events.

But I can see McIlroy’s point. Let’s just hope that Rory’s interviews don’t become “obsolete” themselves, the golf world needs someone to tell it like it is. 


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