When you contrive a disaster, it's not as pleasing
PGA Tour commissioner, 1990
Breakfast is hardly the time to write off an epoch. Neither is it the best hour for confession. But when Deane Beman declared that the Era of Obstacle Golf had ended, he did it over juice and toast in a hotel coffee shop in Chicago. A fastidious man, Beman managed to eat a little crow without spotting his tie.
"I don't want to be too harsh, I don't want to minimize my respect for the architects' talents," he said, fork poised over his plate. "But I believe today that golf-course architecture is overdone. And, unfortunately, we helped push architecture toward the extreme with the original Tournament Players Club [TPC]. Which I regret."
By "we," Beman meant himself and the PGA Tour's Tournament Policy Board, which oversees the Tour's rapidly growing network of Tournament Players Clubs. Since the original stadium course, TPC at Sawgrass, opened in Ponte Vedra, Fla., in 1980, the Tour has built, bought or licensed 12 TPCs and has six more in development. The guiding concept behind this turf-grass land rush has been "stadium golf," a Beman-inspired concept that evokes either admiration or loathing, depending on whether one approaches the idea with a tournament ticket or a golf club in hand.
"The greatest players in the world can play our golf courses," Beman said, "but they don't enjoy playing them. The influence of Saw-grass, the heroic philosophy, has led to disaster holes at every turn. You either make a birdie, or you make a 6 or a 7. We think we have a responsibility to change that trend. From this day forward, our philosophy—when we have complete control—will be to build traditional golf courses."
That sound you hear, the crumbling noise, is the Berlin Wall falling, George Bush saying, "Don't read my lips," and the Loch Ness monster caught sunning on the beach at Waikiki. Beman is the man who once called the TPC at Sawgrass "the Yankee Stadium of golf." He's the guy who said, "The public wants to see a player fight through adversity."
The other sound you hear, the wild cheering, is from the touring pros. The players have long complained that stadium courses are unappealing to the eye, gimmicky and poor tests of golf. Any TPC glossary includes the noun moonscape, the adjectives stark, severe and artificial, and the pejorative compounds cookie-cutter holes and island greens.
Tom Watson once said he would like to take a bulldozer to the greens at Saw-grass. Greg Norman thought dynamite would improve the 9th hole of the TPC at Avenel in Bethesda, Md. Scott Hoch, asked if he thought a certain TPC course suited his game, answered, "I don't know what it suits, other than a goat."
Since many players earned their Tour cards on stadium courses (the Tour's annual qualifying school has been held on TPCs four times since 1982), you might expect the pros to show some fondness for the layouts. But no.
"We're choosing guys for the Tour from these courses," says Paul Azinger, a reluctant veteran of three Q-schools. "A lot of good players aren't making it because the luck factor is involved too much. Guys you would expect to make it, don't."