Accident waiting to happen at the Open

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2002 Australian Open | Round One | 21 Nov 2002
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The early predictions of just what the course would present were well and truly justified in today’s first round of the 2002 Australian Open, as even in the benign early morning conditions, nobody was able to handle to fiery Victoria Golf Club course.

Typically in modern day professional golf, a field of this quality presented with such perfect early morning conditions would have seen many players under par. Today however a few ventured into the red then relented as the accidents that were waiting to happen did. Much of the early damage came at the first a par three converted from a very short par four. This seldom works unless the green has been designed to receive an approach from 200 metres instead of that for a flick approach from say fifty yards. From 188 metres with typically a five or six iron the green was closing on impossible to hit. If it pitched into the front of the green it would come back down the rise if it pitched on the green it would kick on through. Many players therefore after a bogey or double were playing catch up from the start. This more experienced can cope but for the less experienced the temptation to comeback too quickly and press in order to do so can often compound the problem.

So the writing was on the wall early and as would be expected it was not going to get any easier as the day wore on. The breeze began to pick up around 9:30am and increased in intensity as the morning became afternoon. Not a strong breeze but just enough to make the already slick greens almost unplayable and at 12:45pm the almost unbelievable happened. Players on the third hole, namely the group of Bob Shearer, Mark Allen and Richard Ball, finally called in the officials when their putts rolled past the hole and then returned back past the hole again. Play was quickly suspended but the ironic issue and indeed the danger was that there were even worse more especially on the back nine greens on the course that would create even greater problems as the day went on. It was as much a problem with pin positioning on the third hole as the speed of the greens but both were contributing factors.

Unfortunately it would get worse. At 2.40 pm (EDST) play for the day was called and a decision made to play Thursday’s round on Friday the second round on Saturday and the final thirty-six on Sunday.

In a post-round interview Stuart Appleby, trying to be as diplomatic as possible although clearly restrained, suggested that the officials should take responsibility. There had been plenty of signs indicating that unless care was taken the greens could come to this. There is clearly a fine line between protecting par and protecting the integrity of the players. On this occasion the line was crossed and unfortunately both lost.

Later press conferences where both Rich Beem and Aaron Baddeley were quizzed revealed similar answers. Beem again indicating that the officials involved were to blame. Beem said “it was like the officials had their first look at the course today and said goodness we have a problem.” Aaron Baddeley said that he thought it was a pity especially given that the Victoria Golf Club is such a great course. Baddeley went on to add that it was the only decision that could have been made, as there was the suggestion that several players would have withdrawn from the tournament if the greens had been heavily watered during the suspension thus creating contrasting degrees of fairness during the course of a round.

Red-faced Australian Golf Union officials were on a hiding to nothing in the press conference they were obliged to face. And face the music they did. They could run but they couldn’t hide as a relentless press confronted them. They suggested they would reduce the cutting to one cut maybe none tomorrow and lift the height of the mowers. Whether that is enough, remains to be seen.

Clearly this was an accident waiting to happen…unfortunately it did.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

    Read all of Bruce's articles »

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