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2-for-1 a bad course to follow for USGA

06/15/2014, 12:00am EDT
By DAVE HACKENBERG BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
2-for-1 a bad course to follow for USGA

 The United States Golf Association is about to move to Part II of its grand experiment.

Baseball has doubleheaders, of course, although not as many as in the game’s great past. An old Cubs star, Ernie Banks, used to appeal for them on a daily basis with his routine, “Let’s play two!”

But golf has never “played two” before now.

When the men’s U.S. Open concludes this evening — barring a playoff — at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, the U.S. Women’s Open will move onto the same course for the second half of a two-week doubleheader.

The USGA’s company line is that this is a way to promote and raise the profile of women’s golf, which seems genuine, and to compare men’s and women’s performances on the same course, which is nonsense.

The men are playing Pinehurst to the tune of 7,565 yards and for a purse of $8 million. The yardage for the Women’s Open will be in the neighborhood of 6,650 yards and the purse is $3.25 million.

Doubleheader or not, the events remain separate and unequal.

Pinehurst is perhaps the only place in the country where the USGA could pull off something like this. It is privately owned and not run by members. It is an open-to-the-public resort club featuring eight courses, and the twinbill provides a second week to promote the iconic facility, its hotels, and the historic and golf-centric village.

While the men’s Open is the USGA’s rainmaker, its biggest annual revenue producer, the women’s event is anything but. The 2014 Women’s Open was reportedly headed for Pebble Beach Links before the folks at the famed California course got a look at the financials and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

In a recent article in Golf Digest, former USGA executive director David Fay disclosed that the Women’s Open annually loses between $4 million to $5 million for the association. As for a host club, the percentage it gets in revenue from tickets, merchandise, corporate hospitality, and food/​beverage sales is a fraction of what is realized from the men’s tournament and even trails the U.S. Senior Open.

(I once suggested to an Inverness Club officer that considering the popularity of the LPGA’s Farr/​Marathon Classic in Toledo, the club should pursue a Women’s Open. He looked at me as if I had three heads. That’s why, and it’s why very few of the nation’s traditional and celebrated U.S. Open courses have hosted the women’s version.)

What makes the USGA’s experiment financially feasible for Pinehurst is using the same infrastructure — bleachers, ropes, portable rest rooms, hospitality tents, and vendors — for two tournaments.

The men’s Open has avoided any weather delays and, unless Martin Kaymer goes belly-up, an 18-hole playoff that might set back the start of the women’s tourney and create a logistical mess will also be dodged. But what will be left behind?

The men’s event began with 156 competitors and had 67 make the cut for weekend play. Including two practice rounds per participant, which is conservative, there will be, by this evening, 758 rounds played over six days.

The course started in pristine condition, but consider the divots — hole yardages for women will avoid the same landing areas off tees, but similar lay-up areas on par-5s can’t be avoided — ball marks and cup plugs on greens, the general stress put on a course by hot weather and traffic by golfers, caddies, media inside the ropes, and tournament officials, not to mention the areas on the edges trampled by some 55,000 fans each day over the past week.

“We’ll have to be patient and see,” Beatriz Recari, the 2013 Marathon Classic champion, said during a visit to Toledo last week. “It’s going to be the same course for all the ladies. Will it be pristine conditions? No, it can’t be. But playing back-to-back is creating a buzz, an interest in the Women’s Open, which is good. I guess we’ll analyze the whole thing when it’s over. It’s too early to analyze now.”

But it’s not too early for the women to be concerned.

It is supposed to be 93 degrees in Pinehurst on Monday, then 95-98-98 the three days that follow. The greens have already been pushed to the crispy edge for the men, have few options for alternate pin positions, and course personnel will have little time to water and nurse them back to health for the women.

The ladies will play a major championship on an iconic course and will get, in Recari’s words, some buzz.

But from tee to green, will they be getting major championship conditions?

Or will they be getting leftovers?

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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