The Library

The Florida Tour
By Ed DeBell

March is the month of making ready for The Masters, and it is during this time that most of the golfers on the P.G.A. Tour do it in Florida. They play in the Doral Ryder Open, The Honda Golf Classic, the Bay Hill Invitational, and the Tournament Players' Championship. The four tournaments coincide with the four weekends in March, and they all consist of four rounds of golf over four days during each of these weekends.

It is the only month when many of the Tour players can commute from home to each of the four tournament sites - those who live in Florida, that is. Is it any wonder that so many golf professionals as well as professional golfers live in Florida?

The "Florida Swing" starts at the Doral Country Club in Miami, goes to Herron Bay in Coral Springs, continues on to Bay Hill in Orlando, and finishes at the Tournament Players' Club in Sawgrass. All four of these courses measure about 7,000 yards are all located on relatively flat terrain with few trees, many bunkers, and much water. They were designed or redesigned by, respectively: Dick Wilson, Mark McCumber, Arnold Palmer, and Pete Dye. Doral is a resort course with playing priorities to hotel guests, Herron Bay is open to the public, Bay Hill is a private club, and Sawgrass is available to members and guests only. Concerning the Pro-Ams, each tournament has its own policies. At Doral, the entry fee is $1,200, $1,700, or $3,600 - depending on which category the golfer selects; the format is a best ball of team, and the handicap limit is 21. At Herron Bay, the entry fee is $11,000. per foursome on Wednesday and $4,750 per foursome on Monday; the format and the handicap limit are the same as at Doral. At Bay Hill, the entry fee is $3,000, the format is the best ball of the four amateurs, and the handicap limit is again 21. At Sawgrass there is no Pro-Am.

Beyond the generalities there are some particulars which make each course a little unique.

The Doral Ryder Open is the first event on the Tour played on the East Coast, and it is at this time that the "competition gets serious" - as one golf writer has accurately stated.

The Doral Country Club is the most famous of the golfing resorts in the Miami area, and the Blue Course is where the open is held. Length is considered significant here, as two of the par threes, number 4 and 13, measure 237 and 246 yards; and two of the par fives, numbers 10 and 12, measure 563 and 591 yards. Eighteen, at well over 400 yards, is a very difficult par four with a lake along the entire left side of the fairway. In fact, lakes are so abundant at Doral that many of the golfers take their fishing rods.

The Honda Golf Classic is played on the newest of the courses on the Tour, the TPC at Herron Bay, which is located in Coral Springs, Florida. It was first opened in 1996, for the tournament, and in many ways it is very much like Doral. Designer McCumber, who has won at Doral and played it many times, incorporated some of its features into Herron Bay. All he had to work with before he started was barren featureless terrain, so it was necessary to put in some mounds and hollows and bunkers and trees in order to present a challenge to the golfer. Herron Bay has been described as "not a pretty course, but (an) honest and straightforward layout." Many observers have indicated that courses designed by Nicklaus favor this type of game, and this course designed by McCumber does the same for him - it favors his high fade. Although there are not many holes here where water comes into play - as there are at Doral - Herron Bay, with its crosswinds and prevailing breezes, is a true test for professionals as well as amateurs.

The Bay Hill Invitational, which takes place outside Orlando, is recognized as Arnold Palmer's golf tournament. As many other golfers and celebrities are known for their events, so Bay Hill is known as Arnie's course - and especially since he owns it! He has spent over twenty five years reworking the course to fit his own requirements - as with Nicklaus and McCumber - and he has created a course that encourages the strong drive and the "go for broke" approach, both wellknown characteristics of Palmer. As an example, in 1990 he shortened the first hole - which was then a par five - and made it a very challenging par four; it is rated as one of the most difficult opening holes on the Tour. And out of respect for Arnold and his reputation, the field for this event is very strong, a reflection of the current Tour players' devotion to him. And to show his appreciation to these players, Palmer presents the winner with the permanent trophy of a four foot Wilkinson sword handcrafted with an etched steel blade and a silver handle. With a weapon like that, a professional golfer might be tempted to try chasing dragons instead of chasing eagles.

The Tournament Players' Championship, which is played at Sawgrass, has been known by a variety of names. Originally it was known as the Tournament Players' Championship - as some people still call it - but the initials "TPC" were easily confused with the string of golf courses known as "TPC" courses. The name was then shortened to the Players' Championship, but in an effort to make the event more prestigious and individual, the name has been shortened in print to The Players. That way, it can be likened to The Masters. It consists of a field of players comprising the best golfers in the world. The American Tour players are virtually required to participate, while the International Tour players are invited on the basis of merit. Most of them use the tournament as a warmup for The Masters, which takes place two weeks later this year.

And what a warmup it is. During a very tempestuous opening round in 1984, there were 64 balls which did not find their way to the famous island green of the seventeenth hole. Such being the case, there must have been an awful lot of warming up for the next two weeks!

But hot, cold, windy, or calm, when the Florida Tour comes to an end, it's only the beginning of a whole new game.

I would like to acknowledge George Peper, Editor-in-Chief, Golf Magazine, for his viewer's guide to golf entitled "GOLFWATCHING" for most of the information contained in the foregoing article.

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