The JC Penney Classic
by Ed DeBell
A long time ago, when I had been playing golf for a few years and had reached a certain degree of proficiency, I wondered why there were so few young women playing the game. I was in college at the time - playing on the golf team - and I was naturally attracted to the co-eds that appeared to be so abundant on the campus but so absent on the course. I concluded that golf was not a girl's game. Times have changed.
Men and women are now playing the game as partners - and not just in casual matches. They are playing the current version of the Haig and Haig Scotch Foursome - a tournament which was popular during the nineteen sixties. Since 1978 that event has gone by the title of the J. C. Penney Classic, and it is the only tournament in which the men's P.G.A. and the ladies' P.G.A. join each other as teams. A member of each association - a man and a woman - become partners in golf and challenge the fifty-one other teams. They play at the Innisbrook Resort in Tarpon Springs where the men play from the championship tees at 7065 yards and the women play from the shorter tees at 6394 yards. And they compete for $1,300,000. in prize money! With that much money involved, picking the right partner should be based on more than just good looks.
And the pickings this year are many and varied. The classic of 1996 will showcase the prowess of the longest hitting men and women in the tournament: John Daly and Laura Davies respectively. Daly and Davies are the two biggest draws on their own tours and together they bring a level of excitement seldom seen before. In addition to defending champions Davis Love and Beth Daniel, there will also be past champions Billy Andrade and Kris Tschetter, Brad Bryant and Marta Figueras-Dotti, as well as three time runner-ups Robert Gamez and Helen Alfredsson. Ryder Cup player Brad Faxon will team with Rookie of the Year Karrie Webb. Jesper Parnevik, holder of the Turned Up Visor, will team with fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam, holder of the last two United States Opens. And Jeff Sluman, a P.G.A. winner, will team with Dottie Pepper, an L.P.G.A. winner. Other pairings of interest include Val Skinner and Jay Delsing, Missis McGeorge and Joel Edwards, Julie Inkster and Tom Purtzer Michelle McGann and Kenny Perry, Catrin Nilsmark and Greg Kraft, and Katie Peterson Baker and Michael Bradley. Some of the partnerships have not as yet been established.
Until recently, the tournament was conducted according the the Pinehurst Format: each player hits a drive, then the partners hit second shots from each other's drives. They then proceed to the two second shots and decide which one would potentially offer the best shot to the green. The other ball is then taken out of play and the preferred ball is played alternately by the partners until the last putt is holed. That procedure is currently used only during Thursday's round and the last round on Sunday. Now, on Friday, the play is a better ball format in which both partners play out their own ball and the lower of the two scores is counted. On Saturday the partners play a scramble: They choose the better drive and both golfers hit a shot from that spot; they then continue to finish the hole in the same manner - each player hitting from their next lie. If not altogether confusing, these different modes of playing certainly add variety to the game - as long as you know what day of the week it is!
On Fridays and Sundays the strategy can be important on reachable par fives. Number fourteen is an example: a male pro. may hit a 270 yard drive and the female pro. might add a 220 yard approach shot just short of the green. They must then decide if they should play that ball or the other ball driven 240 by the lady and then boomed by the man into a greenside bunker from the fairway, or the lady could play a sand wedge from the bunker fifty feet from the flag.
Almost all of the great women golfers have won here, including Mickey Wright, Ruth Jessen, Kathy Whitworth, Jo Anne Carner, Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Beth Daniel, Jan Stephenson, and Hollis Stacy.
For many of the un-heralded women playing in this tournament, it is a chance to be seen on national television - especially if they are teamed with a prominent man. There are so many new lady golfers now (unlike a long time ago) that most of their faces are known to the viewing public. And some of their names are just as recognizable.
The Copperhead Course - where the tournament is being played - is definitely not a typical Florida course. There are many elevation changes, fairways lined with tall pine trees - not palms - and a number of holes with long carries over water hazards. All of these elements contribute to a round of golf where strategy is imperative.
Among the more challenging holes at the Innisbrook are the following:
Five is a beautiful tree-lined uphill par five where length and accuracy are called for on the first two shots. Finesse is needed on the approach shot to a small, bunkered green. This is the most photographed hole at Innisbrook. The J. C. Penney Classic benefits many local charities, with the 1996 event expected to bring the total to nine million dollars in contribution to these charities over the last twenty years.
Six is a downhill dogleg right and may be the toughest par four on the course. An accurate tee shot is necessary to permit a long second shot from a sloping lie to a large, contoured, and elevated green.
Thirteen is a very beautiful and challenging par three where another pond catches short shots and the small green requires accurate club selection.
Sixteen is Innisbrook's most intimidating par four with water all along the right side of a fairway which demands a well positioned tee shot.
I have often wondered if golf is a charitable game; I think I have found the answer - at least until my next round.