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Archive for September, 2011

My Picks for Solheim Pairings

By Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 9/23/11

Getting the best players for the Solheim Cup or any team golf competition may not be the most important factor in producing a win. How those players perform in the given format and whether they can be a productive part of a team are just as important. In the 2004, as Tiger and Phil Mickelson were battling it out for world number one they were paired in a Ryder Cup four ball match with a hint that they might stay together for the afternoon foursomes.. Pairing players that spray the ball like those two isn’t a great idea, but putting together two personalities like Mickelson and Woods is just plain suicidal. The result – catastrophe and a “chill in the air” that nearly caused a frost delay.

USA Solheim Captain Rosie Jones, a New Mexico native, needs to figure out who she wants playing. Once she knows that, matching the personalities will be just as critical. Putting the two best players together doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win – as we saw with Woods and Mickelson – but just because my friend ViAnn and I get along great doesn’t mean we could do squat against Suzann Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson. It seemed to me a great challenge for Rosie to pair up the right people with the best talent, so I decided to give it a try.

My first task was to see what outside factors might come into play. In a recent interview, European captain Alison Nicholas said the greens at Killeen Castle are difficult to hit in regulation. Foursomes (alternate shot) is the first competition. It is my feeling that this is the most difficult format for the Americans. All other factors being equal, I think it’s important to match players that are steady to a similar degree – notwithstanding the Woods/Mickelson fiasco. If you put a player that hits the ball down the middle all the time with a player that misses half the fairways there’ll be discomfort and tension. So, the first thing I did was to create a table of all the players with their LPGA tour rankings for different aspects of the game:

GIR – Greens In Regulation  DAC – Driving Accuracy  PPG – Putts per Green  DD – Driving Distance

Since hitting greens in regulation is considered to be a particularly difficult aspect of the course, I ranked the players according to how high the ranked in GIR. Through this process, I eliminated Morgan Pressel, Ryan O’Toole, Julie Inkster and Vicki Hurst from consideration in the Foursomes matches. In 2009 the US split the 8 foursome’s matches. The only two matched players that are back from that team are Michelle Wie and Christie Kerr, so I would keep them together. Also, Brittany Lang and Brittany Lincicome paired well in the first day of Foursomes. Christina didn’t play well last week, and Julie Inkster had played well with Paula in ’09, so I decided to drop Christina for Foursomes. I see Stacy and Angela as grinders, and a good match. So, if I were arranging the teams for the first Foursomes matches, they would look like this:

• Christie Kerr/Michelle Wie because they did well together in Foursomes in 2009.

• Brittany Lang/Brittany Lincicome because they did well together in Foursomes in 2009.

• Stacy Lewis/Angela Stanford because they have similar games.

• Paula Creamer/Julie Inkster because they did well together in Foursomes in 2009.

If all the pairings do well in the morning matches, I would go with them the next day in Foursomes. For the afternoon Fourball event, some adjustments are in order. Scoring is what is important there as each player plays her ball and the best score of the two teammates goes on the card – commonly called best ball here in the U.S. Therefore, if you look at the table above, you can see that Christina Kim hasn’t done well as far as scoring birdies. She is tied for 21st in eagles, but that only represents three eagles all year. Ryann O’Toole warrants some careful consideration as well because while her birdie ranking is a not so good 73rd, she has only played in ten events as compared to Christina Kim’s 42nd in 17 events. However, she, Christie Kerr and Christina Kim didn’t make the cut last week at the Navistar LPGA Classic.

The Fourball events are usually won by the teams that have a player with a hot hand. What happens in the morning Foursomes might change my pairings, but based upon what I know today, I would go with these two person teams:

• Christina Kim/Morgan Pressel because they have similar games.

• Paula Creamer/Christie Kerr because they did well together in Fourball in 2009.

• Stacy Lewis/Angela Stanford because they have similar games

• Brittany Lang/Brittany Lincicome because they have similar games (and similar names) and did well together in Fourball in 2009.

Well, that’s about it. From my desk, being a coach is maybe one part statistics analyst, one part historian, one part cheerleader and three parts gambler. By the time you read this Friday morning, the Foursomes matches will probably be completed. I probably missed the boat, but I won’t miss the action ‘cause I’m recording it.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:


Where were you ten years ago?

By Mary Armstrong

Much like the assassination of President Kennedy and the attack on Pearl Harbor for you real old timers, 9-11 brings back vivid memories within the context of our own lives. A conversation about that fateful day will inevitably involve what you were doing when it happened. At the time, I was living in a sleepy little New Hampshire town at the far northwestern edge of commuting distance from Boston. The home I had on the Piscataquag River served as my office as well. On that morning, I had just left my office on my way to Vermont for a Golf Course Superintendent’s event. I regularly listened to New Hampshire Public Radio Station NPR during those days (and I still do occasionally), but more to the point, shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 am EDT, NPR announced it as some kind of an accident. Within minutes and shortly before the second plane hit (9:03 am EDT) they corrected themselves and told us it was an attack with a hi-jacked plane.

I immediately thought that I should turn around and go back home. At least one of the planes had originated in Boston. One of my daughters worked at the TJX Corporate Headquarters (Marshalls TJMaxx) just outside of Boston and I was concerned what the extent of the attack might be. Later, I found out that my daughter could have been on the plane bound for LA with others from her company, but someone she had recently trained went instead. After a discussion with my employee and spouse, I continued, but much of it was without much news as the I-89 corridor was somewhat remote and cell phone coverage was spotty at best. When I arrived at the event, everyone was gathered around a large screen TV hoping for even the slightest tidbit of information to make sense of what had transpired. I had not seen the impacts of the planes and I remember the terror I felt as I saw one of them hit the tower in a fiery crash. By that time the first tower had fallen and that footage along with other horrifying video were shown over and over. How can such images not stay with you? Our event proceeded although the schedule was somewhat altered. Golf was a large part of the meeting that day, but as we gathered at every tee there was conversation about hardly anything but the attack. It was interesting, because I don’t recall there being even a hint of partisan politics in the air. I never felt uncomfortable with anything anyone had to say about what just happened. I just remember a look of sadness and in some cases fear with the same tinged in conversation. But there was something more about the atmosphere – was it just the fear and sadness – I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it occupied my thoughts from time to time that day.

Following the event, I was to proceed south down I-91 to Ridgebury, Connecticut for a pre-proposal meeting for the Town’s Municipal Golf Course. Instead of driving as far as I could to make my morning drive smaller, I stopped in Springfield, Vermont. I didn’t want to get too close to New York until I knew that things had calmed down. After getting all the information I could that night, I awakened early the next morning to drive the remaining few hours or so to Ridgebury.

My meeting was early – probably around 9 am, so my drive down I-91 and then I-84 would not have ordinarily presented much traffic anyway. On that day, September 12th, it was one of those prototypical New England September mornings. The sky was clear and dark blue and the air was clean and crisp as the cool overnight held against the morning sun. There was some fog in Vermont and northern Massachusetts. The traffic was even lighter than I could have imagined. As I neared my exit on I-84 there were glimpses of a plume of smoke rising against the clear blue September sky. I was early for my meeting and drove past the Ridgefield Golf Course entrance. This is where my memory is fuzzy as I believe I was overwhelmed with the image some 50 miles to the southwest of a plume of smoke rising up to a temperature inversion where the smoke drifted horizontally, trailing off to the south on the northerly breeze. Today, I can’t be certain that I saw that image from the ground somewhere in Ridgebury or if it was just some video on television on another day. However, for me the image and my visit to Ridgebury are lastingly linked.

During my walk with the Golf Committee I had the same feeling that I had the previous day. There was something different about the world. Was it just my emotions? As we toured the golf course, I became aware of the quiet sky. Suddenly I realized – it was the fact there were no airplanes in the sky. Everything had been grounded shortl y after the attack. The sky WAS quiet. It seemed appropriate. It wasn’t in tribute to all those that had died, but for me it felt that way.

As we near the tenth anniversary, the internet has much jibber jabber about the possibility of a national holiday. But, in the United States, national holidays are little more than moneymaking opportunities. If we could have a day in true commemoration of those events in New York, Washington D.C. and in an isolated field in Pennsylvania I would applaud it. A day we could spend in peaceful respect with family or friends would be ideal. A day when there was no commerce at all. If I had my way, it would also include a day of a quiet sky.


Guest commentary: Golf’s business future appears cloudy

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 09/08/2011 07:37:15 PM MDT


As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many of us are reflecting on how our lives have changed since.

Whether that fateful day directly resulted in the society, economic conditions or government that we have today is debatable. Nonetheless, that date and the events associated with it will forever be a marker in time for Americans if not the world.

Professionally, in 2001, I had 14 projects come into my golf design office. That followed years of 18 and 17 in 1999 and 2000. The last year I was in New Hampshire, only three project potentials came through my door, but that was an improvement from 2008 when there were none. Last year I had two projects, although I continued to do a small amount of work for clients that came to me years ago. As for design fees, well let’s just say I’m making about five percent of what I made in 2001. I mention this only to let you know how deeply the economy has cut into the golf business.

With regard to the number of golfing facilities, in the decade ending in 2009, 1,083 golf facilities closed, amounting to 800 18-hole equivalent (18HEQ) golf courses. Ninety-three percent were public facilities. Of those, 85 percent had green fees of less than $40 each.

During that period some new courses were built, resulting in a net gain of about 500 18HEQ. The gain was largely due to the golf boom of the 1990s which wound down early in this century. Meanwhile, 66 percent of the new facilities had green fees of more than forty dollars.

What do we conclude from this data? It’s pretty clear that there is a replacement cycle that features replacing low-cost courses with facilities that favor the high end of the market. What’s more, 60 percent of the new course openings were at facilities which were associated with real estate or resort developments. While the National Golf Foundation’s report doesn’t clearly define a correlation, I believe that real estate and resort courses are developed in an attempt to create a market demand rather than address the market demand. And I therefore conclude that these types of facilities are driving the cost of golf through the roof. Meanwhile, our economy continues to decline. Since the national average wage index was first calculated in 1951, annual wages steadily increased through the 70s. Since 1980, average wage increases over the decade began declining. In the 1980s wages increased by only 60 percent, followed by 44 percent through the 90s and finally during the last decade that ended in 2009, wages increased by only 26 percent. However, the most alarming correlation comes from the change from 2008 to 2009. During that period and for the first time since records were taken, average wages actually declined from 41,335 to 40,712 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that wages dropped again in 2010.

If you look at the history of the golf business, there was a small boom in the 60s – nearly all the new courses addressing a growing market of middle class golfers. During the 70s, developer’s discovered that an adjacent golf course was not only an amenity, but also a feature – a beautiful landscape that people viewed as an extension of their own yards. In fact, most people that bought these golf “view” lots weren’t golfers at all. This sometimes resulted in conflicts which occasionally led to court cases over property rights and access. Despite this, the percentage of real estate and resort courses grew quickly and by the 90s as many as forty percent of new courses were associated with real estate projects.

While there is no statistical correlation that has been offered by anyone that I can find, it is pretty clear that real estate’s use of the golf business has lead us down the primrose path. What can we do about it? Despite the efforts of organizations like the National Golf Foundation, getting the golf business to do anything is a little like herding cats. If the statistics on facility openings and closings were the other way around, we could say that the market was wresting control. That’s not happening yet and it may never happen. If it doesn’t, the golf business will be headed for a long slow death. I remember in the 90s hearing complaint after complaint that financing for golf courses was difficult to find. It seems that banks could more easily see golf courses as a financeable entity when it was part of a real estate project. This mentality is seen in renovation projects as well. A private club is far more likely to finance a new Clubhouse or remodeling than they will a renovation to their golf course. Soil and turf over bricks and mortar is a difficult concept to sell, yet sell we must because people join golf clubs for the golf and camaraderie rather than luxurious Clubhouses and dinner service.

I hate to say it, but I’m not holding my breath. The world, she is a changin’, but not in a way that benefits the golf business so far as I can see.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:


Guest commentary: Karsten Solheim – an American success

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 08/26/2011 12:46:22 PM MDT


The Solheim Cup is coming up later in September.  While it may be the “poor stepsister” to the Ryder Cup, it is a few years older than the Presidents Cup, which began in 1994.

This year’s Solheim will be the 12th event. The Presidents Cup will be playing its ninth competition this fall.

Karsten Solheim (Sept. 15, 1911 through Feb. 16, 2000) is credited as the benefactor of the competition between the finest players from the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Ladies European Tour (LET). Wikipedia indicates that he was “the driving force behind the creation of the Solheim Cup,” but’s history page indicates that the concept was developed by the LPGA, LET and Karsten Solheim.

Mr. Solheim was a native Norwegian that came to this country with his family at a young age. His father was a shoemaker, but it was a family owned the business. His storybook rise from poor immigrant to affluent entrepreneur is a familiar 20th century American success tale. But Karsten’s prominence came late in his life.

In 1913, his family left Norway in pursuit of the American dream, eventually settling in Seattle. After graduating from a local high school, he pursued mechanical engineering at Washington State University. But the Great Depression dealt his dreams a mighty blow and he had to leave school to help his family. As World War II approached, he resumed his education through University of California’s extension courses. Eventually he graduated and was hired into the nation’s burgeoning defense industry. It wasn’t until 1954 that he was introduced to golf. While working for G.E. in upstate New York, Karsten was asked to join a group of colleagues to complete their foursome. Predictably, he was smitten by the game instantly, but eventually realized that putting was his nemesis. Before long he was experimenting with his own putters, but applying engineering principles where trial and error had ruled.

While he wasn’t the first to introduce a center-shafted putter, his perimeter (actually heel and toe) weighting was revolutionary. One of his earliest commercial successes employed a center shaft to a perimeter weighted head that incorporated a tuning fork concept. The result of a well struck putt was a “ping” sound and of course, the name of club was a “ping putter.” The moniker stuck and Ping has since become a highly recognized golf brand world-wide.

But fame and fortune didn’t instantly appear to Karsten. While the putter sold well, as now, the touring professionals of the day were still the ultimate testing ground. As I recall, Solheim’s putter was looked upon by touring pros as somewhat gimmicky. Although his own putting improved immeasurably with his own design, he moved forward and created an all new concept with the “Anser.” It wasn’t until Julius Boros won the Phoenix Open in 1967 using Solheim’s “Anser” putter that his business took off. Later that year he left G.E. and started Karsten Manufacturing Corp. In many ways, we can look to that tournament as the launching pad for the equipment improvements that have been made in the last 50 years. While it’s likely that someone else would have eventually emerged with similar ideas, Karsten Solheim’s efforts to improve his own game were indeed responsible for a huge business boom.

Over the years, Solheim showed a strong interest in supporting women’s golf. He sponsored LPGA tournaments in Arizona, Massachusetts and Oregon. Today, his youngest son, John A., continues with his father’s legacy as the major sponsor of the Solheim Cup.

This year’s event will be September 23-25th at Killeen Castle, County Meath, Ireland. The par 72, Jack Nicklaus “Signature” layout opened in 2008. The layout appears to offer a number of exciting holes that will suit the match play competition very well. However, as I reviewed the available information about the course, the amount of drainage installed caught my eye. Over 400 miles, not feet, not yards MILES of drainage was installed. This tells me two things: 1) The site is wet, wet, wet – probably wouldn’t have been permitted in this country; 2) The owner not only paid too much for the design, he paid too much for the construction of the course. What does this mean for the playing of the competition? If the course comes into that week dry, it will probably be okay, but if the week arrives with much rain, watch for a sloppy track. If it’s not too late, the girls might want to go with an Irish mud brown color for their Solheim Cup outfits.

The closing holes, especially the 15th-17th are especially interesting and offer several heroic options. The 15th is a straight-away but strongly bunkered 500 yard par 5, followed by a medium to long par 3 over water and finally a strong par 4 with water bordering the full length of the dogleg right.

The other thing to watch for in this competition IS the level of competition. If the United States is able to win once again (they’ve won 8 of the 11 events) look for interest in adding other countries to the European side. Personally, while I’m rather pleased and proud that our girls have done so well, I’m also a bit surprised. I doubt there’s much concern that the LPGA can dominate world-wide and I would rather see a second event similar to the men’s Presidents Cup.

Regardless, get your popcorn ready and paint those U.S. flags on your cheeks!

 A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: