Westchester Out, New TPC In?
The buick classic at Westchester Country Club, 25 miles northeast of New York City, always attracts one of the best fields of the year. To a man, the Tour pros love the traditional feel of the club's 6,722-yard, par-71 West course and the demands it makes on their games. A year ago Westchester played tougher, relative to par, than any non-major venue on Tour besides the TPC at Sawgrass. "It would be great to play more courses like this," says Billy Andrade, who won the Classic in 1991.
Thunderstorms tamed Westchester last week, and Sergio Garc�a became the Classic's youngest champion, making 21 birdies and an eagle to tie the tournament record with a 16-under 268, three strokes ahead of Scott Hoch. Garc�a, though, may be the penultimate champion at Westchester. When the contract between the Tour and the club expires after next year's tournament, the event could move to another course in the New York metropolitan area. One potential site is Ferry Point Park, a Jack Nicklaus-designed public course under construction in the Bronx beneath the Whitestone Bridge, which links the Bronx to Queens and Long Island. A discussion has been held between the Tour and Nicklaus's company about putting the Tournament Players Club brand on Ferry Point, and where the TPC brand goes, the Tour usually follows.
The Tour pays Westchester one of the highest site fees ($800,000) on the schedule for use of the club, but that isn't the only reason that the Tour is looking elsewhere. All that money doesn't buy complete control of the Westchester Country Club grounds. The club has an additional 18 holes, and they remain open to the 985 members during the tournament. Four of those holes abut the tournament course, and errant shots by members sometimes stray there. A portion of the men's locker room, usually the inner sanctum for the pros, also remains open to members during tournament week.
Unlike most PGA Tour events, which are locally managed, the Classic is one of eight tournaments the Tour stages, and the circuit's officials are acting as if they suddenly discovered that the course is near Manhattan. "We want to make this a New York event," says Robert Dale Morgan, the Tour's vice president of championship management. Peter Mele, the Classic's tournament director, has called clubs throughout the metropolitan area to gauge their interest in holding the tournament.
Winged Foot, a couple of exits south on the Hutchinson River Parkway from Westchester, expressed interest if the Tour would throw in a Tour championship or a World tour event. Ridge-wood, the Paramus, N.J., club that hosted May's Senior PGA, has also been mentioned as a potential site. Rotating the tournament among courses in New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester County—and don't forget Ferry Point—is a possibility. "It's the greatest city in the world," Mele says. "It has so much to offer from a marketing standpoint."
The players reacted to the possibility of leaving Westchester with words like "shame" and "tragedy." The course, which was designed by Walter Travis and opened in 1919, is a rarity on the Tour. "This is one of the nicest we play," says Corey Pavin. "We love the old-style courses: shorter, smaller greens, tighter fairways. They don't have forced carries or big, undulating greens with ledges off the sides."
Besides Westchester, only a handful of similar courses—Riviera ( Nissan Open), Colonial ( MasterCard Colonial), Warwick Hills (Buick Open) and Cog Hill (Western Open)—remain on Tour. Most of the other older tracks have been rendered obsolete because they couldn't handle large crowds or because the Tour built a TPC course nearby.
The players recognize that although they make more money today, they've given something up. Says 46-year-old Mike Reid, "The former governor of New York Theodore Roosevelt said it best: 'When money comes in the door, sports goes out the window' We still have a game played by terrific players with integrity. If the Tour has compromised its integrity anywhere, it has been by going to courses that demand [only] two things: hit hard and putt well. The idea of developing a complete game—unless your goal is to win the Open—is pass�. When courses don't require us to do things the way we used to, why bother?"
Reid's sentiments are shared by some members of the younger set. Tiger Woods, who opened with a 75 but came back with 66 in the second round, said, "The best thing about this course is that you are rewarded for shooting good rounds. If you shoot in the mid-60s, you're definitely going to move up." Woods's 66 lifted him from 118th to 30th, and he eventually finished 16th, 12 shots behind Garc�a.