Golf Buzz

Augusta National, No. 12
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The beauty and treachery of its 12th hole helps make Augusta National a consistent presence at the top of Golf Digest's list of America's best courses.
As long as most of us have played golf, Golf Digest's course rankings have served as something of a bucket list. When the new rankings come out every two years, we peruse the collection of top 100 courses – wistfully wishing we could somehow get on some of those elite layouts and also feeling a bit of satisfaction after finally putting a tee in the hallowed ground of some of the courses to make the list.
Digest is celebrating what it's calling the "Golden Anniversary" of its biennial course rankings (the nation's oldest course ranking system, it debuted in 1966) this week by revealing its newest edition of what is now called "America's Greatest 100 Courses." There are a number of changes to the 2015-2016 ranking, which no doubt will prompt much debate in clubhouses and grillrooms nationwide over the next few months.
The biggest change is right at the top, where Augusta National reclaimed the No. 1 spot from longtime top choice Pine Valley, which now slots in as No. 2. Another change in the top 10 sees the East Course at Merion move up from sixth to fifth, switching places with Oakmont.
There are many more moves up and down, and off and on, the top 100 – and even more throughout the second 100. The rankings have seen continual change over the years, Golf Digest Architecture Editor Ron Whitten writes in an expansive introduction to the list. That, he explains, is in part because 51 of the current top 100 courses weren't even around when the inaugural list was issued.
In fact, Whitten reveals, only 24 courses have appeared on every one of the lists – and, he notes, several well-known courses haven't always been ranked. Among them are Shinnecock Hills, which is now all the way up to No. 4; National Golf Links of America, now No. 8; and Chicago Golf Club, now No. 14.
Here's another tidbit I found quite interesting – seven courses joined the top 100 this year, but only two of those were built in the past 30 years: Wisconsin's No. 42 Erin Hills, which opened in 2006, and Florida's No. 100 Streamsong Red, which opened in 2012. What took the other five so long to be recognized? 
Whitten doesn't explore these specific courses in his intro, but likely it's a combination of maturity and improvements; slippage among some of the courses that fell down, or off, the list; changes to the ratings tastes and criteria; and changes to the roster of raters – he notes that there were 125 raters when the list began, and 10 times that many now.
Another interesting fact: Course architect Seth Raynor had three courses join the new top 100 list – and he's been dead for 89 years. How'd that happen? All three – No. 53 Camargo Club, No. 64 Yeamans Hall and No. 99 Shoreacres – have been recently renovated by Tom Doak. As Whitten says, they're all classic designs that have been fully retrofitted for the modern game.
The new top 100 list appears in the February issue, but you can see it online right here. Take a look, and let us know what you think.
Value Guide
What are these wedges worth? Check their value with the Value Guide research tool.

Have some golf clubs lying around that you'd like to trade in for cash or credit towards the purchase of new golf equipment from a local PGA Professional-staffed golf shop or golf retailer? It's as easy as 1-2-3 with the Value Guide.

1. Find the trade-in value for all of your clubs

First, go to the Value Guide site and choose the "Trade-In" tab. You should see a screen like this:

You can look up the trade-in value on virtually any golf club made in the past 10 years. And because the Value Guide is the national standard for golf club values, you'll know you're getting the fair market value.

2. Complete the quick and easy online process

Once you've decided on which clubs to trade, you can print a free FedEx Return Merchandise Authorization label, then drop your clubs off at your local FedEx Office location where they will be shipped in for payment. If your trade-ins are worth $50 or more, you will receive free shipping, and if they are worth $100 or more, you will also get a free box and packaging services. Or you can find a local PGA Trade-In Network Facility near you to bring in your clubs to trade in person.

3. Get paid and buy new equipment

You can select to be paid by either check or with a PGA credit certificate. Checks are mailed out every Friday and PGA credit certificates are e-mailed out the day your clubs are received. If you select the PGA credit certificate option, you will receive a bonus 5%-10% in value, and you can then print and redeem the credit certificate at any of over 5,000 participating PGA Trade-In Network locations nationwide towards the purchase of new golf equipment or other services. 

Just use this "Find a Pro" page to locate the PGA Trade-In Network locations nearest you:


John Smoltz
Baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz was a key member of the Atlanta Braves teams in the 1990s, both on the diamond and the golf course.

Baseball and golf have always seemed to go together. It seems that if a baseball player isn't on the diamond, chances are he's playing golf. 

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are some very good golfers in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, this year's four-man class includes one of the best baseball-playing golfers in John Smoltz. Smoltz was elected as a member of the Class of 2015, along with Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Craig Biggio.

Smoltz, a member of the Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s that contained a number of golfers, could arguably be the best living golfer currently in the Hall of Fame -- in fact, we list him as the best. But which other living Hall of Famers can hold their own over the span of 18 holes? Here's our list of 10 of the best recent Baseball Hall of Famers who also play golf. We've tried to organize them based on their skill level using their handicaps with the USGA, news stories and those who have been around these players. 

1. John Smoltz. Like we said before, Smoltz is our top-ranked golfer, and for good reason. Entering 2015, he carried a 1.8 handicap at Hawks Ridge Golf Course in Georgia, and some notable highlights of his golf career include him playing on the Nationwide Tour, trying to earn a spot at the U.S. Open and being a regular in celebrity pro-ams. But we're not the only ones who have been impressed with Smoltz on the golf course -- consider these words from Tiger Woods: 

"Smoltzy? Well, I had not ever played with an amateur that had ever shot the scores he shot," Woods said to the Orlando Sentinel. "He is a hell of an athlete. He can play basketball. Obviously he was an incredible pitcher. But I think just the way he is able to take that same tenacity into golf is amazing. I've gone out there with him when he's shot 69-67 in the same day … so it's pretty phenomenal."

Still need more proof? Just take a look at his swing, and decide for yourself. 


2. Greg Maddux. Another member of the Atlanta Braves golf teams of the 1990s, Maddux was known for being one of the smartest -- and most dominating -- pitchers in baseball. That skill has translated over to the golf course, and he now owns a 3.9 handicap at three Nevada golf courses. No, he may not be as good as his former teammate, but he's still very good in his own accord. 



3. Mike Schmidt. There must be something about playing in the National League East and playing good golf because the former Philadelphia Phillies third baseman is the third player in a row from that division on our list. Back in 2009, Golf Digest ranked him fourth on its list of athlete golfers with a handicap of plus-1.1. So why do we have him third on our list? To put it simply, we have more info on Smoltz and Maddux. But hey, at least Schmidt's main photo on his Wikipedia page is him playing golf. 

Related: Manny Ramirez's first golf swing doesn't go to plan 

4. Robin Yount. The former Milwaukee Brewers shortstop almost had a very short baseball career. Back in 1978, amidst a dispute over his position and a contract dispute, Yount threatened to quit baseball at the ripe old age of 22. And it would have been interesting to see what Yount could have done with golf as his full-time sport. At the time, he was a scratch golfer and once shot 2-over at Pebble Beach. Alas, he stuck with baseball and helped the Brewers reach their only World Series in franchise history in 1982. 

5. Tom Glavine. The third -- and final -- starting pitcher from the Braves teams of the 90s, Glavine is an exceptional golfer in his own right. The lefty has actually lowered his handicap from last year, and now sports one at 2.8 at two courses in Georgia. The only thing missing from Glavine's golf resume is to see him in some public competition, whether it's on a tour or at a celebrity event.  

6. Johnny Bench. As catcher as part of the Cincinnati Reds' 'Big Red Machine' in the 1970s, Bench is considered to be one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game. Turns out he was a pretty good golfer, too. While he no longer plays that often, at his peak he was a scratch golfer and competed in some Champions Tour events back in the early 2000s. 

Related: David Ortiz pranked by exploding ball trick

7. George Brett. A third baseman and designated hitter for 20 years with the Kansas City Royals, Brett now works in the front office with the Royals but he can still carries a strong golf game. His handicap is listed at 4.0 at both Mission Hills and Flint Hills in Missouri. As Brett told in an interview: 

"When I'm home in Kansas City, we play Mission Hills. It's just four hours with friends, and the conversations range from investments, baseball, golf, wine, restaurants, recipes, politics, anything."

8. Ozzie Smith. 'The Wizard of Oz' as he was known as with the St. Louis Cardinals, Smith is a late arrival to the game of golf. Smith only started playing in 1996, the same year he retired from baseball. He now has a 4.3 handicap at both Fort Run and Boone Valley in Missouri, and is now trying to introduce more inner-city kids to golf. 

9. Jim Rice. As a member of the Boston Red Sox in the 1980s, Rice was known for his prodigeous power. It should be no surprise that he can also regularly drive a golf ball 300-plus yards. According to a 1979 news article in The Day, Rice hit four drives of at least 300 yards with all of them landing in the fairway. As recently as 2009, there was a story of Rice hitting 300-yard drives with his single-digit handicap. 

10. Cal Ripken Jr. Unlike the others on the list, Ripken isn't a frequent visitor to a golf course but still has a pretty solid golf game. Sean English, a PGA Professional at Caves Valley where Ripken will play during the summer, summed up Ripken's game as: 

"He is a strong man with great clubhead speed, difficulty with short game shots around the greens." 

Ripken does not have a handicap listed at the course -- having only two registered scores from 2006 -- but him and English have talked about starting golf lessons. 

Others receiving consideration: Ryne Sandberg (was about a 5-handicap, has played Augusta National and Pebble Beach), Eddie Murray (plays in charity outings, struggles with the short game), Goose Gossage (7 handicap, was nearly deadlly -- literally -- when he first started), Bert Blyleven (4 handicap in 2011), Wade Boggs (doesn't have a USGA handicap in home state of Florida, but he has said he enjoys the game and plays in a Baseball Hall of Fame event), Carlton Fisk (6 handicap in 2011). 

January 6, 2015 - 2:27pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Bubba Watson
The closing hole at Kapalua's Plantation Course lends itself to some awesome shots. This one from Bubba Watson -- a driver off the deck -- is among the best.

The PGA Tour resumes its 2014-15 season this week at Kapalua's Plantation Course on the impossibly beautiful Hawaiian island paradise that is Maui.

We're ecstatic that golf is back... especially those of us freezing our tails off in the Northeast right now. Sure, we'll be jealous of the beautiful pictures on our TV from Maui, but it's not bad sitting in your favorite recliner, in front of a toasty fire, sipping on your favorite adult beverage while watching some night-time coverage of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The Plantation Course boasts one of the more dramatic final holes you'll find on the PGA Tour schedule. It's a long, downhill par 5 that epitomizes "risk-reward."

That leads me to the reason for this post... a flashback to Bubba Watson's incredible eagle on the hole in the first round of the 2011 event.

After smashing his drive 348 yards, Watson was left with 305 yards to the hole.

With a downhill lie, Watson elected to go for the green in two by taking a huge risk and hitting driver off the deck.

Here was the result:

That, folks, is one of the best eagles you'll ever see.

January 6, 2015 - 11:13am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
2015 Masters
USA Today Sports Images
Based on their respective performances in the 2014 majors, there's no doubt Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are among the early favorites at Augusta National.

The Masters is less than 100 days away, so it isn't too early to start looking at potential winners.

As we've seen as a general theme over the last few years on the PGA Tour, there's been a youth movement. With one exception, I think that trend could continue once we focus in on Augusta National in the first full week of April.

RELATED: Masters coverage | Masters field as of Jan. 6 | Past winners

With that, here are my five early favorites to win the Masters:

5. Matt Kuchar
Kuchar is my "exception to the youth" rule. Then again, at 36, he really isn't that old. Kuchar's first Masters appearance was in 1998 when he tied for 21st as the reigning U.S. Amateur champ. After a little rough patch in his professional career in the early 2000s, Kuchar has gone on to become one of the most consistent players in the world. His name is routinely on the first page of leaderboards. A winner of the Players Championship and two World Golf Championships, the lone item missing from Kuchar's resume is a major championship. He'll head to Augusta National this spring having finished no worse than a tie for eighth in his last three trips to the Masters.

4. Jordan Spieth
If it weren't for his victory in Australia followed by his win a week later in Tiger's tournament late last year, I may have been a little reluctant to give Spieth the nod in this space. Not because he doesn't have the talent -- we know he has that. It's just that given the short sample size, he hadn't quite yet established himself as a "closer"... that all changed in November and December when he established himself as a bonafide obliterator, romping the field by six shots in Australia and then crushing the Hero World Challenge field by 10 shots just seven days later. Spieth tied for second in his first Masters appearance last year and -- for a while in the final round -- looked poised to become the youngest Masters champion in history before Bubba Watson turned it on. With the exception of Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old Spieth is the player I'm most looking forward to watching in 2015.

3. Jason Day
It seems like Day has been around forever, but he's still only 27 years old. In his last eight majors played, Day has notched four top-8 finishes, including a third-place finish in the 2013 Masters (he tied for second in 2011) and a tie for second at the 2013 U.S. Open. Really, the only thing that seems to have held Day back from breakout seasons lately are injuries -- back injury, thumb injury -- the guy has been plagued with the injury bug. But, when healthy, he's one of the most exciting players out there. He came so close to becoming the first Aussie to win the Masters in 2013 before being edged out by his buddy Adam Scott. Day strikes me as the type of player who is destined to win a major. So, why not this April at Augusta National?

2. Rickie Fowler
Surely you've heard, but the 26-year-old Fowler was the only player to finish in the top 5 at all four majors in 2014. That's a terrific stat unless you're Fowler and realize that along with being the only player to top 5 in the four big ones in 2014, you were also the first player to accomplish that feat without one of those being a win. Fowler has morphed from the talented player with the flashy clothes to a world-class player whose game matches the flash of his clothes. His 2014 major finishes: T5 Masters; T2 U.S. Open; T2 Open Championship; T3 PGA Championship. That's crazy good. Fowler is hoping the adage, "If you put yourself in a position to win enough times, eventually you're going to win" applies to him. The Masters will be our first look at how much "major" confidence Fowler took away from 2014.

1. Rory McIlroy
He's the most electrifying player in the world right now. Already a four-time major champion at age 25, McIlroy is looking to complete the career grand slam at the Masters in April and also win his third consecutive major. All eyes will be on Rory and rightfully so. That's the position he's put himself in and -- furthermore -- no one's expectations for McIlroy are higher than those he has for himself. Anything less than a win at Augusta National would be disappointing... first and foremost for Rory and, secondly, for golf fans who want to see him take a crack at a "Rory Slam" with a fourth straight major win in June at Chambers Bay in the U.S. Open.

Honorable mentions: Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and Ernie Els.

Why Woods?
Well, let's remember that he's looking healthy for the first time in a long time. Before the back/neck injuries that plagued him in 2014, the 39-year-old Woods was coming off a five-win 2013 season. Also, aside from a T40 in 2012, the 14-time major champion has finished no worse than a tie for sixth in every Masters from 2005 to 2013. He did not play due to injury in 2014. With 13 top-10 finishes in 18 starts at Augusta National as a professional, it's silly for even the biggest Woods cynic to think he won't be a factor.

Why Stenson?
The 38-year-old has four top-four finishes in his last eight majors played. His four wins on the PGA Tour are made up of a Players Championship, a World Golf Championship and two Playoffs wins. Oh yeah, there's also those nine wins on the European Tour, including back-to-back victories in that Tour's version of the Tour Championship -- the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. At Augusta National, he has to be considered more of a dark-horse than a favorite (strange to say about the No. 2-ranked player in the world at the time of this post) seeing as it's the lone major where he's failed to top 10.

Why Els?
Because I love a great story. Sue me. There's no major the Big Easy would rather win -- which is probably a little easier for him to admit than most, seeing as he already has two U.S. Opens and two Open Championships. A win from the 45-year-old is a big ask at Augusta National. He's top-10'd there on six occasions, including five in a row from 2000-2004 with bookend runner-up finishes, but hasn't done a whole lot lately. The consensus is Els presses a little too much at Augusta National. What a story it would be if he could get the job done at a place where he's been so close so many times in the past. 

Medinah Country Club
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With the restoration of Course No. 2, Medinah Country Club will have invested more than $14 million since 2008 to upgrade its three courses.
Medinah Country Club has approved a $3.6 million project to restore the club's Course No. 2 to its original character while upgrading its infrastructure to 21st-century standards. 
The project is set to begin next fall, with the goal of re-opening in June 2017. It will include the construction of state-of-the-art greens, along with new tees and bunkers, the installation of bentgrass fairways and extensive improvements to its storm drainage system.
Designed by prominent Scottish course architect Tom Bendelow – who created all three courses at Medinah – No. 2 opened in 1927 and has remained virtually untouched. After the restoration, it will play from 4,800 to 6,400 yards and will include a variety of tee options to make it more family friendly.
"Most people don't know what a special gem Course No. 2 is," said Curtis Tyrrell, Medinah's director of golf course operations. "When we restore the design elements and upgrade the playing surfaces, it's going to bring an exciting new dimension to the overall Medinah golf experience."
Tyrrell will spearhead the restoration, while course architect Rees Jones will serve as a consultant. Jones, of course, led the renovation of Medinah's Course No. 3 ahead of the 2012 Ryder Cup.
Medinah is the Chicago area's most frequent major championship venue. Along with the 2012 Ryder Cup, Course No. 3 has hosted three U.S. Opens (1949, 1975, and 1990), two PGA Championships (1999 and 2006) and three Western Opens (1946, 1962, and 1966). 
With the restoration of Course No. 2, Medinah will have invested more than $14 million since 2008 to upgrade its three courses. Course No. 1 reopened last summer after a renovation by Tom Doak.