Colonial earns compliments

Thursday, May 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FORT WORTH - Davis Love III said he is often asked why PGA Tour scores keep getting lower. The explanation, he believes, will be evident when the MasterCard Colonial begins Thursday.

"It's the greens," Love said. "They're getting better and better."

Love was referring to PGA Tour greens in general, Colonial Country Club's in particular.

Colonial's membership should be elated to hear that because most of the $3.5 million it spent last fall in course improvements was used to rebuild all 18 greens. And because play was prohibited at Colonial for nearly a year so that the greens would be pristine this week.

They are. Player opinions differ as to whether scores will be higher or lower this week. Opinion about the quality of the greens and other course changes, however, seems unanimous.

"Really fantastic," Stewart Cink said.

"Perfect," Love said.

"I love 'em," Tom Kite said.

"Superb," defending champion Olin Browne said.

Usually, when changes are made to a PGA Tour venue, negative feedback is inevitable. Especially when the course is a traditional favorite like Colonial, which has hosted a tour event since 1946.

"This is probably the best redesign of a classic golf course that I've seen," said Kite, who came to Fort Worth this week even though he's now a full-time Senior PGA Tour player. "To the uneducated eye, the guy who really wasn't that familiar with the subtleties of Colonial, you come out here and might not notice many changes.

"But they've really done a nice job. They've added a couple of bunkers where they needed to be added. They've positioned the bunkers better to accommodate the distances guys are hitting the ball these days. They've really helped the golf course out."

Two weeks after Browne's victory last May 23, the greens were torn up by architect Keith Foster's staff. The old bent grass greens were replaced with new heat-tolerant A-4 bent grass.

Kite said the newness of the greens is evident. The root system hasn't had time to deepen. He noticed that when the greens dried Tuesday afternoon, balls were bouncing harder than usual.

How the greens play this week will depend largely on whether the wind will continue to blow 20-30 mph, as it did during Wednesday's pro-am, and how much water superintendent Scott Johnson and his staff put on the greens.
"They could dry out," Love said. "But I don't think they [Johnson's staff] are going to let them get away from them because they're brand new. They're new babies. They're going to keep an eye on them."

Browne noted that the rebuilt greens will mean a few new pin placements. PGA Tour tournament director Mark Russell said there is the possibility of several new pin placements on the par-4 15th, and at least one new placement on the front of the par-4 18th.

"I think the greens are going to affect the scoring," said Browne, who won with a score of 8-under 272 last year. "They are so good I think, all things being equal, the scores would be lower this year. There's not a blade of grass out of place.

"It's a very comfortable, putt-making speed right now. You can be nice and aggressive."

Cink and Kite were among those who said scores could be higher this year, citing not only the prospect of drier afternoon greens, but bunkers that are deeper and harder to play out of this year.

Either way, you probably won't hear many player complaints this week. Love recalled that in the late 80s, players would be hard-pressed to find greens like Colonial's anywhere. Now, because of agronomy and technology advances, they are more rule than exception.

"I can remember going and playing the Florida swing and not getting any good greens," he said. "First good greens we used to see of the year, really, was when you got to Augusta.

"Now every week they're good to great. It really is amazing. These greens here are something. Not one blade of poa-annua. Hardly a ball mark. Everything's perfect."

For $3.5 million, Colonial's membership hopes so.