Ewen Murray is looking forward to fun and entertainment as live golf returns to our screens on Sunday, but there will be a very different look for Rory Mcilroy and co at historic Seminole …
It seems such a long time since The Players Championship was so rudely interrupted. There has been heartbreak for many families, young and old. There has been fear and uncertainty, and of course the worry of what this pandemic has done for our immediate futures.
In these troubled times, we have been heartened by those who have served heroically during the crisis. People who have put their lives on the line to save ours. We have missed what we now know we have taken for granted. The simple pleasures of life and, for many, sport.
This weekend, golf tiptoes forward and live action from the fairways will grace our Sky Sports screens once again. It will be golf as we haven’t seen before. World No 1, Rory McIlroy, and former holder of that coveted title, Dustin Johnson, will team up to take on two of Oklahoma State University’s outstanding graduates, Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler.
It’s a charity event and it will raise millions for those in need across America and beyond. The match will embrace a “skins” format which, down the years, has provided much excitement. Holes one to six are worth $50,000, holes seven to 16 have a value of $100,000, the 17th is $200,000 and the 18th is worth an incredible half a million dollars.
If a hole is halved, the skin is carried forward. There’s $25k for a birdie (no concessions), and an eagle lands $50k. Holes two and 14 feature the long-driving contest worth $100,000 and $150,000 respectively. Both pairings will begin with $500,000 which will accumulate with golﬁng prowess.
You’re possibly wondering why this is not golf as we know it as it’s a format that is familiar to golf fans the world over?
The four players will be carrying their own clubs just like they would have done in their youth. Gone, I suspect, will be the tournament golf bags lugged by their loyal bagmen. In their place will be the Sunday bags, maybe with a stand, something we are all familiar with.
The players will collate their own yardages, select whatever club, read their own putts, clean their own golf balls and I believe it will be a lot of fun, and perhaps a trip back to yesteryear.
The event will be played at one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. Opened in 1930 and designed by the revered Scot, Donald Ross, Seminole rests by America’s ﬁrst coast in Florida and, along with Augusta National, Cypress Point and Pine Valley, makes up the quartet that sits at the pinnacle of American golf clubs.
I was ﬁrst introduced to this masterpiece, that in recent years has enjoyed a makeover by the Core and Crenshaw design company, by my old sparring partner at Sky, Bruce Critchley. Now you can imagine Bruce saying: “Let’s go down to Seminole and have a cocktail, I know a couple of members there and it’s all organised”.
Oﬀ we set and having played Augusta and Cypress Point, I was excited as we rolled into the property to be greeted by the stunning Spanish style clubhouse. We had a walk around what is a quite delightful and enchanting golf course before retiring to the veranda where Bruce ordered two Mint Juleps. Not wanting to show my ignorance, I said nothing.
A Mint Julep is very much part of America’s south, in particular, The Kentucky Derby. It’s bourbon-based with sugar, crushed ice and mint. We sat there and soaked up the unique atmosphere and watched the sun tire before disappearing in the west. An afternoon I’ll always remember.
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The course is a wonderful mixture of holes, many of which border the Atlantic shoreline known as Junu Beach. In constructing Seminole, Ross had diﬃculties, as much of the ground was swampland. But the end product is outstanding.
Prominent members down the years include Henry Ford II, President Dwight Eisenhower and The Duke of Windsor. Seminole is where Ben Hogan used to spend a month shaking oﬀ winter rust in preparation for the PGA Tour season ahead and was made an honorary member later in his life.
It also boasts some famous club professionals. Claude Harmon was pro at Seminole when he won The Masters in 1948. Butch’s father remains the last club pro to win one a major. Bob Ford, who was club pro at Oakmont for many years is very much part of this club. Bob was awarded the highest honour by the PGA of America in recent years.
On Sunday, I hope there is a breeze, or stronger as that will show the course is a stern test for golfers of the quality we look forward to seeing again. The par-fives, I thought, were a great feature and they may well have a big say in accumulating skins and dollars. My favourite hole was the par-three 17th, which will be used if a play-off is required.
I’m delighted this course oﬀered their facilities to host an event which the golﬁng world looks forward to. Because of its exclusivity, very few people will have seen it or know much about it. A bit like watching The Sound of Music for the ﬁrst time.
NBC Sports produce the action with more hand-held cameras than they would normally use. That could have a big inﬂuence on how they cover golf in the future. With so much of Florida ﬂat, the camera angles will show up the changes in elevation that Seminole enjoys, along with its mini dunes that separate the fairways from the ocean.
Live McIlroy & DJ v Fowler & Wolff
May 17, 2020, 7:00pm
The commentary will come from one of the television world’s ﬁnest sports presenters. Mike Tirico has covered many sports in his illustrious career. A 10-year run as NFL play-by-play commentator, Mike has been part of the golf scene across three decades, 25 years with ESPN and NBC since 2016.
Because of the world we’re living in right now, his commentary will not come from a booth overlooking the course. Mike’s words will come from the living room at his home in Michigan!
Sky Sports’ coverage will be hosted by Robert Lee, from his London pad, with production and direction delivered in similar fashion by our talented staﬀ.
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