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Waiting for the real thing
If evidence is required to support the contention that two distinctly different forms of golf are emerging, then the outcome of the German Masters at Gut Larchenhof provides all that is required.

Bernhard Langer scrambled with some luck to hold on to a lead that he had virtually from the first tee. He won by one shot from John Daly, the only American in the field. The only thing that was surprising about the result is that the positions were not reversed. Daly gave it his best shot, finishing with an eagle and two birdies, but his best was not good enough to beat the Langer luck or the consistency of his swing mechanics.

The course at Gut Larchenhof is meat and drink to these two for it is exactly the same as the tracks that they play week in and week out in the USA. It is target golf at its best - or worst, depending upon your point of view. But unlike many of the great American courses from which its design derives, it is immature, wet and with about as much character as a municipal park.

The building boom of courses in Continental Europe has generated little or no diversity in design. This is hardly surprising since they have come from the drawing boards of so few architects, virtually all of them American with common and commonplace references and not gifted with much imagination. Indeed, there is an off-the-peg aspect to these courses that render them so unmemorable that one can only recall them through reference to the clubhouse and which bank or building society foyer it most closely resembles.

The 22 under-par return that gave the 44 year-old Langer his 11th victory in Germany and his 39th on the European Tour reflects solid golf. But 20+ under par for four rounds of golf have become the norm on such courses and are no longer worthy of comment. Very long driving combined with a hot putter are the basic requirements. Little thought is required other than application to the arithmetic of lengths supplied by the caddie. What follows comes from metronomic practice. Such is this form of golf that has come about through the boom years.

The Tournament players will be subjected to something altogether different when they wash up on the banks of the Tay and Forth Firths next week. Links golf requires a little bit more than their usual weekly target practice.

The links courses of Kingsbarns (pictured), Carnoustie and St Andrews collectively play host to the Dunhill Links Championship from the 18th to the 21st October. This event has the biggest pot of the European Tour year with a first prize just a pittance short of the big one in the Open itself. Needless to say it has attracted every big name in Europe but, alas, failed to entice a single American onto an aeroplane. This is a pity for the format of the tournament as a rotating course pro-am is an interesting innovation. Also, the introduction of the much-lauded Kingsbarns Links to the big boys in the game should be informative if only to hear their comments.

Certainly it will be interesting to see what the best in Europe make of it, especially if the wind blows. Kingsbarns sits tight on a mile-and-a-half of coastline, all of which is in play. In anything more than a mild zephyr it can be testing. The course has gained much acclaim from the golfing world at large - but how will it play relative to the Old at St Andrews and the tough track at Carnoustie?

For sure the golf played on these links will have to be altogether different from that played on the target venues of the Continent and the USA. It will even be different between the courses themselves although the common denominator will remain the same - after hitting the short grass, placing the ball on the green relative to the flag will be the premium. Trying to get it close could be disastrous for the banks and braes of these links greens can be routes to ruin.

I cannot understand that the best in America are not prepared to travel to such a challenge. That celebrities like Michael Douglas and Samuel L Jackson are prepared to do it says little for the American pros and even less for their contribution to their fans and to the game itself.

©    9 - OCTOBER 2001

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