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THE RITZ-CARLTON GOLF CLUB MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 28, 2009
THE MODERATOR (Michael McMahon, General Manager, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and Resort, Dove Mountain): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm pleased to welcome our special guest Jack Nicklaus, and David Mehl, the owner and developer of The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain.
I've had the pleasure of being in and around the golf business for most of my life, starting out as a caddie at the Philadelphia Cricket Club outside of Philadelphia and being able to play and be a member of a club called White Marsh Valley Country Club. Back in the '60s, we had the Philadelphia Golf Classic at our club, and in 1964 and 1965 our champion was Jack Nicklaus.
This picture behind me is from the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper. Jack is 26 years old, and you can see the awe of the crowds and of this one young man standing behind him, who's eight years old, and that's me.
It was a long time ago, 1964. You won it two years in a row.
David Mehl and Jack Nicklaus have a relationship that goes back about 25 years when David developed the La Paloma community and Jack came out and developed the Westin La Paloma golf course. It's not quite as long as this relationship, but it's a long one and a very fruitful one, and I think if I can ask David to say a few words before we open it up for questions for Jack about his relationship with Jack and what we're doing here at The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain.
DAVID MEHL: I thank everyone for being here. It's an exciting day for us having our opening celebration with Jack here. We did work together along with my brother George in the 1980s building the La Paloma community. I got to know Jack not only in a business relationship with him designing our golf courses, but we actually played tennis a number of times together and really got to know each other personally a little bit.
When I had my dream along with Tim and Casey Bollinger, what we wanted to create here with The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, really trying to create the finest golf community in the desert, it was natural for me to turn back to Jack and ask him to be involved. So we really appreciate that.
I think many of you, if not most of you, have played the golf course or will have a chance to play it today. We are very proud of what we have built. It is a spectacular golf course, and it really is meant to be the centerpiece of a residential community that really will provide services and quality that we hope will be unmatched throughout the desert. So we're proud of what we're developing. It is fun working with Jack.
Jack not only is the greatest golfer in history, he's also just a phenomenal designer. I've been able to witness now twice, as we've worked together, the artistry with which he approaches everything on the golf course and the strategy and the significance and the importance of everything that he lays out on any given golf hole. So as we play it as amateurs, we enjoy it and we don't really fully appreciate all the thinking that has gone into it.
I welcome Jack. I thank him for being here, and it's a pleasure to work with him again.
JACK NICKLAUS: Thank you, David.
As we came out here -- and I too have enjoyed working with David. Obviously we did La Paloma with David and George, but renewing our relationship and coming back here to Dove Mountain and doing a golf course that not only is for your community but also for the tournament is something very special to me, at least it was until I heard the commentators on television.
But anyway, the golf course here I spent -- I don't know how many times I was here, but I was here a lot, and I think it's turned out spectacular. I think it's got great visual excitement. I think it tells you what to do off the tee. It tells you how to approach a green visually. The greens have got a lot in them, and the reason they've got a lot in them is that as far as these guys hit the golf ball today, you have to try to -- your only defense of a golf course anymore is its greens.
So what I tried to do here was to create a golf course for match play from a tournament standpoint that would not make a tournament so that you're hitting -- you see guys hit a ball in, one guy has got a 25-footer, the other guy has got a 15-footer, who makes the putt. I wanted to make it a little bit more difficult to get to the cupping areas, which are not going to be the cupping areas that the members are going to play on a daily basis but the cupping that they'll play for a tournament. Guys are going to have to put equally as good a shot together, otherwise they're going to have to have some work, meaning the ball would move away from the hole or away from the green and really create a lot more excitement around the green than just the usual mundane, gee, I hit it on the green and I two-putted it.
I tried not to do that, and I think we accomplished that here. I don't know whether anybody appreciated that or not (laughter), but I'll tell you, we did.
And I think from the members' standpoint, we're back here now, and any time you do something as complicated as we did, you're probably not going to get everything right the first time. I think we got 95 percent of it right. We've got a few little tweaks we're doing out there that the TOUR has asked for to open up a couple of pin placements, and I can understand some of them.
Some of them, you should have heard me out there, my language was not real good this morning. Actually I didn't have any cuss words, but my sarcasm was a little loud.
I feel that we can do those things quite easily, but my main objective here was to create a golf course for David and Dove Mountain that was for you people, one that you could enjoy, one you say is different and one that you say, okay, yeah, the putting is challenging, but hey, then I can come out and I can watch the pros.
If you tried today to relate to how the guys that you saw play the Match Play here to your game, you can't relate to it; it's very difficult. They hit the ball so far. When I was playing, I used to be able to make a game with a club champion. I'd come to a golf course and we'd go play it and we'd both play the back tees, and I might hit it 10 or 15 or 20 yards by them, but he knew the golf course, and we always would have a pretty good game. I've played a lot of exhibitions where I got beat by the club champion. Today could you imagine coming out here, one of you all, one of your better players, going out and playing Tiger or Ogilvy or whoever it might be and playing from the back tees and see what kind of a game you make? You don't make a game, right? There's no relationship to how far they hit it to where you hit it today.
So the only way to bring you closer together was to create something to where you can relate to where you are on the greens and where they are on the greens and the putts that you've had and the putts that they have and the chips that you've had and the chips that they have; you can relate to that because you all are going to have those situations, and they will, too.
I felt like, yeah, probably does that make it a little bit more difficult for you? Yes. But it does make it a lot of fun because each year you'll get to have the opportunity to relate back to each of those players and say, hey, I saw Tiger here, he didn't get it up-and-down and I did. Those are the kind of things that I think make the game fun.
That's the only place that we've really deviated from the standard here, and I think it was well worth it. I think it's well worth it for the tournament, I think it's well worth it for the membership and I think it's well worth it for this club to have something special.
We can go out and create the same old thing, and I don't think that's what you want. You want something special, you want something that's for you and nobody else has, and that's what we tried to do.
Q. When you first looked at this area and all the cacti and all the desert material, what did you think?
JACK NICKLAUS: I said I'd walk carefully. (Laughter.) We've done quite a few golf courses in the desert, and probably the closest property to this that we did was probably Desert Mountain. It's at the same altitude in the Scottsdale area, or Carefree, and it's probably similar. That probably has a little bit more dense saguaro population. That had a good population but this is maybe more dense. Both properties are beautiful. This is a beautiful piece of property.
Actually the first nine we did here I think was the prettiest of the three pieces of property for the golf course. But because of moving a gallery through that area and all that stuff, we elected not to cross the road and not to use that but to use the 18 over here. It's fine over here. This is probably not as complicated, a little easier to move some dirt to be able to create some gallery areas and some spectator and concession areas, and I think it turned out very nice.
DAVID MEHL: I think what Jack meant to say is this is the prettiest desert he's ever gotten to work with and this is the most spectacular desert golf course he's ever designed.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I couldn't have said it better myself. (Laughter.)
Q. You mentioned earlier that your sarcasm was a little loud this morning. Can you elaborate on that a little?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, what I mean by that is we go out and look at the golf course, and the TOUR said can we broaden this area a little bit here so we can get another yard in there to get in a cupping area, or can we have this knob here -- the guys couldn't stop their 280-yard 3-wood on this one-degree pitch going away. I said, "Please, come on, give me a break."
Basically golf was never meant to be a fair game, and it certainly isn't. You are going to get good breaks and you're going to get bad breaks. You're going to get good bounces and you're going to get bad bounces. Part of doing a golf course, and particularly the type of golf course that I did is that you are going to get some bounces that aren't perfect. There are going to be some pin placements that you can't just stand there and throw anything you want at it every time. You might have to end up actually having to think a little bit and play a shot.
That was sort of my sarcasm is we went down -- I'll tell you a little bit what we did. We went down the 10th hole and talked about a knob in the left center of the green that they thought they could get a little bit more cupping if they got around it. The green is only 8,000 square feet, but they worried about a little ten-foot knob about not getting an extra cup there, and David said, "Well, it will be all right for the members, too." I said, "Okay, if it's all right for the members, I'll soften it," so we're going to soften that little knob in the left center of the green. Nothing else on the green, it was fine.
There was a little spot on the right side of the green where it pitches in, but it was supposed to be fairway anyway and we had it fairway for the membership to be able to bounce the ball in so the ball would feed into the green. Well, the tournament put it in rough, which means the ball would stick there. Frankly they should put it as fairway the way the hole was designed so that the poor guys playing the TOUR could get those nice bounces, too. (Laughter.)
So that's a little sarcasm maybe. Then we went to the 11th hole, which is probably one of my biggest beefs. They really wanted another tee because it really was only 25 yards between the two bunkers out there on a 660-yard hole that was designed as a three-shot hole. I tried to design a three-shot par-5 so the player would be forced to play the strategy, and the strategy was, okay, you've only got 20 yards to hit it between those two bunkers. If you get the conditions to drive it between those or if you get it downwind where you might be able to carry over them, you have a chance to maybe make a two-shot hole out of it under certain conditions. But most of the time you're going to have to make up your mind whether you want to put it in that 20-yard area or you lay it up to 250 yards and then you play another 230 yard shot and play a 100-yard wedge into the green, something like that, to where you play the strategy of the hole.
I had the bunkers, the bunkers are shallow, the bunkers were shallow on purpose because there's a barranca that crosses maybe 150 yards in front of that. So if you hit the ball in the bunker, all of a sudden now you've got to think; I mean, I've got a pretty good lie in this bunker; if I hit this well, I can get it over there and probably play an 8- or 9-iron to the green, or if I don't hit it well I'm going to end up in that barranca or arroyo, whatever you want to call it, or I lay it up short.
Now, if I'd have made the bunkers severe, then you wouldn't have had any choice; you would have had to lay it up and then you would have played a long shot in. So I tried to create some strategy. Well, they want another tee so they can eliminate the strategy.
Now, that to me doesn't make a lot of sense. They said, well, we had the wind in our face, and we wouldn't have driven by those bunkers with the wind in our face, and the guys were trying to figure out a way that they could still make the strategy work. I said, "Okay, now you've given me a reasonable reason for it. I have no objection to that." And I said, "How does it play for the members?" David said, "Well, I felt like it could be a little wider in between those two bunkers for the membership."
Well, of course we had the membership tee farther forward, which the pros played twice, and he said, "They had the tees far enough forward that I can use a couple more yards there for the membership; they said they had trouble getting in that narrow area." I said, "okay." So what we decided to do was take half of the right front bunker off and add the next tee and go along with the strategy that they like. But it still doesn't change the strategy of the hole that much, as long as they play the back tee. If they play the front tee and the wind is in their face then the strategy will still be valid.
So I can understand that. So those are things.
Then we got to the green there and there really wasn't much on the green. They had one little thing where they had a 2 percent pitch going back in the back right of the green, and it would have forced you to actually think and play a shot. I said, okay, just don't worry about it, let's take it to less than a percent, and they still have to think and play a shot but it makes it a little less. I was more worried about the back left of the green, which I thought was a tougher place to get to because I thought you weren't near a regular bounce. The TOUR didn't worry about that.
Anyway, that's sort of the type of stuff we went through and we're talking about.
We went to the next hole and they wanted a little bit more cupping in the middle of the green and they wanted to broaden one. I don't have a problem with that. I could see that. They showed me where they cupped three times, and if we soften this roll and make it a little bit broader, it doesn't really change anything in the green, it just gives us a little bit more cupping. I said, "I don't have an issue with that."
The next hole was the one that really killed me. We had a little spot on the back right of the green. I saw about eight eagles on the hole when I watched it. But they couldn't stop their 3-wood just over that right bunker in the back right. I mean, had you ever thought maybe to play it in the center of the green on a par-5?
I mean, it blows my mind that -- when I played golf, to me it was always when you had a pin position -- and I relate it back to Augusta. You tell me how many pin positions you can shoot at at Augusta. You take the ball 75 percent of the time at Augusta and you play away from a pin to get the proper angle or the putt to get into it. And if you're going to take a chance to throw it at the pin, then there's got to be a penalty for missing it.
They put that pin on the front right at Augusta on the 16th hole. It's a little short iron. They usually move the tee up. It usually plays like an 8-iron or a 7-iron for the guys, sometimes a 9-iron, and you hit it just to the right and it sneaks right off the green and you get that little awkward chip down in that ryegrass to the right of the green, then try and hit it going down that hill towards the water. Or if you don't quite get it far enough and get it in the bunker, you've got a pitch going away from you into that pin. Or if you hit it just to the left of it, that ball slips down to the front of the green, okay? It's tough. Well, they've only got a little short iron in their hands.
Now, you take the pin at the 13th hole at Augusta, they put the pin in the back left. Anybody that's good enough to stop a ball back there, I'll put him with you. There's isn't an area anywhere as small as that on this golf course anyplace. So it's all related to what it is.
To me, I always felt that the game of golf, sure, it's physical, it's hitting the golf ball, but it's also a big mental part of the game and a big thinking part of the game. And I promise you, I don't want anybody playing my golf courses if they don't want to think. I mean, to a membership to me, I want the members -- I don't want a member to go out on a golf course and I don't want him to play four or five holes and all of a sudden say, "Gee, what do I do here?" I want him to stand on the first tee and say, "Okay, what do I do here?" "I hit my tee shot, now what do I do here?" I want you to think every shot. And I think that's a fair thing to ask of the pros, too. I mean, they do make their living at it. (Laughter.)
To me, thinking is part of the game and being able to play intelligent. If the wind is blowing and you've got high dry sky and the shot is going to get away from you, you can't throw the ball at the pin. You should play the ball to the conservative side of it. Why should you give the guy that? Make it so it's the same place they play every week? That's what I tried not to do.
Frankly, I'm going to tell you what I think is going to happen here. We'll make a few of those adjustments and I think it probably will improve the golf course. Do I think we might need to make any adjustments? Probably not. Will I make them because I think that we try to be good citizens or however you want to do it? I don't have to be right. I can be wrong, too.
So there are areas where I could be a little bit off, and that's fine. I mean, I spent a lot of time out here, certainly a lot more time than they have. And we fought pretty hard about what we did and why we did it and what we tried to do, and I think that we did a pretty good job of getting 95 percent of it right. Sure, we might have 5 or 10 percent that maybe not be quite right, and we're quite willing to adjust that, and the TOUR has actually been very good about coming back and saying we'll contribute to help pay for that because it doesn't go on David's shoulders and I don't think it's fair to go on the developer's shoulders. I don't think it's fair to do that. I think it's great that the TOUR does. I give them big kudos for that.
And I know the staff really only wants to do the right thing, and they're only reacting to the players' reactions. But you know, how can you get a guy who comes in here, he plays one practice round, and all of a sudden he's an expert on the golf course? I mean, this golf course I'm going to promise you in two or three years is going to be one of the favorite golf courses on the TOUR for these guys to play. They're going to learn it, they're going to learn how to play it; it's tough, but man, I enjoy playing it. That's going to happen.
I even think some of your announcers will end up liking it. (Laughter.)
Q. When you first started designing golf courses did you ever think you'd design one that was 7,800 yards from the back tee, and has that changed your whole philosophy on design?
JACK NICKLAUS: Yeah, yeah, but you know, I don't look at this course as being 7,800 yards. You're at 3,000 feet and you lose about 5 percent -- I'm talking about 2 percent for every thousand feet, which is about 6 percent here. So you take 6 percent off of that, that's almost 450 yards basically. My math is not proper here. But anyway, you take 450 yards off, that's a 7,300-yard golf course. That's pretty normal for today. 7,300 yards is not a long golf course for these guys.
I don't think the golf course is that long. I did a golf course at Castle Pines, not the course we play in the tournament but the other course. We did that in about 1980-something, the second golf course, and the first nine over there is over 4,000 yards. But that's at 6,500 feet. And we've done golf courses up in that area.
I don't think this golf course is long at 7,800. But we've given you enough variety that they can play it at a different length if they want to, and we've given you some options such as we have at the 15th hole where you've got a drivable par-4 and you can play the tee back, and then they have to think about whether they want to try to drive it or not and then move the tee up and most of the guys can drive it.
We've got a hole on the front nine, 4, you've got an option at 4 to do the same thing. So giving you some of those kind of things where you have an option of what to do, and you've got enough tee boxes that you can play different lengths and spaces that you can do different things.
I like variety within the golf course. I mean, that's why I have no real big objection about 11, putting another tee in. It does create a little bit more variety. I don't want to particularly change the strategy of the hole. I'd like to still keep it as a three-shot hole because that's what it was designed as. But in all fairness it was designed downwind because of the cross-bunker and short of the green if you had a place you could play a second shot into that you could bounce and feed it up to the green. So I don't mind putting -- if we didn't have enough teeing area to do that, I don't mind making that kind of an adjustment. Those are things that you add to golf courses.
Certainly at Muirfield Village where I've had a tournament now for 30-something years, you can't say I haven't made any changes there. I spend every year after the tournament, I think the last two years is the only time I haven't made a change, and my people say, "You mean we're going to play the same golf course again next year?" My members say, "You're not going to change any changes? We don't have any new holes?" So I'm known for just continuing to tweak things and trying to make them better if I can.
But a lot of times I'll look at stuff a long time before I like to. I would have liked to have seen them play this golf course for two or three years before we made a change because I think that's the right way to do it. First of all, these greens were like six weeks old when they played them for the first time. They were hard as a rock because that's what all new greens are. So see what the softness of the green does, see as the course mellows and as it matures a little bit.
We played this golf course in the tournament probably as difficult as this course could be, and they shot nothing but 6- or 7-under par, 8-under par. It couldn't have been too tough.
My feeling is that you let a golf course mature a little bit before you really do too much, and I think they got a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to what to do. Calm down, guys. Let things take its course, and then we'll see what happens. I think that's the right way to do it.
Q. Thanks for having your hand on two courses here in town. You mentioned about the scoring, and that was my first question was, was 6-under that Rory and maybe one other player put together, did that surprise you? The other question would be Rory on No. 5 on Saturday launched his drive 320, got the benefit of landing on a downhill slope and added another 70 yards to his drive. Is that something you try to play into this to help long hitters, as well?
JACK NICKLAUS: I think, first of all, they slowed the greens down. I think that was probably the biggest yell. And I think that a lot is the TOUR's inexperience of looking at the golf course, too, because the TOUR was with me every visit I was here. They were with me and went through all the cupping and all through the stuff that we had to do. So they thought that the golf course was fine.
Then the staff comes in that sets up the golf course, and they don't really use what I call a smart level or anything that will give you the pitches and so forth which will really tell you what your putting is. We did. There wasn't a pin on that golf course that wasn't in a cuppable area within the tolerances and the spaces that the TOUR asked for, which meant that they didn't have to slow the greens. I think you had guys bitching more at slow greens than they did at pitch.
Certainly Ogilvy couldn't complain too much about the number of putts he made. What did he make, 98 out of 104 or whatever it was from inside ten feet? It sounded like you could never get it inside 10 feet, but he had a bunch of them that he made. He probably deserved to win the golf tournament because he did do that better than anybody else. That was sort of the intention was to bring putting into the game rather than have it just be tap the ball in. But I don't think they needed to have the greens at that pace because the cupping pitches, I promise you, were well within the tolerances or less than the tolerances they would normally look at.
Q. Did they say what it played on the Stimpmeter?
JACK NICKLAUS: They probably had them about 10 on the Stimpmeter, I think.
DAVID MEHL: 10 and a half.
JACK NICKLAUS: And they were yelling about them being slow. They're used to a little faster greens than that. But I don't think they want more than about another foot on them. I don't think they want them more than about 11, 11 and a half.
Q. About the length, I didn't know if you had designed some holes to plan to reward long hitters.
JACK NICKLAUS: Yeah, like the 10th hole, for instance, if you take the ball down the left side and over the bunker, you get the help of the hill. Yeah, a lot of times I'll do that where I give a guy who really takes a gamble, I give him an added boost. Or if he tries to get into an area, a chute or something where the ball will take off, you can get yourself -- yeah, I'll do that, and sometimes I'll do that in area where if you don't take that, it kills you. The ball will hit into it and stop. I do that as a strategy of encouraging people to do different things. Yeah, sure.
Q. You have mentioned green speed a little bit. Did you have a green speed in mind when you designed these greens?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, what I tell my guys is that I think you try to design a green for its maximum speed. In other words, I don't think the maximum speed on these greens should be maybe more than 11 and a half or 12. I think that's plenty fast enough. And then the members should be slowed up to 10.
What I don't think you should do is design a golf course with a speed of 10 and then speed them up to 12 because I think that's backwards. I've got a couple of my guys that I get on all the time when they finish off greens, and I give them the strategy and so forth, and we get to the golf course, and I'll say, whatever the name is, guys, you can't keep the ball on this thing. We've got this pitch here and we just can't keep this kind of a speed. You design for this speed, you don't kick that speed up for a tournament.
So we try to design for tournament speed, and then anything less than that makes it easier for the membership. That's what I try to do.
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