TOUR Insider: Should Colonial consider bermuda greens?

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May 22, 2013

By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

This week is all about tradition at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

It's Hogan's Alley and the Wall of Champions.  It's the horrible horseshoe and bentgrass greens.

That's right. Bentgrass greens.

Colonial Country Club might not exist if not for bentgrass greens.

In 1934, Fort Worth businessman Marvin Leonard was a member at River Crest Country Club and was so enamored with bentgrass greens he offered to pay for the conversion. It was thought bentgrass could not survive a Texas summer and his suggestion was refused, so Leonard decided to build his own golf course.

Colonial Country Club was the first course in the South to have bentgrass putting surfaces. Local golfer, and soon to be writer, Dan Jenkins still recalls marveling at Colonial's greens when comparing them with the clumpy bermuda surfaces that were so common at the time.

Colonial is all about tradition and that’s why the following question might not play well at 3735 Country Club Circle.

Should Colonial consider replacing bentgrass with bermuda greens?

The only way bentgrass can survive the Texas heat is by keeping it moist with water and letting the blades grow long. Neither of those is conducive to championship golf.

I caddied for my wife, Kristi, in the 1991 USGA Women's Open at Colonial and they tried to keep the putting surface's firm and fast. They almost lost several greens.  Fans were run to provide air circulation for the grass. At the conclusion of the third round, workers rushed to dump pounds of ice on one of the greens. You could actually watch the grass turning blue like time lapsed photography.

The greens this week will be among the more receptive of the PGA TOUR season. Even in May, the delicate grass is stressed in the Texas heat. Colonial is a great golf course that surrenders birdies because the greens are kept moist. Players fire at flag sticks like throwing darts. Golfers are aggressive with putts because the greens aren't firm.

Zach Johnson shot 21 under in 2010. Kenny Perry has won twice with 19-under 261 totals.

It's not right to post those kinds of numbers on one of the nation's more historic golf courses.

Bermuda greens are no longer clumpy or common. The greens at Atlanta Athletic Club during the 2011 PGA Championship were wonderful putting surfaces that could easily be duplicated at Colonial.

Bermuda is a heat tolerant grass and the course could be played firm and fast. Then, just watch as scoring totals get higher and shot values increase.

One player told me the course is "short and quirky with soft greens."

Hogan's Alley … quirky and soft? Those words should never be together is the same sentence.

I respect tradition. I visit the Hogan Trophy Room every year during the tournament and I make of point of touching the 13th spike on the shoe of Hogan's statue at the club entrance.

But I also cringe when I see a winning score of 259.

Maybe, it's time for a new tradition and considering changing from bentgrass to bermuda.

Observations

Conditions: Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens seldom get along. Bermuda loves the heat, while bentgrass thrives in cool conditions. This year’s cool spring means the bermuda rough is not quite a thick as we normally see at Colonial. On the other hand, the bent grass is thriving. Its root structure is good from the extended growing season and this year’s putting surfaces will be clipped a little tighter and the greens a little more firm than what we normally see.

Scoring: Colonial can beat you up on the par 4s and par 3s, but the five-shot holes are getable. Golfers must take advantage of Nos. 1 and 11. Those are the only par 5s on the course and most of the field can reach them in two shots. Last year, even in high winds, the par 5s played almost a half-shot under par.

Wall of Champions: Directly opposite the first tee is Colonial’s “Wall of Champions.” The winner of every tournament at Colonial is engraved in marble. It’s a like a tournament resume and it’s an impressive one. Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Phil Mickelson are immortalized in script. There is also one woman’s name and it’s not Annika Sorenstam. She played in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial 10 years ago but did not win. The wall is only for tournament champions and that honor goes to Meg Mallon who won the Women’s Open in 1991 at Colonial.

Legends: There is so much history to this tournament; there are several anecdotes that always make me smile. I can’t verify the following story but it rings true.

The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial has always taken pride at inviting an international field. One year a player from South America was invited and it became evident his game was not PGA TOUR quality. He was extremely nervous on the first tee and topped his drive. A low, worm burner struck a forward tee marker and ricocheted back behind the championship tees. His fellow competitor took note of the situation and allegedly said, “Now I’m confused. I don’t know whether I’m up or you’re away.”

Winner, winner: I thought Charl Schwartzel played beautifully last week, posting a third-place finish at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. He could be primed for a win at Colonial. It’s already been a good year for the South African, who ranks 30th in FedExCup points. Schwartzel is second on TOUR in scoring average and ninth in birdie average.  Those are great metrics to have working in your favor this week. Schwartzel wins the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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