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Could Pine Valley Humble The Tour Pros?

As 72 of the region’s top amateurs and club professionals descend on Pine Valley GC today for GAP’s 108th Open Championship, what better time to address a question I’ve heard many times through the years:

If Pine Valley is so great – it’s ranked No. 1 by pretty much all the golf magazines – why doesn’t it ever host a major championship, a Ryder Cup or even an ordinary PGA Tour event?

I have answers.

And while we’re at it, why not kick around another question I hear almost as often: If Pine Valley ever did host a big-time pro tournament, what kind of scores would the Tour pros likely shoot?

Let’s start with the paucity of tournaments Pine Valley has hosted in its 99 years of existence. They include two Walker Cups (1936, 1985) three previous GAP Open Championships (1923, 1941, 2002) and the club’s annual elite amateur invitational, begun in 1922, that honors the course’s founder and designer, George Crump. Other than that, zippo.

Why no majors? Two major reasons. One, the course simply could not accommodate enough spectators. For the 1985 Walker Cup, they set the limit at 4,000 a day. And, two, the club’s tradition of an all-male membership would be a sticking point with the USGA, the PGA of America and the PGA Tour.

“We couldn’t handle the crowds; there’s no place for spectators,” Charley Raudenbush, Pine Valley’s long-time general manager, said last week.

Unlike most modern-day major venues, which offer sprawling acreage for corporate hospitality and merchandise tents, a TV compound, a media center and space for 30,000 to 40,000 spectators to roam, Pine Valley has none of that. Even if they somehow found room for all the tented villages and such, the actual layout and design of the course, with its tree-lined corridor fairways, leaves precious little room for the flow of spectators.

Merion GC, which is on a tiny patch of real estate in Ardmore, faces similar constraints in hosting the 2013 U.S. Open, of course. But Merion has a second course, the West Course, just up the street, which is where player hospitality, the media center and the practice range will be, among other things. Plus, many of the corporate tents also will be across the road, on the grounds of Haverford College.

Raudenbush’s comments are echoed by golf historian James W. Finegan, a lifelong Pine Valley member and author of the club history.

“The reason that has always been given to members is there is no room for spectators,” said Finegan. “There may be other reasons but that is what they always use.”

Would the club ever entertain the notion of attempting to figure out a way to make a major happen?

“You never hear it brought up, not by the members, not by the powers that be,” said Finegan. “It’s as though we settled that issue 100 years ago – and, of course, next year is the 100th anniversary of Pine Valley.”

Then there is the matter of Pine Valley’s all-male membership. The USGA, PGA of America and PGA Tour all are on record as saying they will not stage a championship at a club with membership restrictions, even if Augusta National does get away with it for The Masters.

(Pine Valley’s all-male membership is not a sticking point for the GAP and the Open because … well, because it is not. Case closed. End of story.)

So, between Pine Valley’s iron-clad, all-male membership policy and the lack of space for spectators and corporate tents, don’t bother dreaming about a major coming to Pine Valley.

For the sake of conversation, however, what do Raudenbush and Finegan the Tour think pros would shoot at Pine Valley? (It is a beast of a course, after all, even as the members play it: 6,667 yards, par 70, 74.1 rating, 153 slope.)

“I have no idea, no concept, because it would depend on who set it up and what they did to it,” said Raudenbush, who has been at Pine Valley since 1977.

For the record, the course record in competition is 6-under 64, set in 1981 by Bob Lewis, a former Walker Cup member, during a qualifying round for that year’s Crump Cup. The only lower round anybody knows about is what Finegan calls a “quiet 63,” in 1994, by former PGA Champion Bob Tway during his only visit to the club.

For some perspective, in 2002, GAP’s Open Championship was last at Pine Valley, two of the area’s top club pros, John Appleget and John DiMarco, were tied for the lead after 36 holes at 144, 4 over par. Appleget won the next day in an 18-hole playoff, shooting 2-over 72. Who knows what today’s winning score will be.

Finegan, for one, believes that if the PGA Tour pros ever got a shot at Pine Valley, they would “go low.” The reason? Pine Valley’s wide, generous fairways.

“Except for No. 2, the fairways are all 52-55 yards wide – more than double than at the United States Open,” said Finegan. “Off the tee, these guys would have a picnic, knowing full well they couldn’t miss.”

Finegan would expect to see 66s, 65s, with somebody probably shooting 63. For a four-day total winning score, Finegan says we’re looking at 12 to 15 under par.

Of course, in reality, we will never find out. But we can dream.


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