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18th hole at Hamilton Golf and Country Club
18th hole at Hamilton Golf and Country Club

Rubenstein: Par is all but irrelevant Add to ...

Scott Piercy took it deep at the RBC Canadian Open by running roughshod over the Hamilton Golf and Country Club, shooting 17-under-par 263 to win his second PGA Tour event. Many other players also took it deep, and made the grand old course seem like a pushover. Wasn’t it only nine years ago when the winning score that Bob Tway shot was only eight-under-par?

What’s changed? Not much, really. The main difference was that soft conditions enabled players to take dead aim, even at holes that were cut close to the edges of greens. Drives that might have rolled through fairways into the thick rough stayed inside the lines. Players able to hole putts went low, very low.

The most challenging courses couldn’t pose a strong test in conditions such as those that the Hamilton course was left with from the start of the week. The course absorbed an inch and a half of rain on the Sunday night before tournament week began. More heavy rain later further soaked and softened the course. What are a superintendent and his staff to do?

Certainly Hamilton’s excellent superintendent Rhod Trainor performed near-miracles to get the course playable after the beating it took. Still, the PGA Tour deemed that the tournament would proceed for the first two rounds under lift, clean and place conditions of play. Jack Nicklaus has always called such a policy lift, clean and cheat. Trainor himself wasn’t pleased that the players could get the ball in their hands.

It wasn’t surprising, then, that Piercy, who only recently has started believing in himself, shot a course-record 62 in the opening round. Tim Clark tied the new record in the second round. William McGirt, who tied with Robert Garrigus for second place, shot 63 in the second round. There were seven other 63s, and Garrigus shot 64 in the first and third rounds.

It didn’t take long during the week for questions to be raised about whether Hamilton, or Ancaster, as its devoted members call the course for the town in which it’s located, is still a viable course for Canada’s national championship. A similar outcry rent the normally placid air around the St. George’s Golf and Country Club when it hosted the 2010 tournament, which Carl Pettersson won with a 14-under-par total of 266. He shot 60 – repeat, 60 – in the first round when the dreaded 59 watch was on – dreaded for members anyway, who hate to see their courses desecrated.

That year Kevin Sutherland shot 62, as did Brent Delahoussaye. Members scrambled to find something out about them. Who were they to shred the sacred par of 70 to that extent? But why care about par any more? Even as august a figure as the BBC’s Peter Alliss, who knows a thing or two about golf, told David Feherty on his Golf Channel show recently that par is all but irrelevant. Let the golfers play and the one who posts the lowest score wins. So be it.

But members of courses that host big tournaments don’t want to hear that. Members of the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., are still smarting from the thrashing Rory McIlroy gave their course when he won the 2011 U.S. Open by shooting 16-under-par 268. He won by eight shots on a course that had also been softened by rain. His score set a U.S. Open record. Congressional will probably want an act of Congress to ensure that won’t happen again, should it host another U.S. Open.

As for Ancaster, there’s already talk of lengthening the course, which played a shade under 7,000 yards for the Canadian Open. The club’s chief operating officer, George Pinches, told golf writer Rick Young that there’s room and land to do that, should the PGA Tour express interest in taking the Presidents Cup to the club. But why do that, especially for an event such as the Presidents Cup, which is match-play competition?

The United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews long ago lost the battle over how far players are hitting the ball by not acting to regulate equipment, especially the ball. They effectively made par an all but meaningless figure.

Piercy shot 263 at Ancaster and he won by a shot. That’s what matters, not how many shots he was under par. Note to members of golf clubs that host PGA Tour events: Get over it when players shoot so far under it.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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