Cog Hill critics could have lasting impact
LEMONT, Ill. -- We like players to be honest, so those who have been outspoken about the Rees Jones redesign of Cog Hill should not be criticized for their criticism.
Golfers typically have their gripes about course design and course setup, and it varies from place to place. But since the longtime home of the BMW Championship (formerly Western Open) underwent a renovation in 2008, the comments have been harsh, leading many to wonder if the tournament will ever be back at this venue.
And in being so vocal, the players might be hurting the very place for which they otherwise hold so much regard.
Steve Stricker is not one to complain very often, and his opinion comes with a lot of weight.
But he clearly is not happy with the changes made by Jones, going so far as to express his sympathy for the Jemsek family that owns the four-course public complex in suburban Chicago.
"You know, it's just too bad," Stricker said. "I mean, they need to get their money back, I guess. It's too bad what happened here."
The problem with such comments, of course, is that they are likely to scare away the paying public. One of the reasons a golf course or club is interested in hosting such events is to call attention to their layouts. It helps drive business, whether it be daily fee players or those who might purchase memberships.
It's a long-held truth that the average golfer very much enjoys the challenge of playing the same courses where the pros play. But do they want to shell out in excess of $150 when they read or hear comments such as this:
"I've got to believe for the average golfer, it is very difficult," said Stricker, who felt sorry for his pro-am partners on Wednesday. "They're playing from way up [tees], and they're just living in those bunkers. It's almost too severe in spots."
Nobody seems to have an issue with the layout or its conditioning, which came under some scrutiny last year due to weather conditions. Stricker said the main problem is the greens, specifically their contour and how it is difficult to hit approach shots close.
Then, forced to play to the middle of the green because you can't hold it close to the pin, Stricker said you are then faced with "an up-the-hill, over-the-hill, down-to-a-pin location. And every green seems to have that, or a lot of greens seem to have that."
Phil Mickelson was equally critical.
"A great golf course is a golf course that's challenging for the good player but playable for the average player," he said. "And I feel like this is the exact opposite. It's playable; it's fine for us. We don't have any problems with it. But the average guy just can't play it."
Mickelson has been a harsh critic of the redesign -- he's generally looked unfavorably on Jones' work -- and didn't shy away from the comments again this week.
"We all feel like the Jemsek family has done a lot for the game of golf, and this facility here provides great public golf for all players," Mickelson said. "I know we all wish that it had turned out differently. But there were a lot of other guys to choose from that probably could do the job, and maybe if they just start over, it could turn into something really special."
Start over? They spent $5 million in design and restoration fees, namely in hopes of landing a future U.S. Open. The 2017 Open, instead, went up the road to Erin Hills near Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, Cog Hill is in danger of being left altogether by the BMW Championship, which next year goes to Crooked Stick in Indianapolis and whose Chicago future is uncertain.
Rumblings have the tournament moving to another Chicago location in 2013. It is already scheduled to be played in Denver in 2014.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.