Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Night golf may be wave of future

Success of Woods’ exhibition match against Garcia has executives pondering money-making matches

August 30, 2000

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The "Battle at Bighorn" might have shed some light on the future of golf.

There was nothing at stake in Monday's prime-time exhibition match, although one wouldn't know that from watching Sergio Garcia act as if he had just won the Masters when his 10-foot birdie putt fell for a 1-up victory over Tiger Woods.

But imagine those two duking it out with a host of others right behind in the final round of The Players Championship, with nearly $1.1 in official money up for grabs on the famed Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass.

At night. Under the lights.

"Absolutely, I think it would work," said Rob Correia, senior vice president of programming for CBS Sports.

It certainly can't be dismissed after Monday night, when Woods and Garcia played the final four holes of their match with help from 186 light fixtures that generated 603,000 watts.

There's even some precedent on the PGA Tour. The final round of the 1993 Disney Classic was 36 holes because of weather problems, and Jeff Maggert finished up his first tour victory under floodlights. Even last year at Valderrama, lights were positioned on the 18th green so Woods and Miguel Angel Jimenez could complete their sudden-death playoff.

It can be done.

Musco Lighting of Iowa was in charge of lighting Bighorn for the prime-time show. That's the same company that did the unthinkable two years ago by installing lights at the Daytona International Speedway for the midsummer NASCAR races, with stock cars traveling at speeds close to 200 mph and not knowing the difference between night and day.

Purists would scream "Fore!," or something close to it. Imagine the sight of 65-foot high light poles lining the fairways of Sawgrass or Firestone or Colonial. On the other hand, what would Old Tom Morris have thought about cart paths? Or television towers?

"I would doubt it very much," said Marty Parkes of the U.S. Golf Association, when asked if the U.S. Open would ever be played in prime time. "We're pretty traditional in our approach to things. We staunchly believe it's an outdoor game, played under natural conditions. It smacks of yet another artificial device being used in the game."

Lights are artificial, just like the range-finders players are allowed to use in practice rounds to measure exact yardage. In the strictest sense, so are sprinklers, which make sure the grass is green and perfect. And lawn mowers.

Jeff Rogers, the vice president of development for Musco, said there already is talk about adding lights for a fifth hole should there be another Tiger vs. fill-in-the-blank. How long before the entire back nine is lit, followed by all 18 holes.

Besides, Musco already has installed lights at golf courses in Taiwan, China and Malaysia.

Musco spent about $250,000 on the temporary lights at Bighorn. Rogers declined to say how much it cost the company to illuminate Ta Shee Resort in Taiwan or its other courses.

Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour, said the entire course, including parking lots in grassy fields, would have to be illuminated for concessions and the safety of the spectators.

"Last night showed golf can be played at night," Hughes said. "But it's not something we're currently considering."

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