Dave Thomas, the British golf course designer, was holding court
last Friday afternoon in room 500 of the De Vere Belfry hotel
when he was asked if he would ever design a par-4 like the
311-yard 10th on the Belfry's Brabazon course, where most players
at the Ryder Cup were laying up with a seven-iron off the tee.
"Absolutely not," he said, looking aghast. "You'd be laughed out
of the design profession."
This is an article from the Oct. 7, 2002 issue
If Thomas seemed eager to state his position, it was
understandable. The 10th at the Belfry is, in fact, his
creation: He co-designed it in the late 1970s with British
golfer and TV commentator Peter Alliss and later renovated it by
himself. Then again, it isn't his creation--not the way the hole
played on the first day of the match, when golfer after golfer
produced yawns by laying up short of the pond guarding the
boomerang-shaped green. "It's not how I designed it," Thomas
explained, smiling to show that he understands how these things
He was too much of a gentleman to say what many players and most
spectators were saying: that the 10th--the signature hole of the
Belfry and a fan favorite through three Ryder Cups--had been set
up improperly this time to serve the strategic interests of
European captain Sam Torrance. "The hole is worse now," said U.S.
team member Mark Calcavecchia.
Specifically, the tee markers on 10, which are usually set
forward and to the left to encourage long hitters to try for the
green, had been pulled back and moved closer to the tree line.
That left a cluster of tall trees blocking the narrow opening to
the green. "It was the perfect match-play hole, but that's not
going to be the case this year," lamented Tiger Woods.
Torrance, when told that the Americans were united in their
opinion that the tee markers should not be moved, nodded like the
reasonable man he is. "Good," he said.
It is the host captain's prerogative--some would say his
duty--to set up the course to negate the perceived strengths of
his opponents. At the Belfry, Torrance pinched in the fairways
at about 280 to 290 yards, taking the driver out of the hands of
power players like Woods, David Duval, Davis Love III and Phil
Mickelson. By choosing the back tee location on the 10th, he
effectively changed the hole from a drivable par-4 (advantage
U.S.) into a pitch-and-putt par-3 (advantage Europe). "If you
force Tiger to hit the same distance as everybody else," Paul
Azinger explained, "then you've Tiger-proofed it."
You've also drama-proofed it. On Friday 15 of the 16 players in
the morning four-balls and all eight teams in the afternoon
foursomes hit short irons from the 10th tee--the sorriest waste of
talent in Cup annals. The lone exception was the irrepressible
Spaniard, Sergio Garcia. Pulling out his driver on the 10th tee
in the morning, he sniffed the headcover, as if testing for
ripeness. He then yanked the headcover off, teed up and lashed a
long, high fade toward the opening. His ball clipped some
branches coming down and landed in the muddy water, to a
Euro-moan of despair.
Back in room 500 Thomas watched the television and sipped a glass
of red wine. "We always considered the 10th to be a match-play
hole," he said. "You wouldn't mess around with it in stroke play,
because you could easily make a 10."
The original course plan called for a much longer par-4 with a
tee box situated close to the clubhouse. When Thomas and Alliss
were asked to make room for a large putting green and some
landscaping, they pushed the championship tee forward. When
built, the hole called for a three-iron or four-iron tee shot to
lay up short of the water, followed by a delicate wedge shot to
the green. But Thomas, a two-time British Open runner-up and one
of Europe's longest hitters, was never very good with a wedge.
When the Belfry hosted a press day in 1977 to celebrate the
opening of the Brabazon course, he bombed a driver straight at
the hole, a blind shot of about 280 yards. "It rattled around in
the trees and dropped onto the green," he recalled, "but it
wasn't official in the way that Seve did it in the Hennessey."
That, of course, would be Seve Ballesteros, who drove the 10th in
the 1978 Hennessey Cup. It was Ballesteros again, in the '89
Ryder Cup, who showed what a bold player could do with the hole.
He crushed a drive straight onto the green and putted in for
eagle, thrilling the spectators and inspiring others to duplicate
This year, alas, Torrance decided to be a killjoy. "Technology
has taken over the hole," he said last week, "and that's why
we're off the back tee." He made his decision, he said, when he
saw players at this year's Benson & Hedges International Open
reach the 10th green with three-irons in favorable conditions.
"Who wants to play a par-4 with a three-iron?" Torrance asked.
It was a fair question, but critics answered it with a question
of their own: Why hadn't the Europeans built a new back tee, 10
yards to the left, to preserve the hole's character? Thomas
confirmed that a circular hedge with flowers behind the forward
tee could have been leveled and a new tee built there. "That
would be the way to do it," he said. "It would open up the view
and let them have a go at it with the driver."
Torrance chose a simpler expedient: to dumb down the hole. It was
not a popular move. "I always felt like number 10 was the
greatest match-play hole I've ever seen," said Azinger. "There's
tons of drama if guys can crank a three-wood or a long iron onto
that green." There is considerably less drama if most of the pros
reach for their seven-irons.
"It would be the stupidest shot in the world for me to try to hit
it onto that green," David Toms said on Friday. Woods vowed that
he wouldn't try. "I can hit three-wood and get there," Woods
said, "but the problem is, I have to come through the trees."
True to his word, Woods hit all of his tee shots on 10 with a
It came as a shock, then, that Duval broke ranks with his
teammates in the Saturday afternoon better-ball matches. Two down
at the turn and with his partner, Calcavecchia, safely in the
fairway, Duval pulled his driver and smacked a high fade that
plummeted through the treetops and settled on the back-right
fringe of the green. Immediately the atmosphere turned electric
as thousands of spectators clamored for Europe's Jesper Parnevik
to answer the challenge. Parnevik tried. His drive, a low cut
that banked toward the flag like a fighter jet, looked
magnificent, and there was a roar when it found land ... and a
groan as it kicked left into the water. Duval eventually won the
hole with a two-putt birdie, and he and Calcavecchia went on to
win the match.
Minutes later it was Garcia's turn again. This time he bombed a
high fade at the treetops. The ball crashed through the branches,
dropped just beyond the water...and stayed up, 45 feet below
the hole. A jubilant Garcia persuaded his partner, Lee Westwood,
to also give it a go. Westwood, his eyes darting like those of a
schoolboy about to pull a prank, hit a brilliant shot, the ball
curving just outside the tree limbs and landing 25 feet behind
the hole. Garcia leaped into Westwood's arms while the U.S. team
of Woods and Love looked on, expressionless. Both Americans hit
irons to the fairway. They wound up losing the hole--but not the
match--to the ballsier Europeans.
Sadly, that was the last of the excitement at 10. Garcia was the
only player to go for the green in Sunday's singles. He cleared
the water but fluffed a difficult chip from the right side and
lost the hole to Toms's birdie. Torrance, meanwhile, listened for
roars from the 10th and, hearing nothing, smiled. The Europeans
were a collective 5 up on the hole over three days, vindicating
his strategy. Woods never won the hole.
In room 500 Dave Thomas sat in a chair beside his unmade bed, not
entirely mollified by the sweet smell of European victory wafting
through the open patio door. "I was disappointed that more
players didn't go for it on number 10," he said. "The spectators
felt cheated." Did that mean he would try to get the hole changed
for future Ryder Cups? He nodded. "Of course," he pointed out,
"we're not likely to have another Ryder Cup here for 25 years."
Read John Garrity's Mats Only column at golfonline.com.
back, Sam Torrance said, "Good."