Thursday, June 07, 2001

Big-time tournaments just around the Bend?

Palmer course carries prestige

        Heretofore, Cincinnati's greatest contribution to championship golf has been the tailoring work on the Masters green jackets. Henceforth, it should be the Tournament Players Club at River's Bend.

        Arnold Palmer's new course fills a lasting void on the local sporting scene. It gives the town a tournament site both worthy and welcoming of the game's finest players. It affords all of us good grounds to get greedy.

        For the first time in, well, forever, Cincinnati can reasonably aspire to compete for major championships, because it finally has a suitable place to stage them. With all due respect for the Jack Nicklaus Golf Center, no local course has had the cachet, the infrastructure and the motivated membership necessary to land landmark tournaments.

Arnold Palmer came to his new course, the Tournament Players Club at River's Bend, Wednesday but coulnd't play because of rain.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        The U.S. Open dates to 1895 but has never been held in Cincinnati. The PGA Championship has been played 10 times in Ohio but no nearer than Dayton. Some of the local golf clubs that were of sufficient quality to compete for national tournaments lacked suffi cient interest.

        River's Bend, by contrast, was built with tournaments in mind, with spectator mounds for enhanced viewing and enough acreage to absorb crowds of 40,000. This is the kind of course that can presume to pursue some of golf's elite events: the Open, the PGA, the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Amateur.

        “No question about it,” Palmer said Wednesday morning. “Absolutely. ... It lends itself.”

        “This is a great golf course,” said former LPGA Commissioner Charlie Mechem. “I wouldn't say that if I didn't mean it.”

        River's Bend will get Cincinnati's Senior Tour stop beginning in 2002. If it wants more, the road is long, but it's not impassable.

        “You have to have somebody who's willing to stick with it and a facility that's willing to stick with it,” Burch Riber said Wednesday, “and there's nothing more (petulant) than country club politics.”

        Riber, who has chaired PGA, LPGA and Senior tournaments in Cincinnati, briefly chased a bigger prize. In the mid-1970s, golf enthusiast Fred Ritter enlisted Riber in an effort to bring the U.S. Open to Coldstream Country Club.

        “In those days,” Riber recalled, “Coldstream was ranked in the top 50 (nationally). I explained that there was a certain process you had to go through and you had to pay your dues. You had to hold some other tournaments and you had to get in line. I told him it was a long, arduous process.”

        When Ritter died, Jan.2, 1976, the idea died with him. Had he lived, however, Coldstream still would have been a long shot. Since 1972, the U.S. Open has been played only once at a club that has not previously hosted the tournament, at Pinehurst in 1999.

        The PGA has been more receptive to newer courses, but it also has a vested interest in Valhalla, the Louisville course designed by Jack Nicklaus. It's unlikely that the PGA Championship would be awarded to a Tour-owned course in such close proximity to a PGA property.

        “If I was going to do it, I'd go after a Ryder Cup,” Riber said. “The politics are different, and Arnold's influence would probably be greater.”

        Works for me.

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