Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 22nd May 2002

Regular readers will recall how I shared with you the first foray that my wife and I and two friends made onto the brand new “Montgomerie” course. It was a humbling experience for us all. Well I am pleased to report that, like golfers through the ages, we returned recently confident that our first attempt was an aberration and that the next time it would be a whole lot better. Well so it proved. We all played far more respectably and even I had a reasonable round in prospect as I strode confidently to the 18th tee. Three balls in the water later I had to settle for a rather more modest card! This experience set me thinking about opening and closing holes on our Dubai courses.

I don’t really know how course designers work but you can certainly sometimes see a rather sadistic intent in what they do at the 1st or at the 18th. The opening hole of any course is always the most nervous\and the start that you make sets the tone for the round. A par will clam the nerves and get you going in a positive frame of mind. Blow it and all the nagging fears that come with the game may bubble to the surface. So what does the designer try to do when he lays out the 1st? At the “Monty” it is a fairly kindly hole. A very wide fairway to aim for. No nasty hazards in view and not too long for a par four either. What about the “Majlis” down the rood? Again a fair start is in prospect. No real horrors off the tee and even if you are a bit wayward you will probably not be too heavily penalised. The green is ringed with bunkers but it is not a hole to give you too many nightmares. The same at Creek and Nad Al Sheba where the opening Par fours are not too mean. Surprisingly it is at the otherwise fair Jebel Ali course that the 1st is a bit of a nasty surprise. It’s a Par five and a long one with a final carry over water. I cannot recall having ever played the hole well and so my Jebel Ali rounds have never got off to a good start. I hope that when Jebel Ali gets another nine holes that they will make the current 1st the tenth and create a fairer opening hole.

Now although I don’t like Jebel Ali’s opener, I do find their final hole an ideal finishing hole. Again it is a Par 5 but although you need to play straight to avoid trouble it seems a decent way to finish the round – and a very beautiful one as well (the line to the green is the million dollar yachts in the Marina!). But my adventures at the Montgomerie indicate that their 18th is much less benign! Also a Par five the tee seems to have water in every direction and you play onto an island. Thereafter it’s not too bad – but what an intimidating tee shot. Many a round is going to come to grief at the “Monty’s” final hole! As it does at Nad Al Sheba. Once again we have a long Par five 18th with a carry over water to the green. To me it’s a reasonably fair hole and I have parred it from time to time. But for the ladies it is much more of a challenge. I know quite low handicap ladies who find the final shot to the green over water virtually impossible unless they are very close to the water’s edge for their shot. I don’t think that Nad’s course designers were very charitable to the fairer sex when they designed this final hole. But the really great 18th to me is at the Majlis at Emirates. We saw at the 2001 Desert Classic how it can catch out even the great Tiger Woods. And a few years earlier the same thing happened memorably to Ian Woosnam when he took on the water, and lost. But there is nothing unfair about this closing hole for the pros and the high handicappers alike have the option to play it conservatively if they want to.

So to me the ideal solution is a not too demanding Par 4 to open the round and a fair test at the closing hole. Maybe next time I play the “Monty” I’ll conquer my nerves at the 18th and triumph. Next time it will be better – the cry of every golfer!

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 16th May 2002

I try to get to one Formula One event a year, and this year, as luck would have it I was invited to go to the Austrian Grand Prix – quite one of the loveliest locations for a circuit . It is apparent that Ferrari has a huge advantage this year and that they should be able to win the Drivers’ and the Constructors’ championships comfortably – unless the other teams make rapid progress to catch up (which looks unlikely). As guests of Ferrari’s sponsors we were able to see very close at hand what the main reasons for the team’s current superiority are. Over the past few years Ferrari technicians have been designing and making a new gearbox for the car – in conditions of great secrecy. This gearbox is now part of the 2002 model, and it seems to be working well. The really clever thing is that the gearbox is quite a bit smaller than the previous model (and smaller than the boxes in the other teams). This has allowed modifications to be made to the overall car design and, crucially, it has allowed the car to be more aerodynamically efficient.

In Formula One it is the hundredths of a second that make the difference - tiny changes to one part of the set up of the car can give performance advantages. Another area where Ferrari has recently got an advantage is with the fuel. The team’s fuel supplier, Shell, has been working hard to achieve some horsepower advantage from reformulating the fuel mix. This is no easy task as there are very tight specifications applying to the fuel formulation. Nevertheless, and entirely within the rules, Shell has achieved a breakthrough which gives a discernable advantage.

The supremely technically able Ferrari organisation also has the best funded operation in the sport. This not only enables them to push the design limits (as the gearbox story shows) but also, of course, to hire the best drivers. Michael Schumacher is head and shoulders above the rest in 2002. And the week before the Austrian Grand Prix, Ferrari announced that the number two driver in the team, Rubens Barrichello, had signed a new two year contract and this was well received by the Ferrari fans and team members alike. Rubens is a fine driver, a likeable man, and a good team player.

The above is by way of background to show that Ferrari’s advantages are considerable and the results of the Grand Prix so far this year have demonstrated this beyond any doubt. Whilst nothing in this sport is wholly predictable it was clear Schumacher was likely to be able to win the championship for a record equalling fifth time without too much trouble.

On the Saturday of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend I was with the other sponsors’ guests who met with Rubens Barrichello shortly after he secured pole position. He had a big wide smile on his face and he was warmly received by all of us. The Ferrari host said how pleased that they all were that Rubens had signed for another two years and also said how appropriate it was that he was on pole position. So although Michael Schumacher was only on the second row of the grid, another good day for the team was in prospect.

On the Sunday all went according to plan. Both Rubens and Michael made good starts and the race soon settled into another Ferrari field day. Despite the safety car having to appear twice, nothing was going to interfere with the expected victory. Rubens drove beautifully and the pit crew supported him with their usual efficiency. Michael was also driving well, but it was clear that barring accidents he was going to have to settle for second place.

What happened just before the end of the race was an absolute disgrace. It was not just the neutrals who were offended by Ferrari’s cynical tactics. Indeed the loudest protest came from the grandstand where most of the flags were red. And in the Ferrari sponsors area (from which I watched the race) the main colour was red as well. Red faced with near rage from those (like me) who found the decision to hand the race to Schumacher indefensible. And red faced with embarrassment from the Ferrari hosts who could see the trouble the decision had caused, and realised that this was one cynical and unsporting action too far. We have not heard the end of this whole affair by a very long way!