LAKE MANASSAS, Va. -- It's immediately apparent that the grand and regal ambition behind the concept of staging a golf tournament with a special identity, known as the Presidents Cup, is designed to separate it from the rest of the pack.
This is not the Phoenix Open, the Federal Express St. Jude Classic or any of the other myriad of regular PGA Tour stops played almost weekly across the face of America's golf landscape. If that was the idea, to just be another event, the staging area would not be the prestigious Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.
Having the equivalent of two all-star teams, one from the United States, the other a lineup of foreign-born players, reaches out and captures the attention. So does the green physical setting and the ceremonial aspects attached to this impressive gathering.
Former President Gerald Ford is present as the honorary chairman and so are ambassadors from Australia, Fiji, Zimbabwe and Barbados, plus varied chiefs of the diplomatic corps. The golfers are fitted in attractive uniforms as if they are involved in some type of Olympic competition.
The crowd has intimate knowledge of golf because most of the spectators play at other venues, but nothing remotely associated with the skilled competence of Nick Price, Fred Couples, David Frost, Corey Pavin, Vijay Singh and the other members of the U.S. and International squads.
This just may be hailed, come Sunday night, as the best inaugural tournament of any in the history of golf -- which is covering enormous territory. The preparation hasn't wanted for an enormous expenditure on the part of the host club and, before play even starts, a profit is assured from ticket sales.
Golfers, instead of pocketing prize money, will take what they win here and earmark it for contributions to charities of their choice. Their expenses are paid but whatever they earn goes to causes they personally want to help.
Ford said from his own experience professional golfers "represent outstanding skills, but they are at their best in demeanor and are wonderful representatives of professional sports."
If there's a problem it won't be found in the match-play format, similar to the Ryder Cup, which has annoyed some historians of the game. They see it as close to a duplicate copy of the Ryder but, have no fear, the Presidents Cup isn't guilty of plagiarism.
From the standpoint of public acceptability, here's one voice from off the fairway that hopes it won't evolve into the exhibition of "ugly American" nationalism that has lately prevailed at the Ryder Cup.
It's not whether the U.S. or International team wins -- that's
absolutely beside the point. What is important and at the same time offers an irresistible urge is to see golfers making stupendous shots and performing at their best.
Some of the wives of the U.S. team members are carrying American flags, as if they want to turn the function into an "us vs. them" confrontation. Too bad. Golf should never be a game that is used as a platform for creating any kind of hostility or animosity. The golfers are guests, not an invasion force, and deserve to be treated as any of us would like to be greeted while visiting another country.
When Nick Price, the No. 1 golfer in the world, was asked to voice his sentiments on the matter, he answered, "I don't want it to be a war. I think it's going to be played in the spirit of the game. I haven't felt a Ryder Cup atmosphere here and I don't hope to feel any."
Well said. Hale Irwin, U.S. captain, expressed similar sentiments but gave the impression he likes home country fervor and support.
"If it happens you can't tell it to go away," said Irwin. "We get it over there [meaning in foreign lands]. I hope it wouldn't occur. The true desire is to come out to see good golf."
That should be the only reason for being in the gallery. Patriotism is to be hailed, the flag saluted and respected but not to be used to rally one golfer against another.
This isn't Bull Run, Bunker Hill or the Battle of Trenton. Golf balls, not bullets, are being fired. Hopefully, it will be viewed in that perspective.
K? A golf tournament shouldn't be an occasion for flag waving.
Where: Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Lake Manassas, Va.
When: Today through Sunday.
Competition: Two 12-man teams, one representing the United States and one an International side made up of players from countries not eligible for the Ryder Cup.
Format: This morning and tomorrow morning, five four-ball (better-ball) matches; this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon, five foursomes (each side plays one ball, alternate shot). One point for each match. Sunday, 12 singles, each played to a conclusion. In the event of a tie, one player from each side will play sudden-death.
TV: Today, ESPN 8 a.m.-noon; 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Tomorrow-Sunday, CBS (Channel 9). No Baltimore TV.
Tickets: Not available.
This morning's pairings: 7:50 a.m. -- Steve Elkington-Vijay Singh (I) vs. Corey Pavin-Jeff Maggert; 8:00 -- Fulton Allem-David Frost (I) vs. Jay Haas-Scott Hoch; 8:10 -- Nick Price-Bradley Hughes (I) vs. Davis Love III-Fred Couples; 8:20 -- Craig Parry-Robert Allenby (I) vs. John Huston-Jim Gallagher Jr.; 8:30 -- Frank Nobilo-Peter Senior (I) vs. Tom Lehman-Phil Mickelson. Tsukasa Watanabe and Mark McNulty will sit out for the International team; Hale Irwin and Loren Roberts will sit out for the U.S. team.