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Archive for May, 2011

NMSU’s 3rd hole – aggress or finesse?

By Mary Armstrong For the

Posted: 05/28/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT


I have a love-hate relationship with the 3rd hole at NMSU Golf Course. This leads me to believe it is a very good golf hole – at least for me. The position of the 3rd hole – after a simple opening par 4 and a relatively demanding par 3 and before a moderately long par 5 – seems perfect. The 3rd is a finesse hole – again, at least for me.
From the white and gold tees it plays between 335 and 350 yards, and is certainly quite manageable distance-wise for a lower handicap player.

From the tee, the hole doesn’t align perfectly with the middle of the
fairway. I accept this as a nuance in the design – whether it was intended that way, an error in construction or the hole was originally laid out to be straight – it really doesn’t matter and I won’t complain about it because, after all, aiming is one of the first things you are taught in golf. If you’re depending on the golf course to aim you in the correct direction, you should probably stick to driving on the highway.

So, you have to be aware that the tee aims slightly right of the center of
the fairway – almost directly at the green. This is particularly important,
because the ideal position is actually slightly left of center and you
absolutely don’t want to hit it down the right side unless you can dependably drive the ball more than 250, but less than 270 yards. Unless you’re playing during the bermudagrass growing season, I don’t think you can depend on the fast fairways for that kind of control.

The ideal tee shot is as much about length as it is direction. In part this is because the distance between two large Mulberry trees 235 yards from the tee is narrower than the width of the green.  These two trees, and a few other supporting cast members,
make for an unusually demanding tee shot. Generally, I try to hit a 200 yard drive to the left edge of the fairway. This position (M-1) puts me squarely in the middle of the corridor that gives me a shot to either side of the green. On this line, I have a distance cushion of 40 yards for my drive. Anything between 175 yards and 21 yards on the edge of the fairway will allow me to hit my approach to either side of the green. If you aren’t particularly comfortable being this precise with your tee ball, the further back (away from the green) you place your tee shot, the easier it is to maneuver your approach over or around those pesky mulberries.

The approach is a bit stressful as well because you need to carry that
yawning bunker in front of the green. Just take plenty of club and make a smooth swing. The green has a substantial pitch from back to front and some pitch to the left (away from “A” mountain). A draw hit into that green by a right hander can pitch and then roll significantly to the left, so aim a little right of the flagstick if you’re a hooker.

The average player using the gold/white tee set probably sees this hole as the most difficult at NMSU. Most of the women I play with in the Ladies Golf Association can’t drive the ball far enough to reach the green in two – even with the fast winter fairways. They also can’t get their drives far enough into the dogleg (W-1) to place their second shot on the right side of the fairway (W-2)to open up the green for their third, which also brings the “new” fairway bunker into play. Most must carry the front bunker with their third shot and hope the ball stops on the green. The average player using these tees has a slower swing speed and therefore neither the trajectory nor the spin to control their ball so effectively. Most end up in either the front bunker or over the

The PGM’er’s and other “flat bellies” just rip it over the trees to within 60 or 70 yards of the green (B-1). The “new” fairway bunker on the left is their only threat as there are only a few small trees to the right and a shot missed there will actually open up the green for the approach.

For us mortals, the third at NMSU should be played conservatively – a big number lurks in the mulberries and sand.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:


Guest commentary: The mathematics of golf

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 05/19/2011 09:33:19 PM MDT

The battle within oneself is at the heart of what makes golf so attractive to all of us.

We study the game: we memorize the rules; we take lessons, we practice, we buy

the most up to date equipment, and we read golf psychology articles and books.

In short, we look for anything that will give us the slightest edge. It is often said

that the game is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears. The

game seems so inexact, so fleeting, and yet, it can be expressed quite well using the most
precise field of study – mathematics.

Recently, while facing the most dreaded putt of all – a downhill, right
breaking, three-footer. I wondered if realizing the margin of error for a 20
footer, which I normally stroke quite nicely, would relieve some of the stress
over a three footer. When I returned home, I constructed a drawing in my AutoCAD
application. The drawing indicated a ball location “A” and the hole location – a
4.25″ diameter circle at point “B.” I estimated that a ball traveling at the
ideal speed with its equator no less than an inch inside the edge of the hole
would fall into the cup. Therefore, I “shrunk” the cup (or target circle) by an
inch in diameter and projected a line from point “A” tangent with the circle.
Consequently, at three feet, there is a margin of error of only 3.875 inches.
This translates into an angle of deviation of just under three degrees, which
converts to a margin of error of 26 inches (13 inches left or right) on a 20

Whether this makes you feel better or worse about three footers is probably an
individual thing. We often exaggerate facts in our minds and it sometimes helps
us to objectively look at the problem. Math certainly takes speculation and
indecision out of the picture, so I began exploring the math of golf.

Dr. Douglas N. Arnold, the McKnight Presidential Professor of Mathematics at
the University of Minnesota, has devoted quite a lot of time to the mathematical
study of golf. Dr. Arnold has a strong interest in in the public understanding
of the role of mathematics in everyday life. About a year ago he made a
presentation at Portland State University entitled “Mathematics that Swings: The
Math Behind Golf.” Although Dr. Arnold is not a golfer, he is apparently very
interested in the sport, so much so that he indicated it would be possible to
teach a full mathematics class on it.

In Dr. Arnold’s presentation (which you can view on YouTube), he discusses
many mathematical aspects of the game including ball flight, but my favorite
subject was the swing. It is a commonly-held opinion that clubhead speed is the
key to distance in a golf shot. While this is true, you may not be aware of the
mathematical principles involved in achieving the greatest swing speed.

I have always understood that the wider the arc of the clubhead the faster it
travels. This is mathematically proven, but that isn’t the most important factor
in achieving the fastest swing. Dr. Arnold explains that the golf swing is
actually a double pendulum with fulcrums at the shoulders and the hands. To
demonstrate the significant effect a pendulum can have think about a trebuchet
or a whip. A trebuchet is a double pendulum similar to a golf swing. Also known
as a siege engine, it was often used in medieval times to cast a projectile
great distances. However, the most dramatic demonstration of the power of
pendulums and one more familiar to us here in the southwest is the whip. The
whip is a multiple pendulum, and its action is easily modeled mathematically. As
we know, if you get the motion just right it is possible to make the whip
“crack”. This cracking noise is actually the sound of the whip tip breaking the
sound barrier. So you can see that pendulums transfer and multiply energy very

So, when you hear Gary McCord talk about the tremendous “lag” in so and so
pro’s swing this is the energy engine for the swing. The “delayed hit” as it is
also called, is the lower pendulum “whipping” from the upper pendulum and
therefore multiplying the energy using our body and the golf club. This isn’t
the only factor in determining swing speed, but it does appear to me to be the
most critical one. I, of course, had no clue that these mathematical factors
were at work when I was a teenager. Back then, my father wanted my brother and I
to cut the weeds in the ditch in front of our rural home. He would tell us that
cutting the weeds with a manual “weed whip” would increase our tee shot
distance. Weed Whips had about a 12 inch double sided cutting edge attached to a
handle about 45 inches long. We quickly learned that the only way to get the
blade through the lush, thick grass was with the fastest swing we could muster.
Through trial and error, we developed a good “delayed hit” technique and
probably maximized our swing speed and distance. I doubt my father knew the
mathematics behind his prediction, but he certainly knew how to get the weeds in
the ditch cut.

Note: Thanks to Mike Kirkpatrick, superintendent at Sonoma Ranch and Bruce
Erhard, retired superintendent for assisting me with the article last week on
warm and cool season grasses.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her
craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf
Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction
monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and
view past articles at her blog:

Guest commentary: Warm versus cool – which do you prefer?

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 05/13/2011 01:28:18 PM MDT

We are fortunate here in Las Cruces to have golf courses that have cool season
grasses and golf courses that have warm season grasses. If you haven’t noticed,
NMSU and Las Cruces Country Club have predominantly warm season grasses (cool
season greens), while Picacho Hills, Sonoma (except much of their roughs which
are a warm season native grass) and the new Las Cruces Course have cool season
grasses. You might notice that the two oldest courses in town have predominantly
warm season grasses, while the newest courses have cool season.

First let’s explore the differences between grasses. What does warm season
and cool season grass really mean? Well, they really are literally defined. A
warm season grass is one that thrives in the summer heat. In our area, they
begin to green up in April or May, but don’t really begin to show much growth
until we get into the heat of June. Throughout the summer, bermudagrass fairways
offer perhaps the best ball-striking surface I’ve ever experienced. In our
cooler months, bermudagrass and most other warm season grasses become dormant,
thus the straw color. Mostly we see bermudagrass – common bermudagrass and
cultivars. There are some courses in other locations that use zoysia for
fairways, and we are seeing a greater use of native grasses such as buffalograss
in roughs.

On the other hand, cool season grasses don’t tolerate extreme heat or cold
well and their vigorous growth periods are typically in our “shoulder” seasons –
spring and fall into early winter. Cool season grasses really don’t ever become fully dormant in
our climate or if they do it is very brief. They do take some pretty hard hits
from frost and traffic on turf that frost on it. Some cool season grasses that
are used on golf courses in the area are bentgrasses on all greens in the area
and bluegrass, ryegrass and some fescues on all other areas of courses – often
in custom mixes. Agronomically speaking, cool season grasses generally germinate
quickly and warm season grasses are a little slower and therefore slightly more
difficult to establish. Both warm and cool season grasses are subject to insect
pests and disease although cool season grasses usually require slightly more
intensive management.

Aesthetically, I believe cool season grasses have it over warm season grasses
– no contest – especially when the large number of cool season species and
cultivars are selected for their vivid contrasts in color and texture. Since
bermudagrass and its comparatively small number of cultivars are basically the
only choices for warm season applications, the range of color and texture
choices is small. If there is a golf aesthetic that I miss from back-east it’s
the sublime contrast of a fine bentgrass fairway against the dark green of a
bluegrass – ryegrass rough.

Water usage is often identified as a key reason to select warm season grasses
– especially in our locale. While it is true that bermudagrass is more drought
tolerant than many cool season grasses, there are cool season grasses available
for selection that have some drought resistance. Drought tolerance is determined
by the ability of the plant to resume growth after water has been completely
withheld for a given period. Bermudagrass can go without water for a period of
time and then become revitalized when irrigation is resumed. Very few if any
cool season grasses can do this. Ordinarily a cool season grass that is without
water for more than a week during the summer will be dead. This makes cool
season grasses more susceptible to catastrophic failure – when your favorite
course becomes toast!

Bermudagrass also has it over most cool season grasses in water usage. It is
dormant for five or more months of the year and requires little or no water
during that time. Cool season grasses have a shorter dormancy period locally,
but the real kicker is that on any given day, cool season grasses require 30 to
50 percent more water. So it seems that for our area, warm season grasses would
be the turf of choice. Not so fast bucko; the problem with bermudagrass is that
when it is dormant its playing characteristics diminish and much of the
aesthetic attraction typical of a golf course is lost. Why else would courses
overseed into dormant bermudagrass? This is especially true of courses that hope
to attract golfers from the north in the winter. The snowbirds thirst for their
golf fix and a straw colored canvas with seemingly “dead” turf isn’t going to
quench that thirst.

So, is overseeding into dormant bermudagrass the answer? It may seem so, but
overseeding is expensive – as much as 50,000 – 100,000 dollars for the fairways
of a typical 18 hole course. This of course means water usage will go up
significantly since the ryegrass or Poa trivialis that is often used requires
irrigation – as any actively growing grass would. Then there is the problem of
getting rid of the overseeded grass once the summer arrives. Contrary to popular
belief, overseeded grasses don’t simply “die-out” when the bermudagrass starts
growing. In places where warm season grasses are weak – areas of shade or heavy
traffic – the ryegrass will persist. If you look at any course that has
bermudagrass in our area, you will see areas of green grass throughout the
winter each year. Bermudagrass doesn’t do well in these areas and so the
ryegrass has persisted and further weakened the bermudagrass. What’s more,
continuous annual overseeding (at least in our area) weakens the bermudagrass
stand because the rye “holds on” long enough to reduce the already short three
to four month bermudagrass active growing season. For those courses that insist
on overseeding, a chemical eradication of the overseeded species is necessary at
a cost of between $5,000 and $10,000.

Taking note that the newer courses in our area are all cool season grasses
would seem to suggest that the selection of warm season turf is outdated. This
isn’t necessarily the case. Because we are in the transition zone, there are
some years that cool season grasses perform best and other years that warm
season grasses do better. Then there are those seasons where both can do well
and the very worst of years where both are a challenge to maintain. You might
also note that just a little further south in El Paso, nearly all courses have
bermudagrass, whereas a little further north cool season grasses are clearly the
choice. Our “normal” year probably favors cool season grasses, especially with
an adequately designed irrigation system and water supply. But it’s a
complicated problem. Let’s hope the future holds breeding and selection that
makes warms season grasses more attractive and cool season grasses requiring
less water.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her
craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf
Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction
monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and
view past articles at her blog:

Las Cruces on par with Dallas

By Mary Armstrong / For the Sun-News
Posted: 04/29/2011 10:21:08 AM MDT


In 1964, the LPGA featured events titled Peach Blossom Invitational, Squirt Ladies’ Open Invitational (there’s an oxymoron for you), the Lady Carling Open, and Cosmopolitan Women’s Open. Of the 32 events that year, at least four were hosted by members of the tour and the tournaments bore their names. That year, the tournaments were played in places like Dallas, Santa Barbara, Baton Rouge and none other than Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The first annual Las Cruces Ladies Open (LCLO) was played from October 30th to November 1st, in that year. Thirty touring LPGA pros came to ‘Cruces to compete for the $8,500 purse and the $1,000 pro-am prelude. You could have seen all four days for six bucks and entered the pro-am for $25. And this wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill tournament either. Tournament Director Ernie Williams and the consortium of companies that comprise the sponsor Las Cruces Golf, Inc. attracted the major stars of the day.

Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Haynie, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs, Althea Gibson, Marlene Hagge, Betsy Rawls Clifford Ann Creed, Carol Mann, Marilyn Smith and Sandra Palmer were among the thirty “pro-ettes” as the Sun-News referred to the female contestants. The 54-hole tournament was played over the (at the time) 6,340-yard par 72 Las Cruces Country Club. There were many complements by the women for the course conditions and the greens were especially noted as being the smoothest they had played in sometime.

Sandra Haynie won the ’64 event with two under-par rounds followed by a third that featured her birdieing four of the last five holes including a six-foot putt on the 18th. Haynie was pressured by Betsy Rawls who started the final round four shots behind. Rawls picked up two shots on the front with a nifty 34, and then birdied 11 and 12 to pull even with Haynie. According to the Sun-News, the diminutive Haynie’s long, effortless drives and hot putter kicked in and she won going away by two stroke with her barrage of closing birdies.

The Sun News Sports page had at least one article on the tournament beginning the Monday before the tournament and following through (there was no Saturday edition in those days) to the concluding article in the Monday evening paper on November 2. There was no estimate of the gallery, but the scene described by then LCSN sports scribe Abe Perilman, leads one to believe it was a popular event. It was apparently so popular that tournament sponsor, Las Cruces Golf, Inc., was able to bump up the purse to $11,500 in 1965. This put the event above the average in tour purses that year.

Although I couldn’t find a specific article about Las Cruces Golf, Inc., there was an advertisement in the Sun News that year that detailed all the “Executives” and “Sponsors”. Among the “Executive” companies that are still in the area today were Alameda Laundry and Cleaners, American Linen Supply, Boney Moore Insurance Agency, Burn Construction Co., Carlos Blanco, Inc.,T.K. Campbell, China Temple Restaurant, Desert Motor Co., El Paso Electric, Emerick Home Builders, Farm Bureau Insurance Co., First National Bank, Ikards, Las Cruces Coca Cola Bottling, Co., Las Cruces Country Club, Mesilla Valley Chamber of Commerce, Pat Campbell Insurance Co., Pic Quik Stores, Ramada Inn, J.B. Ritter Distributing Co., Southwest Distributing Co.,

As the field of 29 pros and 3 amateurs prepared to tee off on Friday the 29th of October for the ’65 edition of the LCLO, the tone of the Sun News articles was just as exciting and interesting. Perhaps the most interesting was a lengthy article by Sun News writer Countess Jones. The nearly two full column story detailed life on tour, tidbits about various players and that of’ asked question – “Do blondes have more fun?”, which of course was becoming cliché due to the Clairol commercial.

Clifford Ann Creed, of Alexandria, Louisiana held on to win the ’65 tournament stumbling home with a triple bogey on 10 and a final 40 on the back nine for a 18 hole total of 76. The brunette turned blonde apparently had a strong lead on the field after two rounds. Donna Caponi, a rookie on tour in ’65, placed second, two shots behind Creed. Whitworth was third.

The ’66 LCLO seemed to get even more press, especially leading into the tournament. The Sunday paper preceding the tournament featured another well written article by Ms. Jones, which primed fans’ appetite for the coming “pro-ettes”. By now the Las Cruces Country Club’s fairways were lusher and the course played more difficult than in the first two years. LCCC pro Iverson Martin pronounced the conditions for the ’66 edition as “excellent”. After the first two rounds, Kathy Whitworth led the pack of 40 tour players in pursuit of the $11,500 purse. Fittingly, Whitworth came through in the final 18, shooting a final 74 for a 54-hole total of 214. The LCLO only lasted three years, but they must have been glorious years for the LPGA tour and for the City of Las Cruces.

Although I could not find a reason for the tournaments demise, it was interesting that Kathy Whitworth, formerly of Jal, New Mexico, moved to San Antonio, TX in 1965. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the Alamo Ladies Open was moved into the LCLO spot for 1967. And finally, I’m feeling rather fortunate now that I didn’t turn pro out of high school, as I don’t think the term pro-ette fits me well. The LCLO, like me, just faded off into the setting New Mexico sun.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: