Road Hole Shorts

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Archive for June, 2011

Guest commentary: US Open Conditions – what does it take?

By Mary Armstrong/For the
Sun-News Posted: 06/16/2011 08:14:53 PM MDT
If you’re watching the U.S. Open on television you may have heard about how Congressional Country Club was surgically renewed and then manicured and pampered into the stage for America’s greatest golf championship.The course was originally designed by Devereux Emmett, but there’s little about this course that resembles any of the layouts that I’ve seen by Emmett – and I’ve seen plenty.

Not long after the course opened in the 1920’s, the layout was tinkered with by Donald Ross before the depression years took its toll and the Club was desperately hung on until World War II. The war brought an offer from the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) to lease the property as a training ground. The $4,000 monthly rent and lack of any operating expenses put the Club back on its feet then it resumed operation amongst barbed wire and bomb craters after the war.

In the 1950’s Robert Trent Jones re-designed the back nine and later the
front nine. In the process, he established Congressional’s infamous 18th hole – a par 3 over the lake to a green next to the Clubhouse. The overhaul led to several impressive tournaments, including the ’64 U.S. Open, but the USGA didn’t like the par-3 finish. Instead, for the ’64 Open and other tournaments to follow, they borrowed two holes from the bordering “Gold” course, so the finishing hole would be the members 17th – a very difficult par 4 to a peninsula green.

When the USGA returned the Open to Congressional in 1997, they agreed to give the par 3 finishing hole a try. The result only confirmed their opinion that par 3 finishing holes are anti-climactic – even with the lake and picturesque clubhouse in view. The real drama was on the 17th where Tom Lehman’s second shot bounced into the Lake – no one remembers winner Ernie El’s play on the par 3 18th.

Tiger Woods brought the AT&T National to Congressional and with it, a
decision to solve the routing problem permanently by reversing the 18th hole and making it the 10th. The new par 3 hole is far more demanding than the old 18th, but this again has spurred some controversy as some of the pros have whined about needing to hit a 220-yard iron shot over a lake at 7 a.m. as groups will go off of both nines on Thursday and Friday. The dollars spent for the renovations were indeed exorbitant. But, that’s only half the story.

By now, most of my readers probably understand that golf course maintenance is demanding and fickle. Our best golf course superintendents combine science and art with keen observation to get us the best conditions and they rarely have the tools necessary to duplicate the conditions we see on TV.

So what does it really take to set up and maintain U.S. Open conditions? If you browse the Internet, you’ll find lots of figures – greens at .10 (less than 1/8) of an inch with 14 to 14.5 stimpmeter readings, primary rough at 2.75 to 3.25 inches depending on the length of the hole, fairways at .345 (1/3) inches to etc., but the real tale of the tape is in the labor involved.

Watching the tournament on TV sometimes leads to players wondering why they can’t have those same or similar conditions for their Club or City Championship. Without the help of equipment loans from equipment manufacturers and countless hours of highly skilled volunteers from the turf maintenance field it wouldn’t be possible to produce the near perfection you see on television.

Congressional has a current maintenance staff of 55. Your local golf course will be fortunate to have 10. In fact, I’ve been told by a reputable source that all eight 18-hole courses in Doña Ana County probably don’t total that many employees. I recently heard that the 9-hole North Course at the University of New Mexico is being maintained by three full-time employees. This on a course of some historical significance as in 1947, in its original 18-hole configuration, it was the first course in America to break the 7,000-yard barrier.

For the tournament, there will be 120 volunteers on the maintenance staff. Most are golf course superintendents and assistants from around the country. Following a split shift of 4 a.m. until 8a.m. and then 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. they return to their quarters at nearby American University. No napping during the day though. All volunteers are required to stay on property throughout the day in case of rain. All meals are prepared by the Congressional Country Club chef for the staff and volunteers. If I was there, despite the exercise, I’d probably still gain weight.

The major turf equipment manufacturers provide many pieces of equipment on loan. The extra equipment that will be on hand includes six walking greens mowers, four walking collar mowers, eight turf rollers, four walking tee mowers, 19 five-plex fairway mowers, five rotary rough units configured for six- and nine-foot cutting widths, two mechanical bunker rakes, 22 maintenance carts and 36 squeegees.

All areas in-play are mowed each day. Greens, tees and fairways are mowed mornings and evenings. Congressional’s new greens were equipped with an underground water evacuation system. I couldn’t find anything about the specifics of the system, but I imagine it works using a vacuum principle.

If you’ve been paying attention to my column, you might remember an article I wrote a few months ago about the USGA’s emphasis on “Firm and Fast” conditions. In that article, I mentioned they would be using a measuring device to determine if their intended firmness was being achieved. This U.S. Open will feature firmness measurements on the greens (morning and evening) with maintenance adjustments if necessary to meet the intended conditions.

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: Sonoma Ranch 8th Hole

By Mary Armstrong/For the
Sun-News Posted: 06/11/2011 08:08:11 PM MDT
The 8th hole at Sonoma Ranch is one of my favorite par threes. The greens at most golf courses drive the strategy for each hole and at Sonoma Ranch, Architect Cal Olsen brings this to bear in bold fashion.
I  can’t think of a single hole where the green doesn’t highly influence not only where you want to place your shot, but perhaps more importantly, where you don’t. In many cases, this is also true of your tee ball.  I think the 8th is a good hole for every skill level, whether you are scratchplayer or a beginner, so long as you play from the tee set that matches our ability. And this is vital, as you will see in my critique. By the way, my descriptions are from a right-handed player’s perspective – hooks, slices, etc. My apologies to you southpaws, but it’s for clarity’s sake.

Sonoma Ranch offers five tee sets (black, blue, white, tan and teal) on each hole to meet a wide range of skill levels. They offer some handicap level guidelines for each tee set on their scorecard: 1-4 for black; 5-9 for blue; 10-19 for white. For the tan and teal sets, they provide handicap guidelines for women – 20-29 and 30+ respectively. This course is a stern test of controlling approach-shot lengths. Therefore, my suggestion is to drop down an additional set from these guidelines. Your round will be far more enjoyable.

The green is segmented into two levels. The lower level is closest to the
tees and it pitches primarily back toward them, making it a substantially easier target than the more elevated rear tier. Ordinarily, this feature would sufficiently make the rear tier a more demanding target. However, Olsen has magnified this difficulty by angling the embankment between the two tiers and also by sloping the upper tier slightly to the back right of the green. This means that the average player that slices the ball will have a difficult time stopping the ball on the back tier. If you are playing this hole from a tee set further back than you should, you have no chance of stopping a shot on the rear tier; particularly if you hit fade or a slice. I haven’t played this hole with men much, but I imagine that it’s not unusual for the average right-handed male player to hit a fade or slice into the banking in the middle of the green and have it bounce into the right-rear bunker.

The green more readily accepts a draw and a left to right shot that lands on the embankment will ordinarily stay on the green. However, a hook shot can bring other problems into play – among them, those three pesky pot bunkers and the lake to the left. And don’t forget that the green falls off at the back to a small cove. When the flagstick is on the left side of the upper tier, the only way to position your tee shot near the hole is by landing the ball near the left edge of the green. If you are trying to position your tee shot for a dream “kick-in” birdie – foolishly I might add – then you risk that a slight tug or mis-aimed shot will beach or drench your dream.

Nearly every course has at least one hole that demands – or at least strongly suggests – a fade or draw to play the hole well. I support this concept as the architect’s duty to encourage improvement in all players’ games. I designed a similar hole in New Hampshire. Actually, it’s only similar in that it too is a par three and has an embankment between two tiers that runs at an angle to the line of play. In that case, the angle favors a fade to reach a flagstick on a small upper tier. I was once playing that course with a member that didn’t realize I was the architect – you get more honest comments that way. As we approached the hole, the member said something like, “This is the worst hole on the course.”

I was glad he felt comfortable saying that to me, but I didn’t think he was
giving it a fair shake. I said to him, “Well George (assumed name), that may be, but why do you say that?” He replied that whenever he tried to hit a shot to the upper tier, the ball wouldn’t hold or it would hit the embankment and bound into the bunker or down the mound behind the bunker. My reply to him was, “George you’re a pretty good player – you hit a draw on almost every shot. Did you ever think that the back tier was designed to accept a fade better? Perhaps you should work a little harder on your game and learn to hit the ball higher or with a little fade.”

If you’re having trouble with the certain aspect of a hole, work with your
LPGA or PGA pro to create a shot that fits it.

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: June is women’s golf month according to Play Golf America

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 06/03/2011 12:30:18 PM MDT

Host PGA and LPGA professionals are offering “special programs throughout the month, highlighting golf as a great way for women of all ages and skill levels to connect with friends and family.”

Market research shows that many women are turned off by what appears to be a complicated sport. It does have its nuances and the learning curve can take some time for sure. However, spending several hours outside with friends and family on a weekly basis is an easy trade-off for a few hours of instruction and getting acquainted with the game. There have never been better programs for women to learn the game. Most every public course and private club offers some kind of “Ladies Day” and various group lesson packages designed for women. What’s more, women executives enjoy the same business benefits as men do with golf. According to a survey conducted by the Golf Digest Companies Research Center, “22 percent of women executive golfers have closed business deals on the golf course.”

A quick survey of the local public courses revealed these specials for women in June:

NMSU Golf Course: For the month of June, range cards for ladies at double the face value (e.g. $25 purchase = $50 in range balls); Also the Happy Hour Range Event on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. will be just $5 for women instead of the usual $10.

Sonoma Ranch Golf Course: For the entire month of June lady golfers will receive a special 18-hole green fee rate of $30 (including cart), and a nine-hole green fee rate of $20 (including cart) seven days a week. In addition ladies will receive 10 percent off of all women’s apparel in the pro shop.

If you are traveling or visiting one of our commercial golf stores, ladies it can’t hurt to ask for a “June is Women’s Golf Month” discount. We all like bargains!

Isabelle Beisiegel

Isabelle, or “Izzy” as she is known to her friends, isn’t exactly a household name, and she may never be wellknown. However, she made golfing history last week by being the first woman to earn a place on a men’s professional golf tour. The 32-year-old Montreal native was making her third attempt at the Canadian Tour’s spring qualifying school – all three being at the 7,018-yard par 72 Morningstar Golf Club in Parksville, British Columbia. The former LPGA and current Futures Tour player managed to shoot a 4 under par 68 in the third round, which put her in good position to place in the top 10. She finished with a 75 and a tournament total of 296 (+8) giving her a non-exempt card. Izzy’s plus-8 score in the four-round qualifier put her ahead of 2/3 of the rest of the male field as she tied the 10th and final qualifier.

Closing wasn’t a snap for her as she reached the 17th hole needing a birdie and par to qualify. She hit her tee shot on the par 3, 17th to within 6 feet and drained the putt. When she missed the green on the final hole with her approach, she needed a snappy up-and-down for her par and tour card. The former University of Oklahoma golf team member said, “I still can’t believe it. It’s a little overwhelming.  “This reminds me of when LPGA pro Suzy Whaley made gender history when she won a men’s PGA tournament andfollowed that up with qualifying for the Hartford Open on the PGA Tour in 2003. I met her the previous winter at the Boston Golf Show.

New cultivars of bermudagrass

Perhaps you recall my recent article about warm season and cool season grasses. This week’s USGA Green Section Record featured an article about two new bermudagrass cultivars that have been developed at Oklahoma State University. ‘Northbridge’ and ‘Latitude 36’ as they are known, were developed as “cold hardy” selections for the southern areas of the transition zones. Aside from withstanding colder temperatures, they also feature slight improvements over current popularly-used cultivars with earlier spring green-up and wear tolerance. While both have been extensively tested in field evaluations throughout the U.S., they are only available vegetatively – meaning by sod, plugs or stolons. OSU has licensed Sod Solutions for the sale and distribution of grasses. The grasses also exhibit strong turf quality characteristics and good sod tensile strength, but unless a seed can be produced, they will likely only be candidates for smaller areas of courses such as tees and greens.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Mary 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: