SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There were so many questions leading into the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship. Questions that have been lingering since it was first announced the championship was coming to Grayhawk Golf Club.
The one that was usually asked first, and certainly the most, was: Could it test the best players in college golf?
With only two teams and 11 players in the red, one could say the golf course is doing its part.
When you think of major championship-style golf courses, playing in the desert is not something that comes to mind. In fact, the NCAA has only played the finals once in the state of Arizona. That came in 1971 at Tucson National Golf Club with Texas winning the team title and Ben Crenshaw claiming individual honors.
Knowing they needed to stretch the Raptor course’s layout a bit more, the staff sat down a couple of years ago and looked at aerial photos to see what could be done.
Grayhawk was built 26 years ago and the angles and lines are much different today compared to then.
“We started taking measurements from existing tee boxes and where the angle points of those tee boxes are and we decided how we could add some tee boxes,” said Grayhawk course superintendent Ernie Pock.
In all, a total of nine tee boxes were added or re-configured. That computed to close to 200 extra yards to get it close to the desired 7,300 yards. The layout is also a par 70 with just two par 5s.
Pock and Grayhawk staff looked at the bunkers and where they could manipulate and stretch them. They also tightened up the grass lines and mowing patterns.
Also, the rough has caught some players off guard.
“Here in the desert, this time of year we normally we have no rough,” said Pock. “So, we had to start looking at changing that and getting it ready for tournament conditions. I wanted to have everything in place by April 1, so that we can start working on growing density of rough and stuff. And we nailed it.”
Pepperdine head coach Michael Beard also talked about how hitting in the fairway is maybe more important this week than people expected when coming to a desert course.
“I think the course is great. Didn’t expect the rough to be like this, you actually have to think about it off the tee. You have to make sure you are thinking about being in the fairway. If you are in the rough and maybe with greens being a little firm and a little downwind it can make it hard to hold,” said Beard.
Beard added another reason for scores not being what many thought was the change to a par 70.
“Only have two par 5s is a big reason why the scores aren’t as low – these college kids just rip up par 5s. and then if you hit one or two in the desert and I think that is leveling the scores a little bit.”
Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton understands a few things about championship golf. His team’s home venue – Karsten Creek – has hosted a few championships and he has been part of many as a player and a coach.
“I really just appreciate how much they’ve put into making the championship. They’ve obviously brought in the rough lines and spent money overseeding and watering and doing all the things that you’d like them to do when you’re going to host a championship,” said Bratton. “The green complexes are really good here, so there’s a lot of nice hole locations. You’ve got to be precise with those short irons and wedges, you can’t just blast it around wherever you want, which you could do if they were soft. Credit to the people who put on the tournament. They’ve done a really good job. We’re excited to see what they do over the next few days.”
Clemson coach Larry Penley also mentioned how important it is to hit a good tee ball.
“I think it’s a good test that and the rough makes all the difference as well. You have to hit the ball in the fairway,” said Penley. “After the practice round, I felt like even par would be a tremendous score. And that’s holding true.”
Everything has gone according to plan for Pock.
“Our goal was May 1 to be tournament ready. All we had to do was just maintain it and the staff killed it. Our timing was almost impeccable,” said Pock, who has close to 40 people working to maintain the course’s two weeks of championship golf.
With two more rounds of stroke play and then two more days of match play, there is room for Grayhawk to bite harder.
“We haven’t even started cranking these greens up,” said Pock. “We have junior events where our greens are harder than this, but we are in a good spot and if we need to dial it up with speed and firmness it will be fairly easy for us to do this.”