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Published: Sunday, 8/1/2004

Course starts tough, but gets a little easier

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The configuration of Highland Meadows Golf Club for the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic - the nines are reversed from normal member play for spectator seating purposes - means that the LPGA players face their toughest test right out of the starting gate.

Last summer, as is usually the case, the No. 1 hole, despite playing at a tad less than 350 yards, was the most difficult on the course. The par-4 opening hole surrendered just 40 birdies as opposed to 123 above-par scores and produced a scoring average of 4.232 during the 2003 Farr Classic.

The reward? By the time golfers reach the two finishing holes, both par-5s, whatever happened on No. 1 is long-since forgotten and the only thing in mind is a birdie-birdie finish.

"As a golf purist, I don't really prefer back-to-back par 5s," said Highland Meadows head professional Nick Myers. "But, from a player's perspective, it's a great way to end a round. You can go birdie-birdie to finish off a great round or salvage a so-so round by picking up a couple shots coming down the stretch."

That is often the case at the Farr. Last year, the 17th hole was the easiest on the course, scoring-wise, with two eagles and 124 birdies posted against just 39 bogeys and six double bogeys.

A bogey on the 17th, which plays at about 510 yards, is a disaster. A double is like waving a white flag and surrendering.

"There are some challenges to both holes," Myers said. "But at the LPGA level any par 5 hole is very score-able. They have short clubs in their hands and they expect to make birdies there."

The closing hole isn't the easiest of par 5s because of its overall length - upwards of 535 yards - and the fact that the approach shots are uphill. Still, it surrendered more birdies than over-par scores last summer and, through the years, has been the stage for some dramatic finishes.

First things first, though, and that means the tough No. 1 hole, which is sliced by a deep valley complete with a creek short of the green. That depression takes the driver out of the golfers' hands and places a premium on accuracy.

Placement off the tee is crucial to set up a demanding second shot. A drive to the left brings trees into play and leaves a golfer with little choice but to chip out or try a tricky shot that might bring the creek into play. Too far right beyond the fairway bunker and a tree on the other side of the creek branches out and blocks a clean approach to the green.

"You definitely want to keep your tee shot between the left edge of the fairway and the right bunker, which leaves a landing area that is 20, maybe 25 yards wide," Myers said.

"The approach shot is what makes the hole," said Jan Taylor, a mainstay in the Toledo Women's District Golf Association and a long-time Highland Meadows member. "You're forced to lay up off the tee with an iron or maybe a fairway wood to the top of the hill, then you still have a 150-yard shot in to a really tough target. You don't realize how steep the hill is up to the green until you stand there with a club in your hand.

"The false front is a bit tricky because anything that lands short, even if it's on the green, could roll back down if there's any spin on the ball."

It is interesting to note that while this is the toughest hole for the lady pros, it is just the No. 8 handicap hole for member play.

"A lot of people don't realize this, but handicap ratings and the difficulty of a hole aren't always one in the same," Myers explained. "Handicap ratings are established relative to how both the best players and worst players play the hole and to where the lesser players, the high-handicappers, will most need shots in order to compete with better players."

Even high-handicappers relish the opportunity that back-to-back par 5s present, so LPGA stars are close to salivating when they get that opportunity at the tail end of a round.

There are two challenges to the 17th hole. First is a blind tee shot; later there are mounds short and right of the green that can lead to a dicey chip shot.

"The hardest part of the tee shot is picking a target, because you can't see the landing area,"

Myers said. "The fairway angles a bit to the left and the tee shot is uphill, which means the ball probably won't travel as far. But the fairway is generous so the only real trouble is picking a target too far right and running a shot through the fairway and into trees."

A good drive will leave the golfers with anywhere from 250 to 275 yards to a well-bunkered and typically firm green. Few LPGA players will go for the green in two shots, preferring to get to within what is comfortable wedge distance.

"That's about 90 or 100 yards out and that is where the mounds are to the right of the fairway, so the players will definitely want to stay left, which sets up a nice angle to all the pin locations," Myers said.

The 18th is also a birdie hole, but it takes two good shots to set up that possibility. The peril off the tee comes in the form of pine trees to the left of the landing area and to the right of the fairway at the point of a slight dogleg.

"It looks like a wide fairway off the tee, but it shapes to the left and it gets narrower there," said Myers. "It's a visually deceptive hole and, again, it's tough to pick a good target line even though you're looking right at it."

A good tee shot of about 240 yards leaves a shot over a gully that must cover some 180 yards to reach the 115-yard marker, which is on the upper tier.

Anything less and golfers are forced to hit a blind approach shot to the green from a lower tier..

"The upper tier is almost mandatory to have a chance at a birdie, and it takes two good shots to get there," Myers said.

Fans will see a number of LPGA players hitting from that bottom tier, however, often because they misjudge a prevailing breeze that is in their face.

The green is fairly benign, although the back-left pin position provides the smallest hitting area and brings a greenside bunker into play.

It is a fast finish, after a difficult start, for those players who produce quality shots and make the most of birdie opportunities down the stretch.



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