SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — No, it’s not Rivera. It’s not the Honors Course and it’s not Inverness.
It is a golf course that is playing difficult, where par is a great score. A golf course where it is a must to play from the fairway. Sounds a lot like major championship golf, right?
And over the last two week’s Grayhawk Golf Club has been the host of college golf’s major championship. It’s firm and fast and some had even started to use the word “baked” by Friday.
There was skepticism when it was announced that college golf’s finale would be played here in the Arizona desert, and rightfully so. The NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship has only been played in the state Arizona once when Tucson National hosted in 1971. No professional major has been played here, either.
We often equate desert golf with red numbers and low scores. The lingering question leading up to last year’s championship was could this desert layout provide a proper championship test?
We quickly found out that Grayhawk could provide the test and defense needed for us to call it championship-like. Only one team was under par last year and that was the local host Arizona State. Only eleven players broke par this time last year.
This year, scoring seems to be more difficult.
However, there are some unusual things we are seeing. Driver is not the popular club for most tee shots. And that’s ok some of the time, right? Or do we need more length to make it more like a championship?
At 7,289 yards and reduced from a par 72 to a par 70 the course could use more length. Maybe that length would put a driver in the players’ hands more often. But would that make it better?
One of the issues this week is that the course may have been too contrast from morning to afternoon, prompting one coach to call it “unreasonable.”
The morning wave average for the week? That’d be 288.27, well below the afternoon wave average of 296.73.
But did the course actually play different? Should the course play as different as we are seeing from morning to afternoon? Can anything even be done to prevent that?
The format is such that it rewards the teams for playing well in the first two rounds. Because it is a qualifier, the best scores play in the better morning wave for round three.
Two teams from third round afternoon wave – Georgia Tech and Florida – played its way into the top 15 and made the 54-hole cut. Overall three teams – Ole Miss, Auburn and Oregon – played their way into the top 15 from the worst-seeded wave, knocking out Wake Forest, Stanford and Texas A&M.
The oddest thing we are witnessing to this point is the fact that this year the ordering of teams is freakishly spot on.
Never have we even been close to seeing the top-ranked teams line up in the order they are. Nos. 1-7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin and Golfstat rankings are also the inside the top seven and nearly in order after 54 holes.
Championship golf can have different formulas. Here at Grayhawk it appears to be find the fairway and control your distance with your second shot. Sounds like that sort of equation can work at many championship venues.
Despite what anyone says, good, bad or neutral, the course and setup are doing its jobs.
“You can’t ask for anything more than that from a championship golf course,” said Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton.