LITTLE ROCK — Eighty yards from the new tee on No. 16, the left side of the tall pine is noticeably naked for good reason.
Until the limbs were removed, the tee shot would have been particularly daunting, especially for a player trying to start a draw down the right side on the hole lengthened to 412 yards for the Southern Amateur next week. Even as is, the golfer only sees a strip of fairway, some wispy stuff splitting the short grass, and trees galore.
Like the four other tees built for the tournament at Chenal Country Club’s Bear Den course, this one was constructed with purpose, not simply to add yardage. Because of the tee, a ridge in the fairway is back in play, forcing a player to pull out a driver if he hopes to attack the green with a sand wedge.
One hole earlier, tour guide deluxe Wyn Norwood and his guest parked the golf cart and walked up several steps to a tee that pushed the par-five to 566. Never in play for most of us hackers, the bunker that consumes much of the right side of the fairway must be considered by the bombers in the tournament. Back in the cart, we drove to the bunker and Norwood took 17 steps from the edge of the sand to the first cut of rough on the left, a narrow target to pursue with a driver. Checking a yardage plate in the fairway, we concluded it was 330 yards to carry the bunker.
With the new tee, the gimme birdie hole becomes a thinking man’s par-five.
On 17, the for-certain pin placement on a tongue of green surrounded by water on three sides will require precision and gumption no matter whether the hole plays 163, 187, or the newly available 208.
No. 18 is the only one of the last five holes on the Bear Den course which was not tweaked and there was even some talk of using the club’s other No. 18 — one of the most difficult finishing holes in the state — for the Southern Am. Doing so would have involved extensive shuttling of players and caddies or the elimination of the some of the best holes on the front nine at Bear Den.
Encouraged to build the new tees by the Southern Golf Association, the club took the initiative and added three trees on the right side of No. 10, effectively narrowing the fairway for those contemplating getting home in two on the 535-par five. A creek that used to meander off to the right is now in play all the way to the green.
The creeks that wind through the course and the thousands of trees that squeeze the fairways will force the flat bellies to contemplate the consequences before grabbing driver and swinging away. Such a premium on accuracy is the best defense of a course where the greens are not severe and those who find the fairways will record some scores in the mid-60s.
Slightly more than 7,100 yards from the tips, the quality of the course equals the caliber of the participants. Last year, players from 33 states and nine foreign countries competed in the Southern at Innisbrook near Tampa, Fla. Almost 600 players entered this year and 66 were granted exemptions. Generally, they were ranked in the top 200 by Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings. The rest of the 168-player field was determined through 18-hole qualifiers.
Once restricted to players from Southern states, the Southern Am relaxed its criteria 10 years ago and prestige of the tournament soared. The SGA realized the “golf world was passing us by because we weren’t open to a huge number of the better players just because they weren’t a member of a club in the Southeast,” said Buford McCarty, executive secretary of the SGA.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.