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Layout at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas will be Stout Test
Hole locations, green speeds, slope and length of a golf course - in that order - are the trifecta of hot-button items for PGA Tour players on their year-long caravan around tournament tracks. That's the case as well this week when the Tour makes its annual stop in the greater Dallas area for the 56th time, and for the third consecutive year those players will see a different course, condition-wise, from the previous season.
The 2009 edition of the HP Bryon Nelson Classic, part two of the three-consecutive week Texas Three-Step of Tour events in the Lone Star State, will be played for the second time on the expanded and revamped layout at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort. Now, almost two full years since the course underwent changes overseen by current Champions Tour player D.A. Weibring, the venue has become what everyone hoped it would be when the renovations were undertaken.
Since April 2007, every hole has been rebuilt for a clean, traditional look with an emphasis on shot value and creativity around the greens. The changes created optimum playing conditions and developed a more challenging and classic layout, always keeping in mind the stated goal to make sure the renovations would have made the late Nelson proud. "The one common denominator was Byron," Weibring said. "I said if we do something first-class out of respect for Byron, then everything will work out."
TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas is certainly big-shouldered. It plays to 7,166 yards and contains rolling hills, indigenous oak and mesquite trees, numerous sand bunkers and small lakes on a number of holes, including the two finishers. The course's defining characteristics are its square tee complexes, white-sand bunkers and closely mown areas around the greens. In the renovation, mounds were softened for a more natural look and to improve sight lines. About 165 trees were also moved.
Opened in 1983, the par-70 test was originally designed by Jay Morrish, with input from player consultants Byron Nelson and Ben Crenshaw. Weibring and his partner, architect Steve Wolfard, revamped the course after the 2007 edition of the iconic tournament was adversely affected by bumpy and discolored putting surfaces.
Weibring's design team emphasized the importance of creating top-notch greens, and in the first tournament on the renovated TPC Four Seasons last April, the greens took center stage when Adam Scott won a playoff over Ryan Moore with a 48-foot putt on No. 18, the third extra hole.
Some players last year were surprised at the smoothness of the greens, especially because the renovations still had not had the time to completely mature. This year, the tournament's participants will enjoy the fruits of time and good weather in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, as the course has grown in. The greens are the best they've ever been and will pose the event's ultimate challenge.
The few complaints heard from players after the 2008 tournament centered on the undulations and several pin placements. The greens on Nos. 3 (a 528-yard par-4 that was the most difficult hole in 2008) and 15 (at 504 yards, another tough par-4) provoked the majority of complaints. Officials intend to use some different cup locations based on feedback from players and Weibring's design team.
"The contouring really creates several distinct hole locations," said Paul Earnest, Four Seasons' director of golf. "You've really got to get the ball into those sections to have a chance for birdie."
The undulations place a premium on approach shots, and more strategy is involved because players must aim for specific areas instead of the center. "You have to be well-positioned off the tee to get to them," Earnest said. "Once you get the ball in there, you've got more than a good chance to make birdie - if not, you're putting from a runoff area or another part of the green."
"With the redesign at the Nelson, there was a lot of thought put into the slope of the greens," said Fort Worth's J.J. Henry, who served as a player consultant on the project along with Dallas native Harrison Frazar. "The slopes play a big role because of all the runoff areas around the putting surfaces."
No. 17, the TPC's signature hole, illustrates Henry's point. The par-3's green has pin locations in each quadrant that are accessible with accurate tee shots. Players can use the green's slope to funnel their ball to the hole. Miss the slope and a ball can roll away 30 feet or off the green down the tightly mowed surrounds.
Water to the right of the green creates an imposing tee shot from the back tees, 198 yards away. Using the forward tees would provoke more aggressive, and exciting, attempts. "We really wanted players to think their way around the course," Weibring said. "The movement in the greens increases the shot-making value of the course."
This year's edition of the 2009 HP Byron Nelson Championship is the latest in a series of Dallas-based professional golf tournaments dating back to 1944. The 2009 event marks the 42nd year the event has had Byron Nelson's name associated with it.
The 2009 Nelson will feature one of the world's top 10 golfers - one more than last year - as Vijay Singh (No. 9) will be in the field that tees off Thursday. (No. 2-ranked Phil Mickelson withdrew from the tournament on Wednesday after learning that his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer.) Other top-20 competitors include Dallas resident Anthony Kim (No. 15), Ian Poulter (18) and Mike Weir (20).
Davis Love III, Robert Allenby, Jonathan Byrd, Jose Coceres, Matt Kuchar, Steve Lowery, Tim Wilkinson and Todd Hamilton were among the final wave of Nelson commitments. Joining O'Hair, the No. 12 player in the world rankings, among the last-minute withdrawals were Nick Watney, J.B. Holmes, Jerry Kelly, Parker McLachlin, John Merrick, Cameron Beckman, Wes Short and Brandt Snedeker.
Scott, the No. 32 player in the world, will try to defend his title, but he is in the midst of one of the worst slumps of his career. After taking a six-week break to heal a lingering knee injury, Scott has played only seven times in the United States. He has missed five straight cuts, and in 14 rounds since his return, he's a combined 26-over-par and has yet to post a score better than 71. Scott has dropped 25 spots in the World Ranking over the past 17 months.
"I'm pretty excited to play here this week," Scott said. "It's a course obviously I've played well both times I've been here, so I'm just going back out there with some good memories. You know, I really don't feel like my game is that far away, but I need to go out there and put some numbers on the board to show that."
Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the media coordinator for Bechtol Golf Design, the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.