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Stark, Windswept Colorado GC Tests Champions Tour Pros
Through three rounds at Colorado Golf Club in the 2010 Senior PGA Championship, the stark and windswept course has bared its teeth and shown the best over-50 players many of its myriad dimensions.
But don't think these fellows have seen all the course has to give or that they have found a way yet to figure out the rolling Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed track south of Denver in Parker.
"The guys are starting to know (the course) a little," Crenshaw said. "They've played golf for a living for their whole lives and they break a course down as to how they think they can play it. And they're getting a feel for it, which is nice."
The players offered rave reviews when asked about the three-year-old track, which changes personality as often as the wind changes direction here in the foothills of the Front Range.
"I enjoy what Ben (Crenshaw) has done here," said Tom Watson, who shot an even-par 72 in the third round Saturday and is tied for 36th. "It's a good test; it has great variety to it. There's plenty of room (in the landing areas), and yet there's some toughness that you have to worry about. That's the way golf should be played."
Tom Kite said the Colorado Golf Club is worthy of hosting a major championship. "There's a lot to know, he said. "We're going to have to kind of fly by the seat of our pants to learn the golf course as we go."
No player's performance epitomized the varied challenges of the Colorado Golf Club more than Kite's. After fashioning back-to-back 3-under-par 69s in the first two rounds and playing in the final group Saturday, Kite ballooned to a gut-wrenching 79. His scorecard included a bogey-double-bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey showing on hole Nos. 4-8.
This layout is longer, at 7,490 yards, than any in the 71-year history of the tournament. With the windy conditions drying out the already-fast and difficult greens, tournament officials eased off on the players in the opening round by watering the putting surfaces and using some of the forward tees. Twenty-four pros still couldn't break 80.
Darrell Kestner, a club pro who qualified for the major championship, was asked to compare Colorado Golf Club to other courses he has played. "It's big and tough and hard," he said. "You've got to be great on the greens, and you've got to be a great driver of the golf ball." In a seven-hole stretch in the first round, Kestner had four fives and a six. He missed the cut after an 80 in the second round.
The course requires a lot of decisiveness on where to be aggressive and when to rein it in. The sprawling design features plenty of rolling terrain, tricky greens and ball-swallowing gullies.
That doesn't even take into account the higher elevation (about 6,100 feet) and the blowing gales, which gusted up to 50 mph on Monday, was a little calmer Thursday and died down Friday before changing direction and coming back with a vengeance on Saturday.
Colorado Golf Club was barely two years old when it was awarded the championship. Club officials and the PGA have talked of this event being a test to determine whether the facility is capable of hosting other major tournaments.
This week is the first major championship to be played on one of its designers' projects. "There'll be lots of discussions this week about interpretation," Crenshaw said. "These players have competed all over the world and they have a fine eye. They'll point out some things that maybe they like or dislike, and that's to be expected. Hopefully, the weather will calm down so they'll have more fun playing it."
The way the course plays this week - from pin placements to yardages - is under the auspices of the PGA of America. One of the things the organization has done, for example, is "pinch" the fairways on some holes by as much as 10 yards.
Crenshaw admits that wouldn't have been his preference. "I would have left them wider," he said. "When you have this much altitude, the course and the contours of the greens take care of a lot of the challenges, no matter how far you hit the ball. You don't want to make it too penal and, with this wind, you need width. These greens will shrink up real quick in a breeze."
The course is a great mesh of long, tough holes (like the 477-yard par-4 fifth, where 35 double-bogeys and "others" and 132 bogeys have been carded as compared to just 22 birdies) and holes the players think they should dominate. There are two drivable par-4s - the 308-yard eighth and 326-yard 14th - and the 152-yard second hole is little more than a pitching wedge for some in the right conditions.
But in the third round, three of the five hardest holes were par-3s, with the 206-yard No. 17 having a stroke average of 3.359. The 197-yard 11th ranked fourth-toughest, and the 249-yard sixth was fifth-hardest. There were only three birdies on the sixth all day.
The stroke average for the field was 73.407 on Saturday, the lowest for any round of the championship. That average was more than two strokes less than the average of either of the first two rounds.
Third-round co-leader Jay Don Blake said it was difficult to figure out what to expect from the course. "The shots weren't really holding on greens," he said. "You weren't making a ball mark, just making a skid on the green, so the balls were always bouncing 15, 20 feet and then trying to check, but they would still kind of roll. So it was tough. Then adding the wind to it was even harder."
Expect more of the same in the final round, as a front is expected in the area overnight that will drop temperatures into the low-70s and bring the gusting winds out of the north. Given those conditions and the way the course is playing, shooting par may be enough to win for the 16 players within five stokes of the lead.
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 managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine 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, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.