SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – When players and coaches talk about Rich Harvest Farms, the host site of this year’s NCAA Championship, they pay the course much respect.
Duke’s Leona Maguire, the top-ranked player in the nation, said the level of difficulty at the Sugar Grove, Ill., layout reminds her of a certain course down south.
“In terms of challenge, it’s definitely up there with Concession,” Maguire said.
That would be Concession Golf Club, based in Bradenton, Fla. To say that course was brutal as the 2015 NCAA Championship host wouldn’t do the track justice. The best team score over four rounds of stroke play that week … 40 over.
To put Rich Harvest Farms in that category already would be premature, but the message is clear: Don’t relax for a second here.
How to describe this layout? Rich Harvest is a large property but it isn’t forgiving. It’s a long course and the fairways aren’t particularly wide, and although the rough isn’t super deep, it is penal – with overhanging trees often an issue when a player puts one in the junk.
The greens are undulated and have earned subdued comparisons from competitors to Concession’s terrifying surfaces. (Put the ball in the correct position on these greens, or you’ll quickly be penalized.)
Maguire first saw the course when it hosted the 2009 Solheim Cup. The Duke junior was then a member of Europe’s Junior Solheim Cup team and got to watch Solheim action at Rich Harvest and play a few holes of the layout.
There’s no question it left an impression.
“You have to do everything well (at Rich Harvest Farms),” said Maguire, the leader for No. 7 Duke. “There’s no place to hide out there.”
The good news is that the course’s penal nature is no secret.
Mic Potter, head coach of No. 2 Alabama, played the course last June and got a sense of what to expect.
A key defense for Rich Harvest is the elements. The course is in an open space, where wind can whip across to a significant degree.
Sizable breezes are expected for the NCAA Championship. The temperatures for Friday’s first round are expected to be in the mid-50s and rain is anticipated each of the first two days.
Potter’s Tuscaloosa squad doesn’t see cold conditions like that a whole lot. So Alabama competed last month in the Northwestern Quad Match, played at Lakeshore Country Club in Glencoe, Ill.
Potter was expecting cold, windy conditions to simulate the potential NCAAs experience. He got his wish, and the players embraced it.
“They were glad we came, they didn’t complain,” Potter said. “They saw it as an opportunity to improve and be prepared.”
Ofher top teams have put themselves through the ringer when it comes to conditions as NCAAs approach.
Third-ranked Stanford has seen its fair share of wind this spring, but not exactly intentionally.
“I think Mother Nature’s had it out for us,” junior Shannon Aubert joked.
So Rich Harvest deserves respect. But it’s not impossible. How do you tame it?
Crimson Tide sophomore Cheyenne Knight, ranked third in the country, called it very much a position course – find the fairway and hit your approach to the right spot.
Be conservative, don’t try to be a hero.
“You can’t lose patience and try to go flag hunting at any point,” Aubert said.
But at some point, a killer instinct must take over. Aubert said Stanford, national champions in 2015 and runners-up last year, won’t play to protect that recent record.
And while Knight may position her way around Rich Harvest, she and her Crimson Tide will take a no-holds-barred approach to the competition once it starts Friday.
“Instead of thinking about just wanting to make the cut like we did last year, we’re trying to get that No. 1 seed,” Knight said. “We have a really aggressive mentality because we know to make match play, we can’t play conservative. We’re really trying to be fearless.”