Inside the Honors Course setup for NCAAs
OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – The Honors Course may as well have a plaque on the first tee that reads, “This is the site of Tiger Woods’ 80 in the final round of the 1996 NCAA Championship.”
For all of the prestigious tournaments that The Honors Course has hosted, including the U.S. Amateur, Mid-Amateur and Curtis Cup, Woods’ round is the one that gets the most attention.
Woods’ round was the fitting conclusion to a difficult week. He was the only player to break par for 72 holes. The individual scoring average was 77.6 strokes per round. Arizona State won the team title at 34 over par.
When asked what makes the course difficult, Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins replied simply, “It’s a Pete Dye course.
“I have yet to see an easy one he’s built. There’s lots of trouble lurking around every corner, but I think he’s pretty fair. He gives you a place to miss, but if you’re greedy and you miss, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
There’s no doubt conquering the Honors Course is a difficult task, but it’s doable. As LSU’s John Peterson pointed out, “(Woods) did shoot three rounds in the 60s before (his 80).” He finished at 3-under 285 (69-67-69-80), four shots ahead of Arizona’s Rory Sabbatini.
Players discovered during Monday’s practice rounds for the NCAA Championship that this will be a more scoreable Honors Course, even if it is playing about 400 yards longer than it did in 1996. David Stone, the Honors Course superintendent, predicted this week’s individual champion would shoot 6 or 7 under par for 54 holes.
The course played hard and fast in 1996. “I can remember balls bouncing 20 feet high on the greens,” Clemson coach Larry Penley said. “There’s some hole locations right now, you have to worry about spinning it too much. We never had that concern in ’96.”
Kurt Schuette, USC’s director of golf, said early-week conditions in 1996 weren’t exceedingly difficult. “(The weather) turned on us,” he said. “By the last round, it got really windy and really dried out. The scores were pretty good the first two rounds.”
The Honors Course played soft Monday because of heavy rainfall Sunday night. There is a chance of rain here every day until Friday, according to weather.com. While a wet course will play longer, it also means that the greens will be receptive.
The rough is also lower this time around. In 1996, the U.S. Golf Association’s Tom Meeks set up The Honors Course. “You know how tough he is,” Stone said. Meeks was associated with controversial U.S. Open setups like Shinnecock Hills in 2004.
The rough this week will be between 3 and 3 1/2 inches, about an inch shorter than 1996.
“The fairways are definitely wide enough, the greens are receptive,” Oregon coach Casey Martin said. “It’s going to be long with the length of the golf course and the rain, but it’s very fair. It’s tough fair. You really pay for missed shots. You don’t get away with anything. If you hit it poorly off the tee, or inaccurately, you’re going to be chipping out.”
Oregon, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, learned the importance of driving accuracy on its final hole of Monday’s practice round. The Ducks’ Eugene Wong and Andrew Vijarro both hit the fairway and were able to hit their approach shots within 10 feet of the hole. Wong’s 6-iron from 180 yards stopped quickly because of the soft greens.
The two Ducks that missed the fairway had to hit punch shots below branches, leaving them with about 50 yards for their third shots.
While the rough is shorter this time around, there is still a large penalty for shots hit well offline. Thick native grasses are about 20 to 30 yards off most fairways.
“You have to play really well to shoot a good number, but if you’re not careful you could shoot pretty high, pretty quickly,” Duke’s Brinson Paolini said. “An 80 could happen in the blink of an eye, there’s no doubt about that.”