5 Things: UC Davis, TCU highlight field at Red Sky

Demi Runas

Demi Runas

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.59 
2Annie ParkUSC  69.73 
3Yu LiuDuke  69.81 
4Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.00 
5Gaby LopezArkansas  70.01 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.32 
2UCLA 70.60 
3Duke 70.79 
4Stanford 71.49  10 
5Arkansas 71.52 

WOLCOTT, Colo. – Perched more than a mile above sea level, and with panoramic views of Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, Red Sky Golf Club’s Fazio course presents a breathtaking – if not somewhat distracting – backdrop for the second annual Golfweek Conference Challenge. With 18 conferences represented in the mountains this week, here are five things to keep an eye on at Red Sky:

1.) Best in the West: So early in the college season, it’s hard to build a reputation on play alone. Many teams in the field haven’t struck a ball in competition yet this fall, but UC Davis enters the Conference Challenge with bragging rights after winning the season-opening Ptarmigan Ram Classic a few hours to the northeast, in Fort Collins. It’s the first time the Aggies have won their season opener.

After losing two seniors from last year’s squad, junior Demi Runas, a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, has established an early leadership role with her individual title at the Ptarmigan Ram.

Runas was the only player to finish last season inside the top 100 in Golfweek’s rankings, but fellow junior Amy Simanton isn’t lacking in talent or experience. She also scored a top-10 finish in her first tournament as an upperclassman. Also, keep an eye on sophomore Jessica Chulya.

“Amy and Jessica were rock-solid for us,” head coach Anne Walker said after the Ptarmigan Ram victory. “They both had ups and downs, but neither quit. I think it’s going to be a breakout year for them, too.”

Aside from UC Davis, representing the Big West, TCU also is a solid pre-tournament pick. Last year’s Mountain West champions are deeper and stronger this season, having added freshman Alexandra Bonetti, the 2010 British Girls’ Amateur champion. Seniors Brooke Beeler and Rachel Raastad return, as does sophomore Sanna Nuutinen, who was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year last spring.

“We have that experience, and then at the same time our freshmen add a lot of depth for us,” head coach Angie Larkin said.

2.) New to the West: Ole Miss doesn’t often play among the Rockies. In fact, the Rebels don’t often travel west of the Mississippi.

“We are acclimating; they are aware and have been aware to drink a lot of water before we even got here,” head coach Michele Drinkard said.

Ole Miss is representing the SEC in Wolcott, and is coming off a season in which it scored four top-5 finishes. It’s a different game in the mountains than at home, however, and Drinkard has warned her players also that putting will be the key to success.

“It’s very scoreable,” she said. “The greens are going to be slick.”

3.) In the spotlight: Cindy Trout isn’t thinking about pairings, altitude or history this week – she isn’t thinking about anything but Colorado. The head coach at Western Michigan calls the Conference Challenge field “the toughest competition we have faced.”

Western Michigan, out of the Mid-American Conference, is one of a handful of mid-major schools in the field at Red Sky. After three wins last season, the Broncos finished the season No. 79 in Golfweek’s rankings. Twelve of the 18 teams in Wolcott finished inside the top 50.

“Our focus this week is to control what we can, and that is to do the best we can and not worry about the other teams,” Trout said. “If we can do the best we can, I will be happy.”

Texas San Antonio, last year’s Southland Conference champion, is in a similar boat. They don’t often see teams such as Pepperdine, Notre Dame and Oregon, but playing top-25 teams never hurts, as head coach Carrie Parnaby noted. Playing well enough to represent their conference at Red Sky was a goal for the Roadrunners last season. Now, it’s time to face off against a beast of a course, too.

“It’s really a great test for golf,” Parnaby said.

4.) The venue: Giant, fast greens are the great equalizer at the Fazio Course. It’s the main defense the course has, as the altitude makes the layout very playable.

The highest point at Red Sky, the No. 16 tee box, is 7,950 feet above sea level. There are 600 feet of elevation change to the lowest point. The Vail Valley is loaded with championship courses, but locals use Red Sky as a comparison for all things mountain golf. In addition to the Fazio Course, an 18-hole Greg Norman design exists almost completely out of view over a nearby mountain.

Despite being fast the greens run true, and start the day running at 11 to 12 on the Stimpmeter.

“The Fazio has the Fazio characteristic of the bold fairways and complex greens,” explained head pro Chris Lai. Norman is more about bunkering and collection areas.

5.) Career change: Most LPGA players would tell you that Colorado was significant to the game this year because the U.S. Women’s Open was held at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Not Michele Redman.

After shutting the door on a 20-year LPGA career at the LPGA Safeway Classic in August, Redman had the Centennial State pegged on her calendar as her second outing with the Minnesota women’s team. In her first start at the helm of the Minnesota program, the Cougar Classic, the Gophers finished 17th.

“It’s a lot of fun teaching the kids what you know,” Redman said of switching from playing to coaching. She said getting organized has been the toughest part of the job for her, but with veteran John Cleary, who spent the past two years as an assistant at Texas Tech, it’s been a smooth transition.

“I haven’t had a day yet where I wished I was playing,” Redman said with a smile on her face.

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