Date: November 10, 2011

Course primed for biggest stage

By John Huggan, Editor-at-Large Trevor Herden s official job title is director-championships at Golf Australia and this week he is the man charged with setting up The Lakes course in a way that will both challenge and stimulate what might be the best field ever assembled for an Australian Open. And it is a prospect Herden is anticipating with relish. There s a big difference between last year and this, he says. The course has obviously had another 12 months in which to mature. The greens are much stronger and have so much more growth than in 2010. They look like they can take a lot more pressure. By that I mean we can cut and roll them so much more if we want to. They are just so much healthier. What hasn t changed is the cutting height of the grass on the greens. Many of the putting surfaces have some undulation to them, so there is limit to how fast we can get them. That s even more true when you consider how much of a factor the wind plays here. We re forecast gusts of up to 40k for the opening day. So that will be testing both for us and the players. One thing Herden can t do much about is the speed of the often-undulating putting surfaces and, in turn, the pin positions. It’s just a fact that we can t have the greens running at, say, 13 on the Stimpmeter, he continues. If we did that, we couldn’t play. So we monitor the speed of the putting surfaces very carefully. The rest of the course is in great shape. The grasses have matured nicely around the bunkers and wasteland. It has all knitted in beautifully. I m very happy. The pin positions won t vary much from last year. We have to work within the parameters given us by the course designers and, of course, the weather forecast. What is great is that, even in heavy winds, we have spots where we can cut the holes and still allow the players to attack sensibly. One area where Herden can be creative, however, is in the positioning of tee boxes. Especially on the shorter par-4s, he has an opportunity to make the players stop and ponder their route from tee to green. I m looking forward to seeing how the field plays the shorter holes, he says. We have a few par-4s where we can get creative. I m happy to move the tees up on given days to encourage a bit of imagination. So we might see players driving into the front bunker at ten, for example. Or at the 13th, I ll give the guys a chance to knock it on the green if they are prepared to have a go. The last thing I want to see is everyone playing those holes in the same way. And we ll do the same at the short 7th. I ll move the tee up for the weekend and use the pin positions at the back of the green. As for the winning score, Herden professes to care not a lot. In a perfect world, I d like to see the winds pick up only at the weekend, he smiles. That gives me a chance to create some excitement over the first two days and let the players get amongst it. But that may be difficult if the forecast is correct. Then again, we ve got the best Open field ever here this week, so I m sure they can cope with anything we and the weather come up with. There s a great buzz around this week. The spectators are in for a treat watching such an international line-up. I can t wait to see how they go against the Aussies, who are all here for the first time in a while.