Date: December 01, 2009

Taming the wind

By John Huggan As golf balls struck by the game s leading practitioners have travelled ever farther in this age of ever-larger metal headed clubs, the way in which courses are presented for championship play has become more and more important. Faced with the challenge of answering the routine 300-plus yard drive, today s administrators have had to adjust to the changing face of golf at the highest level. Thus, the presentation of a course for a championship of the stature of the Australian Open has never been more difficult. The man in charge of course set up this week at New South Wales is Golf Australia s Director of Championships, Trevor Herden. Vastly experienced in this area, Herden is well aware of the challenge that every event presents. Given the number of variables involved, getting things just right is never easy. We want to make sure we get everything we can out of the field, ability-wise, and the inherent challenges presented by the course, he explains. If you set up a difficult course to play easy, you won t get what you want. And if you set up an easy course to play difficult, you won t get what you want either. It’s a balancing act.” We select the better courses for the Open because of their strengths and La Peruse was no exception. It is demanding enough off the tee for even the best drivers, especially when the South Easterly prevailing wind is blowing. For that reason, we retained the existing fairway widths. Perhaps the only changes of any significance are on the 13th and 14th greens. Both have been modified slightly so that they will be playable even if the southerly wind turns brutal. Two years ago, the last time the championship visited Royal Sydney, John Senden was the winner, his eight-under par score of 280 highlighted by a brilliant 2-3 finish against the par of 3-4. Such a scenario showed just how good a job Herden and his team had done. While the overall challenge presented by the course was stiff, exceptional shots were duly rewarded. We ve retained pretty much the same model this time, continues Herden. I believe that 2006 was a very successful event. We identified the top players and challenged their abilities. It was a great test. If a shot was missed there was an appropriate penalty. And, just as importantly, the good shot was rewarded. Look at the way Senden finished to win two years ago. He hit two great shots on the last two holes and got his birdies both times. I m not scared of these great players shooting low scores. In fact, I welcome low numbers. But I want them to be properly earned. My belief is that excitement and atmosphere should be created over the first two days. I want to give both sides of the draw a chance to entertain a little bit. The most high profile aspect of course set-up is, of course, the speed of the putting surfaces. Greens that are just too fast can render the course all but unplayable; too slow and the need for strict placement of the drive is rendered obsolete. While I want the course to play firm and fast, I m not someone who gets too bogged down with the speed of the greens, contends Herden, who joined Golf Australia after spells with the PGA Tour of Australasia and the PGA Tour in the United States. We don t need them to be ultra-quick. I want to challenge the players to make the right shots from the fairway more than I want to make them worry about three-putting.” I want to give the players opportunities to make putts, too. I hate funky putts, ones with huge breaks on them. I believe that, most times, if a player can hit his approach pin-high and within 15 feet he should have a really good chance to make the putt. When you pass the exam you deserve that much. As for the winning score, Herden professes indifference to just how many shots should be required to take possession of the historic Stonehaven Cup. I don t care about the winning score, not even a little bit, he says. In national championship golf, the winning score is typically between eight and 13 under par, depending on the weather. But it isn t an exact science. The secret to great championship golf is about me and my staff giving the players the best possible environment in which to show us how good they are. On that, at least, we are all agreed.