Altitude and Attitude: Sunriver Resort a unique challenge for 2013 PNC
A closer look at Sunriver Resort's highly acclaimed Crosswater Club and Meadows Golf Course reveals a myriad of challenges that will face the 312-player field at the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship.
By Don Jozwiak, PGA Magazine
Sunriver Resort's Crosswater Club and Meadows Golf Course offer distinctly different challenges to the 312 players set to tee it up in the 46th PGA Professional National Championship later this month. But the two courses share a pair of traits: “Altitude and attitude.”
That's the assessment of Pacific Northwest PGA Section President Marcus King, who is seeing his Section host the National Championship for the third time in 13 years.
“Crosswater can be a really tough course, with lots of forced carries and a premium on accuracy from tee to green, while Meadows is more open but still requires precision into the greens,” says King, the general manager of Overlake Golf & Country Club in Medina, Wash. “You combine the challenge of the designs with the way playing at a high altitude makes the ball fly, and you see the importance of being able to control your distance on every shot. I think getting to Sunriver early enough for some quality practice rounds is going to be so important to help players adjust.”
Competitors who have played in past National Championships at Sunriver -- which sits 4,200 feet above sea level -- say the ball travels 8–10 percent farther at the resort's altitude. Seeing majestic Mount Bachelor's snow-capped peak rising in the distance is a constant reminder of your surroundings at Sunriver. Coupled with the firm, fast conditions typically expected in late June, and that means a 300-yard drive can run out to 330 yards or more on the bentgrass fairways of Crosswater and Meadows. That's enough to hit through many doglegs or find yourself in a fairway bunker that might be unreachable were you playing at sea level.
The thinner air also tends to decrease the amount of spin on the golf ball. This can make a modest difference off the tee, where drives tend to fly a bit straighter. But the biggest change is seen on ap - proach shots, which will have less backspin -- that can make it tougher to hold the firm greens at Sunriver's courses.
“I think it will be interesting to see what happens with wedge shots this year, since this is the first National Championship being played at Sunriver since the new Rules about grooves and the condition of competition regarding groove design went into effect in 2010,” King says. “Players are going to have to work hard to control their distance and spin on shots into the greens.”
2001 PGA Professional National Champion Wayne DeFrancesco agrees with King's assessment. “The practice rounds are crucial for getting used to the elevation change, and even then your club selection can get a little difficult,” De Fran - cesco says. “When I won in 2001, I became pretty comfortable with my drives and long irons going 10 percent farther, and my short irons being about a club longer. The greens are challenging on both courses, and you have to be careful with how you approach them.”
Each player in the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship will play a round at both Crosswater and Meadows before the 36-hole cut. The Meadows layout plays shorter and may provide competitors with a chance to get into the clubhouse with a low round.
According to Sunriver Resort PGA Lodge General Manager Scott Ellender, the Meadows layout builds to a strong conclusion. On the front nine, wind isn't much of a factor and players can take some chances. The 579-yard, par-5 second hole doglegs left around a lake, and longer hitters can cut the corner and get home in two -- though the water along the entire length of the hole and a large greenside bunker can turn thoughts of eagle into a scramble to save par or bogey.
Another hole that will produce its share of birdies and bogeys is the ninth, a 432-yard par-4 with large bunkers running down the middle of the fairway. A drive to the left is safer, but leaves a longer approach to a green guarded by the Sun River to the right. The river also comes into play along the right side of the fairway for players who take a more aggressive line off the tee. Once players make the turn, they'll start feeling the effects of the wind, which can become a significant factor down the stretch.
“Some of the Meadows holes play through the big old Ponderosa Pines, which gives you some protection from the wind,” Ellender says. “But by the time you get to 17 and 18, you're out in the open and you can get some pretty strong wind to go with some interesting strategic decisions that need to be made.” At 537 yards, the par-5 17th hole is reachable for many players with a long iron or hybrid. The green is highest in the center, falling away toward the back -- meaning any long approaches without enough backspin are likely to end up over the green.
Picking up a stroke on the 17th at Meadows is key, since the 18th hole can easily become a bogey or worse. The dogleg left can play 450 yards into the prevailing breeze and is the toughest hole on the course. A long-iron ap proach shot to a well-protected green makes par a fine score on the home hole.
Crosswater, on the other hand, ratchets up the challenge much earlier. Players will play one of their first two rounds at Crosswater, which will then host both the third and fourth rounds. According to Ellender, any number of holes could have a significant impact on who wins the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship -- and who will finish in the top 20 to earn an exemption into this year's PGA Championship.
“At Crosswater, you have to get off to a fast start; the first three holes are very forgiving, and you really want at least one birdie on the card by the time you get to the fourth tee,” Ellender explains. “Because then you have the toughest back-to-back holes on the course staring you in the face at 4 and 5.”
This pair of par 4s both place a premium on accuracy off the tee. Many players will hit 3-wood on the 416-yard fourth to find the fairway -- anything left will find a series of bunkers, while Ponderosa Pines will block your approach on any shots to the right. From the center of the fairway, a mid-to-short iron needs to hit and hold a shallow green that is surrounded by wetlands on three sides.
Meanwhile, No. 5 plays 449 yards and requires players to hit driver over the Little Deschutes River while avoiding the river's path along the left of the fairway. The green has wetlands to the left and a ridge running through the center; hitting the wrong side of the green brings a three-putt into play.
Crosswater closes with another gut check combination on holes 17 and 18. No. 17 is a monster par 3 playing up to 244 yards from the back, into the prevailing breeze. Many players will hit hybrid or 3-wood here, and the margin for error is small with a green guarded heavily by wetlands. If the pin is in the difficult back right placement, Ellender suggests aiming for the front of the green and playing a “ground fade” that rolls back toward the hole.
No. 18 is a 456-yard par 4 that requires players to navigate the Little Deschutes River two more times -- the river runs across the fairway and guards the left side of the green. “The 18th is stressful under normal circumstances, but it will be a real test in the final round with so much at stake and the TV cameras following you,” Ellender says. “Add in the freshening late-afternoon wind and you'll need to really control your emotions and your golf ball if you need to make birdie or par.”