The Shell Houston Open takes place this week at the Redstone Tournament Course in Humble, Texas.
This is a tournament that has never had a problem drawing huge names no matter what the date. Usually, the date is one week prior to the Masters. Players loved it because the course was typically set up with Augusta National-like conditions (fast greens, barely any rough).
This time around, however, the Shell Houston Open is being played two weeks before the Masters. It doesn't matter -- Rory McIlroy is there. Phil Mickelson is there. So are Hunter Mahan and Keegan Bradley.
Before the tournament teed off, we had the chance to catch up with Marci Bozarth, the PGA Head Professional at Redstone.
PGA.com: Once again, just two weeks before the season's first major, you've got a star-studded field assembled at Redstone, including the likes of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson. What does it mean to the tournament and the community to draw such big names so close to the Masters?
Bozarth: We are thrilled to have them playing the Shell Houston Open field and the spectators love it. We actually have five of the top 11 in the Official World Golf Rankings and/or six of the top 10 in the current FedEx Cup standings playing this week.
The word is out that our superintendent, Randy Samoff and his crew, manicure the course similarly to Augusta and I think the tour players really enjoy playing Redstone GC because it is in such terrific condition. Obviously they all want to compete to win each and every week, but I believe it is also a great tune-up for those playing in the Masters. When you know these players are committed early to playing our tournament, the excitement grows in the golf community prior to the event and therefore the crowds grow during the week of the event.
PGA.com: For people unfamiliar with Redstone, what's the toughest stretch of holes the players will face and what makes them so difficult?
Bozarth: That depends on the wind direction. We have had much cooler weather blow in for their practice rounds. No. 5, No. 6 and No. 18 have been playing into the teeth of a northerly wind and playing very, very long. Those holes, respectively, play 467, 460 and 484 yards, so you can just imagine that yardage into the wind. But even with our prevailing wind, No. 18 is one of the toughest finishing holes on tour I believe. If the tournament is on the line and you need a par to win on the 18th, it can get pretty exciting. You have trouble on the drive as well as the approach shot with water on the left, so 4 is sometimes a hard score to achieve under that pressure.
PGA.com: The Houston Open was one of two events won by Hunter Mahan in 2012. Unfortunately for Hunter, it wasn't enough to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team on points and he wasn't chosen as one of the four captain's picks either. Were you surprised to see Hunter left off the team?
Bozarth: I know Hunter was extremely disappointed not to be chosen as a captain’s pick, but as he said, there were others playing better at the time selections were made. He certainly had the experience factor on his side from prior Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, but Davis Love had to make the choice that he felt was best. It also speaks to the depth out on the PGA Tour and the fact that you just can't rest on your laurels. I would not be surprised to see him back on the Ryder Cup team because I know he will be even more motivated now for the 2014 team.
PGA.com: Over the course of your career, what has been the most rewarding part of the job?
Bozarth: There are many rewarding aspects to my job. I love my job and so I consider myself lucky to do what I love! I really love to teach so whether the student is young or old, new or experienced, I really enjoy helping a golfer improve, enjoy the game more and shoot lower scores. The smile on their face says it all.
Honestly, I am very fortunate right now in my current position as head golf professional at The Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club. This is a first class operation with 36 holes of fantastic golf in Houston. When you come to our come to our club, it is about your experience and making it memorable. We host many outings on our Tournament Course, and I really enjoy making our client's day at the club a very special one. Most folks have very high expectations when they come to Redstone, and it is rewarding to meet and exceed their needs daily.
Of course, it is exciting hosting a PGA Tour event as well. It’s a long, hard week but so special and memorable in so many ways.
PGA.com: Final question. If there's one single restaurant in the Houston area that you have to hit while you're in town, which one is it and why?
Bozarth: Chez Nous... it’s a quaint, modern French restaurant with great ambience -- a hidden gem of sorts. You can always count on fabulous food and terrific service with a price around $50 a person. It is located near Redstone GC in downtown Humble.