HARRIS - Early arrivals for the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass have been impressed with the course for this weekend's Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA tournament.
That should come as no surprise because superintendent John Holberton has been manicuring the course since construction began in 2007 and has it primed and ready for the field of 144 international players.
"It is immaculate," said Daniele Iacobelli Monday during a practice round. "This is one of the best events we play."
Dennis Grall | Daily Press
A new enclosed skybox grandstand has been erected behind the connecting 18th and ninth greens at Sweetgrass Golf Club for this weekend’s Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA tournament. It is for sponsors and special guests and is located where several approach shots landed in last year’s event.
The inaugural event drew raves last year, when a majority of golfers named the tournament "the highlight of their tour," according to a Symetra Tour press release. "They said the hospitality by the (Hannahville Indian Community) tribe, as well as the golf course and casino complex was phenomenal."
Regarded as one of the highly anticipated stops on Tour, the Symetra release said Sweetgrass "provides a world-class venue for Tour pros to test their games."
Holberton said Symetra officials set the pins and tees. "They are in control there," he said.
Players said the greens were firm as they played practice rounds Monday. After several inches of rain fell early last week, Holberton said he plans "to keep the course as dry as I can. If it gets as dry as it did at the end of last year's tournament, we will water the greens so they are not as firm."
He hopes to have the greens roll at 11 plus on the stimp meter, noting they will be at least 10.5.
The course may play a little shorter than last year, about 6600 yards. Holberton said the sixth hole will likely be shortened after a brutal headwind on the first day last year forced most players to twice hit three-woods from the fairways and still not reach the green in regulation, from about 500 yards.
"In my opinion they set up the course fairly easy. I would move them back further (on the tees)," he said.
Conditions greeting the pros are basically the same casual players face. "I've always said we have tournament conditions out here every day," said Holberton.
"We can't narrow the fairways. We can't let the bentgrass fairway grow two inches. That would be miserable."
The rough was mowed Monday and Tuesday, then will not see a mower until after the tourney ends, which could see a length of 3.5 to four inches. "It could be gnarly, but it won't be the U.S. Open," he said. "The fairways are so wide, it is a bad shot (to reach the rough)."
Holberton, who frequently breaks 80 at Sweetgrass, said the key to scoring well comes on the shorter holes and those playing downwind. The shorter par five ninth and 18th, which are flipped for the tourney, are also key scoring holes. "Six is a bear regardless, no matter where the tees are."
He said "the greens will hold well. It depends on rain from mother nature. Last year the greens were very receptive, but by Sunday they weren't holding as well as Friday or Saturday. We may water the greens to keep them a little softer."
Holberton said the women score well with their irons. "Some women hit 6-7-8 irons and treat them like we treat our wedges," he said of good ball control. "Their short game makes them so good."
He said keeping approach shots "below the pin" is critical. "If you miss the green, miss left or right. Don't miss over a bunker or a mound where the green slopes away from you."
While the course will not be as difficult as The Olympic Club for the recent men's U.S. Open, Holberton said "it would be nice if we could make it a little more challenging.
"If we become one of the major stops (of a tour event), then we can look at toughening up the course," he said.
Time constraints also limit course setup, eliminating use of the two back tees on No. 17 because of the lengthy walk across a bridge.
"If girls spray the ball and it gets into the fescue, it takes five minutes to look," he said.
"It is tough without wind. It is very challenging with zero wind. Wind is a major factor at this golf course," he said, noting players saw that on holes 6-7-15 last year with that stiff head wind. Fifty balls splashed into the water around the No. 15 island green opening day.
Last year, the two-tier biaritz No. 12 green had the highest scoring average on the final day, when the pin was in the valley. Also difficult are the undulating 13th green and the redan No. 4 green, which is elevated and slopes away from the approach shot.
Holberton said "the holes to score" are 1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14.
There are 52 formal bunkers and seven waste bunkers. Holberton said "if we become a major stop, which we're looking at, we will look at turning the waste bunkers into formal bunkers. But that is down the road."