Cool, crisp mornings are now the norm and the triple digit temperatures are a thing of the past. Rye grass now covers the local golf courses and the height of the golf season in Southern Arizona is about to begin. The schedules for various Club events are being finalized, and the field for the Accenture Match Play Championship becomes a little clearer. These are but a few of the many reasons that the sport of golf is center stage in Southern Arizona this time of year.
February 22nd of 2012 marks the opening day of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain. This will be the fourth year for the Club to host the Championship and the sixth year the event has called Marana home. The Saguaro and Tortolita courses at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club were designed specifically to host the Accenture Match Play Championship by Jack Nicklaus. The teeth of the design has always been the putting surfaces, which demand precision on the approach and creativity around the greens. The event has been dominated by the International contingent the last three years, further evidence that this is indeed a global game and the playing field is more level than ever.
Someone once said that 98% of all statistics are made up. With the top 64 players in the world returning to Marana in a few weeks, I wanted to share some 100% factual information from our partners at ShotLink to help describe a few of the most challenging holes that these players will face in February.
Hole #3 – Par 3 – 208 yards
208 yards isn’t much more than a modest 5 iron for many in the field, but this is no ordinary par 3. Short and right of the green lies a watery grave for those that overplay the prevailing right to left wind. A conservative play to the left of the green leaves a touchy bunker shot that slopes away toward the water hazard. The elevated tee allows the approach to stay in the air a little longer, creating some concerns for the top players in the game. Since hosting the event, only 53% of the field has managed to hit this green, and in 2011 the hole played to a stroke average of 3.45.
Hole #9 – Par 4 – 476 yards
The finishing hole on the front nine requires some strategy from the tee. A pot bunker in the center of the fairway forces a decision: Play right of the bunker and have an easier approach, or play safe to the left of the bunker with a more difficult approach. From either side, the green appears to be at the top of a ridge, with no more than a sliver of the green visible from the fairway. Desert left and a dramatic run-off to the right of the green leave a brutal pitch to this elevated surface. While 81% of the field hit the fairway from the tee, only 59% managed to find their mark with the approach. With a stroke average of 4.18, this is the most difficult par 4 on the front nine.
Hole #10 – Par 4 – 493 yards
The opening hole on the back nine is one of the best driving holes on the course. With multiple tee options, the players may choose to carry the bunkers that frame the landing area both right and left, or play a fairway wood from the tee to stay short of the trouble. There are no greenside bunkers to manage on the approach, but a natural arroyo crosses the fairway just a few yards short of the green complex. 55% of the field managed to hit this fairway in 2011, making it the most difficult tee shot for the week. Only 49% of the field managed to hit the green in regulation, and the hole played to a stroke average of 4.2, the most difficult par 4 for the top 64 players in the world.
Hole #15 – Par 4 – 343 yards
Ahhhhh, yes. The drivable par 4 is always great for entertainment value, especially when it is deep into the back nine of a World Golf Championship. The 15th almost always plays downwind, which helps the players carry a cavernous pot bunker lurking 30 yards short of the elevated putting green. Last year, 92% of the field attempted to drive the green and only 20% found their mark. However, the polished short games of the best players in the world managed to find the green 89% of the time, making it the easiest green to hit in regulation. At a stroke average of 3.54, birdie is needed to keep up with your opponent at this pivotal point in the match.
For those that choose to endure the love / hate relationship promised by the game of golf, it is always remarkable to see in person how the best players in the world navigate the toughest challenges on a world stage. We are certainly privileged to welcome back Accenture, The PGA Tour, the top 64 players in the world and all of the spectators in what promises to be another fantastic event in the desert.