The decision to move the Wegmans LPGA Championship from Locust Hill to Monroe Golf Club has sure created a lot of extra work for players and caddies--and for me!--in what could be the last year for the LPGA in the Rochester area for a long time (more on that later). I'm going to break my scouting report on Monroe GC into 3 posts: this one on my overall impressions of the course; the next on the front 9, and the last on the back 9.
This one will be a little rushed, as I got to talk to the Full Metal Archivist for almost 2 hours straight this morning after she dropped onechan and imoto off at the home of the girl who stayed with us each of the 2 previous summers, so got to the course much later than I originally planned. And then I spent a half-hour watching Stacy Lewis, Ai Miyazato, Karine Icher, Austin Ernst, and Karrie Webb practicing on the putting green instead of writing. I have to catch the shuttle to my car in about half an hour, so whatever I can't get to here will go into my next 2 posts.
It's More Oak Hill Than Locust Hill. The overall feel of Monroe GC is very different than Locust Hill to me. Although it's obviously a classic Donald Ross design, it seems to combine many of the attributes I associate with newer, linksy courses with the tree-lined fairways, often elevated and bump-laden greens, and clever use of the terrain that are hallmarks of Ross's designs. For one thing, the fairways and greens seem like they drain better than Locust Hill's and hence are firmer (although we'll have to see how they handle the most recent wave of rain to hit this area). The grass in the fairways seems more similar to Oak Hills, very tightly mown and somehow smoother than Locust Hill's, while the rough doesn't seem to be grown to the sometimes insane lengths you saw in previous years, particularly when it became a major. Don't get me wrong, it's thick and heavy (and today wet) and I don't know whether they'll be mowing it all week. But it's really the combination of fairway bunkers and much more hilly and complexly-contoured fairways that make this course more reminiscent of Oak Hill than Locust Hill to me. There are several holes where you can get serious kicks forward or to the side, depending on where your ball lands. There are many holes where the shaved area in the neck of traps guarding the green is so steep it seems designed to repel approach shots or allow one spun back off one of the many false fronts to roll 15-25 yards away from the green. But the key design feature--and maybe this is why I think of Monroe GC has a woodlands-links hybrid of sorts--is the plethora of fairway bunkers, which are often quite deep and usually placed to maximize pressure off the tee on all kinds of golfers.
It Doesn't Favor Any Particular Type of Golfer. Yes, I can see where short hitters may be at a disadvantage with 6 par 4s playing over 400 yards and 3 of the 4 par 3s playing long and often severely uphill. BUT, and this is a big but, all its par 5s are short, it also provides many holes with a lot of roll out, its fairways are typically narrow, and there are so many fairway bunkers they challenge players of all lengths. As I'll go into more detail in my next 2 posts, there are a few holes where the bombers can take a risk and get a big reward if they can keep it in play off the tee. BUT, and this is another big but, everyone is going to face serious challenges on and around the greens. You need to know where to land your ball to get it close to different kinds of pins--something I couldn't figure out very well in the abbreviated time I had to study the greens. And you need to deal with holes where there are very few places to miss it and still have a fairly simple up-and-down attempt. That's why I saw so many players practicing all kinds of chips and pitches from all kinds of places off the green to all kinds of places on it. Like at Pinehurst, one's scrambling ability will be at a huge premium this week. And like at Royal Birkdale, so will driving accuracy. So while longer hitters will always have the advantage of clubbing down off the tee for accuracy and using shorter clubs on their approach shots, they'll still have to be consistently accurate to be a factor on Sunday.
It's Visually Intimidating and Deceiving. In a different way than Locust Hill. My recurring image of Locust Hill is trees very close to fairways and greens with very subtle breaks, and while you have the tree-lined prison effect on a few holes at Monroe GC, you more have to deal with the occasional overhanging tree and with the fairway bunkers and fairway contours here than at Locust Hill. And there are a fair number of greens that aren't as bumpy or undulating or tiered as the rest, more so than you'll find at Locust Hill. But you also have your share of blind tee shots, tee shots where you have to aim over trouble to get to the best side of the fairway, rises and falls that are hard to judge and that play with your depth perception, and areas of greens you can't see from the fairway. You also have to really make an effort to look at the greens from all directions and angles, because you can get a totally different look at the slopes and contours when you do that. Basically, there are a lot of illusions out there on every kind of shot, so you really have to do your homework on this course. At the same time, if you put yourself in good positions, it seems to me that you'll have a lot more good birdie chances than at Locust Hill. We'll see who's able to do that soon!
All right, it's time for me to hit the road. Going to hang with my friend and his family and maybe go to that Korean restaurant again, this time as a group. If we have too good a time, I'll sleep over here again (where the internet connection is not as fast or stable as at home), so I may not get to my next posts until I return to Hamburg. We'll see!
One thing I can say is seeing so many good swings, great tempos, and players I know and don't know much about (got to see a lot of Lisa McCloskey, Kelly Tan, and Heather Bowie Young on the back 9 today, for instance, as well as Christina Kim) is that it makes me wish I could play this course under the same conditions they do. I'm really getting psyched up for my Mid-Amateur qualifier this Friday at Tuscarora, even if the timing of my Texas trip and this tournament has cut down on my practice and playing time!