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Greens of Dreams: Trouble, wet and dry, awaits

August 31, 2018

Greens of Dreams got off to a tricky start last week.

A difficult starting stretch is always a nice little wake-up call for those early morning rounds. Or, if you’re like me and prefer to avoid mornings whenever possible, it gets the juices flowing in those scorching late afternoon temperatures.

If you’re playing along at home, you’ll remember we left off with the third hole at Palmetto Golf Club – a par-4 with a difficult green to hold and nowhere good to miss.

Why don’t we stick with that theme, albeit a shorter version, as we head to our fourth hole?

Hole No. 4 — the seventh hole at Palmetto Golf Club

This one seems to be everybody’s favorite, and I’m moving it up to earlier in the round to make sure the iron play is really dialed in.

If No. 3 is one of Ben Hogan’s favorite par 4s, then how about a hole Bobby Jones called the best medal-play par 3 he had ever played?

No. 7 at Palmetto, the appropriately named Ridge, is all about accuracy with such a small target to hit. Anything to the right ends up rolling down the ridge, and anything more than a couple yards left is just as bad. It’s billed as 139 yards from the white tees, but that stretches to 180 from the red tees at tournaments like the Palmetto Amateur.

“You’re perched up on a hill, and you’re hitting it to another elevation, and it’s just a little, tiny target,” said USC Aiken golf coach Michael Carlisle. “You know when you start that thing a little bit right, you’re going, ‘Oh, crap.’ Your odds of getting it up and down from below the green are not very good. The bunker to the left is not a bad place to be, but if you get left of the bunker and it sticks on a hillside, once again you’ve got a shot that’s just as hard as if you missed the green way right. To me, it’s just a small, small target.”

Carlisle may know better than anyone how tough No. 7 can be. He’s a three-time Palmetto Am champion, was on Aiken High’s golf team in 1975 when the Southern Cross was revived, and, of course, it’s his Pacers’ home course where they host the Palmetto Intercollegiate.

At 180 yards, it’s still not especially long for the players in those tournaments. Like Carlisle said, that’s probably a 7- or 8-iron for them – but it requires so much accuracy that even that left bunker can be a good play.

“Well, how many par 3s do you know that people go, ‘Well, if I miss the green left, that’s pretty good’? Hold on, wait a second,” Palmetto director of golf Brooks Blackburn said. “What happened to hitting the green? But you’re hitting into an area that’s probably 15 yards wide. For most guys, when you’re hitting anywhere from an 8-iron to a 5-iron, it’s pretty difficult to say, ‘Hey, I want you to hit it to a 15-yard area.’ Most people aren’t that accurate. Definitely a great par 3.”

No. 7 ranks as Palmetto’s 15th-easiest hole – No. 3 is the most difficult – under the regular configuration. Lengthen it, though, and it gets a lot tougher. At this year’s Palmetto Amateur, it tied for the 13th-most difficult hole, with a stroke average of 3.24.

“It’s a hole where if you hit a good shot, you’re gonna have a good look at birdie,” said Matt NeSmith, who’s spent a good chunk of 2018 in Canada playing the Mackenzie Tour. “If you miss it in the correct spot, you’re not gonna really struggle that much to make par. But if you miss it in the wrong spot, there is no chance you’re making par, almost.”

Count me as someone who misses in the wrong spot on 7. That sharp drop-off stares you in the face as you stand on the tee box, and you can’t help but think of the consequences of a miss to the right. The wedge shot from down the ridge is actually really fun to attempt – it requires as much Mickelson as you can muster – but it’s obviously something you don’t want to have to do.

Hole No. 5 – the fifth hole on the Laurel nine at Houndslake Country Club

How about a little water?

No. 5 on Houndslake’s Laurel nine is a monster, measuring at around 550 yards from the back tees.

It’s inviting in a way, because there’s plenty of space to land a tee shot that has to be smashed to even have a remote chance at carrying Laurel Lake and reaching the green in two. But you still have to favor the right side off the tee – I almost always hit it left, which takes away all of the guesswork and makes it an 8-iron and sand wedge onto the green. In theory, anyway – the “onto the green” part is never a given.

Or, forget the layup and just bomb it past the drain in the fairway to take your chances at a rare 3.

“You could hit a perfect tee ball and hit a nice little cut that flies that bunker and have, like, 2-iron in and have the scariest second shot to any par 5 in Aiken, that’s for sure,” NeSmith said with a laugh. ”... Better hit it high and soft, buddy.”

It’s an especially bold play to go for it in two because the landing area on the green is just so small, and there’s absolutely nowhere to miss long. The cart path runs right behind, and then it’s right into the woods.

So maybe the best way to give it a rip is if you have a bit of an insurance policy, like the way Blackburn and his USCA teammates used to play it.

“For the most part, if you couldn’t get an iron in your hand, you lay up. Because it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “The way the green runs, there’s just not enough room to hold it. For the most part, of course, we always played team events back then, two-on-two, so one guy would lay up and one guy would go for it.

“That’s about the only time we ever were putting; I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen an eagle on that hole. Great hole, because obviously you can fire a driver; it’s not that tight, pretty open, but you really need to drive it down the right side if you wanted to go at it in two. So that made it a little bit more difficult. For the most part, it was a lay up unless you were playing some kind of game. And then we’d always go for it, and usually we’d splash down.”

Hole No. 6 – the third hole at Midland Valley Golf Club

Better not splash down on No. 3 at Midland Valley, a picturesque par 4 you see before you even reach the parking lot – it’s the one visible from Jefferson Davis Highway.

It measures at 272 yards from the white tees, and you’ve got to carry the water to an uphill landing area. Carrying the water isn’t the focus from these tees – reaching the green is.

Head back to the blue tees, though, for an even more fun look at the hole. It’s 345 yards from back there, requiring about a 220-yard carry over the water. Going left off the tee isn’t disastrous, but hitting it right into the trees – and this is speaking from experience – is an easy way to miss out on what should be a nice look at a birdie.

“No. 3 over the water is just beautiful,” said Blackburn. “And if you hit a good drive up the left side, it’s possible it could kick on and you have a putt for eagle. But I’ve also made double bogey there. It’s just great.”

We’re now a third of a way through our Greens of Dreams series, and the halfway house and a possible cooler refill are just around the corner. Check back next week to see which holes close out the front nine.

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