Ever since the thrilling conclusion to the inaugural Erie County Amateur, the Scrambler has been looking forward to this weekend. As many long-time readers know, I first took up the game at Turkey Run, but most of my golfing life was spent at Elma Meadows. My first hole-by-hole review for BuffaloGolfer.com was about the William Harries / Russ Tryon Design (Note: Hole numbers are off because of the reversal of the nines during 2012). Thinking about the best players in the area competing at my “home” course raised a number of fascinating thoughts.
In this segment of my Preview, I’ll be discussing how the course will challenge the area’s best, while my second part will discuss some of the Holes / players to watch this weekend.
How Will It Hold Up?
Obviously, modern technology has taken its toll on many older designs, as the original hazard and tee placements weren’t made in anticipation of titanium-faced drivers, Pro V1’s or 280 yard carries. This was revealed last summer at Grover Cleveland, as the area’s best turned multiple par 4s into glorified par 3s. For the inaugural Amateur, 5 of the par fours topped out at 320 yards or less, with the 16th a mere 260 yards. Length provided little, if any, defense against the top Amateurs.
Sione Akauola saw his course record 63 fall by the wayside last year, as eventual champion Ryan Hawkins opened with a -7 under 62. Only some devilish pin positions on several of the the Walter Travis / Donald Ross designed greens kept the scores from going even lower.
Witnessing the event last year, I thought about Clyde Webber’s course record 63. Set in the days of persimmon and balata, Webber’s score has withstood the onslaught of technology for decades. Will it hold up beyond this weekend? In my opinion, Clyde may continue resting in peace, as I envision the course holding its own against the area’s best.
Elma Meadows isn’t the most punishing course in the area. After all, my Scrambler-esque driving usually allows a chance for recovery without too many penalty strokes. Elma’s greens certainly lack the same internal contours as Grover Cleveland. So why do I feel confident in Clyde’s legacy?
First off, while Elma is a course where you can get away with a few things and still save par, it generally doesn’t have too many simple birdies. While Grover Cleveland featured 5 driveable par 4s, Elma goes the other way with 5 holes north of the 415 yard mark, including the newly expanded closing hole (see more below). With today’s technology, that doesn’t mean we’ll be seeing many long irons or hybrids hit into these holes, but there won’t be two-putt birdies or pitch-length approach shots on the two-shotters. Combined with this week’s wetter weather, Elma won’t be turned into a pitch & putt course.
Also, the wetter weather will make the course’s rough more formidable for those in the field that just want to yield the driver on all full holes. Judging from my most recent round, the rough isn’t threatening to reach “hack it back to the fairway” territory, but distance control could be an issue if you want to leave some short birdie putts. The wetter course may also affect distance control even for those players approaching from the fairways. I won’t be surprised to see some players frustrated by high-spinning wedges that roll off the green. Some spin-control discipline will also be necessary to post a multiple-birdie round.
Unlike Grover’s generally straight driving holes, a number of Elma’s holes will strongly encourage shaping tee shots. In fact, some of the back tees may preclude a left-to-right ball. While the right-to-left flight is most in demand at Elma, the big hookers will need to think twice on the 3rd and 5th holes (depending on tee position). In general, the doglegs at Elma will put a higher premium on tee-shot placement, as today’s longer hitters can get themselves in trouble by hitting through the fairway, most notably on 2,5, 11 and 14.
On top of all this, the greens at Elma can still be frustrating for those unfamiliar with them, as at any course. While there aren’t severe slopes, I imagine that Joe Bertino and the WNYPGA will fill the most beguiling locations throughout the course to challenge our area’s best.
Much of the above commentary was based on the Men’s championship competition. But I don’t want anyone to get the impression that the Women’s Competition should be overlooked. Last year’s playoff between Cat Peters and Michelle Hanes was some of the most exciting golf I watched last year.
And when it comes to the Women’s event, any discussion of the course being too short or too easy goes out the door. Quite simply, Elma is a tough course from the Reds.
Unfortunately, the Women’s tees at Elma Meadows weren’t designed to leave similar length approach shots as the Men. Instead, a set of markers were placed 10-15 yards ahead, or a smaller box was built with some distance advantage. Consequently, the Red Tees at Elma Meadows measure out at 6,000 yards, roughly 750 yards longer than at Grover Cleveland.
To put that in perspective, the LPGA’s Australian Open Championship was contested at just 6,100 yards, and the fairways Down Under were rolling much firmer than the conditions this weekend. The LPGA’s Symetra Tour will be competing next week in Albany on a course measuring 5,964 yards. I can guarantee you that the ladies will not be discussing the “ease” of Elma Meadows this weekend.