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The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing Handicapping by Jim Cowan


little more than a year ago, the “new” Poppy Hills was just about to open, and there was a keen sense of anticipation in


the air. “Firm, Fast, Fun.” In preparation for the opening, a


rating of the course was conducted several weeks out (without playing). A laundry list of educated guesses regarding the playing characteristics of the course was applied. Above average roll . . . check! Softer contours . . . check! Wider fairways . . . check! Bigger greens . . . check! Hard-as-rock greens (at least early on) . . . check! No rough cut . . . check! The option of putting from off the green . . . check! Moderate green speeds (at least early on) . . . check! No more tiers (notwithstanding those of the saline kind) . . . check!


According to the “book,” eight of the nine above factors translate into a much more user-friendly experi- ence and easier playing field. And this manifested itself in the form of lower Course and Slope Ratings than the “old” Poppy Hills. And then the course opened and


ruined everything. I had every expectation that the


ratings would prove to be woefully low for the first couple of months given the preposterous firmness of the greens. Like any brand new greens, they seemed to take outright delight in rejecting the very best struck shots from a golfer’s arsenal. But by late summer/early fall, they would surely start to come around and the ratings would begin to find their mark. In the immortal words of Carnac the Magnificent . . . “not so, condor breath!”


The greens did start to ever-so- slightly loosen up and accept crisply


66 / NCGA.ORG / SPRING 2015


hit shots, but scores remained high and net scores equal to/or lower than the Course Ratings were few and far between. A closer inspection of this phe-


nomenon burst some of the assump- tions that served as the cornerstones for the lower ratings. One, way-above-average roll was


not occurring. Though the sand- capped fairways are fantastic and withstood December’s deluge with aplomb, they simply do not generate the sort of speedway roll that we will see at Chambers Bay and St. Andrews this summer. So in retrospect, the course plays longer than we gave it credit for last January. Two, sure you can putt from off


the green, but good luck saving par. Getting the ball up-and-down around these green complexes is much easier said than done. Worse yet, instead of just taking their medicine (and bogey), some golfers exacerbate their dilemma by attempting ultra-delicate flop shots off ultra-tight greenside lies. Can you say double-bogey? So the Course Rating System’s built-in assumption that no rough around


the green translates into lower scores simply didn’t transpire here (due to the many surrounding humps and hollows). Lastly, the lack of a rough cut


isn’t always a boon to lower scoring. Errant shots that might have caught a rough line in the earlier version of Poppy Hills, now had no hesitation in bounding into, select one of the following: a) the many, many waste areas/fairway bunkers; b) the trees; c) water or OB. It was always our intention to


perform a full rerating of the course in December of 2014 with a season under the belt, but there was greater urgency given the high scores consis- tently being returned. And we had to invoke our friends at the USGA for some guidance. Again, the “book” doesn’t necessarily contemplate a course without rough playing tougher. Fortunately the USGA Course


Rating System is not a static thing. It is a living, breathing organism that is constantly evolving and constantly reacting to an ever-changing golf landscape. Courses devoid of pri-


Getting the ball up-and-down around Poppy Hills’ third green is easier said than done.


PHOTO: TERRY VANDERHEIDEN


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