When the 64 best golfers in the world tee it up at this weeks WGC Accenture Match Play Championship outside Tucson, Ariz. all eyes will be on Tiger Woods and his surgically repaired knee. Flying below the radar, however, is the golf course itself. But, at 7,800 yards it's anything but timid.
After two years at the Gallery at Dove Mountain, the event has moved next door to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. Opened in January 2009, it was designed by Jack Nicklaus specifically for this event. I caught up with executive tournament director Wade Dunagan, who offered exclusive insight on how this course sets up for Tiger and the rest of the field.
GolfChannel.com: How are the course conditions?
Wade Dunagan: The course is in prime competition condition. The temperature is supposed to be in the mid-80s which is just typical winter weather here in Arizona (laughs).
GC.com: We know the course is long. Will it play the full 7,800 yards?
WD: From the middle of the tee boxes the course is 7,500 yards. Tip to tip its 7,800. It will be somewhere between those two numbers. The heat is going to dry out the fairways, though, and players will get some roll.
GC.com: What about the elevation? How much of a factor does it play?
WD: Were at 2,800 feet. It makes the course play about 5% shorter than it would at sea level.
GC.com: How fast are the greens?
WD: Theyre going to be rolling 10.5 to 11 [on the stimp meter].
GC.com: Why is this course good for match play?
WD: Every hole is strong. Plus, the course was designed, specifically, to host this event. Everything from its ability to host big galleries to the risk-reward holes... It was all designed with match play in mind.
GC.com: What about the par 5s?
WD: Three par 5s are reachable. Id consider the 635-yard 11th to be a three-shotter, but now that I've said that Im sure someone will prove me wrong.
GC.com: What are the key holes?
WD: No. 5 is a long, well-designed par-4 that will test if players are into the rhythm of their rounds yet. For the other four I think Nos. 13-16 are pivotal holes because of their location in the match, but also from a design standpoint. They are going to be really terrific.
GC.com: Which hole do you see having the most drama?
WD: 15. It's a drivable par-4 which is interesting in and of itself. Add to it its location in the match, and it has even more possibility for drama. The average match goes 16.1 holes. You'll see matches literally won and lost on this hole.
GC.com: The course has large greens. Whats protecting them?
WD: Well, the rough around the greens is very difficult. Youre not going to see a lot of chipping; this rye grass is just too sticky. Youll probably see more explosion shots than anything.
GC.com: Do you think well we see a lot of birdies?
WD: The course is difficult enough that par will be a good score on most holes. Controlling second shots into these greens will be critical in setting up birdie putts. If you miss it on the wrong level youll have a difficult two putt. They are the best players in the world though, arent they?