Am Tour: Seniors impress with low scores, fast pace at Talking Stick, Grayhawk

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Craig Gallagher and Bill Wirtz finished their round in 3:45 at Talking Stick South in round 2.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It takes a lot of entities working in concert to move over 1,200 golfers a day thru four golf courses in a timely fashion.

Halfway through the Senior National Am Tour National Championship, golfers are having a little more time to spend at the 19th hole than expected.

This is the first National Championship held in Scottsdale and at Talking Stick and Grayhawk. Both 36-hole facilities are vastly different designs and showcase the diversity of courses in the East Valley. Grayhawk features two more modern, desert designs from Tom Fazio and Gary Panks, while Talking Stick's North and South courses are more minimalist throwback design with wide playing corridors by the team of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw.

Despite their differences, they've managed to serve as fine venues, both in exceptional condition and, perhaps more importantly, fast play.

During a spin around Talking Stick this afternoon, where both courses were hosting 150-plus amateurs, groups were walking off their last hole of the round consistently under four hours. That's despite a little bit of breeze (which has a way of slowing pace at PGA Tour to a crawl) and some light rain.

On both the North and South courses at Talking Stick, groups were coming in regularly 30 minutes ahead of expected pace or more. Meanwhile, Grayhawk, while not as fast as Talking Stick, has been consistently under 4.5 hours over the first two days -- even though they've hosted two flights with the highest handicaps this week.

Staging a national tournament, where the rules are strict, keeping a pace faster than your average weekend round at a muni, is a testament to many things: design, conditions, setup -- and player vigilance. Am Tour officials said this has been among the best weeks, pace-wise, in nationals history, despite the fact it's the largest Seniors field ever.

It's partially due to design. Talking Stick's fairways are wide (meaning less ball hunting and more confident swings off the tee), have no rough and lots of room around the greens for recovery. It also helps they are walker-friendly with greens and tees close to one another.

Attentive marshaling is another component. One competitor, Bruce Addleman, is competing this week, but he's also the director of the local Minneapolis tour and worked last week's National Championship. He's proud of how course marshaling has helped players be more aware of their times, as well as their on-course assistance.

"We've got a lot of marshals who understand how to spot trouble places [on the course]," he said. "And they spend some time there and help players through it."

A benefit to good pace is, often times, lower scores. There have been a lot of great rounds thus far in spite of the pressure of the big stage.

Jeff Hanser, playing in the Sr. Hogan flight, recorded a one-under 70 at Talking Stick South. He worked a hot putter and some savvy up-and-downs to record his best round in memory.

"Pace was great," said Hanser. "No one was ever in front of us or behind us. I like to play fast, it was just a fun round."

Hanser said the round afforded him a little more time to have some post-round drinks with one of his playing partners and other fellow competitors. It's a simple formula: less time on the course equals a little more time in the bar.

Meanwhile, at Grayhawk, which is a former host of the Frys.com Open among other PGA Tour events, Championship flight medalist Mike Harkins went low with a 68. After a first-round 81, which he says was a result of "running out of gas," he found a nice groove throughout the breezy round with six birdies.

"Today went really well," he said. "The course setup was good. People can keep the ball in play."

Some also had some theories as to why today's rounds were faster than day one, ranging from the fact that the threat of showers were prevalent most of the afternoon. Also, some say nerves aren't as high on day two. Regardless, expect pace to improve as golfers find their grooves as the week goes on.

Kirby nets week's first ace

The Senior National Championship has its first hole-in-one. Robert Kirby, from Vero Beach, Fla., aced the 13th hole at Talking Stick South. Playing into a stiff breeze, he hit a 7-iron to the 133-yard hole.

Kirby says while his playing partners saw it go in from the tee, he didn't want to celebrate prematurely.

"I kept quiet because I'm pretty superstitious," he said. "But then when I got to the green and looked in the hole I put my hands up in the air."

Kirby used the ace, his third ever but first in competition, to score an 80 for the round. Playing in the Sr. Hogan flight, Kirby finds himself tied for 32nd place halfway through the competition. He plans on celebrating tonight by going out to dinner with some fellow players competing in nationals.