The Annandale Golf Course's recent switch to Bermuda greens has been praised by players and may have led to one of the Classic's stronger fields when play starts Thursday.
'It's almost like playing a new golf course with the greens like this,' defending champion Heath Slocum said.
Thirteen major winners are entered in the tournament, which this year plays opposite the American Express Championship in Hertfordshire, England.
The Mississippi tournament has struggled to draw top players in the past. But this year, a handful of Top 50 money winners are entered in the field of 132, and the more competitive greens are getting some of the credit for that, Slocum said.
The old greens at the par-72, 7,199-yard course a few miles north of Jackson were cut from bentgrass. The greens suffered under the Mississippi sun and have been soft and pitted with ball marks, footprints and other obstacles in recent tournaments, several players said.
Many golfers target the tournament because it offers them a late-season chance to make a move on the money list or ensure they are qualified for the tour next season. But Todd Hamilton said the improved grass is important because a course with quality concerns isn't likely to be a hot draw among those who sit higher on the money list.
'It could be nice designwise, but if it's not in very good shape, I personally wouldn't want to play and I bet 75 percent of the guys wouldn't want to play either,' Hamilton said.
The course's previous condition hampered putting, but the softness of the greens also helped lower scores. Slocum won last year with a 21-under-par 267. Excluding the weather-shortened 2002 tournament, the winning score has been an average of 267 since 2000. And the cut to 70 players after two rounds has been under par for 10 of the last 11 years.
'It will be tougher,' Bernhard Langer said of the improvements. 'Whenever the greens are soft, you can fire it in there like darts. It will be tougher to chip, tougher to hit approach shots close, harder to hit the second shots on par-5s. You're not going to hold a 3-wood in there, so I would think the scores will be higher.'
Most TOUR pros prefer a tougher course. A challenge favors the more skilled players. And the more skilled players bring with them television and sponsors and all the things that make a tournament thrive.
The Bermuda grass at Annandale now requires golfers to play with some reserve. If the greens remain firm, no one will be firing long irons at the pin. Finesse will be required, or trouble awaits around the greens.
'I think when the greens are holding, at times you don't have as much fear in the shots,' Jeff Sluman said. 'You're not as likely to go for it if you have to hit that perfect shot.'