Conducting a PGA Tour event the week before the Masters used to be a curse, but officials at the Shell Houston Open, April 1-4 at Redstone Golf Club, figured out how to work the slot to their advantage, and regular golfers can benefit from the strategy as well.
In 2006, the Shell Houston Open was moved up to the first week in April. Having just built the brand-new Rees Jones-designed Tournament Course, Redstone and Houston Golf Association decided to make lemonade out of lemons by trying to emulate the conditions at Augusta National. Of course, Redstone is fairly flat, especially compared to Augusta, but the idea was that players would want to come play Redstone because of its fast greens, perfect ryegrass fairways, little rough and tight lies around the greens, in preparation for the Masters. In fact, in preparation for this year's event, officials shaved a few more areas near the lakes, meaning balls that come up short or go long could wind up in the water, just like at Augusta.
The strategy has worked brilliantly, and with the exception of Tiger Woods, the Shell Houston Open has successfully landed most of the world's top players recently. This year, for example, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy are all scheduled to play in Houston.
What this means to golfers is that from December to May, they, too, can enjoy these perfect conditions. But just like Augusta, Redstone shuts down for a while in the summer, since it's not really a warm-season golf course.