FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Last year, Oklahoma State made the most of its home-course advantage, winning the NCAA title in front of hordes of its own fans at Karsten Creek.
This year, the top-ranked Cowboys aren’t at home, but in a way it kind of feels like it.
“It's got some similarities to Karsten Creek, which I think is a good thing for us,” Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland said of Blessings Golf Club.
Like Karsten Creek, Blessings is a big ballpark, a par-72 layout playing at 7,550 yards. It also features the same grasses on the fairways (Zoysia) and greens (bentgrass), elevations changes, many spots to find trouble and lightning-fast greens.
“We know the importance of keeping the ball under the hole,” Wolff said. “Especially at nationals last year and throughout the year at Karsten when the greens get really fast, we know we can't be above that hole because you won't be able to stop it. Missing on the right sides of the pins and not feel like there's some false fronts and controlling your spin and stuff like that around the greens, that will benefit us more than other teams, since we play it all year at Karsten.”
At the women’s championship, Arkansas had the individual champion (Maria Fassi) and made match play as a team before losing in the quarterfinals. The Razorbacks men’s team, however, did not qualify (though individual Julian Perico did), which bodes even better for the Cowboys, who are the de facto “home team” again with their campus just a few hours west.
“It's a similar feel,” Cowboys head coach Alan Bratton said. “It definitely feels familiar to Karsten Creek and should be comfortable for us.”
There are some differences in the two courses, though. Karsten is a little bit tighter and has more places to lose balls. Blessings is more visually wide open, and many of its scruffy, heavily-wooded areas are marked with red stakes. There are more fairway bunkers, too.
“If you kind of pull up right and miss you're going to be in a bunker or just rough, whereas Karsten there's really no holes out there where if you blow it you're going to find your ball,” Wolff said.
Blessings’ greens also have slightly more undulation across the board, and instead of rough around the greens, like at Karsten, there are more runoff areas.
“The ball is going to run away from the greens,” Bratton said. “The rough, if you miss big here, you're going to get in some spots.”
There’s also the question of whether Oklahoma State’s fans will travel. There’s no doubt that played a big advantage last year.
“I think there's still going to be a pretty good support group for us coming out, and probably Arkansas not being here, there might not be as many people, but for the most part we've been the No. 1 team all year, really the No. 1 team all of last year, and then we won stroke play and ended up winning the national championship last year,” Wolff said. “I think we've always had a target on our back, and we know that feeling and we're comfortable with it.”