Youth continues to be served in one of the USGA’s newest championships. With a pair of teenagers preparing to defend their title as 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champions, the venue is moving from a recent classic – Bandon Dunes – to another new golf destination – Streamsong (Fla.) Resort, which opened in 2012. Here are nine things you need to know about the 2nd U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, which will take place May 21-25:
1) WHAT IS THE U.S. WOMEN’S AMATEUR FOUR-BALL CHAMPIONSHIP? Last year was the first year for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball championships. The Women’s Four-Ball field consists of 64 two-player teams with each player playing their own ball throughout the round. Each team’s score will be determined by using the lower score of the partners for each hole. Both members of a team must possess a Handicap Index® not exceeding 14.4. Other than the requisite Handicap Index, there are no restrictions on partners such as age or location. Sectional qualifying took place from Aug. 17, 2015 to April 13, 2016, conducted by state and regional golf associations at dozens of sites across the U.S.
2) KNOW YOUR REIGNING CHAMPIONS Mika Liu, 17, of Beverly Hills, Calif., and Rinko Mitsunaga, 19, of Roswell, Ga., won the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship with a 4-and-3 win over Robynn Ree, 18, of Redondo Beach, Calif., and Hannah O’Sullivan, 17, of Chandler, Ariz., at Bandon Dunes. They did not file an entry and will not defend their title. There will, however, be 12 intact sides from 2015 that will be competing at Streamsong.
3) HOW DOES THE WEEK UNFOLD? Teams will play 18 holes of stroke play on May 21 and May 22. After 36 holes of stroke play, the field will be cut to 32 teams for match play. The match-play schedule is:
- Monday, May 23: First Round (18 holes)
- Tuesday, May 24: Second Round (18 holes), Quarterfinal Round (18 holes)
- Wednesday, May 25: Semifinal Round (18 holes), Championship Match (18 holes)
4) WHERE IS STREAMSONG? The resort is 90 minutes southwest of Orlando and 60 minutes southeast of Tampa. Its name is an ode to the stream that runs next to the 216-room lodge and the “song” of birds chirping, wind rustling the native grasses and other ambient natural sounds that emerge from this off-the-beaten-track location.
5) HOW DID IT GET THERE? The resort rests on approximately 16,000 acres of former phosphate mine land in rural Polk County, Florida. It is owned by The Mosaic Company, a global producer of crop nutrients, and represents the company’s first development project in the Sunshine State. The resort features two courses, the Blue (designed by Tom Doak) and the Red (designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw). A third course, the Black, is under construction with Gil Hanse as the designer. In addition to the lodge and spa, the clubhouse offers 12 rooms and a variety of other activities, from swimming and nature walks to sporting clays and guided bass-fishing excursions.
6) WHICH COURSE IS HOSTING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? The championship will be played on the Blue Course. Scott Wilson, Streamsong’s director of golf, says the course features roughly 200 feet in elevation changes. “When the Florida State Golf Association first came to rate the course, they said they needed a topographic map of the course before they could do anything,” Wilson said. “The first tee is elevated about 100 feet, playing downhill to the fairway, but then it’s an uphill approach to the green. These elevation changes are unheard of in Florida. We are sure the women will find it to be a fair and dramatic course for the matches.”
7) WHERE WILL DRAMA UNFOLD ON THE OUTWARD NINE? Wilson says the Blue Course, which runs through the middle of the property and is surrounded by the Red Course, features “old-school touches that Doak brought back from courses in Scotland and Ireland.” He says the course features wide fairways, with a few hidden tricks, but says competitors will have to spend their practice rounds getting to know the subtle turns in the greens and how to find the proper ways to approach the green complexes. He says there will be opportunities – from drivable par 4s to risk-reward approach shots – that will make for dramatic match-play opportunities. He says a trio of holes on the first nine could determine the early action:
- 7: “The carry over water is a challenge, but scoring on this picturesque par 3 will be determined by the hole location. The green features two distinct levels; land on the wrong one and they will have a tough time deciding whether to chunk and run or fly it to the hole. Be selective, because they won’t want a downhill putt here!”
- 8: “This is a decent-sized par 4. Playing left off the tee gives you a shorter and better angle to the green, but there is a hidden bunker and potential trouble with a small pond that extends into the fairway. The green is really subtle, with rolling breaks that are hard to see.”
- 9: “This will play as a three-shot par 5. It’s a blind uphill tee shot and players will have to avoid a pot bunker on the left side. Good approach shots should lead to birdies to provide momentum leading in to the back nine.”
8) GET OFF TO A GOOD START ON THE INWARD NINE: Wilson says that the first three holes of the inward nine could be a critical phase of the match:
- 10: “This is a par 3 that looks like you should birdie, but more often than not, players walk off with a 4 or 5. There are anxious moments if you hit the ball on the first 10 feet; if you don’t make it over the rise, it could very easily roll back and into the front bunker. If the players are smart, they will use one of our 130 caddies; they only have two practice rounds, but our caddies know every inch of the greens.”
- 11: “This is a long par 4 with an open fairway and a pot bunker right in the middle of the fairway that shorter hitters might have an issue with. There are no bunkers protecting the green, which has several rolling tiers. Our superintendent, Kyle Harris, verticuts each week and top-dresses as much as 30 yards into the fairway, so players are going to have to be really creative as they figure out how to approach the green – especially with the wind at their backs.”
- 12: “We are not sure where the tees will be, so it could play as a smart layup or a drivable hole. Some may be able to carry the dune, but at 270 from tee, with water across the fairway, it will depend on the situation. This features a huge green, so it should be a lot of fun.”
9) WALKING IS WELCOMED: Like Bandon Dunes, Streamsong is the experience many golfers seek: a destination where golfers can settle in, enjoy great golf in a natural setting and get away from it all. “There is not a lot of noise around here,” said Wilson. “Especially the way the architects worked simultaneously on their designs – they used to sneak over and see what each other was doing. By the way, we tried to come up with wild names for the courses, but we simply picked the names by the color Sharpie that each team used. Doak used a blue one, Coore/Crenshaw used red. Gil Hanse is designing the Black Course, which will open in fall 2017. Guess which Sharpie he uses?”
BONUS TIP: It won’t come in handy during the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, but if you decide to play Streamsong, the par-3 37th hole has been known to play an important role in guests’ visits. “It’s either a bet-settler, a bet-starter or the way to decide who buys the first beer after the round,” Wilson said.
David Chmiel is manager of Member content for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.