Two-Course Final a Special Approach for Mid-Amateur
September 14, 2016 | Elverson, Pa.
By Dave Shedloski
A break from tradition could inspire one of the more intriguing finals in USGA championship history.. It certainly will be different, and potentially more challenging, for the competitors.
When Stewart Hagestad meets 2014 champion Scott Harvey in the 36-hole finale at Stonewall, they’ll begin the quest at 7:45 a.m. EDT on the North Course, which they haven’t seen since the weekend in the stroke-play portion of the championship. Once that round ends, the match then shifts to the Old Course, where the first five rounds of match play have been contested this week.
The use of two courses for a 36-hole final is a first in the history of this or any other USGA championship. The idea, which is the brainchild of Bill McCarthy, director of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, is another example of the USGA’s willingness to bring a fresh approach to its championships.
McCarthy, in his 21st year with the USGA, said he started toying with the idea two years ago. But it wasn’t what he witnessed in 2014 at Pinehurst Resort – the successful staging of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open on Course No. 2 – that got his wheels turning.
“In the back of my mind I always thought at one of our two-course championships, ‘What if we had two really quality courses that operationally and from a maintenance standpoint allowed us to use both for a 36-hole final? And being at Saucon Valley two years ago really triggered it for me – that maybe we should float this idea. We had two great courses [Old and Weyhill] where we could have done this, but it was just something I was thinking about.
“When we got here [to Stonewall] and we’re on one piece of property, I got a chance to see the tweaks to the North Course that were made – the bunker work, additional length – and saw how the two courses laid next to each other, not just physically on the property, but aesthetically and from a playability standpoint. I just saw how well they complemented each other.”
Tom Doak designed both golf courses, which are set up at par 70. The Old Course opened in 1993 and is being set up this week at roughly 6,870 yards, while the North, completed in 2003, plays to about 6,711 yards. The Old is considered slightly more challenging, with tighter driving zones. The North is more open but features challenging green complexes.
McCarthy presented his idea to the USGA’s senior staff last year, and the leadership embraced it.
“Over the course of 36 holes, those holes challenge those players to think and manage their games in more ways, in wider ways, than just playing one golf course and changing the setup,” he said. “It’s about adapting and adjusting. What is the impact on the players? I think our philosophy came out that we change things up already, so the whole concept works in making players think and adapt. It all depends on the player and how he adjusts.”
“It’s really cool for me to see that, both courses being used for the final. It’s going to be really hard on the players,” said Doak.
“The Old Course has several sidehill approaches where you have to decide whether you're risking the high side of the green to wind up closer to the hole, or playing at the hole to wind up 10-20 feet below. The North Course greens are more complicated: there's some contour in the middle of the greens, so the best places to get up and down from change from day to day. Lots of local knowledge to pick up for the competitors.”
Neither Hagestad, 25, from Newport Beach, Calif., nor Harvey, 38, of Greensboro, N.C., has completely mastered the intricacies of the Old Course in winning their five matches to reach the final. Each found the approach refreshing.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Harvey, who outlasted Dan Sullivan, of Pasadena, Calif., in 19 holes in Wednesday’s semifinals. “[The North Course] is a good golf course. Definitely different than the [Old] Course. It’s more open off the tee, extremely undulating greens. It plays shorter. It should be a lot of fun.
“I like the idea of it. We’ve been playing this course and wearing it out, so we might as well go across the street and have fun. Gives you a different look. I like it because if this course fits one player’s game better than the other one for some particular reason, it could make for a dramatic final, I think.”
Hagestad, who stopped the run of Scott Strickland, of Birmingham, Mich., 4 and 2, in the other semifinal, is competing in his first Mid-Am.
“This being my first one, I don’t know any different. But it’s fine,” he said. “I know the format they had before. I played a little better in the stroke-play portion there [70 on the North compared to 73 on the Old Course], but look, everyone is going to be nervous tomorrow, everyone is going to be anxious. We’re going to have to … we’ll have to pick small targets, make sound golf swings, and it’s just another golf course.”
Of course, it won’t be just another day of golf for the finalists with so much at stake, but McCarthy relishes the notion that the man who emerges with the trophy will have proven to be a complete player. He also emphasized that this initiative does not set a precedent for future championships.
“This is a unique opportunity. If we happen to do it again in the future, it will because we have another great chance to showcase and utilize two great courses at one venue.
“This circles back – and I don’t want to sound too trite – to the whole Stonewall experience,” McCarthy added. “The players are going to get the whole package tomorrow. Whoever weathers through that whole package is going to be our champion. He’ll have really done something to earn it.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.