Highland’s Amen Corner A Trilogy Of Terror

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

Augusta National Golf Club’s Amen Corner is without equal when it comes to challenging a competitor during tournament golf. Elevation changes, blind shots, undulating greens, and winds delivered by the golf gods can really mess with the six inches between the ears, especially when destiny awaits. Watching Jordan Spieth’s implosion at Augusta’s Golden Bell during the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament still gives me nightmares.

London’s Highland Country Club (est. 1922), host of the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, is home to its own trilogy of terror where holes No. 14, 15 and 16 offer Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada competitors their own Bermuda Triangle. It’s a three-hole stretch where a golf lead can disappear and never be found again.

On paper, the friendly confines of Highland appear easy to handle by Mackenzie Tour pros in the hunt for Web.com Tour cards. But during the three years Highland has hosted the season-ending championship, the Stanley Thompson-designed layout has defended itself quite well against some of the world’s best golfers. Small, well-protected greens that slope mostly from back to front have been the best defense.

Highland’s par-3 No. 12.

In 2015, ’16 and ’17, the overall scoring average was 68.33, just 1.69 strokes below par. But there are always going to be hot golfers ready to tear the place apart. Case in point: last year’s winner, American Rico Hoey, shot rounds of 66-66-62-67 – 261 (-19), a one-stroke victory over fellow American Jordan Niebrugge.

Highland head golf professional Rick Pero said while the greens will roll from 11 to 11.5 this year, the already punishing rough will be even thicker in order to toughen the course.

“We can’t let the greens get away from us, especially if it dries up and especially at the par-4 No. 5 and par-3 No. 12 holes,” Pero said of the holes boasting greens with dramatic slopes. “The greens will roll fast enough during the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, given that we’ll have interesting pin placements, and that the rough is going to be very tough to play out of this year.”

Rick Pero. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

In 2015 and ’16, during the tournament’s first two years at Highland, the nines were reversed in order to provide what tournament organizers, including the Mackenzie Tour, Golf Canada and the Highland host committee, thought would provide an ideal view of the finishing hole from the clubhouse. That meant the field started off their round with a short iron at the signature hole par-3, 184-yard No. 10. It was also thought that photographers would capture great shots of the cityscape coming up to the finishing green.

But in 2017, the field played Highland’s traditional layout – a wise move, according to Pero.

“We just wanted them to play as our traditional golf course and a (510-yard No. 1) par 5 as a starting hole – much better than a par-3 to start your round,” Pero explained.

“But these guys are good enough that starting on a par-3 wouldn’t bother them. They do it often already during tournaments when they start on split tees. But our 18th hole (a 404-yard par-4) is a much better finishing hole where interesting things can happen, especially when they get too aggressive on Sunday and end up in the thick rough behind the green. At No. 9 (a 351-yard par-4) players are just blasting up towards the green.”

Trilogy Of Terror

Highland No. 14

Highland No. 15

Highland No. 16

For my money, there’s no better place to watch the Freedom 55 Financial Championship than in the thick of the Bermuda Triangle – Highland’s Amen Corner. With a view of the approach at par-4 No. 14, shots into par-3 No. 15 and tee shots at dogleg right par-4 No. 16 with horrific trouble on the right side of the fairway, you’ll more than get your money’s worth when you watch this show. Like Augusta National’s Amen Corner, the wind is always blowing in different directions from tee to green, and there’s a big emphasis on course management.

Here’s how the trio of trouble played (scoring average in relation to par) the past three tournaments:

Par-4 No. 14, 460 Yards:
* 2015 – +.182, second toughest
* 2016 – +.180, first toughest
* 2017 – +.188, second toughest
Par-3 No. 15, 237 Yards:
* 2015 – +.254, first toughest
* 2016 – +.075, fourth toughest
* 2017 – +.108, fourth toughest
Par-4 No. 16, 473 Yards:
* 2015 – +.178, third toughest
* 2016 – +.167, second toughest
* 2017 – +.251, first toughest

Last year, 210-yard par-3 No. 2 played as the second toughest hole, while the challenging dogleg-right 465-yard No. 7 – similar in style to No. 16 – played as the seventh toughest.

While the flipping of the nines may have slightly affected the scoring, it’s doubtful it would have made a significant difference on the scorecard. Their par-4 14th and par-3 15th would play the same no matter if the nines were flipped or not. Some may have chosen risk off the tee at the dogleg right par-4 No. 16, but it’s doubtful: the risk for bogey or worse is too severe.

Jared du Toit battles Highland’s Amern Corner in 2017. Photo: Claus Andersen/PGA Tour Canada.

During last year’s tournament, Canadian Jared du Toit finished his Thursday round scratching his head over Highland’s tough three-hole stretch.

“I do think No. 14, 15 and 16 are like Amen Corner,” said du Toit, who will be in the field again this year. “You need to get through those holes, and score even par if you want to have a good round.

“I think the wind really swirls and turbulates, especially in the valleys. I was having a tough time judging it. When you need to be so precise on some small, firm greens, you really need to be in control, with what the wind is doing and what your ball is doing,” he said.

American Cody Blick, who also returns to Highland this year, said last year that it’s critical to “stay below the hole. If you don’t, you’re lagging up just making par. I think that makes it interesting (at Highland). You have to hit your wedges in the right spot. Hopefully you have good looks at birdie. If not, you’re making fours.”

Blick agrees with the Amen Corner analogy, particularly at No. 14, “And 16 especially. At 14, a par-5 for members, those bunkers are very penalizing. If you hit into one of those bunkers, you’re wedging out. I guess that’s the only defense. Both days (Thursday and Friday of 2017) I missed my tee shots left. Today I was fortunate enough to hit a 9-iron (approach shot) over the trees and have a shot. That’s a really difficult hole. The green is really small and undulated for such a small hole.”

Pero’s Tour Of The Triangle

Rick Pero at No. 14 tee. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

Rick Pero at No. 14 approach. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

Rick Pero at No. 14 green. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just two weeks before the Freedom 55 Financial Championship returned to Highland, Pero gave yours truly – a Highland member – a guided tour of the trouble awaiting this year’s field of 60.

“Our final (members’) par-5 (No. 14, a par-4 during the Freedom 55 Financial Championship) is also our shortest, that provides options off the tee,” according to Pero. “The prime landing area is quite narrow and well protected by a fairway bunker on each side, so you can challenge them or lay up short of them. If you choose to go for the green with your second, you must avoid a hazard and bunker on the left, and two bunkers and out of bounds on the right. The green is very small and slopes severely from back to front.”

Pero called the par-3 No. 15 “perhaps one of the most difficult par-3s in the area. A ravine borders the entire right side of the hole as well as dense forest. The left and right sides of the green are protected by bunkers. The prudent play is to take one less club than necessary and attempt to run the ball onto the putting surface. Short is also good here.”

Rick Pero at No. 15 tee. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

Rick Pero at No. 15 green. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pero defines No. 16 as another of the club’s signature holes. “A long par-4 dogleg to the right requires a straight tee shot to a flat upper landing area. This leaves a long second shot, uphill to a small fairly flat green. There are bunkers fronting each side of the green and the bunker on the right appears to be much closer to the green than it is.  Par is a great score here.”

Walking us through the Bermuda Triangle, Pero said a relatively easy tee shot at the par-4 No. 14 – anything from driver to long iron – sets up an approach shot which for most will mean only a short iron or wedge. “The heavily-protected green with punishing bunkers and surrounding rough make this more difficult than it looks,” he explained.
Pero said the difficulty of No. 15 rests on the right – severe drop off into thick bush and forest catch your eye off the tee, and severe drop off to the right of the green can make for a very challenging, blind up and down.

Rick Pero at No. 16 tee. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

Rick Pero with his approach shot at No. 16. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

Rick Pero at No. 16 green. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there’s No. 16, where most hit hybrid or long iron off the tee onto the top shelf for a mid-iron approach shot. Hit anything longer, Pero said, and you could run out of real estate on the left side then face a blocked shot into the tough green. Even worse, he said, is an out-of-bounds to the right which rests in No. 16’s Valley of Sin.

“An approach shot from down in the valley at No. 16 leaves you with a blind shot into a tricky green with very thick rough surrounding it. It’s no picnic,” Pero said, smiling at the dangers presented by this par-4 horror show.

No matter what the challenges presented by Highland Country Club during the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, one only needs to think of two rounds to be reminded of just how good the Mackenzie Tour PGA TOUR competitors are on any given day.

In 2015, American Curtis Reed’s course-record 60 on championship Sunday could have been even better if he had made a few more putts. In fact, Reed, who needs a big week at the Mackenzie Investments Open September 6-9 in Montreal in order to return to Highland this year, has shot 57 twice at his home course in Texas.

And in 2016, winner Paul Barjon of France, who also returns to Highland in a few weeks, posted a Saturday 61 during a Biblical downpour when umbrellas were destroyed and ducks were blown sideways at No. 10 pond. That round was nothing short of a miracle.

Said Pero, “These guys are good enough to do well under any conditions. And that’s what puts them on the edge of making it on the PGA Tour.”

Do yourself a favour when you’re in the gallery at Highland: visit Amen Corner. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s part of what makes Highland a special place for members, fans and Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada competitors.

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Jeffrey Reed is one of Canada’s most respected golf journalists, a multiple writing award winner from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada and author of the just-published book, The Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association, Celebrating 100 Years of Seniors Golf 1918-2018. A member of the London sports media since 1980, Reed is publisher and editor of LondonOntarioGolf.com, and LondonOntarioSports.com. A low single-digit handicap golfer, Reed is a Highland member who continues to welcome the challenge of the club’s Amen Corner. Reach him at jeff@londonontariogolf.com.

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A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989.

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