Jim Harris: Everyone Wants Rain Now, Except For Chenal And Southern Amateur

by Jim Harris  on Monday, Jul. 16, 2012 2:37 pm  

The No. 9 hole at Bear Den, site of this weeks Southern Am taking place at Chenal Country Club.

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Eden Isle, which is actually a peninsula of land that includes the golf course at Red Apple Inn & Country Club in Cleburne County, seems to sit in a weird vortex when it comes to rain. For example, a week ago when major storms built up around Heber Springs and Greers Ferry Lake, Eden Isle sat almost untouched in this eye of the storm with thunder and lightning only in the distance. My mother, who lives on Eden Isle, says the place hardly ever receives much rain compared to the towns nearby.

That's exactly what Chenal Country Club and the Southern Golf Association would hope for this week for its 500 or so acres that make up the Bear Den course: while everyone around it would love a lot more rain, Chenal would like to sit in the eye of the storm, untouched by any precipitation, as the 106th Southern Amateur begins on Wednesday.

The Bear Den course is in spectacular shape. The course went a month with no play, and carts weren't allowed on the paths in the month preceding that. Bear Den could play host to any golf tournament on any level and the participants and spectators would be awed by its splendor.

While Arkansas got little if any rain during that month leading up to last week's storms and low pressure system, and while Lonoke and Cleburne counties browned in June like I'd never seen it (and most of the state was under a burn ban, no personal fireworks for July 4, and such), Chenal greened up, and the thick zoysia rough grew up while the bentgrass greens became the perfect putting carpet.

"We've been able to throw money and people at it and it looks great," said Chenal head professional John Warburton.

If Augusta National or any U.S. Open site has showed golfers anything, it's that the right amount of money and attention can bring about golf course perfection.

Well, that's true up to a point. Courses playing host to a major golf tournament — and we can't emphasize enough just how major a tournament Little Rock will experience this week with the Southern Amateur Championship — can control all the water and chemicals they need to in the run-up to a tournament, but they can't control Mother Nature giving them more water or less sunlight the week of the event.

For the tournament, Chenal superintendent Jed Spencer and the SGA officials want the course playing hard and fast — firm fairways and greens, which means a major cutback in the amount of water going on them from last weekend through this Saturday. Mother Nature had other plans beginning last Monday with a gulleywasher of about two inches all over west Little Rock, including Chenal, and more rain in recent days.

Flash back to last year's U.S. Open at Congressional in Bethesda, Md. The course was primed for the world's best golfers, as usual, but constant rain made Congressional play soft, and Rory McIlroy set a record in shooting 16-under (though he was barely chased over the weekend). This year, with drier conditions at Congressional and a setup close to Open standards, the PGA Tour's AT&T Classic played more like the U.S. Open should have played last year, with Tiger Woods winning at 8-under.

In Britain, the biggest defense is the wind for the links courses playing host to the British Open, such as this week at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's. The organizers hope for and expect wind, but if the days are calm then the pros eat those courses up.

The media was afforded the opportunity to play the back nine at Bear Den on Friday. I was paired with Stephens Media's Harry King and Jeff Reed along with Wyn Norwood, a Chenal member and former UALR golf coach whose efforts as a Southern Golf Association board member helped bring the Southern Am to Chenal.

We didn't dare tee it up from the tips, at least for the first eight holes. I've crossed into senior-age territory (or at least regular tee markers), and King, Norwood and Reed were also happy to tee it forward. Bear Den can be a bear from any tee box. Even the youngsters here this week bashing it 300-plus off the tee will find plenty to concern them in terms of well-placed fairway bunkers, tight tree lines and fairways from the tips.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.