Printer Friendly

Out of the frying pan and into the fire for Seniors.

Byline: By PAUL WILLIAMS Western Mail

No-one can claim the players at the Wales Seniors Open have not been made to work hard for their considerable prize money at the second richest event on the European Seniors Tour.

After five years at Royal St David's, Harlech - often dubbed the most difficult par-69 links in the world - they are now moving south to the Wales National layout at The Vale.

It's a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire because, although a very different parkland challenge awaits them this year, one thing remains very much the same. It's tough.

With the leanest young professionals on the Challenge Tour having failed to break par in last year's Firstplus Wales Challenge over the Wales National, it is perhaps sensible that the course will play 500 yards shorter next week than its back-breaking, back-tee potential of 7,413 yards.

But the 6,900 yards that remain should not be confused with any shrinking violet.

After a 456-yard opening par-four which requires careful line selection to cut the dogleg, you get an idea of what the Wales National is all about when you play the second.

At 607 yards from the back tees, it's long, but as you look down the narrow funnel that is the fairway at the driving distance, you realise just how tight this layout can be, too.

Even from forward tees, it's sensible to lay up a little short of the tree line on the right because only the very powerful will have a chance at the green in two and the longest drives will run into a patch of rough lining a cart path across the fairway.

This is an unnecessary penalty, really, on what is otherwise a fine hole because the fairway is tight enough to deter all but the most fearless big-hitters.

'The second will be a key hole next week,' said Clive Coombs, head professional at The Vale, who is looking forward to the biggest golf tournament ever staged at the impressive resort at Hensol.

'It's usually a genuine three-shot par-five and the fairway is tight. We've seen some big scores run up on that hole so it's one the seniors will have to be careful with.'

Having liaised with the European Seniors Tour and The Vale's own team of 15 greenkeepers - who have been working flat out against the horrendous wet weather of up until a fortnight ago - Coombs knows the course has never been in better condition for its toughest examination.

'These seniors can really play,' he said. 'A lot of them have only just finished competing on the regular tour and there's some big- hitters among them.

'The winning score in the Challenge Tour was level par but it was very wet back in May last year so there should be a bit more run in the fairways this time.

'They'll be playing mostly off the white tees rather than the very back ones and, if the weather remains fine like it is now, I wouldn't be surprised to see scores of six and seven under.

'But 6,900 yards is not a short golf course. Nobody wants to see a golf course slaughtered by the scoring but we'd be surprised to see that here.'

So would I after checking out the work that's been done to get the course - still maturing at only three years old - in tip-top condition for the Firstplus Wales Seniors Open from next Friday to Sunday.

Although the recent heatwave may produce a bit more run on the drives, the flip side is balls can bounce off the fairway and into trouble and greens which are expected to run 10-and- a-half on the stimp-meter will be firm for approach shots.

Off the fairway lie not only water hazards on seven of the holes but also trees, hedgerows and some punishing rough, as well as strategically-placed bunkers. And, with its demanding length, this is not a course to be playing from off the fairways.

While its card yardage makes the Wales National a long walk, one welcome change for the pounds 500,000 seniors event is that the road will only be crossed once and back.

The original layout had you crossing the road twice so as to return to the clubhouse after nine holes and, although it's only a country lane, the trips from green to tee added up to a fair old trek.

So the old 10th - a cracking downhill par-four which is driveable in the right conditions - is now the sixth and the seventh (the old fourth) has been lengthened to a par-five which now plays the full extent of its dogleg.

It's a good change because you were asked to cut too much off the corner of the old par-four and a tree eating into the left of the fairway will make it a difficult green to reach in two.

The eighth is typical of the testing par-threes on the track, although the most picturesque short hole is the 11th.

Before that, you play the 10th - the old seventh - which has made the trade-off with the seventh and been cut from a short par-five to a long par-four. Again, a well-judged move because it never played long enough - at least from the yellow tees - to be a par-five because a lot can be lopped from the dogleg.

The 12th is the most reachable, and perhaps the only two-shot par-five but the risk and reward here is great with trees and hedgerow down the left and water down the right. The gap between the two at the entrance to the green is no more than 15 yards so there is no room for error.

The 13th could provide a similar challenge of strategy but, like on the second, a patch of rough in the middle of the fairway deters what is, in any case, a tight drive.

The next has an altogether more pleasing feature in the middle of the fairway - a great oak - which you need to clear with a high fairway wood, maybe, or skirt around with a low, running long iron.

'Just aim at the tree,' I was once told, presumably because I'd not hit a single one of my targets up to that point.

'Even if you hit it, you'll come down either side,' added my partner with the local knowledge.

I found the trunk with unerring accuracy, of course, heard a crack and never saw my ball again. Still, a great little par-four.

A great big par-four is the 16th which is identified by many as the signature hole of the Wales National.

'We call it The Beach because of the bunker at the front right that goes straight into the lake,' said Coombs.

'That's a nice feature but it's one of the toughest holes with water down the right and a large green with some big undulations on it.'

In truth, the pair of elephants buried beneath the green are a little too large. There's enough of a challenge to drive you crazy without ending up on a putting surface more suited to crazy golf.

There's no respite at the 17th where you need to land a long drive on something like a sixpence to remain on the fairway yet not be blocked out for your long-iron at the green.

But the 18th is a birdie chance which should provide an exciting finish to next week's high-quality tournament.

The challenge as a whole will certainly not disappoint.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 9, 2006
Previous Article:Evans planning to go out on tournament high before turning pro.
Next Article:Stars out in search of big Wales pay-day.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters