Friday, June 24, 2011

Gold Mountain Olympic: Just your everyday championship golf course

BREMERTON, Wash. – The roughs are long and sticky and will only get longer.
The greens are fast, and might get faster.

And while members and visiting players battle through – and maybe curse – the challenging setup at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course, it’s all in the game plan as Gold Mountain and the United States Golf Association zero in on the U.S. Junior Amateur here July 18-23.

It is exactly this dynamic tension between common player and championship-caliber golf course that makes the Olympic Course a Pacific Northwest mecca for affordable, accessible public golf that gives up nothing in quality and challenge for elite players.

Good young amateur players will be in abundance for the Jr. Amateur’s six days of match-play competition, including current phenom Jordan Spieth and defending champion Jim Liu, the youngest  ever (at 14) to win this tournament.

The Olympic Course at Gold Mountain

The bountifully scenic course that will test them was designed by John Harbottle III and opened by the City of Bremerton in 1996.

“When we hired John, we said we really want a championship golf course, for sure, but not at the expense of the bread and butter for us, which is the everyday customer,” Gold Mountain director of golf Scott Alexander said this week.

“The course exceeded my expectations. He really gave us exactly what we wanted.”

Harbottle had for his canvas a broad swath of ruggedly wooded foothills, in the southern reaches of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, when he set out to design Gold Mountain’s second course alongside the existing Cascade Course.

He was able to skirt the fine line between playable and fun and a course for shotmakers only.

What Alexander calls Harbottle’s “little bumps,” for instance around the No.3 green, don’t unduly penalize a slightly errant shot, but truly reward an outstanding shot.

“It’s not unplayable,” Alexander said. “He’s just shaped it in such a way that he really does identify an OK shot from a really, really good shot.

“Around the greens you have to have some touch to score well. The greens really separate the golf course.”

When media members at a kickoff news conference played the Olympic course earlier this month, the heavy stuff off the fairway measured roughly three inches. By the Jr. Amateur’s opening day, expect the rough to have grown out to a thick and stingy four inches.

Putting greens that day rolled out at between 11 and 12 feet on the Stimp meter, Alexander said. He expects they’ll play at 12, where they roll best, by tournament time.

USGA officials will arrive in Bremerton a week ahead of time for a final assessment of the golf course and to verify the parameters they set a year ago for Gold Mountain superintendent Ed Faulk.

“When they come in a week in advance it should be as they requested,” Faulk said. “If they need certain tweaks here and there, we can do that for them.”

Faulk has the advantage of recent experience in meeting the logistical challenges of a USGA national championship. The Olympic Course was the site of the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links.

Faulk and two crew members went back to Lebanon, Ohio, for the 2005 Publinx at Shaker Run Golf Club. They watched the tournament for several days and talked to the superintendent there.

“That was very helpful,” he said, “instead of going in completely blind.”

Faulk said Gold Mountain pro shop employees keep the public forewarned about the dense roughs in the run-up to the Jr. Am. Playing the Olympic, he said, is simple.

“If they keep it in the fairway they don’t have a problem,” he said. “That’s why we cut those fairways nice and short for ‘em.”

Gold Mountain Golf Club: (360) 415-5432;
U.S. Junior Amateur

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