The players competing in the Classic this coming weekend won’t find any new courses or formats to intrigue them — elements organizers have used in the past — but there are at least three elements in the rotation they won’t remember seeing if they hadn’t played the courses since last year’s event.
“It’s not broke,” tournament chairman Jimmy Flowers said. “We’ve tried to make subtle changes when we can to speed up play, but other than that, if it’s not broke ...”
So, what’s new? Cider Ridge has a new head professional to greet players as they check in for their modified scramble round, which for the championship flight will be Saturday. And the other courses — Anniston Country Club and Silver Lakes — have new design elements on one of their more demanding holes.
Cider Ridge pro Ed Joseph is going through his first Sunny King Classic experience. All he knew of the event before taking over for Casey Smith was “it’s the big golf event of the year,” but he has quickly grasped the enormity and impact of the largest charity golf tournament in the Southeast.
A full field of 204 two-man teams will come through the Oxford course over the three days of the tournament, which begins Friday. The players also will play a scramble round on the Mindbreaker and Heartbreaker nines at Silver Lakes and a best-ball round at Anniston CC. Organizers anticipate another year of raising more than $100,000 for local charities.
The event has a reputation of basically running itself, but Joseph has tried to anticipate any situation that might arise during the “controlled chaos” of the weekend.
“It all comes back to preparation; the better prepared we are, the easier it goes,” he said. “There’s always stuff that will come up and it’s reacting to that, being proactive on the front end to try to address any issue before they become issue. We have a great staff here; I’m not worried about it. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I think everybody’s going to really enjoy it. The course is in as good a shape as it’s ever been, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.”
One of the biggest threats to the weekend’s enjoyment is slow play. Joseph said Cider Ridge would address pace of play through set up and hole locations that should make the course “a good bit easier” than players have come to expect as well as the presence of a forecaddie on the tight-driving 16th. Silver Lakes plans to send the field off in a two-tee start that with the exception of Friday’s wave, when 44 championship flight teams converge on the facility, won’t have a tee time later than 10:09 a.m. Anniston Country Club has more subtle plans in place, including the elimination of spectator carts during Sunday’s championship flight final round.
“We’re going to try everywhere we can to speed up play,” Flowers said. “We’re adding some more resources ... to make sure we can increase the pace of play.”
Joseph isn’t the only new piece in and around this year’s Sunny King.
Anniston Country Club has changed the look of its 12th hole, a long par-3 that played as a par-4 with a green designed to receive little pitch shots in a former life. And Silver Lakes has added a new tee to Heartbreaker No. 7, an already challenging par-5 that has undergone dramatic change since the April 27, 2011 tornado.
At ACC, they’ve opened up the left side of the 12th hole to make things a little easier for the players, but they’ve also given the greenside bunker more of a pot look. It’s not to the degree of the Hell or Road Hole bunkers at venerable St. Andrews, but it’s a grass-faced bunker that if closely mown will send balls to the flat sandy bottom nonetheless.
They’ve removed the bushes and fencing along the left side of the hole, sodded the entire area with zoysia from about 30 yards out through the green and replaced the out-of-bounds with a hazard. Defending champion Randy Reaves called it “a really nice re-do.”
The hole is expected to play about 190 yards in the tournament.
“I think it makes for a much better hole,” ACC general manager Chip Howell said. “It’ll be a much fairer miss.
“This is the side of the green to miss to because you’re chipping back up into the green. Even though it’s a tight little shot between the bunker and the hazard if you miss it there you used to dread it. Now, it wouldn’t be a bad place to miss it.”
Course officials also covered up two bunkers behind the 10th green.
Silver Lakes officials opened the new tee on Heartbreaker No. 7 in play in the Silver Lakes Championship; it’s actually a double tee for Mindbreaker No. 4. It extends the hole by about 10 yards and gives the players a straight-on look at the water on the left and bunkers on the right. The shot, however, is still the same as always: Aim at the 250-yard marker and hold on.
“That hole is totally about perception,” director of golf Jason Callan said. “”You look at it before you get to the hole and it says ‘511’ and you think by today’s standards it’s short, then you get to it and you’ve got bunkers on the right, water on the left and driving’s really a premium. Each shot is a premium all the way to the hole.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.