There will be plenty of opportunities.
All you have to do is be willing to take the risk.
Every course in this year’s Classic rotation — Anniston Country Club, Oxford’s Cider Ridge Golf Club and Pine Hill Country Club — offers players (and partners) a variety of risk-reward holes.
Format, position — on the golf course and the leaderboard — and, of course, ego will dictate when you roll the dice.
Some plays are smart; some, not so much.
“There’s definitely a lot of risk-reward stuff that goes on in the Sunny King,” said defending champion Marcus Harrell, by no means a conservative player. “If you mess up on one of those holes, it can cost you the tournament. But if you don’t play aggressive, you can lose that way as well, because so many teams are making birdies.
“You feel like you have to birdie every hole you play and when you come to a hole where you have to take a chance, you take it and hope somebody comes through — or take one of your mulligans.”
You don’t have to be in the elite flights to face one of those situations, either. Tournament officials and course operators have said they will look to make the pin placements as favorable as fair will allow to promote pace of play, so players of all skill levels will have the opportunity to feel the rush of stepping on one if the situation is right.
So go ahead and unleash your inner Mickelson. If you pull it off, your team has a chance to pick up a shot or two on the field. If you don’t, you’d better hope your partner is in play. If you both try it and go down in flames, have the antacid — and a calculator — handy.
“It all comes down to trusting your partner,” said Ott Chandler, the other half of the defending champs. “If you have one of those holes and you trust your partner, you can turn him loose.
“That’s a lot of fun. You find yourself in a rooting mode, rooting for your partner on those holes. When he can 100 yards off your shots, you’re really rooting for your partner then.”
Here are the holes in this year’s Sunny King rotation that offer the best risk-reward opportunities for the week.
Pine Hill Country Club
In this format, it’s important to see what your partner does before making any decision to step on the accelerator, but it’s also a format that lends itself to playing shots you might not try in a normal round. The format is the least penal for a mistake because each shot gets two attempts.
No. 9: If your partner is in play, go ahead and rip it. The risk is finding the ponds at the bottom of the hill. And if you spray it, there’s out of bounds left and trouble right.
A smartly played shot just to the left of the cart path usually kicks left and settles safely at the bottom of the hill or — even better — in the gap between the ponds 100 yards from the green.
No. 10: This short par-4, even from the backed-up tees being played in the tournament, is sure inviting, but beware — the green is guarded by water front, right and long, and the green doesn’t hold drivers well. Oh yeah, there’s out of bounds on the left.
“I think 10 is your greatest risk-reward hole,” Pine Hill pro Cory Etter said. “If you’ve got one in play short of the water, why not take the chance? Even if you know you’re not long enough, maybe except for your best drive, you might as well take the chance.”
No. 17: This par-4 is short enough to drive as well, but if you don’t fly it far enough, you could be left to pitch over the greenside bunkers from some soft turf or worse be in them. And if you block it, there are trees on the right, although the ones closest to the green have been removed, making the next shot not as dicey as it had been.
“I don’t see any reason why both of your partners would not try to go for it,” Etter said.
Cider Ridge Golf Club
The risks in the modified scramble on this course come with what you want to do off the tee. From there, any decisions you make will be on you.
No. 10: Try to hit it over hill or lay it out into the landing zone. Depending on wind and length off the tee, a layup can leave you a downhill approach anywhere from inside 200 yards to 130. Drive it or bounce it over the hill, you risk being funneled into the hazard, being left with an awkward stance or a touchy uphill approach with a short iron.
“The unique factor of Cider Ridge is it forces you to think … about your current shot and what you want to have on your next shot,” director of golf Casey Smith said. “Strategy really plays into effect here when making your decision. Most of the time, you’re better off playing a high percentage shot and playing for a good score. You want to put yourself in the optimum position to have a good yardage into the green.”
No. 14: This is probably the best risk-reward hole in the event. You only have to carry your drive about 240 yards to clear the creek and leave a comfortable pitch to the green, otherwise — much like No. 10 — it’s a layup to the landing area and another long iron or hybrid to the green.
At least one of the partners must have a ball in play if you want to try this. If somebody doesn’t definitively see the ball go into the hazard you have to play another ball from the tee.
No. 16: Assistant pro Andrew Brooks calls this his toughest hole in the county. It’s a blind tee shot from the Classic tee to a tight fairway. The key is hitting a club that doesn’t have a lot of roll because if you hit it too good, the shot can roll through the fairway long or tumble left into the hazard.
“I do risk-reward according to how my round is going,” Brooks said. “If I come to 14 around even par, I take an iron off the tee. If I’m a couple over coming into 14, I’m going to try to get some of that back.
“In a team event, if I’m hitting second every time, I take the risk. If my partner is somewhere we can make a par, every time I hit that shot. It’s all about the format and where you are in your round. If it makes sense to take that risk, take it. I’ve always been the kind to tell people if you can legitimately get on in 2, take the chance.”
To a lesser extent, given the back tee likely being played in the tournament, there’s No. 7. From a more forward tee, players would be tempted to drive the green — there will still be some of that this weekend — but care must be taken since there are hazards right and left and two bunkers at the bottom left of a wide but shallow elevated green.
“It’s not a hole you want to overlook just because it reads short on the scorecard,” Smith said. “You have to play it smart.”
Anniston Country Club
Playing your own ball all the way through here, you’re on your own. Any decision is at your own peril and could put immense pressure on your partner.
No. 3: The wise man would lay back with an iron or hybrid, but because it’s a short par-4, players pull out the big stick and try to drive the green. It can be done, but if the shot gets away, it finds the second fairway or threatens to scatter the players teeing off on the fourth.
Even driving the green is no guarantee of a birdie. One player during last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur qualifying drove this green, then three-putted for par. Then he three-putted the next two holes.
“It can be mentally debilitating,” general manager Chip Howell said.
No. 7: The smart play for birdie on this drivable par-4 is 4-iron and wedge, but the most bold in the field will try to draw a driver and hit the green. The dangers here are the trees lining the entire left side or blowing it through the fairway and leaving a chip down-green and down-grain.
“People don’t think about holes 1 and 2, either,” Harrell said.
“Do you take a chance of hitting driver inside 100 yards or hit an iron and leave 150 yards? The first three holes (at ACC) we debate our decisions more than any holes in the tournament. We can never decide what to do.”
Let the fun begin.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.