Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc, MI — September 2019
Friday, September 13, the PGA Tour Champions tee off in the 2019 Ally Challenge, presented by McLaren. Pro/Am competitions and practice rounds for the professionals comprise the week’s activities leading up to the first day of competition.
PGA Professional Darren Husse, a member of the golf staff at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, took us on a tour of the course just prior to tournament week. His insights on how the Tour players will set up to play each hole made for interesting commentary.
The thought process of how the professional golfers will approach the course adds to the serious golf fans appreciation of the game at its highest level. Darren’s observations make watching the tournament on TV or live at the course more exciting. The player who executes the shots, especially on key-holes, will walk off the course Sunday evening with the Trophy in hand.
This article is a bit different from our normal event coverage. We will detail each hole and then provide Darren’s comments in quotation marks. So you can follow the action hole-by-hole during tournament play.
Hole #1, 567 Yds, Par 5
Out of bounds on the left is very tight and comes into play with a mis-hit tee shot. Trees guard the right side of the fairway.
“The green is reachable in two for the long hitters, but the out-of-bounds on the left puts a premium on the tee shot. Some players may opt to hit a 3-wood off the tee and make it a 3-shot hole. Fairway bunkers on the right and trees that can block the green, again force players to make an accurate tee shot. A huge green offers birdie opportunities, pin placement often dictates if the hole will yield the occasional eagle. A solid starting hole, it will reward you if you respect it. A wayward tee shot can easily lead to a double bogey, not the way you would want to start your round.”
Hole #2, 431 Yds, Par 4
A potential birdie hole with a well-placed drive. The landing area narrows due to a large tree on the left side of the fairway. A single bunker guards the green.
“Players may opt to use a 3-wood off the tee to avoid the big tree on the left. A driver to center-right of the fairway offers an excellent birdie opportunity. The green’s slope is fairly tame and there is no serious danger on the approach shot. It all depends on what distance the player feels comfortable with on his 2nd shot. Consecutive birdies are a great way to start your round.”
Hole #3, 187 Yds, Par 3
The first of the par 3’s on the course, the green has a severe slope from back to front.
“Pin placement is key here. If it is tucked on the back right behind the bunker most of the pros will fire at the center of the green and be happy with a par. The front of the green is so severely sloped that when the pin is set forward they would rather be 10 feet short of green than 15 feet past the hole.”
Hole #4, 401 Yds, Par 4
The fourth hole has the smallest of all the greens at Warwick Hills. But, it is very puttable.
“A driver for most players will avoid trouble with the big tree on the left side of the fairway, leaving a short iron or wedge to the green. A birdie is possible with an accurate approach shot, even when the pin is tucked in a corner.”
Hole #5, 437 Yds, Par 4
A slight dogleg right with water on the left closer to the green than the tee. Good drives off the tee are often rewarded with birdies.
“Tee placement will have an impact on how the pro’s approach this hole. When the tee markers are set back it actually takes the water down the left-hand side out of play. It is a harder hole when the tees are forward because it requires a more precise shot. You will see guys hitting 3-wood off the tee to avoid the water. Playing to the right side of the fairway over the bunkers will leave an approach that has to be kept low to avoid overhanging tree limbs.”
Hole #6, 421 Yds, Par 4
The hole opens up closer to the green, which is quite large. Avoid the bunkers and it can be a birdie hole.
“Even though the hole looks shorter down the right side, tree trouble abounds. A well placed shot down the left side offers a larger landing area than it appears from the tee. The big green is well bunkered but accepts approach shots with minimal slope. It is the flattest green on the course and putts will easily find their way to the hole”
Hole #7, 584 Yds, Par 5
The longest of the par 5’s with a very wide fairway. The green has a crown that makes it fast on both the front and back of the ridge.
“Taking a big swing makes the hole reachable in two shots. But, if you miss the fairway by five yards either way then you are punching out sideways due to the trees. The pin placement is what determines if an eagle is possible, birdies are very attainable if you keep your first two shots in the fairway.”
Hole #8, 199 Yds, Par 3
A long par 3 with a severely sloped green. Par is a good score, bogey is likely if you miss the green.
“Big, deep, and open green. Another ridge runs through the center of the green and it forces you to keep the ball below the hole. With the hole adjacent to 17, players will have to deal with the crowd noise.”
Hole #9, 434 Yds, Par 4
Down the middle is the only place to be with your drive. The green has a number of undulations, making it a difficult putting surface.
“The ninth hole was the tightest driving hole on the PGA Tour when the Buick Open was played at Warwick hills. They have since taken out some trees on the right-hand side. Three-wood is a common choice on this hole however less than driver brings the right-hand bunkers into play. The left-hand side of the fairway is dead if you miss the short-grass. A good drive is a must and will occasionally yield a birdie. Par is a good score for PGA professionals.”
Hole #10, 401 Yds, Par 4
A birdie hole if the players drive is managed well and the approach shot is stopped at a good spot on the green.
“Hitting the right side of the fairway is a must, you get an extra 50 yards of roll. Your caddy will want to remind you because the view from the tee is deceptive. The fairway contours to the right so much that a tee shot right down the center will miss the fairway left. A lot of guys will hit 3-wood so they can place it properly. A good drive leaves you with a short flip to the green. The pros will be checking their pin placement sheets on the tee. A hole that is tucked behind a bunker will bring out the 3-wood so that they have a shot that can be spun and better-controlled when it hits the green.”
Hole #11, 190 Yds, Par 3
Hitting the green offers a good birdie opportunity as the putting surface is more level than most on the course.
“This is the highest handicapped hole. Meaning that, on paper, it is the easiest hole on the course. Look for pin placements to use every quadrant of the green to add some teeth to the difficulty of the hole. You will see the hole cut into some spots that will never be used during regular play on the course.”
Hole #12, 340 Yds, Par 4
Avoid the trees and card a birdie. The 12th can launch a run to the top of the leader board for a player with a hot hand.
“This is a birdie hole. If you walk off the green with anything more than three strokes on your scorecard you have lost shots to the field. Everyone uses driver here and the long hitters can roll one onto the green”
Hole #13, 544 Yds, Par 5
The only hole on the course with green-side water. Birdie and the occasional eagle will be the result of a good drive and well-placed approach.
“The signature of the 13th hole is the big oak tree in the fairway. You want to be left of that giant tree. If you miss your drive to the right of the tree you are in jail and will be punching out on your 2nd shot. A miss left is much more forgiving, even from the left rough you can chase a shot out and down the fairway. A drive in the fairway gives an opportunity to make it to the green in two. It is a birdie hole if you respect it. The green is the most severe on the course. A back-right pin setting brings water into play, it’s important that you don’t get greedy on 13.”
Hole #14, 322 Yds, Par 4
The shortest par 4 on the course. A must birdie hole for the professionals and an eagle possibility with a drive to the green.
“A wide-open entry to the green provides an opening to roll a drive on. The hole is very reachable off the tee for most professionals. Placing the pin in the center of the green could create some fireworks with an eagle being an attainable score.”
Hole #15, 457 Yds, Par 4
“Great hole, your drive is key. You must hit it in the center of the fairway. Go left and it is almost impossible to make the green in two. If you are going to miss it’s better to go down the right side. Par is a good score here. If you hit a tree on the left side it is possible to bounce out of bounds. It is better to miss this green short and chip-up than to hit deep into the green. Out of bounds comes into play if you overcook your approach or miss-club, a ball hitting the back slope of the green will bounce out of bounds if it does not hit a spectator.” Google Earth shows how narrow the fairway on 15 is.
Hole #16, 580 Yds, Par 5
The open fairway looks appealing, but the hole narrows closer to the green. Not a place to gamble, 4 is a very good score. Par is not a sure thing if either approach shot goes off-line.
“It is difficult to get to the green in two, especially with a breeze in your face. The wide fairway entices the long hitters, but if you miss the fairway you will find yourself in trouble. As you approach the green, the fairway narrows and trees will block any approach from the rough. This is a birdie hole if you play it conservatively. It is important to keep your shot to the green below the hole due to the severe slope. The back of the green levels out and pin placements there are easier to putt.”
Hole #17, 145 Yds, Par 3
Seventeen will amp up the action this year with the tee moved 40-50 yards closer to the green. Birdies provide the crowd with $2 beers for the next 17 minutes. Expect Saturday to be a wild affair and Sunday this hole could determine the tournament winner.
“The signature hole on the course. It is also the loudest hole with a rowdy crowd, especially in the beer garden. The hole has been shortened this year to create more excitement. Expect birdies to be plentiful, as the distance will be in the 150-yard range. Players will hit everything from a 9-iron to pitching wedges depending on pin position.”
Hole #18, 435 Yds, Par 4
Par is a good score on 18. Birdies are hard to come by, especially with holes tucked behind the bunkers. Paul Broadhurst’s birdie on the final hole in last year’s tournament was spectacular, sealing his 2-shot lead for the win.
“The final hole is a great finishing hole for the tournament. A heavily sloped green with pin placements behind the bunkers will require the players to make precision drives to frame their approach to the green and hit the ideal landing spots.”
“Warwick Hills main characteristic is the front of the greens are exposed but with fast slopes. Fingers of the greens behind bunkers flatten out but require a more precise approach.
The course does not beat you up, if you miss a shot you can find it. You may not like your position but you can generally recover with a pitchout. Birdies are plentiful and the professional players enjoy being here. It’s an old school style course and fun for the average golfer as well
If you plan to walk the course on the final day, picking up the leaders at the 12th starts a string of holes that will likely produce the tournament winner.