bonkFebruary 19, 2009

Bringing New Meaning To "Hazard"

The occasional errant drive might lead to worse things than a bad score at the new site of this week's Accenture Match Play Championship

The best golfers in the world will confront plenty of obstacles this week at the Accenture Match Play Championship

The best golfers in the world will confront plenty of obstacles this week at the Accenture Match Play Championship

MARANA, Ariz. -- This just in: They just killed a rattlesnake on the 14th fairway here at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, which means either this place is sort of wild and still desert; or they're testing new ways to measure play instead of using birdies and bogeys.

Let's just say unless you want to be on a first name basis with Saguaro cactus or perhaps something with a little more bite to it, it's probably going to be best to stay on the fairway when the $8.5 million Accenture Match Play Championship begins Wednesday.

Tiger Woods doesn't know how much fun he's going to have in his first event in eight months. If it isn't the threat of reptiles, or wondering how his newly reconstructed left knee is going to hold up, he can also take on the 7,849-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed layout here in the foothills north of Tucson.

Almost 8,000 yards?

"It looks scarier than it is because of the elevation," said Michael McMahon, general manager of Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. "Jack said you can take five percent off for elevation."

The course is part of an 850-acre master design that's eventually going to include 36 holes in addition to 400 residences and the luxury hotel. The Accenture Match Play event has a deal to play here this year and in 2010, but a possible four-year extension of the agreement could be in the works, according to McMahon.

Woods is the defending champion of the event, but he won when it was played across the road at the Gallery, so he's a rookie here like everyone else. Although his caddie, Steve Williams, was present on Monday to walk the course, Woods wasn't scheduled to get his first look until Tuesday morning. What he will discover is a layout with four par fives, wide fairways and rambunctious greens with more undulation than, well, a fistful of rattlesnakes.

"Nicklaus used large corridors of fairways and landing areas, so it's not as claustrophobic a feeling as a lot of desert courses," McMahon said.

The 14th through 17th holes play up into a canyon and have great views. Maybe there will be great views of birdies, perhaps something more sinister. The tee at the par-four 15th has been moved up to 343 yards, with a wash area to carry about 280 yards out, and a pot bunker short of the green.

It's designed to entice players to go for it, and may be a great match play hole. The only water on the course is a pond for irrigation on the third hole, which plays to 208 yards over the pool. Don't go for that thing. Two years in construction, the course was completed in December, but officially opened only last month. As for the greens, McMahon addressed their undulations, or mounds, or whatever you want to call them this way:

"They have a lot of movement."

And that would favor exactly which player?

"With imagination, talent and a short game, you would think Tiger's pretty spectacular as a putter."

The greens may actually take some getting used to, said Rory McIlroy.

"I've never seen greens like this," he said.

Nobody else has either, at least among the pros getting their first looks at the place this week. So that makes two hints on how to play it: Putt well, and watch out for rattlesnakes.