It’s almost like looking at a football schedule in August and deciding where the sure wins are located.
But a funny thing happens sometimes in the heat of competition. Sure wins aren’t always a sure thing. And those holes that look so easy in the grill room aren’t so gettable anymore when a round is on the line.
Each of the three courses in this year’s King Classic rotation has a par-5 that on the surface would appear to be a makeable birdie — especially in the formats they’re being played — but if a team isn’t careful they can bite you.
They are Heartbreaker No. 7 at Silver Lakes, No. 18 at Cider Ridge Golf Club and No. 17 at Anniston Country Club.
“You’re always thinking about making birdie on a par-5, but not a one of them is a guarantee,” defending champion Randy Reaves said. “Those holes, each one of them, you can have a 3, 4, 5 or 8. Now, you won’t have an 8 in a scramble, but in a scramble a 5 is like an 8.
“That’s how demanding they are. It only takes a bad shot from each player and you’re in trouble. In any flight.”
And the recent rains that have softened conditions at all three courses could make these three late-round holes an even bigger challenge to score.
The holes have produced their share of triumph and tragedy.
Marcus Harrell and Cory Etter made eagle on Heartbreaker No. 7 in last year’s Classic opening-round scramble. They played up the left side — not way left up the adjacent fairway; that’s out of bounds — but hit it far enough into the hazard they were able to find it in the wispy grass. They knocked it on and made the putt.
Others have come to those holes and not been so lucky. Caleb McKinney lost a playoff to Dustin Travis in a Future Champions Junior Tour event earlier this season when he found the right side hazard twice on No. 18 at Cider Ridge.
And memories are fresh of what happened to the contenders on 17 at ACC in last year’s final round of the Sunny King. Harrell and Etter both hit their tee shots into the hazard and played out with injurious results. Brennan Clay and Daniel Glidewell seemed to be in perfect shape for a birdie, then had a lapse in judgment on the green. Even eventual winners Reaves and Gary Wigington had to settle for a par on the hole.
The magnitude of the hole increases because it’s next to last in regulation on Championship Sunday for the championship flight.
“You lay the card out there and look at it, (17) should be a birdie every time, but you add the tournament pressure, everybody up there (on the patio), it changes that hole tremendously,” Reaves said. “I’ve seen it not only in the Sunny King, but individual tournaments how it changes the whole tournament.
“That hole is one of the most instrumental holes there is. The pressure and everything else going on at that point is tremendous. It’s not so hard you can’t hit a bad shot and make up for it, but it’s so hard, so demanding with all the pressure.”
But the hazard that cuts the hole in half isn’t the only danger at 17. If your drive misses the fairway left, a cedar tree on the corner blocks your approach to the green. Thick rough down the right side takes away your chance of going for the green in 2.
“If you’re down by 2 you can eagle it and tie it up,” Clay said, “but if you’re leading by 1 or 2 it can catch you in a heart beat. I think 17 is the easiest of those three, but when you get to Sunday, it turns into a pretty tough hole. If you miss in the wrong spot you’re (in trouble).”
Heartbreaker No. 7 has undergone a major facelift since the April 2011 tornado devastated the Robert Trent Jones Trail facility and its surroundings. Gone is the heavy tree line that made up the hazard down the left side of the hole, replaced by three lakes that seemingly squeeze the fairway from the tee.
And the elimination of the trees brings the wind into play, and when blowing it’s generally into the players’ faces.
Course officials have built a new tee box on the holes, which will be in play for the tournament. It stretches the hole to 511 yards and lines a player directly between the lakes and the bunkers down the right side landing area.
Even with a strategically placed tee drive, players face a dramatically uphill second shot to an undulating green guarded by bunkers. Another effect of losing all the trees is there is no “batters eye” behind the green to help with depth perception.
“That hole is totally about perception,” Silver Lakes director of golf Jason Callan said. “You perceive it’s going to be difficult first of all because of the water down the left side ... and you have nothing to block out the trouble, so you see it all.
“Before you get to it, it says 511 and you think by today’s standards it’s short, but you get to it you’ve got bunkers on the right, water on the left and driving’s really a premium. Then, you have a true risk/reward second shot uphill with bunkers short and trouble all around the green. From the beginning there’s a premium on each shot the entire hole. It’s not like you can mess one up and make up for it. It’s a premium all the way to the green ... but if you get on the green — and where we plan on having the flags it’s going to be accessable — people are going to have an opportunity for eagle.”
No. 18 at Cider Ridge comes at the end of the modified scramble round. Both players have their pick of the best drive, but off the tee they face hazard on the right and drop-off down the left side that runs into a hazard.
Even with a good drive, a poorly executed second shot could find trouble on either side of the fairway. There’s a fairway bunker about 70 yards out, a greenside bunker right and drop-ofs on either side to a hazard.
“That pretty much eliminates you from trying to go for it,” Cider Ridge director of golf Ed Joseph said. “Longer hitters have a chance to, but even then up by the green you can get yourself in trouble. Once you get outside the fairway, there’s just not a lot of room.
“You’ve got to be careful and plan the hole out. If you just go up and hit it as far as you can every shot you’re going to leave yourself with an awkward yardage in. I’ve seen guys who hit it on in 2 and make eagle, but ... if you analyze their game properly most players at our level are going to be more likely to make birdie with a wedge in their hand than trying to go for it.
“The people who play it smarter have a much lower scoring average on that hole than the people who try and go for it every time. I know that’s the fun way to play it but when there’s something on the line you’ve really got to know your game and know what yardage you want to have into that hole to play it properly.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.