FAYETTEVILLE — Some of the best college golf teams in America will face humbling moments the next two weeks at the NCAA Championships.
The expansive 7,527-yard layout of the championship course at The Blessings is full of pitfalls, including ravines, Clear Creek and other water obstacles, false fronts, deep bunkers and tricky greens. The par-5 15th hole has a tree in the middle of the fairway.
Just as Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., and the Concession Golf Club in Braden-ton, Fla., before it, The Blessings will be a mental and physical challenge for the 24 women’s teams and the 30 men’s teams that will take it on over the next two weeks.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches reach out, and I’m not going to name them, but they’ve already been psyched out a little bit with this golf course,” said Brandt Packer, producer for the Golf Channel’s coverage of the championships. “I’ll be anxious to see how many teams have lost before they even put a peg in the ground because it’s a Concession, it’s a Karsten Creek, where it’s in your head, versus teams which say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Let’s get the ball in the fairway, get it on the green, this is OK. And off we go.’ ”
John H. Tyson, whose vision of a championship course resulted in the construction of Blessings in 2004, said alterations over the years — some at the suggestion of former Arkansas players such as Stacy Lewis, Gaby Lopez and Austin Cook — have mellowed it a tad.
“The young men and women will expose the weaknesses of my golf course,” Tyson said at a recent event to tout the championships. “I believe it will test the young men and women and will identify the champion while still being fair.”
The Golf Channel’s Lisa Cornwell, the first female scholarship golfer at the University of Arkansas, called Blessings a “precision” golf course.
“It’s one of those courses that can kind of trick you off the tee,” she said. “Because you look at it and you’re like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of room out there.’ But when you get up there, there are runoffs … there are certain places where if you short-side yourself you’re dead. It is a shot-maker’s golf course.”
UA women’s Coach Shauna Taylor said the course has changed a lot, “but it’s not any easier. It’s still a very challenging golf course.
“The greens are going to be fast. They’re going to be slopey. I don’t think teams coming in are going to be used to that.”
Arkansas senior Dylan Kim shot a course-record 65 at The Blessings this spring.
“Any time you post a good number out there, it’s a great confidence booster,” Kim said. “The course is really demanding. It tests you mentally and it tests you physically. I think it can teach you to be smart.”
Arkansas senior Kaylee Benton said having The Blessings as a home course is an edge for the Razorbacks.
“Getting to play The Blessings more than just one time is such an incredible advantage for us,” she said. “We know the greens pretty well, and we have the angles and we’ve also seen almost every shot possible on that course.
“For all these people coming in from Bermuda greens or bent fairways and all these different grass conditions and they’re coming to this course, it’s got a multitude of challenges. It goes from the tee boxes to the approaches to the layups to the greens. Don’t even get me started. I’m very excited to see how people from all across the country, and really all across the world, handle this.”
Taylor said one practice round isn’t enough to fully prepare a golfer for Blessings.
“If you shoot well in the first round here and you haven’t played here a bunch, you’ve done an amazing job,” she said. “But I expect the scores to be great, too. This is some of the best golf I’ve ever seen on the women’s side in my whole life.
“So I think you could see some low numbers, but I also think you could see some teams struggle as well. It’s definitely a test in all facets of the game.”
Robert Trent Jones Jr., the golf course architect for Blessings, credited Tyson for much of the input on the course design.
“Blessings is John’s passion, and he has tinkered with the golf course through the years, much the same way Arnold Palmer would always tinker with his golf clubs,” Jones said in a news release. “I am happy that we were part of the original process and have nothing but respect for what John has done with the golf course through the years.”
At the SEC women’s championships at Blessings in 2012, the winning team score was 52-over par. Illinois won the 2013 NCAA Fayetteville Regional with a 1-under par here, while the fifth-place qualifier was at 28 over.
The course has undergone a revision that was completed in 2017.
“We rebuilt five greens and repositioned many bunkers,” said Richard Cromwell, general manager and COO at Blessings. “It’s a mile shorter to walk. I think we have a lot of great risk-reward in there now.”
University of Arkansas senior Maria Fassi, the reigning SEC individual champion, said precision ball-striking and being disciplined can be rewarded on the course.
“I think this course tests all parts of your game,” Fassi said. “There are some holes where you can just rip it and the fairways are pretty wide. Hitting into some of the greens can be tricky.
“That’s what I like the most about the course is it demands a lot from you, and if you do hit good shots you’re going to be rewarded for it.”
Wake Forest senior Jennifer Kupcho, last year’s NCAA champion, said she would pore over course information and data on Wednesday night.
“I probably could have asked Maria, but I doubt she’s going to give me a whole lot of information on it. Kind of just going at it. I play courses pretty well blind, so I’m not too worried about it.”
NCAA Golf Championships
WHERE Blessings Golf Course, Fayetteville
WHEN May 24-May 29
Print Headline: Blessings’ reputation represents 1st hurdle