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Ready, Set...
John Garrity
April 16, 2001
The budget's a nightmare, but the design's a dream and finally all systems are go
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April 16, 2001

Ready, Set...

The budget's a nightmare, but the design's a dream and finally all systems are go

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Bobby Weed and Scot Sherman are bundled up in sweaters and jackets. "God, it's cold," says Weed, squinting at a morning sun that hangs over the University of Florida Golf Course like a refrigerator light. "I should have worn my long Johns." It's early January. The two golf architects have a course-committee meeting after lunch, but they have set aside the morning to ride around and brainstorm. The 20� windchill has already turned their cheeks red and has caused the ink in my pen to congeal.

We're by the pond between the 2nd and 8th greens when Sherman points to a silhouette circling overhead. "Red-tailed hawk!" he says. Weed looks up, smiles and says, "He's scopin' out lunch."

The two men walk onto the 8th green and look around quickly, like detectives arriving on a crime scene. "Look how small this green is," Weed says. "It isn't 3,000 square feet."

Sherman's gaze is drawn to a flat sand bunker that sits like a saucer on a mound above the green. "You see how that bunker is kind of up in the air?" he says. "That's something we wouldn't do."

Nor is it something that the designer, Donald Ross, would have done, though Ross's intentions are beyond knowledge. He died 53 years ago, and the university has no documentation of his work here, which was done in the 1920s for the Gainesville Golf and Country Club. Weed's plan is not to restore the course—no one knows what elements are original—but to build 18 holes that pay homage to Ross. Weed has already decided, for instance, to lengthen this hole, the 8th, from 185 to about 200 yards; to deepen and reshape the murky pond; and then to build a new green a bit to the right, so it will no longer line up unattractively with the 1st green, immediately behind it. ("It sort of looks like a driving range when you stand up there on the tee," Sherman says.) Weed has rejected, on principle, the easy fix: moving the green 50 feet to the left, where it would be framed by three picturesque live oaks. "Every time you try to build a green to some trees," he says, "the trees die."

Returning to their cart, Weed and Sherman drive past the low-lying 17th green. The 17th hole isn't much to look at—a 325-yard downhill par-4 with greenside bunkers guarding all but a 10-yard opening in front—but generations of college players have had fun trying to make eagle with a drive and putt. Miss your drive down the right side and you're left with a nasty 30-yard pitch over sand from a hardpan lie. ("That was always a scary shot," says Tour player and Florida alum Scott Dunlap.)

Weed brakes the cart and stares. He likes the idea of a drivable par-4—it's one of the items on coach Buddy Alexander's wish list-but these bunkers don't really penalize the grip-it-and-rip-it guys. "The kids don't care," he says. "They'll slam a drive into that shallow bunker and get up and down for birdie." Weed would prefer that the long hitter dither over this tee shot, putting his hand first on the driver, then on the two-iron, then the four-wood, then the four-iron, maybe the driver again, until his confidence is as frayed as a beggar's shoelace. "We'd like to create a hole where you might possibly make a 2, but could easily make a 5 or even a 6," says Weed. A hole, in other words, like the 10th at L.A.'s Riviera Country Club: a drivable par-4 that promises honey but delivers vinegar.

Weed guns the cart up the fairway and parks behind the 17th tee, where the hole's other shortcoming becomes apparent: The tee shot is blind. From the front of the tee I can see the green below, but the fairway runs fairly level for about 60 yards before diving out of sight. No problem, says Weed. They plan to cut away at least five vertical feet of soil in front of the tee so the landing areas and hazards are visible to the golfer.

Weed borrows Sherman's notebook and begins to sketch. He draws the 17th green on a left-to-right diagonal and puts bunkers on either side. He then sketches a third bunker on the left side of the fairway, about 30 yards short of the green. That still leaves a fairly generous opening to the green, and Weed inserts some mounding that will bump a long, straight drive to the right, toward the hole. "That will entice 'em," he murmurs. Weed finishes by scratching three big asterisks in the fairway—layup areas that can be reached with a variety of clubs. "Four options," he says.

"Five," says Sherman, "if you cut the grass low back here." He points to a spot to the left of and behind the green, where a Tiger Woods or a John Daly might end up after a big-grunt swing.

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