It’s time yet again for the NCAA Championships.
It’s the final season of a three-year deal for Grayhawk Golf Club to host nationals, so returning teams and players should be plenty familiar with the course.
That also means they know where the Raptor Course is vulnerable and where they’ll be holding on for dear life.
In 2021, the men’s scoring average for stroke play was 73.31. Last year, it was nearly a shot higher, jumping to 74.13. For the women, it also increased last year from 2021, going from 74.70 to 75.32.
Grayhawk has plenty of magnificent holes, but there are a few that will be vital for teams looking to capitalize in both stroke and match play.
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Here’s a look at three of the most important holes for the men and women at the NCAA Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The opening par 4 has been the most difficult one for the women the past two years with scoring averages of 4.45 and 4.52 respectively. Welcome to the Raptor Course and the NCAA Championship. Many players won’t take driver on the opening hole, as deep bunkers are on both sides of the fairway in clear view from the tee. Then there’s the green, which slopes hard from back to front and has plenty of slope. Players who can start their rounds (or their 10th hole) with par are doing something right because the first hole is brutal.
Another tricky par 4 starts the second nine. The 10th requires two strong shots to reach the green. There’s a creek that runs along the right side and then meanders in front and left of the green, so plenty of players lay well back from it. Doing so leaves a long iron into a flat, elevated green, meaning approach shots often go bounding off the back. Trouble is everywhere, and avoiding it and sneaking to the 11th tee with a par is an excellent score. However, it has been the second most difficult hole the past two years, coming in at a 4.41 stroke average in 2021 and 4.44 in 2022.
The par-4 17th hole can help a team go low in stroke play or be a deciding factor in match play. For the women, the scorecard distance is 331 yards, but the tees can be pushed up – and will be at certain points – making the decision to go for it or lay up even more important. The 17th can be an easy birdie hole with a good tee shot and approach (or shot from around the green) or it can be one where you’re scrambling for par. It’s as exciting as they come, and it could determine an NCAA champion.
Speaking ahead of LIV Golf Tulsa, Phil Mickelson said the seventh, a par 5 that plays as a par 4 for the men in the NCAAs, is one of the more demanding holes on the course. “You have to hit a good tee shot, and that’s not easy,” he said. Playing a little more than 500 yards, there’s a narrow landing area in the fairway, and the green penalizes shots that don’t find the right tier. It has played as the second-toughest hole each of the past two championships. “It’s early in the round, but it can really sway momentum,” Lefty said.
The scorecard yardage reads 405 for the penultimate hole, but it’s when the tees get moved up that makes it vital. When those tees are pushed up, like they will be for stroke and match play at some point, it makes it a driveable hole. It’s a tight entry to the front of the green, but strong tee shots will be rewarded. Birdies will be plentiful. In 2021, there were as many birdies as bogeys and doubles combined, but the hole played a bit tougher in 2022. Down the stretch, this hole has the potential to flip a match or put one out of reach, similar to the women.
The closing hole is a par 5 for the women, but it’s a behemoth par 4 for the men, playing at 525 yards. The past two years, it has been the most difficult hole by far, playing more than a half stroke over par (4.56 in 2021, 4.58 in 2022). In 1,104 rounds, there have been only 39 birdies (and a lucky eagle). Par is a good score coming in, but whether it’s match play or stroke play, nothing is guaranteed on the closing hole.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek