Success With Honor: Hosting the Big Ten Men's Golf Championships
April 22, 2009
By Stephanie Libes, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
On April 6-12 the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., played host to one of the most prestigious golf tournaments of the year, The Masters. On May 1-3, the Penn Sate Blue Golf Course will hold a similar honor for the collegiate level when it hosts the Big Ten Men's Golf Championship.
The honor of hosting the Big Ten Men's Golf Championship comes along approximately once a decade. The last time Penn State hosted was in 1996; however, recent renovations provide a completely different experience.
"The last time we hosted the championship, the golf course was in really nice condition, but it was a bit short, and over the next few years it seemed even shorter and became somewhat easily dominated by even average teams," said head coach Greg Nye. "We have had a couple of events [on the Blue Course] since the renovation and we already know it plays considerably harder."
In 2006 the Penn State Blue Course underwent renovations adding approximately 600 yards and numerous strategically placed bunkers and water hazards. Additionally, the seventh and eighth holes were completely redesigned. The course, now approximately 7,150 yards long, presents unique challenges on both the front and back nine.
A par 36, the front nine measures 3,696 yards, which challenges a golfer's course management skills and patience. Tee shots require close attention to placement and a rewarding tee shot puts a golfer in a position to try their luck on the carefully guarded greens. Even the most experienced players must control their shots with 27 strategically placed green side bunkers.
Measuring at 3,518 yards, the back nine is a completely different experience than the front nine. The par 36 includes both green side bunkers (16) and fairway bunkers (11). The scenic atmosphere includes water hazards on the 14th and the 18th holes that add pressure to a seemingly easy tee shot.
While the course is always in superb condition, much has to be done to prepare for the Big Ten Championship. Joe Hughes, the PGA General Manager/Head Golf Professional, is in charge of making sure everything is prepared for the big weekend.
"We have been preparing for three to four years now," said Hughes. "One of the cool parts of the preparation was traveling to other Big Ten schools. We went to Michigan State when they were hosting the Women's Big Tens two years ago and we went to Ohio State when they were hosting the Men's Big Tens two years ago. We feel confident that we are right up there at the top with other Big Ten schools and their golf courses."
With the days counting down until competition, the clubhouse is making final arrangements.
"A big tournament like this takes a lot of man hours," continues Hughes. "Along with our regular staff we have about 75 volunteers donating their time that weekend."
After hosting the Big Ten Women's Championship last year, the clubhouse staff learned that preparation is not just before competition, but after as well. For instance, the rough has to be four inches long, which the grounds crew must keep in mind prior to the tournament. However, for the average golfer, four inches of grass is a little high for the one inch ball, so the crew must spend the next week mowing down the grass.
Hosting a Big Ten Championship allows Penn State to showcase its course. Having the Big Ten Network in Happy Valley to broadcast the tournament just adds to the excitement.
"It's cool to see your golf course and everything that you've done on TV. It's like you're watching a PGA tour event with the cameras, audio and commentary. It's a pretty cool feeling," said Hughes.
The Big Ten Championship is not just about the course, but the competition that comes to the course. This year, the competition is wide open.
"I feel excited to be competing in such an important tournament at my home course," said Penn State golfer Kevin Foley. "It's an awesome opportunity and the whole team has been talking about it all year. We have had some successes in the regular season this year and we want to build off that success and play well in the Big Ten Championship."
Coaches around the Big Ten are also looking forward to the competition.
"You spend your whole season preparing for Big Tens, so I am excited the time has finally come," said Northwestern head coach Pat Goss. "I feel our team has made steady progress all spring and should be prepared for Big Tens. We have seen strong results from each player at different times, and our success will depend on getting all five players competing at their best at the same time."
"We are excited for the Big Ten Championship at Penn State," said Michigan head coach Andrew Sapp. "We feel that our team is coming together well this spring and hope to contend for the title. We obviously have two Top 20 teams in Indiana and Illinois, but there are so many teams who can put together a hot week and win. The Big Ten is the deepest it has ever been in men's golf and this year's championship might prove that fact."
"We are always excited to compete in the Big Ten Championships. I'm sure (Penn State head coach) Greg Nye has done an excellent job of preparing for the event and Penn State will be a great host," said Iowa head coach Mark Hankins.
"Everyone looks forward to the conference tournament because it brings top national teams and individuals together to compete for a storied and historic championship," said Illinois head coach Mike Small. "The Big Ten Conference title speaks volumes for excellence and accomplishment!"
"We are excited about the upcoming Big Ten Championship. The Big Ten is one of the strongest conferences in the country," said Michigan State head coach Sam Puryear Jr.
Although a majority of the competition has never experienced the Penn State Blue Course, the Penn State team may still not hold an advantage.
"It is kind of a double-edged sword-- sometimes you can cut up the competition-- sometimes you get cut up," said Nye. "There's a little bit of heat on the home team because the home team is supposed to do well, and they're supposed to have an advantage."
Foley agrees that even though he and his teammates spend many hours practicing on the Blue Course, it does not mean they will automatically capture the trophy.
"It's a good thing to be hosting Big Tens at our home course. We know the course and how to play well on it," comments Foley. "As far as having an advantage, it all comes down to how we perform. We have the necessary knowledge and skills to play well, but it comes down to outperforming the other golf teams that will be here. They are going to want to win just as much as we do so it will be a battle for the championship."
On May 1-3 a true collegiate champion will emerge on a picturesque golf course in the land of the Nittany Lion.