September 5, 2013

Fast and furious test on the way for college golfers at The Farm

By Chris Whitfield

— In more than two decades of existence, the Carpet Capital Collegiate Classic has brought some of the nation’s most talented college golfers and programs to The Farm Golf Club.

The list of notable names to play the event include major winners such as Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods.

But this week, as the tournament celebrates its 25th edition — the 54-hole competition starts Friday and finishes Sunday — the biggest story just might be the course itself.

It has been a little more than a year since the private course in Rocky Face switched from bentgrass greens to MiniVerde Bermuda to provide a putting surface that can better survive the brutal Georgia summer heat. With a year of conditioning, maintenance and growing time, Deck Cheatham, the Farm’s director of golf, said the course will provide a PGA Tour-caliber test for this year’s participants.

Even those who played the tournament last year, when the greens were installed but still new, won’t have experience on this type of surface at The Farm.

“The greens are absolutely perfect and the kids haven’t been on greens this firm, this fast ever, and it will test their skills,” Cheatham said. “Kudos to our maintenance staff and the new greens. The greens have matured and come in just perfectly.”

The tournament is open to the public and free to attend.

The greens, along with the course layout, Cheatham said, will give the players a view of what a Sunday on the PGA Tour would be like.

“This will be a Masters-type experience simply because of the greens,” Cheatham said. “Some of them have been here a little ahead of time, and they are raving about it. One of the Chattanooga boys shot 65 a couple of weeks back, and I told the coach to tell him to enjoy it. It won’t happen this week.

“Anyone that can go low here this week needs to turn pro and start making money.”

Plenty of alumni of the Classic have done just that. The who’s who-type roster of alumni also includes Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk and Jordan Spieth.

The latter helped lead the University of Texas to the 2012 Carpet Capital Collegiate Classic, turned pro and won the John Deere Classic as a PGA Tour rookie this season. On Wednesday, U.S. captain Fred Couples picked the 20-year-old Spieth for the 12-man team that will represent America in the Presidents Cup on Oct. 3-6 at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. He’ll be the youngest American to play in the competition, which pits the U.S. team versus an international squad, since it began in 1994.

Couples’ other captain pick went to another Classic alum. Simpson played at Wake Forest before winning the 2012 U.S. Open.

Texas, No. 3 in the Golf Week collegiate rankings, is back to defend its title with three players ranked among the top 50 individuals, including No. 2 Brandon Stone, who was the medalist last year with a 12-under-par 204. Eighth-ranked Georgia Tech, the host team for the tournament, and 15th-ranked Georgia will be here as well.

Other teams in the field are Auburn, Chattanooga, Clemson, Kennesaw State, LSU, Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina, North Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Of the 14 teams in the field, 12 are ranked in the top 50. In the individual rankings, 10 of the top 50 players in the nation will be at The Farm.

But this is still the coming-out party for the reworked course.

“The hole locations will be tournament locations throughout play,” Cheatham said. “This year, (the greens) are fully mature, and this is the first really good test that we have had on them. The main thing has been the speed. It is just a matter of getting the ball in the right place for a fair putt.

“If you place your ball in the wrong spot, you are going to have some real difficulty. A young man who is hitting his iron shots well will have a pretty good tournament. If you aren’t, it is going to be a long weekend.”