Murphy: Course superintendent knew Boise Open players would ‘eat up’ Hillcrest

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comJuly 28, 2013 

The man responsible for managing the Hillcrest Country Club golf course knew right away what a July date — and not the customary September spot on the calendar — would mean for the Albertsons Boise Open.

“They’re going to eat it up. They’re going to come out here and the greens aren’t going to be as fast. They aren’t going to be as firm. … We said that from the day they picked the date,” said Joe Aholt, the course superintendent.

Aholt has been proven correct as the Tour golfers took full advantage of Hillcrest’s softer greens.

Russell Knox fired a course-record 59 on Friday. He set the tournament record for lowest 36-hole score. Philip Pettitt Jr., the third-round leader at 18-under par, matched the tournament record for lowest 54-hole score. The cut (6-under) was the lowest in the 24-year history of the event. The field set the record for lowest scoring average on Friday — and then again Saturday.

“It was taking dead aim. It’s as soft as I’ve ever seen this place,” said Will MacKenzie, who is tied for third at 16-under entering Sunday’s final round.

If this were college football, the entire field at the Boise Open would be ejected after the first two rounds for targeting a defenseless receiver.

If this were boxing, the trainer would have thrown in the towel fearing for the safety of his man in the ring.

If this were baseball, the last man on the bench would be pitching to save the bullpen.

“I couldn’t have picked a worse week,” Aholt said from a superintendent’s perspective.

Keeping the course green and healthy during the intense July heat means lots and lots of water. That makes for a soft course. The heat wave earlier this month certainly didn’t help.

“You can put a lot of stress on turf when the weather is in the 70s and it won’t die on you,” Aholt said. “But when it’s 100 degrees, that’s not the case.”

Hillcrest’s short layout — for the pros, at least — and it leads a scoring bonanza for these guys.

“A birdie-fest,” golfer Kevin Tway said.

There were 99 rounds in the 60s on the par-71 course on Thursday, including 14 rounds of 65 or better. Knox, of course, led the way with a 59 on Friday, but 114 players shot in the 60s.

Saturday morning was more of the same. Michael Connell shot a 10-under 61 — which would have tied the tournament record before Friday. Will Wilcox fired a 62. Tway and former Boise State player Troy Merritt shot 63s.

But a funny thing happened Saturday afternoon: Hillcrest fought back.

The wind blew. The greens, baking in the 100-degree sun, got firmer. The scores leveled off and stopped going lower and lower and lower.

“The greens are getting a little bit crispy,” MacKenzie said after his round.

“It definitely blew more on the backside than it did on the front side,” said Pettitt Jr., whose 63 came late in the day.

Still, no one is ever going to confuse Hillcrest with a U.S. Open or British Open setup. It is a scoring course, which makes it fun for the players and fun for the spectators, who want to see birdies and eagles. Knox’s 59 is something to cherish. Last year’s winner, don’t forget, shot 22-under.

The move from September has many benefits for the event, not the least of which is getting the tournament out of the considerable shadow of Boise State football on the local sporting calendar. If it also means a few more red numbers — and the excitement of 59s and 61s and 62s — that’s a perfectly acceptable trade.

Plus Aholt has learned a few things from this year’s event and course setup. Hopefully enough to give Hillcrest a fighting chance against the Tour’s best next year.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @murphsturph

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service