Boise Open notebook: Hillcrest finding right balance for greens

ccripe@idahostatesman.comJuly 17, 2014 

Hillcrest Country Club features taller, thicker rough and slightly faster greens than last year going into this week's Albertsons Boise Open.

The pros torched Hillcrest last season, setting tournament records for winning score (23-under), lowest cut (6-under) and lowest single-round scoring average (68.067 in the third round, which broke the record set the day before). Plus, Russell Knox fired a historic 59 in the second round.

That was the first time the tournament was held in the July heat instead of the mild weather of September. This year, golf course superintendent Joe Aholt made some adjustments to his preparation.

"What we tried to do this year was grow some taller rough and then try to dry the course out and have a little bit quicker greens - that was our main goal," Aholt said. "We think we accomplished that."

Aholt prepared for the tournament sooner, gradually raising the rough to 4 inches. Last year, he cut the rough after a storm produced significant growth and it stalled at 2.5 inches.

He also has been using a plant hormone on the greens that slows growth and leads to faster putting surfaces.

Still, the crew must water the course. Aholt measured the highest water evaporation rate of the year Tuesday. When the tournament was in September, some years the course wasn't watered during tournament week.

Players prefer the test provided by firm, fast courses.

"We could just make this place brown as could be - it would play great," Aholt said. "But by the time the members came back, they'd be upset. The PGA Tour is very understanding of that, that they're guests here. The membership loves to have them here, but they also know that they're guests and don't want to come in here and tell you to destroy your golf course."

Players say the course is in "great shape." They've noticed the thicker rough.

"You can score - scores have shown that in the past," Tony Finau said. "Holing some putts, you'll be able to get on some runs out here. But the rough is hefty."

Other story lines to watch:

• Local flavor: Justin Snelling of Boise got into the Boise Open as a Monday qualifier. He joins Idaho pros Tyler Aldridge, Ben Bryson, Jim Empey and Preston Otte in the field.

• International flavor: The field includes players from 16 countries, with foreign players taking 28 percent of the spots. Outside of the U.S., the most-represented nations are Australia (11), Mexico (five), Canada (five) and South Korea (four). South America, Central America and Mexico combined for 14 players in the field. This year's tour has stopped in Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Panama and Mexico. Leading money-winner Carlos Ortiz won the Mexico event in his home country.

• The 25: The top 25 money-winners during the regular season get their PGA Tour cards for 2014-15. The next 50 get to compete in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals against 75 PGA Tour members for 25 more tour cards. There are six regular-season events remaining. A win in Boise - the check is $144,000 - would guarantee most players a spot in the top 25.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398

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