September 10 2013
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
Not only could the folks at Conway Farms Golf Club lean on the PGA TOUR’s agronomy staff to help the course get ready for its debut as BMW Championship host, it had another brain to pick among its membership.
Former world No. 1 Luke Donald has been playing Conway Farms since his days at Northwestern, and superintendent Chad Ball hasn’t been shy about soliciting opinion about what works for the world’s best players and what doesn’t.
“We’re fortunate here to have a TOUR player we talk to frequently about what he sees at different tournaments and venues,” said Ball, entering his 20th year as Conway Farms’ superintendent.
“How’s the rough? How are the fairways? What do guys talk about out there – things they like, things they don’t like.”
As an example, Ball noted Donald’s input in spelling out how several TOUR venues make use of runoff areas around the greens. Conway Farms had none of those a few years ago, but since has sprinkled a half-dozen around the layout.
“Little things like that have helped us tweak the golf course,” Ball said. “Not necessarily to make it hard, but to present options. This gives guys a lot of options of how to play different shots.”
Another tweak was for the club to narrow some of its widest fairways.
“We probably have some more to do,” Ball said. “The way these guys hit it, it’s hard to keep up.”
Conway Farms has been the site of several top amateur events over the years, including the Western Amateur in 2009 and U.S. Mid-Amateur a year later. However, there are nuanced differences in the way each sets up.
“They all have a little different philosophy about what they want from their champions,” Ball said. “The PGA TOUR is entertainment. It wants excitement – drivable par 4s and eagles on par 5s, rough that’s challenging but not impossible.”
There’s one other difference that Ball’s crew has learned to work around.
“We’ve done a lot of amateur [events], which is a lot of golfers but not a lot of spectators,” he said. “This, on the other hand, is a lot of hospitality and spectators.
“There’s a lot that goes on outside the ropes for this event that’s kept us on our toes. Being a new [TOUR] venue, we had no structure in place for this kind of thing.”
A heat wave figures to bake practice days with temperatures in the 90s, after which forecasts call for a cold front that could bring scattered storms Wednesday night and drop the thermometer some 20 degrees for Thursday’s start of competition.