2014 APL Championship

The 2014 playing of the USGA’s Amateur Public Links tournament (APL) will be the 89th time the tournament is held. It will also be the last. The tournament is being discontinued in favor of a new team format the USGA will roll out next year.

This playing of the tournament also represents a first – the first time it will be played in the state of Kansas when it comes to the Sand Creek Station Golf Club on Monday, July 14 through the 19th. Kansas Citians who haven’t ventured the short drive to Newton, KS to experience Sand Creek Station firsthand have been missing out on a great golf course and a great experience for eight years now. The course opened in 2006 and since then, it has consistently placed on numerous “best places to play” lists within the state and nationally.

Sand Creek Station’s General Manager, Chris Tuohey said, “We found out in September of 2011 that we would host the APL and then about a year later in 2012 we had a meeting with current USGA President Thomas O’Toole and we were then told that we would have the honor of hosting the final Amateur Public Links.”

SandcreekJeff Brauer designed the course to play homage to some of Scotland’s greatest courses, using the nearby railways as a feature to evoke the old world feel. A series of tees helps the course appeal to a broad array of golfers, ranging from 5165 yards all the way to the championship tees at 7359 yards. The USGA has noted that the course will play right at those championship tees, listing an official distance of 7365 yards. The course will be closed for the tournament, but anyone can play it until July 10 or any time after the champion is crowned, including July 20 – the very next day (subject to availability).

The tournament itself is a throwback as well – a way to encourage the public game by requiring entrants to be true public course golfers. The tournament disallows golfers who are member of or have member-like privileges at any private golf course. In recent years, the tournament has been dominated by elite college players, making it a bit of a replica of the field and contenders seen in the US Amateur. That development has led to the decision to end it after this year for both men and women, replacing it with a new four ball championship.

“This tournament has done so much for public golf – it has given public golfers, who are the core and the strength of the industry, a chance to be a special part of the USGA national championships,” Tuohey said. “We cannot thank the USGA enough to have hosted this great championship through the years, and we are very honored to have this part in its history.”

Sandcreek CourseThe format of the APL tournament is a mixture of stroke play and match play running from Monday, July 14 through Saturday, July 19. The starting field of 156 golfers who qualified through various means, including local qualifying tournaments held across the nation, will play two rounds of stroke play on Monday and Tuesday. The low 64 golfers will then move on to match play in a one-to-one tournament style similar to the NCAA basketball tournament most people are very familiar with. Lose one match and you’re out. The winner will have to win six matches to advance through the entire field and win the final, 36-hole championship match.

Of the planning and preparation that goes into a tournament of this magnitude, Tuohey shared that, “It takes a lot of careful planning, not only with the course but also locating volunteers, planning all the logistics, and so many other details. It really has been years of in the making.”

“The toughest part of this whole preparation has been dealing with the things that are outside of our control, particularly the weather,” Tuohey mentioned. “The USGA recently visited and was very pleased with how the course has recovered from the winter we’ve had and other stints of tough weather. The course is in the best condition it has ever been, and all the credit goes to our great staff – they have worked hard to get everything in shape.”

Locally, there were two qualifying tournaments in June. Those wanting to cheer on our competitors from around these parts will get their opportunity as Michael Greene (Overland Park), Chase Hanna (Leawood, KS), and Michael Gellerman (Sterling, KS) are set to tee it up alongside the nation’s other top amateur talent. Greene progressed through the Swope Memorial qualifier on June 17th, posting a 6-under 138 combined score over two rounds. Hanna took the first alternate spot and was recently notified he will join the field as well. Gellerman also posted a 138 during his qualifier at Wichita’s Auburn Hills Golf Course. Zach Kirby from Dodge City, Steve Groom from Raytown, and Shane Gilbert from Derby will serve as alternates with an opportunity to make the field. Calvin Pearson, a South African native and member of the Wichita State golf team, also advanced through an Oklahoma City qualifier and will make an appearance as well.

“I’m pulling for all our local golfers and really glad to see that Chase Hanna made it into the field – we would like to see all our local guys do well,” Tuohey noted.

Winning the tournament is more than a pat on the back, “good job” reward that amateurs have to usually accept. Besides the trophy, the winner also gets an invitation to the next Masters – a tournament all golfers dream of playing, whether from the public course ranks or the country club scene. In addition, the winner receives invitations to other USGA tournaments, including the next two US Amateurs and a pass from local qualifying for the next three US Opens.

In the storied history of the APL, there have been a number of now-famous golfers who made their mark with the USGA before doing so on the PGA Tour.

Brandt SnedekerBrandt Snedeker is a six-time PGA tour winner who has represented the US in both the Ryder Cup and Presidents cup. He also won the 2003 Amateur Public Links when he birdied five of his last nine holes.

“I was nervous the night before,” he admitted in a recent interview, “having a chance to win and qualify for the Masters, and then when I played so well, I remember the excitement of it…it was a huge win for me. I gained a lot of confidence from that and then to play in the Masters, I saw how I stacked up against great players, which was really helpful because I was getting ready to turn pro…The APL really helped me launch my career after college.”

He went on about the nature of the tournament, saying, “The APL is about the public golfer. It represented the idea of guys playing against each other on public courses all over the country.”

Trevor ImmelmanAnother former champion is South African Trevor Immelman who also launched a pro career that eventually led to becoming the 2008 Masters. But it was ten years prior to that, in 1998, that Immelman won the APL. He won, coincidentally, over another future major winner, Jason Dufner, in their finals match.

“My goal as an amateur was to qualify for the Masters and the year before I had lost in the final of the British Amateur. I was really gutted. I was 17 and thought my world had come to an end. So winning the APL, there was a lot of sweetness in that.”

He also reflected on the tournament coming to an end, “I was sorry to hear about it not being played anymore. It will be missed for sure in the golfing world. You look at that trophy and there are a lot of guys whose names are on there who went on to have great careers [as professionals].”

With preparation almost complete and everything falling into place, Tuohey said the last things to do are locking down some final logistics and getting the right help for the event. “We could use a few more volunteers in a few areas to fill in our team. This would be a great opportunity for people to be a part of history and get to see the course and the players up close.” Anyone wanting to volunteer can simply sign up through their website – the entry form and instructions are near the bottom of the homepage.

Otherwise, admission to the APL is absolutely free, so anyone wanting to see the course under championship conditions with some of the nation’s best players battling it out, will need only to show up in mid-July.

Article by Tim Carrigan, GWAA

Images by Sand Creek Station, the USGA, JD Cuban, and Sam Greenwood

Deer Creek, Always A Favorite

Twenty-five years after it opened, Deer Creek Golf Club in Overland Park remains one of the area’s most engaging courses and a top destination for business, social and golf events.  The 18-hole layout meanders through an upscale neighborhood east of Metcalf and north of 133rd Street. The Robert Trent Jones Jr. course is known for creek-lined fairways, towering trees and a sculpted layout where no two holes are alike.

While the course is not long at 6,800 yards from the back tees, it is plenty challenging with trees, water and some eighty-five bunkers.  “You must be able to control the ball and hit the shot as needed,” said Adam Trainor, head professional at Deer Creek. But with five sets of tees, players at any level can navigate Deer Creek, Trainor said. “One type of player does not have an advantage here and that is part of what makes it fun.”

Improving Deer Creek

Back to No1 Green-MedIn recent years, Deer Creek has rebuilt its greens and bunkers while improving drainage. This spring, work began on replacing a cart bridge on the 10th hole that high creek water took out last May. The lack of a cart path bridge has resulted in the hole either being played as a par 3 from temporary tees on the fairway or as a par 4 from the original tees, but with a long detour by cart to the fairway below.

After much consideration, a decision was made to replace the former bridge with a low water concrete crossing, Trainor said. In the future, high water will simply pass over the crossing instead of causing possible bridge damage, he said.

Deer Creek Golf Club – good value for money

Deer Creek is primarily a daily play course, although it does sell annual memberships. The course is an especially good bargain for golfers age 60 and over, at $29 on weekdays, including cart. Deer Creek is a relatively close-in venue as public courses go, but it has joined a program called The Club in which players can choose one of six courses for a monthly fee of $34.99 plus $20 for each round, including cart.

The other five courses in the program are Alvamar, Dub’s Dread, Winterstone, Eagle’s Landing and Tiffany Greens. The $20 rate is good any time or day of the week, with reservations available four days in advance. Trainor said the program is aimed at dealing with a growing challenge nationally to get more people out on the golf course at time when play is declining. Knowing that each round will only cost $20 is more likely to help golf compete with other entertainment offerings, he said, adding that the six courses in the program are spread throughout the region and not considered direct competitors.

Deer Creek hosts frequent corporate and charity golf outings as well as business meetings, wedding receptions, private parties and other social events in its banquet rooms on the second floor of the clubhouse.

ThroughTheChute-13-Med“It’s definitely a huge part of what we do,” Trainor said. The banquet rooms and outdoor deck provide a panoramic view of the golf course below. Deer Creek has booked many golf and other events to raise money for local charities, Trainor said. “It’s important that we give back to the community,” he added.

Trainor, a Springfield native, joined Deer Creek earlier this year. He has served as a club professional at Pinehurst in North Carolina, the Payne Stewart Tribute Course in Branson and at top courses in Tuscon and Palm Springs. He gives lessons at Deer Creek.

Trainor said most of the staff at Deer Creek is also new this year and is committed to providing the best experience for players and others who use the club and its facilities. “We really want to emphasize customer service this year,” Trainor said.

By Kevin Murphy

Power Up And Get Down The Fairway

Fairway woods might not touch the soul and stir the passions like drivers do, but as more and more innovation and technology comes to the category, perhaps a little more passion is there than you might think. Remember last year’s Phrankenwood – Phil Mickelson’s beefed up 3-wood? He used it off the tee and won at least one tournament with it in the bag. This year’s crop of 3-woods feature a lot of new features too. They might not be Phrankenwoods, but they pack a lot of punch, tons of forgiveness, and a lot of versatility – give these a look.

Callaway Big Bertha Fairway

The Callaway Big Bertha FairwayThe Callaway Big Bertha fairway wood comes in a 3-, 5-, and 7-wood configuration with lofts of 15, 18, and 21 degrees, respectively. As part of the return of the Big Bertha brand, these clubs are anything but a throwback. It delivers a lot of forgiveness via a super thin and light carpenter steel face engineered to deliver more consistent distance across all areas of the face. Testers confirmed that mis-hits seem to hold their distance and line. The adjustable hosel allows for changes in loft and draw bias. The club is truly versatile with performance off the tee or from the fairway.

Cobra’s BiO Cell Fairway

Cobra’s BiO Cell FairwayCobra’s BiO Cell fairway wood is most notable for the degree to which it can be adjusted for loft. They only sell two versions: a 3-4 wood and a 5-7 wood. The former can be adjusted from a strong 13 degrees all the way in half-inch increments to 16 degrees. The latter adjusts from 17 degrees up to 20 degrees. That’s 8 setting for each wood giving the technology its MyFly8 name. Its driver-like construction blends in Cobra’s E9 face technology (forgiveness across nine points throughout the face) and a thin face to deliver maximum distance. The club has a definite draw bias, all but eliminating slices for most golfers.

Players who come at the ball hard and tend to turn the ball over might find it too biased and risk a snap hook. It can be ordered in a number of color finishes as well – perfect for the college alum who needs to represent his school colors.

Mizuno JPX EZ Fairway

Mizuno JPX EZ FairwayThe Mizuno JPX EZ has perhaps more driver-like features than those already covered. Its large face provides plenty of forgiveness and it works well from the tee as well as the fairway. The large head and deep face that works so well off the tee can labor through rough though, perhaps limiting its use somewhat. The club packs tons of distance in a colorful orange and black package with a flame design on the stock shaft that adds to its appeal. It comes in a 15 degree and an 18 degree version (essentially a 3 and 5-wood).

Ping Fairway

Ping FairwayPing has a pair of fairway woods in the G25 and i25. Both are great clubs with the i25 aimed at slightly better players who desire a certain ball flight and workability to their shots. The i25 has a compact head that performs well from all kinds of lies, including the rough. It does offer the ability to work the ball, drawing or fading as needed to reach greens from considerable distances. For some golfers, this might translate into trouble. It also has some degree of adjustability, allowing the addition or subtraction of a half degree. The G25, on the other hand, is more suited to most typical golfers. With a broad appeal for good and aspiring golfers, it is exceptionally long, straight, and feels good doing it. It has a low profile with a wide, shallow face that helps it through the turf while also performing well off a tee. It doesn’t have the adjustability that the i25 sports, but it doesn’t seem needed either. Both clubs come in a variety of lofts.

TaylorMade SLDR Fairway

TaylorMade SLDR FairwayThe TaylorMade SLDR fairway wood is the younger brother of the very popular driver by the same name. While it doesn’t have the adjustable, sliding weight along the rear of the sole, it does have TaylorMade’s SpeedPocket just behind the face. The slot or cavity behind the face is filled with polymer to keep it clean while still allowing the face to flex and rebound, providing incredible distance. With a somewhat compact head, it performs well from turf, including rough. But it really shines off the tee with a boring flight and a lot of distance. Like the driver, it is important to “loft up” – add loft to complement the forward center of gravity. With enough loft, shots should fly hard and with little spin meaning it will stay in the air for a long way. Finally, the club comes with an adjustable hosel as well. The “Loft-Sleeve” allows for a 1.5 degree addition or reduction as needed.

These aren’t all the fairway woods on the market, but certainly some of the best. And while they may not be as intense as something named the “Phrankenwood” they pack a lot of technology in a smaller package than their driver siblings. Give them a try and enjoy the confidence and capability to go for it more often.

By Tim Carrigan, KC Golfer Magazine Equipment Editor