Challenging the state’s best golfers
Setting up tournament courses is fun for MGA official
The most scrutinized individual at next week’s Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship won’t be playing.
If conditions are too difficult at the tournament that starts Monday at Hastings Country Club, Doug Hoffmann will hear about it. If they’re too easy, and the tournament turns into a birdie-fest, Hoffmann will hear about that, too.
Hoffmann, an Apple Valley resident who has been with the MGA since 1998, is used to it by now. One of his duties as the organization’s tournament director – his favorite part of the job, he said – is setting up the courses for MGA championships.
“When do I know I got it right?” Hoffmann said, repeating a question. “I guess it would be when players tell me they thought the setup was challenging but fair.
“I ended up in the MGA-PGA Cup in May (a one-day series of matches between the state’s top amateurs and professionals) when a player had to withdraw at the last minute. I played all 18 holes on a course (Windsong Farm) I set up and had a number of players come up to me and ask, ‘Did you like your own setup? Did you get a little taste of your own medicine?’ But after playing it, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
At golf tournaments such as last month’s U.S. Open, the course setup is almost as big a topic of conversation as the competition itself. The U.S. Golf Association has long been accused of wanting to, as Hoffmann called it, “preserve par.” Or, to put it another way, to keep the winning score as close to even par as possible. The winning score at this year’s U.S. Open was Webb Simpson’s 1 over par – one year after Rory McIlroy demolished tournament records for lowest 72-hole score (268) and lowest total under par (16 under). At last weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open, only two players broke par for the tournament.
Hoffmann’s goals are a little different. “It doesn’t bother me at all if someone shoots 66 on a course I set up, as long as he played well,” he said. “What I wouldn’t want to see if somebody slop it around and shoot under par.”
The last four winners of the MGA Amateur have finished under par and Hoffmann said last week he believes a winning score of about eight to 10 under is likely at Hastings Country Club, where the 54-hole tournament will take place Monday through Wednesday.
“Some people want the winning score to be 5 over,” he said. “On some courses, that would be OK. On others, it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Hastings Country Club will play at 6,730 yards, relatively short for top amateur players, and its three par-5s could be reachable in two shots (another par-5 is being shortened by 10 yards and will play as a 465-yard par-4).
Hoffmann is working with several employees and members at Hastings Country Club to set up the course. Aside from converting one par-5 to a par-4, the biggest change will be reversing the nines. The 18th hole now will be a 160-yard par-3 – it’s unusual but not unprecedented for tournaments to end on a par-3 – but is preceded by several challenging par-4 holes.
“It’s a balance,” Hoffmann said. “I’ll have my ideas, but at the same time it’s an advantage to work with a group that sees the course all the time.”
The course lost about 40 trees after heavy thunderstorms went through Dakota County several weeks ago. Hoffmann said only one of the lost trees would have affected how a hole was played.
Of bigger concern was last week’s heat, which forced the club to water the course heavily. That had the course playing softer than Hoffmann would prefer, but there still was time to get the course firmer for the tournament.
By Wednesday afternoon, if birdies are possible but not plentiful, and players aren’t barking at him about the course being too difficult, Hoffmann will be able to relax.
Locals in state amateur
Among the favorites in this year’s MGA Amateur is Apple Valley resident Sammy Schmitz, the 2011 MGA Player of the Year. He finished fifth in last year’s state amateur and this year has won two tournaments for players 30 and older – the MGA Mid-Players, a match-play tournament, and the Minnesota Public Golf Association Mid-Amateur.
Other players with local ties include Scott Bodelson of Southern Hills, Corey Schommer of Brackett’s Crossing, former Lakeville North High School player Adam Petterson, who plays out of Northfield Golf Club, Patrick Vincelli of Brackett’s Crossing and Ryan Strusz of Fountain Valley.
Many former state amateur winners were players who turned professional shortly thereafter. The most recent winner who is in this year’s field is Adam Dooley, who won the tournament in 1999.
Spectator admission is free.