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Playing a U.S. Open qualifier course

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Back in April, I had a chance to play a course that was just days away from hosting a U.S. Open qualifier. This course was already a long and difficult course but after the staff had set the greens and the rough up it became a monster.

The University of New Mexico Championship Course in Albuquerque, New Mexico was my venue. The course was designed by Red Lawrence and opened in 1967. When it was built the natural rolling desert landscape was not flattened or bulldozed instead the course was put right on top of it. This makes getting a flat lie even in the fairway a rare occurrence. From the tips or the Lobo tees, the course plays at 7,555 yards. You get a little bit of relief only because Albuquerque is a mile high and the ball will go a little further off the tee. It has hosted numerous NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments as well as being the home to the University of New Mexico Lobos golf teams.


I wanted to play this course and see what kind of twisted things the USGA would require a course to have in order to host such an event. I had no idea what kind of surprise I was in for. The Bent and Poa Annua greens were set at a 13 – 13.5 on the stimp meter and that was just the start. As many people know Poa Annua greens are tough to read and make holding your line tough. In addition to that, the rough just off the fairways and greens had been allowed to grow out to a length of 3 -4 inches if not more in some places. This meant that if you got in there your ball would sink into that grass and disappear and getting a club on it was going to be extremely tough.

OK, so that’s just the parts of the course you can see, now we will add in the weather. The course is on the west side of the Sandia Mountains and the wind often blows out of the south with nothing to stop it. It adds an extra factor and or headache into playing this course. If you are teeing off into the wind it can make a two or three club difference. On the par-3 8th hole, I have seen guys take drivers to this elevated tee elevated green hole and still come up short. The wind on this course can be an X factor that can change the outcome of a tournament in a moment’s notice.

As a case and point in my round, I had a 36 on the front nine holes with three birdies and three bogeys. I made the turn and it was like God himself flipped a switch and the wind started. On the back I had a brutal 45 that included two doubles and only two pars. I think that because the U.S. Open was at Pebble Beach this year it was a wise choice to choose the UNM Championship course for a qualifier.

I have played this course many times over the years and have always considered it a fantastic test of where my game is really at. This time it was a test of my physical game and my mental game, shot placement was everything. Sure I might be able to get to that par 5 in two, but if it rolls off the back of the green I would be asking for a double bogey.

As the round went on, it began to hit me that as hard as this course was set up it was only a first-round qualifier how much harder would the sectionals be? My hats off to the four guys that made it the best score only being a two under 70. It gave me a new appreciation of how hard it is to qualify and how hard these courses the pros play on are. It also magnified how good the best of the best really are. We have watched Tiger and Brooks shoot amazing scores on courses that would chew up and spit out the rest of us mortals. It proves that the old PGA slogan of “These guys are good” is true.

If anyone gets a chance to play one of these courses when they are set up like the championship course was setup I encourage you to do it. Its something you will never forget.

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  1. Tom Newsted

    Jul 12, 2019 at 7:13 am

    Yes and no. I spoke to Adam Roybal the GM at the UNM Championship course and they had the freedom to set the course conditions but the USGA set the tee markers and the pin positions for the tournament. So its a little of both.

  2. Mashed Potatoes

    Jul 11, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Can’t speak for the sectionals, but I think the first round qualifiers are just up to the course to determine how they’re setup… I played a course the day after the qualifier (1-2 years ago) and it was in the exact same condition as it normally is. Rough was the same length, greens were the same speed, and I asked around about the pin selections and was told nothing was really tucked or put into tough spots.

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