Christmas 6—Players at the 48th Palmetto Amateur are being greeted with an approachable challenge, even for a course most hadn’t seen or possibly even heard of before this week.
The Hollow Creek course at The Reserve Club at Woodside, host for this year’s edition while Palmetto Golf Club undergoes re-grassing, is a player-friendly layout with some significant elevation changes that lead to some blind tee shots that set up approach shots into welcoming greens.
Blind shots are only blind the first time they’re played, and once that knowledge is unlocked it’s a course that can yield some fairly low scores to a field as good as this one.
That is, as long as they navigate the final three holes unscathed.
In a slight bit of a reversal of Palmetto’s make-it-through-the-first-seven-alive starting stretch, at Hollow Creek it’s all about keeping the round intact through the closing holes.
There are risks and rewards to all three, starting with the long, downhill par-3 16th with Cunning Lake in the background. It plays shorter than the 227 yards on the scorecard from the back tees, but there’s plenty of trouble lurking for those who miss the green.
The par-5 17th is a monster, weighing in at 649 yards to make it a true three-shot par-5 — and the most difficult shot is the second, even on a layup, because the fairway bottlenecks near where most players will be eyeing for their third shot to a fairly shallow green. Cunning Lake strikes an imposing figure as it runs up the entire right side of the hole, with the fairway sloping towards it in the spots that appear to be perfect landing areas for a drive.
The par-4 18th is one last blind tee shot going uphill and then back down to the right to the green. A well-struck drive can still be penalized even if it’s slightly off-center, and the downhill approach is a tricky one — especially when it’s the last full swing of a hot, humid July afternoon.
One player who played that stretch perfectly in Thursday’s opening round was Florida State signee Carson Brewer, who played the trio in par-par-birdie to cap a 63 from the day’s first threesome.
Better still, it was Brewer’s first time seeing the final three holes.
“So yesterday was the first time I played it, and we actually had to leave due to the weather after 13,” said Brewer, a recent graduate of Ponte Vedra High School, of his practice round. “And 16 through 18 is a pretty difficult stretch, so seeing that for the first time today — I was very aware of what was going on. I mean, 17, the tee shot and the layup on a par-5 was very difficult. Most par-5s, if you lay up it’s not too difficult of a shot, but on that hole it is.”
Brewer’s first look at 16 also meant having to do some quick math — he said his rangefinder doesn’t calculate slope, so he and his caddy estimated that the hole was playing maybe 15 or 20 yards shorter than its scorecard length.
“I hit a 7-iron, and anything on the fringe or on the green I was happy with, because it was pretty much a guess on the distance,” he said. “I hit 7 to the front fringe and had a nice two-putt.”
He already knew he wasn’t going to try to hit the 17th green in two, so he opted to stick with the same strategy he had been using all day and went with a comfortable 3-wood off the tee.
He hit it safely into the fairway on the left side, then hit his layup as playing partners Andrew Gregory and Brantley Scott were taking drops after both hit driver into the water.
The 18th was another chance to hit a fairway wood off the tee to a good spot, and he cashed in again.
“Honestly, I think I hit the driver three, maybe four times today,” he said. “I played really conservatively off the tee. Step one today was just to play out of the fairway, so I made sure on every hole whatever I was hitting I was comfortable so I could hit it in the fairway.”
Brewer hesitated to call it a “basic” round of golf, but it was one that was consistent and about as stress-free as he could have hoped for with it being his first full round on the course with a prestigious championship at stake.
There’s still a lot of golf remaining before a winner is crowned Sunday, and Hollow Creek’s final three holes figure to have the biggest say as to who that champion turns out to be.