To the spectators watching the Novell Utah Showdown in Park City this week, the Park Meadows Country Club layout won't look too much different than usual. It will still have its lush green fairways, 100-plus bunkers, various water hazards and those fancy condos and houses all around.
However, the players will notice a few differences when they play the $1.45 million tournament Friday through Sunday after playing in pro-ams Wednesday and Thursday.
They'll notice how they can't reach every par-5 in two shots, how they won't be hitting a wedge into a lot of the par-4s like they have in the past, and how three of the par-3s will be 200 yards or longer.
After getting pushed around the past couple of years, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course is fighting back after having the lowest stroke average (70.047) of any course on the Senior Tour last year. Park Meadows will measure 7,372 yards, up more than 200 yards over last year when Dave Eichelberger and Dana Quigley both finished at 19-under-par 197 and 60 of the 77 players shot par or better for the tournament.
"Basically, we're just moving each hole to the back of every tee," said tournament director Bryan Naugle. "They shot 20-under par last year, but they weren't playing the whole golf course. There's no reason we shouldn't be playing the back tees."
Naugle said the rough may be a little higher and that No. 10 will have a little different shape, but otherwise, the Park Meadows course will be the same as last year — just longer.
When the tournament first came to Park Meadows in 1993, the tees weren't set all the way back in deference to some of the older players who couldn't hit it as far, and it measured 7,026 yards. That year, Dave Stockton shot a 197 total, which was nine shots better than runner-up Al Geiberger. The course was lengthened to 7,167 in 1997, the same distance it has played at for the past three years.
With everybody, even the old guys, hitting the ball much farther these days because of improved equipment, a longer golf course makes sense.
"If they shoot 20-under from back there, that's great," said Naugle.
The biggest challenge for the seniors may be the par-5 No. 15 hole, which gives golfers a choice of hitting left of a stream for a safe shot or going for an "island" on the right and cutting the corner. In recent years, when the hole measured 512 yards, nearly all of the golfers chose to cut the corner. Now with the hole pushed back to 557 yards, only the longer hitters will be able to cut it.
One top player from last year who isn't playing this year is Hale Irwin, who felt the course wasn't tough enough in 1999. After he tied for third at Park Meadows last year, he said, "I sure hope they make this course harder." It's definitely tougher, but Irwin has chosen not to come back and try it out.
Another golfer who won't be back is the greatest of them all, Jack Nicklaus. He came back to play the course he designed last year and even played in a dream threesome with Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino. However, he is committed to the PGA Championship in Kentucky this week.
The PGA is also keeping away three big-name rookies on the Senior Tour: Tom Kite, Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins.
"We've got an excellent field considering we're going against the PGA this week," said Naugle, who indicated there shouldn't be a conflict with a "major" the next couple of years.
NOVELL NOTES: The Iomega Skins Game will be played Tuesday at 2 p.m. on the Park Meadows back nine. The field will feature golf legends Palmer and Trevino, along with defending champion Dave Eichelberger, Larry Nelson and Johnny Bench. They'll be matched up with celebrities Jeff Hornacek, Steve Young, Steve Garvey, Boomer Esiason and a fifth player to be named Monday morning in an alternate-shot format. . . . Sponsor's exemptions were given to Bench, Andy North and Bob Wynn. A fourth one will be given to either John Schroeder or Bob Betley. . . . Four more spots in the 78-player field will be taken by qualifiers at Monday's qualifying tournament at Wasatch Mountain State Park Golf Course. . . . Former champion Dave Stockton will host a junior clinic Wednesday at 3 p.m.