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When the top college golfers invade Middle Tennessee for the 2012 NCAA Women's Golf Championships May 22-25, they will be faced with the daunting task of conquering the Vanderbilt Legends Club North Course. The 6,377-yard, par-72 layout will challenge golfers in all facets of their game from the tee to the green. Opened in 1992, the course offers numerous holes where golfers can go from a possible par to a double or triple bogey in the blink of an eye.
While every hole at Vanderbilt Legends Club will offer a different challenge to each golfer, there are always certain holes at any course that can either set the table for an excellent round or a disastrous one, and the North Course is no exception.
To discover where the potential stumbling blocks could be on the course, we headed out to the Legends Club to ask members of Vanderbilt's women's golf team what they would consider to be the three defining holes on the golf course.
Hole Nos. 2, 16 and 18 are the three holes on the course that can most impact a player's final score, either positively or negatively.
For a closer look at each hole, we asked members of the team to breakdown what makes the three holes so important to their overall round. We also had members of the team tell us what the key shot is for them on each hole.
Hole 2 Par 4 324 / 251 Yards
Getting off to a good start can go a long way on the golf course, and hole No. 2 can help springboard a golfer to an outstanding round or can dampen a golfer's confidence shortly after their round begins.
"It is crucial to get off to a good start out here and this hole can get in your way real fast," junior Lauren Stratton said.
The hole is a par 4 that doglegs left and can play anywhere from 251 to 324 yards. The variety in yardage forces golfers to make important decisions off the tee that can create significant separation from others.
"No. 2 is a great hole, but it is a terrifying hole for some," junior Anna Leigh Keith said.
The most terrifying aspect meets you face-to-face on the tee. If the tee box is up, golfers can attempt to reach the green off the drive and hope for an eagle putt. But there is a great deal of risk in order to obtain the reward. To reach the green, you must also clear a body of water. Come up short of the green and you will hit directly into the water or have your ball roll into the water from the sloping bank that bellies up next to the left side of the green.
"When the tee box is up, it is a reachable par 4," Stratton said. "It will be really unique to watch people hitting for that. Otherwise, you will just take an iron down the middle of the fairway towards the bunker and have wedge to short iron in.
The risk involved can be too much for a lot of golfers to take on and many go for the option of taking an iron off the tee and laying up down the middle of the fairway.
Keith is one of those golfers, who has been a little too greedy in the past on this hole and now opts to play it safe.
"I decided that I am only going to hit a 5-iron off the tee because I've probably lost 45 golf balls off the tee to the left, which is easy to do," remarked Keith.
"If you just hit a good shot off the tee, you will have a wedge in and can get a birdie. Or you can go for it and you can get an eagle, but for me I just feel like it is just a gamble I don't really want to take."
When the tee is back, players will not be forced to make the difficult decision as to go for it or not. Instead, they will be able to lay up with an iron or a short wood and then have a short iron into the green.
If deciding what to do off the tee isn't challenging enough, picking the right location to land the ball on the green can be almost as difficult of a task. A few feet one direction or another can dramatically impact how good of a putt you will have.
"This green is really tricky; it slopes really hard right to left toward the water, so if you hit anything on the left side of the green, it is in the water," Stratton said. "You've got to take it to the right and let it funnel down, but if you leave it too far to the right, you will completely miss the green and it will not funnel."
The decision off the tee can make or break a player's overall score, and one thing that can be counted on will be the variety of scores that are had on hole No. 2.
"Many scores will happen here, Stratton said. "I'm sure there will be an eagle, I'm sure there will be a couple of birdies, but there will also be some very high numbers as well."
Key Shots Anna Leigh Keith and Lauren Stratton vary on which shot is most important to them on hole No. 2. Watch the video to see the two discuss their key shot on this hole.
Hole 16 Par 3 154 Yards
A par 3 is typically a good opportunity to gain ground with a birdie, but it can be especially challenging to visit the bird sanctuary on hole No. 16.
It plays approximately 154 yards, which is very short, but the challenge isn't in the length. The difficulty comes with the speed of the green, the placement of a large bunker in front of the green and the ominous view of a water hazard that snakes around the left side and back of the green.
"It is a tricky par 3 with a hazard surrounding the green on the backside and bunkers guarding the front," freshman Irina Gabasa said. "It is hard to get the ball to stay and find the right distance to the green."
The speed of the green was not as much of a challenge until just last summer when Bermuda grass greens were installed on every hole. The new grass has made the greens significantly faster, making it difficult to stick a landing, especially on a hole with a bunker smothering the front side of the green.
"Since they changed the greens here to Bermuda, 16 has been a really tough hole," senior Marina Alex said. "It is hard hold the ball on the green, especially when it is down wind."
The location of the hole can also add to the challenge of scoring a par. Alex considers the back right hole location to be the most challenging with a bunker in front and the water behind. But instead of trying to be a hero, Alex recommends playing it safe and aiming for the middle of the green every time.
"The best place is to just hit the center of the green and you will have a good look at birdie, whether it is front left or back right," Alex commented. "For us, we will be hitting anything from a 7 to a 6-iron, so we just have to play to the center of the green and take our two-putt. Any par on this hole is a good par."
However, for as difficult as this hole can be for some, it can be just the opposite for others. Such is the case for Anna Leigh Keith. Her view of the hole differs from the majority of her teammates, but for good reason.
"I don't really think of 16 as a tricky hole, but it is a good hole," Keith said. "The only hole-in-one I've ever had was on that hole. With a back right pin, I shot the ball right over the bunker, it hit, had one skip and went right in the hole, so I am a big fan of 16."
The validity of her hole-in-one claim is still up for debate by some. The alleged hole-in-one occurred approximately one year ago during a practice, but none of her teammates or either of her coaches saw the ball roll into the hole. So did she actually shoot a hole-in-one? She has no doubt even if no one else witnessed it.
"All seven of us and our two coaches were either on that hole, the hole behind or the hole ahead, and not a single person saw my hole-in-one," Keith said. "Everybody was here and nobody saw it. I'm still angry about that, but I did it."
Every golf course needs a good finishing hole and Vanderbilt Legends Club North Course has exactly that. Players will have an opportunity to birdie or even eagle the hole, but it will not come without risk.
The hole is a par 5 that will play anywhere from 464 to 504 yards. With the tee boxes up, the green becomes very reachable in two. Even if the tee boxes are back, some players will still have an opportunity to take aim at the green on their second shot.
However, before you can think about your second shot, you must first place your tee shot in the middle of the fairway. Hit it right, and you are in the water. Hit it left, and you are in the rough. If you don't hit it long enough, the green will be out of reach, making an opportunity for an eagle obsolete.
Those that are feeling strong on their second shot will face many obstacles surrounding the green. A water hazard runs down the entire right side of the hole and part of it cuts just in front of the green. The right and left sides of the green are guarded by bunkers on either side.
What a player opts to do on this closing hole could significantly impact who fairs well and who does not fair well in the tournament. "This is probably going to be the deciding hole in the NCAA Championships," Marina Alex said.
"It can be a hole that a team can win or lose the championship on," Irina Gabasa said.
A lot of what goes into the decision to go for the green in two comes down to the pin placement.
"If the pin is in the front, it is a really tough shot with water 10 yards in front of the green, bunkers on the left and bunkers on the right," Alex said. "If the hole location is back right or back left, you have a little more green to work with and those bunkers actually become good places to be because those bunker shots are easy to get to."
Once on the green, players will have an ample opportunity to roll in a putt for a low number. But if a player was to miss the green by just a few yards, what was once a real possibility for a birdie or even an eagle could balloon into a double bogey or even worse.
"It is a great finishing hole," Alex said. "If you have to makeup shots, you can gain them, but at the same time, you don't want to do anything silly, whether you have the lead or are tied for the lead."
Hole 18 is an excellent finishing hole and the top golfers will be able to distance themselves from the rest of the pack based on how they fare on this hole. It is a reachable par 5, which makes the second shot very important, but in order to get in position to hit the green, you must have a good tee shot. Watch Marina Alex, Irina Gabasa and Anna Leigh Keith explain the shots that are most critical to them.