Weather, hole placement make Solheim Cup a big challenge

In all sports, an athlete is either competing against someone else or him or herself. But in golf, there's another element at play. The athletes compete against the course itself. And Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove is the longest course in the history of the Solheim Cup.

A very wet and windy Rich Harvest Farms golf course during competition over the past week has made an already tough course even a bit harder.

Jim Haley's job is to make sure each hole on the course is a challenge. The LPGA official is in charge of the exact placement of every hole on every green. The fourth hole and the 16th hole were his own picks for some of the toughest shots on the course at various points in the week. Haley said he won't be making those holes or any of the others much easier, but he does like to mix up the level of challenge throughout the course.

"These golfers are playing under a lot of pressure this week, but I'm not going to stick (the holes) all in the middle of the greens," Haley said of his philosophy. "They have to earn it."

In setting the holes, Haley factors in the slopes and contours. He'll roll ball after ball in various directions, factor in the how the winds are blowing during the week and even use a level to make sure every hole is fair.

The idea is to create a course that will keep the game challenging for the players individually and test the skills of the coaches to create matchups that don't result in blowouts. Haley said he sees it as his job to ratchet the competitiveness up a bit more on the final few holes. That not only increases the suspense, but also creates an added difficulty that tests the leaders and opens windows for players to make a comeback.

"When you're coming down the stretch, admittedly, I'm going to set hard holes," Haley said. Hard, but not so impossible that a player would be better off blindfolded and hoping for fate to intervene. "We're testing skills, not luck," he said.

The weather has also tested the skills of the course's staff. Pairs of grounds crew members can be seen throughout the course, tools of the trade in hand, making all the cosmetic repairs possible as play stretches from early morning to early evening each day of the tournament, which concludes today.

Tees and greens have survived the consistently cloudy conditions the best with a persistent wind hitting 25 m.p.h. at some points to help dry them out. The fairways have not been draining well and have stayed soggy. And the bunkers, by Haley's own estimation, "need a lot of work."

"The superintendent is going nuts trying to figure out how to do everything," Haley said.

But somehow they're getting it done. American Christina Kim described how the course is playing with the weather and Haley's hole placements after play on Friday.

"This golf course is a (darn) good challenge," Kim said. "It really makes you hit every single shot out there. It puts a premium on hitting into the fairways, and you have to be able to get it onto the green from there. That's not always easy. Especially with the cold weather, the wet weather, it's a (darn) good challenge. But it's a beautiful golf course."

Flowers in bloom near the tee box on No. 14. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

<div class="infoBox"> <h1>More Coverage</h1> <div class="infoBoxContent"> <div class="infoArea"> <h2>Photo Galleries</h2> <ul class="gallery"> <li><a href="/story/?id=315533">Friday images from the Solheim Cup </a></li> <li><a href="/story/?id=315534">Solheim Cup fans</a></li> <li><a href="/story/?id=315268">Thursday images from the Solheim Cup </a></li> <li><a href="/story/?id=314990">Wednesday images from the Solheim Cup </a></li> <li><a href="/story/?id=314617">Tuesday images from the Solheim Cup </a></li> <li><a href="/story/?id=314310">Monday images from the Solheim Cup </a></li> </ul> <h2>Video</h2> <ul class="video"> <li><a href="">Solheim Cup Opening </a></li> <li><a href="">Solheim Cup After Sundown party </a></li> </ul> <h2>Related links</h2> <ul class="moreWeb"> <li><a href="/packages/2009/solheimcup/">Complete Daily Herald coverage of the Solheim Cup</a></li> </ul> </div> </div> </div>

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