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Greens of Dreams: Strategy key at end of front nine

September 6, 2018

We’ve now arrived at the closing stretch of the front nine in our Greens of Dreams series.

The last three-hole stretch was full of trouble, requiring precision with whichever club was pulled.

Over the next three holes, we’re going to find out if fortune truly favors the bold – each of these has the option of either firing away at a birdie opportunity or bailing out for a safer play.

This can be a big momentum builder heading to the turn. But it can kill that momentum just as quickly. So how will you play it?

Hole No. 7 — the third hole at Sage Valley Golf Club

Don’t get caught up in the sheer beauty of this hole – it can be awfully difficult.

The tee shot is one of the prettiest you’ll see, a welcome sight after enduring what can be a devilish second hole at Sage Valley. Take it left-to-right off the tee and guide it right between the bunkers – there’s a potential trouble spot if you get a little wild, and you bring the water into play if you really want to make a bold move – and you’re probably looking at a short iron into the green. Play it safe to the right, and it’s still a manageable distance for your approach.

Easy enough, right? Well, a lot of that depends on your lie and where the pin is located – left brings the greenside bunker into play, and there’s plenty of slope.

The third at Sage Valley, a par 4 measuring 433 yards from the championship tees, is one of USC Aiken golf coach Michael Carlisle’s favorites in the area. It may also be one of the favorites of reigning Junior Invitational champ Akshay Bhatia – he played it in 2 under on his way to a one-shot win.

The aesthetic charm makes No. 3, named Cypress, one of the most enjoyable golf holes in the area, and the strategic test it requires only adds to that.

“I’ve always liked 3,” said Ryan Carpenter, who helped South Aiken to a state championship in 2013 and recently turned pro after playing collegiately at Coastal Carolina. “It’s just a beautiful hole, with the water and the tee shot. ... It’s a great tee shot. You can miss it as far right as you want, but your ideal tee shot is right between the two bunkers on either side of the fairway. So it’s a great line.

“And then, if you hit a good tee shot, it’s like a 9-iron, maybe, if the pin’s in the middle. If the pin’s all the way back it could be 8. It’s not an easy green, because there’s so many pin positions you can put on that green with that massive swale in the middle.”

Hole No. 8 — the eighth hole on the Wisteria Course by Rees Jones at Woodside Plantation Country Club

Up next is No. 8 on Woodside’s Jones Course, a long, downhill par 3 over water.

This one continues the risk-reward theme, especially if there’s a front pin.

Measuring 198 yards from the back tees, this hole requires good judgement of the elevation change. It’s easy to find the drink, which is a bitter pill to swallow on a hole that in theory should play much shorter than its yardage.

Is that to say I’ve splashed down a time or two in Holley Lake? Yes, yes it is.

The lake is dedicated to the memory of H. Earle Holley, Jr., a co-founder of Palmetto Federal Savings Bank of South Carolina and a principal developer of Woodside.

The eighth is listed as one of the easiest holes on the course, but pin-seeking can lead to a big number just as quickly as it can result in a birdie.

“Beautiful hole. You’ve just got to hit a good shot,” said Palmetto Golf Club director of golf Brooks Blackburn. “And long is fine; you can hit it long, I guess as long as you’re not right. Long and left is fine. But it’s no bargain to get up and down.

“But it’s just something about standing up on a peninsula par 3 and going, ‘OK. Well the pin’s on the front. Am I gonna bail out and hit it long, or am I gonna pick the right club?’ And, you know, golfers, we’re all stupid. We go right at the flag. We’re not gonna take too much club and hit it long.”

Hole No. 9 — the fourteenth hole at The Aiken Golf Club

This should be an easy birdie right before the snack bar.

Key word being “should”.

This par 4 is billed at 255 yards from the medal tee, though it feels like it plays a little bit longer. It’s the first of consecutive driveable par 4s late in the round at The Aiken Golf Club, and it’s more straightforward than the 15th.

That’s not to say it’s as easy as it sounds, though. There’s a big choice to be made on the tee box.

“I love that hole,” said PGA Tour pro Kevin Kisner. “I think that’s great, because if you hit too much club – 3 wood can barely get there, and driver’s too much. That’s a great hole for me.”

Kisner, of course, only really has to worry about yardage with whichever club he chooses, because it’s going to go as straight as a human can hit a golf ball. For the rest of us, well, there’s some other things to consider on this hole.

For example, it’s just not sound strategy to go left – or, in some cases, way left. There’s buildings and cars and all kinds of other things you don’t want to hit just beyond the trees. Sometimes, though, the course cuts you a break and the trees toss your ball back right near the green.

Right isn’t a ton better, especially if you choose to play it safe and hit iron off the tee – which I suppose is a pretty funny outcome when it happens to someone else. I can say from experience, though, that it’s a tough, long sand shot from way over there. And if you go long with your second, well, all you can hope for is that the trees are in a giving mood.

That’s a long way of saying just be like Kiz and hit it straight. Easier said than done. Just don’t go long.

“I love that hole. For me, it’s like a really hard 3-wood or kind of like a bunt driver, which is fun for me because I don’t ever hit, like, a three-quarter driver. Ever,” said Carpenter. ”... If you get up around the green short, it’s just a chip and a putt and you get your birdie and move on. If you go long or left, you might make a double or something. You kind of have to stripe your bunt driver out there.”

So that’s our front nine. Are we rolling as this point after a strong finish, or are we contemplating selling our clubs on eBay after some poor decisions? Come back next Thursday as we refill our coolers, grab a snack and double the bets – and maybe pick up an extra sleeve or two of balls. I’ll see you on the 10th tee.