No. 17, a place to watch tour event

Sunday, April 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOT SPRINGS VILLAGE, Ark. (AP) _ For spectators, there are two ways to approach the Tour event this week:

_Pick a spot where the pros will be faced with a risk-reward shot.

_Pick a player _ a former PGA Tour pro, a former college hotshot, somebody with a reputation _ and walk with him.

A viewing plan is important because Diamante Country Club is extra long and hilly.

For the former, Nos. 6 and No. 17 are the logical choices.

From the gold tees, No. 6 is a 301-yard uphill par 4. It's 273 to the front edge and anything short of that could bury in a bunker. The green is not deep and hitting a tee shot high enough to make it sit soft will be a challenge.

``If they hit it over the green, it's nothing but downhill,'' said Diamante pro Mac McCall. ``It could go out of bounds.''

A pond fronts the green on the 315-yard 17th. The hole is slightly downhill and it's 288 yards to carry the rocks that line the back of the water.

There is a big mound on the back left of the green and bleachers will be set up, with a view of the green and No. 18 tee. There is also a possibility that the pros could play from the blue tees, or even the white tees. It's 271 to carry the water from the blues and 257 from the whites.

McCall said there is talk that the gold tees will be in use on 16 of the 18 holes. From there, the yardage will be slightly more than 7,500 yards _ the longest course on the Tour. The PGA Tour plays Castle Pines at more than 7,500 yards, but that's in the thin air of Colorado.

``Through the years, they've had some of the members say they wanted longer courses and they finally got one here,'' McCall said.

Today's players are driving the ball so far that they are able to hit wedges to par 4s that are 420 yards and even longer.

At Diamante, Nos. 13, 14 and 15 are par 4s that measure 481, 472 and 486.

Touring pros routinely reach 550-yard par 5s in two, but No. 11 at Diamante will play at 651.

``Word is there may be one or two who can get there,'' McCall said. ``It depends on the fairways, if they're hard and running. It's a little bit downhill.''

From the gold tees, all four par 3s top 200 yards and tour officials will probably shorten at least one per day. ``With some of the great hole locations available, we don't want to put them back at 215,'' said Matt Delaney, a rules official with the PGA Tour.

A pin four paces from trouble is difficult to attack with a long iron. ``It's a lot more exciting to watch them go at that kind of pin with a 7- or 8-iron,'' Delaney said.

Sitting behind the par 5 third, with its huge two-level green and myriad of nifty pin placements, a spectator can see the tee shots on the fourth where the green wraps around some water. There are few other spots to watch the action on more than one hole _ a hillside on No. 8 affords a view of second shots to the par 5 and tee shots on No. 9.

McCall said the greens will be firm and fast, 10.5 or better on the stimpmeter.

Delaney believes Diamante will be a stern test. ``I think the winner will be in single digits,'' he said. ``Five or six under is going to be a pretty reasonable number.''

On Thursday and Friday, the players will go off No. 1 and No. 10, beginning at 7:30 a.m. and at 12:30 p.m.

By checking tee times, it's possible to watch a player negotiate nine holes and then pick up another player at the turn.

For instance, former U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett _ a University of Texas product _ is supposed to be in the field. He shot 59 during the PGA Tour qualifying.

Casey Martin is also expected to play.

Martin has a degenerative condition in his right leg that makes it difficult for him to walk 18 holes and he uses a cart. Martin qualified for the PGA Tour last year, but failed to keep his card. At qualifying school, he missed by one stroke of earning playing privileges this year.