As the longtime head professional at Seminole Golf Club, Bob Ford has played and witnessed his fair share of golf on the venerable Donald Ross layout.
As the course readies for its upcoming charity skins match, Ford’s scouting report on Seminole is simple: The wind dictates everything. If it blows, the course will show its true colors and the genius of the minimalistic design will be unveiled.
“We’ll all be crushed if the wind doesn’t blow for the match,” Ford said.
Depending on the direction and severity of the breeze, certain holes can range from extremely difficult to fairly gettable. As the wind changes, so does the ability to hold the firm green complexes that tend to repel less-than-stellar approaches.
Seminole isn’t a typical Florida course. There is meaningful elevation change on several approach shots. Water hazards are not a main feature, although a sneaky canal system has been known to devour the occasional wayward shot and No. 15, one of the standout par-5s in the country, offers players the opportunity to challenge a lake in order to have a shorter second shot.
To have success here, course management and flighting your ball are critical.
In talking about six key holes for the match that will pit Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson vs. Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a charity exhibition, Ford pointed to all four par-5s, a classic par-4 and a devilish par-3. How these holes are played will go a long way to determining which team will be victorious.
His scouting report:
No. 3 “I think each of the par-5s will be keys to the match. They won’t be par-5s for these guys with as far as they hit it. They will all be reachable, let’s put it that way. We expect an eagle or two to win those holes. I don’t think birdie will be good enough on any of those holes.
“On the third hole, the tee to the middle of where the dogleg turns is 320 yards. All of these guys hit it that far, so if they can place a good tee shot, they will have 6- or 7-irons into that green. In normal wind conditions for this time of year, it should be downwind. The green defends itself pretty nicely, falling off sharply on the left. Eagle will be tough, but birdie should be easy.”
No. 6 “This is not only Ben Hogan’s favorite hole, but it’s Ben Crenshaw’s favorite hole as well. The green just sits at almost a 45-degree angle from the players for their second shot and it’s very narrow in the middle. It’s almost an hour-glass type looking green with bunkers in the middle on the right and the left, so it’s really a wonderful iron shot.
“I expect birdies there, but you can get in a lot of trouble if you miss that green. Short is the proper miss there. These guys will probably be hitting irons off the tee and shouldn’t miss the fairway, but if they do, missing long is the last place you want to go with your approach.”
No. 9“Typically this time of year we have a southeast wind and this should hurt the players a little bit. If they get it downwind or with little wind, they can probably hit a 5-wood off the tee or two 2-irons because there is some water that pinches in on the tee shot and driver wouldn’t be necessary.
“But I expect it to be into the wind and I expect them to need a longer iron into the green. The green is so small and the actual putting surface where we can put hole locations out there is so small, it’s going to require a wonderful second shot for a good look at eagle. If they are going to miss, it’s important not to short-side themselves.”
No. 14“Sitting behind this green offers a beautiful view of the property with the ocean in the background. The drive on every hole is the key, but if this hole is downwind as we think it will be, there is water 150 yards from the green that could be reachable. It’s hard to imagine guys having to hit a 3-wood on a par-5 like this, but they may need to do that. Getting in the fairway will be way more important than distance.
“They will be hitting maybe 7-, 8- or 9-irons into the green. We could see someone have a wedge in depending on how strong the wind is that day. It’s probably the easiest hole on the course for those guys, but the green is surrounded by bunkers and getting the ball to stop won’t be easy. My members and I may have a hard time from those bunkers, but these guys won’t.”
No. 15“This will be a key hole because we’ve recently added a new tee about 20 yards farther back and this is a point where you turn back against the wind. During our Pro-Member, guys were having trouble carrying the water on their tee shot. Rory played here a couple of months ago and was 9 under through 14 holes, but he didn’t carry the water. Obviously you would have to neck it a little bit and not hit your best shot, but they are going to need to hit a good one to reach what we call ‘A1A’ (the name of a nearby Florida road) – the fairway to the right that offers a shorter second shot.
“If they get there, it’s still a long shot to the green. It will be around 250 yards or so. The green is tilted from back to front and like many holes at Seminole, over is not good. It all really depends on the wind.”
No. 17“You are right up against the ocean here and it should be a hard left-to-right wind. These guys know how to draw the ball and I certainly don’t expect them to struggle too much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are two balls on the green and two balls off the green.
“The right bunker gets a ton of play during this time of year because the green and wind push everything that way. But missing left or long is often a tougher up and down. It’s common to see even some of our better players go bunker-to-bunker here, so you have to be careful.”