“It’s the hardest in Calhoun County,” Brian Woodfin said Saturday, moments after he and teammate Cypress Hathorn completed a rare birdie on the hole Saturday. “That’s what we all say every time we play this hole.”
Sunny King golfers who participated in The Anniston Star’s pre-tournament survey voted Cider Ridge’s par-4 16th hole as the least favorite hole in this year’s rotation of Sunny King courses, which also includes Silver Lakes and Anniston Country Club.
Surprisingly, the hole finished just one vote ahead of ACC’s par-3 No. 16, which also finished first in voting as the tourney’s favorite hole.
The two holes have little in common, and Cider Ridge’s No. 16 would never finish among the most-liked holes. Just ask the guys who are spending this weekend spotting on the hole.
One raise of their arms or thumbs-up — which signals that a tee shot settled in the fairway — can make a golfer’s whole day.
One point left or right means trouble.
“When they hit, and they’re in the fairway, and they see us raise up, they jump up and down all happy and excited,” said Casey McConathy, who spotted alongside Josh Tillman. “When they hit in the woods, they’re not too happy.”
McConathy and Tillman have seen a lot more of the latter this weekend.
“There’s been a lot of hitting in the trees off to the right or hitting in the trees off to the left both days,” Tillman said. “Today has been a little bit better. A lot more people hit in the fairway today.
“That over there (he points to a 50-yard stretch of woods just beyond the sand trap, downhill from the fairway), people were all in there yesterday.”
Cider Ridge No. 16 presents many challenges, the first being obvious from one of four tee boxes. The tee shot is blind.
Golfers used the No. 3 tee box (369 yards) Saturday, and they couldn’t see beyond a hillcrest at about 75 yards. The only way to know whether a tee shot was successful was to look at the tent off the cart path and wait for a signal from McConathy and Tillman.
Lots of danger lies alongside the narrow fairway beyond the hillcrest, and the view from the tee box can be deceptive. Cider Ridge pro Casey Smith recommends golfers drive their cart to the hillcrest and take a peak before teeing off.
“Once you get up there, there’s a tight landing area,” Smith said. “There’s a chance, if you hit a portion on the left side of the fairway, that it can kick down, depending on how far you hit it and how much hooking or slicing. It can even go in a hazard.”
What looks like a straight shot off the tee can wind up in a bad place easily, and there are tempting aiming points. Woodfin warned others in his foursome against aiming for the distant mountain visible just over the hillcrest.
Better to aim for the tall tree to the right, he said.
“If you don’t hit just right, you’re going to make a five or a six on this hole,” Woodfin said.
“It’s just so tight. If you hit it any left, it goes in the hazard. If you hit it any right, it goes in the hazard.”
Johnathan Bennett, who teamed with Wayne Parker to par the hole, put it succinctly.
“If you don’t hit it in the fairway,” he said, “you’re dead.”
Smith recommends teeing off with irons, but two-man teams playing in Sunny King’s best-ball format often have one player hit with irons and another with a driver.
Even average golfers can get lucky with the driver. Oxford’s Rick Taylor, who said he’s a 10-handicap, drove about 280 yards toward the right edge of the fairway.
“I closed my eyes and hit it and hope it goes down the middle,” he said. “My natural thing is a draw, and I hit it as hard as I can, and it drew. It’s the only time today it drew.”
The narrow fairway bottlenecks just short of the green, and the green offers little margin for error.
“On your second shot, it’s almost kind of like an island green, the way its set up,” Smith said. “If you miss short, you’re going down a hill. If you miss long, there’s a hazard back there. If you miss right, there’s a hazard.”
Taylor and teammate Dan McClellan chipped within about six feet of the hole. They missed the birdie putt, but hey, a par on the tourney’s least favorite hole is a victory.
“This is the hardest hole in Calhoun County,” Taylor said. “It’s just one of those championship holes you have sometimes, like on the course the big boys play.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.