Idle Hour set to re-enter spotlight

rseibel@macon.comJuly 5, 2014 

One image will always stick with Wade Thomas when it comes to the last time Idle Hour Club hosted the Georgia Amateur Championship.

The year was 2008. Macon’s Russell Henley and his Georgia teammate, Harris English, were engaged in a final-round duel. A throng of spectators gathered not only around the green but also on the balcony of the course’s historic clubhouse.

Henley claimed the first of his two Georgia Amateur titles that day. Both golfers have gone on to the PGA Tour ranks, with each winning two events.

“Russell Henley and Harris English battled it out to the bitter end,” said Thomas, Idle Hour’s course superintendent. “That was wonderful. The bannister above was full of people standing. We had a huge crowd following them in. It was very intense from (hole No.) 14 in that day. It was a very special Sunday.”

Six years later, the Georgia Amateur returns to Idle Hour. It’s a short turnaround for Idle Hour, which is hosting for a record eighth time. The club usually has a decade or more in between each Georgia Amateurs it hosts.

Still, the grand old course is ready to go, with very little major work needed this time around.

“It’s a blessing and a curse to have the event,” Georgia State Golf Association president Chuck Palmer said. “Any time you host an elite amateur event, it’s a bit of a burden on the members to get ready. A lot of clubs aren’t capable of doing that.

“I like to think it’s a win-win (for the GSGA and Idle Hour). I appreciate their support and involvement.”

If anything, the changes made for this tournament were made through the course of nature. Storms knocked down a few trees here and there, and the club took that opportunity to open up the course a bit.

The course, a par-70 track that measures 6,727 yards, has gone through the typical touch-up work done before major tournaments. Thomas said the club brought in a truckload of grass to plant in areas where the ground had become a bit worn. A stretch of almost daily afternoon rainstorms in the weeks leading up to the tournament helped the course develop, as well.

“We lengthened the course about 300 yards several years back in preparation for these type of tournaments, with the demands of golf and staying competitive in the industry,” Thomas said. “We’re very proud of Idle Hour.”

The rain has also allowed areas off the fairways and greens to become much thicker. Missing the fairway or green will mean dealing with rough that is twice as thick as what Idle Hour members normally play.

The deep rough already was coming through on the course Monday, when GSGA officials visited the course along with staff from GPB, which is putting together a one-hour televised recap of the tournament that will air July 19.

“Our membership growth is an inch-and-a-half, and that’s generally not so deep that they have trouble finding the ball, but it’s still a penalty,” Thomas said. “Now, for the State Amateur, we’re going to go to 3 inches, which is more than twice the ball, so you’re going to have a hard time finding the ball, and then to make a good, controlled shot out of it, is going to be very difficult.

“The premium is going to be on hitting a straight tee shot, being very accurate with the driver, and then our greens are so small, with an average square footage of 3,400 square feet, which is tiny by today’s standards, you’re going to have to hit a precise iron shot. If you don’t drive it in the fairway, the chances of getting it close to the hole on your second shot or your iron shot into the green is going to be difficult to do.”

Those playing Idle Hour this week appreciate the challenge it presents, especially with the premium the course places on accuracy.

The 72-hole, stroke-play event begins Thursday and runs through July 13.

“It’s a timeless golf course,” said Conner Albright, an FPD product who now plays at Georgia College. “In a sense, it’s old school because you can’t miss long on any hole. On every single hole, if you go long, you’re going to be in trouble, and that’s what you have to avoid. Distance, in a way, can hurt you because it’s not about how long you hit it. It’s a placement golf course, and that’s a lot of fun to play that.”

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