Kent State University coach gives props to clubs’ managers for providing access and helping his players prepare for national title competition at Riviera CC.
Firestone Country Club’s famed South Course in Akron, Ohio served as the stand-in for another major championship venue on May 22, reported the Portage County (Ohio) Journal-Register, as the men’s golf team from Kent State University (KSU) began its preparations for the NCAA Championship, to be held May 29-June 3 at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles.
The 16th-seeded Golden Flashes qualified (for the third straight year) along with 29 other Division One college teams for the right to battle for the national title at Riviera, and KSU coach Herb Page was looking to give his players some opportunities to “simulate what [they] will see next week.”
“Golf is not like basketball, where the courts are all the same length and the hoop is always at the same height,” Page noted. “In California, the cup will be the same size and 150 yards is 150 yards just like it is here. But golf courses are just different.”
Historic tracks like Riviera (created in 1926) and Firestone (1929) do share some similarities, though, and even though the KSU team couldn’t play in Akron on the Kikuyu grass they’ll see in California, they did find the opportunity to play Firestone, a ClubCorp property, invaluable in providing the opportunity “to look at some great long par-fours like we’ll see at Riviera,” Page noted. “And Firestone was a chance to play another special golf course,” he added.
KSU’s 2012 roster includes two members from Ohio, junior Kevin Miller and sophomore Kyle Kmiecik. But like their teammates from Ontario, Canada — senior Mackenzie Hughes, sophomore Taylor Pendrith and sophomore Corey Conners —the trip to Akron offered all of the players their first-ever opportunity to play the Firestone course nicknamed “The Monster.”
“It was so nice of [Firestone General Manager] Mark Gore and [Director of Golf] Steve Carter to allow us to come out,” said Page. “They said play it as far back as you want, so we played it one step from the tips.”
That lengthened the South Course to almost 7,400 yards at a par of 70. The distance offered the perfect test in the week before competing for an NCAA title.
“Riviera, as posted in the NCAA manual, is going to be 7,365 yards and par 71,” said KSU associate head coach Rob Wakeling, who played in the NCAA Tournament as a KSU player in 1990, 1992 and 1993. “We can’t replicate the grasses or the slopes of Riviera, but we can try to simulate some of the distances and get used to playing some 480-yard par fours, where you have to hit a good drive and a mid-iron.”
During their round at Firestone, Pendrith fired the day’s lowest score, an even-par 70. The rest of the Flashes shot in the low 70s.
“Our guys understand the history of places like Firestone and Riviera,” said Page. “We’ve already won this year at Inverness in Toledo, which is another major championship venue. And while we didn’t win, we also played at Muirfield Village in Dublin. So we’ve played some great, tough golf courses this year that will really help to prepare us for next week.”
The preparation continued later in the week with a mini-tour of some other top courses in northern Ohio, including Walden Golf and Country Club and Barrington Country Club, both in Aurora, and Brookside Country Club in Canton.