The Muny Spring Partnership will be played this weekend, April 21-22. It is a special tournament for lots of people for many reasons. Doug Smith of the Austin American Statesman's Thursday golf column has done a good job describing some of the traditions, the people involved, and the history of the tournament. Read the article if you can.
The Firecracker Open will take place later this year on the same beloved golf course and you will find many of the same comments being made about that tournament that are made about the Spring Partnership. Both tournaments have great tradition, wonderful fellowship, and provide the Austin golfing community with a great venue to enjoy golf and Austin itself.
What is it that makes Muny and it's tournaments so special?
One of the most obvious factors is the setting itself. Located in central Austin, Muny is convenient to everyone and has the feel of being at home. Aside from the location, one factor that is taken for granted but is central to the course design, the enjoyment of the Muny experience and the quality of tournament play, are the "Trees of Muny".
The oak trees are the dominant factor of the arbor world at Muny, although the elms, cedars, mesquites and other trees, bushes and plants certainly make their contribution.
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Lets start with the grove of oaks that shade the clubhouse. Imagine what it would be like without these trees. Gatherings around the clubhouse to discuss the day's play or look at the leaderboard would not be the same if they were in the scorching heat of Texas as opposed to being in the shade of these oaks. They also contribute to the enjoyment of the practice tee adjacent to the clubhouse. In addition, spectators who congregate around the 10th tee to watch the players either lay up or go for the green would not be as likely to watch were it not for the comfort of these trees and their shade.
Shot selection and stragegy on the course are dictated by the trees. And the enjoyment of the course in terms of remaining comfortable are enhanced significantly by the the trees. Summertime finds the players hitting shots and then seeking the shade of the nearest tree like the lizards that scamper around in the trees along the fairways. Trees are at the heart of Muny in many ways.
Before the round on the putting green, the trees surround the player and provide a feeling of being surrounded by nature.
The challenge of the course rests in the difficulty of the green complexes and the trees that outline the fairways. If you can stay out of the trees and putt well, you can play Muny well. From the opening tee shot, the trees set up the course. Taken early one morning, this photo portrays a sense of what the golfer knows awaits them. Through the fog, you can see the trees. The first decision of the day is "Do I try to go over the trees or play it safe and play straight down the fairway?" Or, "What club should I hit to make it past the tree on the right but not go into the trees through the fairway?" Think of how many times you've play a shot out of the trees back to the fairway or tried to bend a shot around a tree or hit one over a tree on the opening hole.
Every hole on the course is shaped by the trees. Take for example, the cottonwood in the middle of number two fairway about a hundred yards from the green. Players have who have hit the fairway off the tee and have an opportunity to hit the par five green in two have to deal with this tree. "Should I go left and play a fade around the tree or play a hook to the right around the tree and risk the OB penalty? Or should I try to go over it?" This tree gobbles up balls and wrecks rounds.
Consider the tee shots at holes 5, 6, 8 and 9. They are all shaped by the trees. At number 5, it's hit a high hook over the trees. Number 6 requires a tee shot around or over the big oak tree on the right. God help the poor player that strays into the tree roots and rocks right of #6 fairway. It's usually not a pretty sight to find yourself stymied by a tree or up against a root and thinking, "Why didn't I play this shot left?"
Number 8 requires a fade to follow the contour of the tree lined fairway. A long, straight shot up the fairway will come to rest in the trees on the left. At the same time, a miss to the right finds more trees, rocks, and roots and a cart path. It's never good over there. It's the trees of Muny that shape the hole. Long hitters sometimes say to heck with hitting this fairway and aim down #6, which provides more room. This photo above is looking back at #8 tee from the trees to the right.
Number 9 requires fitting a shot between the trees to the left and the big oak on the right. Distance control is critical on this shot. The more aggressive players may even try to play over all the trees and take a shot at the green. The line and distance are critical and an errant shot will result in trouble with the trees. Exiting the front nine, the cart path and trip to back nine is shaded by the trees. Players will total up their front nine scores in the shade and spectators will stand in the shade while watching the action on the course.
On the back nine, the story is the same, with trees dictating the line and distance. The 11th hole requires a decision about whether to play a three wood safely to the middle of the fairway or fit a driver up the right side where the oaks and cedar trees guard the green. A straight shot with a driver can go through the fairway into the trees.
As the players exit the 11th and make their way to the 12th hole, they wind their way through more oaks, like the one at the back of the 15th green. The stand of oaks that populate the area between 15 green and the right side of 16 are spectacular. Some of them have been there for hundreds of years and endured wind, weather, drought and floods, not to mention hundreds of thousands of round of golf. The oak to the right of 15 green is perhaps the grandest of all. Standing beneath this tree and looking at the 15th green, as shown below, one cannot help but be inspired by its strength and size. The shade of this tree has provided refuge for players waiting to play number 12 as play stacks up. One contemplates what this tree has seen during it's life. Did the Indians camp beneath this tree in the early years of Texas. It was certainly present during their tenure. The limbs have reached the ground and curved back upward.
At one time, the course routing placed the 6th green of a par five to the right of this tree and shots wound up underneath this tree, requiring the player to punch out from beneath it's limbs. With the current course routing it is not in play for most players.
The oak tree to the right of the 16th hole has probably been hit by golf balls several thousand times and it provides a challenge to the golfer who is playing their tee shot. Many championships have been decided by this tee shot and the trees on either side of the fairway have produced many double bogeys at critical times for title contenders. Missing this fairway usually means the lost of one shot or more as the player punches out to the saftey of the fairway or gambles with a shot over the water.
The trees to the left of the 17th tee and to the right of 17 frame the hole and provide more shade. The lone oak to the right of 17 seldom comes into play but stands as a witness to the efforts of golfers. To the left of 17 green, the cart path and more oak trees punish the errant tee shot, which presents the golfer with a run shot up a bank to a green sloping away from the player. Seldom is par made from the left of the green.
Exiting the 17th and on the way to the 18th, the cart path winds through more trees and undergrowth. Ferns and vines adorn the trees and provide an opportunity to enjoy the natural surroundings at the players make their way to the 18th tee.
Arriving at the tee, the 18th is framed beautifully by the trees. Playing from the back of the tee gives the full visual effect of coming out of the shute of trees and headed up the fairway. The player can play a conservative shot on this short par four and leave a short iron to the green. But, with today's technology and the ability of today's players, most will opt for the driver. This brings the trees that surround the green into play. A hook or slice will produce more interaction with the trees. Playing the second shot from the trees on either side will require a run shot through roots, rocks, cart paths, and bare dirt. The results are hard to predict and are subject to an abrupt and unplesant halt or change of direction by one of these obstacles.
Walking off the tee there are a variety of plants to the left seldom noticed by the golfer concerned about their score and where their tee shot came to rest. Prickly pear cactus as well as Chinaberry trees and various flowering bushes are there to be enjoyed by those who notice. For the most part, they are not in play and go unnoticed .
Every player who has played this hole is aware of the dangers of hitting a shot to the right into the grove of oaks up by the green. Lost balls are not uncommon. More likely is the challenge of a lie on rocks or against a tree root. Occasionally the player will get a good break and have a decent path to the green with a decent lie that requires a solid run shot. Once the shot is played, the possibility of a poor bounce off a rock, fallen limb, or irregular terain is always present.
Having completed their round of play, odds are that the players will congregate under the oaks by the clubhouse to brag on their good shots and lament their poor shots. In most cases, the poor shots will have involved one or more of the trees at Muny.
The next time you have the opportunity to play this wonderful course, take the time to enjoy the trees not only for their contribution to the course design and difficulty, but also for their contribution to your enjoyment of the day and the pleasure of this wonderful setting. It will enhance your experience regardless of how well you played that day.