WYNNE, Ark. – Twenty minutes into 27 holes of golf, organizers of the Rowdy Hog tournament were working on a way to include The Ridges at Village Creek in the tournament rotation.
Six hours later, heading toward Colt and Wynne and I-40, the conversation continued even as the tournament co-chairman, riding shotgun, was double-checking rates for playing the entire gem of a layout.
The 72-hole Rowdy Hog event is for GWTTCP (Guys Who Think They Play) members, a loosely knit group of about a dozen who play almost exclusively on public courses. Any Arkansan who pays a daily fee to play should plan a day at the state-operated Ridges, precisely 100 miles from the Protho Junction commuter lot on the fringe of North Little Rock.
Teased by word of mouth from good players and a higher handicapper who stopped on his return trip from East Lake, site of the PGA Tour championship, we had high expectations and The Ridges exceeded them. We agreed there was not a bad hole among the 27.
Driving east, there were doubts about the touted elevation changes on the course. Forrest City is on the way to Louisville, Ky., and a traveling companion to the Kentucky Derby used to joke about being able to see Memphis from 40 miles away.
Who knew that golf course architect Andy Dye could look at Crowley’s Ridge and envision a golf course? Adding one club, sometimes two, is part of the computation on virtually every approach shot. Best we could remember, there was one flat hole, a short part three and there the pin was behind a bunker. Like so many greens on the course, that one had slope to contemplate.
Pulling into the parking lot on a glorious October Friday, there were red flags — only two cars outside a double-wide, a tiny putting green with three aqua flags no more than 20 feet apart, and a winding gravel path headed off through a grove of trees with no fairways or greens in sight — that turned out to be red herrings.
Emerging from the trees, No. 1 tee and No. 9 green were pleasing to the golf palate and the eye candy only got better, uncluttered by cart paths neatly hidden.
For maximum enjoyment, two things are necessary, one mechanical and one mental:
• A device to identify the distance to bunkers, the occasional water, and the end of fairways. For instance, on the dogleg left fifth on the East Course, the golf ball graveyard to the left dictates aiming at the mounds in the right rough. Unaware, long hitters might bomb away and spend the next five minutes looking for the tee ball down the steep slope behind the buried elephants.
• Rein in the ego. Driver is not automatic off every par four and par five tee. Often, the idea is to calculate yardage to the 150-yard stake and play from there. Sometimes, that means long iron or hybrid off the tee. Because of that, holes that are 360 or 370 play longer.
Hitting from the white tees, the mix and match nines range from 6,035 to 6,102 and will test any weekend player. Masochists can play between 7,249 yards and 7,449.
Bubbling about the East Course, we returned to the clubhouse for nourishment and were told by the man behind the counter we had played the “boring side.”
Boring only in comparison to the other two nines.
By the way, from the middle of No. 1 fairway on the North Ridge, be sure to turn around and marvel at the clubhouse under construction on a spectacular ridge.
My only complaint was not knowing the whether the flags were front, center, or back, but a solution is in the works.
In the name of transparency, this media member was comped. The review would have been equally enthusiastic if I had paid the weekend rate of $45, plus $15 for the third nine. Even better, rates are reduced November through March.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.