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Students of the game in for a challenge at Southwood

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We have a pretty good idea what could happen next week when Golf Canada brings the Canadian University/College Championship to Winnipeg's Southwood Golf and Country Club.

Much will be determined by weather, but as important as who wins will be what happens at the Thomas McBroom creation during the relatively new course's first major, sanctioned competition.

Southwood's been open since mid-2011, a bold lock-and-stock relocation of a regulation golf club, the first such relocation of an established club in Canada in 40 years.

And at nearly $15 million, it's Manitoba's most expensive golf project ever, built with teeth -- no, check that, with fangs --by one of Canada's pre-eminent architects.

The university and college players from across the country, who begin the official competition on Tuesday, will face a test on the 7,311-yard course. Until the final three holes there aren't many trees to be found, meaning weather and wind will be present, welcome or not.

What we're hearing a week out from the championship is Golf Canada isn't terribly interested in unleashing all of McBroom's muscle at once on the competitors. The men's competition -- which includes 19 teams of five players -- will get a maximum of only about 7,000 yards on any given day of the event. It'll be about 6,000 yards for the 11 women's teams of four players each.

While he was creating the course, McBroom said he wasn't out to build any kind of monster. He was commissioned to replace an easy-walking, short and old tree-lined course at the University of Manitoba.

McBroom said he was keeping those members in mind but he talked optimistically in terms of challenges. He wasn't going to hold back and the finished product -- with all its yardage, we should point out -- would be deemed worthy of a major tournament such as the Canadian Open, even though that specific event is wishful thinking outside of the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver areas.

Not that anyone much cares what a two-way-miss left-hander thinks, but I'd say he's pretty much done it.

The combination of numerous deep bunkers, the created elevation changes that make so many approach shots up a rise, the large greens and widely spread fescue grass has pretty much turned the thumbscrews on those with a weak game.

Punishment

What is missing this spring is the fescue, since Southwood has elected to cut most of it low each fall, so much of the punishment for simple crookedness will be minimized next week.

That's not to say there isn't danger.

There's not a lot of warm, fuzzy feeling for the look on the second tee, where the par-3 hole can go back to 215 yards. It's sounding unlikely all 481 yards of No. 6 will be used. It's a brute of a par 4, especially if there's any breeze at all from the north or west.

Personally, I like to stand on the back tee at No. 11 and view the 228-yard par-3, with a lake on the left side and bunkers on the right. Feelings change dramatically if I'm forced to put a ball on a tee.

At the very south end of the 297-acre property, there's an interesting transition of the course from wide open to trees on all sides at the 16th tee. The 454-yard (maximum yardage) par-4 hole requires a tee shot down into the fairway, then doglegs back up to the green. Will players swing the same as they have for the first 15 holes, when there were no trees around? Let's just say McBroom gave them more to think about than trees at this late stage of the round.

However much nastiness Golf Canada's setup experts inject into Southwood next week, they'll be getting a valuable week of research for another major competition later in the year.

The Canadian Amateur comes back to Winnipeg this year. Southwood is the secondary venue to Elmhurst, and will be used during the first and second rounds of that national championship. Conditions could be dramatically different for the event in August. Gold star if you thought there's likely to be a lot more fescue in the equation.

The weather is bound to have some influence next week but given the moderate setup expected, it's a good bet there are some fine young Canadian players, including from the hometown Manitoba Bisons, who will have a go at Southwood's two known course records.

Burke Wiebe has authored a 69 from the tips. Todd Fanning owns a 65 from the 6,778-yard golds (formerly blues). Those numbers could change very soon.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2014 D4

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