Legendary golfer Fred Couples stood on a hybrid driving range at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes hitting shot after shot while talking to the gallery.
Behind him was the Southern Dunes’ new baby – #miniDunes, the new hybrid practice facility, which serves as a six-hole short course in the afternoon and a traditional driving range during peak times of the day. The driving range, which was given a ceremonial blessing on Thursday, was completely renovated with the addition of six tees and six target greens built to USGA specifications.
The short course took 1992 Masters Champion back to his roots when Couples refined his skills as kid growing up in Seattle where he lived near Jefferson Park Golf Course, a 9-hole, par-3 course.
“I think it is an incredible idea,” Couples said. “When I was 13 I could play 36 holes and hit all of my irons. A lot of times you don’t hit a lot drives, but really your scoring clubs are your 6-7-8-9. As a touring player, if you are not good from 170 yards and in you are not going to beat anybody.
“If you can develop your short game and get going you become a really good player really fast. It is not like you figure it out; it just kind of comes. Your swing gets tighter, the ball gets closer and you stop missing shots. This is the kind of place to get that done.”
In addition to opening of #miniDunes, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, located in Maricopa, was refurbished and came out on the other end looking spectacular with its lush green fairways, more bunkers anyone would care to see and link-course challenge created by Brian Curley and Couples back in 2002.
Major improvements also include significant turf expansion between many of the forward tees to eliminate unnecessary forced carries for those choosing to “tee it forward” or are still learning to consistently hit shots in the air.
Improvements on No. 17 also include a nearly full-redesign with an expansion of the green, reshaping of a large dune to open sightlines to the hole, and changes to the bunker complex around the green.
As great as shape as the championship course was in, the star was #miniDunes and the possibilities of what it can become.
“#mini Dunes will serve as our laboratory to grow the game,” Southern Dunes general manager Brady Wilson said. “We are going to use this facility to introduce new golfers, both young and old, to the game of golf.”
It’s a great opportunity for someone who needs to work on their short game, for youth golfers who will be able to see their target and gain confidence with each shot and it is a great starting place for someone new to the game.
The Ak-Chin have controlling interest in the facility and have more than 1,000 active members but only a handful of them play the game.
The concept behind #miniDunes is ideal for anyone putting a club in their hands for the first time.
“We needed to find a way to connect it to the community,” Wilson said. “What we were looking for was to grow the game within community. It has a great tradition with sports. We want to see golf to be part of that.
“We want it to be modern and fun. With this course being 50 to 100 yards we’ve provided an avenue for people to get better and enjoy the game.”
There was a bit of news coming out of the event as well as Couples confirmed he has been in contact with the PGA of America’s recently formed task forced designed to put an end to the U.S.’s losing streak in the Ryder Cup.
He also believes his record gives him as good a chance of becoming captain as the other widely touted candidates like Mark O’Meara and David Toms.
The inevitable question about the last Ryder Cup came up from the gathering during the unveiling of #miniDunes and Couples reiterated what everyone else was thinking about some of the decisions and lineups made by captain Tom Watson.
“If he was sitting here I’d probably not say this I think he did a terrible job with his players,” Couples said. “He did everything he could pairing them. He sat Phil Michelson on Saturday. Are you kidding me? I mean you are trying to win the Ryder Cup and you don’t even play what I consider your best player and team player. But I think he would probably agree to that.”
There was talk that Watson’s approach wasn’t the right fight for the younger player. He’s more straight forward and tells it like it is. Today’s younger players don’t always respond well to that type of coaching.
“It’s a long week and when you get bitter it kind of drags on to the players,” Couples added. “The whole thing is you have to go up to these guys and put arm around them and say ‘Those guys were better, but you hit some good shots.’
“Don’t go up and say you play bad I am sitting you. They don’t even want to hear that. Tom’s older and that’s how he is. It certainly doesn’t make him a bad guy; it just makes him bad with 12 younger guys.”