Maybe it was the preponderance of grassy knolls, but the conspiracy theories were in the wind almost as prevalently as golf shots at the 12th annual Jones Cup community golf tournament Tuesday at Big Canyon Country Club.
Word had it — well, whispered words from members of the gallery most often — that the speed of the putting greens at the scenic layout was roughly comparable to rolling balls along the opulent clubhouse's marble bathroom countertops.
Coincidence that the Big Canyon greens were at their handball-court hardest for the quadrennial arrival of rivals from Newport Beach, Mesa Verde and Santa Ana country clubs for the Jones Cup?
The Newport Beach contingent wouldn't go that far. But there was plenty of commentary about the greens, which, combining speed and uncommon undulation — at least in these parts — helped produce dozens of near-misses on putts that sometimes rolled and rolled and rolled beyond the hole, making tap-in recoveries difficult.
In 90 opportunities (five golfers on 18 holes), Newport Beach produced eight birdies. One of those was a 20-foot chip by head professional and team captain Paul Hahn.
"They were running about 13 here today," Hahn said after he and his four teammates finished one-over-par in the best-two-ball format to place third. The 13 is a measurement produced by a Stimpmeter, a device used to judge the speed of greens. "I think the Master's greens [at Augusta National Golf Club] run between 13 and 15."
Rich Ortega, a club professional who was among five Newport Beach players to record birdies Tuesday, estimated the Big Canyon greens at 12 or 12.5 on the Stimpmeter.
"Probably in everyday country club golf, we're used to about a 10 or 10.5 on the Stimpmeter," said Ortega, who had one birdie, as did senior club champion Bob Kraft, women's club champion Isako Takada and men's champion Jeff Bloom. "The extra 2.5 feet on a given putt translates into five and 10 feet. We all speed up our greens heading into our member-guest tournament and [Big Canyon] just had theirs last week. These are PGA-quality greens, with that type of speed."
The greens affected more than putting, said Hahn, who anchored the NBCC quintet with four birdies in his 12th Jones Cup appearance.
This was evident on hole No. 18, which marked the end of the front nine in a tournament that began on No. 10.
After Hahn and Kraft attempted to lay up in front of the water hazard that protects the front of the green on the 520-yard par-five hole, both hit their third shots short, plunking both into the water. That, combined with a maniacal pin placement and the aforementioned challenging conditions, resulted in one par among the group, which fell to two-over and dropped seven shots behind front-runner and eventual champion Big Canyon.
"You lay up there, thinking you are making the right shot," Hahn said. "The fairways are a little firm down there in front and hitting that little shot to that tight pin, knowing the ball is going to bounce 10 feet, makes you try to not hit too long. And [Kraft] and I dumped in the lake."
The conditions, including a course layout starkly different from the three other clubs, which Ortega said were designed by the same architect, all helped create a healthy home-course advantage for Big Canyon. The host team pocketed its seventh Jones Cup crown and it has won all three events contested on its course.
"Mostly because of the setup and the greens," Hahn said of what he agreed was the biggest home-course advantage of any of the four Newport-Mesa area clubs.
"If I'm not mistaken, Newport Beach, Mesa Verde and Santa Ana were all designed by William Bell," Ortega said. [Big Canyon] is a totally different golf course. The other three are very similar in character, feel, and green size. And there is not as much undulation on the greens. I would feel more comfortable at all three of those clubs. Here, it's a completely different golf course. It's a great golf course, but the home-course advantage here is huge here."
Hahn's chip-in was a highlight, as was a winding 25-foot birdie putt by Takada on No. 11.
Bloom sank a 21-footer for birdie on No. 1.
Ortega was consistently longest off the tee, but like his teammates, struggled with the blade.
Hahn agreed his team had an average day.
"We all made some birdies, we all hit some good shots and we all hit some bad shots," Hahn said. "We couldn't get any energy going. The greens make you a little gun-shy and your stroke changes."