Overcoming Oakmont not an easy task

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — The $4.7 million reportedly spent on renovating fabled Oakmont Country Club has left many of the 149 participants in the Southern California PGA Sectional Championship scratching their heads.

Not that the club spent a large sum of money on necessary repairs from replacing the aging turf on the fairways and irrigation system to reconstructing the bunkers, but how to take to the course and handle each hole in their quest to win the tournament.

Solving the scenic golf course, which underwent the renovations throughout most of 2009, has become similar to figuring out a crossword puzzle — and it hasn't been easy while taking part in the 54-hole stroke-play competition.

Yes, there have been plenty of birdies, pars and bogeys on the 7,015-yard course covered with tall oak and sycamore trees and concrete cart paths. But Fairbanks Ranch Professional Grant Strobel has been the lone athlete to shoot under-par through two rounds of the three-day tournament, which concludes today. He's posted a pair of one-under-par 71s for a two-round score of 140 and owns a three-stroke lead over Oakmont assistant professional Donny Lee.

"I like the course a lot, but it's demanding with shots off the tee," said Strobel, who played the course once prior to the beginning of the three-day tournament. "I think they have done a great job at renovating the course.

"You definitely have to stay patient. There are a lot of risk-and-reward holes out there."

Since Monday, many in the field have had to spend a moment or two fighting their way out of the inviting bunkers that were once practically unreachable to save par or seek the possibility of recording a birdie. Finding different ways to avoid a setback — bogey or worse — has been on the golfers' minds, in addition to the plethora of club members who have stopped by to watch the tournament.

Having played the course, which opened in 1922, about 100 times in the last five years, Lee said the field needs to always have their thinking caps on during each round.

"In this tournament, we only have had one person shoot under par in both rounds," said Lee, who carded a 73 on Tuesday during the second round and is in second place at 143. "On the front nine, I've just tried to get my feet under me and then see how I play.

"It's still a tough, old course and the conditions are way more consistent. From the tees to the greens, everything is consistent. The course is in great shape."

Club members, such as Virgil Dinger of Glendale, said they are intrigued with the new makeup of the course after taking several rounds to become accustomed to it.

"Some of the club members have been talking to a lot of the pros and they have said they like it," said Dinger, a 15-year member. "They like the way it's set up and how the holes are lined up.

"It's always going to be a tough course and you still have to be careful where you hit your shots. The backside is a little bit harder and the holes are newer."

Christine Inglish, the club's director of administrative services, said the renovated course might lead to the possibility of holding future championship events. In May, Oakmont hosted an 18-hole local qualifying round for the U.S. Open Championship in Pebble Beach.

"We want the course to build more community involvement and keep it as a first-class and competitive golf course," Inglish said. "The members have been interested in how well the people in the tournament play and we are looking at other events maybe coming here down the road."

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