Nobody would dare remove the Church Pews bunker at Oakmont Country Club or the windmill at National Golf Links of America. Unique characteristics such as these come to define some of the best golf courses in the world and to alter them in any way would be blasphemous in the golf world.
The owners of SentryWorld in Stevens Point, Wis., host site of the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in July 2019, took the same approach with one of its signature holes before beginning a major renovation project five years ago.
The 16th, often referred to as the Flower Hole, is one of the most interesting par 3s in the country, if not the world. Somewhere between 20,000 to 40,000 flowers and native grasses surround the green.
A Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that opened to the public in 1982, SentryWorld began an 18-month renovation in 2013, led by Jones Jr., design associate Bruce Charlton and former associate Jay Blasi. Several holes were rerouted or completely changed, the number of bunkers was reduced from 82 to 57 and virtually every green was updated.
Golfers who competed in the 1986 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship likely wouldn’t have recognized SentryWorld when it reopened for public play in September 2014.
With one exception.
“I don’t know of any hole like this,” said Matt Smith, SentryWorld’s longtime superintendent. “We’ll have guests who have come to eat dinner and they’ll walk out and take some pictures. Wedding parties come out here. It’s very common to see golfers taking a group picture. They’ll flag somebody down to take a picture.”
The genesis of the Flower Hole goes back to when John Joanis, the chairman of Sentry Insurance, wanted all the par-3 holes on his new golf course to add excitement and charm to the golfer experience. When Jones originally drew up plans for No. 16, his initial thought was to create an island green in the manner of TPC Sawgrass’ famous 17th hole.
Joanis barked at the idea.
Then Jones imagined an alternative. During a previous visit to France, he had seen tulips planted behind a green. A planned pond was replaced by a “lake of flowers.”
“And thus, the Flower Hole was born,” said Jones Jr.
Of course, maintaining the foliage takes yeoman’s work. SentryWorld used to employ a horticulturist, but now Smith and two staff members are charged with keeping the scenery surrounding the green beautiful.
“I wish it was just as easy as putting some water on it and walking away,” said Smith, “but unfortunately it is not.”
The process begins with Smith and his team applying a coated fertilizer as well as a fungicide. By Memorial Day, the flowers are ready to be planted. Some weeding is required until the flowers get “nice and full” and then they’ll “start choking out the weeds on their own.”
This past year, three different varieties of flowers – mostly patagonias and impatiens – and two different varieties of perennial grasses were planted. Smith said the reason was to stick with varieties that have previously thrived.
“If something does well on your site, I’m going to stick with it,” said Smith.
By mid-summer, the brilliant hues sparkle while juxtaposed with the green grass and white bunker sand. For the upcoming U.S. Girls’ Junior, Smith said SentryWorld will create the USGA logo from the flowers.
Of course, all these flowers can create an obstacle when it comes to tracking down errant tee shots on a hole that measures 170 yards from the back tee and can be shortened to 97 yards. SentryWorld employs what is affectionately known as the Chairman’s Rule. Players get free relief from any ball that lands in the flower bed. For those caught wandering into the flowers to retrieve their ball, a stiff penalty awaits – removal from the premises.
For the Girls’ Junior, the flowers will be a penalty area.
Smith doesn’t know how many golf balls have found its way into the flowers over the years, but SentryWorld will keep a count in 2019. Smith expects that figure to be high.
Unfortunately, the beauty of the hole only lasts for a few months. By mid-October, Smith and his crew begin the tedious removal process. Flowers, after all, won’t survive in the harsh Wisconsin winter.
“We pull all the flowers out by hand and kill the weeds,” he said. “Then we just till the soil and let it sit [until spring].”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.