STRATHAM — When Golf Club of New England pro Greg Sandell was asked what golfers will have to do to score well in this week's State Amateur Golf Championship, he gave an obvious answer. He said the players will have to find the fairway from the tee.
There's more to it than that, of course, but hitting accurate tee shots is at the top of the to-do list.
"If you keep it in the fairway, you have a huge advantage because the rough is really thick," Sandell said. "It's like U.S. Open rough, even though it's not that length. The type of grass it is just grabs the club.
"I can't stress enough the premium on driving. I would take accuracy over length all day long."
This year's State Am begins Monday at the Golf Club of New England, which was the site for last year's U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. Sandell said the course hasn't been tamed since that event.
"It's going to be the same (as the USGA tournament), it's just going to be wet," he said. "A little shorter than the junior amateur, but it'll still be long because it's wet. There won't be any roll. It's challenging any day you play here."
The State Am features two rounds of stroke play, followed by four days of match play.
Although the lengthy par-5 fifth hole (572 yards) carries the No. 1 handicap at the Golf Club of New England, the course's final four holes will likely play a large role in determining this year's winner. Nos. 17 and 18 may be the most dangerous of those finishing holes.
The par-3 17th has a tiny green half-fronted by water, and the par-5 18th will require most players to hit three precise shots to reach the green.
"If you shoot even-par on 15 through 18, take it and be happy," Sandell said. "That was the case on that stretch for the junior players last year as well.
"On 17 you're looking at double (bogey) or worse if you knock it in the water. Eighteen is the same situation. There's two sets of bunkers on the left. There's a bunker on the right. If you challenge it and get over it, you have a short iron into the green, but the green has a bunker on the left and a pond on the right. So there's no room for error on 18, either.
"Of the finishing holes, 18 will probably play the toughest. What better hole to play the toughest? Especially in match play. In stroke play you just have to hang on. And if you make it to 15 in match play, anything can happen. It can swing either way on those last four holes.
"Even if you're 2-up (entering 15) you're not safe because there's a chance for multiple penalties on each hole.
Sandell said although the fairways are generous, scoring swings could be dramatic since there's the potential for a big number on almost every hole.
"I'd call it a big course," he said. "We're set on 450 acres. It's visually intimidating off the tee. There's not a lot of trickery on the golf course. What you see is what you get.
"You just need to stay out of trouble. Keep it on the fairway — that's the key."