E.A. Sports Today

Best finish: ACC

Readers of East Alabama Sports Today vote overwhelmingly for the closing stretch at Anniston CC as the most influential finish in the Sunny King Classic rotation

Throughout the weekend, but especially on Sunday, the gallery will gather above the 18th green at Anniston Country Club to watch the final shots in the Sunny King Charity Classic. On the cover, the 16th green begins the course’s dramatic final stretch.

By East Alabama Sports Today

There are five different stretches the players in the Sunny King Charity Classic can finish their rounds this year, but overwhelmingly the most influential is the final three holes at Anniston Country Club.

The 39th annual Classic gets underway Friday at ACC, Cider Ridge Golf Club in Oxford and Silver Lakes. In a poll to determine what players think is the most influential finishing stretch in the tournament, readers of East Alabama Sports Today overwhelmingly voted the final three holes at ACC as the key.

More than 55 percent of respondents picked the ACC’s vaunted finish over the final three holes at Cider Ridge (23 percent), the final three on Silver Lakes’ Backbreaker (10), the final three on Cider Ridge’s front side (6) and the final three on Silver Lakes’ Mindbreaker (4).

Silver Lakes and Cider Ridge has multiple finishing options because those courses offer two-tee starts and the field finishes on different sides depending on where they start.

Each stretch provides its own element of risk/reward. The final three on Backbreaker, for example, has two par-5s and if played at the length of the recent RTJ-Silver Lakes Championship can yield an eagle-eagle-eagle finish. The 16th at Cider Ridge is so demanding, tournament officials are offering a $20 premium to forego the tee shot and drop at 125 yards.

But the sense is at ACC so much can swing on those three holes, especially with the pure stroke-play, best-ball format where there is no safety net. Sure, it’s the final three holes for the top flights on Championship Sunday, but every flight has to come through the gauntlet at some point in the weekend and all kinds of titles have been won and lost on those three holes in the past.

“You can have a two-shot swing on each of those last three holes, which can make a huge impact on the outcome of the tournament,” defending champion Gary Wigington said.

The stretch starts with the par-3 16th that is one of the most unique holes in Calhoun County. It’s an uphill tee shot right next to the clubhouse with no room behind and right into the teeth of a growing gallery at the 19th Hole.

It’s a daunting enough shot when there’s nothing on the line, but add the pressure of a tight flight and it’s enough to make the most seasoned player back off a time or two.

“On 16, I’m not worried about hitting somebody (in the gallery), I’m worried about hitting that Lexus on the side of the road,” said Jackson Bonner, a two-time flight winner. “Those three holes can absolutely make or break you.”

The pressure doesn’t end there. After playing 16, you walk over to 17 tee where the gallery draws even closer to watch the contenders fire at a par-5 that could yield an eagle or other.

The 18th tee provides an escape from the gallery, but the tension soon returns with a second shot and final putts under the watchful eyes of the gallery gathered above the green. It provides such theater, tournament officials use the 18th for its big-money shots at the conclusion of Sunday’s play and they considered using it as the two-pin green at the course throughout the weekend.

NOTES: Each of the three courses has defined the two-pin holes it will employ during the Classic. Silver Lakes will use Backbreaker 3, Cider Ridge No. 18 and Anniston CC No. 11. Players can play to either pin. … Cart rules for Cider Ridge and Silver Lakes Friday will be cart path only. Cider Ridge received an inch of rain Thursday. “It’ll definitely slow us down,” tournament co-chairman Hank Smith said of the cart path only rule. “Hope the max bogey will offset (that).”

The tee at 17 opens the door to a par-5 at Anniston CC that can enhance or spoil a team’s chances of winning the Sunny King Charity Classic.

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