By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
VIENNA -- For the past eight years, Squaw Creek Country Club has waited for the opportunity to get the LPGA tournament back to its golf course.
Last year that opportunity arose and the club jumped at the chance to once again host the Mahoning Valley's premier event.
Monday the action begins, and for two-thirds of this year's field, it will be a new experience on an unfamiliar golf course.
Great course: But there is one thing about Squaw Creek that unfamiliarity won't take long to rectify. It's a golf course that the LPGA players loved the three years they played here from 1990-92 and one that the newer members of the tour will also grow to love.
They better, because the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic will be held here for at least the next three years.
Just over one-third of this year's tournament field has played at one of the three tournaments previously held here. Of that group, over half has never won on the LPGA Tour.
The two people who know the most about the Squaw Creek Country Club course layout are golf professional Gregg Matthus and greens superintendent Lou Greco.
They both were in the same position when the tournament was held here previously. In fact, Matthus has been the head professional at Squaw Creek for 18 years, while Greco has almost doubled that time as greens superintendent.
At its best: Squaw Creek has always been known as one of the most beautiful and well conditioned golf courses in the Tri-State area. Right now, it might be at its best condition ever.
The club has had to make very little renovation for the Giant Eagle event. In fact, the only changes will be on the No. 18 hole where the area from 40 yards out from the green has been completely changed, and another area out on the fairway where two new fairway bunkers were added.
Squaw Creek was first opened in 1925. The first nine holes, or the inside nine, were designed by Stanley Thompson. In the early 1950's the outside nine was constructed by Jimmy Allcroft with the help of several members.
"Since that time we have only changed four greens," Greco said. "We rebuilt greens 4, 5, 6 and 9. And No. 9 was done in the fall of 1990 right after the first Phar-Mor tournament here."
The Phar-Mor in Youngstown was held in 1990, 1991 and 1992, before the Phar-Mor scandal in late 1992 forced the tournament to fold. It was then restarted at Avalon Lakes where it has been held for the last eight years.
Changes: Besides the changes on the fairway on the 18th hole, Greco and his staff have also made some changes behind the 18th green.
"All the dirt that we removed from the fairway was put behind the green to build it up to make room for the skyboxes which will go there tournament week," he added.
The 18th hole will still play just about the same distance as it always did, but the fairway traps and greenside bunkers make it a much more demanding hole.
Made for TV: In the 1990's this hole was No. 9 as the tournament reversed the nines so that the 18th hole would be the short par-3 over the lake for television purposes.
As it turned out, the change was perfect since all three tournaments went to sudden-death and two were decided on that 18th hole.
"Right now the course plays much better with this layout then it did before," Greco added. "There are more birdie opportunities on the front side and the par-3s are easier on the front."
Matthus said that for a spectator standpoint this layout provides great viewing for the finishing holes of 16, 17 and 18.
"They can get to both sides of the fairway on all three of those holes with lots of room," he added.
Matthus said that a lot of people think the pros will burn up the Squaw Creek layout.
"In the three years that they played here the best winning score was 9-under par and the last year it was 7-under," Matthus said. "They were in double figures all eight years at Avalon Lakes. They didn't exactly burn up this course before."
Set up: Greco said that he only has so much control over the way the golf course is set up for the tournament.
"The LPGA will come in and determine all the pin placements, tee placements and green speeds," Greco said. "I'd love to have these greens at about 11 on the Stimp Meter, but I don't think the LPGA will let me.
Since the LPGA players were last at Squaw Creek the club has completely renovated its practice facilities.
"Out facilities now rank with the best around and I'm sure that the ladies will love it," added Matthus.
Weather: Both Matthus and Greco have only one concern about this year's tournament -- the weather.
"This golf course does not drain well and we are really hoping for a dry week," Greco added.
That's expecting quite a lot since all three of the previous tournaments were hit hard by rain. The first tournament in 1990 had to finish on a Monday and the following year the course had to be cleared because of a Tornado siting.
Both Matthus and Greco are predicting good weather this year.