Three of the four major championships of golf are played on old, familiar courses. The Masters is always played at Augusta National, of course. Traditional courses are getting the U.S. Open once more, and the British Open has a set rotation of venerable links and parkland courses. It takes the PGA Championship to break new ground.
The PGA will be played this year at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island in South Carolina, near Charleston. The black tees stretch out to 7,873 yards, but the PGA will be played from 7,676. You won’t find the short par 4s that the USGA loves so much anywhere in sight here (maybe).
In fact, let’s just be up front about it. This is a really, really hard course. Really hard.
The first nine holes of the Ocean Course lie a few hundred yards away from the surf. The back nine is right against it. Ten through thirteen are a fairway’s width away, and fourteen through eighteen are hard against the beach. Prevailing wind? Forget it. It will blow from any direction it wants to and switch at any time.
The Pete Dye design tries to lure players in playing shots they really shouldn’t be hitting. On number two, a par 5 that is almost a right-angle dogleg to the left, the more of the marsh you cut off, the shorter your second and the better the look at the green, but you’d better make the carry you planned for off the tee.
The par-5 11th is designed to make it look like you should go for it in two, when you should really try to make your birdie by laying up.
The 12th, on the card at 415 yards, can be shortened, due to Dye’s trademark runway tee boxes, to 300 yards. It would be an intriguing challenge, with failure not an option.
Fairway bunkers are now in the modern player’s landing area, about 330 yards off the tee. Given the course’s length, there will be no laying back with fairway woods or long irons to avoid them.
Speaking of bunkers, there is so much sand lying about that confusion could reign. Not wanting to have another incident like at Whistling Straights two years ago, the PGA decided that there are no bunkers on the course. None. Everything that looks like a bunker, and all the sandy areas (except the ones inside water hazards) have been designated for the week as “through the green.”
The PGA is supposedly the weak link in the modern majors family, but I don’t think so. It has the strongest field, is played on tough, modern courses, and while it has had a few flash-in-the-pan winners, its roster of champions lacks only Palmer and Watson.
The weather forecast as of this writing is for temperatures in the mid-70s, a welcome break from the 90s and 100s which frequently plague this tournament. That’s the good news. The bad news is that showers and thunderstorms are possible each day. It could be a mess.
Who do I think will win? I’ll try to extend my perfect record in predicting winners of the majors this year (0 for 3) and go with Jason Dufner or Robert Garrigus — two guys who hit it awfully long and have been playing well this year.
For me, this tournament signals the end of the professional golf season. College football starts three weeks later, and the FedEx Cup never has, and I imagine never will, capture my attention.
Just asking while the question is topical: Four years from now, when the summer Olympics* are held from August 5-21,** when will the PGA Championship be scheduled?
Official PGA Championship website.
* at which the best golfers in the world will be playing for a gold medal(s)
** which is actually winter in Rio de Janeiro