This year’s PGA returns to the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, site of 15 USGA championships and this the second PGA.
The club was founded in 1895 on the site of farmland once owned by Baltus Roll. The original course was plowed up when architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to build a second course. The Upper and Lower courses were the result.
This year’s PGA will be played on the Lower Course, which is shaped something like a dumbbell. After a tight cluster formed by the first four holes, the 5th and 6th take off to connect another cluster of holes, 7 though 16. The 17th and 18th lead straight back to the clubhouse parallel to 5 and 6.
Two holes of note on the course, which will play to 7,462 yards, are the 4th and the 17th.
4th hole, Baltusrol
Robert Trent Jones toughened up the course for the 1954 U.S. Open. Members thought he had made the 4th hole too tough. So Jones went to the 4th tee with club pro Johnny Farrell, the club president, and the chairman of the Open committee. After the first three had hit, Jones teed up, hit on, and the ball rolled in for a hole-in-one. “As you can see, gentlemen,” Jones said, “this hole is not too tough.”
The par-3 hole plays at 196 yards this week.
17th hole, Baltusrol
The 17th hole is likely (I don’t have the data) the longest hole in major championship golf, at 650 yards, uphill at the end. A series of cross-bunkers challenge the second shot, which can be carried only following a long tee shot. Most golfers will lay up short of them. Reaching the green in two will be possible, but who besides the likes of Dustin, Bubba, or Tony Finau might try it?
In general, the course is straightforward. Hit fairways, hit greens, and you’ll be all right. The greens have subtle breaks, a little here, a little there, but are not easy.
The bunkers come in many shapes and depths, are not too plentiful (see Oakmont), but seem always to be in the right place.
The first three major championships of the year all have their devoted followers who say their favorite is the best one. Hardly anyone says that about the PGA. But it’s played on top-quality courses, it has arguably the best field of the four majors, and it has a strong list of past champions.
Maybe the mark against it is that it also has a longer list of what’s-this-guy-doing-winning-a major champions in modern times than any of the others.
Who will win? I know Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson will get a lot of support in the press. The easy way to write an article like that is to be a front-runner.
I’m going to pick Bubba Watson. If it were the U.S. Open being played here, forget it. But it’s not the U.S. Open, it’s the PGA, and the course will more forgiving, the kind Bubba needs to win on. It’s long and so is Bubba.
There’s the limb I’m out on. Make your pick, watch, then rest up for Olympic Golf in two weeks.