Stop “Tiger-Proofing” Courses!

Last week the nationwide tour stoped in Valdosta Georgia to play the South Georgia Classic at Kinderlou Forest Golf Club, which brought back into focus a subject that has been on my mind for a few years now. There has been a disturbing trend emerging in the game of golf in recent years, and I don’t like it one bit. This trend is the so called “Tiger proofing” of golf courses by making par 3s over 250 yards, extending par 4s to over 500 yards and stretching par 5s to well over 600 yards. The fear is that the long hitters are taking over the game and are making the grand old courses obsolete.

The 2009 US Open was played at over 7607 yards at sea level. Having played that course myself from those tees under normal conditions, I’m amazed that anyone broke par on any day during the Open. In the past 18 months I have also played two courses that measure in the 7800 yard range, and both of them hosted pro tournaments. For example, Kinderlou Forest, which measures 7781 from the tips, was not played all the way back for the Nationwide guys. Most of the par 3s were moved up, and if it’s into the wind, number 18 is barely reachable at 501 yards uphill. The green is narrow, with a huge false side starting a few paces from the Sunday pin location in the left center, leading to a collection area 8 feet below the green level. It’s a tough pin with a 7 or 8 iron, and even more so with the 3 or 4 iron most of the pros are likely to hit in there.

The Conservatory at the Ginn Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida was designed by Tom Watson and opened in 2006.From the longest tees it measures 7776 yards, with a course rating of 78.4 and a slope of 155, which is the maximum value assigned by the USGA. The PGA Tour played the 2008 Ginn Sur Mer Classic, and once again they had to move the tees up to make the course more playable for the players.

With his dominating victory at Harbor Town, Brian Gay proved that with the proper course set up, everyone can compete. At 6973 yards, Harbor Town Golf Links is one of the shortest venues on the PGA Tour. Despite being 500 to 600 yards shorter than many other courses on the PGA Tour rotation, it was a good test for the best golfers in the world. The rough was not 6 inches deep, the greens were not rolling at 13 on the stimpmeter, and the wind was not blowing 40, yet only three players managed to get into the double digits under par. Harbor town puts a premium on accuracy, with tight fairways with overhanging trees and small greens. To score well, one must position themselves on the proper side of the fairway to have the ideal angle to approach the tightly tucked pins.

I would contend that many clubs can learn from the classic Pete Dye design. In a way, Harbor Town is indeed “Tiger-Proofed”. He skips the tournament every year. Is it because the demands on his time are so great he cannot play that week, or is it because his game is not well suited to the course? One look at the leaderboard and we can see that Harbor Town is not a bomber’s course. Gay, Donald, Janzen, Baird, Hamilton, Wilkinson – None of these players averaged more than 275 off the tee for the week.

I would love to see more courses set up like this one. One easy way to toughen a course is to shorten the doglegs and tighten the fairways. Being a long hitter myself, I find if there is a danger of a straight ball going though a dogleg into the trees, it makes me play more conservative off the tee. Rather than stretching a hole so that it’s 320 yards to the dogleg, make it 280 to the dogleg and force the long hitters think a bit. Thats just one way to bring the rest of the field back into the tournament. Ironically, all “Tiger-proofing” accomplishes is eliminating half the field from having a chance, thus making tiger’s life easier.

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