Harbour Town: Anatomy of a Great Course

Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the RBC Heritage, has been on the PGA Tour rota long enough – 43 years – that its idiosyncrasies are very well known to the players.

It has evolved in their minds into a tough, Pete Dye-designed course that demands your full attention. And when you throw in the winds off the Atlantic and the occasional cold day, you better be real sharp.

It’s not very often that the golf course is the center of attention. The players will wax philosophical about the showcase courses at the showcase tournaments like the majors. But the Heritage is not a showcase tournament in that sense, it’s just on a course highly admired by the players who have the skills to play it well.

Here are some snippets from some of the leaders in Thursday’s transcripts that kind of capture what the players are dealing with in terms of the course and the conditions.

VAUGHN TAYLOR: It’s very difficult.  It’s obviously a tough driving course.  And then if you’re not on the right side of the fairway, your back is behind the wall.  And the greens are firm and fast.  So it’s tough.  You’ve just got to kind of grind it out.  You know you’re going to miss some greens.  So you’ve got to do your best trying to get the ball up and down.

And he went on to say that this was the firmest he’d ever seen the greens.

CHEZ REAVIE:  I hit proper clubs off the tees.  I’ve been around here a few times now, so I can kind of figure out my angles for the approaches to the greens.  I’m giving myself a little more wiggle room with my tee shots.

With the greens being firm, you have to hit good golf shots into the greens.  If you miss it a little bit, it will bounce off the greens and God only knows where it will end up, so you need a good, crisp iron shot.

COLT KNOST:  I heard it was cold and a little windy this morning.  From what I’ve seen it’s supposed to be a little better tomorrow.  If it is, it is, if not – but it wasn’t calm for us out there today.  Our first 12, 13 holes it was windy and it was swirling around a lot out there.

It’s just my kind of golf course.  You have to hit it fairly straight.  Distance isn’t that big a deal.  The greens are real small, just give yourself a lot of chances.  That’s what I try to do every week.  Driving the golf ball is probably my strength.  If I get my irons going, I feel like I’ll have a good week here.

TOMMY GAINEY:  It’s good to shoot under par here, with as hard as the golf course is.  But the wind, you know, I didn’t expect it to be as cold as it was this morning.  I thought it would be like 45 or 50.  But actually it felt like it was about 35 to me.

The wind just blew all over the place.  It switched so many times, you didn’t know if it was into the wind, right to left or even downwind.  It was just tough to figure that out.  And to shoot 1‑under in these conditions, I’m just glad I don’t have to go out there and play any more holes.

The greens are still firm.  I really and truly believe the greens are rolling like 11 to 11 1/2 out there.  If you get the wind blowing downwind, they could roll anywhere from 12, 13, maybe even 14.  So it could be scary with a downhill putt out here.

I’m encouraged, as long as the wind doesn’t stop.  If the wind stops blowing, I think you’re going to see somebody shoot 4‑ or 5‑under.  That’s still not too far ahead, but 4‑ or 5‑under could be doable out there without this wind blowing the way it is and switching so many different directions.

JIM FURYK:  The greens are stressed right now and maybe not quite as healthy as they’ve been in the past.  They’re very thin in grass and the root structure isn’t very deep into the greens right now, and they looked dusty yesterday.  I was quite taken aback.  And it was kind of a shock.  Usually you go in the Pro Am and the golf course is playing pretty mild and general, and the pins are in the middle of the greens, and yesterday it was a smack in the face.  And I’m sure the amateurs had a difficult time because of how quick and firm the greens were.

It did look like a late Sunday afternoon.  Usually the golf course on Thursday and Friday is somewhat playable; you have 132 to 156 guys you have to get around in a decent period of time.  You’re trying to beat sunlight in some events.  And Saturday it firms up a little bit.  And Sunday late afternoon you start to see the shine on the grass, and you know that everything is baking out and getting firmer and faster.  To see that on Wednesday afternoon, and as I said, the greens don’t – since they’ve redone them here or whatever it was, I guess, eight years ago, they’ve been fantastic.  It was a huge, significant improvement to this golf course and this tournament.  They just look a little like they’ve been stressed out this year.

They’re thin on grass.  There are some areas around the periphery that are kind of sanded in that you might not see on TV.  But they’re thin.  They roll nice but they’re stressed.  And so I was very surprised to see the condition they were in on Wednesday to be so firm, so fast and so overly stressed on a Wednesday, knowing we still had to play four tournament rounds on them.

But then you’ve got Hilton Head.  It’s very family oriented, and I think a fun place.  I enjoy it here.  I enjoy coming.  I like the grounds and the people here and it’s got a different atmosphere about it.  It’s a small footprint for the golf course, it seems more and more we’re putting golf tournaments on these giant venues where you can fit a lot of corporate hospitality and people and parties.  Here they’ve got to get kind of creative.  It’s a small footprint.  It feels a little more quaint and a little bit more like a little party, rather than a huge bash, if that makes sense.

CHAD CAMPBELL:  I think I played here every year.  I missed one year since I’ve been on Tour, here ten times.  I love the golf course; it’s one of my favorite places.  It’s a tricky golf course.  You definitely have to hit the ball in the right spots on the fairways, and hit a lot of good shots to have looks at birdies.  It’s one of my favorites, hopefully I’ve been playing here for ten or so years, I kind of know what to expect.

Yeah, the greens are pretty firm.  When you’re hitting chips or anything around the green it’s not checking at all, and they really can get away from you.  So it’s pretty tough.

I was putting a lot from around the greens.  It’s kind of hard to chip and get the ball to grab.  It’s definitely tough putting and tough play around the greens.

Obviously there are some hard pins and there’s some easy ones, depending on which way the wind was blowing at the time.  The greens are firm, especially if you’re landing it in a downgrain spots, it’s really going to bounce out.  It’s kind of tricky, you have to be careful where you’re landing the ball on the greens.  Overall, you had some hard ones, had some easier ones.

These from guys who are all near the top of the leaderboard and a pretty good synopsis of the course and the conditions they faced on Thursday. It went a long way to explaining why the leaders were only at 4-under. And why the players enjoy steeling themselves for a good test.

It’ll will be interesting watching the tournament Friday with these initial comments as a backdrop.

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