2013 PNC to be a showdown at Sunriver Resort
The 46th PGA Professional National Championship returns to the Pacific Northwest, where 312 of The PGA of America's finest players will compete for a prestigious title, a coveted crystal bowl, a spot in the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill and a whole lot more.
By Don Jozwiak, Special to PGA.com
There's going to be a showdown when the pga professional national championship presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA returns to the Wild West this month, and there's plenty at stake. When the showcase event for PGA Professionals concludes at Sunriver Resort near Bend, Ore., the winner will hoist the Walter Hagen Cup, 20 PGA Professionals will have earned their place in August's PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., and the U.S. side for September's PGA Cup in England will start coming into focus.
The 46th PGA Professional National Championship will be contested on June 23–26 at Sunriver's Crosswater Club and Meadows Golf Course. This year's National Championship marks the third time the event has been held at the central Oregon resort. A pair of Middle Atlantic PGA Section members won the previous two National Championships at Sunriver: Wayne DeFrancesco led wire to wire when Sunriver hosted the event for the first time in 2001, while Chip Sullivan rolled to a four-stroke victory when the event returned to Sunriver in 2007.
A worldwide Golf Channel audience will watch the 312 players in the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship field in prime time, and the event's Sunday-Wednesday dates will make the broadcasts must-see TV during a time when live golf rarely appears. Viewers will be watching to see if 2013 National Champion Matt Dobyns of Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, N.Y., can author a repeat performance of his record-breaking eight-stroke victory last year at Bayonet Black Horse in Seaside, Calif.
This year's Champion will receive $75,000, the honor of having his name engraved on the Walter Hagen Cup, and exemptions into six PGA Tour events over the next 12 months. The National Champion will also be joined by the rest of the top 20 finishers at Sunriver in qualifying for the 95th PGA Championship, Aug. 8–11 at Oak Hill Country Club's East Course in Rochester, N.Y.
The 2013 PGA Professional National Champion and other top-10 finishers at Sunriver will also receive points toward qualifying for the 26th PGA Cup. The 10-man team of PGA of America Professionals will compete against a team of club professionals from Great Britain & Ireland in the Ryder Cup-style matches, set for Sept. 20– 22 at the Slaley Hall Hunting Course in Northumberland, England. The 10-player U.S. side will be finalized after the PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Add it all up, and there's plenty at stake this year at Sunriver.
“The National Championship really represents the essence of everything we do as PGA Professionals,” says PGA President Ted Bishop, who is serving as PGA Professional National Championship chairman for a record fifth consecutive year. “You have 312 of the best players, who've qualified out of roughly 3,500 players who competed in 41 PGA Section Championships to earn their spots in the National Championship. And those players are all preparing to play while still doing their home jobs, doing the variety of things that PGA Professionals do on a daily basis. And when the PGA Professional National Championship at Sunriver is over, they'll go right back to work.”
That was the case for Dobyns last year, who scrambled to catch a redeye flight back to New York to teach the lessons he had booked for the morning after the final round of the National Championship.
“I was a little tired for those lessons, but our members were so excited and mostly wanted to talk about the National Championship and what it was like,” Dobyns says. “It was really fun to share that success with them.”
What to Expect This Year
Before the winner of the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship heads back to his home facility with the Walter Hagen Cup and all the other spoils of victory, he'll have to solve the brawny tests presented by the Crosswater and Meadows courses at Sunriver. Competitors will play one round on each of the courses before a 36- hole cut to the low 70 and ties, with the final two rounds being played at Crosswater.
Crosswater was designed by Bob Cupp, winding through 600 acres of woodlands and wetlands along the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers. The Certified Audubon Sanctuary course opened in 1995, and has changed little in the ensuing 18 years. Players who competed in the 2007PGA Professional National Championship may notice one notable change: Crosswater's greens were regrassed in late 2011 to eliminate the Poa Annua grass that had intruded onto the bentgrass putting surfaces. With more than a year to grow in, the pure T1 Bentgrass greens are ready to roll firm and fast for this year's competitors.
“The Crosswater greens came out of the winter in great shape, and they should be spectacular when the National Championship gets underway,” says PGA Professional Mark Tschetschot, The PGA's director of member tournaments. “They're going to roll fast and true, and we should see some very good scores.”
In addition to the previous PGA Professional National Championships won by DeFrancesco and Sullivan, Sunriver was also the host of the Jeld-Wen Tradition -- a major on the Champions Tour -- from 2007–10. Fred Funk won the event in 2008 and 2010, with Mark McNulty (2007) and Mike Reid (2009) capturing the other two titles during the event's four years at Sunriver.
Funk, McNulty and Reid are all known for their accuracy, as are DeFrancesco and Sullivan. Sunriver Resort PGA General Manager Scott Ellender says each of the players to win at Sunriver fits the profile of what the facility's courses demand. Despite the eye-catching 7,566 yards that Crosswater can play, Ellender says PGA Professional National Championship competitors will not find themselves at a “bomber's paradise.”
“Crosswater and Meadows are both ball-striker golf courses,” says Ellender, who came to Sunriver from Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort in January of 2008. “The courses play at 4,200 feet, so distance isn't really a factor -- the ball really travels here, and especially in June you get a lot of roll on your tee shots. You need to be accurate off the tee to set up manageable approach shots, and then you need to control your distance into the greens.”
According to 2001 National Championship winner DeFrancesco, it's a combination of elevation, elements and the course's greens that make Crosswater a unique challenge.
“It takes you a round or two to really get used to the elevation change, especially for an East Coast guy like me,” says the director of instruction at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md.
When he traveled to central Oregon in 2001, DeFrancesco was an assistant professional at Baltimore's Woodholme Country Club. He didn't have much experience playing at elevation or in a high desert environment. By the end of his week at Sunriver, he'd experienced all that and more.
“I played well in practice, and really had all parts of my game hitting on all cylinders, but it was still a great challenge,” says DeFrancesco, who plans to compete in this year's National Championship. “But we had some weather come in, and things deteriorated from ideal conditions in the 80s for the first two rounds to mid-50s with strong wind for the final round. You really had to grind; I remember birdieing the first three holes of the final round, then making double on four and bogeying five. I said to my caddie, ‘There's all kinds of ways to be even par.' With the altitude and everything else, that's a good attitude to have at Sunriver. Crosswater's a really unique course, and I can't wait to see it again.”
Of course, Crosswater isn't the only layout in play at the National Championship this year. Competitors will also play a round on Sunriver's Meadows Golf Course, which is shorter and more protected from the elements than Crosswater.
Fred Federspiel designed the original Meadows layout, which opened in 1969, and the course was redesigned by John Fought three decades later. The Sun and Falls rivers run through the property, which is two miles away from the Crosswater Club. As Sullivan learned during his 2007 National Championship run, Meadows Golf Course looks like a place to make a few birdies -- but it can certainly get your attention.
“I started on the Meadows Golf Course and made the turn at 4-over,” says Sullivan, then the head professional at Ashley Plantation in Daleville, Va. “I rallied and played the back in 4-under to get back on track, but I learned my lesson not to sleep on the Meadows -- it can grab you. It's a tight, narrow course and you have to keep it in play or you will have a really tricky time.”
Sullivan played the next three rounds at Crosswater in a combined 7-under par to win the 2007 National Championship by four strokes. Sullivan's steady play in a strong wind kept him from being seriously challenged during the final round.
“I love that Crosswater layout; it requires a lot of precision shots, and can play very difficult when the winds come up,” says Sullivan, who is now the PGA director of golf at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va. “It requires a lot of confidence, and your whole game has to be tuned -- there are a couple of holes where you can spray it off the tee or be loose with an iron shot, but generally speaking you have to be very precise and keep your focus.”
Sullivan says focusing on golf may be difficult for him when he returns to Sunriver this month. He'll be traveling to the National Championship without his longtime caddie, father-in-law and best friend, Tom Hall, who passed away last year. Hall was on the bag for Sullivan when he won at Sunriver in 2007.
“That was the highlight of my golf career, and Tom was an integral part of the highlight,” Sullivan says. “It will be tricky walking the fairways in Oregon without him, but I'll be trying to think about how we talked our way through some of the different situations on those golf courses. I'm going to keep smiling and trying to think about the good times.”
Making the Most Out of Being Host
Sullivan, DeFrancesco and Dobyns are among the 15 past National Champions expected to travel to Sunriver Resort for the 46th PGA Professional National Championship. According to Sunriver's Ellender, return visits by players -- from past National Championships and the Jeld-Wen Tradition -- are part of the reason resorts enjoy hosting the event.
“I was at Pinehurst when it hosted the National Championship in 1997 and '98, and we saw a lot of players come back to the resort with their families or with groups of members in the years that followed,” Ellender says. “I arrived at Sunriver the season after the 2007 National Championship, and I've hosted many PGA Professionals and Champions Tour players who really enjoyed their time at the resort and wanted to come back and share it with others.”
For competitors, Sunriver will make an impact with its breathtaking views -- the property was the location for one of John Wayne's last big-screen Westerns, “Rooster Cogburn.” The expansive, upscale resort will also impress visitors with outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, white water rafting, and amenities such as a world-class spa and fine dining.
Ellender says players will also be impressed with the local support of the National Championship. More than 600 volunteers will be on hand to cover more than 1,200 shifts during the event, with The PGA of America, the Pacific Northwest PGA Section and the Sunriver Resort staff working together to make sure the competitors have a major championship-worthy experience throughout the week.
But the biggest impact for Sunriver comes from the extensive live Golf Channel coverage of the PGA Professional National Championship.
According to Pacific Northwest PGA Section President Marcus King, the promotional value of Golf Channel coverage benefits the entire region.
“The entire Pacific Northwest will get an afterglow from the Golf Channel coverage of the PGA Professional National Championship at Sunriver Resort,” says King, the general manager of Overlake Golf & Country Club in Medina, Wash.
“What we've noticed from the past two National Championships at Sunriver is that it gives people around the country a chance to see that there's some really great golf here in the Pacific Northwest -- it may seem like we're off the beaten path, but there's a strong contingent of golf courses to take advantage of.”
Supporting Sponsors Titleist, Nike, TaylorMadeadidas Golf and Callaway Golf will be on site with tech reps and club builders for the third year in a row. The companies will be offering the same service that competitors at the PGA Championship receive.
Approximately 40 Pacific Northwest PGA Section members will be on site to work the National Championship, plus Sunriver's staff of eight PGA Professionals. King says the Section views the event as a educational opportunity to see how The PGA's top member tournament is run, which will be reflected in future Section events and at clublevel tournaments and outings.
King adds that he believes the benefit of the extensive live Golf Channel coverage of the PGA Professional National Championship travels well beyond the host facility and its Section.
“It's a showcase event for Sunriver and for our Section, but I think there's a benefit to all PGA Professionals when the National Championship gets airtime on Golf Channel,” King says. “It's all about promoting the game. Golf fans watching the competitors on TV helps with player development and outreach -- they realize the players are the same guys who give lessons and run the courses at the local level, and that makes a real connection.”
What's at Stake at Sunriver
There's no doubt that the PGA Professional National Championship is a truly big event, with millions watching on Golf Channel and following the action on PGA.com, more than 600volunteers, 312 players in the field, dozens of Section PGA Professionals working the event and a number of nervous family members on hand. At the end of the final round, however, the attention will shift to the winner and 19 other competitors for whom the National Championship becomes a life-changing event.
For the winner, the impact is immediate. In addition to being presented a $75,000 first-place check and having your name engraved on the Walter Hagen Cup, the winner also receives an exemption into the 2013 PGA Championship, six exemptions into PGA Tour events over the following 12 months and a lifetime exemption into the PGA Professional National Championship.
The winner will also receive a custom engraved watch from OMEGA. In addition, OMEGA and Club Car will once again offer a custom watch and Club Car Precedent golf car, respectively, as prizes for any competitor who cards a hole-in-one on the 17th hole of the Crosswater. Past Club Car hole-in-one winners include three recent Champions in Chip Sullivan, Scott Hebert and Matt Dobyns.
Dobyns experienced all this as part of what he called his “year of firsts” in 2012: He and his wife welcomed their first child, Dobyns got his “dream job” as head professional at Fresh Meadow, and he qualified for his first National Championship -- becoming just the eighth player to win the event in his first attempt while breaking Sam Snead's scoring record in the process.
“Winning the National Championship altered my life forever,” Dobyns says. “It took me years to qualify, but now I know that I have the game to compete, even when I'm working full-time at a great club. And now I've played in a PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and I can tell you that The PGA puts the same attention to detail into the National Championship for us.”
Past National Champions DeFrancesco and Sullivan also found validation in their victories at Sunriver. For DeFrancesco, winning in 2001 was proof that three back surgeries didn't rob him of his competitive potential. Today, he has a full lesson book and oversees his popular namesake website (www.waynedefrancesco.com), where golfers can sign up for online lessons -- and fellow instructors can interact with him.
“What I do every day is look at golf swings and think about golf, and my website gives me a forum for my opinions -- a lot of other PGA Professionals look at it and comment, and I hope I'm adding something to the general knowledge of the game by sharing my perspective,” DeFrancesco says. “I'm 55 and I teach a full schedule, and I'm still dealing with back issues, so I don't play as much as I used to. But I still enjoy the competition, and I love going back to Sunriver -- I'd put it up with where we played last year on the Monterey Peninsula (at Bayonet Black Horse) for beauty.”
Likewise, Sullivan's victory at Sunriver in 2007 capped a comeback from health issues. Despite battling hemochromatosis and diabetes, Sullivan's signature victory at Sunriver led to a number of other memorable experiences.
"I got to play in the PGA Championship and the PGA Cup, and I made the cut in three of the six PGA Tour events I played, and made some good dollars there," Sullivan says. "I haven't had much time to work on my game because I have a lot of responsibility here at Hanging Rock; we do 35,000 rounds and 75 outings a year, and that keeps me from the practice range a lot of days. But Iam going to get my game face on, and I know I'll feel comfortable teeing it up at Sunriver."
Crowning a champion is only part of the final round drama at the PGA Professional National Championship. The top 20 finishers earn exemptions into the PGA Championship, and a playoff is often needed. Last year at Bayonet Black Horse, an eight-man playoff for the final spot in the field at Kiawah Island was won by Michael Frye, a PGA assistant professional at Oakcreek Country Club in Sedona, Ariz., when he parred the third playoff hole. If a playoff is needed at Sunriver, players will start on Crosswater Club's 10th hole, then proceed to holes 1.18, playing until each PGA Championship exemption and alternate spot is filled.
The finish at Sunriver will also help determine the makeup of the U.S. team that PGA Honorary President Allen Wronowski will captain at October's PGA Cup in England. Points are awarded based on performances in the 2012 and 2013 PGA Professional National Championships and PGA Championships, making this year's National Championship the penultimate opportunity for players to bolster their chances of making the team.
"For a lot of us as PGA Professionals, playing in the PGA Cup, representing your country in international match play, is often the highlight of a playing career," says PGA President Bishop. "It'sa very special experience."
And it is one more reminder of the multifaceted high-stakes, high-altitude showdown in store for PGA Professional National Championship competitors later this month at Sunriver Resort.
This story appears courtesy of PGA Magazine, the official publication of The PGA of America.