As the players get their first looks at the two host courses, one thing is clear: They're difficult and it's going to take some exceedingly great golf to score well.
By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer
SEASIDE, Calif. -- "Beautiful." "Demanding." "Immaculate." "Demanding." "Fair." "Demanding."
As the nation’s 312 best PGA Club Professionals get ready to tee off in the 45th PGA Professional National Championship on Sunday, their early look at the two courses that are playing host for the week have been dominated by one thought. The courses are difficult and it's going to take some exceedingly great golf to make the cut, the coveted top 20 (which will qualify a player for the PGA Championship) and certainly to win.
Bayonet features long, narrow, tree-lined fairways. Black Horse has wider fairways but more undulating greens. Bayonet has 65 steep, deep-nosed bunkers. Black Horse has 88 shallow, jagged-edged bunkers and features no-mow fescue in boundary areas. The greens are rolling at "championship speed" and the primary rough is cut at 2.5 inches deep. All of which means the players are well aware of the challenge ahead.
"Every player is going to have to THINK their way around this course. I don't plan to hit one shot until I've thought through it in every way," said Ryan Benzel of Woodinville, Wash., who is playing in his 12th PGA Professional National Championship. "There are times when you're best strategy on a given hole might be to hit away from the pin or an easier opportunity for par might be from off the green than certain places on the green. It wouldn't surprise me if every player in the field has double bogey on their card at some point during the week."
Craig Stevens, a PGA Professional at Brookstone Golf & Country Club in Acworth, Ga., and is playing in his 15th National Championship, furthered the thought. "You have to drive it well. If you drive it well, you'll be OK. Greens are firm, Blackhorse has some greens that are quite dynamic. But I think even par should get you a top 20."
Defending champion David Hutsell, the Director of Instruction at Elkridge Club in Baltimore, Md., agreed.
"It's hard to figure out which way the wind is blowing here and with as many uphill approach shots as you have, it's going to be a real challenge," he said. "I think if you come in, anything under par but even at even par, you'll like your chances to making it to Kiawah (for the PGA Championship)."
Adam Guili, the PGA Director of Instruction at Edinburgh USA Golf Club in Brooklyn Park, Minn., explained that "the greens on Blackhorse are tough -- firm, fast, and big slopes. The club I work at has a lot of slopes in the greens and this is my club on steroids. Bayonet is long with a lot of uphill shots. You get near the ocean, with the breeze coming in, I've noticed that through the practice rounds, all my shots are coming in about a club short."
Danny Balin, an assistant professional at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., stated that "both courses are very difficult here and you’ve really got to play well. There’s not going to be a lot of low scores out there this year. We’re just going to have to try to keep it around par and avoid the mistakes."
Balin, who has finished in fourth the last two years in this event, continued, "You just have to keep those big numbers off the card. Getting familiar with the golf courses has been great the last couple of days, knowing where you can and can’t hit it. I’m just trying to put myself in a position to improve on past results."
Kerry Haigh, the Managing Director of Championships and Business of Development for the PGA of America, and oversees the tournaments and their set up for PGA events, agreed that this year's venue would provide a great test for players -- but not necessarily because of the set-up by tournament organizers.
“Some courses simply play harder than others,” Haigh stated. “This is an excellent test of golf; very fair, it's all right in front of you, there are no water hazards on either course which is rare in this day and age. But it will test every aspect of a player's game. Like any venue, the weather will affect how the course is set up to some extent and for the practice rounds, the tees are always all the way back. So there are factors we consider when we set the course up each day. Still, our goal is to not get in the way -- allow the players to enjoy the unique challenges that each course brings.”
To a man, each player agrees that the courses -- as they've played in practice rounds thus far -- are very fair and extremely beautiful. But don't expect them to enjoy their next two (or hopefully four) days.
"I'd take even par and sit in the clubhouse," Gulli laughed. "Actually, I'd take a couple over [par], it's going to be hard."
Guili, who is playing in his first PGA Professional National Championship, summed up his view of the course succinctly.
"It's intense," he said. "It's cool."