A new Valhalla awaits the 2014 PGA Championship
Extensive changes, including new greens for all 18 holes, to the venerable course in Louisville mean players will face a new and exacting challenge at the 2014 PGA Championship.
When the best golfers in the world head to Louisville for the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, they'll be greeted to a far different course than the one some of them remember from the 2000 PGA Championship, or even the more recent 2008 Ryder Cup.
After a year-long, multi-million-dollar renovation, which 18-time major champion and course designer Jack Nicklaus told reporters beforehand was because "golf equipment has changed dramatically and players have changed how they play the game dramatically," a lot has changed at Valhalla.
In early September 2012, the new and improved Valhalla was reopened to members. It features 18 newly built greens -- rebuilt to USGA specifications -- with a new, state-of-the-art irrigation system to replace the 25-year-old infrastructure that was in place.
To modernize course maintenance practices and tolerate weather conditions, a more heat-tolerant bent grass was installed.
All of the bunkers at Valhalla were also altered or cleaned up and the practice range was expanded.
During the massive renovation, it was reported by Business First's John R. Karman III that as many as 150 workers were on site daily, led by Valhalla course superintendent Roger Meier. While improvements were being made to the course, Meier set up a blog to keep members up to date on the changes and how the work was coming along.
In one entry, Meier detailed the selection of the grass used on the rebuilt greens. Here's what he wrote:
"One main concern in regards to the future of Valhalla Golf Club course conditions and ensuring that our renovation would provide championship quality greens for years to come was the careful and tedious selection of a new type of bentgrass for our putting surfaces. The A1/A4 bentgrass that was on our putting surfaces is still one of the best varieties used in golf today, but with the latest advances in turf breeding there are many other varieties that provide greater characteristics. A1/A4 was bred with fair tolerance to stresses from extreme temperatures, drought, and heavy traffic, but during the planning stages of our course renovation, we set out to find a bentgrass that could perform beyond what we would classify as fair. The reason these conditions are more of an issue for Valhalla than for many other clubs, is location. From a turfgrass management perspective, Valhalla Golf Club sits right in the middle of what we call a “transition zone.” What this means is that our climate is almost too hot for cool-season grasses, and almost too cold for warm-season grasses. The construction of our new greens is critical to the health and condition of our putting surfaces, but we needed a variety of bentgrass that could outperform our A1/A4 when it counts. We found just that, but it wasn’t easy. Superintendent Roger Meier and his management team left no stone unturned while considering all feasible options for grassing our new greens. After countless reviews from a variety of sources, and taking a first-hand look at the established result, we decided that T1 bentgrass was what we had been searching for. After more than 70 years in the business of producing quality grass-seed for golf courses and other environments, Jacklin Seed patented T1. What makes T1 unique to other varieties of bentgrass is that it provides greater resistance to extreme temperatures, drought and traffic stresses, while aggressively fighting off the threat of poa annua contamination that we have been plagued with in years past. What does this mean? We found the ideal grass to provide rich and luxurious putting surfaces that will sustain through our hot summers and cold winters. After all, what our members, as well as the PGA professionals that will be visiting Valhalla in 2014 deserve, are greens that rival any in the country. What we want to provide, are pristine putting surfaces to be marveled at year-round. With T1 bentgrass greens at Valhalla, we look forward to member satisfaction and nail-biting tournament excitement for a long, long time."
"Overall, the alterations to the golf course have helped to modernize the look and playability of the golf course," said Valhalla PGA Head Professional Keith Reese. "All of the greens have been re-contoured, allowing for many options for hole locations. The renovation project has improved the golf course in three main areas.
“Agronomically, we are in a better position to fight the hot summers; the reshaping of the greens has allowed for many new hole locations; and the course is more playable for members and guests while still remaining a stout challenge from the Championship tees."
Of particular note, the alterations to holes 2, 3, 7, 9, 14 and 15 will stand out to spectators as significantly different from what they saw at either the 2011 Senior PGA Championship or the 2008 Ryder Cup.
On No. 2, the entire green was shifted slightly left and the right greenside bunker was moved from right-middle to right-back to create a friendlier bail-out area for the average player. The mounding around the second green was also softened to allow players easier entry and exit of the green.
At the third hole, the left greenside bunker was reduced in size to more of a back-left bunker and a bentgrass collection area was added to allow the average player a friendly bail-out. The right greenside bunker was enlarged and brought around the front-right section of the green. The green was re-contoured, creating a very difficult hole location back-left.
The seventh hole now features two fairway bunkers that were added on the left side of the right-hand fairway to challenge players from the Championship tee. The left, island fairway was shifted slightly to the right, bringing the water into play. The mounding right of the green was softened and a bentgrass collection area added skirting to the right and back of the green.
Extensive changes were made to fairway bunkers on the right and left sides of the ninth hole. The left bunkers were shifted further up the fairway, as were the right-hand bunkers pinching the fairway for the longer hitters. The bunker alterations have given the hole a "truly spectacular view from the tee," according to Reese, while creating more space for the amateur to play their tee shot and challenging those who try to drive it further up the fairway.
The front greenside bunker on No. 14 was reduced in size from the right-hand side and a bunker was added at the front-right to create a more inviting entry point to the green between the two bunkers.
Finally, on No. 15, the left fairway bunker was removed. The green was reduced in size and the basic contours of the green were changed to deliver many more hole locations. The left greenside bunker was reduced in size, allowing the average player a bit of room to miss on the left. One layer of rocks was removed from the rock wall at the front-right of the green and a small bunker was added.
All of the renovations were the first major infrastructure updates to the course since it opened in 1986.
"The changes to the golf course have been very well received," Reese said. "I am extremely happy with the work that Jack Nicklaus and his team have done with the golf course and I can't wait to see the course test the best players in the world during the 2014 PGA Championship."
Brett Sterba, the Tournament Director for the 2014 PGA Championship, is excited about the changes and added that improvements were also made for a better spectator experience, including the softening of the slope behind the 18th green.
"Players will see a dramatically different golf course from tee to green than the last PGA Championship hosted at Valhalla Golf Club in 2000, while fans can also expect minor changes outside the ropes mostly aimed at enhancing popular viewing points and improving gallery flow," he said.