The 2004 Senior PGA Championship
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The closing par-5 18th hole at Valhalla GC measures 535 yards.
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No 'senior discount' at challenging Valhalla Golf Club

Now playing to a par of 71 rather than 72 and measuring 6,990 yards, Valhalla Golf Club will give the field for the 65th Senior PGA Championship all they can handle.

By David Vecsey,
Special to

So much for the senior discount.

As Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., readies itself to host the 65th Senior PGA Championship this weekend, you may notice something missing from when the 1996 and 2000 PGA Championships were played there. Namely, a stroke.

For the seniors, Valhalla will play as a 6,990-yard, par-71 layout, after No. 2 was trimmed from a par-5 to a 455-yard par-4. Not that it matters much, as the hole virtually played as an automatic birdie in both the 1996 and 2000 events. Now, says Head PGA Golf Professional Keith Reese, you can expect it to be one of the toughest three holes on the course.

"We've made changes on the golf course in general since the 2000 PGA Championship," Reese said. "It'll have a little bit of a different look. We've added nine new fairway bunkers and enlarged two others."

Valhalla was built for these events, commissioned to design by Jack Nicklaus in 1985 as a prime venue for major PGA championships. It didn't disappoint in its first two efforts, with its roomy confines and bleacher mounding around the greens. Typical of the Nicklaus courses, the greens feature closely mowed collection areas that attract imperfect approach shots like rainwater in a drain. Miss your spot on the green and your ball will drift until it finds the collection area.

Now it's time for the over-50 crowd to test its mettle.

How the course plays in May as opposed to August will be one of the biggest adjustments.

"The biggest difference will be in the rough, which is going to be pretty tough," Reese said. "We're not cutting it especially high just because of the nature of the season. It's going to be a little more moist than we saw in August, and much tougher to get the ball through it.

"Driving the ball into the fairways will be very important because most of our greens are elevated. You miss the green and the ball repels away. If you miss the fairway, it could be a half-shot to a shot penalty just getting it out of the rough because it'll be difficult to loft it up onto those greens. You're almost better laying it up."

Reese said Valhalla will test every club in the bag. What you don't use on the links-style front nine, you may very need on the traditional tree-lined back nine.

Fast Facts
Valhalla Golf Club,
Louisville, Ky.
Yardage: 6,990
Par: 71
Built: 1985
Architect: Jack Nicklaus
Signature Hole: No. 13, par 4, 350 yards
Course Record: 63, Jose Maria Olazabal, 2000

"It's almost like stepping onto a different course altogether when you go from 9 to 10," Reese said. "People tend to gravitate toward the back because it is more traditional ? but in the end, I think people tend to like whichever side they're playing better that particular day."

While Reese feels the final six holes will likely determine a winner over four days, there are at least three critical holes on the front.

The now-par-4, 455-yard No. 2 has become a very difficult hole. The 425-yard, par-4 No. 5, he says, typically plays the pros tough, although it has been shortened a bit from 2000. And No. 7 is a par-5 with two fairways that force you to chose your weapon. Go the safe way and you're looking at about 600 yards of straightaway golf. Go the other way and you can trim about 60 yards, but face much tougher shot-making. "Definitely a risk-reward situation," Reese said.

The back features the more difficult holes, including the tricky 458-yard, par-4 No. 12. The second shot is the crucial one there because of a punishing green, a really deep bunker to the right and really deep rough to the left.

No. 13 is a 349-yard par-4 that played a big role in the 2000 PGA Championship, when Phil Mickelson double-bogeyed the hole on Saturday and Sunday to fall out of contention. It features five small fairway bunkers to the left and one large bunker to the right. The green is surrounded by water, actually resting up on a stack of boulders. Mickelson found the water on Saturday trying to hit the green. Then when he did hit the green on Sunday, his ball backed up on the contouring surface and fell off.

"The hole sounds innocent enough," Reese said, "but it's a killer."

No. 16 is an extremely difficult 440-yard par-4 that's routinely been one of the two toughest holes on the course. It's a long bunkerless par-4 with an elevated green. Again, miss the green and you might as well pull a weed whacker out of your bag.

And the finishing hole, a 535-yard par-5, has undergone some of the most significant changes with the notorious leftside bunker having been enlarged to encroach the tee shot by 30 more yards. Where once hitters would lay up short of the bunker, now that option virtually doesn't exist.

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