By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- The Perfect 10?
Skilled players, especially the best in the world, usually view par-5 holes as scoring opportunities. In fact, not only are they opportunities, they are often demands. Birdies are expected, pars are simply tolerated. Bogeys or worse are rarely part of the equation. Again, usually.
But here at Harbor Shores, at the 73rd PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, one particular par 5 has all the players talking. And though the hole might yield a few eagles and birdies at this championship, it's almost assured to dish out some bogeys, doubles and others as well.
From the tips, the 10th hole measures a mostly benign 539 yards. Even with a breeze in a player's face, the majority of competitors are thinking this is a chance to reach the green in two shots. That is, until they see the hole. With a narrow fairway bordered by high fescue on the left and a bunker and hazard on the right, the tee shot is intimidating. Even if a player finds the fairway, its mounding and slopes will mean an adjusted stance and a hopeful swing -- regardless of the second-shot target. But the area that will have all the players, fans, TV viewers and pundits talking is the enormous 10,500-square-foot green that arguably has the three most distinctive tiers in all of golf.
The highest part of the green is a towering nine feet above the lowest part, with a slope that rises at an approximate 60-degree angle. Players who go for the green in two and miss are almost sure to find a short lob or chip that will provide a challenge unlike any in golf.
"It's a nice strategic hole," says 2009 Senior PGA Champion Michael Allen. "Guys can reach it for sure, especially if it's not into the wind, but do you really want to go for it? I think if you go for it, that's where you really put yourself in a position where you'll be out of position and have some very awkward shots. So I don't really see myself going for it for the most part, except for maybe a front-right pin or something."
Fred Couples, another favorite this week, called the hole "a really pretty par 5 which is reachable," but also cautioned that the green "is a little bit much."
Bill Britton, a PGA Club Professional who also spent many years playing on the PGA Tour, smiled and called the course "a conversation piece." When asked if he'd ever seen a green with such a severe slope, he shook his head and said "not even close."
And Fred Funk offered some thoughts in his press conference, laughing at some players who started their practice rounds by being shuttled out to the 10th hole -- and upon seeing it, exclaimed "Holy ****, is this what we got the rest of the day?"
Course designer Jack Nicklaus, who knows a thing or two (or 18) about major championship tests, has noticed the feedback on the signature hole, but offers only a little sympathy for players questioning the design.
"I was in my elephant mode at that time," he concedes. "I was burying them in the only place I could find them."
But Nicklaus maintains that creating the green as it now stands was, in fact, the proper way to design the hole.
"You could leave the ball on the green where the green was, on top -- but would (you) rather try to putt from the bottom or try to pitch to it and that's basically it," he explained. "But it actually gives them an extra pin placement on the bottom."
"Most people's initial reactions are tinted by the fact they've probably not seen a green like it," explains Ross Smith, the PGA Director of Golf at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores. "But once they've played it a few times, such as this week as the players have played their practice rounds, you get a real sense of where to leave the ball, where to hit the ball on and how hard to hit a putt depending on what tier you're trying to reach."
Nicklaus recounted a story from two years ago, when he took part in a celebrity foursome for the grand opening of the course. As he played with Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson, the foursome arrived onto the 10th green playing in a two-man alternate-shot match.
"Tom and I got it up the top left, but Johnny Miller hit two shots on the to green," Nicklaus remembered. "We were playing alternate shot and Arnold got the ball up about two-thirds up the hill, eight-foot carom up the hill, and all of a sudden it came back zooming off the green behind him. And Johnny looks over and says ‘This thing is impossible; you can't putt the ball from here. Give me a sand wedge.’
"Now, I can just see on television, I can see all of your programs, Johnny Miller take a wedge out on Jack's green that he can't putt. I'm sitting there, well, I don't need that on all of our greens. So I'm thinking, wait a minute, Johnny, you don't need to do that, you can putt that. It was 108 feet, and I had one quick glance at it, whacked the ball up the hill and back down and it goes into the hole. What's so tough about that?
"So it was a lot of fun, he did putt it, but I don't think anybody tried to take a wedge to it since."
A sculpture behind the green commemorates Nicklaus’ famous putt, one sure to mute many players who would otherwise claim the putt too difficult.
"It's very functional," Nicklaus insists. "Do I think it's difficult? Yeah, it's difficult. It's really difficult. But then again, you know, these guys are pretty good players."