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Behind the scenes at Bayonet Black Horse

Behind the scenes at Bayonet Black Horse leading up to the PGA Professional Championship

The lore, legend and history of bayonet golf course, which will host three of the four rounds in the 51st PGA Professional Championship presented by Club Car and OMEGA on June 17–20, includes a fascinating story about “Combat Corner” – the 11th through 15 holes at the course widely regarded as the most difficult layout on California’s hallowed Monterey Peninsula.

The Bayonet Course, history tells us, was designed in 1954 by General Robert McClure, the commander of the post at Fort Ord and named after the Army’s 7th Infantry Division that was nicknamed the “Bayonet Division.” Gen. McClure was a left-handed golfer with a severe slice and he designed most of the Bayonet course to fit his game, especially the sharp doglegs that make up the 11th through 15th holes on the back nine of the highly demanding Bayonet Course.

It is “Combat Corner” and several other challenging holes on the 7,105-yard, par-72 Bayonet Course that will separate pretenders from contenders during the 2018PGA Professional Championship. In fact, during the 2012 PGA Professional Championship played at Bayonet Black Horse, two of the four most difficult holes statistically were part of “Combat Corner”on Bayonet, which features narrow driving corridors and steep, penal bunkering. Meanwhile, Black Horse, which each competitor in the 2018 Championship will play only once, is no pushover with its sweeping vistas of the Pacific stretching 6,904 yards (par 72).

Fair But Tough Courses

“There are a lot of great holes on both courses – you can’t really breathe easy or let your guard down on either course,” says Matt Dobyns, the 2012 PGA Professional Champion who returned a 72-hole score of 13-under-par 275 to secure a record eightstroke victory.

Dobyns and the other 311 PGA Professionals in this year’s field will have to deal with the length and strength of Bayonet Black Horse, keeping in mind that the 2018 PGA Professional Championship is being played at sea level and the ball doesn’t carry as far as at higher altitudes. Wind and weather could also become an important factor, but Dobyns characterizes the golf courses as “fair but tough” under any conditions.

“I like the fairness of the courses most. Good shots are rewarded and poor shots are penalized, but not unfairly so,” explains Dobyns. “The winner this year will need to perform on the par 5s. They afford chances to gain ground, while the fours and threes are more about treading water than making birdies. “Bayonet Black Horse is unique in that hitting the ball long is an advantage, but the course doesn’t keep shorter/straighter hitters from being able to win. I think the mark of a great course is providing opportunities and challenges for all types of players and Bayonet certainly does that.”

The Bayonet Black Horse complex transitioned from a military installation to a high-end, public access golf facility after undergoing a $13 million renovation by golf course architect Gene Bates in 2008. The extensive renovation included the elimination of Kikuyu and poa annua grasses throughout the courses. All of the new turf is Jacklin T1 Bentgrass, a type that is superior in density and allows for more consistent conditions on both courses.

PGA Director of Golf Pat Jones, the 2014 PGA Golf Professional of the Year for the Northern California Section who came to Bayonet Black Horse in 2010, says Bayonet and Black Horse have maintained their reputations as “tough but fair” courses after transitioning from military-run facilities to public access, resort-style championship venues.

Renovations Open Up Views 

“The renovations took out a lot of cypress and other trees on the property, which made the courses more playable and opened up sensational views of Monterey Bay,” notes Jones. “Before the renovation, a lot of people wanted to play Bayonet just to see how hard it was. Now, both courses are known for having some of the best greens on the peninsula, and Black Horse is getting its due as a true championship course.” 

Jones has a little warning about the listed yardages for competitors in the 2018 PGA Professional Championships: Remember, you are playing at sea level and the air can be humid and heavy.

“I would remind all of the competitors in the Championship that we’re at sea level, and the ball might not travel like some of them are used to,” says Jones. “Whatever the scorecard has for yardage on any given day, you can add 300 yards to it. The courses play that much longer than the numbers would indicate. Still, it’s the same for everyone and I believe everyone will think it was a fun, fair test of golf.” 

Ironically, the “lucky” par-4 13th holes on both courses ranked as the most difficult statistically during the 2012 PGA Professional Championship. The Bayonet Course yielded only 13 rounds in the 60s for the week (over four rounds), while 388 rounds over par were returned. Over two days of play, Black Horse saw 11 rounds in the 60s and 128 rounds over par, demonstrating that both courses are highly challenging.

Dobyns’ Favorite Holes

“My favorite holes on the Bayonet Course were No. 2 and No. 18,” recalls Dobyns, the 2012 Champion who repeated the feat in 2015 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. “The second hole on Bayonet requires a very accurate tee shot and has a very interesting green complex. Birdies and bogeys are both common, depending on whether you get your tee shot in a good position. A good tee shot on the 18th hole, a par 5, sets you up for a chance for an eagle, which can provide an exciting finish.”

Indeed, the 440-yard, par-4 second hole ranked No. 2 in difficulty during the 2012 PGA Professional Championship, yielding 175 bogeys, 25 double bogeys and four “others” while playing to a scoring average of 4.48, second to only the 13th hole’s average of 4.59 for four rounds. The par-4 ninth hole ranked third in difficulty in 2012 (4.465 average), while the 12th hole – part of the “Combat Corner” holes, ranked fourth in difficulty at 4.461.

Three-time PGA Professional Champion Mike Small says “Combat Corner” and the closing holes on the Bayonet Course during the final round will be decisive in determining the 2018 Champion. “The closing holes at Bayonet are very special, and demand that you be in complete control of your game to be successful,” says Small, the men’s golf coach at the University of Illinois, who placed fourth in 2012 at Bayonet Black Horse.

“I think Bayonet and Black Horse should be stalwarts in the PGA Professional Championship rotation when the Championship is held in the West. Both courses demand competency in all facets of the game. You must drive the ball accurately and hit fairways.

Otherwise, you won’t be in position to put the ball in the proper positions on the greens to have birdie putts.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of PGA Magazine

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