HILTON HEAD – You don’t usually associate cuteness with a dinosaur. Yet most golf enthusiasts and some paleontologists agree that it applies to a unique and adorable 18-hole triceratops.
Harbor Town Golf Links is the site of the anti-distance revolution, a small package within the big picture of longer drives and hastily stretched courses.
The delightful place is still thriving 53 years after Arnold Palmer won the inaugural Heritage Golf Classic in 1969 on a relatively unchanged layout in the language of major changes at majors and elsewhere.
“This is a course that I love and I think it fits my game,” said Collin Morikawa, one of the top five PGA Tour players in the tournament’s top ten.
Further confirmation will come soon after CBS announcer Jim Nantz welcomes national television audiences on April 17 with “Hello, Friends,” to usher in the great golf contrast that is the beauty shot of RBC Heritage’s final round.
The tournament plaid motif, after all these April, is in vogue. The entire RBC Heritage 2022 sold out well before Wednesday’s pro-am.
“He still gets a good course,” said Golf Channel senior writer Rex Hoggard, “even if it looks like he’s from another generation.”
If most of the PGA Tour courses are played on a large grass pitch with various obstructions, this is a haunted corridor. Of the regular tour stops, only Pebble Beach has smaller greens than Harbor Town (3,700 square feet in total one week after many players tackled 6,435 feet of Masters greens at Augusta National).
It’s a throwback challenge, more like Top Golf on Friday nights than any US Open stop.
It is not a mini golf with windmills on the holes. But there is a lighthouse nearby.
“Coming from a place like Augusta, where the greens are really big, with a lot more slope and wide fairways, makes you concentrate here a little bit,” said two majors winner Morikawa. “You can’t get carried away with yourself and hit him 30 yards out of line and be fine. Here, 30 yards out of line could be (out of bounds). So you have to pay attention. You have to be ready for quality golf shots. “
A thinking golf course
Yes, it’s the ultimate “shooting range,” Hoggard said of Pete Dye’s devised effort to navigate the world’s best golfers in brutal pot bunkers aiming for stamped greens through narrow corridors of moss-covered pine and oak.
Lots of ponds, some with resident alligators.
It is often quite ventilated.
“What I always like is that even if a player’s game doesn’t fit Hilton Head, there is still such an affinity between players for the golf course itself, for the architecture and what it means for the game. “said Hoggard.
Birth certificates tell a story of precision, patience and, usually, experience required. Recent RBC Heritage winners include Stewart Cink (47 in 2021), Webb Simpson (34 in 2020), Jim Furyk (44 in 2015) and Matt Kuchar (35 in 2014).
Hale Irwin was nearly 49 when she won in 1994.
That’s a big difference from the average age of the 12 PGA Tour event winners so far in 2022: 28.8 (which includes four wins for 25-year-old Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and two for Cameron Smith, 28).
It’s as if RBC Heritage is trying to demonstrate late Major League baseball manager Burt Shotton’s classic golf dig: “Any game where a 60-year-old man can beat a 30-year-old man is not a game.”
And in strides Cameron Young, carding a 63 on Friday to take the lead in the first round in his first ever appearance in Harbor Town. He is four shots behind the leader (and runner up in 2021) Harold Varner III arriving on Sunday.
“It’s a really nice mix,” said Young. “There are holes that are 480; there are a couple of long par-5s. But there are also some holes where you have to pick a really smart tee shot. So I think it’s a fun mix of holes. “
Then again, Young is very smart.
He went to Wake Forest.
Alma mater none other than Arnold Palmer.
Not making the cut on the Masters allowed Young to arrive in Hilton Head early enough for a careful study of the course.
“You can’t go around here without thinking, for sure”
“Tight and complicated” is great
The folks at RBC Heritage have modified the two previously easier holes on the course. The par 5 hole n. 2 from last year was extended 48 yards to 550, knocking a center iron off the tee box for most players.
The par 5 hole n. 5 is 569 yards, 20 yards longer. More trees are in play now.
But still. Harbor Town isn’t much different, although just as fun.
Even more so if you are one of the many annual attendees with ties to South Carolina.
Lucas Glover, 42, a Greenville native and Clemson product, spends the week among contenders in his 20th RBC Heritage.
“It’s a pretty small piece of property, so it’s packed up, in a good way,” said Glover, the 2009 US Open winner. “You can see who is around, you get a lot of encouragement, you see a lot of children. Yes, it is fun”.
Or get it from a guy who is nowhere near Hilton Head and whose strengths seemingly don’t match Harbor Town’s charming quirkiness.
“It’s one of the best courses on tour,” said Wyndham Clark, a 28-year-old native of Denver.
Clark has played at Oklahoma State and Oregon. He is number 6 on the PGA Tour in driving distance, playing in a place that drivers are not used to as usual. But he pulled a 5-under 66 in the third round on Saturday to get to 6-under for the tournament. Like Glover, Clark is five shots behind.
“You don’t have to build very long golf courses like they do these days,” Clark said. “Making them tight and tough is fun to play and I think we all really like it.”
It also pleases fun golf enthusiasts.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff