In all of televised golf there are few courses that have been regular items for public attention. No question places such as Augusta National, Pebble Beach, The Old Course at St. Andrews are in the elite listing of such venues. But, for those who have been watching professional golf on an annual basis - especially on the American side of things -- it's hard to beat a place like Firestone / South for the many, many years it has been seen time after time.
Since hosting the 1960 PGA Championship -- Firestone / South has been the location where countless big time professional events have been held. The most recent involvement is serving as host for the annual WGC / Bridgestone Invitational.
The only main issue with the South Course is that the architecture is woefully predictable. A steady stream of holes follows the same pattern -- south/ north and north / south is the routing flow. The holes are lined with various trees and although there's been a recent pruning the impact is still there.
When Trent Jones was called in to strengthen the course for the '60 PGA he did so in his usual manner. The fairways were bracketed by bunkers in the drive zone -- sometimes on both sides and the greens were protected by larger bunkers. Tees were lengthened considerably and with heavy rough being cultivated. It was clear the course would no longer tolerate anything but regimented down-the-middle tees shots followed by consistent iron play. In short -- Firestone / South became a muscle course -- albeit -- in the same spirit Jones had done in revamping Oakland Hills / South in Michigan for the 1951 US Open.
Unfortunately, making a course harder is far easier than skillfully creating architecture which needs to take into account hole differentiation and overall elasticity in the routing and shotmaking requirements.
The South Course doesn't have anything close to a top tier finesse hole. Much of it is the same -- over and over again. The South can be a daunting test simply because of the length and rigors of the holes. But greatness in design is not simply about overdosing on the difficulty meter.
Clearly, much of the attention goes to the par-5 16th hole -- 667 yards in length -- with a fronting pond by the putting surface. The hole is noted for a number of key situations that have occurred there during the many different events over the years. The most miraculous being the incredible par save Jack Nicklaus made in the 3rd round of the '75 PGA Championship which propelled him to his fourth of five titles in the event and the 14th of his record setting 18 total major triumphs.
Far too many golf observers erroneously assume hosting big time events automatically means such venues are top tier from a design perspective. That's not always the case as hosting events requires a range of elements -- course architecture a part of the total scene -- but not the only needed emphasis item.
What many may not realize is that Firestone has another course -- the North -- far better in terms of overall shotmaking requirements and hole diversity. The only time the North had center stage was in hosting the American Golf Classic in 1976. Amazingly, the Buckeye State is home to a number of well-crafted courses that clearly have quality offerings but unlike Firestone / South have remained in the shadows.
Firestone / South has been the scene for countless wins from such legendary players such as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, among other noted players. The annual exposure has done much to elevate the name of the course with golfers globally. But, for those seeking a rich brew of architectural tastes -- be forewarned -- the South is mainly vanilla.
by M. James Ward
Date: March 01, 2017