Jerry Pate knows golf. He's got eight wins on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 U.S. Open, and he's an accomplished course designer. Throughout the season, he'll be stopping by Devil Ball to offer an inside-the-ropes look at the week's upcoming course. Today: TPC Southwind, site of this week's St. Jude Classic.
The TPC Southwind has a history for yielding low scores. In fact, in 1996 John Cook came painfully close to besting Mike Souchak's 50-plus-year-old scoring record with his 26-under total of 258. The low scores usually resulted from hot, humid, and calm conditions during the Memphis summers that rendered Ron Pritchard's laudable design vulnerable.
Recently, a significant renovation was conducted to make the course more sustainable from a maintenance perspective during the hot summer months, and also to toughen the TPC Southwind for the tour (easing the stresses on the maintenance crew). Acres of native grasses were installed in out-of-play areas. Lakes and drainage systems were enlarged, and most significantly the greens were transferred from bentgrass to Champion bermudagrass. Bermudagrass greens handle the hot summers and can be maintained in a firmer condition than bentgrass. Firm greens alone make a significant impact on the playability and strategy of the course's design. In addition, fairways were narrowed, bunkers were repositioned, and length was added.
The renovation did have an impact on the tournament scores in the first few years when the young greens were still very firm. In more recent years, the zoysia fairways (which do not allow as much roll which effectually make the fairways play wider), have resulted in scores as low as ever before. The current champion, Brian Gay, threatened John Cook's tournament record last year with a 262 total, the second-lowest total in tournament history. Although the renovation did not make the course much more difficult for the tour players, it certainly has made it more enjoyable for its members and guests, who challenge the course the other 51 weeks of the year.
Jerry Pate has been designing golf courses for more than 30 years. His portfolio of work includes Old Waverly Golf Club in Mississippi, site of the 1999 United States Women's Open; Trump National Golf Club Colts Neck (formerly known as Shadow Isle) in New Jersey; Kiva Dunes on the Alabama Gulf Coast; and Rancho La Quinta Country Club in California. See more of his work at www.jerrypategolfdesign.com.