From Augusta National to the Atlantic shores. A tradition unlike any other.
The spot on the calendar may have been altered for this year's Masters, but the encore event is very similar to what we've grown used to over the years.
In recent years, it has been Harbour Town that hosted the week after the Masters. It was always a nice getaway spot to allow golfers to unwind after a big event. This year they head to Sea Island Resort on St. Simons Island. They will be greeted with similar hospitality, relaxation, and even a similar test of golf with a lot of crossover course characteristics between the Sea Island courses and Harbour Town Golf Links.
You may have noticed I said courses, plural. This week's event uses a two-course rotation for the first 36 holes of action before the field of 156 golfers is trimmed to Top 65 and ties ahead of the weekend. From there, the remaining golfers will take on the Seaside Course on Saturday and Sunday.
The host course this week is the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. It's been playing that role since the inaugural 2010 edition and started splitting duties in 2015.
Anyone that makes it through the cutline will see the Seaside Course three times this week.
The Seaside Course is a par 70 that plays just a nose hair over 7,000 yards. Even as a par 70 this is short by PGA TOUR standards.
We know it's a short course but there is also water in play on 13 holes. The real water danger is only lurking on about a third of those holes, but the trouble is still there to provide a few hiccups for those really spraying it. That combination gives an edge to the straight shooters. Much more so than the typical week-to-week stop. It's one of the rare weeks where accuracy is on an even playing field with distance.
The course was designed in the late 1920s by Harry Colt who has most of his well-known property across the pond. The course was renovated by Tom Fazio in 1999 but can still be considered a classical design where brute strength isn't required.
On approach, golfers will see generous landing zones with an average green size of 7,200 square feet. The lack of length makes it easy to the pros to club down and tear this place apart in calm conditions. Of course, the layout is right on the Atlantic coast so it'd be rare to find many calm days. You are always going to be dealing with a gentle coastal breeze at the very least.
For grasses, golfers will see bermuda/paspalum from tee-to-green and TifEagle bermuda greens. The course was overseeded during the first week of October. However, we just saw last week that the bermuda was still lively at Augusta National at this time of year so I would expect to see the same thing this week given we are just a few hours down the road.
The other course each golfer will play once is the Plantation Course.
It's another Colt and Charles Allison design (1928). It was also renovated recently, this time by Davis Love III and his design group. Their primary goal was to restore the course to make it look more historic. Love said he studied the designs of Golden Age architects to really dial in the changes he wanted to make.
When golfers played it for the first time (post-renovation) last year, most talked about the changes to the green complexes. They are now a bit more challenging. The green sizes are smaller than Seaside (6,100 square feet) and play even smaller due to the undulations that reject poor approach shots.
Overall, the Plantation Course is still the easier of the two courses in terms of fantasy scoring, since it plays as a par 72, 7,060 yards. Again, very short by TOUR standards.
Similar to the Seaside Course, the Plantation has water in play on more than half the holes (10). Overall, golfers will see water "in play" on 23 of the 36 unique holes faced this week.
Grasses are similar (overseeded bermuda and paspalum). The Plantation Course had their overseed drop two weeks after the Seaside Course (week of October 15th thru 21st).
Winners have reached 19-under or better in four of the last five editions so you need to keep your foot on the pedal all week. If you look at trends of top performers at Sea Island, you will notice a lot of golfers with a tidy short game. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues this year with a lot of bigger names joining the party, compared to previous editions.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Cameron Champ: "Length on this course is pretty much irrelevant. I’m just trying to find the fairways and middle of the greens and take my 20-footers and having to push or pull one to the pin, I’ll take it."
Austin Cook: "I mean, distance helps, but it’s not necessary on this golf course to play well, but straight ball-striking is."
Mackenzie Hughes: "The Seaside course kind of has some bigger fairways when there’s not any wind blowing, but when the wind’s blowing, you’ve got those crosswinds going, the fairways seem kind of small. The golf courses are awesome. They’re both kind of different styles. I think the Seaside’s more, I don’t want to say linksy but it has that linksy feel to it, and the Plantation’s a bit more tree-lined. "
Blayne Barber: "We played the SEC Championship here every year when I was in school and I had success here last year. I just play well kind of on bermudagrass in the southeast, it’s just what I grew up with"
Brendon Todd: "It’s a golf course that relies on the weather, the conditions, the wind to be the teeth. And anybody could play a great round out there, whether you hit it long or short, and I think really comes down to who approaches it well and makes putts. "
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Harbour Town (RBC Heritage)
Colonial CC (Fort Worth)
Waialae CC (Sony Open
PGA WEST (American Express/Desert Classic)
Sedgefield (Wyndham Championship)
The theme this week is short and easy. Anything with bermudagrass and/or coastal conditions can be considered as well.
Thursday: Partly Sunny with a high of 63 degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH, gusts up to 23MPH.
Friday: Partly sunny with a chance of rain. High of 72 degrees. Winds at 10 to 14 MPH, gusts up to 20MPH.
It's a pretty standard forecast for this event. You will see warm, but not too warm temps with a steady dose of wind.
The combination of temps in the 60s and playing at sea level will prevent the ball from flying quite as far. Cam Champ talked about a 10 to 15 yard difference on his drives here in the past.
Golfers to Watch
He's the tournament's money leader despite never winning the event. He's come close with five finishes of T12 or better in 8 appearances including back-to-back podium finishes. "I grew up going to the beach in Wilmington, so I just love anytime I get close to the coast here, or Hilton Head, I just love it.
The Englishman calls Hilton Head his favorite stop on TOUR. It seems like the style of course that would host his first PGA TOUR win. There are a lot of similarities between Hilton Head and Sea Island Resort so I'd look for Fitz to take a quick liking to the layouts this week.
We can guess on Fitzpatrick but Kisner has told us just how much he likes it here. "I lived here for a year after college and played exclusively out here and a number of SEC championships on the Seaside course, so I feel really comfortable with the different shots and around the greens and understanding the golf course. "
While Kisner used to live here, why not take a few stabs on golfers that still do? ZJ is a part of the infamous Sea Island Mafia. He said this last year, "It's home, you know? Anytime you can go work a little bit and then head back and, you know, obviously have a six-course meal waiting for you at home, sleep in your own bed, it's pretty amazing. I'm excited to be here. I love everything about this tournament."
He popped last week on a familiar Augusta National layout but how will he take to a new layout this week? The Englishman has hit fewer greens than the field in four of his last five starts so he may not be as close to a return to form as his back-to-back top 25s would suggest. Is will the short-game confidence provide him the confidence needed to scrap his way around these coastal tracks? Personally, I'm not ready to buy in.
Similar to Rose, we have another world-class talent who is struggling a bit. For Day, he has at least seen the course. He posted a T57 during the 2012 edition but hasn't returned since then. The Aussie has talked recently about a swing change to help alleviate some pain from his back so I would like to see a bit more consistency with the irons before I jump back in. The upside is always there for Day who possesses one of the best short games on TOUR. That has been a good trait to have at this venue in the past.
He's lost strokes putting in three of four starts this season but still managed top 30s in all four of them. The Georgia Bulldog has been hovering near the top of the GIR leaderboards every time he tees it up, basically since the restart. He's been trending back toward the winner's circle and now he heads to an event where he has a trio of top 10s on his resume in six tries.
Ranking the Field
1. Webb Simpson
2. Tyrrell Hatton
3. Russell Henley
4. Matthew Fitzpatrick
5. Louis Oosthuizen
6. Andy Sullivan
7. Ian Poulter
8. Kevin Kisner
9. Brian Harman
10. Harris English
11. Jason Kokrak
12. Zach Johnson
13. Corey Conners
14. Tommy Fleetwood
15. Sungjae Im
16. Joaquin Niemann
17. Mackenzie Hughes
18. Shane Lowry
19. Sam Burns
20. Matt Kuchar