August 3, 2020
PGA Championship: Architects Talk TPC Harding Park
In a recent article in the UK’s Golf Today, writer M. James Ward caught up with some Northern California golf architects Gary Roger Baird and Poppy Hills Golf Course co-designer Bruce Charlton to talk about TPC Harding Park, host of this week’s PGA Championship.
The following is part of the article’s Q & A session:
How significant is having public courses host the PGA Championship in back-to-back years with Bethpage Black in 2019 and this year at Harding Park and with The Ocean Course at Kiawah to follow in 2021?
Gary Roger Baird: I feel it brings all golfers closer to the game they play. It is tremendous for promoting golf and is significant for a means to increase visibility, which can result in a positive income for ongoing maintenance and golf course demands.
Cary Bickler: Very significant. It’s the right time in the history of prestigious golf tournaments for venues to be held on public courses 3 years in a row. These back-to-back PGA Championships on public golf courses creates another level of interest for a wider audience. Knowing these courses are accessible and open to the public brings an exciting and welcoming option for golf enthusiasts.
Don Knott: Frequent public venues are great for the game. Most PGA members represent public golf and such venues highlight accessible bucket list items.
Andy Staples: I’d say it’s very significant to play on public facilities, but I’m torn on playing on municipally owned facilities. The effort a city goes through to attract the Tour, and then keep attracting them, is immense. I’d like to see more focus on developing fans around great design, that promotes a more sustainable model.
Bruce Charlton: Playing major championships on courses that are open to the public is great! Since the average Joe and Joanne golfer can play the same exact course played in the event. Makes for a great experience for the “core golfers” that most strongly support the game.
Harding Park has undergone extensive changes / upgrades over the years. From your own experiences what’s the most challenging aspect in upgrading a facility?
AS: For me, it’s the process of building consensus around the vision of the plan. Today, it seems there are so many factors that go into that, from the local community, to the residents that play or live on the course, the environmental factors, and the cost of long-term, course management. Finding the right balance of all these factors, and developing a plan for a course of merit, and enduring quality, seems to be getting more and more difficult.
BC: The most important tool a golf architect has, especially when making refinements to an existing facility, is your ears. Listening to the people that ask for changes to be made in the first place. What are the goals for making changes to the golf course? Is it playability, environmental awareness or gaining length? It is critical to play the golf holes before providing concepts for upgrading the golf experience. Playing with a scratch player, an 18 handicapper, the women’s champion and average women and senior players in order to see and hear the tendencies of how the golf course plays.
CB: The most challenging aspect in upgrading a golf facility is typically the political atmosphere. After that, budgets come into play followed by overcoming the inconvenience factor of closing all or part of the course during construction. Sometimes I run into what I call the “inertia factor” which simply means resistance to change. But that’s OK. All these aspects are inter-connected and need to be handled with care. It’s always worth it in the end.
DK: Most challenging aspect of any “upgrade” is keeping a proper perspective of the game and its history. Economic sustainability is critical. Always remember the course must be played throughout the year by average golfers. Don’t get carried away with over design or gimmick details.
GRB: Having everyone on the same page as to the overall needs of the entire staff, including the timing and funding of improvements, and also the order of the project work with an estimated time frame for each phase.