TPC Harding Park Golf Club ready for major debut
Where is the 2020 PGA Championship? The famed San Francisco muni has a history of big events, but the PGA Championship is its first major.
This is TPC Harding Park’s finest hour.
Sure, the famed San Francisco municipal course has hosted its share of top tournaments in its past. TPC Harding Park hosted its first professional event in 1944. The run of two World Golf Championships, The Presidents Cup in 2009 and two Charles Schwab Cup Championships since its life-altering renovation in 2002-03 all feel like preludes for this moment – its first major championship. Long gone are the days when the neglected muni was used as a parking lot for the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.
The 2020 PGA Championship will provide a series of firsts … first major of 2020, first major without fans, first major for TPC Harding Park, first PGA Championship on the West Coast since Sahalee in 1998. This is the PGA Championship’s fifth visit to California, none since the Riviera Country Club hosted in 1995. It’s also only the third time a muni has hosted the championship. Last summer, Bethpage Black was a hit first-time venue.
How the par-70, 7,521-yard TPC Harding Park holds up to its first big stroke-play event since 2005 will certainly be a storyline to watch. It’s as straight-forward as they come with no blind shots and no hidden bunkers or green complexes that look like amusement parks. If the players score well, they’ll have earned it. If they didn’t, they only have themselves to blame. The course will play as a par 70 with two holes that are traditionally par 5s, the 515-yard ninth and the 494-yard 12th, playing as par 4s.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson didn’t compete in its most recent tournament, the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. Only a few top seeds from that event – Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy (the eventual winner) – advanced to the match play format. Of note, two-time defending PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka didn’t, despite a 2-1 record in pool play. Even a smaller pool of pros can draw on experience from playing in the Presidents Cup at TPC Harding Park. Tiger’s 5-0 record is the stuff of legend. Other than a couple of new back tees on no. 13 and no. 18 the course is largely the same. It’s worth noting that both of those events were match play with the routing of holes slightly tweaked. Participants in those events probably had a different mindset – making birdies and being aggressive – than the strategy that might be most relevant this week: Keeping the ball in the fairway.
Harding Park’s most natural defenses are its location on Lake Merced and thick rough. TPC Harding Park is similar to The Olympic Club, site of the 2028 PGA Championship and 2033 Ryder Cup, in that the local weather tends to be cool and overcast, which can affect ball flight and distance.
The narrow fairways twist and turn through chutes of towering Monterey Cypress Pines. The trees, with virtually no low-hanging branches, aren’t really a major concern, although they will certainly bother their share of errant tee shots. Players who can work the ball properly around doglegs and pick the proper angles off the tee will increase their scoring chances immensely. If the wind does pick up, it is generally in the afternoon, and the final five holes along the lakeshore will be most affected.
These waterfront holes will be the most intriguing on the course. The 14th is a beautiful par 4 with an uphill approach, often from an uneven lie. The 336-yard 16th will be the shortest par 4, giving pros a green light to pull driver, especially when the tee boxes move up a bit. After the par-3 17th, most golf fans will recognize the 18th, a grand finishing hole sweeping along the water. The new tee will bring the fairway bunkers on the right more into play and make it harder to bomb driver up the left side over the trees as a shortcut. The elevated green isn’t easy to hit, either, only rewarding golfers playing well enough for a shot at the Wanamaker Trophy.