By David McPherson, PGATOUR.COM contributor
As the host of the RBC Heritage event since 1969, Harbour Town Golf Links is an April tradition the pros relish. This adds a wee bit of pressure to get the course in top shape for this week’s TOUR event, but it’s something head superintendent Jonathan Wright and his capable crew embrace.
This week marks the 15th time Wright has been an integral part of preparing Harbour Town for its annual week in the spotlight. While a short course by today’s TOUR standards at just shy of 7,000 yards, the Pete Dye design with its tree-lined fairways, strategically-placed bunkers and subtle, well-guarded greens make it a shot-maker's course.
Preparation for the TOUR event starts shortly after the previous year’s winner dons the plaid jacket. First up is aerification, then the tees are re-grassed. “We try to get our Bermudagrass as healthy as possible and address any drainage or irrigation issues over the summer,” Wright explained.
In October, Harbour Town is overseeded wall-to-wall with ryegrass and the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens are overseeded with Poa Trivialis. For the remainder of the fall leading into winter, Wright says it’s all about getting the ryegrass as healthy as possible before it gets too cold.
“After the winter breaks, we start getting our mowing heights to where they need to be and working on the firmness of the greens, which are fast but receptive,” he says. “Then, it’s just fine-tuning everything in the months leading up to the tournament.”
Last summer saw a few subtle changes to Harbour Town -- mainly to the tees. Two were rebuilt completely (Nos. 3 and 16), and others were lengthened (Nos. 5, 8, 10, and 15) a little or moved slightly (No. 6). According to Wright, the renovations add roughly an extra 100 yards.
“We moved the pro tee on No. 6 to the right, creating more of a dogleg left to right tee shot,” he said. “We also lengthened No. 8 about five yards to get the back part of the tee into play, lengthened No. 10 about five to seven yards and No. 15 about 18 yards.”
The new tee on No. 16 adds approximately 35 yards to this 395-yard par 4. The 18th (the second toughest for TOUR players last year) was lengthened by adding an additional 18 yards at the back of the tee. The other subtle change occurred to the back of the green at the par 5, 502-yard second in an attempt to toughen up what perennially has been the easiest hole on the course.
“We removed the bunker and placed it further back to the right,” Wright said. “We dropped it a little bit lower and elevated the face on the front side of it, so it now appears a little deeper. Then, we recontoured the area where that bunker was to make it a little swale. Now, if the pros mis-hit it, they are not in a high bunker, but rather down in a swale, which makes them think a little bit more about their second shot into this short par 5.”
Harbour Town Golf Links is a green leader, as well. The course practices Integrated Pest Management (IPM), only using pesticides and spot treating for diseases as necessary. The Audubon Certified Sanctuary facility also irrigates with effluent water and makes sure its irrigation head rotations stay out of its lagoons.
“Hilton Head has an abundance of wildlife and we try to make our interaction with the environment have minimal impact,” Wright concludes. “We try to draw wildlife onto the course, rather than drive it away. We’ve also placed birdhouses throughout the course to attract bluebirds, blue herons, bats, and purple martins. By growing and maintaining healthy turf, we’ve created a 75-acre living organism.”