It's not a coincidence the 667-yard 16th at Firestone was nicknamed "The Monster"
June 27, 2016
By Dave Shedloski, Special to PGATOUR.COM
It's not a coincidence the 667-yard 16th at Firestone was nicknamed "The Monster"
When Robert Trent Jones completed his renovation of Firestone Country Club’s South Course in Akron, Ohio, in 1959 in preparation for the PGA Championship the following year, he referred to the revamped par-5 16th hole as “the Waterloo hole of the course, because of it’s length and the pond in front of the green.”
Defending PGA champion Bob Rosburg took one look at it, and said, “It’s a bad hole. Jones has taken all of the skill out of the hole.”
Jones was commissioned to lengthen and strengthen the South Course at Firestone, originally designed in 1929 by Bert Way, and he held nothing back, building seven new tees, adding numerous bunkers, and other features intended to keep anyone in the 1960 PGA from bettering par. It measured 7,165 yards when he got done with it. But his most controversial changes came at the par-5 16th, where he added 50 yards to the dogleg left hole, making it 625 yards. And for added fun, he installed a pond in front of the green, which discouraged even the longest hitters from going for the putting surface in two.
The hole was so long that when CBS television producer Frank Chirkinian surveyed it, he decided to rearrange his camera lineup for coverage of the championship. With only eight cameras at his disposal, Chirkinian was forced to devote four to No. 16.
There is no denying that the 16th is Firestone’s signature hole and its most memorable for the carnage it has caused on scorecards. When he triple-bogeyed the 16th hole to essentially knock himself out of contention in the 1960 PGA Championship, Arnold Palmer, then the reigning U.S. Open and Masters champion, said of the hole, “As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s ridiculous.”
He later called it a Monster. And the name stuck.
Palmer’s odyssey began when he drove into a trap and then sent a fairway wood into the rough with his second 100 yards short of the green. He hacked his third toward the green, but he missed and the ball ended up in a drainage ditch. After a penalty drop, he pitched to 25 feet and three putted for his 8.
When he returned for the 1975 PGA Championship and was asked what he remembered about his 16th hole adventure from 15 years earlier, Palmer replied gruffly, “I remember all eight shots.” Arnie did gain a measure of revenge by winning twice at Firestone South, claiming the 1962 and ’67 American Golf Classic.
Today the hole measures 667 yards after it was lengthened again in 2003, making it the longest on the PGA TOUR at a regular tournament site. But there’s a dirty little secret behind that yardage. When course superintendent Brian Mabie measured the hole with a laser from the rear of the runway tee box, his reading was 666. He called Don Padgett II, then the head professional.
“I told Brian lets make it 667. We can’t have it be the ‘Devil Monster,’ says Padgett, who left Firestone in 2004 and recently retired from his job at Pinehurst Resort. “I mean, who was going to fuss over one more yard?”
Through the years, there have been countless players – good ones and great – who have met their “Waterloo” at the Monster. And some who escaped it, too. And some just took it in stride.
One of those was Ben Hogan. Playing in his first PGA Championship since his 1949 automobile accident, Hogan was attempting to putt on the 16th hole during the 1960 PGA while television technicians were fumbling about with cables. Hogan had to step away from his par putt not once but twice.
At least he kept his sense of humor. When he stepped away the second time, he shouted to the workers, “Hey fellas, I’ve spent enough time on this hole already.”
Well, we haven’t spend enough time on it yet. Here are some other tales from, pardon us, Mr. Padgett, the Devil Monster.
Canada’s Al Balding was in contention in the 1961 American Golf Classic when he found disaster at the 16th. As the Akron Beacon-Journal reported, Balding “almost swallowed his cigar he always has stuck in his face when he took a nine.” He did it by hitting two balls into the lake and ended up with a 9-over 79.
Remembering that Palmer had made an eight the year before, Balding cracked, “I guess it isn’t Palmer’s Pond anymore. Now it’s Balding’s Lake.”
Bondeson takes a 10
It didn’t take long before Paul Bondeson, who played plenty of golf in his teen years with Jack Nicklaus at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, to usurp Balding atop the ignominious scoring list.
In the second round of the 1962 American Golf Classic, Bondeson scored a 10 – later tied by Curtis Strange – when he put two balls into the water and a third barely over, perching just on the edge. When he fluffed that shot, Bondeson chucked his club into the pond in frustration. Two putts later, he had a 10-bagger.
"It's all over anyway"
In the final round of the 1964 World Series of Golf, Ken Venturi trailed Tony Lema by two strokes when he came to the 16th. He safely reached the green, but was 45 feet from the hole. He stroked his first putt to within three feet. As he was lining up his par attempt, he heard a photographer tell one of his peers, “Let’s get out of here. It’s all over anyway.”
Upset at the perceived slight, Venturi missed the putt and settled for bogey. “I saw fire when that photographer said that,” said Venturi, who had qualified by winning the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club earlier with an epic final-round while battling heat exhaustion. “I needed that putt. I still had a chance to catch Tony. But after that it really WAS all over.”
Marr joins Crazy-Eight Club
Dave Marr joined the crazy-eight club with Palmer when his triple-bogey at No. 16 in the opening round of the 1966 PGA Championship effectively knocked him out of contention early.
“It was easy,” Marr told reporters. “I drove into a fairway trap in a difficult lie in the new sand, played a safe out, and a safe third shot in the edge of the rough. Then I wedged it into the water, took a drop out, pitched on and two-putted.” Marr ended up with a 75, and ended up T-18 in defense of his PGA title.
Later in the same championship, Sam Snead, in contention after 36 holes, took a double bogey in the third round. The irony was that Snead appeared in a taped instruction show that same afternoon, “to give helpful hints to three golfers at the 16th hole, nicknamed the ‘Monster,’” according to the television listings.
No course record for Jacobs
Tommy Jacobs had visions of bettering Don Bies’ course record of 64 in the first round of the American Golf Classic after making six birdies through his first 15 holes at Firestone South.
He lost the record and the lead when he walked off 16 with a triple bogey thanks to inexplicably shanking his third shot with a wedge. The ball missed the water, but ended up on a gravel walkway. Without taking a drop, he bladed his next shot across the green into high grass. It took him two hacks to get on the green, and then he ingloriously two-putted from just four feet.
“It’s disheartening,” Jacobs said after settling for a 68. “But it’s not the first ball I ever shanked … and I guess it won’t be my last.”
The Golden Bear's "miracle par"
In winning his 14th professional major championship and fourth PGA title, Jack Nicklaus converted what he later called “your routine miracle par” in the third round of the 1975 PGA Championship.
Nicklaus had overtaken Bruce Crampton for the lead, but a bogey or worse looked imminent when he pulled his drive left into a water hazard at the 16th hole. After a penalty drop, he pushed his 6-iron into the right rough behind a large tree about 30 feet high. Bob Rosburg, the former PGA champion who now was working as a television analyst, said Nicklaus was “stone dead. He has to come out sideways.
After considering all options, the Golden Bear decided to crush a 9-iron over the tree from 137 yards out. The ball cleared the tree by inches, landed just over the pond and stopped 30 feet from the pin. He holed the putt for a par, and his 67 gave him a four-shot lead going into the final round. He closed it out easily with a 71. Nicklaus later called the shot, “my biggest gamble in a major.”
The Monster got him back in the 1982 World Series of Golf when it coaxed a 7 out of him in the opening round.
16 haunts Trevino
One of the game’s great ball-strikers, Lee Trevino struck out at the 16th hole in the 1976 World Series of Golf. He dumped two wedge shots in the water and made a nine in the third round to ruin his chances to catch eventual winner Jack Nicklaus. When he returned to Firestone in 1977, he was still fuming about it.
“I’ve been thinking about that (bleep) hole every night,” he told reporters.
Informed that the pond at 16 and on the third hole in front of the green had been enlarged since the year before, the usually Merry Mex was not amused. “That’s one of those good news, bad news jokes, huh? And not very funny.”
Hinkle skips it across the pond
Lon Hinkle overcame a four-stroke deficit to Larry Nelson in the final four holes to capture the 1979 World Series of Golf. But he probably won the event the day before when he saved par on the 16th hole by skipping a shot across the pond.
Hinkle found himself in the right rough with few options when he decided to try the trick shot with a 6-iron. The ball hit the water, skipped twice and skidded onto the green. He two-putted for par. He birdied it in the final round in shooting 67 for a one-stroke victory.
Ken Venturi, who long had been retired and working as lead golf analyst for CBS Sports, went out to the 16th hole after the third round and tried to recreate the shot, Padgett said. “He never could do it.”
Strange's strange 10
And now for Curtis Strange’s strange 10 in the 1986 World Series of Golf. Strange did not factor in the 1985 edition, but he won just enough money at Firestone with his tie for 32nd, $6,750, to surpass Tom Watson’s single season earnings mark.
In 1986, the Monster bit back. After pushing his drive into the right trees, Strange needed two wedge shots to return his ball to the fairway. Then trying to get home with his fourth shot, the ball plopped into the pond. After a penalty drop, he chipped too strongly through the green and against the lip of the back bunker. He chipped again, only to go back over the other side. Another chip and two putts and he had tied Paul Bondeson’s high ringer score.
“It was frustrating,” he said in the aftermath, obviously not yet auditioning for the television career that he enjoys today.
The kicker: Strange won the event in 1987 by three strokes over Fulton Allem.
The Monster beats Daly
With great anticipation from the Akron crowd, John Daly, the new PGA champion and long-ball specialist, was intent on reaching the Monster in two shots when he made his debut in the World Series of Golf. He actually got his first crack at it in a pre-tournament event, the Merrill Lynch Shootout.
Daly uncorked a drive of 345 yards, but the ball found the left rough. He had to pitch out sideways and then found he couldn’t even get there for his third shot. He eventually settled for a bogey. “The Monster is still smiling,” wrote one reporter.
Tiger's four-shot swing
No story about Firestone South is complete without a mention of Tiger Woods, who has won there eight times, tying a record.
Trailing Padraig Harrington by three strokes entering the final round of the 2009 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Woods was one is way to putting the finishing touches on a second straight 65 and a four-stroke win over Robert Allenby.
When they reached the par-5 16th, Woods was a stroke back, but he wouldn’t be for long. Woods knocked his third shot to within a foot. Harrington’s flew the green into deep rough on a downslope. He pitched his next in the water and after a penalty final holed out for a triple bogey.
Nothing like a four-shot swing. Woods won his 16th WGC title in 30 tries.
“I took a 6 and an 8 the last two days, so I certainly think it’s a bit of a monster,” Harrington said after tying for second.
Undoubtedly, he wouldn’t have trouble finding many golfers to agree.