Nine things about Nine Bridges
October 17, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- The 568-yard closing hole at Nine Bridges offers two lines for risk and reward. (Nine Bridges photo)
The newest event on the PGA TOUR is also the first of its kind. THE CJ CUP @NINE BRIDGES is the first regular-season TOUR event to be held in Korea, coming just two years after the Presidents Cup was successfully held outside Seoul. Here are nine things you should know about this week’s tournament on Jeju Island.
1. GROWTH OPPORTUNITY. Of the 78 players in the field, 60 are based off the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup list. The other 18 are from a mixed exemption list, including sponsor exemptions K.J. Choi and Sangmoon Bae, along with three Korean players via world rankings and two Asian Tour players.
Five players came via the Korean PGA Tour – Jinho Choi, Jung-gon Hwang, Hyungjoon Lee, Junghwan Lee and Seunghyuk Kim. Hwang, at No. 173 in the world, is the highest-ranked player of the five.
It was important for tournament officials to provide playing opportunities for KPGA Tour members, allowing them to experience golf at its highest level. One of the goals of having a PGA TOUR event in Korea is to encourage young players to aspire to golf’s highest level.
“The prize ($9.25 million) is 10 times bigger than any tournament,” Choi said. “It’s the biggest golf event in Korea. Many young players will look at the PGA TOUR now and say they could play there. I think it will have a really good impact.”
Added Seoul native Whee Kim, who made the field on the basis of his FedExCup ranking, “It will be a good experience for them. It’s a great opportunity to play a PGA TOUR event with a big purse.
“In the future, we’re hoping more Korean players are going to come out on TOUR. Maybe the CJ will be a really good start for them.”
In all, there are 17 players from Korea in the field, along with three Korean-born players who were raised in other countries. (James Hahn and Kevin Na in the U.S.; Danny Lee in New Zealand).
2. TOP PICK. Based on critical reviews, Nine Bridges is the best course in Korea. Golf Digest has ranked it No. 1 in Korea for six consecutive years and listed it at 79th among the world’s greatest 100 courses. Golf magazine, citing Nine Bridges’ “tranquil setting, with holes etched into pine-clad, rolling topography,” listed it 41st among its top 100 world list.
Chi Chi Rodriguez once called it the “Taj Mahal of golf” because every hole looked like a postcard.
3. FIRST-TIMER. Surprisingly, Korea’s most famous and successful golfer has never played Nine Bridges until this week. K.J. Choi, an eight-time TOUR winner – including the 2011 PLAYERS Championship – grew up in Wando, an island that’s just 60 miles north of Jeju Island across the Yellow Sea.
When Choi earned his TOUR card in 1999, he moved to the United States; meanwhile, Nine Bridges did not open until 2001. Thus, while Choi has visited Jeju Island many times in his life, he never had a chance to play the course until a practice round on Sunday.
Any other reasons why he’s never played the course?
“Very exclusive membership,” Choi said with a smile. “Only members and guests.”The 471-yard 10th hole at Nine Bridges offers a stern test to open the back nine. (Nine Bridges photo)
4. DIFFERENT LOOK. K.J. Choi will not be alone in his unfamiliarity with Nine Bridges. In fact, even the PGA TOUR pro who grew up on Jeju Island doesn’t expect to recognize the place.
Sung Kang, who was born in Jeju City, said the last time he played Nine Bridges was “15 years ago. I heard they fixed it a lot, redid it. I may remember a few holes.”
Whee Kim said he played nine holes in 2007 while in national team training. Like Kang, he said the course has been updated, “added some bunkers and hazards around the greens. Could be different than what I remember.”
While Kang may not recognize the course, he won’t be surprised if the weather is dicey this week.
“Where the golf course is, it can be really nice or it can be really bad,” Kang said. “Where I grew up, it may be sunny and 80 degrees – and where the course is, it may be 40 degrees and windy. It’s going to be windy.”
5. PRO EXPERIENCE. Nine Bridges is hosting a TOUR event for the first time, but it’s not the first professional event at the course. The CJ Nine Bridges Classic, Korea’s first LPGA tournament, was played there from 2002-05. Fittingly, legendary Korean golfer Se Ri Pak – who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007 – won the inaugural event, battling poor conditions for a six-stroke win. At 3 under, she was the only player under par.
The 2005 event, also played in tough weather (cold temperatures, wind and rain) was won by Jee Young Lee, who was then 19 years old and one of 12 players in the field from the Korean LPGA.
Speaking of Korean women golfers …
6. KOREAN IMPACT. In the latest Rolex Rankings, 41 of the top 100 women’s players in the world are from Korea. That includes 11 of the top 20. From the men’s perspective, three of the world’s top 100 are from Korea – reigning PLAYERS champion Si Woo Kim (39), Ben An (78) and Jeunghun Wang (86), the latter playing mostly on the European Tour.
Just outside the world’s top 100 is Sung Kang, the runner-up earlier this year at the Houston Open. He had an interesting theory on why Korean women golfers are having more of an impact than their male counterparts.
“The women don’t have a decided disadvantage physically,” Kang said. “I think we’re at a disadvantage to the Americans. We’re a little smaller, a little weaker. The Americans (men) are stronger, taller, bigger.”
Plus, he added, Korean men must serve a mandatory two years in the military, usually between the ages of 20-25. That wipes out two key developmental years. Sangmoon Bae just returned from his two years of service and said the only chance he was able to play golf was during vacations with his parents.
Kang is confident that the Korean men can one day make a bigger impact on the PGA TOUR.
“We’re really trying hard,” he said. “The Koreans are probably the people that work the hardest on TOUR. We practice a lot, more than the other players. But it’s hard. Guys are good on this TOUR.”
7. COOL TROPHY. The tournament trophy is engraved with the names of every player in the field, utilizing the Korean alphabet known as Hangeul. The names are showcased using Jikji, which was confirmed by UNESCO in 2001 as the world’s oldest metalloid type. Once the winner is determined, his name will be accentuated in gold.
The wooden bridge at the base of the trophy symbolizes the bridge to the 18th hole at Nine Bridges.The tournament trophy is engraved with the names of every player in the field. (Submitted photo)
8. MOUNT HALLA. At 6,400 feet, the highest mountain in South Korea is Mount Halla, the massive shield volcano in the center of Jeju Island. According to ExtremeScience.com, shield volcanos are “the more quiescent, lumbering giants of the volcano world,” with gently, sloping sides formed by lava eruptions.
If you’ve ever seen the sunrise at the top of Haleakala in Maui, then you’re quite familiar with shield volcanos. It’s also why some have referred to Jeju Island as the “Maui of Korea.”
The course, which consists of two nines (the Highland Course and Creek Course) is near the base of the mountain.
9. EIGHT YOU CAN CROSS. If you happen to find yourself at Nine Bridges, you may notice there are just eight bridges on the course. Each of the actual bridges is made of stone and provides access over one of the course’s water features. As for the ninth bridge? It’s actually a metaphoric one -- the bridge between the club and its golf-playing members and guests.