TOUR Insider: Pros enjoy Harbour Town's tiny greens

Lecka/Getty Images
The bunkers may be large, but the greens at Harbour Town are very small compared to other courses on the PGA TOUR.
April 15, 2009
Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

HILTON HEAD, S.C. -- When the world's best golfers come to Harbour Town each year, they are greeted by greens that are at least 30-40 percent smaller than the typical PGA TOUR venue. Not that they're complaining, though.

"This course is great," said Charles Howell III. "I wish we could play more like this."

COLUMN-Awtrey-183x90.jpg

The average green at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of this week's Verizon Heritage, is 3,700 square feet, while a typical course on the PGA TOUR has greens that measure around 6,600 square feet, such as at Doral. The greens at Bay Hill and Quail Hollow average 6,500 square feet; at Redstone, it's 6,700. The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, site of the Transitions Championship, averages a super-sized 8,024.

Harbour Town is definitely a petite in a world of extra larges.

"Greens have to fit the golf course," Howell said. "These fit this course. It has a small feel to it. Some courses, like the big TPC courses, need big greens; they fit. These greens fit this course very well."

So this week, perhaps more than any other time during the season, the emphasis isn't on distance. Anyone who focuses on simply ripping it isn't likely to be around for the weekend.

"I like it because it weeds out bad ball strikers," said Stewart Cink, a two-time winner of the event. "You have to plan your shots and be able to escape from trouble when you hit it in the trees."

Harbour Town stretches out to just 6,973 yards and plays to par 71. There are plenty of live oaks and pine trees -- and an occasional alligator -- lining the holes. Most of the greens on the Pete Dye design are guarded by bunkers and loaded with subtle breaks.

"I love courses like this," said Jeev Milka Singh. "You have to think your way around the course and you really have to manage your game. It's all about management."

Average green sizes
Course Tournament Avg. green
in square feet
Harbour Town Verizon Heritage 3,700
TPC Sawgrass THE PLAYERS Champ. 4,500
Riviera CC Northern Trust Open 4,666
Bay Hill Club Arnold Palmer Inv't 6,500
Doral Resort WGC-CA Championship 6,600
Redstone GC Shell Houston Open 6,700
Innisbrook Resort Transitions Champ. 8,024
Source: Golf Course Superintendents Association of America

Players who think their way around the course this week should be rewarded by some potential birdie putts. Since the greens aren't big, anything on the putting surface is within range.

"You kind of get the feeling if you are striking it well and you hit the greens, you can make a bunch of birdies, because you are never going to have too many long putts," Steve Flesch said. "Because they are so small there isn't a whole lot of undulation in them, no big humps or bumps and bruises in there, which is nice. So if you're striking the ball well you can shoot a low number."

The list of Verizon Heritage winners reveals its affinity for guys who aren't limited to bombing it. Boo Weekley has won the last two tournaments. Justin Leonard won here (in 2002), as did Jose Coceres (2001).

"It's all about precision of how far you've got to hit it," Weekley said. "If you can do that you'll play well here."

It is definitely possible to score at Harbour Town, although just 23 players have posted all four rounds in the 60s in the first 40 tournaments. The course record is 61, set in 1994 by David Frost, who was never considered a monster off the tee. Peter Lonard opened with a 62 in 2005 and led wire-to-wire. Cink shot a final-round 64 to win in 2004.

"What this course does is it puts people into two camps psychologically," Cink said. "You either get into the camp where you feel like you're in jail because of the trees and how close everything is and the small greens, or you feel like your goal is well defined by the small target. I think I go in the second camp, so I just feel at ease."

Most embrace the difference.

"Heath Slocum told me I'd love this one," Weekley said. "He was right."

Stan Awtrey is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.