The RBC Heritage is often considered as the breath of fresh air following the torment and grind of the season’s first major. In this year’s case, it’s the calm after the windstorm. However, there’s more at stake this week than what meets the eye of fans still fixated on history.
Many in the field of 132 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, are seeking to become the latest first-time winner on the PGA TOUR – the last three weeks have featured breakthroughs in Puerto Rico (Tony Finau), Houston (Jim Herman) and Augusta, Georgia (Danny Willett) – while others are on various paths to exemptions into THE PLAYERS and the remaining three majors. There’s also the matter of automatically qualifying for the Olympics and Ryder Cup that continues. And, of course, this week’s champion becomes the first winner of a non-major to gain entry into the 2017 Masters.
No, it’s not so much the competition that relaxes the shoulders, it’s the serenity along the Calibogue Sound, and it will appear a little different to the keenest of eyes this week. Since last year’s edition of the RBC Heritage, Harbour Town has undergone a renovation. It’s been the recent buzzphrase since the Valspar Championship. In fact, Harbour Town joins Copperhead, Bay Hill and Austin Country Club as having been fitted with new TifEagle Bermudagrass on its greens. You’ll note that the last two stops included in the update are Pete Dye designs. Harbour Town has also been equipped with freshly laid Celebration Bermuda on the tee boxes, fairways and rough. New irrigation was also installed to increase sustainability.
In terms of its design, the most notable changes occurred at holes 2, 5, 16 and 17. The par-5 fifth has an elevated fairway that has been shifted left about 15 yards. The hole can now play up to 549 yards, nine longer than its previous maximum. The par-4 16th remains 434 yards, but the bunker on the left of the target off the tee now has areas of grass in it to increase the premium of finding the fairway. And for the record, the par-3 17th is down 11 yards to its current measurement of 174 yards. Overall, at 7,099 yards, Harbour Town is two yards shorter than it played in the last four years. It’s still a par 36-35=71.
It’s also still a shot-maker’s track, although it was a scorer’s racetrack last year. Its scoring average of 70.490 in 2015 is a tournament low since data was first maintained in earnest in 1983. Part and parcel with that is the fact that the field hit 61.21 percent of the greens in regulation. That’s a tournament high since that stat was first recorded in 1992 and just the third time that it’s eclipsed 60 percent.
Harbour Town’s distance of all drives averaged just 264.3 yards, shortest on TOUR for the second consecutive season and in line with its history. Because the greens average just 3,700 square feet, it’s not surprising that it was the easiest track to one-putt. Last year’s clip was 44.97 percent. Jim Furyk ranked fourth in the all-around and led the field in scrambling en route to his playoff victory over Kevin Kisner last year after the duo completed regulation in 18-under 266. The defending champ will not be competing this week, however, as he continues to recover from having surgery on his left wrist.
Remnants of a weather system can’t be ruled out early on Thursday, but the remainder of the forecast is favorable. Increasing sunshine will yield gradually higher temperatures from the upper 60s to low 70s. This will leave typically moderate breezes to help defend Harbour Town.