It was last year when modifications to Harbour Town Golf Links were expected to draw attention, not this year. But as we all know, Mother Nature rules all.
Nearly six months after the conclusion of the 2016 RBC Heritage, Hurricane Matthew bore through the Southeast. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, was not spared. Winds gusts reaching 88 mph were recorded. As a result, more than 265 trees were removed from Pete Dye's usually sleepy site along the Calibogue Sound.
The second consecutive, albeit unintentional, course work was entirely a reaction to the storm. A couple dozen new trees were planted, some to retain the shot-shaping required to excel in the tournament, but it was a very different job compared to the new grass planted throughout the property in advance of last year's edition.
Among other notables, Tuesday's Fantasy Insider will include former RBC Heritage champions Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.
Not unlike most golf courses, Harbour Town has little defense for the wind, but situated along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the challenge is a little more straightforward since there isn't as much swirling as, say, the field experienced during the first two rounds of last week's Masters at Augusta National, which is tucked into a inland hillside.
Strong, steady breezes ballooned scoring in all four rounds of the RBC Heritage last year. The field of 132 averaged 72.285, second-highest in an 11-year span to only 2012 when the clip was just 0.003 strokes higher. Branden Grace's 9-under 275 on the par 36-35=71 equaled the highest winning aggregate in that same stretch. Expect more of a field-friendly pace this week as seasonable conditions are expected throughout. This includes moderate winds at worst, daytime highs in the mid-70s and no rain.
Statistically speaking, Harbour Town is a second-shot track, but everyone who has played the course will agree that positioning off the tee is just as vital as accuracy on approach. It's just that at 7,099 yards and listing a TOUR-low average of 267.9 yards in distance of all drives, it's a test for slashers of 3-woods and irons.
Thanks in part to the wind, Harbour Town's greens-in-regulation split of 54.90 percent was second-lowest of all courses last season. That's not much of a deviation from its norm, but its proximity-to-the-hole average of 38 feet, one inch (T9) was measurably longer than usual. And that's saying something given the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens are among the smallest of the season at just 3,700 square feet. As Tuesday's Comfort Zone will illustrate, hitting GIR and a sharp short game will define the champion again this week.
On an aside, with a scoring average of 3.441, the 14th hole was the hardest of the 201 par 3s played in all of 2015-16. Of the 417 scores recorded last year, there were 147 scores of bogeys or worse, including a whopping 60 doubles.
ROB BOLTON’S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week’s event. Look for the following columns this week.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Comfort Zone, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
THURSDAY: Expert Picks (PGA TOUR Champions), Ownership Percentages in PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf and One & Done presented by SERVPRO
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.