The Club at Nine Bridges, site of this week’s THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, was the fourth-toughest venue on TOUR last season. High winds played a large part in the course’s difficulty, but so did its large, sloping greens and deep bunkers.
According to several metrics, this week’s venue was the TOUR’s toughest on and around the greens. Players got up-and-down less than half the time at last year’s CJ CUP. The scrambling percentage at Nine Bridges (48.2 percent) was the lowest on TOUR last season. Nine Bridges also had the TOUR’s third-lowest sand-save percentage (39.3).
“The ball, it has a tendency to not sit in great spots around the greens. You know, it always seems to kind of fall away or seems to go down into a bunker,” said last year’s champion, Justin Thomas.
Nine Bridges also had last season’s highest average putts per round (31.3) – that’s almost 0.5 putts more than second-place Monterey Peninsula Country Club -- as well as the lowest one-putt percentage (31 percent) and highest three-putt percentage (6.9 percent). The locals speak of the “Halla Mountain break,” a reference to the large mountain at the center of Jeju Island that influences the flow of the greens.
“The whole golf course is on this side of the big mountain. Sometimes it can look flat but really everything is still going down the mountain,” said Adam Scott.
Nine Bridges’ 73.2 scoring average was the second-toughest at a non-major last season (only PGA National, the site of The Honda Classic, was harder). Thomas also won The Honda, giving him victories at last season's two toughest non-major venues.
He opened last year's CJ CUP with a 9-under 63. Then the winds, and harder hole locations, came and Thomas won by shooting even par over the final 54 holes (74-70-72).
“Putting is so hard in this wind. You can have a 2- or 3-footer and if the wind picks up, you're not going to make it and that's just the fact of the matter,” Thomas said. “So that also goes into the statistics because you're not making as many putts, percentages aren't going to be as high. A lot goes into it, but the wind is definitely a huge factor, but the design of the golf course and the greens are also very influential.”
Nine Bridges gets harder the closer a player gets to the hole. Many South Korean courses are claustrophobic, but Nine Bridges’ wide fairways were the third-easiest to hit last season (72.4 percent). Players hit nearly 70 percent of the greens last year, as well. Only 12 courses had a higher greens-in-regulation-percentage.
The high winds and large greens impact the putting statistics because players who don't hit it close are left with long, difficult birdie putts instead of chips and pitches from off the green.
The rough is lower this year but the greens are firmer. And it’s going to be cool and windy once again. The temperature isn’t expected to exceed 62, and the winds could blow over 20 mph in the first two rounds.
“It’s always windy here. It’s just a matter of how windy,” Thomas said.
That means players will need to be precise with their ball-striking if they want to win this week. Saving par is no easy task at Nine Bridges.