For P.G.A. Championship, Harding Park is a Muni Fit for a Major

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SAN FRANCISCO – Less than three weeks ago, T.P.C. Harding Park, a golf course owned by the city, roamed tramps of all levels. Those were just another busy day at the local muni.

Harding Park plays about 65,000 rounds in a typical year, plus another 30,000 on the nine-hole course, tucked into the 18-hole layout, the city said. Some only pay about $ 50 per round, depending on where you live and the demand of the day.

But this week, the best golfers in the world descended on Harding Park for the P.G.A. Championship, the first men's major in this Corona virus-modified season.

"It's a golf course for big boys," said Brooks Koepka, the two-time defending champion. & # 39; Difficult place. Difficult setup. "

It sounds like a magic trick: how can the same piece of grass and trees go from being so accessible to recreational golfers to an ominous one for the pros?

The transformative task has been largely taken up by Kerry Haigh, Chief Championships Officer of the PGA of America, and the local parks and recreation teams that are maintaining the course even this week.

Their method made the most use of time, imagination and geometry, all made more difficult by the availability of Harding Park for its regular customers until July 17

“Create start times every day from sunrise to sunset "It's a challenge for everyone to grow grass and prepare a championship-style golf course because it's hard to even get on the course and work efficiently," said Haigh. "You should stay away from golfers who don't always do well."

Harding Park has previously held PGA Tour events, including the 2009 Presidential Cup, but this will be the first major tournament. Compared to the few other U.S. municipal courses in its elite class, such as Bethpage Black on Long Island and Torrey Pines in San Diego, Harding Park feels comfortably unspectacular, like a familiar bar. That is its charm.

Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the city's Recreation and Park Department, recently came across a newspaper article on the runway's opening day on July 18, 1925. The account called it "the most pretentious wave." 39; of course, every congregation in the world can boast. & # 39;

Ginsburg laughed when he read it. Nearly a century later, Harding Park is “ perhaps the most unpretentious site ever to host a major, '' he said.

That reputation owes as much to the location as it does to the lack of intention to impress the course. flourishes like those in disguised country clubs elsewhere. Harding Park is an urban playground adjacent to San Francisco State University. One side is lined by dormitories and apartment buildings on a busy boulevard, enclosed by a chain link. There is no chateau-style clubhouse, and amidst cart pulling, golfers are carrying bags joggers and dog walkers. You can take the Muni, San Francisco's transit system, to get there.

But the track is blessed with a classic layout – sleek fairways bordered by majestic cypress trees, the front nine folded into a rear nine rolling down Lake Merced. It's all been made unpredictable by San Francisco's famously cool summer breeze and fog. Temperatures this week are expected to be in the 50's and 60's.

"If you're a little picky about your golf climate, Harding is not for you," Ginsburg said.

It's Harding The key features of Park – trees, bunkers and the lake – that Haigh accentuated to test the best golfers in the world.

Harding Park will play longer this week at 7,251 meters, about 800 meters from the white tees that the locals know. But extending a course is the easy part. Haigh said he spent most of his time calculating angles, trying to force golfers to use their mental protractors to conquer the course this weekend. Fairways were narrowed between thick rough and some were shifted to one side or the other to bring more trees and bunkers into play.

"I'm a big believer that if you can get a golfer to think and sort through strategizing, then they – and we enjoy – the game much more," said Haigh.

The city teams of Haigh and Ginsburg also took some counterintuitive measures. Locals may notice that the longer grass that delayed streaking in many fairway bunkers has disappeared.

"If you're going to design the track, if you want to have bunkers and spend all this money on bunkers," Haigh said, "why don't balls roll in? "

For example, the par-4 13th hole, with 30 extra yards this tournament, has a fairway bunker and a curved cypress on the right, obstacles for golfers who dare to cut the corner. The par-4 16th, a sharper dogleg on the right with water on the left, may be passable for some, if they can trust their blur and knock it over or around trees.

"With the overhang of these cypresses, there can be are a few lost balls, "Tiger Woods said of the course he played as an amateur and where he won the 2005 WGC / American Express Championship." Cut a corner and the ball hangs over it. "

Haigh said he does not change course in view of projected scores, but the changes in the course – the length, the angles, the rough, the faster greens – probably add 10 strokes to the difficulty of Harding Park where locals usually has to do with it The scoring will also be tougher, with a par at 70 instead of the usual 72.

This year's changes faced unusual hurdles – mainly golfers' persistent use of Harding Park and the pandemic that affected the calendar. of the major championships.

The tournament was scheduled for May. The original plan was to build the tournament infrastructure for four months – grandstands, television stations, etc. – and close the course to the public just two weeks before the tournament.

But the onset of the coronavirus postponed the tournament to August. It also closed the course for golfers – but not for gardeners – from mid-March to early May. However, there was a lot of public play when the course reopened in late June and most of July. The P.G.A. of America had announced that there would be no fans at the tournament.

That changed all types of logistics. Grandstands were demolished and removed. There would no longer be a need for catering suites in the hallway or most concessions and toilets. There was no demand for parking and shuttles for tens of thousands of fans, no use of volunteer armies and marshalls.

The huge tent set up for a planned department store was converted into the players' dressing room. The planned dressing room became the reduced media center.

Fairways and greens are still bordered by ropes to prevent workers, reporters and others from scattering into action. But players will be able to stroll from green to tee without a lot of fans.

During practice rounds early this week, sometimes the only sound-saluting golfer was the snap of colorful trash bags hanging on stands around the course, fluttering in a sharp sea breeze.

Gone is the crowd of the championship's most public golf courses.

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