Wasn’t that just great? One week after a star studded leaderboard for the final round at Colonial, another stacked field heads to Hilton Head, SC for the 2020 RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Here’s everything to know about the tournament before placing any wagers on it.
Like last week, several top players who usually take a pass on Harbour Town Golf Links are taking the trip to Hilton Head to make their debut. Among the top players who will play this tournament for either the first time or the first time in a very long time include Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia and Gary Woodland.
Other notables in the field include Hideki Matsuyama and Tyrrell Hatton, who skipped Colonial last week but make their post-quarantine debut in Hilton Head. Tyrrell Hatton won the final full tournament before the PGA Tour was put on hold. Meanwhile, Hideki Matsuyama fired an opening round 63 at the Players Championship to take the first round lead, only to tragically have that score wiped from the history books when the remainder of the tournament was cancelled. Both look to regain the strong form they showed before the break this week.
Other notables in the field include Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Tony Finau and Collin Morikawa.
For the full field, click here.
The Golf Course
Harbour Town Golf Links is a public golf course designed by Pete Dye in 1967, with consultation from Jack Nicklaus. Though it is definitely on the pricey side for a public golf course, over 38,000 rounds per year are played there and it’s considered one of the bucket list public golf courses an amateur can play in the United States.
From an amateur perspective, this is a wonderful golf course to play. Even from the back tees the golf course is not overly long, the bunkers are relatively shallow and there’s not a whole lot of complex sloping or grading of the greens. However the bermuda greens are very small, averaging only about 3,700 square feet per green. For perspective, the average green side on the PGA Tour is just under 6,600 square feet. Harbour Town has the 2nd smallest greens on the PGA Tour, and are well guarded by water hazards and bunkers as expected from the diabolical Pete Dye.
There are also trees EVERYWHERE. It’s the perfect golf course for the retirees who do nothing but hit every shot dead straight over and over and over. But for those who like to try and cut corners or fight a nasty slice with the driver, this golf course is certainly not for you. Even the longest and highest of hitters won’t be able to cut corners over the oak and palmetto trees, as they’re just too tall to try and hit over them.
Admittedly, this isn’t my favorite of the Pete Dye collection (although having never played it my opinion likely would change based on all the positive feedback it receives). It’s primarily from the perspective of a fan of the PGA Tour – it’s not a very television friendly golf course. With the golf course so tree-lined and the fairways so tight, it’s tough to get a good understanding of where a player is on the golf course because the backdrop of the first 15 holes look mostly the same. The use of shot tracer also takes a hit because the golf course rarely allows a player to take crazy lines off the tee to give the viewer the wow factor when someone tries to be bold.
However, the final three holes of the golf course are a lot of fun, mainly because it starts to open up and it plays along the inter-coastal for some nice views of the ocean on television:
16th Hole – Par 4, 434 Yards
If you took anyone with just a smidge of knowledge about golf architecture and asked them who designed this hole, I bet they’d come up with the right answer. This is such a classic Pete Dye design. The hole is protected down the left side by an large elongated fairway bunker, but it encourages the pro to play towards it so they have a shorter and better angle at most hole locations.
There’s also a tree right smack in the middle of the fairway, though it likely will not create a direct obstruction for players not named Bryson DeChambeau. But for those who play down the right side not only will they have a longer approach in, but on days where the pin location requires a draw the tree provides quite the obstacle for that shot shape. Pete Dye is famous for these tiny little annoyances on a hole to fluster golfers, but it’s a very good hole and one that totally fits in with his style.
17th Hole – Par 3, 174 Yards
This one is played directly into the prevailing winds off the sound and can be an intimidating tee-shot on Sunday if the winds are up. Anything short of the green will either find the marshes short or the small strip of bunker about four feet below the putting surface that they’ll have to blast up towards. In addition, a very narrow rectangular bunker to the right of the green that can create impossible lies and stances to get the ball up and down for par. There’s also a lot of cool tucked pin locations that can be placed here that will make the players visually uncomfortable.
18th Hole – Par 4, 472 Yards
This is the signature hole on the golf course, as it plays towards the famous Hilton Head lighthouse in the distance and requires two forced carries over the marshes and the sound. With the wind coming from the left it will take a very errant hook from a right handed golfer to hit in the water on both the tee-shot and the approach. Still, with water all the way down the left and a large elongated bunker short right of the green, it’s a very intimidating final hole that could provide some fireworks for the tournament if a player does indeed get in trouble.
Notable Golf YouTube Vlogger Mark Crossfield did a film series of Harbour Town in some very challenging wind conditions. Here’s a video of him taking on the final three holes of the golf course:
What was interesting about the revised schedule was that the first two golf tournaments following the lockdown tend to favor similar attributes. Both golf courses aren’t overly long, are protected by dog legs and feature well-guarded small greens. Hitting driver isn’t a necessity at either Colonial or Harbour Town, as positional golf off the tee most of the time is the better strategy than hitting it as far as you can. On golf courses such as these, accuracy, iron play and scrambling are a premium to put yourself in position to shoot low scores.
This is largely borne out when looking at both past leaderboards as well as the relative skill set plot chart of the golf course:
But last week at Colonial kind of broke the mold of what’s supposed to work there. We saw many players be able to overpower the golf course by hitting it over dog legs and play a more bomb and gouge style. Part of this had to do with very hot temperatures that allowed the ball to fly off club faces for higher carry distance. But another significant reason was the field was packed with strong and long players, which generally skip Colonial because it isn’t usually a favorable golf course for them. They dictated how the golf course would play instead of letting the golf course dictate to them how to play, and some of the more traditional betting strategies to pick more accurate tacticians didn’t really pan out.
I don’t think Harbour Town will allow the bomb and gougers to play how they want. For one, there is almost no chance for any of them to try and carry dog legs or hit over the trees, as the trees are too tall and the tee boxes feel very claustrophobic. They’ll have to play the golf course as Pete Dye designed it, meaning positional golf to set up the most optimal approach shot. In addition, the greens are even tinier than they are at Colonial, meaning scrambling will take even more importance this week.
While I’m not advising to immediately scratch off longer premium players from winning at Harbour Town, it’s important to separate this tier of players based on iron play and scrambling abilities. In addition, the shorter tacticians like Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson should be on more equal footing as the other strong players in the field.
In terms of horses for courses, players with at least 12 rounds at Harbour Town who have gained more than 1.5 strokes per round on the field include Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, Branden Grace, Matt Kuchar, C.T. Pan, Russell Knox and Rory Sabbatini. Most of these players fit the mold of the prototypical player who excels at Harbour Town.
Lastly, the closest correlated golf courses on the PGA Tour schedule to Harbour Town include Colonial Country Club, Waialae Country Club, TPC Southwind, Detroit Golf Club and Sea Island. Players in the field this week with great results on these golf courses include Charles Howell III, Kevin Kisner, Webb Simpson, Billy Horschel and Matt Kuchar. That doesn’t mean you have to necessarily pick these players, but rather provides a template of the types of golfers who are expected to play well at Harbour Town.