There are big plans for the PGA of America’s new home in Frisco, Texas, including the playing of multiple major championships.
The first of those is taking place this week at the 83rd KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
PGA Frisco officially opened on May 2, with the Beau Welling-designed West course the first to open. The East, designed by the team of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, is already scheduled for 26 championships through 2034.
The Fields Ranch courses are part of the Omni PGA Frisco Resort. The property also serves as the new headquarters for the PGA of America, which previously had been located in South Florida.
How will the East course play? Ahead of the Senior PGA, several players discussed the layout, as did Hanse, the mastermind behind the venue.
Steven Alker, the defending Senior PGA champion, played the East course during a media day gathering recently and again during practice rounds leading up to Thursday.
“It’s kind of hard to get a feel for what’s a good score or what could win. I think it depends on the conditions, obviously, wind and how the golf course plays,” he said. “Yeah, still just getting a feel for the golf course. It’s changed a lot the last month. It’s just matured, and looking green, looking great.
“Tough golf course, and you kind of find out where your game is at and how things are.
“I just think there’s more work to be done for sure when I’m getting used to the golf course and the spots you need to hit it and the spots you don’t. I think, as I said, it’s kind of the unknown a little bit, what to expect, what’s a good score, how exactly it’s going to play.
“I like going to a new golf course personally. I like going to a new golf course and try to scope it out and a bit more work to do and see what’s involved. I kind of like that. I guess we’ll get a feel after one or two rounds exactly how it’s playing, what the scores are going to be, and go from there.
“There’s plenty of room off the fairways, so it’s leaning more towards the approach shot, I think. But saying that, you’ve got to be in the right part of the fairway to get decent angles. There’s a lot of fairways that pinch in pretty close that kind of 280, 290, 300, so you actually have to drive it surprisingly well in places.
“It’s just a solid golf course. I’m not sure what yardage it’s playing at, but it’s long enough. It depends on the wind what it’s going to play.
“But it kind of feels like more of a second-shot golf course, and then around the greens, hitting it in the right place, or if you miss it, miss it in the right place. So that’s going to be key.”
“I’m a professional golfer 25 years and playing golf 45 years. We spend our whole life doing this. We’ve got to this stage now on the quality of the yardage books, we’re nearly good enough to play the golf courses first time out blind.
“Now, not this particular course because this, as I said, has a lot more variation, and there’s a lot more of, that looks okay, and then you go up there and it’s not okay, and there’s other shots out there,’ Oh, God, this is a very difficult shot’, and you go, ‘Okay, this is not so bad’. You definitely want to play a course like this that’s moving around, that’s the potential for a bit of wind. But we’re all pretty good at figuring it out quickly.
“There’s no doubt I will get caught out this week on a couple of shots where I go ‘I didn’t know that’. But I’m prepared to accept that. It’s not going to happen that often. Most of the time I’ll have a good idea of what the challenge is in front of me.
“But you’ve got to think with a Gil Hanse course, there’s always going to be something you didn’t see, something unexpected, and you’re just going to have to take it as it comes.”
“I think every course is unique to itself, and whatever you learned from somewhere else is not going to help you a great deal here.
“I think there’s one hole out there, I don’t remember the holes yet, but it reminded me of the third hole at Augusta. The green is almost a copy of it, almost. As soon as I saw it, I’m going, wow, that looks just like the third green at Augusta. Things like that. But that’s not going to help me in whatever I’ve learned there in the past.”
“No. 1 is a tough tee shot right out of the box with bunkers on the right and you want to get off to a good start.
“Depends on the wind direction. Because even from yesterday [Tuesday]the wind direction we had today was completely opposite from when I played the back nine yesterday.
“I think it’s a golf course where you need to play and really spend some time to figure out how you want to play it, how you want to … what you want to hit off the tee. For me, it’s a lot of drivers just because of the length. It’s almost 7,200 yards for us. So I’ll be hitting driver quite a bit unless it really gets baked out.
“But then all the bunkers. You look out there, and there’s a lot of sand and a lot of high lips, and you have more room than it looks visually, but you need to play it so that you feel confident in where you’re trying to lay balls up on par 5s, where you’re trying to hit your tee shot on par 4s, and then how aggressive you can be on the par 3s based on the pin placement.
“A lot of visual intimidation is what I like to do it, but there is more room out there for what it gets windy than what it looks like to the eye.”
“Incredibly exciting. A little nerve-racking. We were saying it’s not every day you open a golf course and have a major championship be hosted on it.
“We love a little feedback. I guess we’re going to get some this week, and we’ll see how that goes. But we’re very excited, very proud. Jim Wagner, my partner, and I are really proud of what we’ve done and really excited. Took a ride around with Roger Meier, the director of agronomy, and the place looks great.
“It’s an interesting feeling because we’ve been fortunate to work on a lot of restorations of classic golf courses that have hosted major championships, and while we’re fully invested and that’s our work, it’s not our design because we believe strongly that what we’re trying to do is put Tillinghast back into Winged Foot, put Maxwell back into Southern Hills.
“Here it’s just us. It’s our ideas, our thoughts, what we believe about golf architecture, what we think will ultimately provide a good test of golf for the best players in the world. Not that there’s more at stake, but you just feel a little more of a tingle, I think.
“I’m expecting that we’re going to feel a similar sense of pride. We’re going to feel probably a similar sense of relief if everything goes well, which we expect it will, and we get a great champion on Sunday.
“Most of our architecture focuses on playability and design and what we’re trying to do to challenge golfers, whether that be resort golfers or the best golfers in the world. We’re going to get to do both here. So we tend to really enjoy sinking our teeth into that aspect of it. But this project was so complex from the standpoint of it’s not just an 18-hole golf course. It’s a world-class resort. It’s another 18-hole golf course. It’s the PGA of America’s headquarters. It’s practice facilities, short game facility.
“From a land planning perspective, there was a lot more going on here as to the full campus and the design that Beau Welling, who did a great job on the West Course, was very involved in from a land planning standpoint. Then throwing on top of that, the difficulties of this site as it relates to engineering.
“We had to figure out how to get the golf course above the 100-year floodplain level, and then we had to figure out how all that ties in to make those holes look natural.
“So you’ve got all this extra stuff happening, but at the end of the day, when we dug our feet into the dirt here, it was all about what do we think is a compelling test of golf, what do we think are interesting golf holes.
“A lot of that has to do with variety. You see super long par 4s, super short ones … we feel like not only are we looking at it from a scorecard, like okay, a 490 versus 350, it’s really what are the questions we’re asking you to solve.
“I’ve had a few comments and conversations with some of the players here, and probably the greatest compliment we could get is they said ‘I haven’t figured this out yet’ and from an architect standpoint, you really don’t want golfers to figure out. You want them to eventually figure it out, and hopefully, they get the right answers and the answers can be solved, but you’d rather there be some mystery and some figuring out.
“As I said to David Toms, I don’t want to say that this is a great golf course, but what I’m saying is if you play a great golf course, if you ever walked off any great golf course after one round and gone ‘Yeah, I got this, I know exactly where to hit it every single shot’… no. There’s nuances, there’s strategy, there’s subtlety. So Jim and I feel like that’s really an integral part of what we’re trying to create.
“There were a lot of different layers to this, but at the end of the day, what we’re most excited and proud about is what we think is the strategy and the subtleties and the nuances that hopefully every round these guys play on this golf course they’ll come to a better understanding of it.”
“I think the holes that we really enjoyed building were more of the natural ones. I’ve said we found eight holes, and we had to create 10. I think holes 2, 3, 4 and 5 were just naturally there, and we had to embellish them and work around on them, but that stretch of golf I really love. I love the way they sit in the landscape, I love the questions they ask, and I think they’re some of the prettier golf holes on the property. And the same on the back when we got to 13, 14, 15 and 16, that stretch of holes.
“There, I just ruined the surprise. It was the eight holes we found, and the other 10 are the ones we had to create. But from that standpoint, those holes have a great natural flow and feel to them.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek