Hazeltine National tests length

Padriag Harrington likes the length at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska.

I wasn’t crazy about it.

Playing as part of the media day for the 91st PGA Championship, Hazeltine tested every bit of length I could muster.

“I think I personally like to see a golf course with length to it, and let the tournament committee adjust the golf course how they see fit during the week, rather than a course that’s too short and leaves for options, to go extreme on the rough or the pin positions,” Harrington said during the press conference.

“In major golf nowadays the best majors are played on golf courses that have options,” he later said. “If the golf course is too short or something like that, it tends to get tricky with pin positions, because that’s the only way of defending it. When you have a bigger, stronger golf course, you can settle for a big golf course, a tough course, but you can set a very fair course.”

Last year, the course was still under some construction. Some tees were being lengthened, and some bunkers were made deeper and bigger.I

found myself in a lot of those bunkers last week. And, on a few occasions, we tested the length.

By August, Hazeltine could play longer than 7,600 yards. That won’t be a problem for the pros.

“Basically you can make the golf course as long as you want, and we’re still capable of getting out there, as long as the weather is good for it,” Harrington said. “I think you wouldn’t want to play that length of golf course, certainly not in Ireland, anyway, where it’s 240 yards, not 300 yards.”

Playing from more conservative tees, we decided to play 6,720 yards on that day.

But on a few holes, we went back.

No. 12 has the potential to be the longest par 4 in championship history. Our tees were supposed to be 420 yards. We played 518. I didn’t fare well.

No. 13 has the potential to be the longest par 3 in championship history. We were supposed to be 195. We played 248. I wasn’t even close.

We played No. 15 at 642 — the longest par 5 in championship history. Our tees were 538. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

By the time it was all said and done, our 6,700-yard round turned into a 7,049-yard round. By adjusting just a few holes, we added more than 300 yards to our round.

According to Jim Remy, the president of the PGA of America, the length is needed.“First of all, I thought it was truly a major championship venue and a venue that really meets the needs of the athletes of 2009,” Remy said. “You know, as we look at this venue today and the athletes that are playing this game of golf in 2009, lengthening the course was certainly the right thing to do. And as we look out and we see that the average length of the par 5s for our championship here at Hazeltine will be about 615 yards, with the longest par 5 being 642 yards. There will be three par 4s over 475 yards, including No. 1 at 490 yards, and I believe No. 12 at 518 yards, and what may be the longest par 3 ever to be played in a major championship or event. So this venue meets the needs of the athletes of really today and this generation in 2009.”

Despite playing ridiculously long, Hazeltine is a true championship venue. The course was challenging, but a solid tee shot leaves the green approachable on most holes.The par 3s aren’t too bad (minus No. 13), and provided some excitement.

Playing No. 8, a 144-yard Par 3, the first player in our group hit a solid shot in the center of the green. With water on the right-hand side and the pin tucked dangerously close to the front right portion of the green, our forecaddie suggested I do the same.

I thanked him for the advice and said I was going for the pin.How many times do you get to play a course like this? Not often. I didn’t step on the course to play it safe.

Instead, I unleashed a shot that flew directly over the pin, coming within 18 inches of acing the hole. Of course, I lipped out the putt and settled for a par.

While the good shots were few and far between, I experienced everything Hazeltine had to offer. I was in the sand, I was in the trees, and I was in the water. My goal was to finish somewhere in the 80s. I’ll just say I missed my goal.

I doubt we’ll see many scores that high come August.