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Haigh Describes Set-up for Ocean Course
Kerry Haigh is the man responsible for setting up the host venues of the PGA Championship. The 94th version of golf's final major of the year starts Thursday on the Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.
As the managing director of championships and business development for the PGA of America, Haigh has been involved in getting the courses ready for over 20 years. Instead of making the set-ups overly difficult - like some have categorized those for past U.S. Opens over the decades - Haigh is known for making his courses "fair but challenging."
That may be true, but Haigh has no control over the weather, and the Ocean Course is just that: a layout situated alongside the Atlantic that can be severely difficult when oceanic winds sweep across its exposed fairways.
Winds - predicted this week to be mild, ranging from 7-13 miles per hour - might not be an issue. But the weather forecast calls for a 30 to 40 percent chance of rain, with a threat of thunderstorms all four days of the PGA Championship.
Before a media gathering Tuesday, Haigh sat down and discussed this year's venue. He also addressed the PGA's "Condition of Play" policy regarding the Ocean Course's bunkers. As a result of the ruling, players will be allowed to move loose impediments, take practice swings and ground their clubs lightly in these sandy areas except when their ball lies in such a sandy area that is part of a water hazard or lateral water hazard. Under the Rules, if a player's ball is believed to be covered by sand anywhere on the course he may move the sand without penalty, in order to find or identify the ball.
All sandy areas inside the gallery rope line will be raked each morning prior to play. During play, as strokes or practice swings are made, or players and others walk through such areas, footprints and other irregularities of surface may develop. Rakes will be available so that these areas may be smoothed as a courtesy to following players. However, these surface irregularities - when not smoothed - are a part of the game and no relief, without penalty, will be provided.
The PGA of America's announcement differs from the Condition of Play during the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., where all areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers were played as bunkers.
That condition at Whistling Straits severely hurt Dustin Johnson, who entered the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead. After appearing to bogey the hole to fall into a tie with Bubba Watson and eventual champion Martin Kaymer and be part of a three-hole aggregate-score playoff, Johnson - according to officials who watched video replays - ruled that he grounded a club in a bunker, thus resulting in a two-shot penalty. Instead of having a chance to win his first major title the South Carolinian missed the playoff and ended up tied for fifth. What differentiates the courses is that at Kiawah Island the sand is natural to the surrounding
Here's what Haigh had to say during his press conference.
MODERATOR: Kerry Haigh, the managing director of championships and business development for the PGA of America, joining us at the 94th PGA Championship. Kerry, you have more than 20 years being involved with course setups for PGA Championships. Can you talk a little bit first about the unique nature of the Ocean Course and preparing for this PGA Championship, please?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, thank you, Kelly, and good morning, everyone. It's a great pleasure to be here at the Ocean Course. And indeed, '91 in the Ryder Cup we were all here, or some of us were here, and it's truly an exciting place to play golf. We're really looking forward to a great championship week. The golf course is in outstanding condition. Jeff stone, the superintendent, and his grounds crew have done a yeoman's job in putting together almost perfect conditions for the 94th PGA Championship.
We are very excited about the Paspalum greens which I think are rolling beautifully, and certainly the fairways are in outstanding condition, and as you know and as we released last week, we are playing the golf course with no bunkers. There are an awful lot of sandy areas out there, and we are, I guess, referring to them as sandy areas. There are natural we are going to prepare all those sandy areas inside the roped area every morning, but we are playing those areas, all the sandy areas as through the green. So players will be able to take practice swings, they will be able to ground their club, and they will be able to move loose impediments in those sandy areas.
We are going to put rakes in and around many of those sandy areas inside the ropes, and we have posted a notice to the players, mainly to ask them as a courtesy to other players, to kind of rake those areas after they're finished if they cause severe damage; but as there is so much sandy areas, there is still likely to be footprints, tire tracks, etcetera, both inside the ropes and outside the ropes. This is exactly the same way that it was played in '91 at the Ryder Cup and at other two our major championships that we played here at the Ocean Course, the Senior PGA Championship and our Professional National Championship. We think it's the fairest and the best way to play. It's certainly a unique golf course, which warrants this.
As you've seen, for those of you who have been out on the course, there are some areas of sand that start at the green, and they literally go the entire length of the hole, and in some cases all the way down paths and all the way out onto the beach. To try and ask players to determine which would be bunkers and which are not, this is how we feel it is the best way to play it, and we're certainly very comfortable and have notified all the players at registration of the situation.
Q. You mentioned that the bunker situation was the same as in '91 and at the Senior. Was there a delay in making the announcement then, and if it was the same as 20 years ago, why did you only announce it last week?
KERRY HAIGH: It's something that we would normally not choose to announce, local rules such as this, but we thought just because it is a unique situation that we should make the announcement last week so that people had time to digest it, to understand it. But I would say it's certainly something that we're not proposing clubs should do at their own clubs. These are unique circumstances to this specific golf course, and we are certainly very supportive of the R&A and the USGA rules of golf, and it is because of the uniqueness of its design that we are adopting this rule for this week.
Q. But there was never any consideration of having them play as you normally would, as bunkers around the green, or was there?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, I think every time you go to a venue, you do look at it. Things change over time. And yes, there are more areas of sand now than there were in '91 that are totally encircled with grass or fairway grass. But still, there are probably 30 or less than 30 that have reasonable areas of grass around them, but there's way more that have sand that go forever. To try and make it fair and understandable for the players, this is certainly how we think it should be played.
Q. You said you ran this by players when they showed up. What kind of feedback did you get from players about it?
KERRY HAIGH: I'm not sure, ran by players. We notified all the players in registration, gave them a notice of exactly how we are going to play it. Those who have played it before, anyone who's played this golf course, this is how they play it day in, day out, so anyone who comes and visits the Ocean Course play it exactly the same way. I think - I'm sure you've talked to players, and hopefully they understand it's certainly making it fair for everyone and understandable for everyone.
Q. Do you think the general public will have a perception that this was done as a reaction to what happened to Dustin at Whistling Straits?
KERRY HAIGH: I certainly hope not. I think, as I say, we look at each golf course on its own, on its own merits, and this is totally different design, a unique design. It's all sand based. Whistling Straits is not all built on sand. So I think our aim is certainly to talk with all the television announcers so that they fully understand the reasoning and to describe it because they're not waste areas. We're playing them as through the greens. So I think the best description we have, or we've talked about, is to call them sandy areas, because that's truly what they are.
Q. Separately, with the amount of rain that we appear to be getting, how much does that affect how you set the course up in terms of length?
KERRY HAIGH: Yeah, the rain is certainly one part of the unique characteristics of playing right on the ocean. The weather is a very important part of what we'll be looking at all week. In terms of the golf course setup, my best friends this week will be the weather people, Stewart and Brad, who I spend a lot of time with, both in the evenings setting up and in the morning, before we and our rules committee go out and set the golf course up. So much is dictated by the wind strength and the wind direction. And as we've seen in the three, four days we've been here, the wind changes constantly, not only from day to day but during the day based on the tide. Absolutely we'll be looking at it. The good news is it's on sand and it dries out very quickly. So we just need a couple of days of nice breeze and some drying sun, and we'll be in beautiful shape.
Q. When you talk to players, almost all of them when you ask about the PGA, they call it the fairest test. Do you take that as a compliment or do you think they're calling you a softy?
KERRY HAIGH: We look at every golf course for the PGA Championship and try and look at it and set it up in a way that we think is fair but challenging, and that's all we can do at every venue. I was at Oak Hill last week for next year's PGA Championship. We had a trial run there and started looking at the rough heights and the green speed. And that's what we do at every PGA Championship is to try and plan ahead and think how we can test the players that are the greatest players in the world, and our aim is just to showcase the golf course, work with the architect, and hopefully provide a great test for the players that they can enjoy the challenges that the golf course offers.
Q. You referred to the unique test at this golf course, sets itself up to play the sandy areas. Not trying to confuse the two, but would Whistling Straits set itself up to play sandy areas, as well, when the PGA goes back there?
KERRY HAIGH: Yeah, Whistling Straits, we looked at that very hard, and we felt it was pretty clear that all the bunkers that were built as bunkers and designed to be bunkers we played as bunkers. So we made it very clear to every player, again, and we posted it, that everything that looked like a bunker, was shaped like a bunker was played like a bunker, be it inside or outside the ropes. There was certainly a lot clearer definition of those areas at Whistling Straits, and I certainly would anticipate playing it the same way in 2015 as we did in 2010 and as we did in 2004 and in 1999. Our aim is to be consistent and try not to trap players or make it so they can make mistakes, and I think by making them all one or all the other is the best and fairest way to do it.
Q. When you did the pairings, did Davis ask to play with Phil?
KERRY HAIGH: The pairings, we have a formula for the pairings, and all PGA Champions play together, and however they came out, that was how it came out. We don't take player requests for any pairings, no, sir.
Q. So Davis didn't ask for it?
KERRY HAIGH: We don't take any player requests for pairings of any kind, no.
Q. You can always set up these holes like the par 4s that are drivable to have kind of par holes. Will you do that more on the weekend after the cut, or will you do that the first two rounds with the big field?
KERRY HAIGH: Setting up the golf course, both the drivable par 4s and the reachable par 5s, I think so much, as I say, depends on the weather and the forecast and the wind strength and direction. We will certainly work closely with the weather to determine which, if any, holes we may or may not move around. Likelihood we'd probably not do it in the first round probably for making any par 4 drivable. But other than that, I think any round would be open.
Q. Can you talk about what your biggest concerns are this week with this golf course, and obviously the differing weather patterns?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, I think that is the great dynamic of this golf course. The mystique of it is you never know what you're going to get, and that includes the weather, the rain, the wind, the look and the feel of it. So that is what to me excites me and hopefully excites a lot of players to come here and play what is a truly great and beautiful golf course.
Q. Clearly there were some logistical hurdles having the championship here. Through a day and a half, what are your early impressions?
KERRY HAIGH: Again, I think it's fair to say the Ocean Course is a unique venue to hold a major championship, but we have a superb tournament staff, championship staff. David Charles and Brett Sterba and Roger Warren, the general chairman, have worked with all the local community, local authorities to put together a traffic plan, a parking plan and a movement of the people plan. So we are very pleased, very excited with the way it has gone so far yesterday. Just like every championship there are kinks that we will work out, continue to work out.
But no, I think park and ride is certainly what we do at most of our championship sites. It makes the spectators' convenience sitting in a bus watching a video reading a book is a very comfortable way to come and attend the golf championship. We're very happy and very appreciative of the support from everyone in the community and the state and the county who have supported it.
Q. If you look at the long term weather forecast, there's a lightning bolt every day. Has there been any concern or consideration about the lack of shelter on the golf course for spectators and any emergency evacuation plans given inclement weather?
KERRY HAIGH: I think the weather emergency plan is the same as it is at every championship. At no championship do we ever want or ask or want people to stay out on the golf course. Our plan is to evacuate the golf course, and in this case it's no different. If we get a delay for lightning, we will evacuate the golf course and take the spectators back on the buses back to the parking lot. It is no different than any other venue that we play any of our championships on. We do not want or recommend anyone to stay out on the golf course with or without trees or shelter because it is - that's why we bring the players in.
Q. Fifteen years ago there hadn't been any major championships in the South, and now there's some regular venues, and this is the first one in South Carolina. Can you talk about between the weather, the logistics, the agronomy, what finally turned the tide in taking a look at some of these places in the South?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, I'm not sure - I think we at the PGA Championship have played certainly quite a number of events in the southern states. But I do think over the last few years with the improvement in the agronomy, the types of grasses has certainly made our job easier in many respects in terms of warm season grasses and warm season weather in the middle of August is a lot easier to prepare and certainly presents an unbelievably outstanding putting surface here and last year in Atlanta, as opposed to trying to grow bentgrass in these same climates in August; when as we all know it's the most difficult time of year to try to prepare a golf course with cool season grasses in the middle of August. So we're very happy that many facilities are using the newer type grasses which allow us to provide championship quality conditions in August.
MODERATOR: Kerry Haigh, thank you very much for your time.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.