PGA adds length to give golfers a tougher course to play

DULUTH, Newsday

It didn’t surprise Jim Furyk one iota when he perused the yardages to this week’s PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Duluth, Ga., and saw numbers that seemed to grow larger by the hole.

He hadn’t even planted a foot in the Bermuda rough that covers the 7,213-yard, par-70 layout before he was envisioning a golf course that will test and demand and call for as much length as his golf bag can carry.

Furyk’s thoughts could be boiled down to one overriding sentiment: honey, they grew the golf course.

“I know it’s a long course on the card,” said Furyk, who did a little research before actually playing the Highlands Course, where the tournament will be contested beginning Thursday. “They made some changes and I heard a lot of the changes are very good. It’s long and demanding. But you expect that from a major championship.”

The golf course, which last hosted the PGA Championship in 1981 when Larry Nelson was victorious, was lengthened some 150 yards for this year’s tournament, golf’s final major of 2001.

Architect Rees Jones, who also helped get the Black Course at Bethpage State Park into shape for next year’s U.S. Open, helped aid the facelift, which includes all new greens, some additional bunker locations, and completely redone tee boxes.

The par-4 18th hole, which was 463 yards in 1981, has been stretched to 490 yards for the championship. Perhaps to not appear overly demonic, three holes were mercifully shortened by 20 yards apiece.

While the Highland Course’s length is one of its primary defenses — along with the rough, water hazards and the searing Atlanta heat — Nelson played two rounds there a couple of weeks ago and came to an interesting conclusion that should mitigate the worries of short-knockers: while the course is longer than when he won his first of two PGA Championships, titanium clubs and sizzling balls that take off like rockets have become an equalizer.

“They supposedly added length,” Nelson said. “But because of the equipment, it didn’t play that much different than it did 20 years ago.”