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PGA Tour players rave about Shadow Creek Golf Course

Shadow Creek Golf Course was ready for its close-up last week, and it gave an award-winning performance. But even though players might be hoping for a sequel, that probably isn’t in the cards.

Shadow Creek hosted a PGA Tour event for the first time with last week’s CJ Cup, relocated from South Korea this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It allowed players and golf fans to peek behind the curtain of the highly regarded course.

“It’s such a cool place. It’s a great golf course,” Rory McIlory said. “I wouldn’t mind if we got to play a tour event here every year.”

Other players agreed on the cool factor, starting with the greens.

“This is actually a great place to kind of have a little checkpoint of where things are heading up to Augusta,” Rickie Fowler said. “These greens could be fairly similar in areas to what we may see at Augusta.”

Shadow Creek has bentgrass greens, the same as Augusta National, and it was something on the minds of players thinking ahead to the next major championship.

Justin Rose said it’s not only the grass but the slopes and contours at Shadow Creek that make it a good comparison to Augusta.

“They have plenty of break on them as well, so there’s going to be a lot of putts up and over ridges,” Rose said. “The way you’re going to have to feed the ball into the hole will start to give you the imagination that you need for Augusta.”

A perfect example was the ninth green, with multiple levels that made it one of the most challenging holes to putt. During the second round, the pin was tucked in the bottom left corner just beyond water and sand.

Sergio Garcia found the right spot with his approach and had a few feet for an easy birdie. One group earlier, Jon Rahm’s approach was 5 feet longer, but it ended on the next shelf up. His putt was a winding adventure that he three-putted for bogey.

On the first hole Sunday, Rose four-putted from 5 feet in part because of the undulations.

But slopes aren’t limited to the greens at Shadow Creek. The fairways dip and rise, twist and turn among towering trees. Each hole is an atmosphere to itself and not designed to accommodate spectators.

“This would have to be one of those limited-spectator venues,” winner Jason Kokrak said of the potential of hosting a regular tour stop at Shadow Creek. “It’s a hard walk for us, and I couldn’t imagine walking outside the ropes because there are so many spots around this place that you’re standing on the side of a pretty good slope, a 45-degree angle.”

Bubba Watson agrees.

“I don’t think we could make it with a full field,” he said. “We’re barely making it around with two tees playing with 78 players.”

Indeed, rounds were closing in on six hours at times. Part of that was players unfamiliar with the course; part was the tight fairways and thick rough; part was the lack of spectators and fewer volunteers to help players locate shots that went awry.

Despite finishing second, Xander Schauffele didn’t hide his disgust at the pace of play.

“Playing five hours and 40 minutes is kind of ridiculous,” he said Saturday after his one difficult round of the week. “When you’re not feeling super comfortable, it’s nice to kind of get the ball rolling, get some swings in. Sitting around waiting, thinking about how you’re not really playing that great, is never fun.”

The tight and undulating fairways aren’t the only reason spectators on the course would be a challenge. There is virtually no room for grandstands, particularly on finishing holes such as the par-3 17th and par-5 18th, where areas around the green are already squeezed.

“Some things around here would have to change to do a PGA Tour event,” Kokrak said of post-coronavirus golf. “Not to say that it’s not doable.”

Those squeezed greens are part of the appeal of the course. So are the brooks, ponds, plants and small waterfalls all over the course. It’s part of the charm that TV simply can’t capture.

“Gosh, I got lucky enough to play it once before, and it’s always in great shape,” Watson said. “It’s just a beautiful place.”

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com.

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