The third round of the FedEx Playoffs are going on this weekend at historic Cherry Hills just outside of Denver. The William Flynn design has been the site of many of golf’s top tier events here in the USA—including the ’60 and ’78 Men’s Open and the ’85 PGA Championship.
The BMW marks the return to a course that was upgraded significantly in 2008 through the efforts of architect Tom Doak and his Renaissance Design team.
Cherry Hills plays at an altitude of one mile and with that comes expected gains in terms of overall distances the players will be able to hit the ball. The course is situated on parkland and the Rockies can be seen from a number of vantage points from the course.
Adjusting to the altitude will be a key item for club selection for all the players.
As with any top tier venue there are a few holes which will be of special interest this week. The top 30 players from the FedEx Playoff standings advance to next week’s Tour Championship finale at East Lake in Atlanta.
1st Hole: 346 Yards Par-4
Arnold Palmer endeared himself to golf fans everywhere when he jump-started his final round in the 1960 U.S. Open by driving the 1st green and using that springboard to shoot a closing effort 65 in winning his only National Open Championship.
The professionals will hit from the same tee this week and the question will be what players will try to duplicate what “The King” did 54 years ago.
The 1st plays slightly downhill and there is a frontal bunker that needs to be avoided. The green is not overly big but the possibility in scoring an opening eagle may prove just the right avenue for a winning finish by the player bold enough to do what Palmer did so successfully.
5th Hole: 526 Yards Par-4
The first four holes at Cherry Hills can provide big-time momentum for a fast start. The reality check comes at the 5th—the tee has been extended to the length of 526 yards and the hole demands a pinpoint tee shot that marries sufficient length with uncanny placement. Go too far right and trees will interfere, pull too much left and deep rough becomes a swift punishment.
The approach is uphill to a green that falls away with any slight push or pull. Walking away with par on all four days of the event will be a major accomplishment for any player in the field.
14th Hole: 509 Yards Par-4
The 14th is another of the holes at Cherry Hills which has been lengthened. The 14th has been cited as one of America’s finest long par-4 holes and for good reason. Being positioned on the left side of the fairway affords the best angle for the approach.
Missing the fairway will likely mean a lay-up to the fairway area short and right of the putting surface. Watch for a pin location, at least on one of the days, tucked to the extreme far left. A small creek cuts in from that position so any tugged approach could very well mean a wet ending. Birdies will be few—bogeys commonplace.
18th Hole: 477 Yards Par-4
Cherry Hills ends with a muscular length hole. With water running down the entire left side the players will have to decide how much of a risk do they wish to play with their tee shots. The closer you play to the left side, the easier the angle is into the putting surface which sits high above the fairway.
Missing too far right will likely mean a lay-up just short of the green as the bluegrass rough can be extremely dense and deep on that side.
The putting surface slopes from right-to-left and any shot missing right will face a daunting challenge to walk away with par. Memorably, Birdie Kim won the ’05 Women’s Open at Cherry Hills when after bunkering her approach at the 72nd hole, she holed-out with her third shot to win the event by two strokes.
No lead is ever safe till the final shot is holed at Cherry Hills.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.