Monday, August 13, 2018

Firestone Country Club - South Course Review: Back-9 (2018 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational)

I only needed to play the front-9 of the South Course at Firestone Country Club to learn this is a course that's as testing as it is beautiful.  Trees help mark the true lines of play, fairways have right sides and wrong sides, and undulating greens are heavily defended with bunkers - particularly on the front and sides of the putting surfaces.  I'd reflect more on my experience once the entire round was over, but I couldn't help but think about a few more things as I made the turn to the back-9. 


The South Course won't ever be mistaken for a C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, or A.W. Tillinghast design.  But the South Course's charm is laying it all out right in front of you.  South shows you what shots you have to hit, and then rewards you or punishes you depending on your execution.  Wide fairways give players more options off the tee yes, but it's just as much a test of skill to hit straight drives on South's narrow fairways as it is to work the ball more on wider ones. 

South does not present the intrigue of twisting holes and variable routing.  What it does give you however are fairways with pronounced slopes, risk-reward options that encourage courageous play, and greens that reward accurate approaches with demanding recovery shots all around the green.  South is a championship course that will thoroughly challenge you for 18 holes, but also leave you wondering how you could still play it better your next time here

HOLE NO. 10 
Par-4, 410-Yards 
Here again South let me know what to do and where to go.  Three fairway bunkers squeeze the landing zone from 180 to 130 yards out.  The two bunkers on the right are particularly deep-faced and don't give you a good look at the green.  Too far right of the bunker or even still inside, and trees will definitely interfere with your second shot. 


The green is undulating and very small, and protected by only two bunkers - a smaller one on the left and a larger one on the right.  The right bunker is the deeper and more flat-bottomed of the two, while the left bunker is perhaps more intimidating with a slight up-slope.  Rough surrounding both bunkers can keep a wayward shot from rolling off the green into the hazards, but then you have to contend with your ball possibly being completely swallowed up.  In other words, don't miss the green here. 


HOLE NO. 11 
Par-4, 418-Yards 
No matter your skill level you have to identify this hole as a birdie hole.  The fairway is at its narrowest about 115 yards in, but anything short or long of that should find the short grass with a half-way decent drive. 


On approach, two very deep bunkers flank both sides of the wide but shallow green that's two-tiered with a shelf in the back left quadrant.  These bunkers shouldn't be in play unless pins are tucked on either side, or second shots miss the green badly. 


Memorable Shot(s): Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson 2011 
You might think it's those sonic-boom tee shots the pro's hit that separates us mortals from them the most.  But it's really the short game where strokes are gained and lost.  In 2011 Phil Mickelson holes out from the left rough about 100 yards out, and Rickie Fowler did the same from the right fairway at about the same distance.  From Fowler's spot I landed center of the green.  From Phil's spot I hit it long and lost a perfectly good golf ball. 


HOLE NO. 12 
Par-3, 180-Yards 
This is the shortest par-3 on the course.  Unfortunately it's also the toughest, and a controlled shot to a well-defined green is required to avoid disaster. 


The green sits atop a ridge and is well-defended by bunkers forward, left, and right.  Normally, you'd prefer to be in the bunker rather than the greenside rough since it's easier to control spin from the sand, but these bunkers should be avoided at all costs.  Going over the green will almost certainly cost you strokes. 


HOLE NO. 13 
Par-4, 471-Yards 
This hole is a tribute to everything that makes South so challenging and a sure test of your entire game.  A carefully placed drive is crucial to necessary to avoid a fairway bunker on the left about 210 to 180 yards out, and an enormous tree across the other side on the right that hangs out in the fairway.  If you can do that successfully you're rewarded with an easier shot into the green.  Too far left or right with your drive however, and your misery is just beginning. 


You're hitting into an elevated green, and one of the smallest putting surfaces on the course with a severe back to front slope.  The green is defended by two small bunkers on the lower left and right, and two larger bunkers flanking the middle left and right.  These are strong, intimidating hazards.  Par is a great score.  Birdie is a legitimate reason to celebrate. 


Memorable Shot(s): Tiger Woods 2013, Phil Mickelson 2014 
You can see what a tough greenside chip Tiger had in 2013 - the rough is deep and sticky, and the green runs away from you.  Tiger holed out for birdie.  I tried that shot, and did not.  Of course.  In 2014 Phil holed out from the fairway, 92-yards out.  I hit my shot into that lovely tree on the right and dropped into the front bunker.  Hey (shoulder shrug) - it happens. 


HOLE NO. 14 
Par-4, 467-Yards 
You should get the idea by now that driving accuracy is king on the South Course, and it's more of the same here.  The fairway narrows a bit in the landing zone with two bunkers to the right and one to the left about 180 to 145 yards out.  You can hit to a wider fairway if you lay-up short of the bunkers or take them on and hit over them if you're a long hitter. 


On approach you're hitting into a wide but shallow kidney bean shaped green that's fortified by two bunkers tightly guarding the front and one protecting the back.  The left side bunker can be particularly challenging to escape from because of its taller face, while the back bunker can leave you with an awkward lie because its built into a mound. 


HOLE NO. 15 
Par-3, 221-Yards 
This is the easiest of the four par-3s, but that doesn't mean it's an easy hole.  Less than precise shots will miss to either side as the green is long but very narrow. 


Two bunkers on the right and one on the left protect the putting surface that slopes back towards you.  Don't expect to get bailed out by any tightly-mowed chipping areas.  It's sand, rough, or the dance floor on this hole. 


Memorable Shot(s): Jim Furyk 2000, Stewart Cink 2006 
Both of these guys hit hole-in-ones on this hole.  Both of these guys are major championship winners.  I could fire shots into this green the rest of the summer and not make an ace here - and I'm not even mad about that. 

Par-5, 667-Yards 
Sergio Garcia took a quadruple-bogey 9 here in 1999.  In 2016 Jason Day hit in the water from the right rough just 100 yards from the green.  And Jon Rahm recorded an eagle 3 here in 2017.  It's the South Course's signature hole - The Monster, and the lore about this hole is real. 


Playing this hole blemish-free starts with the drive, and you're going to get serious roll as it plays a good 15 feet downhill.  Bubba Watson destroyed a drive 424 yards here in 2013.  Dustin Johnson went full hulk and smashed one 439 yards in 2017.  You don't have to hit that long to score on The Monster, but you do have to avoid the first set of fairway bunkers on the right about 260 to 290 yards off the tee. 


Second shots have to worry about a fairway bunker on the left about 180 to 150 yards out, or if you're taking those bunkers out of play - the water ahead and creek just off to the right. 


The very small green runs back towards the pond, and is protected in the back by two deep bunkers.  If you're not spot-on perfect with your drive, second shot, and approach into the green, you're probably walking off this hole battered, bruised, and dazed.  But don't worry - you're not the first, and you won't be the last. 


HOLE NO. 17 
Par-4, 400-Yards 
The first decision you have to make on this hole is if you're going to take on the fairway bunkers with the driver or opt for a positional shot off the tee.  Three bunkers squeeze the fairway on  both sides from 150 to 100 yards in, and this is not where you want to be firing into the smallest green on the back-9 with your second shot. 


Only one bunker guards the putting surface in the front, and bold undulations across the putting surface give this green character, but also make the green more receptive to precise approach shots


HOLE NO. 18 
Par-4, 464-Yards 
One of the toughest driving holes on the course, you almost need a perfect tee shot to position yourself correctly in this downhill fairway.  From an elevated tee this hole doglegs left, and has two fairway bunkers protecting the right side at about 201 to 180 yards out (which also happens to be the best side to approach the green from). 


The second shot is into an elevated green protected by two large bunkers in the front-left and two in the back-right.  The putting surface slopes back to front, and plays deep but narrow.  This is a classic final hole that rewards you for great execution but raps your knuckles mishits and mistakes


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