Golfweek’s Best on The PGA Tour: 2018 Edition


Golfweek takes a look at several of the best features and amenities on the PGA Tour.

1. Best greens: The Masters

No set of greens in tournament golf keeps world-class players more on edge than those at the Masters. At an average size of 6,435 square feet, these bentgrass surfaces are generous yet diabolical in their
three-dimensionality.

Not surprisingly, the smallest green shows up at the nerve-wracking par-3 12th hole, measuring only 4,135 square feet. The largest, at the par-4 14th, is 9,880 square feet and has more internal vertical contour (high point to low point) than any
on the course.

The greens invariably spill out in such a way as to repel shots that are hit ever so slightly off the mark or with the wrong sidespin. Back in 1931-32, Alister Mackenzie (and Bobby Jones) designed the surfaces to emulate some of the feel and complexity of those at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

In his 1932 essay, “Plans for the Ideal Golf Course,” MacKenzie identified four of the (still existing) surfaces as modeled after those at St. Andrews: the fourth hole evokes the original par-3 11th (High-In); the fifth is the par-4 17th (Road); the 14th comes from par-4 sixth (Heathery); and the 17th is a reverse of the par-5 14th (Long). For good measure, he also chipped in a version of the classic par-3 15th (Redan) at North Berwick in the form of Augusta National’s par-3 sixth green.

The point is to make for an intriguing ground game in a decidedly parkland setting. Add in some wind and the fact that today’s greens are clipped to under 1/8th of an inch in height, rolled and kept firm, and you have championship golf’s most elusive set of putting surfaces.

            – Bradley S. Klein

2. BEST FOOD Capital One Bank Champions Club 50
(Zurich Classic)

2. Best food: Zurich Classic

New Orleans long has been known as a great city for foodies, and that fact is reflected every year at the Zurich Classic.

“It was a matter of trying to play to the strengths of the city,” said Steve Worthy, who inherited the impressive food program when he took over as tournament chairman six years ago.

It’s so good that 2009 Zurich champion Jerry Kelly, among others, puts the event on his schedule in part because of all the great dining options
around the city and at the tournament. Kelly has said that one year he knocked back 52 Drago’s charbroiled oysters at the turn during the Wednesday pro-am.

Pro-am day starts with bags of Café du Monde’s beignets on the practice range. There will be at least eight restaurants sprinkled around the course – Acme Oyster House, Barreca’s seafood omelets, Zea’s spinach salad, Galatoire’s crawfish maison, and Pascal’s Manale’s shrimp ’n grits are typical of pro-am day fare.

“I tell first-timers, you have to pace yourself because if you try too many of them early on, you’re not going to be able to swing by the time you get to the back nine,” Worthy said.

The options are just as plentiful for ticketholders. Many of those same restaurants and others set up shop in the Champions Club. Acme Oyster House, which puts out a spread on the range on Tuesdays, also operates a hospitality tent for fans. Superior Seafood and Superior Grill, a favorite Mexican spot for locals, sell their goods in the 19th-hole tent. So if you’re planning to attend, here’s some local knowledge: Don’t eat breakfast.

            – Martin Kaufmann

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 14: A scenic view of the 17th green during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass on May 14, 2017 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

3. Best spectator hole: TPC Sawgrass 17th

No hole on the PGA Tour comes close to providing a one-stop shop for spectators of all ages and interests. The Tour has gradually installed the same amenities fans would find in a modern arena. There are video screens featuring network-quality graphics and replays. Here exists every form of corporate hospitality option for the bigwigs, plus fun food options and easy access to the tournament entrance for everyday spectators. In between are facilities and diversionary possibilities set in an oak-shaded area that is annually upgraded.

Most of all, golf played to an island green is never dull. Fans can set up by the tee to watch players agonize over decisions and debate club selection with caddies. Or the less macabre spectator can gather in a shaded grandstand behind the green to watch balls landing safely on the island before players walk off and high-five junior golfers. Even better, there is plenty of room along the 17th’s 132 yards to stretch out if you just want to watch for a little while before moving on to another hole.

Hardcore fans also come here to gaze over to the par-5 16th or to take the short walk over to the dramatic 18th-hole tee shot. And while the TPC Scottsdale’s 16th may have more noise or silly antics, the island green at TPC Sawgrass combines the best of old and new spectating schools.

            – Geoff Shackelford


(Golfweek File Photo)

4. Best people watching: Waste Management Phoenix Open

The tournament reported a total attendance of 655,434 for the week in 2017, including a record 204,906 people Saturday alone. A professional golf tournament was held for those who are into that sort of thing, but fellow spectators provide the real entertainment in Scottsdale. It’s the Kentucky Derby meets Mardi Gras. Groups in coordinated costumes, exhibitionists in wacky formalwear and seemingly every member of Arizona State’s Greek system provide quite the cast of characters.

Walking around the grounds, it’s unlikely anyone will ask if you witnessed Brian Harman’s par save at 11. They might ask if you saw the four dudes dressed up as the Jamaican Bobsled team from the movie “Cool Runnings,” or turn their heads and gawk at another incoming wave of beautiful people.

Sight lines aren’t important here, as nearly every square foot of TPC Scottsdale is a good spot to stand and watch the circus. That means you’re never in a hurry to get anywhere, because the throngs of fellow humans are as entertaining as the golf. Cowboy boots, dresses, football jerseys, ridiculous wigs, hats and sunglasses – anything goes here. It’s a refreshing change from the boat shoes/khakis/polo shirt/golf hat combination worn by the majority of spectators at other tournaments.

We haven’t even mentioned appearances from celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg and Jerry Rice for the mid-week Pro-Am, but the A-listers get their annual moment in the sun at Pebble Beach. This is all about the fan experience, and people-watching throughout the week might be the best part of it.

      – Dan Kilbridge


AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 10: Patron chairs are seen near the 18th green before the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images for Golfweek)
(Scott Halleran/Getty Images for Golfweek)

5. Best overall atmosphere: The Masters

There is only one atmosphere in all of golf that tops bucket lists, makes people pay absurd amounts for tickets and sends people swooning about the experience living up to the hype. The Masters provides golf’s best overall atmosphere and it’s only going to get better.

For all the exclusivity and mystery surrounding the Augusta National Golf Club, the tournament is transparent about the intent of founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones: Create a celebration of golf and welcome “patrons” annually for a tradition unlike any other.

In recent years the club’s investment in facilities has forced other professional sports to take notice. While Berkmanns Place is nice and all for the elite, it’s the everyday patrons who matter, and they will be further welcomed in 2018 with a grand new entrance and merchandise facility. That, combined with the super-inexpensive food, springtime air and joys of watching golf at Augusta National, make it sport’s toughest ticket.

Atmospherically, the ban on cell phones has frustrated some in recent years, and the tournament’s iconic leaderboards can be slow to react to Sunday swings. Yet few doubt the Masters ultimately will figure out a proper balance to keep the tournament relevant but also feeling special.

Players say their experience mimics that of patrons, with just enough luxurious treatment to remind them they are somewhere unique without spilling into excess that distracts them from the job at hand. The club has, with a few exceptions, always pushed to innovate without compromising the traditions making the Masters a model for all sports.

              Geoff Shackelford


6. Best parking: The Masters

Free, beautiful, convenient and without space limits, Augusta National’s “lot” reminds us how vital parking is to the PGA Tour fan experience. As more events wisely encourage Uber as a way to arrive, those with an automobile understand no tournament offers a better parking experience than the Masters. The price alone makes it an anomaly in the modern sports world, especially now that The Players charges. Free means easy driving in with no lines for paying. Then there is the beauty of what were once lovely residential neighborhoods, gradually purchased over the years by the club to expand its footprint west with parking in mind.

Sadly, the land is perfect for a course, but given the need to have a light gravel base atop the landscape, the land must sit quietly 51 weeks a year. But during Masters week, fans can at least imagine a few dream holes as they walk toward the gates in yet another tradition unlike any other.

          – Geoff Shackelford


Pebble Beach No. 17
(Getty Images)

7. Best to walk: Pebble Beach Golf Links

It’s often asked if the green fee at Pebble Beach ($495-$525 off the street) is worth it. The answer depends on whether you’ve played it before and whether it makes sense to spend that kind of money on any single round. But the experience is decidedly worthwhile, given the setting along Carmel Bay and the way the routing exposes the landforms.

The course starts in a totally pedestrian fashion with an inland dogleg par-4 squeezed between real estate. Not until the third hole is there a glimpse of the sea, and from there it’s a fascinating tour that variously teases and overwhelms the senses.

Nos. 5 through 10 are rightly famous for their exposure (on the right) to beachfront cliffs and the wind. When the course veers back inland, it’s easy (and misleading) to understate how solid that back nine-stretch, Nos. 11-16, really is. But of course it’s the prospect of golf along the shore, this time at the 17th and 18th with water on the left, that keeps players most excited.

The brilliance of the place from a routing point of view is simply the figure-eight crossover that creates such a shifting balance. Forget the cart paths, the homes and what can often be a slow pace of play. Look up, look out and all around – as do Tour players during a round – and you’ll find no more bracing setting for golf.

           – Bradley S. Klein


SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 29: The Valero Texas Open trophy is seen on the 18th hole during the final round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course on March 29, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images)
(Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

8. Most charitable: Valero Texas Open

PGA Tour host sites generate some $170 million in annual charitable contributions, and several tournaments average about $10 million in annual donations. So it might seem a bit – uh, uncharitable – to single out one tournament at the expense of others that are doing so much good work in their communities.

The Valero Texas Open gets the call here for its consistently high level of donations. Despite operating in a secondary market (San Antonio) during a lull in the schedule – midway between the Masters and The Players – the tournament annually ranks at the top of the Tour’s list of charitable givers. In recent years, it has averaged about $10 million in charitable donations. The tournament reports that since Valero became the title sponsor in 2002, it has distributed more than $122 million to children’s charities across the country.

A key reason for this high level of donations is the tournament’s Birdies for Charity program, in which individuals and businesses ante up each time a player puts a circle on his scorecard at the Valero Texas Open. In 2017, 1,975 birdies were made during the tournament. All of those low numbers translate into a lot of big donations for charities supported by the tournament.

            – Martin Kaufmann


9. Best extracurricular activities: Waste Management Phoenix Open

This is the best party in golf, which means the Birds Nest hosts the best party at the best party in golf. Make sense?

The Birds Nest is basically a huge tent that pops up each year just beyond the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale. Fans who haven’t had their good-times fill for the day head there when darkness blankets the massive parking area outside the gates.

You can hear some inaudible thumping as soon as you exit the grounds, the nature of which becomes louder and more recognizable as the Birds Nest comes into view during a brief walk. There’s a different headliner every night, one which usually draws that younger audience that golf seems so intent on capturing but unwilling to appeal to most of the time. Toby Keith, Flo Rida, Blink 182 and Steve Aoki provided plenty of variety and good tunes in 2017.

Some tournaments have live music, but it’s usually a subdued affair. These are actual concerts with all the familiar sights and sounds. It’s extremely convenient for fans who want to keep at it all night and, thankfully, takes vehicles out of the equation for those who have been drinking heavily all day at the course. Uber drivers are readily available, dozens of bartenders peddle all sorts of drinks, there’s more than enough Porta-Potties and it wouldn’t seem right to send all those spectators – 204,906 on Saturday alone – back into society all at once.

This is a great place to party and helps make for an all-week event rather than just a golf tournament.

– Dan Kilbridge


SOUTHAMPTON, NY - OCTOBER 04: EDITORS NOTE: Polarising filter used on the camera in this image; The clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club the host venue for the 2018 US Open Championship on October 4, 2017 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
(David Cannon/Getty Images)

10. Best clubhouse: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

The return of the U.S. Open in 2018 for its fifth iteration at this venerable old club provides another look at golf’s most elegant clubhouse. The original building, an 1893 design by the dean of American turn-of-the century Beaux-Arts architects, Stanford White, helped transform a burgeoning game into a comfortable country pastime.

White (1853-1906) left a blazing trail of memorable structures (Washington Square Arch, the Century Club) before his scandal-ridden life ended in his murder on the rooftop garden of his most ostentations design, the second Madison Square Garden. An occasional golfer, he deployed shingle-style, East End elements like eyebrow windows and columned verandas to create Shinnecock’s iconic clubhouse.

White went on to design one other golf clubhouse, for the Palmetto Club in Aiken, S.C. Additionally, his Vanderbilt Mansion was converted after White’s death into the clubhouse for Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, N.Y.

The setting of the Shinnecock clubhouse is ideal: perched on a little flat overlooking the first tee, ninth hole and looking out onto the entire golf course. Though the building has been subsequently extended in a manner that preserves its original style, it’s undersized for today’s championship and the players at the U.S. Open will use temporary quarters. Too bad, because they’ll miss out on use of a brilliantly placed urinal in the men’s locker bathroom with a perfect view of the ninth green. 

Bradley S. Klein


No. 16 Par 3 Murfield Village
(Muirfield Village)

PGA Tour course extremes

1. Toughest tee shot (more than 400 yards): No. 1 at TPC Four Seasons Resort (23.91%)

2. Toughest par 3: No. 16 at Muirfield Village (+0.367) – above

3. Toughest par 4: No. 11 at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm (+0.521)*

4. Toughest par 5: No. 8 at Sheshan International (+0.173)

5. Easiest hole: Par-5 ninth at Waialae CC (-0.786)

6. Toughest course: Quail Hollow (PGA Championship) (+2.468)

7. Easiest course: Plantation Course at Kapalua (-2.625)

* Also ranked as toughest hole on Tour

(Note: This story appears in the January 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

© 2009-2017 SendtoNews Video Inc.
All video content, images, logos, and trademarks presented on this site are the property of their respective owners.

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?