The PGA TOUR, as we know it today, began as a loosely connected series of winter tournaments that began in California, moved to Texas and then to Florida where the tournaments and the resulting headlines and newsreels helped turn the state into a major vacation destination. With that in mind, let’s take a look at golf’s presence in these three popular golfing states, as well as South Carolina, which has emerged as a major golf destination.
In any given year, there are at least four PGA TOUR events played in California plus the occasional U.S. Open, PGA Championship, The Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. Add to those, several Champions Tour events and Nationwide Tour stops, and you realise just how big professional golf is in California—but then, it is a very big state.
Still, when people think of golf in California, it’s only natural that their thoughts turn to the magnificent Pebble Beach Golf Links—which has hosted the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Champions Tour’s First Tee Open at Pebble Beach —not to mention five U.S. Opens won by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell.
Pebble Beach is as demanding as it is beautiful, and many people consider it the world’s most stunning course, set as it is against the backdrop of Carmel Bay. It is routinely ranked in the top 10 of Golf Digest’s prestigious and influential “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses”. No less a figure than Jack Nicklaus—who also won a U.S. Amateur and three AT&Ts here—has said that if he had just one course to play for the rest of his life, it would be Pebble Beach. It’s true that the greens fees aren’t for the faint of heart, but if Pebble Beach is good enough for Jack, don’t you owe it to yourself to splurge just once?
The PGA TOUR makes five stops in Florida—a prominent contestant among the popular golfing states in the U.S.—but increasingly when people check out the TOUR schedule, one overwhelmingly compelling event is THE PLAYERS Championship, which began in 1974, moved to Sawgrass Country Club in 1977, and really earned a place in golf’s national psyche when it found a permanent home at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in 1982.
TPC Sawgrass was created from a swamp—literally—in the backyard of the PGA TOUR’s Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters. The diabolically brilliant Pete Dye was given the design assignment and succeeded brilliantly (if only eventually, according to some critics) with healthy assists from his equally brilliant if considerably more restrained wife, Alice, and then-PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman—a fine player in his own right.
The signature hole at TPC Sawgrass is the 137-yard, par-3 17th with its island green, which may well be the most-recognizable hole in golf. When the players first caught sight of the hole, they unleashed a torrent of protests, but it accomplished exactly what Beman hoped it would. It helped guarantee a dramatic finish while helping to put the TOUR’s flagship course and tournament on the map.
Like California and Florida, Texas has a wealth of great courses making it a great contributor to the industry and one of the most popular golfing states in the U.S. For example, Colonial Country Club, which has hosted the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in the past, has been a PGA TOUR stop since 1946 and became the first club south of the Mason-Dixon Line to host the U.S. Open when Craig Wood won there in 1941. Colonial is a private club, but not far away is TPC Four Seasons located about halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, a past long-time home of the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Nelson was actively involved in the tournament right up to his death in 2006. He was particularly proud of the tournament’s prodigious charitable contributions. Today, a statue of Nelson overlooks the first tee. Stop by and tip your cap to the memory of one of the game’s greatest champions and—more importantly—gentlemen.
Next up is the popular golfing state of South Carolina. More specifically, the Harbour Town Golf Links, which has been the home of The Heritage since it began in 1968 (won by Arnold Palmer, which is always a good way to kick off a tournament). Harbour Town is a design collaboration between the Dyes and Jack Nicklaus. Many people, including some of its most severe critics, regard the course as one of Dye’s greatest designs. Set against the Calibogue Sound, it is a true test of shot making, with narrow fairways and small, beautifully bunkered greens. Dye made ingenious use of railroad ties to reinforce the bunkers, which led Sam Snead to observe that Harbour Town was “the first course I ever saw that could burn down.” Happily it hasn’t, and it is well worth a visit to see a textbook example of Dye’s work at its finest.