This week the Tour heads to TPC Potomac (formerly TPC Avenel) for the Quicken Loans National, hosted by the Big Cat in exile. The event bounces around to different courses in the DC area because Congressional never wants to host it two years in a row. Given the choice between a relaxed, uninterrupted summer of member play and shutting down their Blue Course for a month and a half to host a Tour event that usually gets lost in some holiday hubbub, you can’t really fault them.
TPC Potomac has hosted the Tour before, but not since a drastic course redesign that attempted to remove some unpopular quirks from the layout. The result is a formidable, fair, and (hopefully) exciting track that is currently in tip-top shape, barring a barrage of pop-up thunderstorms typical this time of year.
The Tour’s hiatus from the course, combined with my familiarity with the premises thanks to its esteemed status as one of the home courses of the Georgetown University Men’s Golf program (T12 in the 2016 Nashville NCAA Regional, bitches), prompted me to sit down and share some local knowledge. Here’s what to watch for this week:
A few general notes:
- Unless we see some heavy rain, this course will be playing firm and fast. I was out at the course on Tuesday, and mid-iron approaches were taking five-yard bounces on the green surfaces. Curious to see if the bentgrass can retain that firmness with the heat and humidity expected for the weekend.
- The long ball has a little extra benefit on this course. Many tee shots feature a kind of tabletop fairway, where the beginning of the landing area slopes upward and kills most of the roll. People who can carry the upslope will have a compounded distance advantage – more carry and more roll.
- The rough is THICK, much more than I’m accustomed to when we play out here. I was able to walk the course with Zac Blair for nine holes on Tuesday and he said it wasn’t far off from U.S. Open length. Thick rough + firm greens = premium on fairways.
Holes I love:
Let’s start with some good ones.
Hole 2 – 620/580 yards, Par 5
This is not your typical risk-reward par 5, mostly because there’s simply not any risk. From the 580 yard tee, which they will likely use for some of the rounds, players can take it over the right fairway bunker (about 270 carry), get a big kick, and have a great shot at the green in two. But shorter hitters, or those who miss the fairway, can hack it up to about 130 out and will face an incredibly straightforward wedge shot. If you see someone make bogey on this hole, they should probably just pack up the clubs for the day. Barring an insane headwind, this hole will play as one of the easiest on the course.
Hole 6 – 485 yards, Par 4
This is the best hole on the golf course in my view. The routing and slight dogleg to the right feel extremely natural, and the green sits perfectly at the base of a left-to-right slope that gently pushes shots toward the hole. A hazard runs the entire length of the right side of the hole, making for a demanding tee shot, and players who bail out into the left rough will have a very long way into the green. I am not sure if they will use the back tee all four days; if they do, this is a likely venue for some fiery #ejections.
Holes I hate:
Hole 4 – 440 yards, Par 4
This hole is so hard that I’ve had actual nightmares about the tee shot on nights before qualifying rounds. Water left, trees right, shallow green, nowhere to miss, etc. I’ve been in people’s backyards so many times in the right trees that I’m on a first name basis with a few of the homeowners.
Keeping that experience in mind, I believe this hole exhibits the worst virtues of penal golf. I imagine the architect designing this hole like you’d fill out a mad lib, packing all of the difficult stuff they could think of into one hole without regard for actual strategy. Most pros will probably take three wood or a driving iron up the right center of the fairway, hit 8- or 9-iron it to the center of the green, and make par. Remarkably unstimulating.
One other note: the water on the left side is a monstrous 330 yard carry. If you see someone carry it please 1) call me an ambulance, and 2) roll back the ball immediately.
Hole 11 – 470 yards, Par 4
TPC Potomac has some great par 4s. This isn’t one of them. A sharp dogleg left with a narrow fairway that slopes away from the tee and into the trees makes this tee shot one of the toughest on the course. A hazard runs up the left side on the tee shot and then curves around to guard the green. It’s unlikely that anyone will bomb a driver here, leaving a pretty formidable shot into the green. Something about this hole just feels extremely awkward, but if you disagree after watching this weekend, I’m open to a new perspective.
Holes that I can’t wait to watch:
Hole 13 – 350 yards, Par 4
The short yardage belies a hole will be sneaky challenging. The fairway is generous if you want to lay up to about 110 yards out, but then the challenge is hitting a wedge shot uphill to a two-tiered green that is begging for over-eager wedges to spin off the front. As such, this one will definitely favor he who can keep his spin rates tidy. If the pin is front and center on Sunday, look for some shots to come ripping back down the slope (which is about 40 yards long). Totally demoralizing.
The other option is to hit the tee shot past a fairway bunker about that is about a 250 carry. This will leave much more controllable shot into the tricky green but is a significantly harder fairway to hit. Very intrigued to see how this hole plays. A birdie here might be harder to come by than the scorecard indicates. (Editor’s note: 1) this is a 350 yard half-hole, 2) course is firm and fast 3) the name of this website is “No Laying Up;” yet no mention of the mere possibility of a guy going for it. Not good, Kevin!)
Hole 14 – 295 yards, Par 4
The second of back-to-back short par 4s. This hole is driveable with 3-wood for most players, and there’s really no reason to lay up here (even you ZB!) Taking into account the creek running down the right I’d expect plenty of people to bail out a little left, which brings rough, bunkers, and some big time undulation into play. Expect a lot of birdies and a few eagles here. If you’re making par here on Sunday afternoon you’re probably getting vaporized.
Hole 17 – 190 yards, Par 3
The dramatic finish will be out in full force on Sunday, with 17 playing as a downhill par 3 with water short and right of the green. The green is undulated enough to make up and downs extremely tough. No bailout area. Can’t hide here – gotta sack up and stiff one on this hole.
Overall, I like this course because of the way that it intersperses some exceptionally well-designed short holes with the requisite long fours that are required of a tour venue this era. The short holes (and par 5s) still require precise shots to make birdies, a quality that I feel separates a great course from a decent one. I’m excited to see the tour return here.