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Colonial Country Club: A closer look at the seventh hole shows the precision and patience demanded by this Perry Maxwell classic

May 27, 2021

Marianna Massey

The PGA Tour doesn’t usually keep returning to courses the players don’t like. Not for 75 consecutive years. So the fact that Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas has never stopped hosting the Colonial National Invitational (now the Charles Schwab Challenge) since it started in 1946 must say something about how the golf course melds with the professional game. (Note: The tournament wasn’t played in 1949 due to flooding, or in 1975 because Colonial hosted the Tournament Players Championship, but this event was never held anywhere else).

If your livelihood and welfare depend on the ability to hit consistently long, accurate drives, precision irons and avoid unforced errors—in other words, to play golf with technical proficiency and control—there are few tournament courses more rewarding than Colonial. The narrow, tree-lined holes clearly define the left- or right-shaped shots that need to be played, aided by the course’s 29 fairway bunkers. Approach irons demand distance control into typically elevated, sloped greens, and to score well, the ball needs to be shaped both directions. 

The par-4 seventh is indicative of Colonial’s overall design and demonstrates how balance is presented in the architecture and demanded in the playing temperament.

THE HOLE

A mid-length par-4 at 440 yards, the seventh looks like other holes at Colonial: tree-lined and slightly bending with a fairway bunker guarding the right side of the landing area, and a green, crowned off the front and back, that sits above three bunkers—two at the fore and one to the rear left. A small creek surrounded by thicker woods angles in slightly from the left and begins to crowd the left side of the green, exacerbating the need to place the approach shot accurately.

WHY IT MATTERS

While it looks basic, there’s more to the seventh than meets the eye. It presents two tests off the tee. The first is lateral, as trees bracket both sides of the hole’s corridor just yards off the fairway. The second is longitudinal: A fairway bunker guards the right side of the fairway 280 yards off the tee, where the landing zone shrinks down to 23 yards wide. The choice is to throttle back with a fairway metal or driving iron for accuracy, or blow driver past the bunker to shorten the approach, played either from short grass or three-inch-high Bermuda rough.

Clubbing down is the most popular choice—the average driving distance over the past five years on the hole is just 280 yards. This results in a longer club on the second shot, but the green is not difficult to hit most years. It is critical, however, to keep the ball below the hole. The green, first built in 1936, still bears traces of its Perry Maxwell origins—it tilts forward, features a false front between the two fore bunkers, and possesses small, level elevated sections that fall off in different directions. The hole demands a surgical approach, and if anything goes awry on any of the shots played here, the ripple effect can lead to bogey.

STATS

Colonial’s seventh has been reasonably balanced in how it parses out birdies and bogeys in the last five tournaments, 346 to 265, respectively. Like the entire design, it’s tough but reasonable, and two well-played shots will yield a look at birdie, though that putt needs to be from below the hole and it will have some break. It’s no wonder why most of the game’s most consistent ball-strikers—like Ben Hogan, Cary Middlecoff, Julius Boros, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Ben Crenshaw, Lee Trevino, Corey Pavin, Lanny Wadkins, Nick Price, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson—have all won and played well here.

(Green-reading map: Courtesy of StrackaLine)