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Course Primer

Pelican Golf Club, host of The Match: Everything you need to know about the course

December 07, 2022

If, while watching the latest edition of Capital One’s The Match on Saturday, you’re noticing some similarities between the host layout—Pelican Golf Club—and Augusta National, you’re likely not alone.

As darkness sets in Belleair, Fla. on Dec. 10, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will take on Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas under the lights in the seventh iteration of the made-for-TV franchise. (Coverage starts at 6 p.m. on TNT.) Though you’re familiar with the names, the course—Pelican Golf Club—might be new to many golf fans.

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The Tampa-area layout’s complicated history spans nearly 100 years, as Donald Ross laid out the initial 18 holes in 1925. First known as Pelican Golf Club before being renamed Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, the course was bought by the town of Belleair in 2013. In 2017, the Doyle family—founders of the Tampa-based DEX Imaging—bought the course with the vision of turning the dilapidated public layout into an exclusive private club.

They called on Beau Welling—a former associate of Tom Fazio and a senior consultant on Woods’ design firm—to revitalize the course, which they billed Pelican Golf Club once again. Finding little information on Ross’ original vision, Welling opted to redesign the course with the characteristics of Ross and other Golden Age architects in mind.

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Hoot Design Company

The result is a return to a more classic style of course design that demands proper shot placement to navigate the prominent contouring. The similarities between this West Florida parkland course and Augusta National Golf Club, 480 miles to its north, are numerous.

Like the home of the Masters, Pelican is a second-shot golf course. On the front side, most fairways are at least 40 yards wide, and the back nine opens up even further, with many landing areas 60 yards from edge to edge. Pine straw sits at the base of the few trees that line the fairways, creating a similar aesthetic to Augusta.

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The bunkering also resembles that of the Peach State gem with bright white-sand lips softly rising up to sharp edges. In fact, Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, is a member at Pelican and helped select the course’s sand, a crushed quartz from Arkansas.

Augusta National Golf Club
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Augusta National Golf Club
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No club has tinkered with its golf course as often or as effectively over the decades as has Augusta National Golf Club, mainly to keep it competitive for the annual Masters Tournament, an event it has conducted since 1934, with time off during WWII. All that tinkering has resulted in an amalgamation of design ideas, with a routing by Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones, some Perry Maxwell greens, some Trent Jones water hazards, some Jack Nicklaus mounds and swales and, most recently, extensive rebunkering and tree planting by Tom Fazio. The tinkering continued in the summer of 2018 as the club lengthened the par-4 fifth by extending its back tee on newly acquired land. Soon to come, the lengthening of the famed par-5 13th.
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To further enhance the aesthetic, Pelican claims to be the first course on the west coast of Florida to use Latitude 36 Bermudagrass, which is known for its prominent green hue and firm-and-fast playing conditions.

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With expansive fairways and only a few water hazards in play, Pelican instead defends itself with its green complexes, which vary in size but are often large with significant undulations and numerous tiers. LPGA Tour player Brittany Lincicome has noted that the greens are shaped as if elephants are buried underneath.

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Perhaps no hole at Pelican better displays the course’s ode to both Golden Age architecture and Augusta National than the par-3 12th (above), which will play as the eighth hole during Saturday’s 12-hole match. The short par 3 plays about 150 yards over a pond to a Biarritz green that is angled away from the player like the famous 12th at Augusta. The hole made headlines in 2021 during the annual LPGA Tour event held at Pelican, when three players made a hole-in-one and each walked away with a two-year lease on a Lamborghini.

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Another notable par 3 will follow at the ninth hole (above), which is the 15th hole on the typical member routing. Welling cleverly deceives the player off the tee, as a massive mound and bunker appear to guard the front right side of the green, though in reality they are 20 yards short of the putting surface.

Another hole to watch out for during The Match is the par-5 seventh hole (normally the 14th, below), which has been refigured for the event. Typically, the hole plays around 520 yards, but for The Match, they will play from a tee box on the 17th hole, lengthening the par 5 by 90-100 yards. Still, look for players to continue to go for the green in two, as there is not much trouble near the putting surface.

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Though PGA Tour players will be competing at Pelican for the first time this weekend, the course has hosted an LPGA Tour event for the last three years. Sei Young Kim won the inaugural Pelican Women’s Championship in 2020 before Nelly Korda went back-to-back in 2021 and 2022, defending her title in early November.

It appears the course will be a mainstay on the women’s tour, as starting in 2023 the tournament will be hosted by World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam and known as “The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican.” Dan Doyle Jr., one of the owners of the club, has not been shy about sharing his aspirations for the tournament, saying their goal is to have it be the Masters of the LPGA Tour.

Time will tell whether Doyle’s vision plays out in the coming years, but if nothing else, the aesthetics are certainly in place to have Pelican shape into the Augusta of the women’s tour.