RBC Canadian Open

Hamilton Golf & Country Club



Fore!

Tour skybox dwellers beware: You might be the target and not the flagstick

April 14, 2023
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Xander Schauffele plays his shot from the ninth tee during the second round of the RBC Heritage.

Sam Greenwood

In Major League Baseball stadiums, the signs are prominent. "Watch for flying objects that may leave the playing field," they read, warning fans that fast-moving balls or bats can reach the seats in the blink of an eye. There are no such overt cautions issued on the PGA Tour, of course, but even those sitting the comfort of a skybox should know: Sometimes, you can be just as much a target as the flagstick.

Example A would be the par-5 15th hole at the renowned Harbour Town Golf Links, where the RBC Heritage is being played this week for the first time as a PGA Tour designated event. The 15th plays at close to 600 yards, but we all know that these days that number isn’t all that daunting for the bombers wishing to go for the green in two. The issue at 15, however, is that the hole is fronted by water that’s so close to the green that it gives the gambler very little space to land the ball and stay on the green. And for the tournament, the grandstands are only a few paces off the back of the putting surface.

Or, as Xander Schauffele explained on Friday, “Realistically, we're not that good; we can't hit a low or a high cut with a 3-wood and land it perfectly 275. We're just trying to get over the water, first things first.”

Translation: Swing for the fences, not the 5.5 hole. If a fairway wood has to be powered into the grandstand—or over it, as Schauffele did on Friday—that’s the advantage the players have if a skybox is going to be placed so close to a green. With a free drop for a temporary immovable obstruction, there's virtually no penalty for trying it.

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“I think you'd see less guys go for it if the grandstands weren't there,” Schauffele said.

So, after hitting his tee shot 294 yards and leaving himself 225 to get over the water and 267 to the front edge, Schauffele “smoked” a 4-wood and blew it over the grandstand. ShotLink recorded the shot traveling 291 yards, or 11 yards longer than where the flag was positioned.

“I actually hit the gap where you walk to the 16th tee, which is probably a good break, to be honest, because it went so far,” Schauffele said. “… The official came out and paced it off, and just paced it off 35 or whatever yards from the hole and then paced it 35 yards off to where I could take a free drop.”

That drop came right in front of the grandstand, leaving Schauffele a relatively simple 90-foot pitch that he deftly played to four feet and made birdie in a round of 66 that has him tied for second heading into the weekend.

After his informative description, Schaffele finally returned to the original question: Is the grandstand too close to the green?

“I think,” he said, “the bleacher isn't in a good spot.”