The unique—and loud—obstacles PGA Tour pros face at Sea Island
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — As Alex Noren waited for the green to clear, caddie Lee Warne discussed options for the dangerous second shot the duo faced on the closing par 5 at the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club. But aside from the iffy lie in the rough and a daunting pin guarded by water, there was a more immediate problem.
“I can’t hear you!” Noren screamed.
Warne was using his outdoor voice during the second round of the RSM Classic—it was just no match for the airplane above. The airplane above at that moment, that is. On this back nine, there is literally a buzz in the air at almost all times.
Just a lob wedge away from the 15th tee sits the McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport. It’s a relatively small operation so you won’t see jumbo jets flying in and out, but its two runways are a bustling hub of aviation that does nearly 50,000 annual aircraft operations or about 130 per day. Here’s a look at the air field from the pedestrian path just behind the 14th green:
If you’re a PGA Tour pro who flew private to the Golden Isles and found yourself with no shot of making the cut, this would be the perfect place to WD and make your getaway. You could be wheels up in the time it takes J.B. Holmes to hit a shot!
While the recently capsized cargo ship sitting in the St. Simons Bay has captured much of the attention this week, the planes are a staple of this tournament, in particular the stretch of holes 14-18 on the Plantation Course, which is used alongside Sea Island’s Seaside track the first two days of the RSM Classic. So does it really present a different challenge than any other PGA Tour stop?
“Totally, yeah,” Sebastian Munoz said. “You don't see that often, but it's fun. It takes you off the golf a little bit and then brings you back.”
If you’re wondering why someone would build a golf course so close to an airport, the Plantation Course, which opened in its first form in 1928, actually predates McKinnon by a decade. That means recreational golfers have been dealing with this audio/visual hazard for more than 80 years, so deal with it, PGA Tour pros!
“I had a four-footer and I had to back away. You really have to concentrate and refocus. It’s tough,” Harry Higgs said. “This is the lowest, this is the craziest I’ve ever seen when it comes to planes. I don’t think anyone could hit one, but it looks that way sometimes.”
While this situation may be unique to the PGA Tour, veteran world traveler Dylan Frittelli says it reminds him of Durban Golf Club’s sister course, Beachwood, in his native South Africa. Of course, when he plays there, a $6.6 million purse isn’t on the line. But Frittelli finds this a fun distraction—even if this tradition unlike any other caused him to back away from a shot or putt multiple times in his first round.
“The worst is when they start revving the engines just to do the final check to get them up to their final capacity,” Frittelli said. “But this one’s really cool because you see a lot of small planes, like Gulfstreams and Cessnas. I call them flying lawnmowers.”
Frittelli then launched into a story about seeing an old World War II plane during his round and it made him wonder if there was a way to take a flight on one. Turns out Frittelli is quite the airplane aficionado. Good to know … if I ever do a follow-up on the evolution of military aircrafts.
Anyway, these flying machines travel in every direction during play at the RSM Classic, but those headed Northeast and landing at McKinnon get the closest. Like this one:
And the one Higgs claims got a little too close for comfort on Thursday.
“We were playing the par-5 14th and a plane actually buzzed the top of the trees,” Harry Higgs said. “I’m telling you, there’s a plane with some branches stuck to it.”
Having stood at this cacophonous corner of the course for more than an hour on Friday, I believe it. Planes landing from that direction should all be checked for tree damage. And just to be safe, small, round dents.