The PGA of America’s Chief Championships Officer discusses practice range set up at Whistling Straits for the 97th PGA Championship
Golf Range Magazine: With more than 1,000 bunkers on the course, are there designated areas for players to practice the variety of bunker shots they’ll see during competition?
Kerry Haigh: At any venue, a big part of practice rounds is testing the bunkers and the consistency of the sands. Specifically at Whistling Straits, there’s a large short game area with several bunkers that the players heavily utilize. With these bunkers being adjacent to the practice greens, however, players are not really able to work on hitting shots from fairway bunkers while on the range. They’ll spend a large portion of time doing that during their practice rounds.
GRM: Walk me through the practice area setup at Whistling Straits.
KH: The range itself is multi-sided. It has two hitting areas, east and west ends in relation to the lake. For the championship we primarily use the hitting area nearest to the clubhouse and locker room because it’s the most convenient. There are two putting greens: One located directly behind the first tee, which is where many players spend a few minutes before teeing off, and the other positioned between the practice range and the clubhouse. Both of the greens are very large, and most importantly, have similar contours to the greens on course. We prepare those in the same manner as we do the 18 greens on the golf course. In addition, there is a short game area on the far end of the practice range that players will use as kind of a place to get away and practice on their own – as the main short game area is adjacent to the teeing grounds. Overall, it’s an expansive practice complex that has everything we need to host a major championship.
GRM: Is there something special or unique about this practice area that makes it stand out from other PGA Championship sites?
KH: It’s a vast practice area. There is so much space. That’s not necessarily unique, but it’s certainly a positive and one of the great benefits of this venue.
GRM: When you’re setting up major championship venues, how cognizant are you of the practice facilities? Is it common for you to make changes or adjustments to the practice areas?
KH: For our championship events it’s extremely important. For the players, that’s their office. That’s where they work and where they hone their skills in preparation for one of the biggest tournaments of the year. Having a practice area that is large enough and quality enough to host the best players in the world is pivotal. In some cases, the existing range or short game areas may not be large enough to accommodate a major championship field. In those instances, we’ll use a green or fairway from an adjacent golf course, if the facility has more than 18 holes, in order to expand the practice facilities. Making that choice is very site-specific, and we’re fortunate that Whistling Straits already provides ample space and opportunity for practice.
GRM: People say you have to work the ball right to left to win at Augusta, or you have to be able to flight the ball down to win an Open. What shot should players practice the most if they want to win on the Straits Course?
KH: I am not sure there is just one type of shot that you need to be able to play well at Whistling Straits. In order to win there, players will need a good all around game with all aspects working well. Pete Dye designed the course to be visually intimidating off of the tee, so the landing areas are actually larger than they appear to the eye. But you still need accurate tee shots to put yourself in good position if you want to be aggressive on the approach. Iron play is also extremely important, as there are many contours in the fairway and on the green. In addition, the winds can pick up on Lake Michigan and make things even more challenging. From there, the short game is vital – with lots of natural terrain and bunkering surrounding the greens. If you are off in any area then it will be tough to recover.