PGA of America’s new major venue getting first real test this week

A view of Fields Ranch East in Frisco, Texas.

The Gil Hanse-designed Fields Ranch East course.

Courtesy Omni Hotels & Resorts

FRISCO, Texas — After of years of planning, construction and waiting, the Gil Hanse-designed Fields Ranch East course here at the PGA of America’s new home will finally have its coming-out party this week, with the playing of the PGA Seniors Championship.

The North Texas forecast calls for little wind and, as a result of that, potentially low scores.

Other than a handful of preview rounds last fall and this spring, nobody has touched the course since its official opening May 2, leaving many, including the design’s architect, wondering how the world’s best senior players will fare on the par-72, 7,200-yard layout.

The event is the first of 25 PGA of America championships already scheduled here adjacent to the PGA of America headquarters and a sprawling Omni Resort, with a Ryder Cup widely expected to be announced in the near future.

“It will be interesting to be sure,” Hanse said earlier this week, sitting in a golf cart overlooking his creation. “The last time we opened a new course with a major championship was the Olympic course in Rio in 2016, and that turned out pretty well.”

The par-71 Olympic Course yielded a first-round 63 to Australian Marcus Fraser, and a similar result would not surprise Hanse when the players take on his East course Thursday.

“The wind is always going to the first line of defense here, and it doesn’t like it will blow that much,” he said. “I do think that any course should yield a low score to a player who is playing well. We are not fixated on score.”

While the PGA Seniors has visited some new-ish courses in the last 25 years — including Trump National (2017) outside Washington, D.C., and Colorado Golf Club (2010), outside Denver — in its 83-year history the championship has never been conducted at a course with no tournament-hosting history.

Dallas native Justin Leonard, playing in his first PGA Seniors this week, has played the East course as much as player in the field, once in April and three times this week.

A view of Fields Ranch East in Frisco, Texas.
The home hole on the East course. Courtesy Omni Hotels & Resorts

“At the start you’ve got the two par-5s at 1 and 3,” he said. “For some guys they’ll be reachable. I don’t see myself reaching either of those holes with this wind. But you know, you hit a couple decent shots, and I’ll have wedges.

“Then 5 is a little easier tee shot, 6 is really hard and 7 is a hole that’s pretty gettable. Then you turn around, and 10 might be the hardest hole on the golf course. I think 14, 15, 17 and 18 are probably the easiest stretch in there if you’re going to put together a stretch, but otherwise you kind of play a hard hole and then a hole that maybe is more gettable.”

Local Dallas club pro Cameron Doan, who will hit the first tee shot on the East course Thursday morning, still owns the unofficial course record here at 68 from the fall. He thinks it could easily be bested in the first round of the PGA Seniors.

“I can see a 65, maybe a 63 out there,” he said. “The fairways are really wide and there isn’t a lot of places to lose balls for good players. They key will be hitting the greens at the correct spot. At some holes, you could find the green in regulation, but have 30-40 feet over a ridge.”

After a pro-am practice round this week, David Toms said the greens can be deceptive:

A view of Fields Ranch East in Frisco, Texas.
What it’s like playing the new Fields Ranch East (a likely future Ryder Cup venue)
By: Art Stricklin

“I had a couple times today where I felt like I was within 15 feet of the cup, and I wasn’t even on the green. Then the backs, a lot of times golf courses we play the back of the greens got deep rough and it just rolls a step over the green and then you can chip back on. Here it can roll 30 yards off the green, and not only does it roll off the green, it could roll off into deep rough or hazards or things like that.

Added Leonard, “I think that it reminds me a little bit of Whistling Straits — there’s not as much going on, but there’s some big features.”

Another factor on the course, which largely will host public play when PGA of America tournaments are not here, is the setup by PGA of America Chief Completion Kerry Haigh.

“That’s really the last line of defense, the course setup by Kerry,” Hanse said. “He can tuck pins on corners or places that are hard to get. We’re looking to get some feedback this weekend and I’m sure will get some from players.”

However this weekend plays out, the Hanse layout and the adjacent West course by Beau Welling will serve as a high-profile PGA of America sites for decades to come.

“I really didn’t think they could do it,” said Harrison Frazar, another Dallas native in the field. “Create a major championship site in North Texas with the land and the wind and the weather we have. But this is a big ballpark with everything you need. I can’t wait to see what happens.”

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Art Stricklin