By Dan Reardon
Golf loves anniversaries. So this year’s edition of the RBC Heritage deserves special attention as it turns 50. For all of its half century, the Harbour Town Golf Links has been the site of the event, with neighboring Sea Pines sharing time in the early years.
The course is perhaps the most conservative (traditional) Pete Dye design, with an assist from Jack Nicklaus, and challenges its fields in ways the newer muscle TPC courses of the Tour do not. At just under 7100 yards, par-72, it stands in stark contrast to modern layouts such as Erin Hills, host to last year’s U.S. Open, which pushed the tees back to well over 7800 yards.
In 50 years, the roster of winners is a virtual road map of Hall of Fame talent, beginning with inaugural champion Arnold Palmer and including names such as Nicklaus, Miller, Irwin, Watson, Love, Norman, and Faldo.
This year’s champion will be joined in traditional plaid by the signature lighthouse, which will be draped to match the winner’s championship jacket.
Someone who knows Harbour Town well, as both a competitor and CBS Sports broadcaster, is Gary McCord. He recently discussed the historic tournament and how the field will approach the course.
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This is the 50th anniversary of the Heritage. Harbour Town has been described as a timeless golf course. Talk about how things are different from those early years.
The first time I played there was 1975, and what I remember is that it was out on this island and there was nothing there. There was no place to eat. I remember we stayed in a treehouse. It was a three-bedroom treehouse, and we stayed there. I don’t remember actually how we ate. It was wild and a good golf course.
How has the course itself evolved?
Timeless for golf courses is they keep adding yardage, and [for] this one, they really haven’t done anything. They’ve let the trees grow more and more toward the center of the fairway. You couldn’t throw a golf ball down some of these fairways. It is one of the few golf courses on Tour that you could actually be challenged by something as ridiculous as 7000 yards. They actually laugh at that. But you look at scores, and 10, 12, 13-under par might actually win it. That has held… since it first started.
You look at a golf course like this, and you first have to get it in the fairway and then the greens are just dainty little greens and you’re going to miss more greens than you are going to hit. So, your short game, pitching game, has to be spot on. And once you get it on the greens, you can pretty much have at it, and a lot of guys do.
It encompasses all three elements of the game. You have to get it on the fairway, get it on the green and make putts and there are no shortcuts.
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What about playing the week after the Masters?
They are kind of happy to be getting out of the major-championship spotlight and kind of relax at Hilton Head. It’s the mental rest that they look forward to this week. The way its runs on the schedule, it’s a quiet moment for most of the Tour players.
Be a golf Dr. Frankenstein and give a player in each area that you would want to have play from the tee, one that plays from the fairway and someone to putt those greens.
I would go for a guy like Matt Kuchar off the tee. Second-shot player, I would like to have like Zach Johnson going at it for me. A lot of wedge shots. I like Zach with a wedge in his hand. Luke Donald’s short game is fantastic. Basically, these greens are pretty flat, and they have the right speed. So you need a guy who is really good at eight feet. Eight is a 50/50 measurement on the Tour, so you need someone who is pretty aggressive. A guy like Brandt Snedeker would be a very good pick on these greens. That pop stroke, plays no break and hammers them in from 10 feet. I like Brandt on something like this.
Who have you been noticing this year that is playing well and might be good this week? And give us a name of somebody who might be going unnoticed and could play well.
I’d take a guy who has been playing really well and has been in the heat recently: Marc Leishman. He keeps the ball in front of him, and he’s tested and has been tested for the last couple of years. He’d be one of the guys I would lean on a little bit. And for somebody you haven’t heard of before, this kid Cameron Smith has been playing great. He looks like he’s got the wind in his sails right now.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.