Dell Technologies Championship 2017: TPC Boston, hole by hole


NORTON, Mass. – OK, sports fans, here’s your last chance to watch golf this year without looking over your shoulder at NFL football. The preseason ends the night before the first round of this week’s FedEx Cup event, the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. Good thing the 100 leading pros on the FedEx Cup points list are at a birdie-fest. The average winning score for this, the second week of the playoffs, has been 18 under par.

Keep in mind that the traditional Labor Day Monday finish means a Friday start to the event, which usually produces good theater. It’ll be especially interesting to see if defending champion Rory McIlroy can gain some redemption after his disappointing year so far.

This Arnold Palmer-designed layout, later redesigned by Gil Hanse, has more character than most TPC facilities. It actually feels like it’s in New England, with all sorts of retro gesturing toward local layouts such as The Country Club in Brookline and Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton. There is exposed rock, acres of tall fescue, naturalized roughs and old, creaky farm ponds. So the course is a bit fragmented – hardly a core routing, 
given the wetlands that segment the place.

There have been some more changes this year 
to TPC Boston, the last (for now) of a decade-long transformation under Hanse’s tutelage with his design associate Jim Wagner. The par-71 layout has been stretched just a little to 7,261 yards, with a 77.2 rating/
154 slope from those tees (both numbers are slightly inflated from last year). The par-4 12th and 13th holes have been made more interesting and more demanding. Still, what largely determines the low scores here is that all three par 5s are readily reachable in two.

It’s enough to make for interesting viewing as we track who finishes in the top-70 in FedEx points to qualify for the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill., two weeks hence.


Hole No. 1

Par 4, 365 yards

It’s a bit of a shame to open a round with a layup hole, but there’s no point hitting driver here. At 260 yards off the tee, the fairway reaches its widest (35 yards), flattest and safest point to avoid bunkers. At 290 yards out, it narrows considerably and leaves players with a harder shot in: a half-wedge. Tall fescue looms everywhere on the side, and islands of grassy clumps dot the greenside bunker, too. In other words, this layout feels site-specific and embedded in the native terrain. One of many cool touches here is a deep grass hollow along the right side of the green that makes for awkward recovery.


Hole No. 2

Par 5, 542 yards

One reason the Tour pros like this course is because it occasionally offers a chance to bomb away and gain an advantage. All it takes off the tee here is to favor the left side, ideally with a fade, and get the tee ball beyond a diagonal array of two key bunkers on the right, 270-310 yards out. From there, the second shot has to flirt with a grassy marshland that sprawls in front and to the right of the green. There’a bailout short left, but the beauty of superintendent Tom Brodeur’s maintenance program is that in key areas such as this one, he’s mowing fairway-height grass right into the sand. So anything yanked left or hit a bit strong will trundle in, leaving an unpredictable long shot from sand – or a chip along lumpy, bumpy, unpredictable short-cut ground. This is one of those real “action” holes.


Hole No. 3

Par 3, 208 yards

A lovely, slightly uphill shot to a diagonal green wrapped around a sprawling front-right bunker. The green is tipped carefully for a safe front-left play, but the only way to challenge a back-right position is to draw the ball in on the longer right side, which brings into play the bunker, a steep falloff and a hollow over the green. With its exposed rock, native-flower marshland and stone farmer’s wall behind, this hole showcases how a regional landscape vernacular creates a distinct sense of place.


Hole No. 4

Par 4, 353 yards

Anyone familiar with Merion Golf Club’s sweet little par-4 10th will recognize this short par 4 as a free-form version of it, with more elevation into the green. It’s the perfect drivable par 4. It presents the hint of looming trouble via a bunker or scrubby native wildflower, and the hole simply looks great from tee to green.


Hole No. 5

Par 4, 466 yards

Here and throughout the course, the width and angles of play effectively mask the relative absence of elevation change on the site. The drive must carry 260 yards over a well-placed fairway bunker right center that defines the ideal line of approach. From there, the second shot plays across wetlands to a green set on a right-to-left axis, guarded by a long, deep bunker on the inside of the hole.


Hole No. 6

Par 4, 465 yards

Straightaway and surely the least compelling hole on the layout, defined only by a green tipped to the left, toward a pond, and with a tough hole location in the front left. From tee to green, it’s the one remnant hole of the original Palmer layout that bore too much the mark of Myrtle Beach and not enough of rough-hewn southeast Massachusetts.


Hole No. 7

Par 5, 600 yards

It’s amazing how even a little change of terrain can make a hole more interesting. Here, it’s all in the second shot, which must negotiate a version of “Hell’s Half-Acre,” the famous sandy wasteland found at another long par 5, Pine Valley’s seventh hole. The architectural gesture works. Few everyday golfers can handle the second-shot carry of 220-plus yards uphill to a blind landing area, leaving a third shot of 75 yards. But for FedEx Cup contestants, it’s a simple act of blind faith, aided by a modest prevailing wind (7 mph average) out of the southwest, thus helping the right-handed golfer over his left shoulder. A bold second shot can be played easily enough, but touring pros profess a distaste for shots into an unseen landing area. Pull the shot slightly and wind up in a yawning front-left bunker with a difficult third awaiting.


Hole No. 8

Par 3, 213 yards

A simple little platform green with a run-up ramp on the far side of a marsh, with bunkers set at 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock and a hollow around the back. It’s very much in the style of Seth Raynor and makes for effective presentation.


Hole No. 9

Par 4, 472 yards

During his renovation work on the course, Hanse studied ShotLink patterns and found that the more tree clearing he did here, the harder the fairway was to hit. Turns out that contrary to conventional wisdom, PGA Tour pros get more disoriented when they have to create a target. The wider the landing area, the harder it is for players to put the ball into play. That’s because they tend to get a little looser when they think they have more room to work the ball. On a dramatic dogleg left such as this hole, the ideal draw quickly turns into a power block right or an ugly pull left. A cross bunker well short of the green effectively makes it a bit of a guessing game as to where to land the approach on a green that’s aligned to reward shots working in from the right.


Hole No. 10

Par 4, 425 yards

An unremarkable opening to an otherwise compelling nine, thanks to a straightaway landing area with no angles or hazards and a contour mowing pattern on the sides that make the land look as if it had been helicoptered in from Florida. This is a lifeless hole. It’s only partial saving grace is a green with a slight diagonal tilt that brings flanking bunkers into play as well as the threat of running long into a grassy hollow.


Hole No. 11

Par 3, 231 yards

Stepping onto this tee is like going from a Motel 6 to The Plaza. Wow. It’s dramatic in the extreme, thanks to a green sitting 20 feet above the tee, protected by a massive rift of sand that makes going for the right side (if the hole is cut there) pretty scary. The left-side approach has been dished out, making the front left of the green readily accessible, but there’s no getting to the right half without flying it there all the way. A distinctly two-tier green establishes a back-shelf hole location as about one-half shot harder than when the hole is cut on the lower deck.


Hole No. 12

Par 4, 510 yards

What used to be the only unbunkered hole on the course has been stretched by 49 yards and given centerline fairway bunkering in the form of  Principal’s Nose 305 yards off the tee. There’s also a new green position farther back. Hanse and Wagner also created more of a tie-in to the next hole by opening up the tree line and extending an existing ridge line into the 12th fairway, creating more of a drop-shot feel to the second shot. The shared space is a classical New England element that gets away from the older, isolated hole corridors that prevailed here. The putting surface also has been been moved away from its rocky ledge over a wetlands hazard. It now sits closer to the next tee, making for a better connect-the-dots feel. The hole requires a commitment off the tee between two alternative paths, the low road (to the right) shorter but a bit riskier; the high road to the left safer but longer.


Hole No. 13

Par 4, 447

This is the other hole that’s been adjusted considerably, thanks to a more open look to the tee shot on the left side via a ridgeline shared with the 12th hole. A new green complex is more heavily bunkered on the inside right of the approach line, placing more of a premium on a second shot that now has to land more softly than used to be the case. That’s particularly the case because the putting surface has a slight but discernible high front and high back with a modest low across the middle, making for more interesting hole locations than before.


Hole No. 14

Par 4, 495 yards

The idea on this long, graceful left-turning hole is to hit the left side of the fairway for an ideal line with a mid-iron to the green. Tug it a bit and the ball will wind up in a nightmarish pile of rocks, mounds and deep fescue. Bail out right and face a shot of 200-plus yards on a tough angle over bunkers short right, which is exactly where a misplayed shot is likely to land.


Hole No. 15

Par 4, 421 yards

This closing stretch of holes has Hanse fully engaging the golfer in strategic options. Here the trick is to draw the player into the tightest corner of the fairway, deep on the left side, for a perfect angle and view into the green with a short iron – at the risk of running aground amidst sand off the tee. A safe tee shot to the wider right side leaves a blind entry to a perched green that does not support an approach played from that side.


Hole No. 16

Par 3, 161 yards

There‘s box-seat stadium-style viewing here around this petite par 3 over water to one of the smallest greens on the course. And it’s played into the prevailing wind, however modest it might tend to be in late summer. Sometimes under pressure, half shots are the hardest to pull off, especially when a slight pull brings water into play, which is the case here when the flag sits on the top-left shelf. On the green, a big blob buried in the middle creates all sorts of segmentation on the periphery and makes putting across it something of an adventure.


Hole No. 17

Par 4, 412 yards

This is an absolutely ingenious hole based on the principle of a chicane, or angled, chute that feeds the ball down and around. It’s mesmerizing to play and evokes memories of the same golf landscape principle at work at the third and ninth holes of The Country Club. Here there are more pronounced options, all created by a diagonal mound that traverses the fairway and creates three options: drive deep right and play down to the green from 130 yards out; lay up short left and play in from 155 yards, though with an obstructed view; or thread a drive through the mid-fairway chicane and wind up less than 100 yards out on a perfect little flat spot. The target here is the smallest green on the course, nestled low into a cove defended by sand left and heavily grassed falloffs all around.


Hole No. 18

Par 5, 530 yards

The green, changed five years ago, remains somewhat controversial for its extreme internal movement. It’s now a smaller target, elevated and heavily contoured – no doubt because it’s also readily reachable in two and thus the scene of lots of risk/reward action. It all starts with a decision at the tee: whether to back off a bit, play the drive safely left to a very inviting fairway and play in from 240 yards out over a massive wetlands crossing; or to bomb it past two central bunkers and come as close as possible to two others on the far side of the landing zone, 300 yards out. There’s also a chance to utilize the firm ground game and exploit another mid-fairway chicane that’s the reverse image of the one at the 17th hole, which if successfully negotiated leaves a player only 180 yards out. The old green was miles wide, and because Tour-quality players rarely come up short but miss left or right, there was little question they’d get home. Now that’s more of a question because the new green, 30 percent smaller and perched, brings more trouble into play, including wetlands on the right that hardly had been relevant before. This is an exciting finishing hole, with lots of possibilities across the spectrum of scores from 3 through 7.

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