Until this point, all of the talk of the PGA Championship being held at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, S.C., has been theoretical. The rubber is now meeting the road.
I was there with about 50 other volunteers as we went through our training session to be marshals on the 18th hole for the year’s final major championship. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at the tee box is what a bear the finishing hole could be.
First, it will be played as a 501-yard, par-4. For the tour pros, that’s not a big deal.
But … if the wind I saw and felt between 6:30 and 8 p.m. is any indication, the pros playing in the late afternoon will be hitting tee shots into the teeth of a 15 mph easterly wind. The wind kept the flags flying stiff from the luxury boxes lining the left part of the hole. A right-handed player will have to hit a power fade to keep it in the fairway or risk taking it over the dunes and gorse that line the right half of the hole. From there, a little prayer might help the wind bring the ball back to the short grass.
Mark Tschetschot of the PGA office explained our duties. Each hole has three captains, one for each shift of the day. The captains are responsible for getting us in the right positions and answering any questions.
Tschetschot did a nice job of explaining the color coded arm badges; how to watch the crosswalk on the hole; how to watch shots and what to do with wayward ones; the right way to mark a ball if it’s accidently moved by a spectator; even how to move the rope if a player requests it.
We also learned some of the idiosyncrasies of Pete Dye’s design. For instance, there is no out of bounds. “If you can find it, you can hit it,” Tschetschot said.
And local rules will be in effect, which means that since sand is such an intrinsic part of the course, all areas that look like bunkers are treated as waste areas. Players can ground their clubs, take practice swings hitting the sand, etc. So there will be no repeat of what happened to Dustin Johnson two years ago on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits. “This makes your job easier,” Mark said.
There will be more than a dozen marshals on the 18th hole, but Tschetschot told us that we would be switching positions – from tee to fairway to green – during our shifts so we’ll get a feel for everything. We will not have the paddles with “Quiet Please” written on them, instead holding our hands above our head to keep the gallery quiet and still.
The clock is ticking and the horses are just about at the gate. It’s almost showtime.
Mark Matlock is a freelance writer living in Greenville, S.C. He’ll be contributing columns throughout the week to take Golfweek readers inside the ropes at Kiawah Island.