You could say PGA of America Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh comes home a little every time he and a major golf championship return to Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska.
He was the one who determined how a course built to host major championships played for the PGA Championship in 2002 and 2009 and, with direction from U.S. team captain Davis Love III, the 2016 Ryder Cup as well.
Now he is back to organize the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — the third of five majors on the LPGA’s 2019 schedule — that will be played at Hazeltine National next month for the first time.
“I know so many people here, the staff and the membership,” Haigh said. “The club, their passion for hosting major championships, it’s their mission. I love coming back here and it’s a great golf course, so what’s not to love?”
He visited Hazeltine recently for the last time before the championship arrives for a week starting June 17, the day after the men’s U.S. Open ends at Pebble Beach. He was on site for two days to finalize hole yardages, survey any winter damage (there was little) and mark with spray paint and flags where grandstands, leaderboards and restrooms will be located.
Haigh knows what worked well presenting the two PGA Championships and one Ryder Cup that the PGA of America ran. He calls the KPMG Women’s PGA “certainly smaller in scale” than those two events. The Ryder Cup took workers four months to build a tent the city required to hold such a spectacle. The build-out for the KPMG Women’s PGA is seven weeks.
Still, it presents some of the same challenges. One of them is a course layout in which Hazeltine National’s ninth and 18th holes run alongside each other. Their adjacent greens required grandstands to be angled just right for fans to see action on both at the same time.
The course will play significantly shorter at its maximum 6,807 yards and par-72 than the 7,628 yards it could have played at its longest for the Ryder Cup three years ago. The course also will play with its original configuration rather than the Ryder Cup layout that swapped the last five holes from each nine.
The signature 16th hole lakeside then became No. 7, which ensured every match would play it. The par-5 seventh hole, with its amphitheater green, became the dramatic 16th hole.
But the fairways will vary from similar 22- to 34-yard widths it plays during men’s majors, and the greens will be fast. The rough will be much like men’s PGA Championship length and noticeably longer than it was for the Ryder Cup. Entrusted with course setup because he led the home team, Love wanted his big hitters to bomb drives anywhere with impunity and rely on their superior wedge play.
“The rough will be tough,” Haigh said. “If you miss the fairway, you won’t be able to hit hybrids or whatever out of it. It’ll be tough, but it will be fair hopefully.”
The LPGA, PGA of America and sponsor KPMG partnered to hold this major starting in 2015, intending to significantly upgrade the quality of golf courses played. It already has been played at Olympia Fields, site of the 2003 men’s U.S. Open, near Chicago and it’s coming to Hazeltine National, classic Aronimink near Philadelphia and major-championship Congressional and Baltusrol in coming years.
“The quality of the golf course says a lot. It amplifies the magnitude of the event,” said LPGA player Danielle Kang, who qualified for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open at age 14 and turned pro in 2011. “The courses we play, the condition they’re in, the setup, it’s special. Not that it wasn’t great before, but now we get to play Hazeltine. We get to play Baltusrol. We get to play Olympia Fields.
“We get to play the historic courses where the men play. It makes it very special for me and for us. I feel very grateful for it.”
Kang made the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA at Olympia Fields her first pro victory.
“It holds a special place in my heart for that, too,” she said.
The world’s best women golfers will play for a $3.85 million purse, the fourth-biggest on the schedule. They will do so in June. The men’s PGA was held at Hazeltine in August and the Ryder Cup in late September. Wind on an already windy site might be more prevalent in June, but Haigh predicts the fairways and greens will be at their healthiest — and tough — before the summer heat really hits.
Will any LPGA Tour player complain afterward that the course was too easy, as Europe’s Justin Rose did after the U.S. team won the Ryder Cup there for the first time since 2008?
“We shall see,” Haigh said, smiling.