The 2015 NCAA Championships were held at The Concession, a slice of golfing treachery sitting in the middle of a swamp about 35 minutes Southeast of Bradenton, Florida. The school I was covering was in the tournament, so I drove down to see them reach the quarterfinals.
I was credentialed media for the event, and the NCAA gave us a chance to play the course under tournament conditions before it started. I passed because it was about two hours each way from my house for a four-hour round of golf, and also I am a bad golfer. But when I finally saw the course, that turned out to be a terrific decision.
Because there’s about a 0.0% chance I’d of broken triple digits. It was unquestionably the toughest course I’ve ever seen. And since it’s never hosted a PGA event previously, here’s what I know about The Concession and what it can do to elite golfers.
I’ve played some brutal tracks (Torrey Pines in the lead-up to the 2010 US Open was a particular treat), but I walked the course as soon as I got there to get a feel for the place. The hole placements were criminal. The tee boxes required cannon-length. And if it didn’t rain for a good portion of the event, par would have been achievable only by riding a unicorn carrying a pot of gold.
And then I read they’ve made it 200 yards longer than it was six years ago for this year’s WGC-Workday Championship... I mean what in the hell? It was 7,474 yards from the tips previously with a slope of 155 (which is the maximum). So they decided to make it harder??
Here’s the 606-yard 7th hole. Just your average, normal gargantuan Par 5 with swamp, trees, bunkers, and a green that breaks more ways than late-deciding voters in Miami-Dade County. And this isn’t even the toughest of the Par 5’s by course rating.
While the length of PGA players will put the Par 5’s in play this week for scoring opportunities, they’ll need to be tight as well. You can make four, or you can make seven. Five almost seems like the least likely score for the best players in the world.
Bryson DeChambeau shot -8 to win the NCAA individual champion in 2015, and that’s the last relevant tournament this course has seen. But in that event Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Sepp Straka, Scottie Scheffler, and plenty of other guys you know failed to break par in the four-round, no-cut NCAA Championship.
If DeChambeau can keep it in the short stuff his length will be a huge asset, as will his great memories of the place. But one wayward tee ball can cancel out three flawless ones easily.
Thursday through Sunday are expected to be perfect Florida February days, with high temps in the high-70’s to mid-80’s and basically no chance of rain. If this track gets hard, and the greens start rolling like a glass-bottom boat off the coast of Sarasota... par is going to be a fantastic score.
It will be up to the tournament committee to determine how tough they want to make the track, but there is unlimited potential for pain if they choose masochism. The greens usually run at a 14 for members, but there are rumors it’ll just be 12.5 this week. If that’s the case, it’s a much more playable course.
But there is all the leash you’d ever need for the grounds crew and tournament committee if they want it to make this a true challenge.