Augusta National has Amen Corner and Rae's Creek. Pebble Beach has the par-3 7th and I Stillwater Cove. The Old Course has the Swilken Burn bridge, the Valley of Sin and bunkers with names.
Valhalla Golf Club? It has the Toilet Seat, the new nickname of the awkward 18th green, and unsightly power lines that run through the front nine. Sure, any course would pale in comparison to the sites of this year's first three majors, but somehow we can't get past that memorable moment at the 18th green during Wednesday's practice round for the PGA Championship. " Dennis Paulson said, 'If you look down, the green looks just like a f——-toilet seat,' " said Steve Pate. "He's right."
So was this really any place to hold the last major championship of the millennium year, especially after Valhalla had gotten lukewarm reviews during the 1996 PGA? "We have a better course now," Valhalla superintendent Mark Wilson says. "People compare us to Pebble Beach and Augusta. We're in better shape at 14 years old than they were." O.K., we'll give you that. Still, Valhalla was a poor choice.
All you had to do was witness the opening round. It took upward of six hours to complete, and even though there were no delays, it didn't finish on Thursday, a major-championship first. No rain, no fog, no lightning, no streakers. Just a creeping, pathetic pace of play. Eighteen players were still on the course when darkness fell on their heads, no doubt waking them. "I'm not criticizing the PGA," said Ernie Els, who shot 74 in a hot, six-hour round, "but it needs to rethink this course. Every third hole we were bunched up."
There was plenty of blame to share. The par-5s were reachable in two for even the non-Tigers, backing up play. Officials didn't prod slow-moving early groups. Too many pins were set in ridiculously difficult positions. Yes, slow play was an issue at St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, too. But with Valhalla, let's put the blame where it belongs—on the architect. " Jack Nicklaus builds hard courses," says Tom Kite, "and slow ones."
Long walks to tees, and smallish greens surrounded by deep bunkers in which your average club member is more likely to unearth Egyptian treasure than he is to play a shot onto the green are Valhalla's trademarks. Tournament officials figured just over four hours and 40 minutes would be a reasonable pace of play for Valhalla. See, there's the problem. In Scotland, 3:40 would be tolerable—barely. A 4:40 round would get you branded with a scarlet letter. A downpour on Thursday night softened Valhalla, rescuing greens that were dying in the sizzling afternoon heat, and made the course more playable; otherwise the PGA's finish might have run over into Monday Night Football.
Last week no one seemed to disagree with David Duval, who once said that Valhalla was an ideal site...for the Nike tour. Sample this smorgasbord of player comments:
"It's a wonderful golf course, until you get within 10 yards of the greens," says Pate.
"I like hard courses. I like a lot of Jack Nicklaus's courses. But this is not one of his better works," says Kite.
"Valhalla seems like a TPC course. It would be fine for a Tour event, but I don't think you want to hold a PGA at the Phoenix Open," says Kevin Sutherland.