Champions Tour golfers enjoy challenges at Shoal Creek

By Steve Irvine — The Birmingham News

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The subject was Shoal Creek playing host to the Regions Tradition for the first time. The person answering the questions was legendary golfer Lee Trevino.

Naturally, Trevino did what Trevino does best. He got on a roll about the Jack Nicklaus-designed course.

"Now they can call The Tradition, in my opinion, a major because it’s going to a golf course that deserves to be called a major," said Trevino, who won’t play in this week’s Regions Tradition but is very familiar with Shoal Creek after winning the 1984 PGA Championship on the course.

"Nicklaus was there but Mr. Hall Thompson had everything to do with how he did this. If you look, it has a lot of Hilton Head in it, (with) the exception that it’s longer. And it’s a new modern golf course that looks traditional."

The Tradition has been one of the major tournaments on the Champions Tour since 1989. It was played at the Cochise Golf Club at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., from 1989 to 2002, moved to The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Course in Aloha, Ore., from 2003 to 2006 and spent the past four years at the Crosswater Golf Club in Sunriver, Ore.

Now, the status of the event gets a boost in part because Shoal Creek is considered by most golfers as a course masterpiece. Golfers have different reasons for thinking so, but mainly it’s because it’s a tough test of skill.

"It doesn’t have all that fancy stuff," Trevino said. "It’s just flat out. It doesn’t have all these humps and bumps and stuff all over it. … It’s mean. It’s a mean golf course."

Some golfers remember, at the 1990 PGA Championship, a rough that ate up any golf ball that didn’t remain in the fairway.

"I remember if you hit the ball in the rough, it might have been a lateral hazard," said John Cook. "You couldn’t hit it. You just chipped out and went from there. That’s probably why Trevino won (in 1984) because he couldn’t aim it off line. Back then, he was hitting it so straight, it was perfect for him."

It remains to be seen whether the rough will be as treacherous this week.

"We are going in early enough this year that maybe it won’t have a full growing season like it did at the PGA (Championship) when we played there," said Jay Haas.

Even so, Larry Nelson said there would be plenty of other challenges.

"You have to drive the ball well and you have to hit your irons well," Nelson said. "I think, from that standpoint, it’s a good golf course. I remember the rough was kind of bad but that was typical for the PGA back then. Depending on how they set the golf course up, there may be some different premiums. If they narrow the golf course up and have the rough, then driving is going to be a premium. If the greens get firm, then hitting your irons is going to be a premium."

No matter what the conditions are, Loren Roberts is glad to be challenged by the course again.

"Just a quality golf course," Roberts said. "There isn’t a weak hole on it. You see what you get and you’ve got to go out there and hit it and play the golf course. I just thought it was a wonderful venue for us. There are a lot of really great, imaginative holes out there. It’s just straight-up good golf."

Shoal Creek

Opening on November 1, 1977, Shoal Creek hosted three U.S. Open Champions to compete in the inaugural ceremonial round: three-time Open Champion Nicklaus, 1976 Open Champion Jerry Pate and 1977…

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