BLAINE, Minn. – It's the end of an era and the dawn of a new day for the 3M Championship. While Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, is saying goodbye to the flatbellies at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, this week marks the 26th and final trip for the roundbellies to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
In June, the PGA Tour and 3M announced a seven-year agreement for a tournament to be held in Minnesota, beginning in 2019. When the 2018-19 schedule came out, it revealed the 3M Open will be hosted at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine on July 4-7 (“PGA Tour’s 2018-19 season: Less is more,” July 11).
Minnesota has hosted U.S. Opens, PGA Championships, Ryder and Solheim cups, but it will be the Tour's first annual stop in the area since 1969.
Hollis Cavner, the tournament organizer and the man for whom Cavner's Cove at No. 14 is named, has been planning for this day for some time. But it still is shaping up to be a scramble to prepare TPC Twin Cities for the bombers on the junior circuit.
This is uncharted territory. It is believed to be the first time that a Champions Tour host course has transitioned to become a PGA Tour venue and kept the same sponsor. Designed by Arnold Palmer with player consultant Tom Lehman, TPC Twin Cities opened as the 20th TPC course in the network in 2000 and began hosting the 3M a year later.
Steve Wenzloff, the Tour's vice president of design services, has been feverishly organizing a team to begin construction as early as next week once a tournament champion is crowned (tee times). He spent this week onsite to figure out the scope of the work, with an emphasis on tee-shot strategy to “give it some additional competitive modifications.” That most certainly will include adding length to the 7,100-yard, par-72 layout and new tee boxes to reinforce the original design strategy and reward driving accuracy. The 3M Championship traditionally has been a birdie-fest, with 54-hole aggregate winning scores as low as 25 under, leading to concern that if changes weren't implemented the “59 watch” would be on red alert.
"It was built and conceived in 1997-98 when the distance standard was different and the persimmon driver wasn't completely extinct," said Brandon Johnson, senior golf course architect for Arnold Palmer Design.
The project is a reunion of sorts for the key players behind the anticipated changes. All were involved in the original design. TPC Twin Cities was one of three TPC projects on which Wenzloff worked simultaneously when he started at the Tour 21 years ago. Johnson was fresh out of Harvard Graduate School of Design and worked on the course as a colleague of Wenzloff's. Johnson originally met Palmer Design’s Thad Layton – now his partner in carrying on the late Palmer’s design legacy – when he hand-delivered the TPC Twin Cities' plans to Palmer Design’s former office down the street in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Lehman, for whom the drivable par-4 seventh hole has been tabbed Tom's Thumb, also has been recruited to repeat his role as a design consultant.
Johnson has studied the lone ShotLink data from 2006, which he said could influence new tee placement and the narrowing of fairways. Wenzloff has met with Tour rules officials involved in the course setup for years as well as Lehman, who has played in his hometown event since 2011.
TPC Twin Cities has undergone limited modifications since it opened. Though numerous changes are being considered, the reality is that Wenzloff, Johnson, Lehman and Cavner will have to limit the initial scope of the project due to a short growing season.
"The weather sets in quickly, so we must be done by early-to-mid-October," Wenzloff said. "We'll take the first couple of years of insight and evaluate whether additional modifications are warranted."
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Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf.com and The New York Times. He is the winner of the National Sports Media Association's "Golf Article of 2017," and the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @adamschupak