By Nick Totten, europeantour.com
At Firestone Country Club
Akron has long been welcoming the very best the golfing globe has to offer, and with the players preparing to tee it up in the 16th WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this week, europeantour.com decided to dig down in the Ohio dirt to give you everything you need to know about Firestone Country Club.
Located some five miles south of downtown, this week’s host venue has three courses at its disposal – the North, West and South – the latter of which will welcome the game’s greatest talents once again from Thursday.
Commissioned in 1929 by Harvey Firestone as a park for employees of his rubber and tyre business, the South Course was the first to be built, after it was designed by Bert Way and opened on August 10 of that same year.
Renowned architect Robert Trent Jones made some changes of his own some half a century later, adding over 50 bunkers, two ponds and lengthening it to 7,189 yards, before further alterations were made by Golforce in 1985.
Since opening, the South Course has hosted countless PGA Tour events as well as 14 of the previous 15 WGC-Bridgestone Invitationals, but it also has Major pedigree too. Akronites welcomed the US PGA Championship in 1960, 66 and 75, with Jay Herbert, Al Geiberger and Jack Nicklaus triumphing respectively.
The iconic water tower on the property also looms large over this golfing mecca, and has already been the subject of countless social media posts from the players this week, as they return once again to a course once referred to by Arnold Palmer as a “Monster”.
Forget three, 12’s the magic number
There’s nothing dirty about this dozen, as it is the number most likely to secure your success at this event, with 12 under par having been the winning score in 2001 (Tiger Woods), 2003 (Darren Clarke), 2009 (Woods, again) and in 2010 (Hunter Mahan).
Some years the scoring has been lower, others higher, but the average winning score remains 12 better than par. Over the years eight time Champion Tiger Woods has won at both ends of the scoring spectrum, having registered the lowest winning score (21 under in 2000), and the highest (six under in 2005).
Headline writers the world over love nothing better than a play on the route 66 line when a professional fires off a round in the mid-60s, but the course record on the South Course is much better than that.
No surprises at who has shot the 61 in question, and twice no less. En route to the title in both 2000 and last year, Woods carded the nine under par mark to establish staggering margins of victory, taking the title by 11 and seven strokes respectively in those two years.
Signature hole: 16th – Par 5 – 667 yards
Most weeks professional golfers gobble up the par fives, with birdies and eagles galore always a great fillip to any scorecard, but it can be a much different story at the daunting par five 16th hole on the South Course.
Not just its impressive length tests the best in the game, but a strategically placed water hazard that lurks short of the green to not only catch an errant attempt to get home in two, but also it’s fair share of poor third shots from tight lies in the immaculately manicured Bent grass fairways.
What the players say…
Rory McIlroy (Best finish: T5, 2012)
"I think this is one of the best courses we play all year and I really look forward to this week, as it's a great tournament for the players. We all really enjoy it because of the atmosphere, because you're guaranteed four days of golf and It's on a great golf course.
"Guys just enjoy coming here and playing as it's a good test. It's not in a major city, but that's not what we're here for. We're here to play a golf tournament, and we're here to try and win.
"I definitely don't think this tournament should move anywhere else. It's one of my favourite weeks of the year, and I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of other guys, as they'd say the same thing."
Sergio Garcia (Best finish: T13, 2005)
"I love the golf course. I think this is definitely one of the best golf courses we play all year.
"We've always enjoyed it. People always come and support it and it's great to see nice big crowds, and the golf course is really one of the best ones we play all year. So for us, there's really no complaints."
Rickie Fowler (Best finish: T2, 2011)
"It's been a lot of fun being back here at Firestone, probably one of the better courses we play all year, and it's in great shape. It's a bit soft right now, but hopefully some of the rain can hold off and we'll get a good golf course this weekend."
Tiger Woods (Best finish: 1, 1999-2001, 05-07, 09, 13)
“I'm excited to be back. I've had some pretty good memories here and I''ve had some pretty good rounds and certainly some great moments on this property. Any time I come back here, it's always a good solid feeling, and I'm looking forward to this week.”