Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)
RALEIGH, NC – As many golf fans in the Triangle are aware, this time of year brings professional golf to the area.
The PGA Tour’s development pipeline and roster of players competing on the Korn Ferry Tour are in the City of Oaks this week.
What was formerly known as the Rex Hospital Open will now be presented as the UNC Health Championship, taking place June 1-4.
Not only the tournament’s name has changed, but so has the host course – formerly the Country Club at Wakefield Plantation, the first drives off split tees on Thursday will take place on holes No. 1 and 10 at Raleigh Country Club, a Donald Ross original design gem.
Teeing off in the city
“We are obviously transitioning from the Rex hospital open for 18 years and Wakefield to the UNC Championship presented by Stitch, now at Raleigh Country Club,” tournament director Brian Crusoe said.
“We’d like to thank Stitch for coming out as a presenting sponsor. They’ve been a longtime partner, great friends and great people. They’re a great company that have grown with us over the years really helping us elevate things. And the move to Raleigh Country Club is a big one for us.
“We’re keeping things within the McConnellGolf family. We have done great things at Wakefield and raised a lot of money. But this is the new chapter for for our tournament.
“Raleigh Country Club is ranked in the top 20 in the state and the top couple of courses in the Triangle. It’s it’s centrally located. Accessibility is always something we strive for and the golf courses in a convenient location only a couple of miles from downtown. And the course lends itself to set up for a really exciting layout be able to see across the property.”
Made for pro golf viewing
In 2020, McConnell Golf completed a major renovation of the historic track, a $5.5 million project overseen by architect Kyle Franz.
The focus of the project was retaining the integrity of Ross’s original design while allowing more challenges for today’s long-hitting players.
Hundreds of trees were removed and opened up sight lines all over the course that spectators and players will be impressed with.
Many of the green complexes were deepened, with more bunkers coming into play.
We’ve been here before
Notable local players with substantial course knowledge competing this week include Ben Kohles, Carter Jenkins, and Grayson Murray.
Currently leading the KFT Point list, Kohles has two wins under his belt, while Murray sits at 17th with a recent win at AdventHealth Championship, and Jenkins is 34th with two top-10 finishes this season.
These guys have played this course many times, and can arguably be considered as favorites to claim the 2023 UNC Championship title and $180,000 prize check by Sunday afternoon.
Course management and shotmaking is key
“I had a chance to play it not so long after the redo maybe maybe six months or so after they opened up,” Kohles said
“And it was it was really really fun course to play. I played it back in high school. We’ve played a lot of courses since then. But you know, playing the redo and seeing all the changes that were made and kind of reliving back when I was there in high school, and kind of remembering the old Donald Ross feel.
“It’s gonna be a pretty special week to definitely see the challenge not only from a playing perspective…it’s a course that you can see it from the clubhouse – you can kind of see almost all the holes through the trees, and I feel like you’re gonna get a much better kind of tournament atmosphere.”
In terms of playing difficulty, the 7400-yard-from-the-tips layout will see many going for greens off the tee, but the undulating fairways, water hazards and bunker complexes will require exceptional short-game shotmaking and flawless putting skills to earn a spot at the top of the leaderboard.
“It’s a funny golf course, I would deem it as a second-shot golf course,” Jenkins noted.
“Keeping it in play off the tee and playing the proper angles when you come into these greens and leave it in the proper sections makes putting significantly easier. But, at the end of the day, yes, you’re gonna have to make some putts on these tough sloping greens.”
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