If the question before the start of the PGA Championship was whether TPC Harding Park had the chops to host its first major championship, the question upon leaving is if and when it might get another shot at hosting a second major.
With the marine layer coming and going, with a thick thatch of rough lining every fairway and with its Monterey cypress trees framing the sometimes wind-chilled layout, Harding Park emerged as something of a star during the 102nd staging of the event.
Less celebrated than its more famous and exclusive neighbors such as the Olympic Club and San Francisco Golf Club, the municipal course did more than stand up to the best players in the world. It earned another turn.
That doesn’t mean it will happen any time soon. The PGA Championship is booked out through 2031. In terms of major championship hosting duties, the timetable works but it’s likely to be a while especially since the 2028 PGA Championship is scheduled at the Olympic Club, literally across the street from Harding Park.
“I think Harding Park is a very underrated golf course,” Phil Mickelson said. “It's one of my favorite sites that we play a major on. It's really hard to mess this up. You just can't mess up a course that's so beautifully designed and gives you so many options to play it different ways, and I thought the PGA did a great job of making this a tournament that really identifies the best players.”
Though Harding Park favored the bombers – the top of the leaderboard was filled with long-hitters – its setup still demanded careful play off the tee or the risk a potentially severe penalty in the rough. Ask Rory McIlroy who killed a run of four consecutive birdies with a triple bogey at the 12th hole on Friday when he kept playing from the wrong spots.
Normally a par-72, Harding Park was converted to a par-70 for the PGA Championship and the two converted par-5s – the ninth and the 12th – were among the most difficult holes through the tournament.
The weather obliged, giving Harding Park a distinctive look and feel. Bathed in sunshine for portions of each day, the marine layer was there both early and late, changing the way the course played. The cooler temperatures and enough wind to make club selection tricky added texture to Harding Park’s challenge.
If there was a complaint from the players it was about the firmness of bunkers, which made sand play inconsistent.
Harding Park, like Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black, is a municipal course, a rarity in major-championship golf.
“I've always said that golf, everywhere in the world, but I think especially in the United States, it can become more accessible still,” McIlroy said, “and I think bringing the biggest tournaments in the world to public courses is a step in the right direction.
“We're always going to go to private courses because some of the private courses are some of the best in the world, and they're courses that test the top players. But at the same time, it's very refreshing that we do come to places like here, Bethpage, Torrey Pines. It is important to let the public see us on golf courses that they've played before, that are accessible for them, that aren't too expensive to get on.
“It's a step in the right direction for golf.”
If Harding Park needed another endorsement, well, Brooks Koepka provided a fine one.
“It’s a big-boy golf course,” he said. “Tough place. Tough set up.”
Ron Green Jr.