Firestone Country Club: Utterly Fair, or an Utter Snore?
"Hard par, easy bogey" is the tagline slapped onto the stylized designs of Robert Trent Jones Sr. Akron, Ohio's Firestone Country Club, site of this week's WGC-Bridgestone event, is no exception.
Firestone's South course enjoys exalted status on Tour, having hosted the game's best every year since 1962, when Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural World Series of Golf. It also played host to a pair of PGA Championships, in 1966 (Al Geiberger) and 1975 (Nicklaus), plus a slew of made-for-TV specials and other Tour events in the '60s and '70s. Its 625-yard "monster" par-5 16th (now 667 yards) and water tower across Warner Road were on TV so often that its holes were better known than Augusta National's. Better known, maybe, but not better.
By the late 1980s, Firestone South had run into a wall of criticism. "It's too long. It's too hard. It's too boring." Indeed, most of Firestone's holes run parallel to one another and the majority of greens are elevated and fronted by bunkers, lending a certain sameness to the proceedings. Yet, in 2013, the course isn't outrageously long by modern standards and a new generation of pros has come to appreciate the layout's straightforward virtues. Last November, Tiger Woods told me that Firestone is one of his favorite courses on Tour. He's especially fond of the long, runway tee boxes, "so that everybody starts out together." OK, after seven wins and a few 61s, Tiger may be a bit biased.
Some question whether the South is even the best Trent Jones course at Firestone. Jose Maria Olazabal won the 1994 World Series of Golf over the club's North course, a watery layout that boasts more variety than the South. No matter how you feel, the bottom line is that while forced carry approaches are the order of the day to greens where the ball hits and stops, it's not bad golf. On the contrary, the guys who play for pay crave certainty and at Firestone, there are seldom any awkward bounces or bad breaks. You get what you deserve at Firestone. These aren't the fiery fairways of Muirfield, the quirky routing of Merion, or the thrilling risk/rewards of Augusta National. Firestone is golf's equivalent of your Sunday night Roast Chicken or Spaghetti and Meatballs. It's neither fancy nor ambitious, but for the breed it is, it is a best in show winner.