When Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort opened in 1988, it created the backdrop for a “postcard” view of Walt Disney World as a golf resort – the palm-lined entrance and the red-shingled, white clapboard-sided elegance of the new resort in the background, with golfers on the 17th tee of the Magnolia golf course in the foreground.
It was a picture-perfect view. Worth a thousand words. A real “money shot” for a photographer.
How seemingly appropriate (or perhaps ironic), then, that 21 years later, a couple of PGA TOUR golfers competing in the 2009 Children’s Miracle Network Classic Nov. 12-15 will be doing some “shooting” of their own on No. 17 … with $1 million at stake. The picturesque and challenging par 4 is the final hole of the inaugural Kodak Challenge, a winner-take-all competition that has been tracking TOUR players’ performance on designated holes throughout 2009.
Thirty Kodak Challenge holes – one each at 30 PGA TOUR co-sponsored events – were determined before the 2009 season. For each player, his best performance on the Kodak Challenge hole during a tournament has been recorded on his “Kodak Challenge Scorecard.” For instance, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill earlier this year, No. 18 was the Kodak Challenge hole. If a player scored two bogies, a par and a birdie on the difficult hole, his scorecard for the Challenge would read -1, reflecting only the birdie.
Golfers must play 18 of the 30 Kodak Challenge holes to be eligible to win. When a golfer has played more than 18 of the holes, his scorecard reflects his best 18.
So now it is coming down to a finish at Disney on No. 17. Here, in the words of Disney Head Golf Professional and Classic Chairman Kevin Weickel, is what the golfers face:
From a peninsula tee 485 yards from the cup, a player must split the fairway guarded on the left and right by water and trees. In doing so, the key is proper positioning in the fairway to gain the most advantageous angle for the second shot, as the hole doglegs left to an elongated green. Even with the biggest of drives, players will be left with a mid iron of some sort to approach a green which slopes from back to front with a tilt to the right – which is guarded on the right by a bunker and beyond that by a mirror lake. As the pin moves further back and to the right on this green, birdie becomes an incredible challenge which has baffled players for 39 years.
It adds up to a hole that has been the third most difficult on the Magnolia course and sixth most difficult in the Classic (including the Palm course) since the TOUR began keeping hole-by-hole statistics in 1983. In 1984, No. 17 played .346 over par to rank as the 36th most difficult hole on the entire PGA TOUR.
Par has been the norm for No. 17, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) of players’ rounds including a 4 on the long par 4. Another 17 percent of rounds have been over par, while players shoot under par about 15 percent of the time.
Kevin Streelman is atop the Kodak Challenge leader board at -16 – two strokes better than Nathan Green, J.J. Henry and Bo Van Pelt. The two-stroke lead means that if Streelman birdies No. 17, he claims the $1 million prize.
If he does no better than par on No. 17, Van Pelt (the only challenger entered in the Classic) still would need an eagle to match his score. How difficult a challenge might that be? Consider these facts:
There has not been an eagle on No. 17 in the Classic since 1998.
In those 10 “eagle-less” Classics (1999-2008), 2,966 rounds have been played on the Magnolia course.
But between 1983 (when the PGA TOUR began tracking hole-by-hole data) and 1998, there were four eagles on the hole during 3,325 Classic rounds – one in every 832 rounds on average.
Since record-keeping began, then, there have been four eagles in 6,291 rounds. Put another way: The historical odds are more than 1,500-to-1 against it.
Put yet another way: The odds are virtually twice as good for a hole-in-one on the 170-yard No. 3, where there have been seven aces since 1983 and eight since 1982.
Yet viewed still another way: Given that there hasn’t been an eagle on No. 17 in nearly 3,000 rounds … “it’s overdue.”
If two or more players are tied in the competition at the finish of the Classic on Sunday, there will be a winner-take-all playoff for the $1 million prize.