Just six months after it learned it would play host to a major tournament on the Champions Tour, the Fox Chapel Golf Club will lift the curtain today on its Seth Raynor-designed course that will present a mixed bag of classic looks, sneaky shots, a lot of birdies, and greens that pitch and run like a marble in a bathtub.
The 30th Constellation Senior Players Championship, one of five majors on the Champions Tour, will begin at 7:29 a.m. today with 81 players getting their first look in a competitive situation at Fox Chapel -- the course that was awarded the tournament in mid-December with nothing more than a one-year commitment.
After playing a practice round Tuesday and in the afternoon pro-am Wednesday, Tom Watson -- the greatest major champion in the field -- raved about the quality and appearance of the golf course and gave a stirring endorsement to return the tournament for years to come.
"This is one really, really good golf course," said Watson, who won eight major titles on the PGA Tour and five on the Champions Tour. "This is really an excellent test. I mean, from hole 1 to hole 18, it's just a lot of fun to play. I just can't say enough about it."
Then Watson, a course designer himself, continued to say more.
"I really, really like what Seth Raynor did here. It's an unsung jewel, I think, in golf. People should wake up and realize what a great golf course this is, because that's what it is."
Fox Chapel was a late selection as the venue because the title sponsor, Constellation Energy, was in the middle of a merger with Exelon. The tournament had bounced to several sites the past five years after spending the previous 17 at the TPC Michigan in Dearborn, Mich.
But the agreement to play at Fox Chapel was for only one year and no commitment has been made beyond 2012.
Based on the players' reaction the past two days, returning to Fox Chapel in '13 and beyond would be overwhelmingly supported.
"I am so impressed with it here at Fox Chapel," said Watson, who took pictures of the greens complexes during his pro-am round Wednesday to use as possible templates for his course designs. "I feel remiss not ever having played here. Corey Pavin said yesterday, 'When I finished the 18th hole, I wanted to go start playing again.' That's the true measure of a great golf course, whether you want to go continue.
"I hope we keep it here. I hope Constellation and Fox Chapel can come to terms and keep it here for the foreseeable future."
"The reason we say that is because the course is truly unique," said Mark Calcavecchia, last week's winner at the Montreal Championship. "We don't play courses like this.
"We go to Naples and they change the course there every year. We have to ride half a mile to the next tee, play a hole that looks like the hole you just played, ride another quarter-mile to the next tee through a couple lots ... here, what everyone says about it is amazing. Everyone I talked to loves it."
They will probably like it even more, once the 72-hole tournament with no cut gets under way today.
If the weather continues to stay warm and dry, the winning score will not come close to Jack Nicklaus' record 27 under in 1990 but it could go pretty low. And, because Fox Chapel is par 70, the record 18-hole score of 63 held by Jim Colbert ('95), Hubert Green (2002) and Tom Kite ('03) could be eclipsed.
"There's five, six or seven holes pretty hard holes, but there's another 10 or 12 that aren't very hard," Calcavecchia said. "You'll see plenty of birdies out here. You'll see some pretty good scores this week.
"There are only two par 5s and No. 2 is short one [where] you can make 3 or 4. And, if the wind keeps blowing this [direction], 18 is reachable for just about everybody. So right there you're down to a par 68 if you birdie those two holes. You're going to see some 64s and 65s out here, I promise you."
Watson has not played since he injured his wrist mowing grass and withdrew from a Champions Tour event in Tampa, Fla., in mid-April. But, unlike some senior players who monitor how much they prepare for a 72-hole tournament, Watson, 62, said he can't prepare enough for the event, especially on a course he has never played before this week.
"Two is the minimum and, for a new golf course, three is," Watson said. "The more practice rounds you play, the better."
That is different than Fred Couples, the defending champion, who had not played the course until his afternoon appearance in the Wednesday pro-am. Couples will be paired today in one of the featured groups at 7:51 a.m. with Calcavecchia and Jay Haas, a 16-time winner on the Champions Tour.
Right behind them is the other featured group of Watson, Greg Norman and Tom Lehman at 8:02 a.m.
"You know, the last win I had was at Mississippi and it rained and I didn't even get to play the course because it was flooded," Couples said. "I'm hoping it's one look and I'll be semi-ready."
The players are hoping they get more than one look at Fox Chapel.
First Published June 28, 2012 4:00 AM