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Fire The Cannons - 2024 RBC Heritage Course Preview and Breakdown for Harbour Town Golf Links

On the morning after the dust has settled in Augusta, the majority of the players competing will be making the drive to Hilton Head where they are set to blast off the cannons at Harbour Town Golf Links to kick off the 2024 RBC Heritage. As always with the PGA Tour, there is no rest for the weary as we have another signature event with a 20 Million dollar purse on the line. The golf course this week will be a stark contrast for those who just competed at Augusta National, but one we are intimately familiar with over the years that typically generates a dramatic finish.

I wanted to use this piece to hopefully highlight a few different angles and elements that may be less spoken about to provide some value in this course preview. With so much history to look back on through the years, we have a good understanding of the skillsets that match up Harbour Town. We are going to dive into great detail in an attempt to digest the statistical data and historical stats to create actionable info for you to utilize for building lineups and making your bets for the RBC Heritage. Let's go!

 

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An Introduction to the Course

Harbour Town Golf Links is an old trusty personal favorite of mine on the PGA Tour schedule. I have managed to hit numerous winners at this event over the years because I believe that I have a foundational understanding of what this course requires from a player and I am not willing to overreact to what I saw last week at The Masters given that this is a totally different examination. Harbour Town Golf Links is located just off the Atlantic Coast in Hilton Head, SC. For the majority of holes, you feel like you are weaving through the tree-lined Carolina pines before ending up along the coastal waterways and marshy grass that is a signature element in this part of the country.

The course architect is the great Pete Dye who originally designed this layout in 1969. There have been modest restorations since with the resurfacing of the greens and lengthening of a few holes, but for the most part the course has maintained its architectural integrity. This is not a golf course that was meant to be overpowered by the modern player. The layout takes advantage of harsh doglegs protected by tall trees and the fairways narrow significantly the further you hit it.

It has always been a positional golf course where you have to understand angles effectively to open up some of the pin locations on the microscopic greens which are the smallest in size on the PGA Tour schedule. Sometimes being in the rough, but on the correct side of the hole, is more important than fairways hit because there are spots you can get blocked out by overhanging limbs. This tournament has produced some of the most dramatic finishes in recent history and lends itself to aggressive chasers on Sunday which is a testament to the amazing design put in place by Mr. Dye. It's one of the few regular events on the PGA Tour that holds an identity and I'm excited every year for players to tee off on Thursday.

 

Recent Winners:

2023: Matt Fitzpatrick -17 : 30/1

2022: Jordan Spieth -13 : 40/1

2021: Stewart Cink -19 : 125/1

2020: Webb Simpson -22 : 35/1

2019: CT Pan -12 : 160/1

2018: Satoshia Kodaira -12 : 250/1

 

Course Specs

The main defining feature throughout 18 holes at Harbour Town Golf Links is the narrow corridors that you must play through off the tee. Many of them introduce a sharp dogleg around the 250-275-yard mark and continue to narrow the further that you hit the ball. The average fairway width at the 250-yard mark is 32 yards but when you get to 300 yards from the teebox the average fairway is only 22 yards wide. The goal off the tee is all about positioning yourself with a proper angle into these tiny greens.

As I mentioned earlier, we have some of the smallest greens on Tour this week at only 3,700 sq. ft. on average. Many of them have relatively severe runoffs given how small they are which effectively makes them play even smaller. They are well protected by 54 bunkers on the course. The greens are Bermuda grass but once again will have a POA Trivialis overseed which helps to mitigate the grain and allows them to roll smoother at this time of year in the South.

Over recent years, they have added length in some spots. Last year they added nearly 22 yards to the par-3 7th hole which plays 217 yards. The year prior they also lengthened two of the par-5s. All in all, at only a smidge over 7,200 yards, this course will play significantly short in comparison to most PGA Tour events which can allow some of the shorter hitters who obtain a streaky putter to compete at this event annually.

It's a unique layout that is atypical of the norm. The only comp course on the schedule which has a similar feel is Copperhead, which we saw host the Valspar a few weeks ago. They are both coastal courses, located just a few miles from the ocean, but they really don't feel like it. They are tailor-made for plotters and strategizers. Both feature narrow fairways that are heavily treelined with low Greens in regulation rates. One other note, the rough has been cut down this year to 2.5 inches, making it less penal than we saw in previous years.

 

Statistical Considerations

Strokes gained Approach sees a nice uptick on courses like Harbour Town. The reason is, on many of the par-4s, players will be hitting their approach shots in bunched-up areas of the fairways which effectively turns them into par-3s. The greens in regulation rates annually are still roughly 5% lower than the tour average, despite fairways in regulation being 5% above the tour average. I'm putting increased emphasis on recent approach play and looking at stats like opportunities gained. Given the tiny greens, I want to see who is hitting their shots consistently within 15 feet on the hole.

I also believe in the course history narrative at Harbour Town. I understand that this fluctuates based on the player, but if you read into player quotes year over year, understanding where to attack and where to play conservatively is of utmost importance. The ability to hit multiple shot shapes will help you to unlock some of the difficult doglegs as well. This course will ask questions on nearly every tee box. The players and caddies who are able to make the best decisions, play the best here. Experience and course knowledge go a long way with that. Here is what Webb Simpson said after he won in 2020.

I think you have to really shape it off the tee. You’ve got to think, you know, any hole could be two or three clubs off the tee that makes sense. So I love that. I love small greens. I love small targets. 

Lastly, and this could be a sneaky one that I didn't expect to find a correlation in, strokes gained tee-to-green here have been directly tied to winners in recent years. We see the names like Jordan Spieth, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Stuard Cink, and my natural inclination is to assume they just scrambled and putted the lights out. However, it was actually their tee-to-green game where they did their damage in the wins. Fitzpatrick was 3rd in T2G gained in 2023, Spieth was 1st in 2022 (WHOA), and Cink was 1st in 2021!

 

Approach shot distribution from 2023 Heritage, via Data Golf:

Stat Radar Plot for Harbour Town Golf Links, via RickRunGood.com:

Best Player Course Fit Rankings for the RBC Heritage:

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Rory McIlory
  3. Xander Schauffele
  4. Ludvig Aberg
  5. Matthieu Pavon
  6. Tom Hoge
  7. Cameron Young
  8. Akshay Bhatia
  9. Austin Eckroat
  10. Sahith Theegala

*Based on last 36 rounds of player data.

 

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