The 312 PGA of America club and teaching professionals from across the country who have traveled to Myrtle Beach this week have reached the annual national championship of their organization.
But they’re hoping this isn’t the final competitive stop this year. If they play well enough, they’ll be making reservations in Louisville, Ky., in August.
The top 20 finishers in the 47th PGA Professional National Championship at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Grande Dunes Resort Course from Sunday through Wednesday will qualify for the $10 million PGA Championship.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to compete against the best players in the world,” said defending champion Rod Perry of Crane Lakes Golf & Country Club in Port Orange, Fla., one of the 20 club pros who played in last year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
Club pros haven’t fared well in the PGA Championship, which is staged by the PGA of America, particularly since the number of qualifiers from the PPNC dropped from 25 to 20 in 2006. Only eight of 160 in that time have made the cut, with a tie for 68th the best finish.
But it’s still the opportunity of a lifetime, and there’s that chance that a player catches lightning in a bottle.
“It’s going to happen sometime,” Perry said. “I know the historical record of club professionals playing in the PGA Championship probably hasn’t been one that we want to really divulge, but in due time I think what you’ll see is a club professional play extremely well in one of the majors and make some headlines.”
In the final two years of the top 25 making the PGA Championship, Chip Sullivan tied for 31st in 2004 out of three club pros making the cut, and Steve Schneiter tied for 40th in 2005.
This year’s PPNC participants represent 43 states and are among 3,700 PGA professionals who competed in qualifying. The Carolinas PGA, the largest of the PGA’s 41 sections, has 10 players in the event, though none from the Grand Strand.
Both courses will host the first two rounds and The Dunes Club will host the final two rounds exclusively after the field is cut to the low 70 scores and ties.
The tournament has a purse of $550,000 and winner’s check of $75,000. Perry said he made more winning the tournament last year than he did working.
The winner also receives exemptions into six PGA Tour events and a spot on the U.S. team for the PGA Cup, a biennial match featuring 10 club professionals from the PGA of America competing against 10 club pros from Great Britain and Ireland.
The field includes Karen Paolozzi, the third woman ever to qualify for the national club pro. The assistant pro at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta is not eligible for the PGA Championship because she qualified at a shorter distance through the Northern Ohio PGA Section.
The Dunes Club will be set up to 7,286 yards, while Paolozzi will play 6,191. Grande Dunes is set up at 7,182 and 6,103 yards. Though green speeds will be fast on both host courses, the layouts won’t otherwise be prepared much differently than they normally would be for guest play.
“They’ll be good and firm, and we’ll just try to get the speed up a little bit more than what we’re typically doing every day,” Dunes Club superintendent Steve Hamilton said.
The routing of The Dunes Club is being altered for the championship. The 176-yard par-3 14th hole, which was built in 1999 by Grande Dunes architect Roger Rulewich as an extra hole to be used mainly when one of the primary 18 holes is closed for maintenance, is replacing the 185-yard par-3 17th. The left side of the 14th green slopes down to a pond, while the 17th has a slightly elevated green with bunkers front right and left.
“It’s a more exciting par-3 for the telecast,” Director of PGA Member Championships Mark Tschetschot said. “I think more things can happen and it can provide more drama coming down the stretch.”
Golf Channel will provide 10 1/2 hours of live coverage and 18 1/2 hours of total cover of the four rounds.
The Katrek and Maginnes on Tap show on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio, featuring hosts Brian Katrek and John Maginnes, will be broadcast live from The Dunes Club from 5-7 p.m. Monday, and Katrek will host a show Sunday on 92.9-FM The Game in Atlanta (available online at www.929TheGame.com).
Several events have been held in association with the championship, and PGA Family Fun Zone events are being held from 4-8 p.m. Saturday at Pelicans Ballpark for ticketed patrons of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball game, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday during the Youth Baseball Nationals Tournament at Grand Park at The Market Common. The free family golf festivals are open to the public and include group lessons, games and other fun activities to encourage area families to play the game.
Spectator admission for the PGA Professional National Championship, which is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA, is free and parking will be at the Grande Dunes Resort Course. Approximately 600 volunteers are involved in the tournament’s operation.