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How Tom Lehman is changing TPC Twin Cities to challenge PGA stars

October 3, 2018

As sprinklers sputtered and earthmovers beeped a soundtrack under the sun last month, PGA Tour Champions player and course designer Tom Lehman paced the land and drew in the dirt.

Part artist and architect, part accountant and mathematician, Lehman is directing renovations at the 18-year-old TPC of the Twin Cities course in Blaine on which he originally consulted. Construction crews have been busy since the final putt fell on the 18th and final PGA Tour Champions event there in August.

In that time, they’ve lengthened holes, widened the rough, leveled mounding, planted trees, removed others and built new tees and bunkers. It’s work that will be completed by mid-October so it can grow in fully next spring.

All of it in preparation for the arrival of a new PGA Tour event — the 3M Open — come Independence Day. Called a “competitive-enhancement project” by those in the know, it’s an effort to test the world’s best golfers on a course with which senior tour players often toyed.

Surveying plowed earth and newly laid sod, Lehman was asked if a course redone a little or a lot on almost every hole will be worthy for players such as Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods, if they come. “I don’t know, I’m not sure you can make any course hard enough for those guys,” he said. “It’s such a different game they play. It’s just brute power.”

It’s a game now with which Lehman, at age 59, calls himself “completely unfamiliar” — and he won the 1996 British Open as well as five times on the PGA Tour.

When all is done, the former 7,164-yard, par-72 course will be a par-71 layout that can stretch over 7,500 yards and Lehman hopes is neither “stupid” nor “tricked-up.”

Toughened up

He defines tricked-up as “hitting good shots and getting bad results.” As the project’s lead consultant alongside Arnold Palmer Design Company and PGA Tour Design Services, they are remaking the TPC with both PGA Tour players and its amateur membership in mind. All three parties helped design the original layout.

David Frost won the Champions tour’s 3M Championship with a 25-under par score in 2010 and Kenny Perry won in 2014 at 23 under. Longer holes alone won’t challenge PGA Tour players, but a combination of other tactics might, if just a little.

Lehman and team aim to make every hole at least a fraction more difficult “strokes to par.” Some might play .1 or .2 strokes more difficult than they did for Champions players. Hole No. 3 — a 546-yard, par 5 now a 500-yard par 4 — could help the course play as much as 2.5 strokes harder.

“You add all 18 holes and it really starts making a difference, especially over four rounds of golf,” said PGA Tour Design Service V.P. Steve Wenzloff, who was part of the original design team. “The five-pars are going to play under par. That’s just the fact of life on the PGA Tour. You just try to make every hole a little harder.”

Lehman canvassed Champions colleagues for opinions and called upon his own experience playing the 3M Championship for nearly a decade. His peers offered some nearly universal suggestions: Lengthen holes, narrow fairways, grow more and deeper rough, tuck pin placements and reduce the size of greens originally built big for a windy site once a flat sod farm.

In a class of their own

It wouldn’t hurt if the wind blows for four days in July, either.

“We can’t count on that,” said Lehman, the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup captain who stopped in Blaine to supervise work before he flew to Paris for last weekend’s Ryder Cup. “Everybody knows the rough has to be a little higher than on the normal PGA tour for this course to hold its own.”

Lehman himself compiled a long list of things he’d never seen there in the last decade: bunkers, stands of trees and ponds irrelevant because of the course’s overly generous wide fairways and limited length. “You start with all these things that are not in play for good players,” he said, “and either take them out or make them so they are in play.”

He’d never seen anyone find No. 2’s left greenside bunker because the par-4, 388-yard hole was so short, only a second-shot wedge was required. A new tee beyond one of the residential streets that wind through the TPC’s housing developments adds 60 yards and completely changes the second shot. Perry hit three-wood and a wedge while winning the 3M Championship three times and now likely will hit driver and as much as a 5 iron when he uses an exemption to play next July.

It adds needed distance to a short front nine and brings that bunker into play without blowing a renovation budget believed to be $5 million, shared by 3M and the PGA Tour. A new tee costs $5,000 to build. Recontouring the fairway’s lake edge and bunkering to challenge golfers in the tee shot’s landing area costs about $30,000. Phase 2 construction will address issues revealed after the first 3M Open is played.

Additionally, a driving-range makeover will ensure stars won’t walk through fans to reach the putting green.

“It’s not a big deal for the Champions Tour,” Lehman said. “But if you get Tiger Woods here …”

Playing all the angles

TPC Twin Cities’ most dramatic change is the finishing par-5 18th, where grandstands surround the green during tournament play and a corporate village will line the fairway’s left side. The lake that fronts the green is being dramatically widened and lengthened. This fairway, too, is narrowed and the tee moved well to the right, to a hillside on the other side of the 17th green, where a new skybox will give spectators there 360-degree views of the 14th, 17th and 18th holes.

The new tee creates a longer, demanding, angled drive — good course architecture is all about angles — to a pinched landing area. It also still leaves big hitters who drive the ball 320 yards another 240 yards to the green for an eagle chance, perhaps to win.

A fairway Lehman called “literally 100 yards wide, the widest fairway in the history of competitive golf” now is about 30 yards wide. The 507-yard hole now will play nearly 570 yards.

“I wanted to keep it if you hit a good tee shot, you can still have some fireworks: knock it on, make eagle,” Lehman said. “I didn’t want to take that away. Now it’s a diagonal tee shot this way. Jack Nicklaus would love it because it’s a big, high fade.”

The greens remain untouched, except for a significant modification at the par-4 10th hole where Lehman borrowed a concept from Australia’s great sandbelt courses. About a quarter of the green on its back, left side has been removed, which angles the green and makes it shallower by almost half.

“You’re going to have hit a good drive on that hole now,” Lehman said. “If you miss the fairway, you’re probably going to miss the green. That would make my heart feel good.”

So, too, would his heart be happy if the remade short, par-4 seventh hole brings into play the right-side out of bounds, which is lined by homes.

“We want the kid in that house there collecting balls and selling them for a dollar,” Lehman said, gesturing that way. “We want him out here saying, ‘Buy Brooks Koepka’s ball here.’ ”

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