The TOUR stays in the Las Vegas area for this week’s CJ Cup, which was moved from its usual location at Nine Bridges in South Korea to a stateside location due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An exclusive field of 78 of the best players in the world, including eight of the top 10 players in the current World Golf Rankings, will gather at Shadow Creek Golf Course for this no-cut event.
Defending champion Justin Thomas will undoubtedly be the most disappointed player in the move to a new course, due to the fact he won this event at Nine Bridges two of the last three years. Shadow Creek will be a big beneficiary of the schedule change since it gets to host a prominent event in a new important spot on the schedule leading up to next month’s Masters.
The event was designed to grow professional golf in South Korea, annually inviting the Top 5-ranked players on the Korean Tour to play in the CJ Cup. That will continue to be the case this week in Las Vegas.
Golf fans may remember bits and pieces of Shadow Creek, which famously hosted “The Match” between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson two years ago. Other than that 18-hole matchup, no professional events have been hosted at this course, leaving us with very limited information and no real data or course history to work from going into the week.
My goal will be to share as much relevant information as is available to show where scoring opportunities or trouble spots may lie throughout the course. Let’s take a look at the layout to see what type of players may be a fit to play well:
Shadow Creek Golf Course was built on what was originally barren desert, with Tom Fazio designing the layout in 1989. Over time, houses and communities have been developed around the course, but it’s tree-lined fairways standout. Fazio renovated the course in 2008, bringing it to the current layout. The TOUR scorecard has it set to play as a 7,527-yard, par 72 for the CJ Cup, with a traditional the par 36 for each nine holes.
The course itself will feature mostly Bermuda grass from tee to green, with bentgrass putting surfaces set to roll at a 12 on the Stimpmeter. In preparation for this event, they did overseed the Bermuda grass rough with rye grass a little more than five weeks ago and have grown it out to three to four inches in length.
Additionally, the holes are protected by eight water hazards, which come into play on half of the holes, as well as 74 sand bunkers around the course.
Diving into the layout, we will get a little bit of everything. Three of the four par 3s are more than 200 yards in length, which will be a good test of holes. However, it’s the short Par 3 17th hole that is the signature hole, playing at just 154 yards. The players will fire a wedge into a beautiful backdrop of waterfalls and mountains. However, with little room for error and sometimes challenging winds, it will bring big numbers into play for those unable to hit the narrow green.
I believe the hardest hole of the week will come with the Par 4 6th, playing at more than 500 yards and will cater to the longer hitters in the field. It requires a lengthy, but precise, tee shot to avoid the fairway bunker, then a long approach into a tricky green with a false front.
In all, five of the par 4s will play more than 460 yards in length, but the remaining five will play short by TOUR standards. Those remaining five will all play 435 yards or less.
The most interesting of those holes will be the 11th hole. It is listed on the scorecard at just 324 yards, making it a great risk-reward par 4 hole. I would expect a majority of the field to look to drive the green, with a worst case scenario of looking to get up and down for birdie. They will do so up to an elevated putting surface, with the biggest danger being a large, deep bunker protecting the front of the green.
There are four Par 5s at Shadow Creek, and as usual, they will be key scoring opportunities for the players throughout the week. The 16th hole will play the longest at around 622 yards, which will naturally point us again to some of the longer hitters as they may be the most likely to still reach it in two shots.
That being said, there are birdie and eagle chances for the entire field on the other three par 5s, as they play to a maximum length of 581 yards. Each of these three holes will be reachable by the majority of the field in two, and the 18th hole will be sure to create some drama down the stretch.
Playing at just 529 yards, the 18th looks to be the easiest hole on the course. It will require an accurate tee shot, as three separate lakes guard the entire right side of the fairway, including up to the front of the green where second shots will have no where to land short. The three-tiered putting surface will create slopes for players to get their approach shots close, undoubtedly yielding some eagle chances and an exciting Sunday finish.