FRISCO, Texas – Expecting a golfer to be fully ready for the rigors of Fields Ranch East at the new PGA Frisco campus this week would be akin to telling a first-year medical student he or she has three days to get ready to perform brain surgery.
Will you be ready? It simply is not a reality.
The best over-50 players in the world have assembled here for a few days just north of Dallas surveying, studying and testing the brand new golf course in preparation for the 83rd KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship that will begin Thursday. There is a lot to take in.
“I've had a few comments and conversations with some of the players here,” said course architect Gil Hanse, who designed Fields Ranch East, one of two courses on the property (Beau Welling designed the other), “and probably the greatest compliment we could get is they said, ‘I haven't figured this out yet.’
“From an architect standpoint, you really don't want golfers to figure out – you want them to eventually figure it out, and hopefully they get the right answers and the answers can be solved, but you'd rather there be some mystery and some figuring out.”
This week there will be plenty to figure out, lots of mystery, and hopefully some drama. What will the winning score be? Will the Texas winds be howling? Let’s wait and see. The Senior PGA will be the first litmus test for a facility with decades of top tournaments headed its way, including the 2027 PGA Championship.
It is natural for players to be nervous at any tournament, let alone a major. Perhaps the person most anxious on that first tee first thing on Thursday will be Hanse. A man at the point of several significant course restoration projects at a few of golf’s most storied playing grounds – from Southern HIlls in Tulsa, to Winged Foot in New York, to Los Angeles Country Club, where next month’s U.S. Open will be staged – Hanse has a different sort of connection with this big Texas property.
It is one thing to be asked to design a golf course. Hanse had to build Fields East to fit into a master plan with a world-class resort (Omni PGA Frisco), the PGA’s vast new national headquarters, shops, restaurants and many other amenities, including acres of practice areas and facilities. PGA Frisco is a massive complex that will help guide the PGA of America and its nearly 28,000 members boldly into the future of golf.
This is a place where Hanse stood with his boots in the dirt four years ago and, with design partner Jim Wagner, was tasked not with a restoration, but with finding a championship course in the rugged, rolling terrain that winds around and through Panther Creek. Fields Ranch East was designed very much with golf’s future in mind, and can be stretched well beyond the 7,193 yards (par 72) it will present this week’s 50-and-over field.
“It's quite a bit of a mental challenge,” said Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion. “I think there's a few … a lot of temptations out there. So that will be interesting to see during the week. There's tempting lines to take off tee shots. I think that’s what Gil Hanse likes to do: Tempt you.”
Adds Darren Clarke, another former Open champion, “There's no real stretch where you can get after it. You're not playing defense, but you're trying to play smart all the time.”
Clarke, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions, said patience definitely will be required this week, though he laughed and added that it is not one of his strengths. He said he feels Fields Ranch East would be a terrific venue for a future Ryder Cup (next U.S. opening is 2041) with its many risk/reward holes, and it certainly can stand up to the lengths that modern players hit the golf ball.
“This golf course will give them all they want,” Clarke said. “They've got so many different options from different tee lengths and tee angles, this course should suit that. It's that good a design.”
Hanse was involved in bidding on the project as early as 2016 and broke ground three years later. He identified eight holes right away, and then had to find 10 more. In addition to building a championship test, he also had to keep in mind the resort guests who will visit and play, not looking to run through a dozen golf balls on a property that would potentially be too tough.
Hanse said when he creates a course, he is open to listening to those who experience it, and never can predict exactly what he’ll hear once the ribbon is cut.
Thursday morning, the curtain will rise – Club Professional Cameron Doan of nearby Preston Trail and the Northern Texas PGA Section will hit the first shot – and Fields Ranch East will take its first step into becoming a meaningful part of golf’s championship future. By 2034, the PGA will stage six major championships (PGAs in 2027 and '34; Senior PGAs this week and 2029; and KPMG Women’s PGAs in 2025 and '31) at Fields Ranch East.
“You know, I think we feel confident enough that within what we believe in golf architecture, whether that's right or wrong, we've done a good job with this golf course,” Hanse said. “We think we've set up a compelling test and what we think would be interesting for people to watch, but also for people to play.
"We feel good about that."