CLEVELAND — For the first time ever, the PGA Champions Tour is playing the Senior Players Championship on the famed South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron this weekend.
While course lies are different between the PGA and the PGA Champions tours, the latter of which is home of high-profile tournaments for golfers over the age of 50, those changes to Firestone are subtle, not drastic.
“I don’t see much difference,” PGA Champions Tour player Billy Andrade told WKYC’s Will Ujek in a “Let’s Be Clear” interview Wednesday. “I see the golf course the same way it was when I played it in the ‘90s. It’s long, it’s hard and you have to hit it straight, and it’s a tough test.
“It’s a tough test for the young guys, and right now, with our tour staff, it’s the first year, so I don’t know how hard they’re going to set it up, how far back we’re going to play. I think they’re going to figure that out in the next few days and see.”
Throughout the early part of the week, players were given a practice round and a Pro-Am competition to “get the lay of the land,” so to speak and start to figure out how to attack the South Course, also known as the Championship Course from Firestone’s days of hosting the PGA Tour’s Bridgestone Invitational.
“It was getting a look-see at the course, remembering a little bit about it. I didn’t play much here,” Andrade said. “I played here a few times. This is a bear. This is a hard golf course. I can’t fake it around here.
“You have to hit good golf shots. If not, you’re going to get penalized for it. It’s right in front of you, so there’s no tricks. You can’t complain that this place is too hard, not hard enough or whatever you want to say. It’s just a big-boy course, and the guy who wins it on Sunday is definitely going to be the best player this week.”
Although the course set-up crew does its best to challenge the players, those taking the course feel it is a fair, straightforward track.
“It’s not like they’re going to make it so hard that everybody plays lousy,” Andrade said. “You want to still put on a show for the great fans of this area that have supported professional golf for decades. Hopefully, we can put on a nice show this week.”
Regardless of how the course plays throughout the weekend, the PGA Champions Tour players want everyone who treks to Akron to enjoy the tournament.
“I think we have more great players that are younger, that are coming out,” Andrade said. “I’d just like to see them smile more, just enjoy it and understand that we’re in the entertainment world up here. People are paying money to come through these gates to watch us play.
“I’m not trying to be the old, crotchety guy here, but a lot of times, you watch the young kids play and you don’t see a whole lot of fun on their faces. We need entertainers. We need the guys that have fun when they do it.”