Parkersburg offers new challenge at West Virginia Open
VIENNA, W.Va. - While there are a couple of notable absences from this year's West Virginia Open field at the Parkersburg Country Club, most of the usual cast of characters will be on hand when play begins this morning, weather permitting.
An inch-and-a-half of rain shut down the course on Tuesday as scheduled practice rounds were rained out, but the forecast is expected to be much more pleasant through the rest of the week.
While many of the players may be the same, the course itself - which hasn't hosted an Open since 1983 - will be a relatively new challenge, despite the fact that PCC is one of the oldest country clubs in the state and will turn 111 years old a week from today.
This will be the fourth time Parkersburg Country Club has hosted the West Virginia Open. In 1983, it had also been exactly 30 years since the tournament visited the course for the second time in 1953. The club's first duties as host came in 1950.
William C. Campbell, a Huntington native, World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time President of the United States Golf Association, won both in 1950 and 1953, defeating Sam Snead by four shots in the latter.
"Parkersburg is our third or fourth largest city, rich in golf tradition, and this country club has been around since 1902," said Ken Tackett, executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association. "It's the largest private club in the state and it's a great layout. It's just a great test of golf."
Twenty-nine State Opens have been held at 15 different courses since it was last held in Vienna. The course, adjacent to the banks of the Ohio River, has undergone some changes over the three decades since then-club pro Jim Fankhauser outlasted a two-hour rain delay and a charging John Ross for a three-stroke victory.
No one knows more about the changing golf course than current PCC pro Scott Davidson.
The Daytona Beach, Fla., native has been at Parkersburg Country Club since 1999 and will tee off at 1:27 today in his fifth West Virginia Open.
But Davidson said playing is not the top priority for him this week.
"I'm more excited to host the event for our members in this area," Davidson said. "This is the first time in 30 years we've had the event and I've really been putting most of my focus into making sure that the Golf Association is satisfied, the players have a good experience playing a good golf course and feel like they're welcome here."
Among the course's adaptations since 1983 are changes on holes No. 13 (608 yards, par 5), No. 14 (413 yards, par 4) and No. 15 (178 yards, par 3), which were all built as part of a renovation project in 2004.
Davidson said the rough has been grown out for the Open to go along with added length, offering a good mix of old and new golf, putting an emphasis on precision off the tee box.
"It's the oldest country club in the state and the golf course in some form or fashion has been here since 1902," Davidson said. "You can see the old corridors of the old course from 80 years ago, where the holes used to go. It's very flat for West Virginia. There are a few holes over on the Ohio River that are absolutely gorgeous. The tree line and corridors are up and it's going to put a premium on driving the ball straight."
Davidson said he and some 60 volunteers that will help this week are excited to finally show off the new holes and the historic course, and when play begins at 8 a.m. it will be the culmination of more than a decade of work.
"We've been in contact with [the WVGA] since 2002 trying to get a date," Davidson said. "We were building our new holes, then we got flooded and had to wait a year to reopen them, then we had other renovations we were trying to get through and it was like, 'Come back and see us.' Finally about three years ago we got this date penciled in. I'm pretty sure how things have gone so far we shouldn't have any problem getting it back."
While Davidson may be putting his golfing on the back burner this week, most of the field will not be of the same mindset.
Davidson predicted a seventh Open victory for David Bradshaw and said that while his home course offers unique challenges and beautiful scenery, the same formula to win golf tournaments anywhere will apply here as well.
"Like any golf tournament, it's the guy that can roll it in from 10 feet," Davidson said. "You're going to have to convert on those birdie opportunities you get and then the par saves you need. The guy that putts well is going to be the one that hoists the trophy at the end of the week."
Tackett said Bradshaw is the clear-cut favorite, but provided a few dark horses as well.
"John Ross and Bob Friend," Tackett said. "Those two guys are wily veterans. They don't get in trouble. They're very smart. Ross is someone to watch out for. Just like Steve Fox. He's 59. He's plenty long enough, great short game, unbelievable ball striker - it's just a matter of having a belief that he can put it up there. Scott Davis, Ty Roush - it's not a two- or three-horse race."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/Rpritt.