2024 PGA Championship Preview: Talking Through Valhalla

Will Knights and Matt Rouches dive into the pros and cons of Valhalla Golf Club


T’was the night before the PGA Championship, and things feel a bit tepid. To get a sense of why the 2024 PGA seems to be lacking some pop, Matt Rouches and I sat down to discuss Valhalla the golf course and why, so far at least, this year’s event isn’t hitting like other majors. Enjoy.

Will: Matt, we’re one day away from the PGA Championship, and while I’m excited for some of the player storylines, I can’t help but feel apathetic about the golf course. Am I being too negative in regards to Valhalla?

Matt: I do not think you are being too negative, Will. I spent several days walking around and photographing the golf course a few weeks ago and I felt uninspired almost the entire time. When I’m at a notable golf course that provides a special sense of place, I typically feel a palpable excitement for a terrific design that’s married to the landscape. At Valhalla it just feels disjointed, manufactured, and forced onto the landscape. But despite the blandness of the course, Ido  think it will provide a strong test for pros, just as it has in the past. Did you feel the same kind of negativity about the course when you played it?

Will: I don’t think I felt negativity necessarily, but it definitely felt like an execution test. Every shot seemed like a check-the-box situation. It was definitely fun in the sense that I was playing somewhere that had a lot of recent major championship moments. Like, it was fun to attempt the shot into No. 10 that got Rory back in the mix in 2014, and throughout the closing stretch I had a lot of memories of that same closing stretch from the 2008 Ryder Cup. But in total it was not a round that left me feeling in awe of the golf course in any fashion. 

Anyway, in our Course Profile for Club TFE, you mentioned a routing switch that would make the back nine more cohesive. Can you walk through that?

Matt: Yes! One thing that the routing at Valhalla does poorly is failing to maximize the natural features of the site, which leads to the uninspiring feeling I talked about earlier. There’s a beautiful meandering creek that carves through the hilly back nine, and any golf architect would gravitate toward pressing several holes up against it. But in Valhalla’s case only two holes do that, 13 and 15. A simple change would be to flip the 14th green with the 15th tee, and then shift the 16th fairway and green closer to the creek on the right. This brings the creek into play on all four holes here, instead of just two. It would create a marvelous four-hole stretch in the middle of the back nine that would yield both tons of tournament drama and more dynamic golf holes for day-to-day play.

A change could bring this creek into play on twice as many holes

Will: Unfortunately that still wouldn’t help the front nine.

Matt: No, no it wouldn’t.

Will: Is there anything that could help the front? I mentioned in the profile that I wish the holes along the water would actually use the hazards. Is that the main thing that’s missing, or would you like to see something else done to that half of the property?

Matt: The same issue with the 14th and 16th holes exists with Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8. All of these holes on the front play “close” to but not right up against the hazard. The holes and greens are far enough away from the water that it will be a non-factor on Sunday, when penalty strokes really hurt. Simply pressing the greens and fairways of these holes as close as possible to the bodies of water would create a much more vexing challenge for pros and provide more volatility during the major championship.

Will: Alright, let’s sprinkle in a little bit of positivity here. What are a couple of holes you’re interested in watching this week?

Matt: I think the fourth hole will be really interesting if they decide to make it drivable for a day or two, which they did in 2014. An eagle here could jump-start a low round or weekend charge. While the sixth utilizes the river quite poorly, pushing the green back 70 yards forces long-iron approaches into the green. This hole will allow players with exceptional long-iron play to separate themselves from the pack on a golf course that too often rewards bombers only. Lastly, the 12th hole plays over some of the coolest landforms on the back nine. Favoring the left side of the fairway will provide an optimal angle to the green, but missing right could quickly turn disastrous. I’m really curious to see if anyone will even play from the extremely odd looking fairway patch in the valley short of the green.

Will: You love that little bit of fairway at the bottom of the hill on No. 12.

Matt: I really do. Any others you’re watching?

Will: I mentioned No. 10 earlier and I do think that is one of my favorites on the course. The ground has some tilt to it the whole way, and it’s fun to watch the pros try and cut a fairway wood into a green that has a lot of feeder slopes. But I’m also eager to see how the new tee on No. 1 plays. The damn thing just looks ridiculous, it’s so far back there. It’s on the driving range! And I bet that a lot of players will still have 9-iron into that green. Valhalla has seen so many changes throughout its existence to fight modern distance, and the fact that even after all that they’re reduced to putting tees on the range makes you shake your head. 

Matt: It has been very fun for me to look back at Valhalla throughout the years on Google Earth. They’ve continuously made changes to lengthen holes and attempt to make the course more challenging. A few notable examples: moving the sixth green back 70 yards as mentioned, replacing the fairway run-up left of the seventh green with water, completely rebuilding the eighth and 11th holes, rebuilding the biarritz-style green on the 16th, and nearly doubling the total amount of bunkers from the original design, going from 37 to 65. One of the best changes made to the course in 2021 was mowing the shortgrass right up against the fairway bunkers to eliminate the rough buffer. This allows drivers to run straight into the hazards and not get caught up in the rough.

Will: Now that the PGA is out of Valhalla, it seems unlikely that those changes will continue. And I definitely don’t think we’ll see another major out here, do you?

Matt: I think Valhalla may get more PGAs if this year’s event provides a compelling tournament. The space for infrastructure/fans and proximity to a major city are still valuable factors for hosting majors. But even though Valhalla has produced memorable tournaments in the past, I enjoy watching more interesting golf courses, like the Ocean Course at Kiawah. I hope more places like that get spots on the schedule going forward.


Related Articles: 

 Scottie Scheffler Is the PGA Favorite for a Reason

 Three Valhalla Talking Points Ahead of the PGA Championship

 – For Brooks Koepka, Every Major Is a Shot at History

 – Previewing the Other Storylines We’re Watching at the PGA Championship

For more coverage of the PGA Championship, visit our PGA hub here.