All Mario Kart players know the treacherous nature of Rainbow Road. With nothing separating the edges of the track from the endless space below, the final course of the game requires your utmost attention. The kaleidoscopic appearance of the track bends the eye, and those threatening edges are always on the player’s mind. One slip in focus leads to a plunge into oblivion.
This week, the Korn Ferry Tour Championship will be held at golf’s version of Rainbow Road, Victoria National Golf Club. Located outside of Evansville, Indiana, Victoria National is a beast. In 1996, local businessman Terry Friedman instructed Tom Fazio to build a course capable of hosting major championships, and Fazio delivered. To say the least.
“If the wind blew, it’d be too hard”
Known for his over-the-top style, Fazio went all out at Victoria National. Routed through the corridors of an old strip mine, Vic cascades over ravines, along 30-foot-high cliffs, and around man-made lakes. A mixture of natural and manufactured, the terrain is one of a kind, and definitely not what you picture when you think of the topography of southern Indiana.
While the course may be beautiful, Victoria National is mind-numbingly difficult—not only in relation to par but also in the sense that if you don’t hit certain shots perfectly, you are losing your golf ball. Every fairway is bordered by either knee-high fescue or water, and there is no shortage of forced carries. Fazio took the idea of penal design, put his foot on the accelerator, and created a monster.
Victoria National has played host to a Web.com/Korn Ferry Tour event since 2012. For three of the last four seasons, it has ranked as the hardest course of the year. (The only venue to beat it was the Sandals Resort Emerald Reef Course in 2017, when the Great Exuma Classic took place in a damn hurricane. Zero players broke 72 in the first round, three players shot 90+, and the cut line was +11! But I digress.)
After Victoria National opened, Tom Fazio himself said, “It’s U.S. Open-quality now…. If the wind blew, it’d be too hard.” He’s right. Even in the calmest of conditions, Vic is a brute. Most amateurs will take several drops per round, as every shot brings the potential for a lost ball. The golf course is very narrow for high-handicappers and barely wide enough for professionals. Frankly, many holes at Victoria National are too difficult for the ordinary golfer.
Well, guess what, the average Joes aren’t playing this week.
Can “too hard” be “good”?
There are four “cups” in Mario Kart: the Mushroom Cup, the Flower Cup, the Star Cup, and the Special Cup. Each cup has a series of four tracks, and while the makeup of each cup varies, Rainbow Road always appears as the final test. It’s the hardest, so it has to come last.
Victoria National is set to host the Korn Ferry Tour Championship for the first time this weekend. After moving from Atlantic Beach Country Club, which was seen as a cupcake, the season’s final event will now be played on the most difficult golf course on the schedule. Players (and fans) will either love or hate the move to this death trap. But I’m here to tell you that it’s freaking awesome.
I completely understand if you wish this event were played on another golf course. Plenty of less penal courses are capable of determining a worthy set of new PGA Tour members. I myself am not usually a proponent of extremely difficult layouts. This, however, is a unique event. It’s the last chance for Korn Ferry Tour players to gain access to the biggest golf tour in the world, and Victoria National is going to administer the final test.
Vic will not allow players to feel comfortable with their standing, nor will it let them to coast to the finish. It will not rely on birdies and eagles to create drama. Instead, it will try to rip players’ hearts out. It will reveal who has the nerves to hit pressure-packed shots and discard anyone who shows an ounce of weakness.
Some will argue that this is not the best way to determine who gets the last PGA Tour cards of the year. They will say Victoria National is one-dimensional and un-strategic. You know what? They’re right. But just as Mario Kart doesn’t end on a nice cruise through the park, the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour won’t end with someone shooting a stress-free -25. It means something to have played well at Victoria National. It means you have stared down potential calamity and survived. Ultimately, it means you possess the skill and, above all, the nerve to play on the PGA Tour.
Come Sunday afternoon, players are going to experience pressure unlike anything they have ever felt. They are going to have to grind through the Ohio Valley humidity, hit precise golf shots, and tackle the toughest course the tour—even the country—has to offer. They will have to face the constant possibility of heartbreak, and will almost certainly have to overcome a disaster hole or two. On a week when it’s do-or-die for many players, it makes sense to go to a do-or-die golf course.
Keep your head on a swivel this week, because Victoria National is out for blood.