Golf calendar moves from Masters to Heritage ... and into another world

Augusta National Golf Club and Harbour Town Golf Links. They’re separated by about 150 miles, appear back-to-back on the PGA Tour calendar, and their tournaments feature many of the same competitors and the same format and the same handsome purse.

Yet, they’re so different.

Augusta National that staged the 88th Masters that ended Sunday: Big and brawny, a heavyweight with a knockout punch. Stepping on the first tee for a round of golf can be likened to stepping into the prize ring against Joe Louis or Rocky Marciano.

Harbour Town that will provide the setting for the 56th RBC Heritage that begins Thursday: Subtle and picturesque, weaving through the South Carolina Lowcountry. More of a middleweight in appearance. But no less punishing. Like going a few rounds against Sugar Ray Robinson.

Golfers know about Augusta’s haymaker to the jaw; at Harbour Town, it’s more like, “What just happened?”

Maybe they’re like comparing apples and oranges, but Augusta National and Harbour Town are two treasures in the world of golf, and watching them on consecutive weeks is one of the beauties of the game.

Those who left Augusta behind on Sunday for the journey to Hilton Head Island know the atmosphere will change, and most will welcome the relaxed ways of a seaside resort instead of the pressurized cauldron of a major championship.

Different, yes, but the competition still will be fierce and still will be real.

It’s like this, Adam Hadwin said in pondering what he could take from his final-round 70 on Sunday at Augusta to his first-round Thursday at Harbour Town.

“Oh, certainly the golf courses are very different, but I hit my driver a lot better today,” he said. “I like that. That was a big positive. I struggled the first three days and I hit most of the fairways today.”

He paused, then added, “Not that I’ll need it next week.”

Indeed, Harbour Town stretches a touch over 7,000 yards, short by today’s standards for elite pros. But its tree-lined fairways look claustrophobic from the tee compared to Augusta, and most players will choose 3-woods or less to keep the balls in play.

Then there are the greens, large and undulating at Augusta and almost postage stamps at Hilton Head. And the terrain: hilly and a challenging walk at Augusta, almost flat at Harbour Town.

“I’ll be less tired, for sure,” said Tom Kim, who posted a final 66 Sunday. “It’s a lot flatter over there. Good shots might be rewarded, so that definitely a good momentum thing that I can take into next week.”

The RBC Heritage will again carry “signature” status, which provides a $20 million purse, and a limited, no-cut field. All the Tour’s big names — starting with Master champion Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy — are on the entry list.

A big change this year, due to reducing the field from 132 or so to around 70: All golfers will start their rounds on No. 1 rather than the double-tee start for the first two rounds in the past. Also, the no-cut provision assures all players will compete over the weekend.

More than most, Matt Fitzpatrick will be anxious to return to Harbour Town. For one thing, he’s defending champion; for another, he could consider the Heritage a home game.

Fitzpatrick, the 2022 U.S. Open champion from Sheffield, England, began coming to Hilton Head in 2000 for family vacations. They returned regularly with Matt and younger brother Alex playing the Harbour Town course.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said after posting a 3-over-par 75 in the Masters final round. “Obviously, it’s one of my favorite weeks of the year. It will be extra special defending the title. It should be a great week.”

Fitzpatrick struck one of those never-to-forget shots — a 9-iron from 187 yards to one foot of the hole — to beat Jordan Spieth in a playoff for the 2023 title.

In looking back to Harbour Town’s 18th hole a year ago, he said: “I wish I could hit more of them. I wish I could hit more of them more often.”

In looking ahead to this week, he noted: “It’s obviously a totally different golf course, a different approach to it. There’s more to think about here (Augusta). Every shot’s on a knife’s edge. Whereas playing Hilton Head, it’s very different. It’s a bit more in front of you. You know what’s going on.”

What’s his choice: a haymaker to the jaw or a series of body blows that kill the spirit?

“I love them both,” Fitzpatrick said. “When people ask me what my favorite courses are, I say, here (Augusta) and there (Harbour Town). I think they’re both fantastic.”

Ah, the beauty of golf. And back-to-back at that.