Tom Fazio has designed over 200 golf courses in a career spanning more than 50 years. Caves Valley in Owings Mills, the host of the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship, is one of his creations. And even though the course has been around for 30 years, many of the world’s top golfers are teeing off at Caves Valley for the first time this weekend.
Two days into the tournament, the second leg of the tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, golfers have taken advantage of Caves Valley’s large scale and soft fairways to shake off their unfamiliarity with the course and post record-low numbers.
“Whenever you get a big golf course like this that allows the big hitters to hit the driver, that’s usually a big advantage,” said four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, who shot 2-under-par 70 on Friday after taking the first-round lead Thursday with an 8-under 64. “It’s just nice to get a driver in your hand and be able to feel like you can let it fly a bit.”
Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth perhaps has the most experience at Caves Valley out of anyone in the field of 70, as the Under Armour athlete has played the course during his frequent trips to Baltimore to visit the sports apparel brand’s headquarters. Spieth, who ended Friday’s second round 13 shots behind the leader at 3-under, believes the course’s large scale makes it hard for golfers to hit the ball out of position.
In the PGA Tour’s return to Baltimore for the first time since 1962, 55 golfers shot under par in Thursday’s first round, which featured a tournament-record scoring average of 2.783 strokes under par. Before this weekend, the private course had been lengthened from 7,226 yards to 7,542 yards after the construction of eight new championship tee boxes, had all 87 bunkers rebuilt and had its rough grown out in strategic positions to add a degree of difficulty to the course.
The pros have not been phased. As of late Friday, with play suspended because of darkness after inclement weather delayed the second round for roughly two hours, just four golfers had shot over par through 36 holes.
“The fairways are pretty wide here and the greens are pretty big,” Spieth said. “You have to really kind of screw up to make a bogey.”
After a practice round earlier in this week, Patrick Cantlay had a good feeling golfers would post low scores throughout the tournament. During Friday’s second round, Bryson DeChambeau finished with an impressive 12-under 60, just missing a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have given him the 13th sub-60 round in PGA Tour history. Cantlay shot a 9-under 63 on Friday to end the second round one shot behind DeChambeau at 15-under.
“There’s really no trouble to speak of on this golf course,” said Cantlay, who entered the tournament fourth in the FedEx Cup standings as he tries to solidify his position in the top 30 to advance to next weekend’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. “You can hit it in the rough or a bunker, but there’s no out-of-bounds, there’s basically no hazards. All the fairways are 40 or 50 or 60 yards wide and there’s four par-5s.”
Sergio Garcia, an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour, said after the first round that he was able to get a good workout walking up-and-down Caves Valley. Garcia said the course was pretty, but the greens can be inconsistent. “Some are, again, quite firm, some are quite soft,” Garcia said. “But I guess with this heat and stuff, it’s not easy to control that.”
Fazio’s courses have hosted several PGA Tour events and even the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. When Fazio designed Caves Valley, he wanted to use the scenery of the area to create a national golf club in the Baltimore area. “It has drama, it has strength, it has so many pieces to it,” Fazio said.
Fazio said the goal when designing a course isn’t to make it challenging for professionals, because they are too good anyway. He just enjoys creating a setting where golfers can showcase how good they really are.
“There’s so many strong golf holes,” Fazio said of Caves Valley. “When you see them execute those shots, that’s really amazing to watch and see how they do it, and the challenge of how they approach the greens.”
Another common evaluation golfers have shared about Caves Valley is the beauty of the course. Whenever Fazio stands at the top of the clubhouse, looking over his creation, all he can say is, “Wow.”
The vegetation, the creeks and the trees that surround Caves Valley has made it an ideal destination to host a PGA Tour event. “Caves Valley is one of those environments that gives you a one of a kind type of setting,” Fazio said. “It’s a perfect tournament golf course.”