Finishing hole at new-look Chevron Championship primed for drama, but will the winner jump?

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Will the winner jump?

With the LPGA’s first major of the season moving from the California desert to Texas, many have wondered if one of the few traditions in the women’s game would carry on at The Club at Carlton Woods. The pond that’s next to the 18th green at the Nicklaus Course is anything but pool water. It’s murky and natural, a stark contrast to the pristine waters at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.

Nelly Korda said she’d jump if she wins. Defending champion Jennifer Kupcho, however, wasn’t so sure.

“I think there might be snakes in the water here,” said Kupcho, “so might be a little interesting.”

Stephen Salzman, the club’s general manager and chief operating officer, said the pond is now safe for players. He said the club’s engineering team and director of agronomy went through a number of possible scenarios in the months leading up to the championship. The club originally intended to dredge the entire area to deepen the pond. The Nicklaus design team, however, was afraid the green could potentially slough, so they changed course.

“We ended up building a dock,” said Salzman. “We ended up dredging from the end of the dock to about the rock wall border there. At the end of the dock, it’s 5 feet and progresses down to close to 10 feet.”

They sent divers down to check for rocks and concrete blocks beneath the surface. And for peace of mind, they installed a gator net to protect the area.

When asked if the net kept out snakes, Salzman said, no, but that snakes aren’t super prevalent in this pond. Neither are gators, but one can’t be too safe.

World No. 1 Lydia Ko, who won what was then known as the ANA Inspiration in 2016, didn’t realize that the dock on the 18th was for jumping.

“Are you meant to jump?” Ko asked during her pre-tournament press conference. “I’ve seen people hit shots on to the green, so I wasn’t sure if it was like a hitting bay or you’re a little bored to jump. I thought it was a little deck to jump, but my caddie Dave and my mom was like, surely not, because it’s too small to fit everyone. But if that happens, it’s definitely a good worry to see if you all can fit on the deck.”

Here’s what it looks like on 18 at the Nicklaus Course for @Chevron_Golf. There’s a dock if someone wants to jump. Won’t be staged but a robe will be available.

— Beth Ann Nichols (@GolfweekNichols) April 18, 2023

Ko went on to say that she appreciates that Chevron has given players the opportunity to carry on the tradition. The champion’s leap won’t be organized, but there will be a robe and slippers on standby. It’s best to jump straight out from the dock, however, and not from the sides. Perhaps one person at a time, too.

The build-out around the 18th seats roughly 1,000 fans, Salzman said. His best-guest estimate for spectator turnout on Sunday is 5,000-7,000.

“Houston is a sports town, and The Woodlands is a golf-centric community,” he said, “and I really think they’re going to support this event.”

There are eight 18-hole golf courses in The Woodlands and The Club at Carlton Woods has 768 memberships.

On May 1, the Nicklaus Course will undergo a full restoration and modernization, including greens, bunkers and tee boxes. A new irrigation system will be put in and there will be a lake bank restoration. The cost will be just north of $10 million, Salzman said, and it’s scheduled to be finished in late October.

Georgia Hall said she thinks the Nicklaus Course is a better golf course than the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.

“I think just the way it makes you think,” said Hall, when pressed for more.

“You have to think a little bit more around this golf course. You can’t really relax on any hole because there’s always something about a hole that’s very different, just mostly on the greens. In Palm Springs I thought it was quite simple to read the greens, no grain at all, but now we have the grain. I heard it’s going to be a little bit windy, as well, and a lot of factors come into play.”

The new dock that’s in place at the Chevron Championship for a potential Sunday jump. (Golfweek photo)

Hall, who also isn’t sure if the winner will jump, said the 525-yard par-5 18th won’t be reachable by most from the back tee unless its downwind. Salzman said he heard the plan is to move the tee up for the weekend to bring in the risk/reward element.

“I love a par-5 finishing hole,” said Ko. “I think it can really put everybody that’s only like a couple shots away coming down the stretch, put them all in play.”

Amy Alcott was the first player to jump into the lake at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course in 1988, a celebration she calls an “unplanned” and “organic,” which is the opposite of what it developed into in recent years.

“When I jumped in there I had no idea what was in there,” said Alcott of that first leap at the Dinah. “There was a lot of duck doo and wiring. I could’ve really hurt myself and broke my leg.”

But the LPGA Hall of Famer came through unscathed and kickstarted a decades-long tradition.

The pond at the Nicklaus Course doesn’t have a name. Alcott said she still gets 15 to 20 letters a year from fans asking who Poppie is and why didn’t they name the pond after her. (“Poppie” is longtime tournament director Terry Wilcox, and that’s what his grandkids call him.)

Perhaps the pond on the 18th at the Nicklaus Course will one day be named after Alcott, regardless of whether or not the jump lives on.

Salzman said there’s a 10-year contract in place to keep the Chevron here with a five-year clause designed to make sure everyone is still happy. Defending champions this week were given a Bentley to drive. Salzman and his team want this to be every player’s favorite stop on tour.

“I’d like to think they’re here for the next 51 years,” he said.

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