On Monday afternoon, the USGA presented an architectural forum that featured 4 esteemed guests, knowledgeable in the ways of architecture and course set-up. They spoke about the alteration, restoration and enhancement of Shinnecock Hills since it last held a US Open, in 2004. Among the audience were an additional number of experts in golf course architecture, which made for an informative, rousing session.
We’ve distilled much of what was discussed and revealed on Monday into five key elements that viewers might not catch on television this week. We hope that these items are of interest, and that they make your watching more enjoyable and fulfilling.
1. Rough Rings
Unlike a typical links course, where fairways feed directly into fairway bunkers, the bunkering at Shinnecock will feature rings of first-cut rough, to dissuade marginal shots from entering bunkers. Although Shinnecock is often compared to a links course, the US Open is an American championship, and not all elements of the game’s origin need be present.
2. Reclaimed Putting Surfaces
There was a point in its history when Shinnecock’s greens were marked by irrigation disks. Greens chairs felt that they intruded on putting, so the greens were essentially compressed in size, ensuring that the disks be now contained in greenside rough. Smaller greens meant fewer hole locations and a corruption of the intent of the designer, William Flynn. Today, greens have been reclaimed, and certain ones feature wings that were actual rough in 2004. In the photo below, the space behind the bunker, where the men stand, was reclaimed.
3. Fairway Width
In the 2017 US Open, Erin Hills in Wisconsin was predicated on wide fairways, in the style of St. Andrews’ Old Course in Scotland. Fairways of that width led to more freedom in driving, and perhaps, to the low scores of the event. Shinnecock Hills has always appreciated fairway width, as seen in the photo below, but did take steps to reduce width in certain areas. Fescue replaced the hybrid bent grass in key spots, ensuring that loose driving will pay a stiffer tax.
4. Recovery Areas
In previous Open championships at Shinnecock, the low areas around greens were marked by ankle-high rough. This 1970s-era fad also ran contrary to the wishes of the course’s designer, William Flynn. During the restoration, these areas were returned to the fairway cut. With firm conditions and a sand base, they offer three options (putting, bump and run, and pitching) to the contestants. We know that professional golfers love to spin their wedges, but will that option always be the proper one? Tune in this weekend.
5. Key Holes
In 2004, Saturday brought the Disaster at the Redan. Even though the 7th hole does not play as a true Redan hole should, it was vilified for improper preparation and maintenance. Both the USGA and host club wish for attention to be positive in 2018. We suspect that it will be. In 2004, Phil Mickelson lost his last chance at the championship when he bogeyed the 71st hole. The 17th at Shinnecock Hills will again offer a stout test to those in the cauldron of contention. As the last of the one-shot holes, the par 3 will figure in the tournament’s resolution, as will other key holes (the par-4 9th, the par-5 5th and 14th, and the par-3 2nd.)