Coore-Crenshaw restoration gives old classic new look for 118th U.S. Open
June 13, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy talks course setup before the U.S. Open
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Mike Davis knows what people say.
Davis, the CEO of the United States Golf Association, has heard the talk that the USGA obsesses about par and how to keep its U.S. Open champions at least within shouting distance of it.
That’s fine, he says. But it’s not true.
“Since I've been at the USGA, and it's been almost 30 years, I've never heard anybody at the USGA say we're shooting for even par,” Davis said in a press conference before the 118th U.S. Open on Wednesday. “Never heard it. …
“But we talk about, incessantly, how do we get the course to be really a great test of golf?” Davis continued. “As we say, get all 14 clubs dirty to make sure that these players are tested to the nth degree.”
What they’ve come up with is the latest and, in the opinion of many, greatest version of Shinnecock Hills, a course that opened as a 12-holer in 1891 and since then has been altered in ways big (William Flynn, 1931) and small (the newly restored Stanford White clubhouse).
The most significant recent change: A three-year restoration by the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that began in 2012 and yielded a course that is vastly different than the one that hosted U.S. Opens in 2004, 1995, 1986 and all the way back to the first one in 1896.
“Honestly, I think they’ve got it right,” said Rory McIlroy.
There is a perception that the USGA is due and maybe overdue for a rousingly successful U.S. Open host course. At the largely experimental 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, players ripped the bumpy greens. Last year brought controversy over the generously wide fairways at Erin Hills, a pastoral gem in Wisconsin where the anticipated wind didn’t blow.
In the crudest terms, Coore-Crenshaw took out a lot of natural vegetation: trees, bushes, and fescue. They had brought Shinnecock’s fairways to as much as 60 yards wide, but in the aftermath of Erin Hills, last September, the USGA and the Shinnecock grounds crew replaced the fairways’ edges with transplanted fescue so that the average width is now closer to 40. That’s still a lot more generous off the tee than the 26.6-yard average that confronted players in ’04.
In Shinnecock, the USGA is going back to its roots, a course that is by turns clever and beautiful, and with a clubhouse that could’ve been painted by Andrew Wyeth. The 7,440-yard, par-70 beauty is built on roughly 250 acres of rolling, sand-based terrain. It’s bouncy and fast, and, in part thanks to Coore-Crenshaw, mostly treeless and devoid of extraneous brush.
Photographs of previous U.S. Opens here show a different looking, different playing course. In 1995, when the mustachioed Corey Pavin won, holes were separated from one another by trees and brush. Not anymore. Coore-Crenshaw also expanded both the greens and the green roll-offs.
Phil Mickelson, who is second on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting, has backed the changes. Ditto for 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who once disliked Shinnecock.
“I did play in 2004,” he said, “didn't have the fondest of memories of the place, but that actually changed.”
The Englishman said he returned to Shinnecock in 2012 or ’13, played with a few members, and saw a landscape transformed.
“I saw the course more width-wise as we're seeing this week,” Rose said, “and it completely changed my impression of the whole golf course.
“It went from being not a very fun experience to actually, wow, now I see why it's one of the top-rated golf courses in the world,” he added. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. I came here with a changed approach, I suppose, and an attitude towards the place, and I've really enjoyed my practice.”
Players will debate what to hit off the tees, mixing in plenty of long-irons, fairway woods and hybrids and potentially limiting driver use, depending on the wind. (Thursday could bring gusts of 25-30 mph.) Then, Rose said, he’ll aim for the middle of the greens.
“Easier said than done,” he added.
The humps and hollows, steep grades and tight run-off areas, will funnel balls away from pins and, in some cases, up to 50-plus yards away. That’s why one of the most common sentiments so far this week is that this is a second-shot golf course.
“They have to think about what happens when the ball lands,” Davis said, “where's it going to bounce and roll to. It rewards players that can work the ball both left and right and right and left, knock down shots, hit high shots. So, it really, indeed, is what we're looking for as a test.”
At most golf courses, a shot is over when the ball lands on the green; at Shinnecock Hills, that’s when the fun is just beginning.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club preview