The 118th US Open Championship gets underway today on a Shinnecock Hills course that looks rather different from the one that hosted the 2004 event.
In a three year project led by the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, starting in 2012, the course was restored to something more akin to William Flynnʼs 1931 design (it was Flynn who largely created the course we see today).
Photographs of the 1986 and 1995 US Opens, won by Raymond Floyd and Corey Pavin respectively, show a very different landscape, with holes separated by trees and brush; post the Coore and Crenshaw work, Shinnecock has been returned to the open, windswept seaside landscape it used to be.
Greens were expanded to recapture lost area, and crucial pin locations, while roll-offs, in previous Opens covered in rough, have been mowed short to encourage more creative recovery shots. C&C also oversaw a radical widening of the fairways, up to sixty yards wide in some places, but, in the aftermath of last yearʼs Open at Erin Hills, where the wind failed to blow and Brooks Koepka consequently won the championship with a score of 272, 16 under par, the USGA decided these fairways were too wide, and mandated a change.
In a remarkable exercise starting last September, the Shinnecock grounds crew under superintendent Jon Jennings, with the assistance of contractor LaBar Golf, lifted substantial portions of grass from the edges of fairways and replaced it with a pure sward of tall fescue, grown by Delea Sod, that is being mowed at between four and five inches high for tournament week. The fescue, being relatively thin and open, will provide a stiff test for wayward drivers, but will at least offer a chance to recover – had the existing fairway grass, a mix of bent, poa and rye, been grown to that height it would have been close to unplayable. Meanwhile, at Deleaʼs premises, the existing fairway grass – about four acres of it – is being carefully tended in case the club wants it back after the Open!