||Eduardo Romero will attempt to become the fourth player in the championship's history to win the title in consecutive years. (John Mummert/USGA)
Incorporating a course setup philosophy that began in 2005, the USGA has been working closely with golf course Superintendent Kirk Richmond to provide playing conditions for the competitors that are consistent from the first practice round on Monday to the final group on Sunday afternoon.
Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of Rules and Competitions, complimented the layout and conditions of the course at Media Day on May 18.
“We asked for hardly any changes at all,” said Hall, noting that fairways were tightened on holes 10 and 14 and that the landing area for the second shot on 11 was narrowed as well.
The lack of requested changes made it easier to implement the plan to have “firm and fast conditions” once play begins with practice rounds on July 27. “We want to let the course run,” Hall said.
According to Hall, that plan is acceptable to players in light of the fact that, at 7,316 yards, Crooked Stick will be the longest course in U.S. Senior Open history.
“We didn’t go into it with making the course longer as a whole,” Hall said. “We evaluated each hole on its own. It’s unlikely we will play the full length on any one day, but it will likely play from 7,100 to 7,300 yards, based on hole locations and different teeing grounds.”
While greens may be firmer and receptive only to well-struck approach shots, the harder fairways will allow for more run on tee shots, which is a desired balance for a course that according to Hall, has “fairways that are wide by design.”
“I talked to Jay Haas [who played the course on May 12], and he liked that idea,” Hall said.
However, Pete Dye, the course builder and the championship’s honorary chairman, said it was another story in the early years of the club.
Dye and his wife, Alice, who are members of the Crooked Stick Green Committee, have had a home off the 18th fairway since the club opened in 1964. He recalls a slightly different landscape.
“You talk about firm and fast,” said Dye, referring to the preferred course conditions for a USGA championship. “That’s what we had when we first started doing U.S. Open qualifiers. We had very little grass.”
Once on the putting surfaces, players will face Stimpmeter readings of 11 to 11½ feet. “’Firm and fast’ gets in a player’s mind when they park their car,” Hall said.
Another key component to the course setup philosophy is graduated rough. The farther off line a shot is, the longer and thicker the rough.
Hall, who regularly talks to players about course playing characteristics and conditions, said that graduated rough “has been a point that players understood and greatly appreciate.” As for the layout, Hall had praise for the final three holes.
“The finish is outstanding,” he said. “Holes 16, 17 and 18 will test the players’ skills.”
For the record, should the championship end in a tie after 72 holes, a three-hole aggregate-score playoff will follow immediately using holes 10, 17 and 18.
In the more than four decades since its opening, Crooked Stick’s layout has been tested five times during a USGA national championship, as well as with the 1991 PGA Championship and the 2005 Solheim Cup.
“Crooked Stick is our first love,” Dye said. “The club has done a great job of getting all those USGA championships. We are proud to be a part of a club that has extended itself so consciously.”
The USGA is expecting another outstanding championship, particularly if weather allows for those firm and fast conditions.
But as Dye says with the wisdom of years: “If the man upstairs wants it wet and slow, we’ll have it wet and slow.”
Pete Kowalski is the USGA’s manager of Championship Media Relations.