Lake Orion, Mich. – The two previous USGA championships at Indianwood Golf & Country Club were key building blocks to a pair of Hall of Fame careers. In the 1989 U.S. Women’s Open, Betsy King won the first of back-to-back national championships; five years later at Indianwood, Patty Sheehan captured her second U.S. Women’s Open.
This year, a number of current Hall of Famers hope to add to Indianwood’s championship pedigree with a victory in the 2012 U.S. Senior Open, set for July 12–15.
“This is the only sport where you can see Hall of Famers who are current, whose skills haven’t diminished much at all,” said 2011 U.S. Senior Open champion Olin Browne at media day on May 30. “This is a tremendous opportunity for people to see some of the best players in the history of the game.”
All-time greats such as Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and Nick Price will be vying for the 33rd U.S. Senior Open on a timeless Wilfrid Reid-designed Golden Age course that opened in 1925. Relatively short at 6,891 yards, the par-70 layout will require accuracy off the tee in order to hit the fairways – 25 to 28 yards wide – and precision into the small, fiercely sloped greens.
“Guys are going to have scoring clubs into the greens,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s senior director for Rules and Amateur Status. “However, if Mother Nature cooperates and we get a firm golf course, they’d better not make a mistake and be above the hole, even if they’re just 10 feet away.
“There will be a premium on playing from the fairways. That can get in the players’ minds, and we want the setup to be a full examination.”
Course designer Kevin Aldridge, son of Indianwood owner Stan Aldridge, has made several tweaks to the course, including the addition of several tees and the repositioning of many bunkers so they come into play in landing zones. Overall, there have been few significant course changes since Sheehan’s win at the 1994 U.S. Women’s Open.
Indianwood sits on an exposed site devoid of trees, and the elements may play a major role in testing contestants. “We certainly hope to have some wind,” said Hall. “That’s the one variable that players have to make an adjustment for, and they’re not precise adjustments.”
With five par 4s measuring 408 yards or less, most players will hit a variety of clubs off the tee. They certainly will need driver on Indianwood’s lengthened par-4 12th hole, which measures 490 yards.
“Indianwood is a beautiful venue,” said Browne, who played the course for the first time on May 29. “It’s got a beautiful mix of holes that go one way or the other way, that are long and short.”
In addition to No. 12, much of the excitement should take place on the final three holes, a pair of stout par 4s sandwiching the 195-yard 17th hole. If a winner is not determined in regulation, the playoff will take place over these three holes, which will require a variety of well-played shots.
“Indianwood has never been about distance,” said Hall. “It’s about shotmaking.”
While most of the field will be getting to know Indianwood’s subtleties, local favorite Randal Lewis is familiar with the course. Lewis, 55, who lives a couple of hours away, received a special exemption into the U.S. Senior Open after becoming the oldest winner of the U.S. Mid-Amateur last fall.
“It’s a special place,” said Lewis, who has competed many times at Indianwood. “I know everybody is going to love it. A lot of my friends are going to be here; I’m going get a lot of support.”
Lewis was present at U.S. Senior Open Media Day to provide support of his own for the championship, and he was one of many members of the local sports community who helped promote the state’s first Senior Open since 1991, when it was held at Oakland Hills Country Club in suburban Detroit.
In addition to several retired players from the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Lions sent a contingent made up of quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill, as well as head coach Jim Schwartz, who presented a personalized jersey to Browne.
“Detroit always has had the reputation as a great sports town,” said Schwartz. “This Senior Open just extends that legacy. We’re really excited about it. Anything that adds to the sports culture in Detroit is good for us, and we really look forward to supporting this any way we can.”
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. E-mail him at email@example.com.