Pebble Beach Given Minor Tweaks For 2010 U.S. Open

Dec. 21, 2009

By Ken Klavon, USGA

Far Hills, N.J. – The 2010 U.S. Open is just six months away, but the USGA has already been working to refine the course setup at Pebble Beach Golf Links for the better part of two years.

 

 Davis_ins_091221
Mike Davis (above) and the USGA Championship
Committee stand at the ready to get Pebble Beach in shape
for the 2010 U.S. Open. (John Mummert/USGA)

 

According to Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competitions, the Association’s Championship Committee has been keenly focused on developing the most rigorous, yet fair, examination in golf.

In brief, the 2010 setup won’t vary considerably from the previous four U.S. Opens that have been played at Pebble Beach. After all, the course annually ranks among the premier tracts in all of golf.

However, there are several minor changes that have been introduced since the last U.S. Open at Pebble Beach nine years ago. Since Arnold Palmer became a managing partner in the late 1990s, the Pebble Beach Company under his direction has added, moved or refurbished bunkering over the last decade. The USGA requested that three new teeing grounds be built, shifted some of the fairways closer to the ocean and has established graduated rough.

“Pebble Beach’s difficulty during the past Opens has had to do with the course’s firmness, its small greens and the almost always present wind,” said Davis. “For those three reasons, there’s little reason to change from the past.”

The last time the championship visited the Monterey Peninsula of California, Tiger Woods left the rest of the field in the water. Woods posted a 12-under-par 272 and won by 15 strokes, successfully completing the wire-to-wire victory. He was the only player under par.

Davis has heard the “Tiger Proofing” serenades since then, but Woods’ performance was an anomaly. Subtract Woods’ remarkable performance and the winning score would have been three over par.  One-hundred fifty-five other participants were wobbly-legged after taking Pebble Beach’s blows.

“Why is Pebble beach so hard?” Davis asked rhetorically. “You have almost guaranteed firm conditions because it doesn’t rain at that time of the year and you’re not going to go four days without wind.”

So specifically, what’s different this time around?

For its fifth U.S. Open, Pebble Beach will play to a par 71 of 7,040 yards, roughly 250 yards more than in 2000. That’s still relatively short by Open standards, but then again, Pebble Beach has never been about total length.

Dating back to 1972 when the championship was first conducted at Pebble Beach, the course played to 6,812 yards, as a par 72. Jack Nicklaus had won his third U.S. Open title, shooting 290 to win by three strokes over Bruce Crampton. In 1982, the year of Tom Watson’s improbable 17th-hole chip-in that denied Nicklaus another major, the layout was set up at 6,825 yards. A little more length was added for the 1992 Open that Tom Kite won. And in 2000, Woods dominated on a par-71 design that was stretched to 6,846 yards.  The second hole was changed from a par 5 to a par 4 when two critical trees that made going for the green in two shots a real challenge came down due to disease. 

“It’s essentially the same course as ’72,” said Davis, who along with incoming Championship Committee Chairman Thomas O’Toole Jr. and incoming USGA President Jim Hyler will have a chief say in the 2010 setup.

It was two years ago that the beginnings of the Championship Committee’s requests were implemented.

Similar to the past four U.S. Opens, tiered rough will extend from the edges of the fairways to the spectator ropes. Davis said the committee will specifically pay attention to the length of the rough abutting fairways, especially given the new groove regulations, because “we want players going for the greens, not just chopping out.”  

The Poa annua greens will measure in the range of 11 and 11½ feet on the Stimpmeter. Don’t be fooled by this comparatively slow speed – the slowest of any Open since 2000. Many greens have significant slope. Further, the USGA needs to be careful that balls on the greens are not blown around due to strong winds that occur on a regular basis.

Three new teeing grounds were created – on holes 9, 10 and 13. The primary reason for the new teeing grounds was to allow the holes to play like they did years ago. 

The ninth and 10th holes, both par 4s at 505 and 495 yards, respectively, should play straight downwind, downhill in June.  The new tees should put the driver back in the players’ hands.

The ninth hole also will be different than the past four Opens in another respect. In past championships, when balls from the teeing ground were hit over the hillside crest, the majority of the time the ball would head into the right rough due to the fairway slope.

“Now it’s possible to hit it over the hill and be left with a great approach angle from a flat lie very near the ocean,” said Davis, “but it also now possible to drive it over the cliff if a player is not careful.  It’s great risk-reward.”

Like past championships at Pebble Beach, some of the fairways contours and widths are being modified. In some cases, it is a tightening from the normal resort play. And in other cases, fairways have actually been widened to bring bunkering and the ocean more into play. Some putting green approaches were widened to better allow for the run-up shot.   

One significant change will be to bring the ocean more into play – the way it once was prior to the ’72 Open.  The sixth, eighth and ninth holes are all seeing fairways moved up against the ocean cliff.   

 

 davis_putt091221
The process of setting up a U.S. Open course begins
years in advance. (John Mummert/USGA)

 

“You rarely ever saw players hitting their tee shots – or even thinking about it – into the ocean, but now the ocean has become very strategic. It will make players really think – and carefully choose their options. That’s the way Pebble Beach used to be,” said Davis.

“People will recall from 2000 that Tiger hit one of the best shots of the week from the thick right rough up over the hill at No. 6.   That rough is now fairway that goes right to the fall-off.”

The eighth hole, a par 4 that will play 428 yards, is one of the most dramatic second shots in golf. Now the tee shot has become much more dramatic too. The fairway has been shifted significantly to the right so that the ocean is much more in play. 

With a new teeing ground on the 445-yard par-4 13th hole, which added 46 yards of length, players will be presented with a choice off the tee on windy days. The hole typically plays into the wind, forcing players to decide between attempting to carry a cross-bunker located 250 to 265 yards off the tee, or opting instead to lay up short or to the right of it.

Perhaps the truest form of the risk-reward scenario might be epitomized on No. 18, a par 5 that hugs the ocean and will play 543 yards. The USGA may decide to slide tee markers up to tempt competitors to go for the green in two shots. The Championship Committee wanted to create a risk-and-reward option on the par 5.

Players will need to make a decision on the tee about how aggressive they should be if they’re looking to get on the green in two shots.

The hole has always played the same, but through the years technology has provided extra incentive.

“Eighteen is nearly the same hole as the last four Opens,” said Davis. “With the improvements in equipment technology, it now can now play as an exciting risk-reward two-shotter or a conservative three-shotter.”

In any event, Pebble Beach holds a unique place in U.S. Open history that is vetted by its list of past champions. The course is annually feted as one of the toughest in the world, which in some ways makes Davis and company feel like kids with modeling clay.

None of that has been lost on Davis.

“There is something magical about Pebble Beach and it being on an ocean,” said Davis. “I think in a lot of peoples’ minds, it’s as good as an Open course as we’ve got.

“Pebble Beach always seems to be an historical Open, and I cannot imagine this U.S. Open won’t be another.”

Ken Klavon is the Editor of Digital Media/Communications. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org.

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