Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

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Liguori: Tradition-Rich Shinnecock Hills Should Provide Tough Test At US Open

Golfers Will Battle Erratic Winds, Expanded Course

Ann Liguori
June 11, 2018 - 10:28 am
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The 118th U.S. Open at famed Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is upon us, and the 156-player field is ready to compete for our country’s prestigious championship. The course has been tweaked to provide golf’s ultimate test, and the weather finally looks like it may cooperate.

And there’s no better venue than Shinnecock to show off the game’s rich history and provide the toughest challenge for the best players in the game.

Shinnecock enjoys many "firsts" in golf: Shinnecock is the lone course to have hosted the U.S. Open in three different centuries, doing so in 1896, 1986, 1995, 2004 and now 2018. The club was founded in 1891, making it the oldest incorporated golf club in the U.S. It is one of the five founding member clubs of the USGA. 

The iconic clubhouse, designed by Stanford White from the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, is the oldest clubhouse in the country, built in 1892.

It was the first club to admit women. In 1893, a nine-hole, ladies-only course was designed.

The club hosted the U.S. Amateur in 1896, the Women’s Amateur in 1900 and the Walker Cup Match in 1977.

At Shinnecock in 1896, 17-year-old John Shippen became the first African-American to play in a U.S. Open.

Willie Davis was the original designer in 1891. It was only 12 holes back then. The neighboring Shinnecock Indians helped build it. Head professional Willie Dunn contributed six additional holes by 1894. In the 1930s, William Flynn reshaped it.

In 2012, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw began restoring the course based on Flynn's original design by using aerial photos from 1938. They removed hundreds of trees.

In the winter of 2016, the entire clubhouse was raised and placed on pillars a basement could be constructed. It features an innovative engineering room, a wine room, a room for staff and an archives room.

Last fall, the USGA widened the fairways. The average width is now 41 yards, making them the widest fairways of any U.S. Open.

Shinnecock also added 10 new tees to expand the course an additional 400 yards from the 2004 U.S. Open. If every back tee were used, the course could be stretched to a maximum of 7,440 yards. The most notable change, distance-wise, is the downhill par-4 14th, where a new tee box was built over what was once a practice green near the clubhouse. That hole has been expanded to 519 yards.

“That hole was difficult enough because it’s so narrow,” Bubba Watson told me Sunday at the Hamptons Magazine party that kicked off their June issue featuring Watson on the cover, penned by this journalist.

“They didn’t need to move that tee back,” he added with a smile.

The tee box on the par-5 16th hole was moved back over 60 yards, making that slightly elevated signature hole a monster. The fairway bunkers on the left definitely come into play now for the long bombers. Watson told me he tried to go for the green on the 16th in two strokes during his practice round Sunday but his approach shot landed in the deep bunker, which guards the green on the right.

“The 16th went from a very short par 5 to now a very legitimate long par 5 where I think a little bit of anything can happen,” said Shinnecock head pro Jack Druga. "The landing area for drives will be around where the fairway bunkers are, which were not a factor in the past.”

“And the uphill, par-3 second hole has gone from 225 yards to 252 yards," Druga added. "That’s a pretty significant number on a par 3."

The USGA grew the first cut rough, which is about as thick and gnarly as can be. And of course, the fescue is what makes Shinnecock glisten in varying light, but it's not where a player wants to be.

The course will test every shot in one’s arsenal. It requires extreme accuracy off the tee, laser-sharp approach shots, an exceptionally sharp short game and precise putting.

And when the prevailing headwinds kick up, good luck! One of the hardest things about playing Shinnecock is judging the wind direction.

Day to day, I think you can count on the wind averaging between 10-15 mph every day," Druga said. "And then you’ve got a shifting of the wind as the day goes on. The ocean-bay effect moves the wind around. The wind that the guys play at 8 a.m. may be totally different than it can be at, say, 1 p.m."

Players will be confronted with the wind factor immediately upon stepping to the first tee area, where they’ll have to figure out precisely how much the wind will affect their tee shot on the par-4, downhill, dogleg right layout.

“Oftentimes, the American flag and the club flag are blowing in two different directions," Druga said. "That makes the wind so confusing to gauge. The prevailing wind (in June) is normally southwest, but rarely do we get the wind blowing the same direction all day.”

And there will not be a repeat of what happened in 2004 on the par-3, seventh green of the Redan Hole, which became impossible to hold because of the burnt-out greens. In the final round that year, the USGA hand-watered the green during play, which made it unfair for many of the players because of the changing conditions. The USGA assures that with all the new technology it has at its fingertips now that measures moisture on the greens, wind speed, etc., and better communication, that hasn’t happened since and won’t happen again.

So, the course is ready. The weather looks good. And 156 players are set to tee off when first-round action starts Thursday. The top 60 scorers and ties will make the cut after the first two rounds and play the weekend.

The forecast for the week looks clear and mild, with the exception of a 50 percent chance of showers Wednesday. At this point, the winds are forecast to be light, 5 to 10 mph, conditions that shouldn’t cause too much stress on the course or players. Players may have the opportunity to be aggressive, although it won’t be the low-scoring affair that Brooks Koepka enjoyed last year at Erin Hills when his winning score was 16 under.

Look for historic Shinnecock to be a much sterner test, even without strong winds, if the early forecast holds up.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori