The hand wringing over course setup at PGA tour venues always seems to hit a peak during U.S. Open week. During the U.S. Open, the USGA has a reputation of pushing the course setup limit and they did nothing to disparage that reputation last week at Shinnecock Hills. Many amateurs might enjoy watching the best players in the world struggle to make par, however Saturday afternoon was not good theater. Course conditions crossed the line Saturday from difficult to unfair.
There are a couple of take away thoughts here. One is the length that a golf designer pushes the strategic difficulty of a golf course to challenge the best players does not always marry with elements of course setup or maintenance practices. There were a couple of 66s posted Saturday, albeit in the morning before the wind dried the greens and some of the pin locations became unreachable. Shinnecock has long been recognized as one of the best golf courses in the world and is designed to play hard and fast. When Coore and Crenshaw removed many of the trees in the recent restoration they exposed the course to the wind as per the original William Flynn design. It wasn’t the golf courses design elements that were unfair; it was the agronomic and strategic setup. Still, challenging these guys sometimes requires a course setup that pushes the limit.
The second takeaway when reflecting on championship caliber tournament preparation is how much the course setup can affect the opinions of the participants about the golf course and it’s design. An architect designs a golf course typically with a myriad of ways to play it. It is the intent of the architect that the course setup explores all the options of the golf course. I have experienced this with the Byron Nelson Championship when it was held at TPC Four Seasons in Irving, Texas. Upon our urging, the PGA Tour staff used some of the options we incorporated into the renovation of the golf course in their tournament setup, but on many days, they did not adjust the golf course setup to better enhance the playability, particularly when there was wind. The setup negatively affected the performance of the players and their attitude toward the golf course as much or more than the actual design. I believe the architect would be a valuable resource when determining course setup.
Variety is an extremely important golf course design component - maybe the most important. However, if the persons in charge of setup, either for a tournament or just daily play, do not pay attention, the golf course could garner a reputation it does not deserve.
Golf Insights are written by Steve Wolfard. Steve is the chief principal designer and partner at Wolfard Golf Design. He focuses on architecture, routing, construction, agronomics and how these elements impact both the playability of the game he has loved his entire life and the business of the golf courses he has worked or collaborated on. Wolfard brings a personal and balanced approach to his clients that is built on trust as their project partner. To learn how Steve can help your next project contact him directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org