Interviews with Matt Ward
Erin, WI. The Badger State of Wisconsin is hosting its first ever US Open this week and the Championship marks the grand entrance of Erin Hills on the global golf stage., Although Erin Hills has hosted other USGA Championships — the US Open represents the national championship of American golf and all eyes from around the world will be tuning in for golf’s second major event in ’17.
However, Erin Hills will be a mystery to a large number of players — only a few played in the ’10 US Amateur. Erin Hills provides the USGA a course with a great degree of elasticity with varying tee positions and pin locations. Weather can also be a factor in determining how “firm and fast” turf conditions become.
To get a better assessment on what issues will present themselves, several architects were asked to weigh in on their thoughts concerning the impact of Erin Hills, the manner by which a US Open layout is prepared and how they see America’s national championship when held against the other three major events.
This year’s US Open goes to both Wisconsin and Erin Hills for the first time. What significance does that have in your mind?
RON FORSE: Wisconsin – Great people, good golf topography. It’s fitting the US Open is in this emerging golf mecca. Erin Hills helped open the door for people to find classic golf designs like Lawsonia Links and Pine Hills.
JOHN SANFORD: The USGA via Mike Davis is thinking outside the box — bringing the Open to new places and courses that deserve our national championship.
PAUL O’BRIEN: I’m delighted to see the USGA hosting the event in Wisconsin. Erin Hills from the images I’ve seen is a wonderful looking course. It could, as its name suggests, be a golf course here in the Emerald Isle. Having grown up in Ireland & having the opportunity to play and study the great links of Ireland, Erin Hills is very easy on the eyes for me and I am thrilled with the color contrast the fescues offer. It’s great to see the USGA moving the tournament around the country a little more, promoting & giving exposure to the sport in different locations.
ROD WHITMAN: Having contributed to the construction of Erin Hills, primarily with the shaping of the greens, I think it is wonderful to see the course host the tournament. More so, it is exciting to see the tournament find new locations on which to contest the event. After all, it is the national championship of American golf.
TOM MARZOLF: Playing a newly designed course is significant . Erin Hills will be stunning, leading to the opportunity to play more new venues.
So much of the US Open is pushing the limits of fairness. Define the term fairness and how that is applied when dealing with the world’s best players?
TM: Life is not fair! Golf mirrors life. Who said golf needs to be fair? The challenge is why we play.
JS: The limit of fairness for the best players in the world is unfair for the rest of us. Length does not test the limits anymore, it must be tested with accuracy and skill on the putting surfaces.
RF: Fairness equals fairytale. Fairness means inherently strategic golf holes, which allow for creativity and alternate ways of playing. So, there is room to stray but with a chance at recovery. And reward and penalty are in proportion; one out of balance and you get either a lack of challenge or a plodding torture.
PO: I applaud the USGA setting their courses up tough for the elite player. Personally, I would like to see the bunkers becoming proper hazards once again with minimum maintenance applied to them. It’s good the USGA make the championship stand out from the others with high cut of roughs and, fast firm greens. For the player’s they know it’s going to be a grueling, that it will require straight hitting and be a mental marathon.
RW: I don’t believe that there is “fairness” in golf design. The golf course itself should dictate the setup, and it is then the task of the player to decipher the puzzle.
On the flip side — define unfairness?
RW: As I stated above, I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘fairness’ in golf design. It is the architect’s role to present the most varied test so as to give an intelligent purpose to the striking of the golf ball.
PO: Golf has some silly rules still on operation today. One of them – having to play it as it lies – even after you have played a shot to the fairway and you are in a divot. This one never made any sense to me! A player should in this instance be allowed a drop as they are being penalized for a fellow player’s lack of etiquette.
JS: When a shot or putt is executed extremely well but is penalized in it’s outcome. This is a part of the game.
TM: Unfairness relates to hole Locations cut on slopes that have too much pitch for conditions . This happened in the past at The Olympic Club in ’98 and Shinnecock Hills in ’04.
RF: This is the opposite of the preceding question. It’s beyond “reasonable” when a course simply does not have enough reward for good shots built in. Or when only one style of play can score. As much as I love Oakmont, that was a point of criticism of it in 2007.
Over the last ten years — assign a ratings number on a scale of 1-10 for the way the USGA has set-up various Open layouts — with one (1) being the worst and ten (10) being the absolute best.
RF: Merion’s setup in ’13 was a “3”. Bunkers were built in landing areas and in places that made the hole play just one way. The 18th was out of balance in shot values — too long for it’s tightness. Pinehurst was a 9 — Oakmont an 8. Chambers Bay gets a 1 for gallery but an 7 for the course.
TM: Mike Davis improved the set up since taking over in 2006. A mandate for the hardest round of the year, leads USGA humans and Mother Nature to occasionally cross the line — good example being the grass condition at Chambers Bay in ’15. The set up should not change the intent of the golf architect’s design. 7.5 is my cumulative score.
RW: I give the USGA an overall mark of 7 with Pinehurst a 10 and Torrey Pines a 4.
PO: I would give the USGA a grade of 9 out of 10 for their course set-up of venues during the past 10 years. The only blemish being the 2015 Chambers Bay event when they changed the par of the course on a number of the days. Also whilst they are to be commended for choosing a course with bluegrass perhaps the date of the tournament did not work in their favor for the course to be at its best.
JS: I’d give the USGA a 9 — based on “set up” not conditioning.
What course would you like to see a US Open that cannot host for reasons tied to logistics, gallery and corporate tent space?
PO: Cypress Point.
JS: That’s easy — Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point. If an Open can be held successfully at Merion , it can be just about anywhere.
RF: Cypress Point in the wind.
RW: Sand Hills in Mullen, Nebraska.
TM: Like Merion — Riviera deserves another US Open. The traditional June date is perfect to showcase the George Thomas design.
In assessing the importance of the majors — how would you rate the four events in order of importance?
TM: In order of importance — The Masters ,The Open, PGA Championship with the US Open in the final slot.
JS: Masters , US Open , The Open , PGA.
RW: The Open, US Open, Masters and then the PGA Championship.
RF: Order of importance — Masters, The Open, US Open and then PGA Championship.
PO: I’d rank them this way — The Open tests all of a player’s skills. The Masters comes right behind. The US Open and then the PGA Championship. I would love to see the day when the European PGA event held at Wentworth would also be held in the same level of esteem.
THE PARTICIPANTS —
President, Forse Design Golf Course Designers
Born and raised in classic-golf-rich Essex County NJ. Practice based in Western Pennsylvania and Florida. Designers of new courses and restorers / improvers of over 170 courses. Consulting golf architects for many USGA major championship venues including 3 of the next 4 US Senior Open Championships (2016-Salem CC (MA); 2017-Broadmoor (CO); 2020- Newport (RI).
Fazio Golf Course Designers, Inc. / Senior Design Associate
ASGCA, EIGCA, ASLA, RLA – Past President of American Society of Golf Course Architects , 2005-2006, member since 1990. First ever dual Member of EIGCA & ASGCA. Design Consultant for 4 US Opens, (2016,2013,2007,2006) and US Women’s Opens in 2009, 2010, 2017. Working for Tom Fazio for 34 years on going.
President , Sanford Golf Design
Current President of The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). Co designer and project manager of Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in The Bronx, New York City. Working with Jack Nicklaus on design and project management of Banyan Cay Golf Resort in West Palm Beach , FL.
Partner / (re)GOLF Design based in Kilkenny, Ireland
Involved in golf course architecture since 1997 and a EIGCA Associate member in 2006 — Senior Member in 2010. Work in Europe mainly but have also spent a little time in China.
Rod Whitman Golf Course Design Ltd.
Has designed and constructed highly acclaimed and nationally ranked courses in Canada, Europe, Asia and the United States. Whitman’s most recent endeavor – Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada – has been well received by players and golf experts alike. Whitman is currently working to redesign the historic Algonquin Golf Course in St. Andrews By-the-Sea, New Brunswick.