Date: Mon 11 Jun 2018

Behind the Architectural Curtain - 2018 US Open

EIGCA Member, Marc Westenborg, took part in a discussion on the design elements of Shinnecock Hills, where the 2018 US Open is being held, led by M. James Ward. This article first appeared on

Shinnecock Hills

Shinnecock Hills

After a fourteen-year absence, the championship of American golf -- the US Open -- returns to iconic Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, NY. In 2004, the event was hampered by poor decision making in not ensuring sufficient water was applied to the putting greens -- most notably the par-3 7th. The United States Golf Association (USGA) has expressed confidence such a situation will not happen this time around.

Shinnecock Hills is rightly lauded as one of the top five courses in the world. The eastern area of Long Island is also a hotbed for golf and served as the foundation for golf in America in its earliest days. Among the more noted layouts near to Shinnecock Hills include such stalwarts as The National Golf Links of America, Maidstone and Southampton. With more recently opened and noted layouts such as Friar's Head, Sebonack, The Bridge, Atlantic and East Hampton joining the golf scene.

Getting expertise from several different architects sheds additional insights into what happens behind the scenes. The unknown factors remain to be answered. What lessons did the USGA learn from Erin Hills in 2017? How will Shinnecock Hills play? What will the weather and wind conditions be like? How firm and fast will the William Flynn design play? Will Shinnecock provide high golf drama featuring the game's elite players?

A founding member of the USGA, Shinnecock Hills will host its 5th US Open -- making the club the only one to have hosted the championship in three different centuries. The stage is set -- the curtain is about to rise.

On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being "perfect" -- what number grade would you give the USGA in prepping the courses that have recently hosted the US Open?

DANA FRY: 7 or 8. Obviously at Chambers Bay they had issues concerning the greens and the tough time spectators had walking the course. At Erin Hills, which I designed with Mike Hurdzan & Ron Whitten, the players had favorable comments for the most part but some writers and fans were concerned with the low scoring. What all this proves to me is just how difficult it is to set up a course for a US Open. If the wind had been blowing everyday 20+ mph everyday at Erin Hills I can assure you the results and comments would be far different.

NATHAN CRACE : A 9 -- nobody's perfect. Hosting a tournament on that scale is a tremendous undertaking and you really have to hand it to the superintendents and their staff members at those courses. They have to walk a fine line working with the USGA to balance playability with challenging the best players in the world. When it comes to the US Open, I like to see the world's best be tested by par.

MARC WESTENBORG: I cannot provide a specific number because having only watched the US Open on TV, it is not possible to form an accurate opinion on the prepping of the golf courses.

TRIPP DAVIS: Prepping and setting up a golf course for a US Open is a very tough thing to do. They've done an excellent job of providing test that doesn't favor anyone type of player, so I would give them a 9.

JEFFREY BLUME: I think that the USGA has done a remarkable job of customizing each year's open to the design and conditions of the host site. As an example, the wider fairways at last year's open at Erin Hills were appropriate due to the length and difficulty of the course. Tightening the widths at a place like Merion was also spot on. I am curious to see how the wider fairways at Shinnecock Hills will change the strategy for the players. Overall I would give the course set up at recent US Opens a solid 8. The only negatives have occurred when the courses have gotten overly firm and fast.

If you could name one specific course, irrespective of logistics that has not already hosted the US Open, which one would you choose and why?

JEFFREY BLUME: I would love to see an Open hosted with 100% warm season grasses. With the talent of players that come out of the states of Texas and Florida, I think it is time for the US Open to be hosted by a facility in one of these states. Perhaps Seminole or Colonial would be appropriate. I know the heat in the south is a negative, but we Texans and Floridians play in hot weather all the time.

NATHAN CRACE : Since the USGA is headed to Long Island for this year's US Open, how about National Golf Links at some point in the future? It's literally adjacent to Shinnecock, hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922, and is perennially one of the top-rated courses in America.

DANA FRY: Chicago Golf Club. There are many reasons why. It is a founding member of the USGA in 1894, it's an architectural masterpiece and a throwback to the old school of golf architecture, for historical reasons and mainly because I believe it could. The course sits on close to 200 acres so they have the room to add length to the course and the greens are perhaps the most challenging greens in the U.S. If Merion which sits on 126 acres can host the US Open then I am confident Chicago GC can.

TRIPP DAVIS: Pine Valley. I have played competitive golf there and there is no other course in the world that does as good a job of testing every part of your game, and it does not favor any one type of player.

MARC WESTENBORG: Pine Valley. Its history and reputation as a tough highly strategic golf course along with what I would describe as 'proper hazards'; unmaintained areas of sand. Allowing members of the public to experiences the golf course as spectators or TV viewers would be great for the game of golf.

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