Featured Golf News
USGA Officials Discuss Congressional Set-Up & Other Topics
On Wednesday - the eve of the 111th U.S. Open, officials with the host organization, the United States Golf Association, met with the media to discuss the event and the championship site, Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
The group included USGA president Jim Hyler, USGA executive director Mike Davis, Chairman of the USGA Championship Committee Tom O'Toole, and Jeff Hall, managing director of Rules and Competitions.
In addition to talking about how Congressional will test the best golfers in the world, the officials also detailed the "Tee It Forward" campaign backed by the USGA, PGA of America and club-maker Barney Adams, which will hopefully make the game easier and quicker to play for average golfers; the newly selected site of the 2018 U.S. Open, Shinnecock Hills; as well as other initiatives.
Here's what the group had to say during their wide-ranging Q&A with reporters.
MODERATOR: Good morning. My name is Beth Murrison, I'm Manager of Communications for the United States Golf Association. It's my pleasure to welcome you to Congressional Country Club for the 2011 US Open Championship. We're very happy to have you here this week. As many of you know, the USGA and the R&A are partners in the international governance of the game of golf. The USGA annually conducts the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women's Open, the U.S. Senior Open, ten national amateur championships for individuals. It also conducts two state team championships and helps conduct the Walker Cup match, the Curtis Cup match and the World Amateur and Women's World Amateur team championships.
The organization also oversees course rating and handicap systems, writes and administers the rules of golf in conjunction with the R&A, conducts equipment testing, provides course maintenance conditions and since 1920 has been a global leader in the development and support of sustainable golf course management practices. The USGA also serves as a primary steward for the game's history and funds and ongoing For the Good of the Game grants program.
Complete information about the USGA and all of its programs can be found on the USGA website at USGA.org. Please also feel free to speak to me or any member of the communications staff any time. At this time it's my pleasure to introduce the USGA President, Jim Hyler.
JIM HYLER: Thank you, Beth, and good morning, everyone. It's good to see you all here, and thank you for coming and attending our annual U.S. Open press conference. Let me first recognize the two gentlemen to my left who really need no introduction, but to my immediate left is Mike Davis. Mike is of course now our Executive Director and to Mike's left is Tom O'Toole. And as we traditionally do at this news conference, when I finish with my remarks Tom will come up and talk about the golf course, some specifics about the golf course, then we'll go to Q and A.
It's really a pleasure for all of us, the USGA executive committee and staff, to be back here in the nation's capital at Congressional Country Club as we embark on our annual championship season. This will be the third U.S. Open and sixth overall USGA Championship at Congressional. Our 1964 U.S. Open champion, Ken Venturi, is here this week and visiting. It is great to see Ken around and being a part of the championship. Of course our 1997 Open Champion, Ernie Els, is in the championship field, and I'm sure he will be gunning for a repeat.
Congressional has hosted many special championship moments, and we look forward to the creation of many more starting with the 2011 U.S. Open.
Before we move into specifics of this week's championship, I have two news items to share. First, I'd like to be sure that all of you are aware of a new national initiative that was launched late last month by the PGA of America with support of the USGA. It's called Tee It Forward, and it's an effort to encourage amateur golfers to play from tees that more appropriately match to their abilities. Sitting in the front row is Barney Adams. Barney, of course, is the founder of Adams Golf, and he is the Tee It Forward visionary and the person who came up with the analysis and the thoughts to really advance this concept.
The idea is that golfers can potentially speed up play and have more fun by using tees that provide the greatest playability and enjoyment. Tee It Forward is not necessarily about creating a new set of tees, and in fact most facilities today have ample sets of tees to use this concept. It's about changing the mindset of golfers in a positive way by encouraging people to consider setting aside that desire to play from 6,500 to 6,700 yards and move up and play a course around 6,000 to 6,200 yards. The personal testimonial, I've been "Teeing it Forward" now for several months, and I've found I really like it. I play faster, and I'm definitely having more fun.
You might ask, why is the USGA supporting this initiative, and the answer is really pretty simple. We believe Tee It Forward speaks directly to the health of the game, and we are vitally interested in the health of the game. We've heard from many of our members and others who think that a round of golf is taking far too long, and Tee It Forward can address that and add a new layer of fun that we believe can be healthy for the future of the game. So watch for Tee It Forward as it rolls out at golf facilities Nationwide starting on July 5th and running for two weeks after that. I hope that you will let your readers know that they can get more information about Tee It Forward by going to USGA.org, and there you will find appropriate links to Play Golf America.
Next it is a particular pleasure for me to announce today that Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in South Hampton, New York, has been selected as the site of the 2018 U.S. Open. This is indeed exciting news for us as Shinnecock is truly one of the game's special places. Through the years Shinnecock has been the site of many compelling USGA championship moments. The club has hosted eight USGA championships, including four U.S. Opens and is the only club to have hosted the U.S. Open in three different centuries, and it has produced notable and noteworthy champions going all the way back to 1896 James Foulis; Ray Floyd in 1996 and one of the great back nine battles in the history of the U.S. Open; 1995 Corey Pavin was the long-remembered, forever remembered for his memorable 4-wood shot on the 72nd hole. And then most recently in 2004 Retief Goosen with an incredible display of putting during the final round.
In addition to its deep and rich history, Shinnecock Hills is especially special to the USGA because it was one of the five founding member clubs of our organization back in 1894. The current course was designed by William Flynn in 1931 and its design and agronomy exemplify our idea of firm, fast conditions. Because of the landscape and wind conditions that are particular to eastern Long Island, Shinnecock is a challenging course to set up, and we certainly experienced that in 2004 when we let the course get away from us the last round. This has been well-chronicled and discussed over the years. I will tell you that we have used this as a wholesome learning experience, and this experience led us to the development of our current setup philosophy that we use today. And I think you would all admit that the last six U.S. Opens that we have had have been very, very successful, and that's thanks to our great staff and to the superintendents of our U.S. Open venues.
Two members of the Shinnecock board, Brett Pickett and Jim Ferrer, and head golf professional Jack Druga are here with us today, sitting to my left in the third row, and I'd really like to thank them and Club President, Bob Murphy, for all the work that they've done to offer us a great championship course for our 2018 U.S. Open. We look forward to working with members of the staff and the club in the years to come to ensure that the 2018 Open is a memorable one, and we know it certainly will be.
Before concluding, I'd like to recognize the many USGA volunteers who donate their time in helping us conduct our national championships. They serve on USGA committees, they conduct state and local competitions, and they help develop the next generation of golfers. Here at Congressional we have 5,000-plus volunteers helping us, and to each of them I offer my sincere appreciation and thanks for all that they do to help us have this week. Finally, I'd like to take a moment to express our gratitude to our partners and good friends at Congressional Country Club. In the months and years leading up to this championship we have benefitted greatly from their knowledge, their expertise and their dedication. Thanks to all the officers and the staff and especially the golf course staff for their role in preparing for what we expect to be a memorable 111th U.S. Open. Tom O'Toole will be more specific in recognition in his remarks. Now let me turn the program over to Tom O'Toole, a member of the executive committee of the USGA and Chairman of the Championship Committee. Tom?
TOM O'TOOLE: Mr. President, thank you. Certainly to our friends at Shinnecock on behalf of the Championship Committee, we could not be any more excited that we will return in 2018 to that historic United States Open venue. Job well done. Our 2011 championship season is imminent, and of course this is our 117th year of conducting national championships. That mission that was formed in December of 1894 in New York City we continue throughout this year, 2011. Of course we kick off that championship season right here at Congressional Country Club in just one more day.
Some of the highlights of the 2011 championship season besides Congressional, which we'll get to more in depth, are the Women's Amateur Public Links and the Amateur Public Links will be conducted at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The first time the Women's Amateur Public Links and the Men's Amateur Public Links will be conducted simultaneously at the same venue on the same courses, in this instance, Bandon Trails and Old MacDonald. Thanks to the influence of Mike Davis now Bandon Dunes enjoys the pleasure of conducting national championships on all four of its courses.
The U.S. Open returns to the famed Broadmoor Resort the site of Jack Nicklaus's amateur crown, one of them, and the site of Annika Sorenstam's one of her three U.S. Women's Open championships. The U.S. Junior Championship returns to the Pacific Northwest at Gold Mountain Club in Bremerton, Washington. The Pacific Northwest is an area that we've cultivated lately and of course will continue to cultivate as we host the U.S. Open Championship there at Chambers Bay Golf Course in 2015.
The U.S. Senior Open returns to the historic Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, site of four U.S. Opens and most recently site of the 2003 United States Senior Open won by Bruce Lietzke. And finally the U.S. Amateur Championship will be conducted at a reasonably new public golf course in Erin, Wisconsin, Erin Hills Golf Course, which of course is the site of the 2017 United States Open. We think it's always important to review with this group the philosophy to which President Hyler referred, and that is the U.S. Open course setup philosophy. In the fall of 2004, Walter Driver, the then-chairman of the Championship Committee, implemented a written U.S. Open philosophy which sets forth many number of factors and criteria that can be found for your benefit at usopen.com.
That philosophy is simply this: The U.S. Open should be the most rigorous, the most difficult yet fair test in championship golf, an examination which tests both the players' physical capabilities, including all shot making, also tests the players' mental capabilities and tenacity. In conclusion, we want well-executed shots rewarded and poorly executed shots penalized. An example of some of those criteria which we will review in our course comments are of course risk-reward, the graduated rough concept, which Mike Davis and Jim Hyler introduced in 2006 at Winged Foot, and of course the use of different and a variety of teeing grounds.
As history dictates at this press conference, we give some highlights as to that course setup. As has been the case since 2006, Mike Davis has the responsibility of implementing the U.S. Open course setup. While you're all aware Mike Davis has expanded responsibilities within the USGA as our new Executive Director, Mike still in 2011 and beyond will continue to handle the U.S. Open course setup. In fact, Mike is here on the dais today and will answer any questions after this portion of the press conference regarding any questions you have regarding that course setup.
Some of those highlights, you've been around the club and here for the past couple of days or if you were at prior championships here, Congressional Country Club is a big golf course. Big is the word, that's the operative reference. 2011 is no exception. 7,574 yards from the post, some 300 yards more than when we last conducted the United States Open here in 1997. It won't play that long any one day but will probably play the golf course somewhere between 7,200 and 7,400 yards in each of the four stipulated championship rounds. In 1964 and 1997, par was 70 for those championships, as has been a variety of other sites and championships that the Congressional Country Club has hosted.
2011 the increase of par is to 71. Let me repeat myself. The United States Golf Association has increased par from 70 to 71, most specifically in reference to Hole 6, which has historically played as a 4, and while we built a new tee there, the club built a new tee at 555 yards, we think that golf hole plays particularly more attractive to our setup philosophies as a par-5 than as a par-4. A feature of the big golf course we make reference at Congressional is the generous and wider driving areas. Of course a complement to those wider fairways is what you see as the closely mown areas as the fairways feed into many of the fairway bunkers. Of course that feeding promotes the errant tee shot to be collected by those bunkers.
Green speeds, always a hallmark of a United States Golf Association setup, firm and fast on the putting greens, not one specific Stimpmeter reading. Here we targeted about 14 to 14 and a half was Mike's pleasure, but by way of comparison at Pebble Beach last year, we were in the 11 to 11 and a half foot range on the Stimpmeter, and by comparison at Oakmont Golf Course in 2007 the green speeds were between 14 and a half and 15.
The architectural features of those putting greens is what dictates those Stimpmeter readings. Because of the oppressive heat we experienced here last week in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda specifically, the heat index at or over 100 degrees for five days caused us to cut back on number of mowings, the number of rollings and of course cut back on the mowing heights. Of course because of that oppressive heat we did not achieve the objective that we preferred to have as the players arrived on Monday for practice to have the golf course prepared as it will be on Thursday through Sunday when they begin their practice.
We have endeavored to achieve that target as we've moved into facing tomorrow, and that green speed, which again we targeted at 14 to 14 and a half, we're almost there. The reason we are slightly behind in this prep is because we did not want to compromise the health of the putting greens. We would not do that, and I can tell you in my 20 years of officiating at the U.S. Open, the putting greens, their firmness, their smoothness and the green speeds are as good as we've had in that time. We are delighted where this golf course is right now, and we think it's well prepared to test the greatest players in the world.
We're also delighted with things like the rough heights. Speaking a moment about the graduated rough concept, but we got into that preparation a little late, again, because of the heat we experienced last week. But where we sit today on Wednesday morning, I think Mike and I are very happy and the Championship Committee as to where that is. The same applies to the fairway firmness. We're in Washington, D.C., in the summer, ladies and gentlemen. This isn't Pebble Beach in June, it's Washington, D.C., and this is a golf course built on heavy soils, but I will tell you we couldn't be happier where this firmness is in light of Congressional Country Club, Washington, D.C., in this climate.
Another concept is that of risk-reward, one of the most significant concepts in that U.S. Open course setup philosophy. However, the one many of you have enjoyed since Mike overtook the setup in 2006 was the concept of the drivable par-4. There will be no drivable par-4s here at Congressional in 2011. Why, you might ask? Because the golf course and short holes here do not lend themselves architecturally to this concept. We do have risk-reward in the par-5 holes, and as we mentioned, the sixth hole, while again at 555 yards, I have a hunch you might see the tee moved up sometime during the championship to further entice the players to go for that green. The danger, of course, is the pond that hugs the right in the front of that putting green. A well-executed shot will make it to that putting green. A poorly executed shot will not -- the primary example of risk-reward. Risk: Bogey or double bogey by flirting with the water hazard. The reward: A two-putt birdie or a putt at eagle for 3.
The 16th hole, also a par-5 at 579 yards, is slightly longer than No. 6, but if shortened an abiding shot could lie for the players, particularly where that hole is in the round on Saturday and Sunday to make a birdie. The green sits up, and those of you that have been out and witnessed it, the closely mown areas behind and to the left and the right of the putting greens will present particular challenge to the players. It makes it very penal for the shot that's not played successfully to that putting green in two to get that ball up-and-down or experience a par. And even the ninth hole, the long par-5 at 636 yards could see some action from a more forward teeing ground. The further risk-reward is all the par-3s, holes 2, 7, 10 and 13 all could see action from a forward or different teeing grounds; example a forward more shorting tee to a more tucked or tight hole location.
Graduated rough, of course the Mike Davis trademark and as I mentioned implemented in 2006. The shorter rough adjacent to the fairways on the longer holes. Examples, holes 4 and 5, the longer rough adjacent to the fairways on the shorter holes, examples holes five and eight. But finally the finish. There's a number of great U.S. Open finishing holes like the 18th hole at Pebble Beach we experienced last year, or the 18th hole at Merion where Ben Hogan hit the famed 1-iron or the 18th hole at Shinnecock which we will again experience. And Jim Hyler made reference to Corey Pavin's shot in 2004. But none are better than the 18th hole at Congressional Country Club.
While we did not finish here in 1997, arguably the championship was won or lost right there. Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman's fate, Ernie Els' victory. So let me set the stage. 72nd hole, a 523 yard par-4, water on three sides, I'm envisioning a left hole location, and what hangs in the balance? The United States Open Championship. Pretty good theater. And finally, we'd be remiss, as President Hyler said, if we didn't execute some thank yous. You don't produce the production of the United States Open Championship without a wonderful partner. You need a committed and dedicated partner. We had that from Congressional Country Club, and things could not have been more perfect in that relationship as we move through tomorrow's beginning of the championship, from president, Doug Schleifer, and their board, Ben Brundred and Paul Klein ease, the co-general chairman that sold and promoted this championship throughout Washington and all of the east coast; general manager, Mike Leemhuis, the best in the business, accommodated, again, virtually our every need; director of golf, John Lyberger and finally the golf course superintendent, Mike Giuffre. Mike, would you please stand. Who's done everything that the USGA and Mike Davis has asked to prepare this golf course for the playing of the 111th U.S. Open. To our partners at Congressional we say thank you.
To the USGA staff, they're the best in the business. This is the biggest production in championship golf. Reg Jones, our managing director of the U.S. Open, Hank Thompson, our championship manager, who's been here for two years and unfortunately left us to be with his ill mother, our thoughts and prayers are certainly with Hank; Danny Sink and Robbie Zalzneck, Frank Bussey, Eric Lee, Charlie Howe, our ops group and Matti Dubberstein, Brittany Prater, the volunteer and player services. The bottom line is we just simply could not do it without their expertise and commitment.
In closing we're excited to be back in the nation's capital to conduct the U.S. Open Championship. It has a good feel, doesn't it? We believe the challenge and the rigor of Congressional Country Club and this golf course will test the greatest players in the world. As was the drama with Ken Venturi's victory in 1964 fighting off heat exhaustion and Ernie Els' exciting victory over Lehman and Montgomerie in 1997. It's our bet the 2011 version of the United States Open at Congressional Country Club will be just as memorable. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Beth?
MODERATOR: Thanks very much, Tom. We would now like to turn this portion of the program over to question and answer.
Q. You talked about the course setup. I'd like to ask you about the area that is hosting the tournament. Since '97 this area has grown quite a bit. Traffic is significantly worse. Some of the staging areas are much farther out than they were in the past for the fan shuttles. I'm wondering as you went through the process of getting everything together, how has that played out? And looking forward, do you have concerns about this ability of the area to maybe host this sort of an event in the future if things keep get being worse around here?
JIM HYLER: Well, I'll take that one. I mean, clearly the Washington, D.C., area is a congested area in terms of traffic, and we certainly have worked really hard on our traffic program and plan. Just a couple things: We have secured some 15,000 satellite parking places around the area for our patrons to use. And this year, in fact, we're using 475 buses. Last year at Pebble we used 275. So we've almost doubled the number of buses that we have in use. Reg and his team have worked long and hard on a traffic plan, and I think it's as good as it can possibly be. But for the future, who knows about the future? We're just trying to get through this week and have a successful U.S. Open this week.
Q. Mike, I want to ask you about holes 16 and 18. Is the idea of 16 to tempt the guys to reach in two and have it be really severe if they miss to the right? And if you could talk a little bit more about the 18th hole and how you envision that coming down the stretch.
MIKE DAVIS: Sure. I think what's really neat about Congressional Country Club is there's a wonderful ebb and flow to this golf course, and obviously that's the way it is at the end of it, too, with holes 14 through 18. Specifically on 16, when we made the decision, I guess it was maybe a year and a half ago, to say what can we do to make that par-5 not necessarily more interesting but to give the players more options to accentuate the risk-reward concept, that's when we decided to strip the rough grass off the sides. And what we want to do, and we'll be watching the next few days to see how it plays, is we want to make sure we play that hole short enough to where a player, if they really hit a good drive, at least has the choice to go for it. But I think that the concept that Tom O'Toole alluded to a little bit, to remove the rough on the sides of that hill, and Tom was right, it's the only hole at Congressional that sits up in the air, so in some ways it plays like a Pinehurst No. 2 green except the sides are more severe, but the whole idea was if you're going to go for the green in two, the green is big enough and it will accept the second shot but you really have to hit a good shot. And if you don't you probably are going to -- you would have been better laying up, wedging it on because the way they are with wedges the worst they're going to make is a 5 and probably going to make a lot of 4s but they can make their eagle by going for it.
So the idea is particularly on Sunday we want to see some scores or some swings in scoring. Then when we get to the 18th hole as Tom mentioned, in my opinion it's one of the great finishing holes of all U.S. Opens, and the concept there, particularly with the concept of the new back tee, is to make it one of the most difficult holes here at Congressional. It has a history of that, too, and I think that we felt that over the years -- and I guess several years ago when the AT&T event was here and I saw several players hitting wedge into that, I said, there's no way we want to see wedges into that hole for the U.S. Open. So the idea with that one is you've got to hit a really good drive.
That fairway cants right to left, and then if you hit a good drive then you still have a decision to make because you've got a downhill side hill lie. And the way that green sits at an angle jutting out into the lake it makes you make a decision, which is exactly what we want. So if you execute properly you're rewarded and if you're overly aggressive you might hit it in the water. And if you lay up short, it probably, depending on the hole location, is going to be a tough up and in. To finish on a really difficult hole is neat. Last year we finished at Pebble Beach on a relatively easy par-5, but you could still make a big number on it but you could also make eagle on it. I think that was our decision making.
Q. Mike, a couple things. One was referred to earlier, the whole concept of the fairways feeding into the fairway bunkers, that's a change from the '97 Open here. I was wondering what the rationale was there or why maybe that philosophical change came about. And the other thing is the sand in the bunkers is different and may impact on play, too, and I wonder if you could address that?
MIKE DAVIS: Sure. Well, to answer the first question, we did some fairway modifications a couple years ago. The idea was to really accentuate the architectural features. Here at Congressional one of the big features are the drive zone bunkers. So in 1997 I think it's fair to say as long and thick as the rough was back then, the only way you're going to get in a drive zone bunker was to fly it in there, you weren't going to bounce it in there. We think the architects put those features there for the players to have to think about and work their way around, so it was just a way to get those more in play.
And then with respect to the sand in the bunkers, I mean, one of the things you'll notice, on roughly half the holes, the greenside bunkers, you'll notice that there's some pretty steep banks where we've shaved those banks, so in a way what we're doing is allowing gravity to take the ball back into the bunkers. It's a little the way at the British Open some of these links courses the bunkers play much bigger than they are because of the way the ground is sloped and gravity works. We really want bunkers to be hazards, and so these bunkers are softer than what these elite players see on a week-to-week basis. We're trying to do that. That's not something that's gotten away.
Now, having said that, I will tell you that today those bunkers are definitely softer than they were Monday and Tuesday, and it's just because they've dried out. We didn't water around the greens last night. You know, how we prepare them for Thursday through Sunday, we're going to have to take a look. But the idea is that we want the bunkers to be a little softer, and when they're a little softer, they can't compress the ball against the sand and really spin it as much so it comes out more knuckly. We're not looking for a bunch of fried eggs out there. We don't want that, and we purposely tried to keep the faces of the bunkers a bit more firm. If a player gets a fried egg, we would say that, you know what, that's part of golf, but we don't want an excessive amount of it, so we'll be watching it very closely. The idea is when a player hits it in a bunker, which by definition is a hazard, we want it to be a tough recovery.
Q. What's your level of concern about the greens, and does it make any difference that they're less than two years old? And then secondly, the rough, with a lack of rain over the last couple of weeks, have you been able to get it as high in the second and third cuts as you'd like?
MIKE DAVIS: Question about the putting greens themselves, you're right, they're less than two years old. They were built to USGA specifications. The greens are outstanding. Let me just make it very clear. Congressional Country Club decided to rebuild its greens because summer after summer after summer it had trouble getting through it without having turf loss. So this was an idea to be able to, with some of the modern practices and some of the modern grasses, allow them to be able to get through the summer.
Ideally I think it's fair to say that we would have been three years before, but I will tell you that the greens, even though some of them look a little thin and you can see some brownness to them, the root structure is very, very good. Mike Giuffre has been -- in fact, every day that we've been meeting we talk about the health of the greens. That's first and foremost because we are not going to do something this week that subjects Congressional greens to long-term health problems. But as Tom alluded to, last week was brutal. We had not only humidity, but the temperatures were way up. We had to come into this Open not exactly where we want to be because in a perfect world we would have the greens presented in terms of speed and firmness Monday through Wednesday, Thursday through Sunday, and we simply couldn't do that. We told the players that, that they were going to see it -- so I think what the players are seeing today is really going to be what they see Thursday through Sunday.
Now, if it rains tomorrow, maybe they're a little bit softer, but as Tom said, we're delighted with the greens right now. According to Mike Giuffre and Stan Zontek, who's our USGA agronomist, there's no concern with the health of the greens long-term. With regard to the rough, same thing. I mean, typically it would have been graduated before the players played their first practice day. But when we had that kind of heat, it literally just stunted the rough. But I can assure you that the rough is penal enough right now. And actually, in some ways I would say that this rough is a bit more penal than you've seen the last few years, and the reason for that is we actually feel it needs to be. These fairways are wider than most U.S. Opens, and as Tom alluded to, they're bentgrass fairways, heavy soils, and we've got a lot of humidity in this area. So you don't see Congressional's fairways really roll out like some U.S. Opens. You're not seeing 30, 40, 50 yards of run. That's just Congressional. That's the history of it.
I think for that we felt like if you miss a fairway here, it's going to be slightly more penal than say last year at Pebble Beach when it was rock hard, it was windy, so we really kind of fit the rough to what we think the conditions are going to be for the week of.
Q. Could you talk about how the reconciliation with Shinnecock Hills occurred? Any assurances that have been made to prevent a repeat of 2004? And will any architectural changes say to the 7th hole need to be made before 2018?
JIM HYLER: We've wanted certainly to go back to Shinnecock Hills. It's one of the truly great courses in the world. We've had great championships there, so we've been talking about the board there for several years and pleased to be able to announce we'll be back in '18. As I said a few minutes ago, we used the experience in 2004 to really put in place a very robust setup philosophy. You can't control everything that's going to happen, but we certainly I think are on our game, and we've got a good record the last six years.
MIKE DAVIS: To answer part two of that question, really the only thing that's going to be done at Shinnecock Hills are some new teeing grounds, and the whole reason for that is to try in our opinion to bring some of the wonderful William Flynn designs maybe back into play. The example being their 16th hole, the par-5. I think it's fair to say if you look back to the '86 Open, the '95 Open and the '04 Open, the distances the players were hitting the ball even in 1986 with Persimmons took some of that wonderful William Flynn bunkering out. So we're going to build a teeing ground back up I believe it's 60 yards, which is perfect, because it makes the players make a choice on the drive, make a choice on the second shot. So that's really all that's going to be done, maybe a few fairway contour changes. But it regard to the 7th green, any of the greens, no, we're not modifying anything to do with that, just really trying to put some of the, as I say, architectural features back into play.
Q. Mike, I would like to get your thoughts on what that Sunday was like for you at Shinnecock in '04 as an official and how it influenced the way you looked at the U.S. Open setup.
MIKE DAVIS: If you have about an hour we can talk about that. You know, as Jim said, and I actually believe this, it was a great learning experience. It's fair to say that whether we're setting up the U.S. Girls Junior or the U.S. Open, there's a trademark to our championships, and a long-standing trademark. They're going to be difficult, but we hope they're fair. When it comes to a U.S. Open, you've got the world's best players, and if you're trying to set it up the hardest event of the year, it's easier to go from that point as Tom O'Toole alluded to of having a setup where well-executed shots are penalized. And that's exactly what was happening on some of the holes at Shinnecock in 2004 in that final round. So I look back on that, and it was a terribly unpleasant day. It wasn't quite as bad as the day that we had in 1991 at Hazeltine with the lightning that struck spectators. That was truly the worst day I remember at a championship. But that final round at Shinnecock was no good. And as Jim said, we learned a lot from it.
Personally for me, if I'm on the edge of saying should we do something or shouldn't we do it, I think because of that I would tend to lean towards being conservative. But who knows; this is not a perfect science, setting up a golf course, I can assure you. We'll still make plenty of mistakes.
Q. Mike, how fine is the line in the bunkers between a fried-egg and just a soft lie?
MIKE DAVIS: On the bunker question, that's a good one, because I would say it's a pretty fine line, and a ball that let's say might not end up in a fried egg in the morning could end up in a fried egg later in the day as things dry out. It's a little bit like firmness of greens that you're trying to think what it's going to be like the whole day. I suspect we're going to get some fried eggs this week, I really do. But having said that, we don't want a plethora of them, and that's one of the things we'll be looking at very carefully. We get in these bunkers and we test them. There's even firmness measurements that we can take. But I suspect this evening they will get some water so we'll tamp them down a little bit. Again, it's not a perfect science, and some of the bunkers if we do the same thing to every bunker, some of them that are south facing that get more sun, they dry out and get puffier a little faster than some of the other ones.
That's the nature of golf. In my opinion it's like hitting it down the middle of the fairway, you hope you're going to get a good lie, you'll probably get a good lie, but it may end up in a divot. It's the same with a bunker. If you hit a high powering shot in the bunker and it's coming down almost vertically, good chance this week you're going to get a fried egg, or at least it's going to be a little cuppy.
Q. You've gone over some of the more prominent holes. Do you have any holes that are sleeper holes that might be entertaining, as well?
MIKE DAVIS: I would say the answer is yes to that on certain days. Sometimes as Tom said, we'll use a certain hole location. Example, on the 2nd hole, the par-3 that's slightly uphill, there's an extreme left hole location. When we use that, and we will use it, we'll use a forward tee. And literally the players are going to have to stand on that saying I can get to that hole location if I hit a good shot. But if I miss it short, long or left, I'm going to make 4. So they almost have to ask themselves. And it'll be a short enough club that they can do it. But if they just play out right, will they make 2? Probably not, but they can make their 3. So there's a lot of those type of shots at Congressional this week where on a certain day maybe we'll be dangling the carrot a little bit and asking them to make a decision.
Q. Back to Shinnecock, the way players fumed over that final round really dominated our perception of what we remember about Shinnecock. What do you want players and fans to remember after the next playing there?
MIKE DAVIS: That's a great question, because we have talked about it, certainly the board has and senior staff, that I think when we think of Shinnecock, we think of one of the great, great golf courses in the world. I mean, there's a reason it's ranked in everybody's top 10 in the so-called best golf courses in the world. We think it is, and we think it's a great championship course as well as a great architectural golf course. It's one of our five founding clubs, so it's near and dear to the USGA. So I think for a lot of us, we wanted to get back to Shinnecock in the worst way and kind of get back on the horse, if you will, and prove what a great, great venue it is. What happened in '04 was simply an error in judgment in terms of water management on how we set the golf course up. This one is going to be very special for that reason as well as just how great Shinnecock is as a golf course. Any time we can play a U.S. Open on a sand-based, sandy loamed soil is a great thing, and then you add the wind to it, I think it'll be fabulous.
Q. Question on trees on the golf course. There's some stress on the greens and there's some shaded areas even in the middle of the day. Left side of 9 is totally. How much concern is there and who dictates when tree management when greens are rebuilt at a private club like Congressional?
MIKE DAVIS: Very good question. I think I'm going to have Mike Giuffre answer that maybe afterwards. I do know, only because there were a few trees that we, either for operational reasons or perhaps strategic reasons on the golf course, asked to have removed. We happen to be in Montgomery County here, and every tree you remove if you can remove it you've got to replace with I believe it's two somewhere else. So what you can do with trees is a huge issue. You get to the par-3, 13th, that sits down in a very shaded area, I can tell you Mike Giuffre and the grounds staff would love to remove some trees for agronomic reasons, but I think to some extent it's not as easy as getting the chain saw out and doing what Oakmont did.
Q. On fairway bunkers, you mentioned that there's been an effort for the ball to bounce into the bunkers, but still, on this and most of the championship courses of the USGA, there's two protective layers of rough between fairway. Why not go to a tighter cut so that the ball might actually roll in and have more integration of bunker -- you're still isolating that for a lot.
MIKE DAVIS: Good question there because essentially what we did was take rough grass and mow it down to an intermediate height. It's about an inch long, so your question is why not have half an inch fairway going into it. I think it's simply a day-to-day maintenance thing because if they do that from a mowing standpoint the way some of the contours are, I don't think they could use some of their larger fairway mowers to do that. I think that's ultimately the reason why. If you really studied some of that architecture you'll see that to not have water drain into some of these bunkers they kind of go up and then it's into the bunker and it's just the way Rees Jones built these bunkers years ago.
Q. You claim that you're setting the ultimate golfing challenge. What makes you believe you're right in what you're doing?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I guess I would question the premise about the ultimate golfing challenge. I think what we've stated over the years is that we want it to be a very difficult challenge, but I'm not sure we've ever used the ultimate challenge. Maybe somebody else has, but I don't believe the USGA has. And I think that the answer to that is it's a subjective thing. You know, it's kind of do you like vanilla ice cream or do you like chocolate or like strawberry? I think if we asked around the room which major is the best or which do you like the set up I think we might get four different answers to that. We have a long-standing tradition about how we set it up, and we do evolve over the years. Certainly in the last several years we've tried to give the players more options. We've tried to introduce a bit more risk-reward, but we hope we're doing a good job and ultimately will let you decide and let the players decide how we do, I suppose.
Q. What's your time par this week, and is there any way you can get close to it?
MIKE DAVIS: I wish I had that pace of play policy in front of me, and I backed away from some of that stuff a little bit, but I believe we're four -- Jeff Hall, can you help me out on that?
JEFF HALL: Starting on the first tee Thursday and Friday it's 4:45, 10th tee, 4:51. We have the transition from 18 green to the 1st tee, a long walk there. And I did not make a note of the Saturday and Sunday, but I believe it's just over 4:00, 4:01 or 4:02.
MIKE DAVIS: Let me comment because this is something that confusing a lot of people. When you have a time par like that, that is for the lead groups getting out. If you do your math, even at 11-minute intervals, which we are this week, they cannot play these holes in 11 minutes. It just can't happen unless we start giving gimmes and stuff like that in the U.S. Open. (Laughter.) So when you're putting that many players on the golf course, you're going to see kind of a bell curve, and in the middle of the day you've got more people on the golf course than it works. It's like a resort trying to put groups of four out every nine minutes. It doesn't work mathematically. You can't play every group in the same time, unless we wanted to reduce the field of the U.S. Open down to 120 players or something like that, if we were that concerned with pace of play, which we are concerned about it. But we would say that it's more important to have more players in the field, so I think we have definitely factored in the walks because there are some walks from greens to tees here at Congressional that certainly will make the round take longer, and every time you introduce some risk-reward into it say on a reachable par-5, guess what that does; it makes the round longer. We love it because it's risk-reward, but it makes the rounds longer, which is one of the reasons why you look at the Masters, they've got four -- depending on the days and the winds, they've got four holes that are reachable. It just takes longer when it's that way.
Q. A technology question. Two things: Cell phone policy, the PGA Tour now allows spectators to bring their phones on property, and I'm wondering if that will be something the USGA considers. And also the PGA Tour has a wonderful system for tracking shots, ShotLink. Any progress on that ever appearing as part of the U.S. Open?
MIKE DAVIS: On the cell phones, we have certainly been monitoring that. We've been talking to PGA Tour officials. This is an area where I do think the USGA decided, and I agree with this, that we ought to be followers, not innovators or not leaders in this because we -- not as if their events aren't important, but we put competition first and foremost. We're going to make sure that we do -- we present a course -- we're focused on fans, we're focused, but if we were totally focused on fans you'd have the rope lines closer to play. We're more focused on the competition itself. And until we as an organization are convinced that we can conduct a U.S. Open, a Women's Open, U.S. Amateur, Girls' Junior, with spectators using cell phones, we're going to continue to prohibit them.
Again, maybe there's going to come a day where it's commonplace, but we as an organization aren't there. And then the second one about ShotLink, we have looked at it over the years. ShotLink is incredibly valuable, particularly for our equipment standards department. Thankfully the PGA Tour gives us that data, so we have never felt a need to know exactly how far somebody's putt is to the hole, and we do -- over the years we've measured enough drive distances, and we do study those. If we want to know how a hole is playing or where the drive zone is, we will go out and check it, sometimes have an official sit on that hole, talk to the marshals. So we just never felt a need to have the ShotLink at one of our championships.
Q. I was wondering if you could classify in a general sense the personality of this golf course, is it a Devereux golf course anymore or is it a Trent Jones course or is it a Rees Jones course or is it a golf course of a vintage year?
MIKE DAVIS: I would say the answer to that is it's a little bit of all of them. I think the Devereux Emmet, certainly that routing for the most part is still there; Trent Jones, certainly some of his bunkering and some of his green work are there; and obviously Rees redid the bunkers and then did the re-routing of the new 10th hole, which he kind of flipped it 270 degrees, if you will. So I think it's a little bit of all three of those architects, which if you look at it, there aren't many golf courses, at least old golf courses, that were designed in the so-called golden era of golf course architecture back in the 1910s, '20s and '30s that hasn't had somebody come in and do something.
Q. For Mike and Tom, how difficult is the balance of introducing places like Bethpage, Torrey Pines, Chambers Bay, into the Open mix, knowing that it's going to cost spots for places like Baltusrol, Cherry Hills, country clubs that have hosted tons of Opens? Do you worry about that going forward?
JIM HYLER: Well, that's an often-debated question and I can tell you that a lot of thought goes into it with the Championship Committee, the executive committee and our staff. But we continue to have charged to, as we've said all morning here, to test the greatest players in the world and go to venues that we can achieve that objective. That said, there's geographics that play into the discussion, and we've lately, since the introduction of the public golf course in 2001, besides going to a resort, they have a complexion of public golf courses in the U.S. Open rote. It makes us a lot more relevant to golfers if we can go to public venues and then come up with a great venue like Erin Hills that Mike and others found to test these great players. We think it's a balancing act, and while we have great affection for many old courses that maybe we might not return to, that doesn't mean we have a dislike for them, it just means that we think it doesn't quite fit into this balance in which we search.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much for joining us today.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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