Call it an occupational hazard. The USGA held a Media Day for the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach on Monday, and I, as the head honcho of amateurgolf.com, had the arduous task of attending.
As Mike Davis of the USGA joked in the Press Conference portion of the day’s schedule:
“I want to thank you for making the effort to come out today, but I guess a free lunch and round of golf at Pebble Beach isn’t bad on our part.”
For the record, the round of golf was provided by the Pebble Beach Corporation.
Prior to Monday, I had only played Pebble Beach once in the past, just prior to the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. My 80-year-old uncle was out from Connecticut and we played the Alister Mackenzie gem Pasatiempo on our way down the coast from San Francisco, then stayed at the Lodge and played Pebble Beach the next day.
Fast forward twelve years and I run a golf business and have "inside the ropes" access at what is arguably the world's most important major championship. But one thing hasn't changed; I look forward to the U.S. Open like no other professional golf event. As many people who feel the same will tell you, it’s the truly “open” aspect of the event that means from the over 9000 professional and amateur entries received, the 156 that make the final field will include club pros, amateurs, and Tour players -- many of whom will have gone through the same rigorous 36-hole sectional qualifying that the others do.
Invariably, there are wonderful stories. Whether it was Casey Martin winning the right to drive a cart at The Olympic Club in 1998, and then playing almost well enough to earn an exemption the following year, or a swashbuckling young California amateur named Spencer Levin in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills – making an ace en route to a top 15 finish and an invitation back the following year – there is always something unique about the players, and the course, which the USGA admittedly “pushes to the limit.” (Remember that 7th green at Shinnecock, which required syringing between groups to make it playable?)
Which brings me back to Pebble Beach and the press conference for this year’s Open. The USGA seems to catch flack for a lot of things wrong about the game of golf. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback when it comes to groove changes, course setup, and other details that a non golfer would laugh at. But did you know there are 14 guidelines that have been established for setting up for an Open? When they get it right at a public course that everyone can play -- like Torrey Pines in 2008 -- the USGA serves the game of golf and players everywhere.
My day at Pebble Beach reminded me in some respects of the first time I played there. There are all sorts of distractions before teeing off, including meeting your caddie, and getting everything else squared away around the busy putting green and mini shopping mall setting of the Lodge area before getting shuttled up the range to hit balls (which I skipped of course; I’m an amateur after all). I have a new respect for the amateurs who play in the AT&T Pro-Am – I suppose they get used to it but it’s hard enough to play golf at Pebble Beach without all the commotion.
Please don’t get me wrong about the experience. Pebble Beach customer service really is extraordinary; the picture taking and pressure to perform are self imposed. As a matter of fact the best thing that could have happened to me was that we had a decent bout of rain about midway through our round and when the sun came through like a heat lamp it was easy to make some good swings and enjoy the fabulous setting. If you have a chance to look at the 18 photos I posted on Facebook, my favorite is from the back of the 13th green looking down towards Carmel beach.
The changes, which Pebble Beach Corporation board member Arnold Palmer led the “charge” as the design consultant on, include:
* Closely mowing down the fairways around the front of fairway bunkers, and at the edge of the large lateral hazard otherwise known as the Pacific Ocean.
The landing area on the par-5 sixth hole
* Moving the fairway and tee to the right on the 8th hole. This one will spark some controversy. Someone said to me “Why take Nicklaus’ favorite hole and mess with it?” The same has been done to the 6th hole, the par 5 with the split fairway where a blind bunker has been added to the upper tier. The latter change should be very well received as it brings a ton of strategy into an otherwise easy birdie for long hitting pros.
* Adding 55 plus yards to the 13th hole, making it a 445 yard uphill monster (potentially into the wind where the cross bunker will be tough or impossible to carry). There are also new tees on the 9th and 10th holes, bringing those par fours up to 505 and 495 yards, respectively. The total course yardage can now stretch to 7040 yards (not that it needs it if the weather gets tough).
Oh, by the way, there is one more thing. Par will be 71, not 72, with the 502-yard second hole being played as a par-4 instead of a par-5. It’s not that tough a hole for the pros, but they better hit that sliver of a fairway…
To view photos from 2010 US Open Media Day at Pebble Beach, click here>