U.S. Open Championship Hole-By-Hole Preview

June 17, 2010

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(Pebble Beach Golf Links)

Pebble Beach, CA – HOLE ONE – Par 4 – 380 yards: The opening hole at Pebble Beach is a dogleg right par four of just 380 yards in length. Trees guard the right side of the landing area, while a pair of traps lurk left where the fairway tightens considerably. Just a short iron remains to a slightly elevated and tightly- bunkered green. Both traps to the right of the putting surface sit well below the green. All putts break to the right, an indication of what’s in store, as many surfaces cant towards the Pacific Ocean.

HOLE TWO – Par 4 – 502 yards: Although playing as a par four for the 2010 U.S. Open Championship, the second is a straightaway five-par that leaves you thinking, what’s so special about this course? That will come later. At 502 yards, it’s a simple hole that can leave you with a realistic chance of getting home in two, as long as you hit the fairway. Bunkers right and left pinch the landing area, so accuracy is key to scoring here. Roughly 75 yards short of the green, a barranca lays in waiting and is not to be taken lightly, so laying up at the 100-yard mark, should leave a nice wedge to a long and narrow putting surface. A real birdie chance, but par is not so bad. In 2003, a new championship tee was built, increasing the length by 15 yards.

HOLE THREE – Par 4 – 404 yards: Your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean comes by way of the third hole. A short, dogleg left par four that has been extended by 15 yards, this hole features a sliver of a fairway as it bends almost 90- degrees towards a small green surrounded by three bunkers. There are several factors that come into play if you want to master this hole. The tee shot must favor a draw around the corner, avoiding the addition of several Cypress trees along the left side and the three bunkers on the right. The minuscule putting surface was increased by 200 square feet, but you’ll still need to be spot on with your short iron to have any shot at birdie, let alone par.

HOLE FOUR – Par 4 – 331 yards: The fourth hole should be routine for most players at just 331 yards, however with the ocean lurking down the entire right side as a lateral hazard, one begins to worry. A hybrid or fairway metal should suffice off the tee on this slightly, uphill straightaway par four. Sand and deep rough left should be avoided, but with the coastline right, at least you’ll be dry. The putting surface, which slopes from back to front, is almost completely surrounded by sand, so once again, your wedge better be accurate.

HOLE FIVE – Par 3 – 195 yards: For years, the fifth hole at Pebble Beach was an inland par three that played uphill, away from the ocean. Some dubbed the hole as the only dogleg par three in the world. After years of negotiating with the family that owned the parcel of land along the ocean and the passing of the original owner, the powers that be were able to purchase property they desperately wanted for their course. Opened for play in the winter of 1998, the fifth is now a wonderful hole designed by Jack Nicklaus at a cost of $3 million, some calling the most expensive hole in championship golf, as it sits upon the bluffs of Stillwater Cove, some 50-feet above the ocean. Wind will certainly affect your play and club selection, but it’s never a bad choice to favor the left side, as balls will repel towards the green. The putting surface is one of the longest on the course and a back-right pin can be very intimidating. During Woods’ exciting run at the 2000 U.S. Open, this was the only par-three during the championship that he would bogey.

HOLE SIX – Par 5 – 523 yards: Several changes have been made to the par-five sixth, including an additional 10 yards to its length. It is a daunting hole that is quite breathtaking and diabolical at the same time. With Stillwater Cove along the right and the fairway now shaped closer to the water, you’ll need an accurate tee ball to negotiate this beauty. Five well-crafted bunkers have replaced the one solo trap that originally occupied the left side of the fairway. Your second shot must now carry a very steep slope on your way towards the green and avoid the traps on left. If laying up, you’ll have just a short pitch to a putting surface that rises in the back. One word of caution, whatever you do, don’t miss right! Tiger Woods birdied the sixth twice during his 2000 U.S. Open Championship run, including a two-putt birdie after he put his seven-iron second shot from 205-yards away on the green.

HOLE SEVEN – Par 3 – 109 yards: One of the most photographed holes in golf, the par-three seventh is just 109 yards long and one of the most difficult. This is when the elements really come into play. On a calm day, sand wedge is the norm. However, when conditions are blustery, a knock down six-iron could be the call. Just ask Tom Kite, who needed that very same club in the 1992 U.S. Open. He knocked it just over the green, however he holed his chip shot en route to winning his only major championship. “Everyone remembers that shot, and believe me I will never forget it,” Kite said.

HOLE EIGHT – Par 4 – 428 yards: To say that the eighth hole is one of the greatest in all of golf, could be a stretch, but it’s pretty darn close. Playing uphill from the tee, you’ll need to favor the left side, as most shots will roll to the right towards the ocean. Your second shot is quite breathtaking and will be played over a deep ravine with a mid- to long-iron. Nicklaus calls the second shot his favorite approach shot in all of golf. The green sits well below the fairway and is sandwiched between a series of bunkers. Sloping from back to front and left to right, you must stay below the hole to have any shot at par. What, you thought I was going to say birdie!

HOLE NINE – Par 4 – 505 yards: It used to be a good hole, but now the ninth is a great one. Since 2000, 50 yards has been added, making the ninth a whopping 505 yards. Yes, it plays downhill, but that is still a long way. With the ocean to the right, you must play down the left, as all shots will cant towards the water. Now the fun begins, as you’re left with a very difficult approach, played downhill towards the well-guarded and windswept green. The putting surface sits precariously close to the ocean cliffs. Although a back- left pin over the bunker might take the water out of play, it will certainly be very difficult to attack.

HOLE TEN – Par 4 – 495 yards: As a mid-400-yard par four, the 10th was a beautiful hole, framed on the right by the Pacific Ocean, but now with a new championship tee adding 50 yards, this hole is downright nasty. Similar to the ninth, the fairway slopes hard to the right and features a difficult series of traps down the left. The putting surface is quite small and plays slightly downhill from the landing area. The proper play would be just short of the green and let the ball feed towards the cup. I did and made birdie. Long is sand and right, well, you might be able to find your ball on the beach.

HOLE ELEVEN – Par 4 – 390 yards: As you reach the 11th tee, don’t be to distraught about moving away from the ocean views, you’ll still be able to get glimpses of the Pacific throughout the remainder of your round. One of four of the par-fours under 400 yards in length, the 11th is a nice, uphill hole that bends to the right and will certainly grab your attention, especially if you miss the fairway. The play is down the left side, setting up a perfect angle of attack, but missing the landing area and you’ll pay a hefty price. The oblong green slopes from back to front, left to right and tends to be very quick and is surrounded on three sides by sand. Other than that, piece of cake.

HOLE TWELVE – Par 3 – 202 yards: You’ll need to be spot on at the par-three 12th, as the wide, but shallow green is protected in front by a gaping bunker. The putting surface will be hard to hold with a long iron, so go the route of a hybrid or fairway metal for your best course of action. Miss long and you’ll end up in sand, way right and your OB! The 12th is the lone hole at Pebble Beach that has not been altered since 2000. Back in the late 1920s, Chandler Egan and Alister Mackenzie made significant changes.

HOLE THIRTEEN – Par 4 – 445 yards: At 399 yards, the 13th was a routine straightaway par four. That was then. This is now, a new championship tee was added for the 2010 U.S. Open. This one might be unlucky for some of the players, as it stretches to 445 yards. Avoid the trio of traps down the right side of the fairway, not to mention the L-shaped, 100-yard trap on the right and you’ll be left with a short- to mid-iron for your approach. To get home however, you’ll need at least an extra club to reach the putting surface and at all costs, stay below the hole. This green, the quickest at Pebble Beach, slopes hard from right to left and back to front.

HOLE FOURTEEN – Par 5 – 580 yards: The longest hole on the course, the 14th reaches 580 yards from the championship tees and plays every bit of that number. Slightly uphill from the tee, the holes bends sharply to the right, requiring a tall fade over the corner of the trees and the dogleg. The landing area has been pinched with the addition of three bunkers and the serpentine fairway has been tightened. If you can layup down the right side, you’ll have a better approach to the green, but you’ll still need to contend with the greenside bunker fronting the left. Take an extra club to reach the elevated putting surface, which features a huge slope on the right. Chipping areas deep and left will make for a difficult up and down, just ask Paul Goydos, who made a nine at the 2010 AT&T National Pro-Am during the final round and tied for fifth.

HOLE FIFTEEN – Par 4 – 397 yards: One of the more deceiving tee shots on the course is on the par-four 15th. Trees on the left side shield that side of the fairway from view, thus giving the illusion of a tight landing area. In addition, five new bunkers have been installed down the left hand side, including one pot bunker that is placed 10 yards within the fairway. Lay back short of the trap and you’re left with just a short iron to another slick green. The putting surface is just 24 paces deep with three bunkers left, right and deep. The green tilts from right to left and back to front, so again, stay below the hole.

HOLE SIXTEEN – Par 4 – 403 yards: The closing three holes at Pebble Beach offer wonderful views of Stillwater Cove. No. 16 starts off the stretch as a slight dogleg right par four of modest length. The tee shot is crucial, as it must clear the 50-yard bunker oasis down the left-center. Three-metal or hybrid should suffice, as the fairway does pinch as you get closer to the green. From the landing area, you’re left with a short- to mid-iron to a very tight putting surface. The downhill approach is made even more difficult by deep bunker that sits well below the green (I should know, since my approach ended up here). The green is tilted from right to left, with thick gnarly rough encircling the surface.

HOLE SEVENTEEN – Par 3 – 208 yards: The 17th hole at Pebble Beach is as good as it gets. Just ask Nicklaus and Watson, who both clinched U.S. Open championships on this hole. With the Pacific Ocean in full view from the tee, weather conditions will dictate your course of action. A par on this devilish par-three with an hourglass green, the largest on the course, will make your day, maybe your life! Nicklaus knocked his one-iron off the flagstick en route to victory in 1972 and Watson chipped in from the left fringe in 1982 to derail Nicklaus for his only U.S. Open title. Originally just a routine-length par three, it can now be stretched to 225 yards with a back-left pin.

HOLE EIGHTEEN – Par 5 – 543 yards: The 18th hole is a perfect way to end your round. Mike Davis of the USGA calls 18, “one of the greatest finishing holes in golf.” Hopefully, you’ll have to wait on the tee, so you’ll be able to absorb the surroundings and what transpired during your round. Sitting on the fence, remembering your birdies, bogeys, Nicklaus pondering his future, this is what golf is all about. With water looming all along the left side, the tee shot must be placed left of the fairway trees some 265 from the box. Your second shot would be ideally located on the left side of the fairway, leaving a little wedge to a green that features putts that tend to fall ocean side. With the changes in equipment, players have been known to get home in two and make easy birdies. Just ask Dustin Johnson, who made birdie both days he played Pebble, as he won his second straight AT&T National Pro-Am in 2010. “It’s such a gorgeous hole,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the most beautiful holes in golf.” Johnson got up and down from the front, greenside bunker for birdie and the win.

FINAL WORD: When I first played Pebble Beach back in 2000, it had just overtaken Pine Valley as the No. 1 course in the United States. I remembered the course being beautiful, with breathtaking scenery of the Pacific Ocean, especially on holes four through 10, then 17 and 18. My rating of the course was that it was not as good as Pine Valley, but certainly worthy of top-10 status.

Upon further review, I still believe that Pine Valley is the best course in the country, but Pebble Beach continues to deserve all of the wonderful accolades it receives.

What had bothered me the first time I played the course had a lot to do with conditioning, attitude and cost. Two out of three have been attended to.

The tees, fairways and greens were immaculate and the rough was very thick, but fair. The putting surfaces are not filled with spines or hogbacks down the center (17 withstanding), they are simply tilted in each direction. Let’s not forget the size of the greens, a mere 3,500 square feet. Mike Davis added, “They are absolutely the smallest greens in major championship golf.” Since 2000, Arnold Palmer and the Pebble Beach staff have worked hard to rejuvenate this work of art and have come up aces. “Pebble Beach is a national treasure to the game of golf,” Mr. Palmer concluded.

One incredibly distinct difference, in my eyes, was the reworking of the bunkers, which gives the course that old-time feel. Whispy grass surrounds most of the traps, a touch that dates back to yesteryear and those wonderful layouts in Scotland and Ireland.

In all, four greens and 16 bunkers were rebuilt, altered or installed, 11 tees received enhancements and over 200 yards were added to the course. “Our goal has been to strengthen Pebble Beach for today’s player, while maintaining its timeliness,” continued Mr. Palmer. “I believe we have accomplished this goal with the many improvements made over these past few years.”

As for the staff…what a difference 10 years makes. What could be perceived as an insincere attitude a decade ago, has been transformed into a courteous and caring organization that bends over backwards to accommodate your needs.

Although the cost for a round of golf at Pebble Beach has increased to $495 and a two-night stay is required, the result certainly outweighs the means.

By the way, one word of caution while playing Pebble Beach. Do not, I repeat, do not leave any food unattended in your golf cart, as it will surely be taken away by the many hungry birds flying overhead. Trust me, they will pick up a three-pound bag of trail mix in a heartbeat.

As much as you’d like to play one of the greatest courses in the country on a perfectly sunny and benign day, which I did back in 2000, playing when the elements are in full bloom is the way to go. My 2010 visit included wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour, sideways rain storms and brilliant sunshine, all in a five-hour time frame. That’s golf!

You must find a way to get there, because, Pebble Beach is a must!


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