SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - No other golf course besides Shinnecock Hills Golf Club has held U.S. Opens in three centuries – 1896, 1886, 1996, 2004 and now again June 14-16, 2018. Originally, the 12-hole championship course on Long Island’s South Shore measured 4,423 yards.
Goodness, how things have changed.
The current layout, the product of a complete redesign by William Flynn in 1931, plays to 7,445 yards with a par of 70. That’s 449 yards longer than when the U.S. Open was last played there, won by Retief Goosen over a bone-dry track.
This year’s layout will be considerably sturdier in turf quality and represents a full restoration back to the Flynn layout. The hole names, by the way, all evoke natural landscapes and convey a part of the native place names that frame this rolling maritime grassland.
Hole No. 1 | 'Westward Ho' | Par 4, 399 yards
This modest opening hole rolls right off the west porch of the club’s famous Stanford White-designed, shingle-style clubhouse. The fairway is 45 yards wide at the main landing area 250-260 yards off the tee – plenty of room for a long iron or fairway metal off the tee. Thereafter it narrows down, with two bunkers looking on the right from 265-322 yards out. At the suggestion of World Golf Hall of Famer Nick Price, a member of the USGA Executive Committee, the rough short and right there from those bunkers to the green has been especially deepened to narrow the margin of error for long hitters daring with a driver to get close to the green. Here and throughout the course, the newly expanded greens – 30 percent larger than before – fall off steeply around to low-mow areas that kick the ball far away from the intended target.
Hole No. 2 | 'Plateau' | Par 3, 252 yards
A new tee 26 yards back ensures that even with the prevailing breeze helping from the left, this uphill hole will require a long iron off the tee. A reclaimed back left hole location is extremely well protected by a steep bunker up front and dramatic fall off behind.
Hole No. 3 | 'Peconic' | Par 4, 500 yards
In the three previous U.S. Opens here, the fairways averaged 26.6 yards in width and totaled 28 acres. After the club undertook a fairway restoration, Shinnecock Hills sported 50 acres of fairway, averaging 48 yards across. That proved a bit much for the USGA, which last September reduced the fairways slightly to 41.6 yards in width – 43 acres in all. As this long, downwind hole attests, however, the new fairway shapes are not straight lines but veer along the intended angles to bring massive bunkering into play. Bunkers intrude across the lines of play from both sides, but long hitters who can carry it 290 yards will catch a downslope, leaving a short iron into one of the smaller, lower profile greens on the course.
Hole No. 4 | 'Pump House' | Par 4, 474 yards
The first big driving test takes place on this hole, which plays into a prevailing crosswind from the right. The fairway bleeds into a row of bunkers down the entire right side, at the inside of the slight dogleg, adjacent to the ideal line of play into the green. Flynn knew what he was doing here – creating the greatest risk along the line of reward. Here’s another green that tumbles off on all sides, including a false front.
Hole No. 5 | 'Montauk' | Par 5, 589 yards
This hole plays straight down the breeze. At 537 yards in 2004, it had become reachable with a short-iron second shot. Now it not only plays longer, but with restoration of an alternate fairway, players can opt for a safer if longer path down the right or the shorter path down the left – requiring a carry off the tee of 300-plus yards to cover a land mine of cross bunkers. Removal of a front left greenside bunker makes that side more welcoming, but anything a touch long runs down the steepest low-mown back slope on the course. Given what are likely to be firm ground-game conditions, controlling the outflow of downwind approach shots will be among the hardest tasks at Shinnecock Hills.
Hole No. 6 | 'Pond' | Par 4, 491 yards
The serpentine fairway is blind from the tee, though in fact there are options right and left around and over a swirling dunescape that requires a carry of 260-280 yards (into a prevailing crosswind from the left). A namesake pond that ends 50 yards short of the green won’t be a factor for these players. The big issue will be holding fast onto a green, half of whose surface slopes out at over four percent and thus isn’t easily manageable, much less pin-able at all.
Hole No. 7 | 'Redan' | Par 3, 189 yards
This was the scene of the infamous Sunday “deathwatch” in 2004 when an unusually dry wind out of the north swept across the course and turned the greens into wilted surfaces. No green baked faster than this one, which slopes from right to back left (like a standard Redan) and offered little friction for incoming shots – or for 3-foot putts for that matter, some of which ended up in a greenside bunker. The surface hasn’t been flattened, but it has been extended out, and a very light, barely discernible collar of rough around the bunker edge will prevent putts golf balls from rolling in.
Hole No. 8 | 'Lowlands' | Par 4, 439 yards
The players will notice the unusual land forms here that make the longer, outside path of the dogleg right hole the safer, smarter shot into the green. Dramatic fairway expansion has brought mass areas of bunkering into play on both sides, but the shorter, inside path leaves one with a very bad angle into a green whose axis of approach aligns with the far left side. A new tee 41 yards back has turned the easiest tee shot on the course into one of the hardest – with a carry of 280-plus yards into a headwind needed to secure an ideal approach line.
Hole No. 9 | 'Ben Nevis' | Par 4, 485 yards
Appropriately named for Scotland’s highest mountain, this hole plays steeply uphill to a green perched over broken ground. A new tee 38 yards back leads to a confusing tee shot played to a blind, chicane fairway. The aim point, depending upon the wind from the right, is to one of the clubhouse chimneys. From there, the second shot from 175-190 yards out climbs 50 feet to the most steeply pitched green on the course. This will be the hardest hole on the course.
Hole No. 10 | 'Eastward Ho' | Par 4, 415 yards
The hole would be more appropriately named “Roller Coaster,” given the massive undulations that golfers confront. Play proceeds from high point (tee) to high point (landing area) to high point (green), with the in-between ground consisting of sharp fall offs. There was no other way to route this hole but perpendicular to the topographic contour lines.
Hole No. 11 | 'Hill Head' | Par 3, 159 yards
Lee Trevino has called this downwind hole ‘the shortest par-5 in golf.” A small hilltop green exposed to the winds offers a deflective, convex surface with steep falloffs all around. It’s not often that world-class players with a short iron in hand will be looking for a bailout. Hint: It’s behind the green.
Hole No. 12 | 'Tuckahoe' | par 4, 469 yards
It's straight downwind from a launch-pad tee at the high point of the property. The landing zone, well beyond the last bunkers in view, has been narrowed down to 26 yards. The second shot plays over a public road, Tuckahoe Road, which will be closed to traffic for the week.
Hole No. 13 | 'Road Side' | Par 4, 374 yards
The shortest par 4 on the course is also the most intriguing for its angles and slope. Should the prevailing wind turn around and blow from the north – as it occasionally does – this downhill hole would be the sole candidate at Shinnecock Hills for a drivable par 4. A massive, diagonal cross-bunker 293 yards off and 35 yards short of the green is the key hazard. Into a headwind, this is a layup tee shot safely left. But if the wind changes the green is reachable. A dramatic green expansion top-left and far-right has exaggerated the left-to-right tilt of the surface and made for a fascinating series of cross slopes to deal with around the hole.
Hole No. 14 | 'Thom’s Elbow' | Par 4, 519 yards
A new tee 76 yards(!) back on this downhill, downwind hole will put driver in the hands of players who were previously using an iron off the tee to reach – and more importantly, stay – in the undulating fairway with its staggered bunkering. The putting surface here is the most receptive of all greens on the course, thanks to sideboards that help create a punchbowl effect – though anything long will run out and away. It’s inward-shaped contours suggest a convex surface, though here, too, anything running strong will spill out way beyond and down.
Hole No. 15 | 'Sebonac' | Par 4, 409 yards
It's a dramatic outlook for the tee shot atop ground created 20,000 years ago from glacial moraine. The platform green here is the most tightly protected on the course, thanks to six bunkers up front and alongside and a steep drop off to the rear.
Hole No. 16 | 'Shinnecock' | Par 5, 616 yards
This hole plays back up towards the clubhouse and straight into the headwind. A new tee 76 yards longer brings back into play the nasty cross bunkering on the left protecting the ideal landing area for a good angle on the second shot. The 265-yard tee shot carry is normally easy for these players, but it's uphill and into a considerable wind that can be a very demanding drive. Offset bunkering variously intruding along the way makes for what on a par 5 is an unusually demanding second shot.
Hole No. 17 | 'Eden' | Par 3, 180 yards
The platform green, turned diagonally to the left, is exposed to crosswinds from that side and presents an elusive target.
Hole No. 18 | 'Home' | Par 4, 485 yards
Another new back tee, this one adding 35 yards, brings into play a nasty bunker down the left side that is 285 yards to reach and 302 to cover. Actually, as Corey Pavin found out in 1995, the ideal line to this plateau green is from the outside of the dogleg, on the right – though not a lot of contestants will be hitting in a 4-wood from 226 yards out like he did (back when the hole played 450).