Wind To Affect U.S. Open Setup At Pebble Beach
One of the holes at Pebble Beach Golf Links that is consistently affected by the wind is the short par-3 seventh. (John Mummert/USGA)
May 28, 2010
By David Shefter, USGA
Pebble Beach, Calif. – When 156 of the world’s best golfers arrive for the 110th U.S. Open this June at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the only water they are expected to see is Stillwater Cove hugging the spectacular Monterey Peninsula.
While this region receives a lot of precipitation between late January and the end of March, the summer months are characteristically dry.
That’s a far cry from what everyone experienced last June at Bethpage State Park. It poured so hard in Thursday’s opening round that USGA officials looked like fishermen patrolling nearby Long Island Sound. The foul weather prevented Bethpage – or “Bathpage” as it was nicknamed because of the torrential rains – from playing the way the USGA had intended, and it wreaked havoc on the championship schedule.
“It’s exceptionally frustrating,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competitions, at U.S. Open media day on May 10. “You go through your mind how that golf course should play for each hole and you think about it for years. And you get the setup just right and then you get so much rain that the holes don’t play the way they were designed to play.”
Because of the delays, the competition spilled over to Monday. Outside of 18-hole playoffs, it was only the second time (1983 at Oakmont was the first) that the U.S. Open was extended an additional day.
Don’t expect déjà vu in 2010.
“Once in every five to 10 years, we might get a quarter-inch of rain,” said Pebble Beach superintendent Chris Dalhamer, who has been with the Pebble Beach Company eight years, the last five at Pebble Beach Golf Links. “It’s that minimal.”
The biggest concern for Davis and Thomas O’Toole Jr., the championship committee chairman at Pebble Beach, is the wind. Anyone who has played Pebble Beach knows about the potential for howling gusts. Just ask those who competed at the 1972 or 1992 U.S. Opens, which produced two of the highest final-round scoring averages in modern U.S. Open history (78.8 and 77.3, respectively).
The tricky part is getting the proper forecast in order to set up a stern but fair challenge for the players. That, said Davis, can be as challenging as the approach shot over the cliff at Pebble Beach’s par-4 eighth hole.
Just go back to the 1992 U.S. Open, when the players had three relatively benign days due to a marine layer that kept the winds relatively calm. In fact, Gil Morgan became the first player in U.S. Open history to reach double-digits under par during Saturday’s third round.
Come Sunday morning, the forecast called for similar conditions. But as morning turned to afternoon, the marine layer burned off and the gusts increased to as much as 40 mph. Anyone with a late starting time got caught in the maelstrom. When early starter Jeff Sluman posted a 71 for a 1-under-par total of 287, some expected him to win, even though 54-hole leader Tom Kite was still early in his final round.
Despite some of the worst winds in U.S. Open history, Kite managed a magnificent even-par 72 for a two-stroke victory.
“I think most people will admit that [the final-round setup] was not a mistake by the USGA given the forecast,” said Davis. “But did that golf course play almost unfairly? You can say yes, but at the end of the day, that kind of thing can happen when you get on a windy golf course.”
Dry conditions will give the 38-year-old Dalhamer, his staff and USGA officials the opportunity to get the golf course into optimal U.S. Open condition. Translated, that means firm and fast.
Pebble Beach did receive 4 inches of rain in April, which Dalhamer said is abnormal; usually it’s half that amount. But Dalhamer, who grew up in Monterey, and USGA Green Section agronomist Pat Gross aren’t concerned about an unexpected deluge in June.
That means Davis and O’Toole can prepare themselves by studying an anemometer instead of a radar screen. And hopefully the on-site meteorologist will provide accurate forecasts, because that ultimately determines locations for tee markers and holes.
“I personally think setting up a golf course in windy conditions is the hardest thing to do,” said Davis. “If you are planning on a hole playing downwind, and it plays into the wind, you might set a hole location that’s unfair. You may have a forced carry off the tee that [the players] can’t make. So I think we run more risk at a place like Pebble Beach if a meteorologist misses it. We can look pretty stupid in situations that almost become unfair.
“If it’s exceptionally windy for four days, you might see 10 or 15 over par win versus 15 under par if there is no wind. Literally, the wind makes that much of a difference here at Pebble. You could see a 25- to 30-shot difference between real windy and no wind.”
And that’s OK with Davis. At least it will be dry. He’ll just replace the rainsuit with a windbreaker.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.