Toledo, Ohio – Exhibiting gentlemanly diplomacy, Ben Crenshaw reserves final judgment on Inverness Club’s re-routing of five holes on each of the nines for the 32nd U.S. Senior Open until after playing them competitively.
It’s a little alarming, said Crenshaw, 59, who tied for 11th at the 1979 U.S. Open held here, and also played in two PGA Championships (1986 and 1993) and the 2003 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness.
I’m wedded to the old idea that you get off the green and walk right over there to the next tee. Plus, there is a reason why it was designed the way it was. But … I understand why it was done. I will have a better assessment after I play it a few more times.
To create a better flow of spectator traffic, the club proposed to the United States Golf Association that five holes on the front, Nos. 3-7, be swapped with five on the back, Nos. 12-16, for the championship. The change was apparently also made to enhance the possibility of hosting a future U.S. Open championship, which would be the club’s fifth.
For Crenshaw, for Larry Nelson, who also played in four previous majors here, and Bob Tway, who won the 1986 PGA Championship by holing out a bunker shot at the 72nd hole, the original nines are seared into their memory.
It’s just a little confusing, said Nelson, 63, who tied for fourth at the 1979 U.S. Open and 40th at the 2003 U.S. Senior Open. I played a practice round on [Tuesday] and I was headed to the wrong tee twice. But once you play it a few times, it should not become a factor.
Nelson is not alone.
I had no idea until I actually got on the golf course, and I went from No. 1 to 2, then I started to walk over to normal No. 3, and they said, ‘No, you've got to go this way,’ said John Cook. And I went, ‘This way?’ They said, ‘You play the interior,’ and I went, ‘Wow, OK.’
You can't mess with a 50-year-old's mind.
Steve Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champion, is playing in his first major at Inverness Club, so he has no prior history to draw upon.
I didn’t even realize that had been done, Jones said, so obviously it is not going to make a difference one way or another. At some point you’re going to have to play all 18 holes. That’s the way I look at it.
The swap will make the par-34 second nine a daunting proposition. In 2003, the five-hole stretch of Nos. 3-7 (now Nos. 12-16) — two par 3s and three par 4s — featured five of the eight toughest holes by scoring average. Hole Nos. 4-7 ranked as -No. 1, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 3, respectively.
In 2003, the five holes played to a combined length of 1,769 yards. This year, the group can play as much as 34 yards longer, with none of the par 4s listed at less than 445 yards. The par 3s can play at 194 and 228 yards, respectively.
One of you clever writers is going to have to come up with a name for the closing nine, or at least the closing eight holes on this golf course, said Bruce Lietzke, who won the U.S. Senior Open here eight years ago. The last seven or eight holes are just mean, monster holes, and somebody is going to have to dub the back nine here.
Move that fivesome to the back and throw in the unmoved 17th — which ranked as the fifth-hardest hole in 2003 — and scoring will be a challenge over the final seven holes.
I think it's safe to say that you might see some very good scoring in the first 11 holes if you're playing from the first tee, said Jeff Hall, USGA managing director, Rules and Competitions. But you get to No. 12, you had better have made your hay.
As a result of the switch, the inward nine is void of a par-5 hole. Crenshaw, a principal in the Coore & Crenshaw golf course architectural firm that draws many of its philosophies from the Golden Age of Architecture, says that is not unique and cites Merion Golf Club as another classic venue with a par-5-less back nine that plays to par 34.
Psychologically, Nelson believes the back nine could turn into a pressure cooker, especially late on Sunday with the championship still undecided.
That [12-16] stretch is hard whether it’s on the front or back, but the fact that it’s now on the back just makes it that more difficult, he said. One, there is little margin for error; two, you won’t be able to make up much ground because they are so difficult.
Nelson is also of the belief that the absence of a par 5 will even out the field.
Now one guy is not hitting it 40 yards longer and knocking it on the par 5 in two, he said. Now they have to hit it in the fairway and knock it on in two.
USGA officials declined to speculate if the changes or this championship will serve as a test run for a potential return of a U.S. Open as early as 1920, which will be the 100th anniversary of Inverness Club.
Tway believes things were fine the way they were.
Sometimes I hate change, but I think I know why they are doing it, he said. I just think it’s easy for people to stay around the clubhouse and then sneak out to old 13, 14. If you didn’t have to worry about putting 50,000 people there, I think that’s more fun to watch that area you can see more golf as opposed to have to go that outer loop.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.