Women’s Open returns to venue that tied for the highest winning score in last 34 years May 23, 2012 By David Shefter, USGA

Defending U.S. Women's Open champion So Yeon Ryu got her first glimpse of Blackwolf Run during a practice round on media day May 22. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Kohler, Wis. – Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, who is rehabbing from elbow surgery and hopes to be healthy for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, was recently asked about this year’s championship venue, Blackwolf Run, which also hosted the 1998 championship.

Toughest course I have ever played for a Women’s Open, said Inkster.

Photo Gallery: Media Day At Blackwolf Run  

As a two-time Women’s Open champion and 30-year veteran of the LPGA Tour, Inkster knows something about tough tests. She missed the cut in 1998 on a course that produced a winning score of 6-over-par 290, which is tied for the highest in the last 34 years. Jan Stephenson claimed the 1983 Women’s Open at Cedar Ridge C.C. in Tulsa, Okla., with a 6-over 290 total, and Hollis Stacy won with the same score in 1984 at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass. (Stacy was 2 over par).

Don’t look for the Pete Dye-designed Blackwolf Run to be any easier for the 2012 Women’s Open. The championship course will measure 542 yards longer than 1998, but to a par of 72, instead of 71. The seventh hole, which played as a long par 4 in 1998, will be a 590-yard, par-5 for this year’s championship, which will be contested July 5-8. The par-5 16th hole will measure 602, tying Oakmont's 12th hole for the longest in U.S. Women's Open history.

The challenging green complexes and perilous hazards awaiting wayward shots remain unchanged. Greens will measure 11.5 to 12 feet on the Stimpmeter, with the first cut of rough topping out between 2½ and 3 inches, depending on hole length.

The most vigorous, the most difficult yet fair test in championship golf is what awaits these women come July, said Ben Kimball, the USGA’s director of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, at media day on May 22.

Blackwolf Run, at 6,812 yards, will be the longest Women’s Open venue at sea level (surpassing Interlachen C.C. at 6,789 yards), but Kimball indicated that it likely won’t play to its full number on any particular day. By mixing and matching teeing grounds, the USGA plans to challenge players with different looks on as many as 11 holes.

The seventh hole has seen the most significant change from 1998, with a new teeing ground designed to bring the ridgeline into play off the tee. As a par 4 in 1998, less than 10 percent of the field managed to hit the green in regulation, which wasn’t seen as being receptive to long-iron approach shots. Players should have an easier time reaching in three shots, or possibly two if the tees are moved up.

The par-4 14th hole also could provide some drama, depending on the location of tees. With water running down the entire right side, the hole offers an ideal risk/reward opportunity. Kimball said that No. 14 could play as short as 265 yards or as long as 342 yards.

The par-4 18th hole, the site of the most dramatic moment of the 1998 Women’s Open when Se Ri Pak stood  in the man-made water hazard left of the fairway and played a remarkable recovery shot that led to her 20-hole playoff victory over amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn, will once again feature a man-made pond. At 445 yards, it will be the second-longest par 4 on the course behind No. 12 (447 yards) and concludes a difficult three-hole finish.

We’re excited about how those holes will be played, said Kimball of the par-5 16th, par-3 17th and par-4 18th.

Pak, who returned to Blackwolf Run for media day with defending champion and fellow Korean So Yeon Ryu, walked the course that marked her most significant career victory. Due to a shoulder injury sustained in Mobile, Ala., a few weeks earlier, Pak could not play with Ryu, who saw Blackwolf Run for the first time. Pak hopes to be healthy for the Women’s Open and is expecting to return to the tour for the Wegmans LPGA Championship in June.

But that didn’t stop Pak from giving her young protégé a few strategic tips on Blackwolf Run.

I told her every single shot is going to be important, said Pak, a Hall of Famer and five-time major champion. I said to have really low expectations. That’s the key, especially with this golf course being so hard … Make sure you don’t take more than bogey.

So Yeon Ryu agreed with Pak’s assessment of the course. While shooting a 1-over 73, Ryu said the greens were more challenging than those she experienced last year at The Broadmoor, where she defeated countrywoman Hee Kyung Seo in a three-hole playoff.

This is really a tough course, said Ryu, whose first two Women’s Opens were played at Oakmont C.C. and The Broadmoor, two highly challenging layouts. This is the hardest golf course.

David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.