A number of top players visiting the Media Center in the run-up to this week’s U.S. Women’s Open have offered conjecture on how the USGA can make Blackwolf Run a stern test.
Not much needs to be done to the challenging Pete Dye design, which produced a winning score of 6-over-par 290 in 1998, one of the highest totals in the last quarter-century at the Women’s Open.
"I’m sure the USGA is going to make pin positions difficult," said 2010 champion Paula Creamer. "There are so many tee boxes out here that they can do what they want with the course."
Added Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked American: "Well, I don’t know if this golf course really suits anybody. It’s a lot of golf course. It’s going to be … more of a mental test than physical."
Therein lies the setup philosophy adopted by the USGA six years ago by current Executive Director Mike Davis at the U.S. Open and carried through by Association officials for the other 12 national championships, including the Women’s Open.
Ben Kimball, the director of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, said Wednesday he plans to mix and match teeing grounds for as many holes as possible, as a way of challenging the golfer’s mental capacities as well as their physical skills.
That’s a major change from 14 years ago, the last time this championship visited Blackwolf Run, where tees were kept in virtually the same spots all four rounds.
At 6,954 yards and par 72, the course measures roughly 500 yards longer than in 1998, but Kimball doesn’t plan on having the layout play to its full length in any of the championship rounds. The course was a par 71 in 1998, with the seventh hole – the second-toughest 14 years ago behind the par-4 fifth – now playing as a 590-yard par 5 for 2012.
"People have been telling me this is the longest Women’s Open golf course at sea level," said Kimball. "I don’t necessarily feel length will be an issue. It didn’t seem to be an issue last year at The Broadmoor, even though we were playing at elevation.
"But with that being said, I think it’s important to realize that on any given day because of the flexibility that we do have with the teeing grounds, I don’t think you’ll see the golf course played close to the full length on any given day."
According to those who were here 14 years ago, even the rough doesn’t seem as penal. The graduated-rough philosophy also introduced by Davis in 2006 will be employed at Blackwolf Run, with shorter holes such as Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 7 having deeper rough than longer holes such as the par-4 18th, which once again will feature a man-made water hazard down virtually the entire left side.
"I don’t think the rough is up as much as in ’98, but it’s still tough," said two-time Women’s Open champion Juli Inkster, competing in her record-tying 33rd Open. "And if the wind picks up, it’s going to play harder."
With the added wrinkle of searing heat – temperatures have reached into the 90s this week – Kimball and his championship staff will monitor weather reports closely, making adjustments to the daily setup accordingly. Having flexibility with teeing grounds makes that possible.
Kimball also has worked with the course superintendent and USGA Green Section staff to ensure that green speeds remain consistent at approximately 12 feet on the Stimpmeter. So far, the heat hasn’t affected those preparations.
Having statistics from the 1998 Women’s Open has also helped in the preparation. Kimball and Martha Lang, the chairman of the USGA’s Women’s Committee, reviewed broadcast tapes and data to find out what worked and didn’t work.
"We definitely tried to take a hard look at each individual hole," said Kimball, "to see what can be done to make it more challenging but at the same time keep all the architectural features in each for the world’s best players.
"We’re thrilled with where the golf course is at and look forward to actually getting play started [on Thursday]."
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.