U.S. Open Returns to Hallowed Grounds in Southampton

The U.S. Open trophy on the 7th green at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Michael Heller photos

Officials from the United States Golfing Association are hoping — more like planning, really — for redemption when they host the 118th United States Open, which is widely considered to be the greatest test in all of golf, at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton this June.

The USGA returns to Shinnecock for the fifth time, having held its men’s championship in Southampton in 1896, 1986, 1995 and 2004. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, volunteers, golfing officials and media representatives are expected to descend on Southampton along with the greatest players in the world for the four-day tournament on June 14 to 17.

“As one of the five founding clubs of the USGA and the host of our second U.S. Open in 1896, Shinnecock has stood the test of time,” USGA Executive Director and CEO Mike Davis said. “It holds a special place in our history books, and we’re excited to add another chapter to that legacy in 2018.”

The USGA hosted one of its most difficult tournaments in its history at Shinnecock in 2004 as greens turned brown and lightning quick for the final round on Sunday. In an article in The New York Timesfollowing the third round, Ernie Els said Shinnecock’s famed par-3 7thhole was “unplayable,” and the USGA itself admitted some wrongdoing in terms of course management.

South African Retief Goosen went on to win the tournament with a 4-under-par score of 276.

But 2004 is in the rear-view mirror and USGA officials said during a tour of the sparkling green course last fall that much has changed in the 14 years since the Open was last held at Shinnecock. For starters, the course this year will play about 500 yards longer than it did in 2004. It will still play to a par of 70, but the course has been stretched to 7,445 yards and restored to the look it had in 1931 when William Flynn, a prominent golf course architect, remodeled the course and turned Shinnecock into one of America’s most classic venues for championship golf.

“It’s not just about hitting fairways at Shinnecock, you have to be in the right part of the fairway to be able to take on a given hole location and be successful,” Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and open championships, said while discussing how some tee boxes have been moved to provide different angles of play. “We want to differentiate well-played strokes from those that are not well-played.”

Jon Jennings, Shinnecock’s superintendent, has spent the last several years preparing the course for this year’s tournament, moving turf, remodeling greens and fairways and adding 10 new tee boxes.

“The characteristics of the original design of the golf course are accentuated with the changes that were set up for the Open,” Jennings said. “We’ve expanded green areas, utilizing documents we have in the clubhouse. There’s a number of a subtle changes that were brought back to restore the golf course to its original intent, and from what I’ve seen of the fairway restoration, it makes it even better — a brilliant experience for all who will participate.”

Starting last year, Jennings and his crew installed seven acres of new sod on the golf course, with a staff of 75 people spending 15 hours a day cutting, lifting and repositioning grass and fescue, much of it from the club’s par-3 course located nearby. In addition, 270 sprinkler heads were moved to accommodate the new layout.

“We prepared post-championship a list of what we’re trying to achieve,” Hall said. “We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the world, we’re trying to identify them. Good shots should get appropriate results. Firm and fast is consistent, but the communication level with the club is at a whole different level.”

A field of 9,049 entrants will have been whittled down by early June to the select few who will compete for the U.S. Open Championship Cup trophy at Shinnecock. Brooks Koepka, the 2017 champion, and 11 other past champions are fully exempt from having to qualify, including Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. That number will increase with the inclusion of the top 60 point leaders and ties from the Official World Golf Ranking and other tournaments leading up to the event.

“The continued worldwide interest in competing in the U.S. Open Championship, golf’s ultimate test, remains significant,” said Stuart Francis, USGA Championship Committee chairman. “We look forward to conducting local and sectional qualifying and to hosting the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, one of the five founding members of the USGA, for the fifth time.”

Daily and weekly gallery tickets are available for this year’s Open, along with more high-end Trophy Club and Top of the Hill tickets, online at ticketing.usga.org. Children under 18 are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult gallery ticket holder.

In addition to 2018, the USGA has already announced that the Open will return to Shinnecock Hills in 2026.

The 7th green at Shinnecock.

The Dreaded 7th

Flash back to the final round of the U.S. Open in 2004. The first two groups came through and took three triple bogeys and a bogey on Shinnecock’s famed 7thhole, prompting USGA officials to make the highly unorthodox decision to water the green between pairings. That such a setback occurred on one of the most iconic holes in golf, during one of its most important tournaments, was a tough pill to swallow for officials from the USGA, and as a result changes were made, and technology was improved.

“The green has been restored to its original size and shape,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and open championships. “Still, a miss right of this hole or long results in a very, very difficult up and in. A miss long and left is challenging, but doable. These bunkers are not places of pleasure.”

Additional fescue has been added around the hole and the green has been adjusted as to prevent a repeat of 2004, when a ball that began to trickle off the very top of the green could still role off completely. “This was certainly a very visible part of the challenges we had in 2004,” Hall said. “A lot of the challenges related to water management and data we didn’t have at our fingertips.”

The 3rd hole at Shinnecock.

The Biggest Tests

3rdHole– 500 yards – Par 4

By moving the tee back to the golfers’ left, course designers have created a much different angle for the tee shot compared to what players saw in 2004. “The angle makes all the difference in the world, and was part of what Flynn was after,” Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and open championships, said about famed designer William Flynn, whose original vision has been restored at Shinnecock in many different ways.

11thHole – 159 Yards – Par 3

Very difficult short hole, due to the pitch of the green and two bunkers on the right. Players will need a well-struck short club, probably a 9-iron or pitching wedge, to properly reach the green off the tee. Course designers believe it will be difficult for players to gauge the hole location from the tee as all they will see above the green is blue sky.

14thHole– 519 yards – Par 4

Players will need a 275-yard carry, made more challenging by rough that was added on the inside corner of the dogleg right on what is the longest par 4 on the course. The first shot also will have to carry over a bunker as players will have to shift their shot left while at the same time avoiding bunkers on both sides of the fairway.

18thHole – 485 yards – Par 4

The fairway was narrowed from 54 yards wide to 42 yards wide, with other areas of the hole restored back to original specs. The leaders will have plenty to think about as they come down the 18thtoward the Shinnecock clubhouse late on Sunday afternoon.

Fan Information

Championship Schedule

Practice rounds will be held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, June 11 to 13, with gates open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The four championship rounds will be played Thursday through Sunday, June 14 to 17, with play scheduled to begin the first two days at 6:45 a.m. The start time for the final two rounds will be determined by how many players make the cut (60 lowest scorers and anyone tying for 60thplace).

If there is a tie for the low score after 72 holes, a two-hole aggregate playoff will be held immediately following the final round. If the playoff results in a tie, the players will continue to play hole-by-hole in a sudden-death format until the champion is determined.

Parking and Transportation

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is the easiest and most convenient way to get to the U.S. Open, with service provided in both directions on the Montauk Branch, accommodating customers traveling from either New York City or Eastern Long Island. A temporary LIRR train platform will be constructed in close proximity to the championship entrance. Visit mta.info/lirr for schedule and fare information.

For those hoping to drive to the Open, complimentary parking will be provided at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. Transportation will be provided to and from Shinnecock Hills and is expected to take approximately 25 minutes.

Dos and Don’ts

As presented by the United States Golfing Association

DON’T bring tablets, computers or selfie sticks. No backpacks, briefcases, purses or large bags. No signs, posters or banners and no food or beverage except medical or infant needs. No lawn chairs or oversized chairs with arms, or ladders or step stools.

DOstay quiet and stand still when players are about to hit.

DON’Tcross fairways except at designated crosswalk areas.

DO check out the merchandise tent to pick up your collector’s items from Shinnecock Hills, which will be open starting Thursday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the week of the championship, June 11 to17.

DON’T leave the little ones at home. Juniors ages 18 and under are eligible for complimentary Gallery tickets, on any day, when accompanied by an adult ticket or credential holder. There is a maximum of two Junior tickets per one adult ticket or credential holder.

DO remember to wear sunscreen, hats and glasses and stay hydrated! Sunscreen bottles and tubes of 3 ounces or less are permitted.

DON’Task the players for autographs at any time during their rounds. The USGA has designated an autograph area adjacent to the practice green for juniors ages 18 and under only.

DO make the most of your time at Shinnecock Hills by enjoying interactive golf experiences. Immerse yourself in virtual reality with Deloitte, capture photos in Fan Central and share your moments with social followers and friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.