PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Four U.S. Opens have been contested at Pebble Beach and combined there have been only 12 men finish under par; this on a golf course that gives the players short iron approaches on half the holes. Obviously the course’s defense lies elsewhere besides its length, and even given the fact that several holes have been stretched for the 110th U.S. Open, that will be the case this year as well.
Par is dictated by Mother Nature the Scots say, and should the grand ole dame be in a bad mood during the tournament then I doubt if anyone will break par. As to be expected, the fairways have been narrowed from what we see in the AT&T, especially on holes 8, 11, 14 and 16. But the biggest difference that you will see in the course will be on the holes that are along the water. Holes 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 18 no longer have a strip of rough along the ocean side of the fairway to keep balls from bouncing in that land along the cliff’s edge.
This will make the fairways play effectively even narrower on those holes and will obviously keep us from seeing a shot like the one Tiger Woods hit on the sixth hole during the third round in the 2000 U.S. Open, when from 220 yards in the right rough he hoisted a 7 iron with herculean effort and a surgeon’s precision to 15 feet, giving him an eagle putt that he would miss, but a shot that defined the tournament.
The length that has been added will give the players fits at No. 9, which now plays over 500 yards and will bring a left fairway bunker into play; at 10, which is now 495 yards, and at 13, which has been lengthened almost 50 yards making that hole a bit of a sleeper and a possible card wrecker given its severe green.
The real challenge of Pebble Beach, however, is not in some recent revision but in the genius of the design almost 100 years ago by amateur architect, Jack Neville. In much the same way as George Crump designed Pine Valley, considered by most to be the best course in the world, Pebble Beach keeps the players off balance, with endlessly complicated lies in the fairway and subtly devastating greens, there is a sly malevolence hidden in all that beauty.