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UNITED STATES GOLF ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 23, 2010
TOM O'TOOLE: I'm Tom O'Toole, the chairman of the championship committee, and on behalf of Jim Hyler, our president and the rest of our executive committee and staff, thank you for convening here today and taking time out to hear a little bit about our perspective about what I'll call the new Congressional since we were here last year, and Mike will get into the details about the golf course and the setup and his creativity with that.
But I think I was moved here, just the brief part that I listened to this morning, about the comments by the management and the governance about how Congressional has changed. I happen to have been a rules official here in '95 and '97, so I saw our prior championships here, and what I saw this morning, which was my first trip back, is a significant improvement, and I know that in large part led by Mike, but the USGA is very happy about that and glad that the club embraced the idea to make those changes so we could come back here and have our national championship here in our nation's capital.
I think that's a unique part of this relationship or this marriage between the USGA and the club is the fact that they're able to come here to Washington, D.C., and conduct our most important championship is a special event for the USGA and a special opportunity which we're glad we're having the opportunity to experience.
34 years since we came here in '97 from the prior Open, 1964, so we're back 14 years later after '97, and I think that's in large part for the very comments that I heard and the references I just made about the improvements the club has made to the golf course and the facility, it's fabulous. We've got the experts here from an operational standpoint, and you've heard from them about their ability to conduct here and how this facility is so much better prepared to receive what they are challenged by that process than many others. So that's an important part.
But certainly from the golf course perspective standpoint, we think it's a better golf course to test the greatest players in the world and to have our U.S. Open, and that's evidence why we're back 14 years instead of 34. So again, we applaud the club and thank them for having the initiative and the vision to go ahead and make those changes.
The 2011 U.S. Open will be our sixth USGA championship. You know, we conduct championships, 13 national championships, as you know, and also international matches, but we need member clubs like Congressional to step up to host these championships and to make that championship schedule that we present annually special, and that's the type of relationship that the USGA cherishes to be able to come back repeatedly to clubs like Congressional and host our championships. It's a big imposition on these clubs, and I think if you were to leave here with one thought today besides what Mike will tell you about the intrigue of the setup and how this U.S. Open will be different, leave here with the thought that the USGA understands the sacrifice, and again, the imposition that clubs make to host championships like this, and that's why we have special relationships like Congressional, and that's why we come back here for the sixth time. We're much appreciative to have the opportunity to do that.
The other thing I think that made an impact with me is the fact that in 1997 we had a wonderful championship. We had a lot of drama down to the end. Most of you remember Tom Lehman looked like he was going to win the championship until he came to the 71st hole, and I think Colin Montgomerie struggled there, as well, so we had great drama. So that's an exciting thing to be able to build on and come back 14 years later, even more so maybe with the improvements that we've made.
But we also, besides our great relationship with the club that we had, which would cause us to entertain to come back, we had great experiences with the state of Maryland and all the sacrifices they made. They were a great partner to be able to work with things like security and police and traffic and the like and also Montgomery County. These guys will tell you that to go to places to host and try to present and conduct a U.S. Open Championship, you're challenged by what the permitting process and the governmental influences are at particular clubs, and they can tell you that we've had really challenges and poor experiences at many clubs. It again, causes us to look at that as we look to come back and consider to embark on a relationship with a club again.
But that I think is an important part to leave here with today, that we had that wonderful experience in '97. Mike was particularly involved in that role then, and so that's another aspect that I think is important that you leave with today, that the USGA felt good about that, and that's why we're back in 2011. And hopefully that has a great economic impact on your community in not only the Washington D.C. area but also the entire state and region. That's what a good relationship and partnership generates. So I think that's -- we're well off to achieve that objective as we move into next year.
Thanks for taking the time. I think what you really want to hear about today is what Mike has planned, and I can tell you it's substantially different and more intriguing than I think it was in 1997, not that it wasn't good then, but we'll let Mike share that point with you, and then if you have any questions, we're certainly here to answer those. But again, on behalf of Jim Hyler and our executive committee, thanks for the commitment not only from the club but from a media standpoint to come and support this championship and tell this story. Thank you.
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I thought I'd talk just a little bit about how Congressional is different from 1997, and also from the AT&T that was played here last year and then maybe talk a little bit about some hole-by-hole things, and to the extent you want any information, I'm happy to disclose whatever. I don't know what kind of detail everybody wants to get in.
But I guess let me start out by saying, a lot of Tom -- I'll pick up on some of Tom's comments. First of all, it really is great to be in the nation's capital with the national championship. There's just a mystique to being in Washington. There's just something that goes along with that, so to get here periodically I think is important for us, for our national championship.
And Tom touched on something. He and I were talking before we came in here that looking back on 1997, there had been a lot of Kemper Opens run. In fact, Ben, your father ran those, and it's just a wonderful history to that event. I think in large part because it was played here at Congressional, and I think players view Congressional as absolutely one of the great golf courses they get to play.
So when we came here with the Open in '97, had a trial run in '95 with the Senior Open, I think one of the things we were concerned about is that there is no perfect U.S. Open venue. There just isn't. There's always something you can nit-pick and say, well, we need more room here or the parking we don't have enough here or we don't have enough hotels or whatever the case might be, and I think our big trepidation about Congressional was the parking and traffic. It was just, okay, when you get on-site it's a great -- a lot of room, but to get everybody here. You know what you deal with on a daily basis with River Road, and I say all that because the support we got from the state of Maryland, from Montgomery County and even into Fairfax County was superb, and I'm telling you that had a lot to do with us wanting to come back again.
I think we all, as I say, were a little nervous before '97, are we going to have a situation where we have gridlock, couldn't get players to the club, and essentially is he decided to park everybody on the outskirts and then bus them in, and while that is substantially more expensive -- that's a million-dollar expenditure to do it that way, it was the right thing to do for the championship, and I think that it worked so well in large part because we had such great support from -- I remember there was a fellow by the name of Doug Duncan, who was the county executive at the time, and he looked at it and was smart enough to say, I know what this economic impact is going to be for the area, why wouldn't we be supportive, and I'll tell you, that permeated the whole way down to the policing, to just road signage, you name it, and it was just great to get that kind of support.
And as Tom said, there are some cities we've gone to that we got just the opposite, where maybe a city said, how much can we milk this event for, and I will tell you, I can promise you in the boardroom when we're looking at venues, that comes up, because if we go to an area and they just say, we're not going to be cooperative, we're like elephants, we have long memories, and that plays into it.
Anyway, enough from that. I'm sure Reggie probably got into some of that stuff. But this was a great place in '97 to conduct an event, and I know it will be again.
So on to the golf course itself, I think that maybe I'll talk a little bit about what changes we can expect, and first and foremost, it's a different yardage. I mean, essentially when we played here with the U.S. Open in '97, we were slightly over 7,200 yards, par-70, and I believe the Tour when they were here was about the same thing, slightly over 7,200 yards, par-70.
We've added -- when I use the word "we," this is a club included, because the club ultimately is responsible and was very gracious to do a lot of this wonderful work, and obviously Rees Jones' firm was involved from an architectural standpoint and we had a very, very good builder that was involved. But now it's going to play slightly over 7,500 yards. But we're going to play it as par-71.
There were seven new teeing grounds added. We've already talked about the 10th hole. That's brand new, and I couldn't agree more, Ben, with your comments about not only is that a much better fit in terms of where it is in the round and you're finishing on now a legendary hole on the 18th, but it just logistically makes it better.
Mike, you mentioned day-to-day, but it was a nightmare from a pace of play standpoint trying to get the players in a U.S. Open from 9 green the whole way down to what is now 11 tee. That was about a six-minute process trying to do that. We even lost John Daly trying to get in one day, but that's another story.
So with that essentially added 300 yards, and I think as I mentioned, we're going to play it as a par-71. So one of the big changes is the 6th hole, which was played as a par-4 in the Open and also during the AT&T. We've looked at that and re-looked at it, and just decided we think it's a better par-5. There's much more risk-reward, and now virtually every player if they hit two good shots can reach that green in two. But it now allows us to put hole locations tighter to the water in front, tighter to the water on the right, the back left is a neat hole location. So I think we just felt like it's the right thing to do architecturally.
And that's unusual. We get accused of taking 5s and making them 4s, which we do a number of times, just because, again, mostly for architectural reasons and how they're going to play in an event. But here we felt that the 6th hole would play better as a 5. So that's the big difference.
I mentioned seven new tees. If you go through them, the 3rd hole -- I can give you what the yardages are now and what they were then, but it's the 3rd hole, the 4th hole, the 6th hole -- and I'll talk a little bit more about specifics in a little bit. The 9th hole, the 12th hole, the 15th hole, and the 18th hole. So those are your seven new teeing grounds, and that essentially added about 300 yards.
You should know that when we give that yardage now -- it used to be when we gave a total yardage, that's pretty much the way it would play every day, but we do mix and match tees a little bit more now, so I would seriously doubt you're going to see it play that total length on any given day, but I do know you'll see us on those back tees at least some of the rounds. A lot of that depends on what hole locations we want to use, what the weather is like, is it dry or is it real wet. We probably won't get much wind here at that time of the year. But if we would get a windy day, that could factor in, too.
But one of the biggest changes, and if you haven't been out at Congressional yet, they have 18 brand-new greens, including the practise areas, the short game areas, and they're all built to USGA specifications, which means that they all drain beautifully, there's SubAir in them, and I'll let Mike Giuffre, who is the superintendent, who is outstanding, one of the best in the country at what he does, they're planted to an A1-A4 blend of hybrid bentgrass, so it handles the heat very well. I think we can certainly get the greens to whatever speed we want them, which is great. We're not going to be fighting them agronomically, which very candidly would have been probably the case if they had been rebuilt.
And on that line, I think it goes back to what, Mike, you said earlier, that this rebuilding of the greens is a great thing for every day membership play. That's really the key. It happens to benefit us greatly for a championship because not only can we get the greens faster, but more importantly, we can get them much firmer now. Before if you got some wet weather or some real hot weather you'd fight the greens trying to get them firm and fast.
I think that is a huge change, and I think generally speaking, what you see out there is a rebuilt green that really did replicate what they had before design-wise. I think in a very, very few places where they'd had trouble getting hole locations on a day-to-day basis, example being maybe the right side of 4, there's several places, the greens were ever so slightly softened, and I think to most members' eyes, I'm not sure that they'd even pick up that they were softened that much. But what that does is allow, Mike, you to use certain hole locations on a day-to-day basis, and it certainly allows us when we get the green speeds where we're going to get them, to use some. So I think that was another positive that you're actually now able to use parts of your greens that you couldn't use before.
Another thing that's a little different, when we went through this, we did -- contoured, and this was in concert with the club, many of the fairways. The idea was two things, trying to get some of the weightiness out of them. It was kind of a trend back in the 1960s and '70s where you'd get, depending on how far you hit your drive, you'd get varying widths, and that was a more of a, I guess, 1970s trend. About you now there's nice movement to the fairways. But what you'll see is the fairways are much closer to hazards. They're much closer to bunkers.
You take the 11th hole with the stream up the right, much closer to that. The idea is try to bring those features, those architectural features, more into play.
And in that regard, one of the things you won't really see today but I can promise you you will see in June of next year is that where you've got right now rough grass, or what appears to be the much darker green, not the bentgrass, a lot of that is going to get shaved very tight, probably down to an inch or so in height, so you're going to see balls that before got hung up in rough that would not have fed into bunkers now will feed into bunkers.
Again, it's early in the process, and that is simply just a mowing thing in height. So that won't get done yet. They'll probably start doing that late this fall maybe into October and then have it that way next spring. So that's something that really is a feature we're trying to do is bring the bunkers much more into play.
And even around the green surrounds, on the inside of the bunkers, you're going to see the grass mown much tighter so balls roll back into bunkers, so if you're in a bunker and you don't get your ball up the whole way, it's going to roll back at you.
So a lot of neat -- I think what that really does is enhance the architecture that they've got out there. I think just through mow heights, which will be exciting -- it was a little bit like Pebble Beach this year where you saw just trying to bring bunkers back more into play, in the case of Pebble Beach the ocean more into play, and I think there's ways to do that here at Congressional that will make for certainly a better test of golf, and this is a superb test of golf to begin with.
We will, as I mentioned already, use some different teeing grounds that were not used in 1997. We will graduate the rough that was not done in 1997. So those are essentially the differences, that it's a slightly longer Congressional, it's a par-71 Congressional. The new greens -- and I think the greens are going to be the thing that really is the biggest change. I really think now we've got the ability to get them firm and fast, which is great.
And then I don't know from a timing standpoint, I'm happy to talk about some of the individual holes, but I just don't know from a time standpoint if you'd like me to do that or if you want to go into Q & A.
I think the ones that come to mind, No. 2, the par-3, virtually nothing was changed on that hole. There was talk about we need to go back with the tee there, but if you look back, that's like the second hardest hole in the U.S. Open and I know one of the hardest holes for the AT&T, and we just felt that that hole holds its own.
No. 3, there was a new tee added, and if you're out there, it's to the players' left, which I think it only went back maybe 20, 25 yards so that the distance wasn't significant, but the angle now makes it -- you're basically playing to the right drive zone bunkers, which will bring those much more into play. It's a little bit of a dogleg where it was essentially a straight hole before.
No. 4, that was a new tee, also. That added a little over 50 yards. So that -- and we shifted the fairway a good bit to the players' left. So that went from I would say a medium in terms of difficulty U.S. Open hole to one that's going to be very difficult. I think that one you've really got to be able to shape your tee shot. And you can see we've made it more of a dogleg right where the fairway is shifted so far left, I think you're going to see mostly drivers there. So that hole is going to change a good bit.
No. 5 should be interesting. It's not longer, but that could be one where depending on the hole location, we might move tee markers up and let them fire right across the corner, and unlike 1997 we're not going to have spectators left of what will be the drive zone for most guys. So I guess what I'm saying is no spectators left of the 5th drive zone between the 18th green. It'll be interesting to see. I think that's a hole where they certainly have some options off the tee what they want to do.
6th, we talked about that hole went back not all that much. It's 558 right now, and that's an approximate yardage because we still have to get that lasered out by the Maryland State Golf Association. But the whole idea with No. 6 is we really want it to play to where if you hit a good drive -- not even one of the long players but a medium length player in the Open, that he can decide whether he wants to go for it. If you look at the layup area, it makes you think on the second shot if you do want to lay it up.
And then we do plan to closely mow around that green, so if you go for it and you don't land -- whereas '97 we had a grandstand behind the green and it was high rough, you knew if you landed it on the green and it bounced over -- that was obviously a par-4, that that rough would catch you. This go around we're going to mow it down close. So you've got water in front, you've got water on the right, and you've got closely mown that's going to send you to the bottom of the hill behind and closely mown on the left. So it really is a risk-reward hole, and that's what we want.
7, not much change.
8, not much change.
9, there's a new tee back roughly 25, 30 yards, but it's more players' left. And if you look at that fairway, the drive zone contour, it really sends you kind of into that bunker now. So of the three par-5s, 9 is the true three-shotter, at least from that back tee. It doesn't mean we won't go up a tee a day or two to make that a risk-reward, but from that back tee it was designed to be a true three-shotter, and I think it will be.
10 we talked about already.
11, I think 11, huge change. That played, I believe, the most difficult hole in 1997, and I haven't seen the records from the AT&T, but I'd be very surprised if that wasn't one of the hardest, also, there. And if you look at it, I think that's esthetically and strategically a great change but eliminating the drive zone bunker there and moving the fairway right up against the stream.
And we left that fairway fairly wide, and it's interesting because you want to be further right because it's a better angle into the green. It's flatter, but if you play out to the left, it's more of a hanging lie. So that ought to be just a great, long, tough par-4.
The next hole, No. 12, somewhat radical change that you almost can't see it right now, but you will see it next spring, is that we decided to use for a few days the front, and I guess that would be the gold tee of the 15th hole, and that hole will now play 470 yards. And the idea is it puts a driver back -- probably 3-wood maybe for some of the long players, but it allows them to hit right to the bend and play it probably the way it was originally designed. So if you go back there right now, you're going to say, what the heck are they thinking about because there's trees in the way. But a few of those trees are going to be spaded and moved and we're going to do a little trimming on the lowest branches of the white pine, but it actually will set up beautifully. And then more maybe one or two times we'll move to a short tee to allow a player to take a short club and lay up to the corner to try to hook it around the corner. So give them some options there.
13, not much change.
14, not a lot of change.
15, there's a new tee back there that adds about 50 yards, and that was always -- I remember playing here as a kid a couple times. 15 was always a brutally long hole, and now it's going to be long again. And very, very excited about that. That'll definitely be a driver hole for them.
16, we contemplated when we changed the 6th hole into a par-5, we thought -- it didn't take us long, but we thought about maybe playing that as a par-4, but then we thought, no, the way that green sits up it'll be a good kind of risk-reward par-5. There's another that you're going to see -- it's not there yet, but you're going to see closely mown all around that green, and that green as you know sits up in the air. So for the players going for that in two, if they miss it long, it's going to go down a big hill. If you miss it left it'll roll right up against the out of bounds fence. If you miss it right, it's going to go under some white pine trees. So it really does have great risk-reward to it. So that's a hole where you could see an eagle or you could see potentially a bogey or double bogey or worse, depending on how you play it.
17, pretty much same hole, although I think what you will see us do is mow a rather thin path down the -- right now you really are forced to lay up to the end, and I think one of the things we are talking about doing is shaving down a kind of rather narrow area down that hill, to say to a player, listen, if you want to try to hit it down that slot and go over the hill, go for it, but if you don't hit the right kind of shot and leave yourself on the hillside in that rough, you're staring bogey right in the face. You may want to get to the bottom. If you get to the bottom it's nothing but a flip sand wedge up. So again, option there.
And then 18, that new tee added about 40 yards, and the whole idea there is that -- we saw it during the AT&T, is that there were -- obviously going downhill, guys were just getting these huge rolls, and we saw some pitching wedges and 9-irons, and that's just not how that hole should play. So now I think at 521, somewhere in that area, that'll put a driver back in their hands and at least a mid iron into that green, and the way that green juts out, pretty scary shot, and we'll mow around to it'll be closely mown around the left, right, and then the back portion. So the ball will feed into the water if a player misses.
Anyway, that's kind of the hole by holes, and with that, I think maybe open it up for questions.
Q. With the mowing, how do you think that's worked, and how did you come to that philosophy with the bunkers and heavy rough?
MIKE DAVIS: I think it was a little bit of a evolution. We talked about it several years ago at a committee level and thought how can we make the bunkers more of what they are, which is a hazard. We started this in 2006 of purposely trying to fluff up the bunkers, and not where we get a fried egg every time, but fluffing them up so the balls come out more knuckly, where they just can't spin the ball the way they used to. And I think that we were quite happy in 2008 that the players actually said if we miss the green we actually want to miss it in the rough. So we felt like we succeeded there.
So then we looked at it and said we were just having too many situations where balls were never getting to bunkers because they were getting hung up in rough, so we talked about it, really the chairman and myself, and said how can we get the bunkers more in play, and I think that's kind of where this started. At Congressional if you look at a lot of our bunkers, pretty steep faces here.
Touring pros typically love to be in bunkers, and if you put them in a fluffier bunker here and it sits way down and you've got a steep face in front of you and you know if you don't get it up and it's coming back at you, it just adds an element of I think a little more risk-reward to it.
And if you look at Congressional's drive zone bunkers, they've got a fair number of them, and the idea was how can we eliminate -- first of all, move the fairway closer which I think looks better esthetically and then what rough is kept there, just mow it as a height where at least a ball can roll into it.
Q. Did you get what you wanted out of that at Pebble?
MIKE DAVIS: I think we did, and I think that on 6 as an example at Pebble, it forced a guy to make a choice off the tee, how far did you want to hit it up. Right off the bat you saw a lot of guys laying back which they didn't have to do. We saw a lot of balls rolling into bunkers there that just simply wouldn't have happened before. Tom, I don't know whether from a chairman's standpoint you want to comment on that.
TOM O'TOOLE: I think that's right. Mike touched on the esthetics of it. You'll see it's much more pleasing and it causes the player to think when they stand on the teeing ground the ball is going into that bunker without his ability to burst that area successfully or with some penalty.
Q. Mike, were you nervous at all about the club's decision to rebuild the greens just two years before the Open, and do you think they're going to be mature enough next year to handle all this?
MIKE DAVIS: Yes to the first one. Let me just say -- I'm glad you brought that up because I would like Mike Giuffre, as well, to comment on that, because that is a short window. And we did talk about, sometimes in construction, and especially the grow-in, if things don't go well, we could have been in a situation where in the worst case things don't grow in, we have some catastrophe where a few greens don't make it then you're in a situation, what do you do then. But thankfully they did such a superb job of construction, and then -- and I know Mike; I can't imagine how many hours you spent here, and Stan Zontek at the end of our table, Stan has been with the USGA on staff longer than any staff member. He's regarded in the industry as one of the best turf experts in the country. Stan, you were here probably on a weekly basis looking at it, and there was a lot of effort that went into exactly how these things got done.
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