Why Shinnecock Hills is a course that will withstand the test of timeJune 12, 2018
Will the lauded Shinnecock Hills be brought to its knees by the world's best? We are about to find out, writes columnist Colin Callander
Augusta National Golf Club has no official role in formulating the Rules of Golf but it does have considerable influence in golfing circles which is why its contribution to the increasingly acrimonious distance debate was so significant.
The club and ball manufacturers look set to challenge any attempt the R&A and the USGA might make to rein in the modern ball but they will do so in the knowledge that Augusta will be supporting the game’s authorities rather than themselves.
The new Augusta National secretary, Fred Ridley, made the club’s position on distance control crystal clear.
“We are intent on making sure we maintain the design philosophy that Mr Jones and Alister MacKenzie devised,” he said.
“And with the shot values that they thought were important, we have done what we felt was appropriate through the years to maintain that philosophy and those design parameters.
“There’s a great quote from Bobby Jones dealing specifically with the 13th hole, which has been lengthened over time, and he said that the decision to go for the green in two should be a momentous one.
“I would have to say that our observations of these great players hitting middle and even short irons into that hole is not a momentous decision.
“So, we think there is an issue, not only there, but in the game generally, that needs to be addressed.
“The ultimate decision, is going to be, I’m confident, a collective one.
“It’s going to be one where all of the stakeholders involved will look at this issue from a holistic basis and not what might (just) be in the best interests of their own organisation.
“I’m confident that there’s going to be a solution that’s going to work for everyone.”
It remains to be seen how the debate pans out but, in the meantime, it came as no surprise to learn that Shinnecock Hills, venue for this year’s US Open, will be 446 yards longer and significantly tighter than when it last staged the championship back in 2004.
This year the par-70 layout will measure 7,445 yards.
There are 17 new back tees, with the largest increases of 76 yards apiece coming at the 519-yard par-4 14th and the 616-yard par-5 16th.
Additionally, several fairways have been re-shaped, with around 50 acres of fairway converted to rough.
That, I’m afraid, is about all the authorities can do at a time when their most recent Distance Report is telling them the average drive on the European Tour, PGA Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Web.com Tour, LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and Champions Tour has increased by 3.5 yards since 2016 and that nearly 12 per cent of measured drives on the US and European tours now travel over 300 yards.
This is the sort of barrage that Shinnecock Hills will face when the world’s best players arrive in the second week of June and we can only hope that it is able to withstand it because, if it is ever rendered obsolete, the US Open rota would be much weaker and even more one-dimensional than at present.
Shinnecock Hills is certainly not an archetypal US Open course, and in my opinion is all the better for it.
It is not a links in the true sense of the word, but it does share many of the attributes of the best British and Irish seaside courses and it is blessed with a routing so varied that competitors will continually be facing shots with the wind coming at them from all sorts of different directions.
Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson are just a few of the great champions who have lauded it while a few years ago Nick Price made an interesting observation regarding its longevity.
“I think it’s one of the best (US) Open venues, it’s just a wonderful, wonderful test of golf” said the former Open and PGA champion.
“Shinnecock is one of those courses that will withstand the test of time, technology, players’ strengths, you name it.”
Let’s hope the Zimbabwean’s comment is as valid now as it was back then. We are about to find out.