In its brief history, Sebonack Golf Club always has been known for its hospitality, for treating its guests like members. Thanks to the U.S. Golf Association's setup yesterday, many golfers in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open were made to feel right at home.
Inbee Park, who is going for her third consecutive women's major this year, shot 5-under-par 67 Friday morning, setting an early tone and noticing a trend. "I mean, they can still make the golf course really tough, but today I think they were maybe expecting a little bit of bad weather, so the tees were moved up," the 24-year-old said. "So I think we had to take advantage of good scoring."
By the end of the day, she was behind her Korean countrywoman Ha-Neul Kim, also 24, playing her first U.S. Open, who shot 6-under-par 66. Through a translator, she said the words that might have summed up how everyone on the course might have felt: "I didn't think I would play like this."
Because Sebonack never had hosted a professional tournament of any kind, there was no way to know how the scoring would go. The course was designed to be challenging for elite golfers -- especially around the greens -- but enjoyable for members. The USGA, anticipating high winds, gave it some touches that members would have appreciated.
Many tees were moved forward. The USGA also ordered that certain areas of the course be hand-watered, which softened the layout. The greens were approximately 11 on the Stimpmeter, the USGA said. That was not as fast as some players expected. "We left a couple short out there that we thought were going to be lightning-quick, but that's just how it goes," said Park's caddie, Brad Beecher.
"It was just a different course today," said Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked American, who played with Park and shot 71.
Lizette Salas, the low American (tied for third at 68), said, "It was very different from our practice rounds. They moved us up on a couple of tee boxes, which was beneficial. I thought it was very nice of the USGA."
That was not to say it was necessarily easy. "My caddie, I think he had some headache today," said I.K. Kim, Park's Korean countrywoman, who bogeyed her final hole and finished at 4 under. She meant that there was a lot of improvisation required after golfers and caddies had prepared for longer yardages.
Still, there was a certain electricity on the grounds for the course's first championship round. And the crowd on the leader board set up an interesting weekend. "Everybody thinks it's one of the best golf courses we play," I.K. Kim said.
It sure went well with Ha-Neul Kim, who said through the translator that she began playing golf at 12 (later than many players in the field) and that her biggest win to this point has been a major on the Korean LPGA Tour, in 2011. She led that tour's money list last year, which earned her a spot in the Open.
She added that she is a close friend of Park, the dominant player in women's golf, who finished well before Ha-Neul Kim began. "Before the round, I said, 'How did she shoot 5 under?' "Kim said, smiling about having beaten that score by a stroke with a solid tee-to-green game that left her short birdie putts.
The one player who had most reason to feel at home, Annie Park of Levittown, had a rough day. The 18-year-old NCAA champion shot 79.
Before the weekend is over, golfers likely will be weary about Sebonack. Inbee Park said, "They can play around with this golf course so much that it can play so long tomorrow."