The seventh green at Shinnecock Hills is now what it always was supposed to be, a windswept, pitched and fair surface on one of the world’s great golf courses. It is no longer what it was in 2004, and in many people’s minds ever since: a scorched symbol of decisions gone haywire.
“We’re not going to run from that,” Jeff Hall, managing director of rules and open championships for the U.S. Golf Association said Wednesday during the first general viewing of the course in 13 years. “That’s in the past and it hasn’t happened since.”
On a media tour of the venerable course in anticipation of the 2018 U.S. Open, Hall and other officials stopped at No. 7 and showed a device that was born of the controversy that erupted there on the final day of the 2004 Open. Much of the course was unnaturally brown and crusty that day, after the USGA went overboard in trying to toughen the course by making it play especially firm and fast. The par-3 seventh became the epicenter, with the USGA taking the stunning step of watering it during play.
That will not happen again, Hall said, citing data that is being collected by TruFirm, a gizmo that measures green firmness and was developed specifically in response to the parched earth that Sunday in June, 2004.
“You don’t want to be remembered for something that is perceived as negative. It’s not good for Shinnecock, it’s not good for the USGA,” said Darin Bevard, director of championship agronomy for the USGA. “You go back to Shinnecock in 2004 and everyone has the same memory. I still do course consulting visits, I get around, and when we talk about Shinnecock, it’s the same questions: ‘Oh, you’re not going to have what happened in 2004?’ No, we will not.”
Hall said that additional devices will prevent a recurrence, as will more sophisticated weather technology and better communication with the club.
Shinnecock Hills on Wednesday was sparklingly green, which observers could clearly see. Sixteen holes are visible from the newly renovated clubhouse after many trees were removed as part of a project to restore the course to its original flavor — albeit much longer, at 7,445 yards, to accommodate modern pros.
Jon Jennings, the superintendent hired after 2004 as part of a move to a fresh start, explained how his staff of 20 worked 15-hour days to carve out and remove swaths of fairways and transplant long stretches of coarse rough to make the course fit the USGA’s standards for what it considers golf greatest test. The crew also had to move 270 sprinkler heads to accommodate narrower fairways in a USGA-inspired project.
Tournament general chairman Jack Curtin, a longtime member, said, “There has been a lot said over the years about our relationship with the USGA. On behalf of the board of governors and myself, I can’t imagine it being in a better place than it is right now.
“This is sacred land in the world of golf,” Curtin said, “and we treat it with great respect.”