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2013 U.S. Open Course Set-Up Reviews In And They Are Not Exactly Glowing

I would call my Golf World review of the USGA's course setup at Merion "mixed" with a lean toward positive because the emphasis on difficulty let the Merion membership feel good about hosting the U.S. Open.  In other words, there was a political element to this year's setup and Mike Davis addressed that.

However, in the details I certainly make clear there were some elements that were just not very good and contradictory of the USGA's desire to show off Merion's supreme architecture. In particular, was lack of width and the setup of the third hole Sunday, something Phil Mickelson, errr...lamented.

Anyway, check out my story in Golf World this week.

I have a few stats in my story, but Jim McCabe also breaks down Merion "by the numbers" and has some fun stuff to share at

Tod Leonard wasn't so forgiving and says Mike Davis "botched" the setup.

There is making the course hard, and there’s making it fair, and Davis — who hasn’t erred much during his reign — made a mistake with this one. The final round was drudgery, not good or interesting golf. The USGA is trying to grow the game. Would anybody want to go out and take up golf after watching that?

Rex Hoggard talked to players at the Travelers and concludes that the USGA did not do a good job showing off Merion at its best.

“I met a guy in the airport on Saturday when I was flying home, he was 91 (years old),” Glover said. “He had been to every Open since 1950 at Merion. I asked how fast the greens were in ’81, he said, ‘10 (on the Stimpmeter).’ I said how long was the rough, ‘3 inches.’ I asked if that was the same golf course and he said, ‘Absolutely not,’ . . . he said it was atrocious.”

Lost in last week’s reintroduction of Merion after a 32-year hiatus from the U.S. Open rotation was the fact that this was not the same course where Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam in 1930 by winning the U.S. Amateur or where Ben Hogan made emotional history at the 1950 U.S. Open.

Davis, the USGA executive director who took over for Tom Meeks as the Open’s top setup man in 2004, has proven himself adept at setting up fair, but difficult golf courses. This time, however, he may have blazed through a few stop signs on his way to Sunday’s trophy presentation.

Of the 500 or so votes cast in the poll here, it's clear the setup was seen as a way to mask distance gains and that very few saw the week as a resounding win for the pro-do-nothing-about-distance set.

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Reader Comments (37)

I agree with Geoff Ogilvy.

I don't understand the lack of intermediary rough. Even with the inclement weather, Merion's greens wouldn't have halted the flyer and thus provided a whole new risk/reward equation. Also, no intermediary cut means the slightly askew drive some five yards off the fairway carries the same penalty as the errant thirty yard miss.

I don't think lengthening a few of the par fours added anything to the event. I'm not sure it changed the difficulty of some holes, as the softened greens enabled greens originally designed for an eight iron approach to hold the competitors' four iron.

Merion did provide a wonderful mix of scoring opportunities; there was a time to attack and a time to defend. This and the esteeped course history made it a special US Open.
06.19.2013 | Unregistered Commenterthe baron
Though from watching it seemed that the pros were mostly able to go for the green from the rough on all the shortish par 4s, so that was better than expected, really
06.20.2013 | Unregistered Commentercbob
"The final round was drudgery, not good or interesting golf."
Disagree. I was captivated by the final round- 6 contestants- lead constantly changing- the last man standing got the silverware. And other guys shooting in the 80's like me!
So let me get this straight: Rex Hoggard talked to Glover, who talked to a 91 year old, who said the greens rolled 10 sixty three years ago. That is what passes for journalism today?
06.20.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoe
I'm not usually a fan of chip it out rough, but it sure got the pro's attention. Hpw many lead changes in the final round? The guy who hit the ball the best won. The guy who the media wanted to win couldn't convert on wedge shots and couldn't hit the 18th fairway and green, and subsequently didn't win. Had Phil won, this would have been hailed as a wonderful setup...just my opinion, of course. This is the only tournament left that has relevant penalties for missing the fairway, unlike most PGA events. What's wrong with that?
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBDF
Agree, Colin.

Some feel that Merion turned Davis into the Torquemada of golf. Is there an obligation, at all cost, to make sure our national championship is played under conditions that will prevent a bruised ego? To say a USGA setup would deter folks from taking up golf is pure BS of the highest order. I've been fortunate enough to attend brutal USGA tests. The golden anniversary tournament at TCC in 1964 (winds), Winged Foot in 1974 (rock hard) and Shinny in '86, '95 and '04 (the infamous miscalculations at #7 & #10). So please, enlighten me or at least entertain me. How was golf getting on during this period?
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
The Marquis de Sod won the p.r. battle on television and it remains to be seen if the coverage by the more knowledgeable weekly scribes will put a dent in his early legacy building. Defending par one setup at a time, mainly by defiling architecture the organization claims to admire. Fix the ball, save classic architecture.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Never mind that brutal rough also tends to lead to injuries. Saw it at wegmans's (LPGA), wonder if we'll see any arm, hand injuries from the us open.....(just a guess, but I'd be surprised if he was only one)
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterElf
Hey, why don't they add a sub-title to this and future U.S. Opens called "The Superintendent's Revenge?"

Many courses are running these superintendent revenge tournaments once a year...this could really take off and become the next big thing in golf! Every club in America could be set up for "pain and suffering" for this just once a year experience during US Open week!

And by doing this one week a year at every course in America, everyone could take as long as they like to suffer through 18 holes "while they are young"!

Just think what it would do for television ratings...oh, hmm..let me think about that some...if everyone is on the course for 6 hours they would miss the network we would encourage all players to take their i-pads with them to watch and play.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRW
Anyone remember the winning score in the Open last year? The setup was predictable and the best player won.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered Commenterpanco
A couple of thoughts and questions.

The 2013 US Open was a resounding set back for the let's play faster initiative. the Long rough and very difficult hole positions slowed played to a crawl; a pace that will be emulated by the "weekend Justin Roses". I know that Open courses are supposed to be difficult, but we have to understand that the weekend warriors, and greens committees, will follow the lead set by the majors.

This is a question. Number 3 on Sunday, was there any bailout for players who might have opted not to play for the green? I seem to remember, many years ago, that a winner of a US Open laid-up on a par-3 every round. Most of the really long 3 pars I can think of has a lay-up option so that the player can rely upon his wedge and putter as well as his ability to hit a driver 274 yards into the wind.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHBL
I want to watch one tournament a year that is clearly the hardest test for these players. It presents mental challenges to these guys that they don't face the rest of the year. For the USGA to accomplish that they have to push the envelop and make some mistakes.

I won't argue specifics, but in the big picture, they set up a course that provided a compelling tournament and a worthy champion.
Other than the Olgivy/Intermediate cut comment, I rather liked it. The short holes were short and aside from maybe finding it dull to watch guys hit 3 or 4 iron off a bunch of holes, that they had wedges into par 4s and woods into 3s made for a unique challenge. And, lets not forget that much of the carnage of the last day was of the players own failers. Stricker hit one OB and shanked another OB on the same hole. The "easy" par 3, Michelson missed the green with a wedge. Donald decided to test if Pro V1s float better than featheries. In other words, other than graduating the penalty for missing the fairway, I thought it was a great set up.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe O
I'll repeat my comment from an earlier post, I thought the way you identify the best golfer is to set up a course such that a variety of techniques and styles and strategies can be employed in getting the ball into the hole, that there is no single correct shot that must be executed (except for a scattered handful). When did overtly penal setups that dictate nearly every shot become the norm?
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterF. X. Flinn
I wrote yesterday on the green speeds and it wasn't posted. 13 stimps on greens pitched to drain turn putting into mini-golf. The obsession with green speed has trickled down throughout golf and is the least sustainable element of current course management. To those who claim it is the same for everyone why not put the pins in a bunker? There is no rule requiring the pin to be on the green. If Mike Davis really understand championship golf and Merion he would not have tricked up the hole locations coupled with irrational green speeds. To me it shows his first priority was protecting par so no one would notice the USGA has been asleep at the wheel on distance. On Golf Channel one of the analysts put it best- in '81 maybe 6 guys averaged 270 off the tee. In 2013 maybe 6 guys on tour average 270, the bottom 6...
06.20.2013 | Unregistered Commentermunihack
Red - the 3rd hole. There was no bailout short of the green, it was all carry (over rough on an upslope) up to the green area, uphill. I suppose the bunkers could be considered a bailout. Davis basically admitted that Phil was correct on Sunday's tee location and that they had incorrectly estimated which direction the wind would be coming from.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
Why didn't anyone call out Davis' BS when he said that they never try and protect par! That's so bogus! Of course they do. If they aren't trying to protect Par, then let the course play as its been designed. Even though the R&A has been suspect the last few years for doing their own manipulation to Open set-ups, they aren't nearly as bad as the USGA. I mean they don't care if the sore is -15 or +15. Let the boys play the course as its designed and whatever score wins the Open wins!
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGMan
OK, I know "par is just a number" but consider the 18th: over two weekend rounds 73 of the best players in the world could not manage a birdie. Zero out of 146 attempts. Congratulations, USGA, mission accomplished!
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Big K
Listening on tv to the vocal component of the fans at Merion, I think they should limit the gallery at their next Open to 500 people, and those by invitation only.

It used to be a joke, that golf fans were so much more reserved than, say, a Flyers game or an Eagles game. When did golf fans become WORSE than an NFL crowd?
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
And Flynn, I told you before that the us open has ALWAYS been difficult to the point of being unfair-----whatever that is.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoe
At the 1986 Masters, "Jack the Great" won on greens running 8.5! Stimpmeters and 10+ green speeds in the "wrong hands" are dangerous.
This was a tremendous US Open...the top four finishers were ranked in the top 22 (or 26, can't recall) before last week.

Compare that to last year, where we were watching a bunch of unknowns and dullards at Olympic. And if Olympic is so revered, why is it that the past three champions are not exactly hall of famers - S.Simpson, Lee Janzen and Webb Simpson? Shouldn't the quality of the winner and leaderboard say a lot about the quality of the course and setup?
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterManku
@Chuck - I know that it comes through on TV, all the "get in the hole", and such, but when I was there anyway, there are so many people and honestly it seemed like they were very respectful. I sat in a packed grandstand at 17 for an hour and then at 5 green for about 2 hours, and I honestly never heard one word other than polite applause for all players, and loud applause when something good happened. I was there on Friday, maybe on a Sunday afternoon things go downhill, but it just didn't seem that way at all to me.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS

To be fair to Janzen, he has a better career record than Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and Charl Schwartzel. Two majors and a Players Championship. Not sure why he always gets lumped in with "bad" players who have won majors.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRES
Also, vis-a-vis the quality of leaderboards at US Opens:

1987 US Open at Olympic: 6 of top 8 on final leaderboard were former major winners
1998 US Open at Olympic: 5 of top 6 on final leaderboard were former major winners
2012 US Open at Olympic: 5 of top 9 on final leaderboard were former major winners

2013 US Open at Merion: 2 of top 13 on final leaderboard were former major winners.

I never got the impression that Olympic is particularly revered as an Open setup, but the quality of leaderboard argument isn't the way to go about contesting that.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRES
munihack and Pro, I agree completely on green speeds gone haywire. Last year our club hosted an Open qualifier. I'm Green Chair so I was involved by necessity. At the set up meeting prior to the event our super asked "How fast do you want the greens?" Simple request in my view. The USGA fella responded: "How fast can you get them?" (Not really an answer.) Super said "14", never expecting the guy to take the bait. USGA guy said; "That's good". We double cut and double rolled a few days in a row and held off the water for a day or so, aiming for more sensible 12.5. WInd came up during the round and they were 13.5 during the playoff. 6,700 course, pretty good local field in Florida. MiniVerde greens, old push-up style re-built to USGA specs. Two guys broke 70. Whole lot of 4-putts and a few slow-play penalties. But, organizers got what they wanted.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMashie
Carl, would love to hear your side now that the experts have spoken?
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin
Marvin, are you going to be my own personal shadow? If so, that's sweet - thanks for your interest.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'my side', though. I enjoyed this USO quite a bit -- probably more than any of the last 10 or so.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Peterson
The sad part in all of this is that we'll never know if Merion would have held up, which was the big question coming in. In my opinion, and it sounds like many of the tour pros, this great course would have held its own without the questionable set-up moves. Any 6600 yard course in America can be made to play difficult by employing ridiculously heavy rough, brutal pin placements, and turning the greens into ice skating rinks. But there is no need to do that to these great classic courses like Merion. I will say that I believe Davis freaked a little when the rain came in and probably changed his game plan. That was a shame.
06.20.2013 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
HBL said "but we have to understand that the weekend warriors, and greens committees, will follow the lead set by the majors." I hope you're wrong.
As a new member at a club in New Zealand in the 70's I asked the manager why we didn't have decent rough like the courses on TV. I was told- "We want fast play, Col, and no one likes wasting time looking for balls- 2 inch rough is just right with all the trees we have." It's a game not torture.
Somewhere along the line, maybe as the golf population migrated south and west, the epitome of golf architecture and tournament set-up switched from the USGA to the Masters. Except for the third hole on Sunday, there was nothing wrong with the set-up at Merion. The course provided an unforgettable finish and, in reality, it did not favor any one type of player, except those who have patience and imagination. Watching the U.S. Open played on a course where disaster is always a possibility is like watching a suspense movie where there may be 18 cliffhangers. The Masters has its place and so does the U.S. Open, but may they never meet.
06.21.2013 | Unregistered CommenterWillie Park
I have experienced a few of those qualifiers. As my moniker says I am a muni player. When trying to prepare for events with fast greens I struggle to find a place. Most of the munis in my area keep the greens around 8-9. One course even posts a flyer explaining the speeds as what is recommended by the greens superintendents of America. Golf seems unique to me in the sense that the bigger the tourney the more manipulated the setup. This approach, when coupled with older tracks sloped for drainage, make a farce out of the architecture. I don't think it identifies the best player most of the time.
06.21.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMuni hack
@ Muni hack. Grew up on a muni. Learned the game on what I think had to be the worst golf course in the country. Won't name the city out of respect. They've since re-built it. Great times. Been lucky enough to be green chair at three pretty good country clubs. My approach is to "slow them down". But, down here in Florida it's an arms race. If you present greens at "only" 10, it's the end of the world. Was with Mark Sweeney, the fella who developed Aim Point, the outfit that has the "blue line" superimposed on the TV for tour events. He said routine tour speed is 10.5. Sure there are exceptions like Jack's tourney and the old Westchester event, but "tour speed" was 10.5. He needed to know so as to plug into his Aim Point software. So I asked him, If the best players in the world are playing 10.5, why down here in Florida, with the average age of member in the 60's - '70's, are the green speeds 12-13? I believe his answer was "Insanity".
06.21.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMashie
@ Mashie Good info. There are private clubs where the "boys" carry their own Stimpmeters in their golf bag along with their clubs! Saw a club near Hilton Head that lost one of the best golf course superintendents I have seen as the 'boys' would show up each morning in their private golf carts and get their Stimps out and proceed to the putting green to "check" the super's tidy work on the greens. None of them could bust 80 but they all wanted to brag and tell everyone that at "their club, the greens are running 12.5". So few people know how to use them any way. It is all little man syndrome -- or EGO! The average player has no idea how fast "10" is. And if the greens are undulated, oh brother!
Pro, worst thing in the world now is USGA is SELLING stimpmeters! The world as we know it is over. It's 10:30 in Florida and I am officially going to bed. Have an early tee time tomorrow and have to hit a "trap draw" into the first green. Gonna' dream about it.
06.21.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMashie
Wow, know-it-all members stimping their own greens??!! What a pity they just don't get on with it an play. From my somewhat kimited experience, green speeds of 7-9 are ideal for day to day play. Slow enough the newbs aren't stick handling and slow enough to tempt better players in being more aggressive in their scoring shot options...which is more fun for everyone.

Seriously...anything faster than 10 is overkill for day to day it's expensive to keep em like that.

I wish that the PGAT would one week setup the greens like at Camp Lejeune's Gold course in the 90's. Those marines had the greens rock hard, flat and true, yet they rolled max 7 on the stimp. It was a challenge to figure out the bounce and roll...but once you got the hang of it (my trick was to use 1extra club for chip/pitch shots) it really separated the wheat from the chaff.

I had a 3rd place finish one year in a collage tourney (complete with FREE kegs of beer on the Scarlett course after play!!! Jarheads do love their free beer) anyways, the other top school players hacked it up that week...and all complained how the greens were too hard and too slow...LOL...suckers couldn't adapt!
06.22.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
@johnnnycz, couldn't agree more. Back from my day of golf down here in FLA. Greens were aerified a few weeks ago (we're in summer maintenance season) and only rolled about 9. Perfect. After USGA guys said "14" for the Open qualifier in '11, the super and I talked. He said, "What if I get them down to 7? No one will make anything!". I said, "Great idea, but if we do that, it will be the last USGA event we ever host". Spend a golf day, dinner and evening with Tom Doak in the early '90's. Before he was "THE" Tom Doak. Picked his brain over too much Scotch. He was a firm believer in "slower" green speeds, even back then. Trying to get some data for our club to determine the cost of maintaining greens at 9.5 vs. 12. There has to be a cost differential.
06.22.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMashie

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