U.S. Amateur Saturday and Other Olympic Club Observations

506-t.gifI'm a little behind because the matches are underway, but for those tuning Saturday at 1 on NBC, a few stories will acquaint you with the final four.

Beth Murrison has the Friday game story summing up the day's play with a nice overview of the semifinalists.  Art Spander writes about Jhonattan Vegas, whose impressive game I got to see some of Friday. There's also Dave Shedloski on Colt Knost and Stuart Hall on Michael Thompson. 230136-992923-thumbnail.jpg
A big gallery follows the Vegas-Pan match Friday (click to enlarge)

As for the event, it was my first U.S. Amateur and if you've never been, it's one of the great spectating experiences in golf. Very few ropes dot the property and you get the chance to roam a great golf course watching elite golfers. Until you see it, you forget how unique it is to get so close to such high quality play in today's game. 230136-992909-thumbnail.jpg
(click for a word from USGA sponsors)

As for Olympic, it remains one of my very favorite places in golf thanks to the atmosphere, singular design and fond memories from playing USF's collegiate event there. I was a both thrilled and disappointed in how the course looks. On the sensational side is the extensive tree removal work since the U.S. Junior Amateur that has left mostly Monterey Cypress and some pines. Vistas have been opened and the Cypress look more impressive than ever. The view from the clubhouse of No. 3 green is particularly eye-catching.

View from behind No. 8 (click to enlarge)
The fairways and greens looked to be in fine playing condition, but outside the main playing areas, the course looks worn out. And there is a difference between looking natural and rugged, and appearing beat up.

Here it was the U.S. Amateur, with very limited galleries and it looked like Tuesday after a PGA Tour event. The many fescue native areas that looked so good during the U.S. Junior Amateur now look less appealing, with too many non-native weeds and a less than satisfying appearance.

Bunkers were recently resodded so it's hard to say how the sod will settle, but right now the bunkers have lost some of their gracefully aged look. Give them time and play and I suspect they'll settle back into their classic antique look. 230136-992914-thumbnail.jpg
New tee on No. 3 stretches it to 247 (click to enlarge)

Several new tees were in play since my last visit, and while the third and fourth were conceptually fine, the execution was uninspired and in the case of the third, they appeared to have been done very close to the Amateur. Two new modern and even less inspired practice greens right below No. 3 don't exactly add much ambiance either. I have a feeling this overall feel may be the reason Olympic has slipped a bit in some of the recent course rankings.

And just to be the broken record I am, the fairway widths were incredibly depressing. On a course where the slopes and trees are such a prominent part of the design, the confining widths just seem to keep errant balls in play instead of taking missed shots to greater trouble. When firm and a lot wider, Olympic is infinitely more interesting to play or watch. I would contend that when it is firm enough, as it was Friday, it is far more difficult the wider it gets. I have played it when it's wider and it was exhausting! In a good way.

Rough around and behind No. 6. What a contrast to Southern Hills (click to enlarge)
Two narrow fairway examples come to mind: No. 2, with it's beautiful helping slope to the right and steep fall off to the left was reduced to a meaningless sliver, while No. 6, at a paltry 22 yards wide and featuring the lone fairway bunker, offers nothing but rough over that bunker, even though a player should want to hug the hazard and the left side to get at right side hole locations (and tee shots missed left trying to secure this angle find serious trouble).

Of course it would help if the guys weren't hitting wedges into a 440-yard hole, but that's an issue for another department in Far Hills. I hope that by the 2012 U.S. Open some of the fairways are tweaked.

Still, for overall tournament golf atmosphere, I don't think there are many better places than The Olympic Club. 230136-992937-thumbnail.jpg
One of the game's great scenes, No. 18 at Olympic Club (click to enlarge image)