2015 MA­JORS

There’s a links theme in play.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 2/ 15 - by stu­art mclean

An un­usual fea­ture of the four ma­jor cham­pi­onships in 2015 is that a links golf theme runs through three of the four venues.

One of the most his­toric links in world golf, the Old Course at St An­drews, will be host­ing the Open Cham­pi­onship in July. No sur­prise there, as the Open is al­ways played at a links as part of the rota of venues, whether they hap­pen to be in Scot­land or Eng­land.

This year, how­ever, two mod­ern man-made links will pro­vide ad­di­tional ma­jor chal­lenges. The choice of venue for the 2015 US Open is very dif­fer­ent from what we tra­di­tion­ally ex­pect. Firstly, it’s be­ing played at a rel­a­tively new course, Cham­bers Bay, which was opened for play in 2007. It sits in an old quarry and was de­signed by Robert Trent Jones Ju­nior, whose con­struc­tion team moved over a mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of ma­te­rial to cre­ate an ar­ti­fi­cial links with re­mark­ably high dunes.

Se­condly, this spa­cious, un­du­lat­ing lay­out is cov­ered in fes­cue grass from tee to green. Fes­cue is what you find on Bri­tish and Ir­ish links. No US Open has ever been played on fes­cue be­fore. The grass sup­ports dry, firm, fast con­di­tions, far from the plush car­pets as­so­ci­ated with the Open.

Thirdly, the course is on the shores of the Puget Sound in the north-west state of Wash­ing­ton, close to Seat­tle, an area the USGA has never taken its Open to in the past. It be­comes the 18th dif­fer­ent state to be a host.

There are to be four West Coast US Opens in the next decade, with Cal­i­for­nia the venue in 2019 (Peb­ble Beach), 2021 (Torrey Pines) and 2023 (Los An­ge­les CC).

Cham­bers Bay will as­suredly be an ex­cit­ing new venue on the ma­jor cal­en­dar, promis­ing dra­matic view­ing on our TV screens. The USGA have again also taken their cham­pi­onship to a mu­nic­i­pal fa­cil­ity, rather than a pri­vate club, just as they did with the US Open at Torrey Pines in Cal­i­for­nia in 2008, and Beth­page Black in New York in 2002 and 2009.

The USGA played the US Am­a­teur at Cham­bers Bay in 2010, as a pre­lude to the Open, so that they could study hole lo­ca­tions and green speeds. At the time it was the long­est course to host a USGA event – 7 080 me­tres with a par of 71 – and the av­er­age score dur­ing the stroke­play rounds was 79.25. The cham­pion that year was Amer­i­can Peter Uih­lein, who now plays the Euro­pean Tour.

Ques­tions re­main, though, about how the USGA might han­dle mat­ters out­side the ropes. Mov­ing spec­ta­tors around the course given its mas­sive (and treach­er­ous) dunes with­out need­ing to treat bro­ken an­kles will re­quire some true plan­ning. There will be lots of grand­stand seat­ing of­fer­ing views of mul­ti­ple holes. Some are al­ready dub­bing the 2015 US Open the “Binocular Open.”

The US PGA Cham­pi­onship re­turns in Au­gust to another mod­ern course in the same mode, which has al­ready hosted two ma­jors, and that is Whistling Straits, an un­con­ven­tional Pete Dye de­sign on the shore of Lake Michi­gan.

The PGA of Amer­ica has close ties with this Wis­con­sin re­sort, the Amer­i­can Club, owned by plumb­ing fix­tures bil­lion­aire Her­bert Kohler.

They first took their cham­pi­onship there in 2004, when the ti­tle went to Vi­jay Singh, and again in 2010, won by Martin Kaymer. The Ry­der Cup will be played there in 2020.

The Straits course is con­sid­ered one of the tough­est cham­pi­onship cour­ses in golf, with four de­mand­ing fin­ish­ing holes from 15-18, and the proof is in the pud­ding: It has al­ready pro­duced two mem­o­rably close PGAs which went to play­offs. Singh beat Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard in 2004, and Kaymer pre­vailed over Bubba Wat­son five years ago. That was the PGA where Dustin John­son might have tri­umphed but for his fail­ure to dis­cern that his ball was ly­ing in a bunker on the 72nd hole.

The Straits course has 967 bunkers, many not eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able as such haz­ards. John­son had a one-shot lead play­ing the fi­nal hole, but un­know­ingly in­curred a two-shot penalty when he grounded his club in a fair­way bunker in which mem- bers of the gallery were also stand­ing. He made a bo­gey five on the hole, which ev­ery­one had thought would put him in a play­off, only to be in­formed that he would have to change his score to a 7.

This year will mark the first time that Asia hosts one of the “Big Five” events of the year, when South Korea stages the 11th Pres­i­dents Cup match be­tween the In­ter­na­tion­als and Americans. The venue is the Jack Nick­laus Golf Club, at In­cheon City near Seoul. The course was opened in 2010. Nick Price again cap­tains the In­ter­na­tion­als, who have lost five con­sec­u­tive matches to the US team, while Jay Haas re­places Fred Cou­ples as Amer­i­can cap­tain.

Cur­rently, two South Africans, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, are among the 10 au­to­matic picks in the In­ter­na­tional team, while Ernie Els and Tim Clark can join them with good sea­sons be­fore the team is an­nounced in Septem­ber.

Cham­bers Bay.

Whistling Straits.

Dustin John­son’s

bunker shot on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA.

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