There’s a links theme in play.
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.
bunker shot on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA.