THE 2017 MA­JORS

De­buts for two cour­ses.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean

Fol­low­ing on from the con­tro­ver­sial Cham­bers Bay ex­per­i­ment in 2015, the US Open moves to an­other mod­ern new course, Erin Hills, for the 2017 cham­pi­onship. It is one of two cour­ses mak­ing ma­jor cham­pi­onship de­buts – the other be­ing Quail Hol­low for the PGA Cham­pi­onship, although it is bet­ter known through reg­u­larly host­ing a PGA Tour event.

Cham­bers Bay, as we re­mem­ber only too well, was one of the most hotly de­bated venues in the his­tory of the ma­jors, although on the fi­nal day this much maligned “mod­ern day links” pro­vided a mem­o­rable and ex­cit­ing fin­ish be­tween Jor­dan Spi­eth, Dustin John­son and Branden Grace.

Erin Hills has strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties with Cham­bers Bay in that it is an­other steeply un­du­lat­ing lay­out, although nat­u­rally built on the rolling hills of the Wis­con­sin coun­try­side, rather than within ar­ti­fi­cially con­trived dunes. It has some­thing of an “in­land links” look to it. Fes­cue grass fair­ways al­low for fast and firm-play­ing sur­faces; while the deep bunker­ing and rugged look­ing rough, with its wispy na­tive grasses, lend a stark con­trast to the golf­ing ter­rain.

Opened for play in 2006, Erin Hills is a payand-play fa­cil­ity with ac­com­mo­da­tion on site, and has a walk­ing-only pol­icy, some­thing which Amer­i­cans iden­tify as con­vey­ing spe­cial sta­tus on a golf course. The ban­ning of golf carts, and thus the need to have con­crete paths spoil­ing the nat­u­ral look of the land­scape, is seen as es­sen­tial if a course is to as­pire to rank­ing among America’s Great­est Golf Cour­ses.

The US Open at Cham­bers Bay was the first to be held in the state of Washington, and this will be the Open’s first ven­ture into the state of Wis­con­sin, where Ja­son Day won the 2015 PGA Cham­pi­onship at Whistling Straits. Erin Hills is about an hour’s drive from Mil­wau­kee. It is the sec­ond best course in the state, ranked No 42 in Golf Di­gest’s rank­ing of America’s 200 Great­est Golf Cour­ses. Whistling Straits is No 22. Cham­bers Bay, in­ci­den­tally, is down at No 130.

Erin Hills, un­usu­ally, was a com­bined de­sign be­tween three ar­chi­tects, one of them be­ing Ron Whit­ten, Golf Di­gest’s ar­chi­tec­ture ed­i­tor, the oth­ers Michael Hur­dzan and Dana Fry. The course can be played to about 7 100 me­tres from the back tees, and it hosted the 2011 US Am­a­teur. Ir­ish play­ers will feel at home dur­ing the US Open – Erin is the po­etic name for Ire­land, and the club logo is a sham­rock.

tenth open at birk­dale

The Open Cham­pi­onship is back in North-West Eng­land in 2017, at the mighty Royal Birk­dale links in South­port, where it has been held on nine pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, start­ing in 1954. Three South Africans have won the claret jug at Royal Lytham, fur­ther north along the Lan­cashire coast, but no one from this coun­try has ever tri­umphed at Birk­dale.

There have been five Amer­i­can cham­pi­ons, three Aus­tralians, plus Ir­ish­man Padraig Har­ring­ton, who was the vic­tor in 2008 when it was last there. Greg Nor­man, who held the 54-hole lead that year, was bid­ding to be­come the old­est win­ner of a ma­jor at 53, but a 77 on Sun­day rel­e­gated him to T-3, with Har­ring­ton win­ning by

four shots from Ian Poul­ter, who gained the only top-3 fin­ish of his ma­jor ca­reer.

Nearly ev­ery Open at Birk­dale has re­sulted in some im­prove­ments to the links, which orig­i­nated in the 1920s. When Arnold Palmer won his first Open there in 1961, the 17th was a par 3, now it’s a par 5. A new par 3, the 12th, was cre­ated in the tow­er­ing dunes land­scape which is a fea­ture of Birk­dale. These dunes were whipped into peaks by gales off the Ir­ish Sea, and the weather usu­ally plays a big part here.

Many of the tees are ex­posed, be­ing atop the dunes, and the con­tin­ual change of di­rec­tion of the holes means wind di­rec­tion in­flu­enc­ing shots. The low­est win­ning score was in 1991, when Ian Bak­erFinch shot 272, but it was back to 283 in 2008.

The PGA of America’s choice of Quail Hol­low in North Carolina for its cham­pi­onship is deemed to be dis­ap­point­ing, be­cause it’s go­ing to a reg­u­lar PGA Tour stop which is known in­ti­mately by the top play­ers, rather than an un­fa­mil­iar and unique venue. Quail Hol­low has been host since 2003 of what is now known as the Wells Fargo Cham­pi­onship.

Ma­jors don’t nor­mally get taken to reg­u­lar PGA Tour stops, although the US Open was at Tor­rey Pines in 2008, and reg­u­larly goes to Peb­ble Beach, while Con­gres­sional went from be­ing a US Open venue to a PGA Tour host.

How­ever, Quail Hol­low’s pedi­gree as a de­mand­ing lay­out cer­tainly means it will fit in well as a ma­jor cham­pi­onship test. Apart from one year (2015) when Rory McIl­roy tore the course apart with a 21un­der to­tal in win­ning by seven strokes, it has proved dif­fi­cult to mas­ter since its re­design by Tom Fazio. McIl­roy has two wins there, so must be con­sid­ered an early favourite to claim a third PGA tro­phy.

The Pres­i­dents Cup match finds it­self in New York in the last week of Septem­ber, or rather on the New Jersey bank of the Hud­son River look­ing to­wards the Man­hat­tan sky­line. The im­pres­sive venue is Lib­erty National, an­other new course, opened in 2006, and which has hosted two events in the FedEx Cup Play­offs, the 2009 and 2013 Bar­clays.

De­vel­oper Paul Fire­man pur­chased an eye­sore of a land­fill on the New Jersey shore­line and trans­formed it into a course with the most stun­ning views, the most fa­mous be­ing that of the Statue of Lib­erty. At a cost of more than $250 mil­lion, it is thought to be the most ex­pen­sive golf course ever built.

Fans at­tend­ing the Pres­i­dents Cup will be able to travel to the course by ferry across New York Har­bour.

The Open Cham­pi­onship re­turns to Royal Birk­dale in Lan­cashire for a tenth time.

Lib­erty National.

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