THE 2017 MAJORS
Debuts for two courses.
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.