U.S. Open: USGA, Congressional officials downplay concerns about course conditions

Officials from both the United States Golf Association and Congressional Country Club downplayed concerns about the condition of the Blue Course as it prepares to host its third U.S. Open beginning Thursday.

Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director who is in charge of course setup for the Open, said Wednesday that, though the greens were put under duress by two straight weeks of hot temperatures, officials believe that they will be up to speed for the tournament.

“We’re delighted with the greens right now,” Davis said. “… There’s no concern with the health of the greens long-term.”

Stan Zontek, the USGA agronomist who is working most closely with Congressional, said Tuesday that crews were behind in getting the course into typical Open condition – firm, fast greens and gnarly, thick rough – because of the hot weather that preceded this week, which has been unusually cool. But Davis and Mike Giuffre, Congressional’s director of golf course maintenance, said Wednesday that the setbacks most likely affected practice rounds Monday and Tuesday, but were otherwise fine.

“Last week was brutal,” Davis said. “We had not only humidity, but the temperatures that were way up. We had to come into this Open not exactly where we want to be because, in a perfect world, we would have the greens presented [in tournament condition] in terms of speed and firmness Monday through Wednesday [and] Thursday through Sunday, and we simply couldn’t do that.”

Davis had a goal that the greens would roll between 14 and 14.5 on the Stimpmeter, a device used to measure green speed. By comparison, the greens at Pebble Beach for last year’s Open – which are comparatively tiny – rolled between 11-11.5, and those at Oakmont in 2007 were at 14.5-15. Congressional’s greens hadn’t met the goal for practice rounds.

“Instead of being at 14 on Monday, we’re then rolling that way as we get to the championship itself,” Giuffre said. “If we’re not, it’s going to be because we get a thunderstorm and it softens stuff up -- rain, that type of thing. That’s where you just don’t know.”

As for the rough, Giuffre said the USGA wants the first cut to be 3-1/4 inches on the shorter holes and 3-3/4 on the longer ones. The secondary cut – further off the fairway -- is supposed to be between 4-5 inches. Giuffre said those goals have been met, though the secondary rough might be slightly thinner because of a lack of rainfall.

“But I think our rough will be more penal than last year’s at Pebble Beach,” Giuffre said.

The club and the USGA both said they are prepared to stage a proper U.S. Open, regardless of the weather and previous stress on the course.

“Whenever you’re preparing for any kind of a tournament event, you always go though that cycle of ups and downs,” Giuffre said. “You’ve got to back off at times. You have to move forward at times.”

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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