LANCASTER, Pa. — If your emotions are moved by severe, post-apocalyptic landscape like you see in, say, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” then you probably enjoyed the view of the brown, burned-out, cratered terrain at the U.S. Open last month at Chambers Bay. But to those whose sensibilities run more toward the emerald vistas of “Brideshead Revisited,” this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club should appeal.
This is the 83rd USGA championship contested in Pennsylvania — more, by far, than any other state. But with such golfing treasures as Merion Golf Club to the east, Oakmont Country Club to the west, and Saucon Valley Country Club to the north, America’s golf rulers never cast an eye toward the rolling farmland of the southern part of the state.
“I think,” said Cristie Kerr, the 2007 Women’s Open champion, “that this is a spectacular golf course.” Paula Creamer, the winner in 2010, was similarly unequivocal. “I think it’s an awesome golf course,” she said.
On Tuesday, Creamer and Kerr described Lancaster Country Club as “old school,” with manicured fairways that spread sublimely out before the players but slope severely up and down and left to right. Players will seldom hit a second shot off a level lie. There is rough that is green, thick and penal, and greens whose relatively flat and manageable appearance conceals their speed and break. There’s even a river — an actual river, the Conestoga — that runs through the course.
There were nine holes here in 1916 when the club hired William S. Flynn, now revered as one of the great golf course architects of the first half of the 20th century, to redesign the existing nine and add nine more. That layout opened in 1920 and was the young Flynn’s first major solo work.
A number of Flynn’s other designs, including Philadelphia Country Club, Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, and The Country Club, in Brookline, Mass., outside Boston , have played host to major championships.
Now, before expected record crowds of spectators, the sheet is about to be pulled back from a previously undiscovered Flynn masterpiece. The course is long for the women, a maximum of 6,483 yards with a par of just 70 (the women members play it to a 74). And with more than an inch of rain in the past week and more forecast before the weekend, shots that would normally roll after they hit the ground will now stick their landings, making a long course even longer — two clubs longer on some of the approach shots into the formidable par 4s, according to Morgan Pressel, who has revived her career with top-five finishes in each of the season’s first two majors.
The USGA, always coy about the subject, said Wednesday morning that it would adjust the length of the course in reaction to the weather but that it would likely not exceed 6,350 yards and could play as short as 6,200.
Another lengthy obstacle for the players is the traditional Open rough, measuring about four inches in the deepest cut and, now, soggy.
“There were a couple times I dropped balls in the rough [Monday], and you were lucky if you could get your club on the back of it,” Pressel said.
“You have to get it in the fairway,” added Stacy Lewis, second in the Open to Michelle Wie a year ago at Pinehurst and the top-ranked American player at No. 3, behind Inbee Park of South Korea and Lydia Ko of New Zealand. “The course is wet, so you can’t run anything up.”
What Lewis meant was that to hit greens, you have to do it on the fly. But the problems don’t end there, because if your ball lands in the wrong spot, you’re apt to pay a price.
“The pin placements, I think, are going to be the biggest challenge,” Creamer said. “Some of those greens, there’s just only a couple of spots you can use” for the hole.
Pressel described the greens as “quite subtle but quite fast.” She said, “it’s important to know where to leave the golf ball on some of these holes” and said she could envision a situation where a well-struck putt just lips out of the cup but then rolls five feet past, with a foot or more of break in the putt coming back.
It’s not beyond imagining that it could all play out on the 18th hole, a back-breaking, uphill, 437-yard par 4. Brittany Lincicome, the winner of the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, and the second-longest driver on tour, had to hit a hybrid club, not an iron, into the green during the practice rounds. And the green has a false front, so shots just a little short could roll way back down the hill.
“Then you’re stuck with a 30-yard pitch shot,” Lincicome said.
That’s the real genius of Flynn’s composition: On a golf course where length is required, it may come down to a pitch and a putt as the sun recedes into the Pennsylvania cornfields Sunday evening.