Sunday, June 17, 2012

A few thoughts on Olympic-Lake.

During my last visit to the Olympic Club, in January 2009,
the new par 3 8th hole was under construction.
Click on image to enlarge.
The Olympic Club's Lake course, where the 2012 United States Open will be decided today, isn't my favourite. Granted, I'm a bit spoiled. During the same trip to northern California, back in January 2009, I also visited San Francisco Golf Club, The California Golf Club, Pasatiempo, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach. By comparison, Olympic-Lake was underwhelming.

I really liked the tawny presentation of the course as seen on TV yesterday; there seems to be a very nice texture about the Lake course this week. The large cypress trees, and incredibly unique clubhouse overlooking the 8th and 18th greens are awesome too. And, as usual, I also appreciate some of the thoughtful elements the U.S. Golf Association's Mike Davis has incorporated into the course. Take some of the typically un-US Open-like short grass areas around greens for example. Saturday's 107-yard set-up at the par 3 15th hole was pretty cool, too.

But, in general, the course architecture and set-up at Olympic-Lake do nothing for me. The course is very one-dimensional - which is why it's a brilliant venue for a traditional 'US Open test', I guess. Most fairways are way too narrow relative to the slopes and pace of the course. All of those 'reverse camber' holes, where the fairways bend in the opposite direction of the general pitch of the land, get tiring after awhile, too. And, the short par 4 18th epitomizes the one-dimensional nature of the course. It's an 'over-rated' hole, talked about more because of history than architectural merit. I'm sure someone in contention later today will be playing their second shot to the home green from a divot in the ridiculously narrow 18th fairway, where there's really only 'one place' to drive the ball.

Olympic-Lake is 'hard', yeah - only two of the world's best golfers are currently under par after 54 holes this week. But does that make it a great course? Not in my opinion.

I'm a big fan of Mike Davis. Again, he's done some very thoughtful stuff in setting up some of America's best courses for US Open competition in recent years. As Davis knows, it's way too easy to make a course 'hard', and much better - for spectators and competitors alike - when a course simply plays 'interesting'. There's not enough 'interesting' about Olympic-Lake this week, in my opinion, unfortunately. And because of this fact, I suspect we might see another Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan today; or another Billy Casper defeat Arnold Palmer. With all due respect, is Scott Simpson in the field?

This is what penal architecture and course set-up often produces. To my way of thinking, architecture and set-up should not determine champions. Players should be permitted to golf their balls and, in turn, determine outcomes. Driving to 28.6-yard wide fairways that are running away from you into 6-inch rough and playing to greens that are hard as rocks one day then significantly softer the next (as a result of heavy watering the night before) doesn't help.


  1. The watering before the 3rd round was a shame for me. My personal feelings on tournament set-up (not that I am that experienced) is that our influence as superintendents needs to be minimal. Get the course at a point on Thursday so that it can be prepared and let go through the weekend. Or when you have the resources then set it up one way and keep it there for the entire championship. The heavy watering on Saturday was an unfortunate manipulation of the conditions as they were.

  2. I felt much the same about Olympic when I played it a few years back: Strikingly one-dimensional, though as you note, this likely makes it such a reputable championship course. Maybe just not the most fun for the rest of us who didn't quite qualify for the Open. Enjoyed the read, and enjoy playing the courses you've worked on!