USGA hole choices are all about location, location, location

Each hole location at your golf course was likely chosen in about a minute this morning. There’s a good chance the cups were placed and cut in the dark.

The United States Golf Association is going to take a little more time to determine hole locations for the 2015 U.S. Senior Open. The process started shortly after sunrise Monday, which means it’s going to take about ... seven months.

When it comes to conducting 15 national championships annually, the USGA is about quality control, if that wasn’t clear.

“It’s not the U.S. Open, but it’s a U.S. Open,” Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of competitions, said of the Senior Open, to be played at Del Paso Country Club on June 25-28.

Hall, fellow director Matt Sawicki and USGA agronomist Brian Whitlark methodically studied every Del Paso green over two days this week. At each, they started with suggestions from course superintendent Mark McKinney on hole locations, then debated the merits.

What clubs will players use for their approach shots? Do balls funnel toward or away from a prospective spot? How will the chip shot react for players who miss the green? What parts of the green to avoid because of severity of slope?

When they were satisfied they had a balance of left, right, front and middle options so as not to favor one type of ball flight, they recorded the distance vertically and horizontally of each from the middle of the green. Voila! A starting blueprint off which to work.

The USGA is ratcheting up its preparations at Del Paso. Growing the rough was the first order of business. Reshaping fairway lines was next. The focus turned to the greens this week.

The location of each hole will be refined as the championship draws closer, and the exact spot won’t be determined until the morning of each round when that day’s weather and other variables are known.

“A foot and a half can make a whole lot of difference when they’re stimping at 13,” McKinney said.

A Stimpmeter is used to measure green speed. Typically, the farther a golf ball rolls when struck with the same amount of force, the more difficult for the players. Del Paso’s greens will be fast by anybody’s standards.

Whitlark’s priority is getting the greens firm. The world’s best 50-and-over players quickly adapt to fast greens, the agronomist said. But when they have to factor how the ball will react when it hits a firm green, that’s what makes for a championship test.

“If they know they can hit it 158 yards and it will stop, they have a field day,” Whitlark said. “But if they don’t know what the ball is going to do when it hits the green coming out of the rough, that’s what makes them have to think.”

Whitark is never far from a turf firmness meter – a hemisphere-shaped impact hammer that mimics the shape of a golf ball to simulate the impact of the ball. The amount of moisture – or lack thereof – in a green is the main determinant in firmness.

Speed and firmness are not necessarily related.

“That’s a bit of a myth,” Whitlark said. “Cutting and rolling a soft green can make it fast.”

To address more fiction: The USGA does not seek a hierarchy of hole locations, contrary to belief it likes to use six difficult, six moderate and six easy ones in a round.

“We’re looking for the four best locations independent of difficulty,” Hall said. “When you’re whistling a 4- or 5-iron over water, every hole location is difficult.”

Hall said the USGA’s goal with every decision is to elicit the following response from competitors: “It was out there, I just couldn’t find it.”

Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.