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Friday, November 27, 2009

Olympic Greens Protect Lake Course

18th Hole at Olympic Club Lake Course
photo under Wikimedia Commons license
Precision will be the name of the game when the U.S. Open field returns to tackle the recently refurbished Lake Course at San Francisco's Olympic Club in 2012. While a great many trees were removed to open sight lines and improve turf conditions, the course remains a short (6,934 yards) but demanding track off the tee. The real defense will be the greens, though, which are small and severe.

They also played very firm when I was there not long after the course reopened after its most recent renovation. High feathery approach shots didn't hold and you even felt the firmness beneath the grass when repairing ball marks. Two more seasons of turf dressing will soften them somewhat, but it will be very interesting to see how the pros attack them without sharp-edged square grooves on their wedges.

The Lake Course has a proud history of competition at the highest levels. It hosted the 1958, 1981, and 2007 U.S. Amateur Championships, the 1993 and 1994 Tour Championships, and the 1955, 1966, 1987, and 1998 U.S. Opens. It will again host the U.S. Open in 2012.

The three finishing holes are among the best in the game. They are each distinctive and require the player to have a full arsenal of golf skills. The 16th is a lengthy par 5 (609 yards) that is virtually unreachable in two. It doglegs left and plays basically level off the tee, but the elevated green is small even by Olympic standards. It's also well-bunkered.

The 17th hole, which members play as a par five, is a 522 yard par four for the tournament. The fairway slopes left to right and the second shot is strongly uphill even from the left side of the fairway. There is no bailout area, either, and only a small alley between bunkers to roll the ball onto the green. It's only accessible from the left side of the fairway, though, so don't plan on using it.

The 18th hole isn't what you normally expect from a finishing hole on a major venue. At 347 yards, I suppose there will even be a Bubba or two who tries to drive it, but the green is about the size of a Lamborghini's hood and just about as fast, so even a flop shot in will be no guarantee of a birdie putt. Protests at the 1998 Open led the club to flatten the green somewhat in 2000, but slightly steeper contours were restored during the recent work.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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