Few occasions in golf can be more exciting than playing at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton.
Ben Crenshaw hits his tee shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the 2014 Masters.
The first tee at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is the beginning of an unforgettable journey through undulating terrain, tricky winds, and a challenging layout, not to mention the significance of being the nation’s oldest incorporated golf club. Shinnecock Hills was one of the five founding member clubs of the United States Golf Association (USGA ), and 123 years after its opening, this course is still ranked among the top five in the country. Most noteworthy to me is that Shinnecock was open to women members from the beginning. The club has hosted four US Opens (1896, 1986, 1995, and 2004), and the tournament will return in 2018.
On this recent visit, I start the day with a lovely lunch on the patio, and a stop into the pro shop to say hello to my buddy Jack Druga, PGA head professional at Shinnecock Hills since 2007. He tells me that 11 new tees have been constructed. “This adds approximately 450 yards to the course, which will play 7,300 yards-plus for the major championship,” Druga says. “The sixth hole has had some work done, with a sandy area added between the sixth tee and the fairway, and right and left of the fairway to restore that hole to its original design by William Flynn in the 1930s.”
Proceeding to the first tee—approximately 50 paces from the clubhouse—I greet my caddie. Normally it’s either Norman or Raymond, both Shinnecock Indians who have caddied at the club for decades. They know every inch of the course. Their local knowledge can make a huge difference!
Tiger Woods reacts to missing a putt on the eighth hole during the first day of play at the 2004 US Open golf championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
A prevailing southwest wind, coming off the ocean and crossing left to right on that first hole, a 391-yard, par-4, dogleg right (366 yards from the forward tees), requires my aim to be a bit more left so that the wind and my slight fade will help my tee shot neatly find the fairway, staying clear of the bunker on the right. Once the round begins, all thoughts must now focus on choosing the right club, minimizing mistakes, and making putts.
I adore the par-5 fifth hole, although the big tree on the left that served as a target for my tee shot was removed years ago, along with many trees on the course, as it’s being restored to resemble the original layout.
Ben Crenshaw for many years held the course record, but in the 1995 US Open, it took him three shots before his approach shot “held” on the 10th green. Amateur players can relate to the fate of his previous two approach shots, as more often than not, a ball hit up the hill that lands on the front of the green can easily reverse direction and roll all the way back down the hill.
2013 Masters Champ Adam Scott beat Raymond Floyd’s course record by one from the member’s back tees last September with a 63.
Another one of my favorite holes at Shinnecock is the par-3 11th, described by Lee Trevino as “the shortest par-5 in golf.” Oh, how I would love to have a hole in one there!