SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - I am a bit of a golf geek, not as much as some, but probably more than most.
That makes the opportunity to be at a U.S. Open here at Shinnecock Hills, a rich intersection of golf history, architecture and competition, something special.
Shinnecock Hills, a club that was founded in 1891, was one the five original clubs in the USGA and hosted the second U.S. Open in 1896. The history of Shinnecock is close to the history of golf in North America.
The clubhouse, a rambling, shingled building which sits on the highest part of the property, hunched against the constant wind that buffets this eastern end of Long Island, was the first clubhouse in America. It was designed by Stanford White and expanded three times, but remains essentially the same design as in 1913 (the same can't be said for White who was killed by a jealous husband on the roof of Madison Square Garden in 1906).
The course falls away from the clubhouse across the sandy, rolling terrain that heaves like the waves out on the Atlantic Ocean. The first course was 12 holes designed by Willie Davis. Willie Dunn added six more holes in 1894 and C.B. MacDonald and Seth Raynor reworked the layout in 1916.
When a state highway was expanded through the property in 1931, William Flynn crafted 12 new holes incorporating some new property and the course as we know it today took shape.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw undertook a major, three-year restoration in 2012 and re-established the angles into greens by slightly widening the fairways (they will be an average of about 41 yards for this year's Open) and increased the size of some greens and gathering areas around the greens. The chipping areas are a wonderful departure from the days of the six-inch deep rough around the greens which limited players to one type of shot. The chipping areas encouraging imagination: putt it, flop it, chip it into the hill, there are a variety of options.
Coore and Crenshaw continued a growing (and I think favourable trend) of taking out trees and shrubbery to give the course a much different more natural look than in 2004, the last time the Open was played here.
We now have a windswept, unimpeded vista of 250 acres of firm, bouncy turf that takes the game literally back to its roots in sandy soil.
After the literally uneven experiments with the bumpy greens at Chambers Bay in 2015 and the fairways at Erin Hills that looked as wide as a football field is long, Shinnecock represents a return to the traditional U.S. Open setup.
What a stage.
THE TRADE PARADE: The traffic at the eastern end of Long Island is bad at the best of times, particularly at this time of year when a steady stream of tradesmen make their way out to the Hamptons to get the lifestyles of the rich and famous in shape for the summer. They call it the "Trade Parade." Hwy 27 is four lanes, but has been choked to impassable this week. What is normally a 40-minute drive (so they tell me) took 2-1/2 hours on Tuesday morning. Tiger Woods is beating the traffic by staying on his "dinghy" as he calls it (his 130-foot yacht Privacy) in Montauk. He suggested a player might miss his tee time because of the traffic. "You get a little traffic, you get maybe a little fender bender, it's not inconceivable someone could miss their time,'' he said. Jason Day is staying in an RV nearby. Jimmy Walker is also an RV guy and Bubba Watson got one this year. "I'm kind of more private and he's, yeah, a little bit more outgoing," Day said of Watson. "I think we're at Augusta and he walks over to my bus and he's like, 'hey, man, what are you doing?' I'm just sitting in the bus watching TV. He's like, 'okay,' and he's standing there and I'm like, 'do you want to come inside?' And he's eating a burrito and he decides to come in and talk to me for 30 minutes. He's gets his burrito all over the ground and he just leaves. Actually, it's nice to have people like that around, you know, to mess your bus up when you need them to."
FROM THE FRINGE: NHL referee Garrett Rank has been having the time of his golf life here this week. The 30-year-old qualified for his first major in sectional qualifying and has been a bit of a celebrity. Jason Day, who lives in Columbus, is a member at Muirfield Village and a hockey fan (he plays with fellow member and former Blue Jackets defenceman James Wisniewski), wanted to meet Rank after Rank did a hit for The Golf Channel. Rank and his older brother Kyle, who's caddying for him this week, also got to meet Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear was on hand for Champions Day which honoured last year's USGA champions. Rank played 14 holes on Tuesday with Mackenzie Hughes, his buddy from their days on Canada's national team, and Adam Hadwin. Rank also had a chance to visit with Titleist wedge wizard Bob Vokey, the Canadian (from Verdun, Que., which just happens to be the hometown of the much less famous yours truly and Rideau View GM Steve Ducat.) ... Rank and Hughes, former teammates for three years on Canada's national team, will play together Thursday. They are off at 7:18 a.m. Hadwin is out at 1:58 p.m. ... The USGA has dropped the 18-hole Monday playoff in the event of a tie after 72 holes and gone to a two-hole aggregate playoff followed by sudden death if tied after 74 holes (Ariya Jutanugarn won the U.S. Women's Open in the new format a couple of weeks ago). This was all news to 2015 champion Jordan Spieth. "Honestly, I had no idea that it even changed," he said when asked what he thought of the new format. "I was even looking at the weather forecast for Monday." ... My pick for this week: Dustin Johnson. What a reach, eh? ... This is a great human interest story that's worth a look: https://www.golfchannel.com/video/how-golf-saved-life-jimmy-dunne/