2004: U.S. Open - Olympia Fields North more than held its own
Sometimes, golf observers’ memories can be painfully selective, so allow me to remind you of the bottom line at last year’s U.S. Open: Jim Furyk won at 8 under par, and only three other competitors managed to finish in red numbers.
I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t they beat up Olympia Fields last year? Well, I can understand why that impression has lingered, but no. Only four players under par – a result the U.S. Golf Association would be happy to see at Shinnecock.
Last year at this time, like every other God-fearing, par-protecting golf observer in the United States, I was curious as to how Olympia Fields Country Club would fare in the Open crucible. After all, this celebrated Chicago club hadn’t played host to the championship in 75 years. Having spent more than a decade restoring and renovating the Willie Park Jr.-designed North Course – first for the U.S. Senior Open in 1997, and then for last year’s Open – I was perhaps the most curious man in America.
On Thursday and Friday of Open Week 2003, you’ll recall, the layout was soft and the rough was thin - the result of wet and abnormally cold June weather. The best players in the world went low and you’d have thought the world was coming to an end.
I read that Olympia Fields had no business holding an Open, that the USGA obviously needed to restrict its premier championship to 7,600-yard monster courses like Bethpage, that the 72-hole Open scoring record was all but broken, that ball and club technology had rendered Olympia Fields and a whole class of vintage courses obsolete.
Well, that’s why they play 72 holes. The sun didn’t come out until halfway through the third round – meaning Olympia Fields enjoyed only 11/2 days of the kind of weather that had been anticipated. Furyk essentially won his title by playing the final 36 holes at par (a combined 1 under on Saturday and Sunday), thus restoring order to golf’s peculiar Open Universe.
Accordingly, I think a great many folks in the golf world owe the North Course at Olympia Fields an apology.
Once the weekend came, the tournament, not the course, was the story, and appropriately so. However, the layout’s role in these higher scores never was mentioned.
I’m not one of those architects who believes that par must be preserved at all costs. But the USGA does, and that was my charge at Olympia Fields: Make the course Open tough without ruining it for mere mortals – the members.
I think we succeeded, which made it all the more frustrating to hear all those sky-is-falling assessments.
Sitting in the maintenance compound during the tournament, between my early-morning and late-evening shifts (I worked the grounds crew with my brother and nephew that week), I was annoyed that no one seemed to be taking the weather into account. I, along with co-superintendents David Ward and Kevin West, knew the truth: If we could just get a couple of dry, sunny days over the weekend, the course would bite back with a vengeance.
That’s exactly what happened.
I harp on this because nearly a year removed from the event, the lingering buzz regarding Olympia Fields has remained somewhat tepid.
Had last year’s finish been tighter and included another big name, reactions to Olympia Fields might have been different. But it seems to me that folks are still fixated on the low scores from Thursday and Friday.
A return Open engagement (a la Pinehurst No. 2 and Bethpage Black) has not yet been set for Olympia Fields. The USGA might not return there for another 75 years for all I know.
But let’s get one thing straight: Olympia Fields held up to Open scrutiny. And had we experienced the sort of weather we all expected, Furyk might have been the only man under par.
– Course architect Mark Mungeam, a partner with Uxbridge, Mass.-based Cornish, Silva & Mungeam, prepared Olympia Fields for the 2003 U.S. Open.