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122 Years of History – Shinnecock Hills and the U.S. Open

June is upon us and the U.S. Open is right around the corner! Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is hosting the 118th U.S. Open Golf Championship from June 14-17, 2018, and ISM is thrilled to be there hosting guests. The tournament and Shinnecock have a history that dates back 122 years, and we wanted to share some of that history with you, as well as changes to the course that will affect this year!

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is one of the oldest golf course in the United States, as one of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association. The course was originally 12 holes designed in 1891 by Willie Davis, although for nearly a century Willie Dunn was credited as the designer. Dunn did have a significant hand in the architecture, as he was responsible for growing the course to a full 18 holes in 1895. Shinnecock Hills does have the oldest golf clubhouse in the United States, built in 1892 and restored in 2016. The club also holds the distinction of being the first American course to admit women, which it did from its inception, even adding a nine-hole ladies-only course in 1893.

As old as Shinnecock is, its history with the U.S. Open is nearly as old, as the second host of the tournament in 1896. This was the shortest U.S. Open ever played; 4,423 yards in a 36-hole format for a $150 purse. The tournament wouldn’t return for 90 years until 1986, then again in 1995 for the 100th Anniversary, and most recently in 2004. Shinnecock has earned the distinction of being the only course to host the U.S. Open in three different centuries!

Just because the club is old, does not mean it is unchanging. It has earned a reputation for evolving with the times, and beginning in 2012 work started to renovate the course to reflect the classic design from 1931 by William Flynn. The Flynn design was modeled to use the natural geography of the region to create a course that echoed designs from the British Isles. In the last several years, teams have worked to convert nearly seven acres of fairway into rough, remove trees to open up the views, and stretch the course, adding 500 yards in length compared to the 2004 U.S. Open.

In review of the course changes for Golf Digest, one of the course analysts noted that the adjustments have brought new life to the course while still providing a challenge for every club in the bag. “You must drive it boldly, play well-struck approach shots, hit clever recoveries, and you must putt well — even on four- to five-footers. It’s the standardized testing of golf.” During the 2016 changes, the holes with the most significant alterations were the narrow, downhill par-4 on the 14, which measures in at fierce 519 yards, with only a small respite before the snaking 616-yard par-5 at 16.

Overall, the course has been tightened to bring it in line with USGA standards, to really draw the emphasis on exceptional players who are accurate off the tee. Part of the requested changes last fall were also due to the performance of players at the 2017 U.S. Open, played for the first time at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. Officials expected the wind to pose a significant challenge to players, however when the wind didn’t come through the course appeared to fall flat. Not wanting a repeat, USGA and course stewards have been working closely together to ensure challenging and engaging play no matter the conditions this year.

2018 will see the 118th U.S. Open still played at a par-70 as in 2004, but the course is stretched by 446 yards to 7,445 yards. This means we’ll see less birdies from the pros, but thanks to the removal of many trees the course will have a more open feel, providing many great vantage points for fans. It’ll also be exciting to see the younger talent who didn’t play here in 2004, go up against a course with a 127-year history. If you can’t make it this year, you can follow the more than 40 hours of live coverage provided via television and streaming services, or you can set your sights on attending one of the other great upcoming U.S. Opens!
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