PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Here's something you don't typically hear about a U.S. Open site a month before the championship: The mowers were busy last week.
Here's a bigger shock: They were making fairways wider. And longer.
Much has been made during the run-up to the U.S. Open about the fairways at the six driving holes along the water being shifted to accentuate the hazards. But a series of decisions reached by USGA officials during their final course review, May 8-9, five weeks before the championship, further changes the course's complexion.
Once media day activities ended last Monday, May 10, the maintenance crew fired up floating hand mowers and shaved the banks beside the cliffs, removing nearly every trace of first cut, primary rough and scrub growth. Where once three or four paces worth of thick grass might have stopped balls before reaching a hazard line, now there is little or no hope of halting a headlong rush toward rocks or beach below.
The 18th hole, with the fairway cut extending into the water hazard and to the bunker's edge. This is especially dramatic considering the rough on the right side of the fairway, according to Davis, could be among the fiercest on the entire course.
"One of the things we looked at, was that any ball going toward a cliff -- if you hit it close enough we want it to go in," Mike Davis, who is in charge of setting up Open courses for the USGA, explained late Sunday.
The first inkling of a different treatment to fairway contours is visible at the inland second hole, where the first cut has been removed from the edges of the fairway bunkers. But it is at No. 4, the first hole along the water, where one initially sees the fairway-height cut extended beyond the red hazard stakes. On the plus side such treatment adds up to six paces of additional width to a fairway now more than 40 paces at its widest. But the negative is that even a slowly rolling ball can run onto the rocks, an interesting proposition considering Davis may move the tees up one day and make the green reachable off the tee.
The sixth, where Davis said the fairway has been shifted toward the water by 12 to 22 yards, has surrendered its first cut from the last tree before the landing area all the way to where the fairway ends at the cliff. Ditto the ninth, 10th and 18th, the latter where there's barely anything but fairway cut along the entire water hazard and bunker on the left.
The end of the eighth fairway above the cliff. This fairway has been moved dramatically to the right on a hole already vulnerable to the winds. Note the "danger steep cliff" sign.
But the change that could prompt the most comments from players is at No. 8, the par 4 that plays uphill to an obscured fairway, then steeply downhill across a chasm to the green. The aiming rock was removed and the fairway shifted dramatically to the right, toward the cliff, long ago in preparation for the event. But only a few days ago the mowers removed all rough at the end of the fairway, too.
"What we're saying is, 'Guys, you've got to lay back of this cliff because you won't have any rough to stop your ball if you hit it too long,' " Davis said.
--* Brett Avery*