CHARLESTON, S.C. — In reading many of the previews of this year's U.S. Women's Open, it quickly becomes clear that the Country Club of Charleston is one of the more underrated gems in America. The course, designed by legendary architect Seth Raynor, features some of the most strategically challenging holes golf fans will see in any professional event this year, many of them broken down nicely by The Fried Egg's Andy Johnson here. Perhaps the most famous is the par-3 11th, a "Reverse Redan" that quickly started causing players fits as the competition began on Thursday.
The hole, which is listed at 172 yards for the week but will vary by day, once yielded a 13 from Sam Snead at the 1937 Tournament of the Gardens Open, an event in which he still managed to finish third. According to this case study the USGA did prior to the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur at Charleston, Snead once said two sticks of dynamite would most improve the hole. Ben Hogan shared a similar sentiment, once saying there were 17 great holes at Charleston, the implication being that the 11th was the one he was leaving out. At the 1960 Azalea Invitational, a high-level amateur golf tournament held at Charleston each spring, multiple scores of double digits were record at No. 11.
There won't be any double-digit scores recorded this week, as it has been restored to take such numbers out of the equations, but bogeys and grind-it-out pars came in bunches in the morning wave of players at the 74th U.S. Women's Open. From the tee box—which also interestingly sits on an embankment used during the Civil War—players' eyes are likely first drawn to the incredibly steep false front that sends short shots tumbling back down into the fairway, making for a chip shot that may be just as difficult to get close to the hole as the tee shot.
Left and right of the green are a pair of enormous bunkers that require lofted shots just to clear the lip. Getting the ball to stop inside 10 feet once it hits the green is a seemingly impossible task. That's where the "reverse redan" part comes in, as the green slopes hard from left to right (a normal redan slopes the opposite way) and away from the tee box. There's also a shoulder along the left side of the green that funnels balls to the right. Those who take dead aim need a perfect shot to find and hold the putting surface, where birdies are few and far between. Oh, yeah, and there is plenty of wind that causes second-guessing at the tee box, not to mention the 90-plus-degree South Carolina heat competitors will play in this week
Translation: The 11th is hard.
So hard, in fact, that already early in the first round, players hit their tee shots, then their second shots if they had missed the green, and then let the groups behind play up, something usually only seen on drivable par 4s. The severe, sloping green presents the type of test that demands a player's full attention, which could create quite a backup back at the tee had groups not played up.
I spent an hour watching groups come through on Thursday, some of them featuring some of the top players in the game. Those coming out to Charleston this week should try and do the same, because the 11th provides endless entertainment. Here's some of what I saw.
Jenny Shin, Patty Tavatankit, Anne van Dam
Not a single member of this group hit the green, and both bunkers came into to play. Anne Van Dam and her perfect golf swing hit a not-so-perfect shot left of the green and into the bunker, where she played a great second shot that still rolled about 10-12 feet past the hole. Thailand's Patty Tavatanakit, an amateur who competes at UCLA, faced a similar fate in the left bunker and had a similar result, playing a nice bunker shot that rolled 15 feet past the hole. Jenny Shin, whose ball luckily hung up on the right edge of the green, made a delicate up-and-down par save, the only in the group as Van Dam and Tavatanakit two-putted for their fours for a two-over group total on the hole.
Ariya Jutanugarn, Sung Hyun Park, Lexi Thompson
Despite having 26 wins and five majors between them, nobody hit the green, and none were particularly close. After Sung Hyun Park pulled her tee shot in the left bunker, Lexi Thompson twice stepped away as the wind howled, then came up so short that some fans watching questions if she did it on purpose, a strategy Henry Picard, who was once the head pro at Charleston, endorsed. Ariya Jutanugarn, the defending champion, struck her shot and followed through with only one arm, hating it immediately as she watched it eventually land in the right bunker. Both Thompson and Jutanugarn hit all-world second shots just to set up decent, slick looks at par, and they both converted, yielding birdie-like applause from the crowd.
Park, meanwhile, flew the back of the green with her bunker shot, her ball bouncing off the grandstand and earning a free drop. Her chip back toward the pin came up four feet short and she lipped out her bogey putt and made five. Another group through at +2 over total.
Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson, Danielle Kang
Apparently, no one told this trio about the 11th hole's history, each of them taking dead aim at the left center of the green. That's probably the best spot to hit it no matter the pin location throughout the week, but it was especially good today, as all three balls caught the shoulder on the left side of the green and rolled back toward Thursday's back-right pin. Because they played up, both Kang and Henderson got a good look at their putts off Lexi Thompson's par putt, which was inside of both of them. Henderson took advantage, holing one of the few birdies the 11 will see all day, while Kang's just missed. Korda, who was furthest, drained her birdie putt from deep to give this group a -2 total on the hole. You won't see many threesomes play the 11th as well as this one did on Thursday.
In Gee Chun, Amy Yang, So Yeon Ryu
In Gee Chun was the only member to hit the green in this group, but it proved to not matter. Her ball just barely hung on the very top of the false front and she three-putted for bogey. Amy Yang found the front right bunker and So Yeon Ryu the front left, and both found out the hard way that it takes a perfect sand shot and a putt of 10 or more feet to save par. Their two bogeys, plus Chun's, gave this group a three over total on the hole.
The entire morning wave has gotten a crack a No. 11 on Thursday, and as of now it ranks as the second-hardest hole on the course. Of the 77 players that have played it, there have been just seven birdies, and nearly as many bogeys (31) as pars (37). The 31 bogeys are the most any hole has yielded so far, with the first and hole's 27 each the second most. There have been three double bogeys, and fortunately, no "others" yet. Right now, it's playing to an average of 3.3846. It's a safe assumption that the famed par 3 will play a huge role in determining this week's champion.