The Loop

USGA practicing what it preaches

June 19, 2010

PEBBLE BEACH -- Bumpy greens at Pebble Beach might not be something the USGA is particularly proud of this week. Brown greens are another story. As you watch the U.S. Open these next two days, remember that at least some of the course conditions players are confronting are in line with the USGA's larger strategy.

That would especially include the brown tint the course has taken on this week, looking in some eyes less like one of America's most majestic layouts and more like your local muny. Believe it or not, it's all by design, a way of not only testing the world's best players with firm and fast conditions, but in sending a message to the rest of the U.S. that the best golf courses don't have to be the greenest.

"It has almost nothing to do with playability," USGA president Jim Hyler said in an interview with Golf Digest managing editor Roger Schiffman about the over-watering and fertilization of courses. "It's all about cosmetics. And then you get to this issue of water being a very finite resource -- and do we need to put as much water on the course? I think when you consider dialing back your water and look at the domino effect back through a maintenance budget, it can have a very significant impact on that budget."

Of course given the stakes involved, the USGA wouldn't shy from spending money this week if it felt it needed to, but the other benefit of such sparse watering is how the USGA can transform a course that is manageable enough when soft and green in February to one so firm it is forcing players to back up en masse in the third round.

It might not look as pretty to the untrained eye. To the USGA, however, Pebble Beach has never looked better.

-- *Sam Weinman