Posted: June 29, 2014 6:29 pm
A casual Sunday morning round at Lancaster Country Club is nothing unusual for members Dan Burton and Jerry Hostetter.
Playing the course while trying to see it through the eyes of an LPGA tour pro, that’s something different.
Burton is championship chairman for the United States Golf Association. Hostetter is general chairman for next year’s U.S. Women’s Open. One of their guests Sunday was Ben Kimball, USGA tournament director for the Women’s Open.
The round was a small step on the road to getting LCC ready for its turn on the big stage next July.
“It’s the first time I played the course thinking about what a player in the women’s Open championship might experience,” said Burton. “You have to think about the course differently because my ball flight — a man’s ball flight — is different than a woman’s.”
Burton, Hostetter and Kimball’s group included Rob Campbell, the president of LCC.
It was only partly a reconnaissance mission. Hostetter shot 71. Burton and Kimball, um, declined to share their scores.
“Three weeks sitting in a hotel in Pinehurst took their toll,” Kimball said.
Lancaster’s Women’s Open will be played July 6-12, 2015. The actual set-up of the course — pin positions, green speed, rough length, etc. — is an issue for down the road.
“The first thing is distance,” said Kimball. “We want to create a championship test for the women and be true to Mr. Flynn’s (William Flynn, LCC’s designer) architecture. For now, we’re mostly focusing on yardage.”
The ultimate experiment in this vein came June 12-22 at Pinehurst, North Carolina, where the USGA hosted the Men’s and Women’s Opens back-to-back on the same venue, fabled Pinehurst No. 2.
The USGA paid the men’s and women’s caddies for information at Pinehurst, asking them to write down what clubs their players hit into holes, and using those numbers to attempt setting up No. 2 so it “played the same,” for both genders.
The original plan was the make the course about 740 yards shorter for the women. After the numbers came in, that number rose to more than 1,000 yards.
“We adjusted as we went through the week,” Burton said. “Obviously, we don’t want to present the same golf course every day.”
“The (yardage) on the scorecard for the women at Pinehurst was 6,649,” Kimball said. “That was as long as we were going to go on any of the holes. It probably played around 6,300 each day.
“It’ll be the same thing here. We’ll set a maximum, but it would be silly for us not to plan to make adjustments.”
The LCC layout the women will play measures 6,840 yards (par 70) from the championship sees, 6,339 from the “back” tees, and 5,897 from the “middle” markers.
It figures to be closer to 6,840 than 5,897 next July, but that’s a lot of leeway.
Nothing about the numbers is likely to surprise people who know the course, and know the sport. The setup, for a U.S. Open, might be an eye-opener.
“Possibly, some of the hole locations, considering the firmness and speed of the course, might surprise some people,” Burton said.
“We believe in a firmer, faster setup for a national championship, because that makes the course much more demanding.”
Among the intangibles tournament officials have no control over is a happy one: An apparent resurgence in popularity of the women’s game.
A resurgence of American women golfers, and especially by Michelle Wie, probably has something to do with that.
Regardless of how seriously TV ratings deserve to be taken, Wie’s Open win at Pinehurst drew remarkable numbers on a sports-dense weekend that included a critical American World Cup match.
“No doubt, we wanted (Wie) to win,” Hostetter said. “We’ve known about her since she was, 12, and now all of a sudden, she’s turning into a great player. She’s winning again (on the LPGA tour) this week. She’ll be a great ambassador here. No question, it gives us a great push.”
Outside the gallery ropes, Open run-up comes into full focus Saturday, when Arnold Palmer comes to town to be introduced as the tournament’s honorary chairman during a downtown celebration event.
Speaking of the coming show, Burton promised, “people are gonna be stunned.”