It’s almost here.
The 2019 U.S. Open, to be played at Pebble Beach, is just days away and it promises to be every bit as special event as past Opens have been on the hallowed grounds of Pebble Beach.
The tournament week is June 10-16.
On May 22, the United States Golf Association hosted its Championship Preview Day at Pebble, allowing members of the media to get out on the course. It’s one of the toughest media tickets to get (Augusta after the Masters being the toughest) but if you get lucky – I did – it’s a day to remember.
The day started with breakfast, followed by a brief press conference with comments from Mike Davis, the USGA CEO, as well as Pebble Beach Company CEO Bill Perocchi.
It has been obvious through past USGA events at Pebble that there is a genuine level of respect between Pebble and the USGA and it didn’t take long for all to see at the press conference.
“We love doing championships at Pebble Beach,” said Davis. “It is truly a national treasure. The relationship couldn’t be more welcoming – it’s going to be a historic 119th U.S. Open.”
It makes sense as Pebble is as iconic as it gets for a course and while there are many courses across the United States worthy of hosting the tournament, Pebble Beach is a place where it must be played.
In other words, I think it’s a case where it’s one of the few times the USGA needs a course more than the course needs the USGA. If there was never another U.S. Open held at Pebble Beach, it would not diminish the course at all, but the USGA brass would look bad if they made the choice to go elsewhere.
Perocchi spoke next and quickly pointed out how pleased they were to be hosting the event. The surrounding communities are reaping the benefits.
“We are happy to be hosting our 13th USGA championship,” said Perocchi. “This roughly makes $175 million economic impact to the area.”
One point Perocchi made that drew chuckles from the media around me was in 1972, Pebble Beach was the first public golf course to host the U.S. Open. Even though the course sees 60,000 rounds a year, at more than $500 a round, it hardly seems a public course compared to say Bethpage Black or Torrey Pines, two other public courses that has hosted the U.S. Open.
One other announcement that Perocchi was R.J. Harper, the iconic figure known as Mr. Pebble Beach who died of pancreatic cancer in November of 2017, is the Honorary Chairman of the Open.
Harper’s story was an amazing one as he rose from a course marshal to the Executive Vice President of Pebble Beach. He was, next to Clint Eastwood, easily the most identifiable executive of Pebble Beach.
It’s a fitting tribute to a monumental man.
After the press conference and lunch, the media was set loose on the course. Just three weeks out from the tournament, the course was as close to Open conditions as we were going to get. It was easy to see why so few players shoot under par when the course hosts an Open.
For starters, the Fairways are much narrower than they are for the AT&T. For example, the 18th fairway now goes from the tree in the middle of the fairway to the sea wall – about half as wide as normal.
Even though the rough was not fully grown out yet – it is going to be five inches deep for the Open – it was markedly thicker and deeper than normal, making it a bear for errant tee shots.
The course set up for the day offered several tee options, including USGA tees, or as golfers would say – the tips. The greens were like putting on glass which meant being above the hole was torture, although personally, I love that speed as they tend to be much more true than slower greens.
One of the highlights of the round came at the famed, par 3 17th hole, where an USGA employee offered us a chance to hit a one-iron from the tips, trying to replicate Jack Nicklaus’ famous shot in the 1972 U.S. Open.
Since we were inside a month before the tournament, we also had a chance to see where all the bleachers are being set up as well as the corporate tents.
I have my favorite spots to recommend to people for the AT&T (the 13th tee box), but it changes for the Open after seeing the bleachers.
If you are going to the Open, your best plan is to seek out a great viewing area and stay there. If you’ve never been to an Open before, it is vastly different than a regular Tour event. The crowds are so massive at the Open, it’s often tough to get a good view of what’s going on if you are moving around.
The solution is to get there early, stake out a good spot in the bleachers, and watch all the groups come through. For my money, the best two spots will be the 7th and the 8th holes.
No. 7 is the short par 3 on the water. The bleachers rise like a skyscraper and being out on the point, if the weather is nice, your views of the ocean will be breathtaking.
If you get to the top of the bleachers, you can turn around and check out the action on the 6th hole, as well as the tee shots on the 8th.
The bleachers behind the 8th green also offer great views of the water, but also will give you front row seats to the most dramatic second shot on the course as players hit over the cove to the small green. There will be plenty of drama to be sure.
Sure the 18h hole will always bring excitement, but the mass of humanity around that hole makes it tough to get a good view. If you are stuck on wanting to be around No. 18, I advise staking out a spot around the landing area on the fairway. It gives you a great view of their second shots to the par 5 closing hole.
It promises to be a great week at the tournament whether you will make it down to the Monterey Peninsula or choose to watch it on TV. And to all the father’s out there – have a great Father’s Day watching the final round!
By Dennis Miller