Course Setup

In order to setup a golf course for the U.S. Open Championships, the U.S. Golf Association uses science, technology, engineering and math to ensure that players need skill and strategy to perform well. "Science of Golf" is produced in partnership with the United States Golf Association and Chevron.

educator's resources



DAN HICKS reporting: The U.S. Open Championships are billed as the most complete test of golf. In 2014 for the first time, U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open will play in back to back weeks in what's known as the Cradle of American Golf, the sandhills of North Carolina, Pinehurst Number 2.

MIKE DAVIS (Executive Director, USGA): I think we felt that if we were ever going to do this, Pinehurst was the right place. And the whole intent is to test the world's best male players on, you know, a U.S. Open golf course setup and test the world's best females on the same setup.

HICKS: USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and Managing Director of Rules and Competitions Jeff Hall are in charge of setting up the golf course for the U.S. Open Championships. They use science, technology, engineering and math to ensure that golfers need skill and strategy to perform well.

JEFF HALL (Rules & Competitions, USGA): We really want all of our championships, to be a complete examination of one's golfing ability. And we're looking to arrive at a setup, by and large, you hear folks refer to it as firm and fast.

HICKS: A firm golf course requires players to contemplate what the golf ball will do when it lands. This is especially true with firm putting greens which are less receptive to approach shots and make putting more of a challenge because of their speed. To measure the firmness of a putting green, agronomists and golf course superintendents use a device developed by the USGA called the TruFirm.

MATT PRINGLE (Equipment Standards, USGA): It's essentially an instrumented hammer. We drop a hammer from a set height every time and when it hits the turf, it does so with the momentum and energy that are approximately like a golf ball.

HICKS: The sensors on the hammer measure how much the turf is indented. For example, a very firm green might leave an indentation of two-tenths of an inch while a softer green might be three-fourths of an inch. This data lets the golf course superintendent know if more or less irrigation is needed on the playing surface. In addition to firmness, the USGA closely monitors the speed of the putting greens using a device called the Stimpmeter. It allows the ball to be released onto the turf at a fixed speed. The farther the ball rolls, the less friction the turf has and the faster the green speed is. At U.S. Open Championships, some greens are so fast that the ball rolls up to 13 or 14 feet. Prior to the 2013 U.S. Open, we documented the USGA setting up hole locations on the back nine of Merion Golf Club.

HALL: What we do to start is stand at the back of the putting green, look back into the drive zone or up to the tee if it's a par-three hole, and try to establish where the drive zone is and then we'll try to draw straight line from the very back of the green to the front of the green using the tape measure. And in a perfect world, we'll have fifty percent of the green on the right side of the tape measure, fifty on the left. You know I think we gotta go that way at least one for the fifty, fifty.

HICKS: Flags marking the potential hole locations are placed in the green and then a digital level is used to measure the percentage of slope, or angle of incline, of each location. Both the speed and slope of the green are taken into account on each hole. The greens should be challenging but fair, so the USGA tests the green's characteristics to ensure a slope is not too severe for a given speed.

HALL: The slower the green, you can have a little bit more percentage slope. If we're in thirteen and a half feet in green speed, at the U.S. Open level, we can be in the three percent range on the percentage slope.

DAVIS: That's really good. That's right at 3.5.

HICKS: From the hole location, a tee-square is placed down on the nearest yard of the tape measure and used as a sight line to the edge of the green.

The hole locations are then recorded based on the depth in yards from the front edge of the green, the number of yards from nearest edge of the green, and the round of the championship they will be used.

HALL: 19, 8 left. Championship. 20, 7 right.

DAVIS: That's a practice?

HALL: Practice. 8, 4 left. Playoff.

HICKS: Hole locations combined with distance and a number of other factors will decide how difficult a given hole will play. During the 2013 U.S. Open, the par 3 9th hole at Merion had an average score of 3.2 in the first round and was ranked the tenth most difficult hole on the course. During the second round with a new hole location, the 9th hole's average score increased to 3.6 and ranked as the second most difficult hole on the course. In 2014, the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open will have nearly identical course setups. The most significant difference will be the location of the teeing grounds.

DAVIS: If the men are predominantly hitting drivers and three woods off a hole, we want the women to do that. If the women are predominantly hitting six iron to eight iron into a green, we want the men to be doing that.

HICKS: From tee to green, science, technology, engineering, and math will always factor into course setup at the U.S. Open Championships to assure the course presents a complete and fair test for the world’s best golfers.

Sports in this article


Tags in this article

Science of Golf NBC News Learn