By Greg Midland, USGA
The USGA introduced a two-tee start for the first and second rounds of the U.S. Open 11 years ago, for the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
Starting on the first and 10th tees has been commonplace for much longer on the PGA Tour. The majors, however, are a different story. While the PGA Championship also uses a two-tee start, it is not utilized at the Masters, because of the relatively small field, or the British Open, due to the long days of a British summer and the legendary indefatigability of starter Ivor Robson.
This year’s U.S. Open will be the second consecutive one in which the two-tee start doesn’t follow the typical 1-and-10 pattern.
Last year at The Olympic Club, the Lake Course layout necessitated that the first and ninth holes be used as the starting points. “At Olympic, the 10th tee is out in the middle of the golf course,” says Jeff Hall, managing director of Rules & Amateur Status at the USGA. “Players would’ve had to cross over No. 17 to get to the 10th tee, and we looked at the impact that would have had on pace of play and flow.”
It’s a similar situation this year at Merion. While the club’s first teeing ground is about as close to the clubhouse as it can possibly be, the 10th is nearly 1,000 yards away, across Ardmore Avenue. With the tight confines between holes at Merion, it would have likely been disruptive to dispatch players from the 10th tee, so the USGA decided to use the more convenient 11th teeing ground as the second starting hole.
“The logistics of Merion made this the best solution,” says Reg Jones, senior director of U.S. Open championships for the USGA. “It allows us to employ one dedicated player shuttle and avoid any potential confusion. The players get dropped off in one spot and then proceed to their starting holes.”
From the player practice area at Merion’s West Course, competitors will be shuttled to a drop-off point adjacent to the 14th hole, where they will enter the property by crossing a bridge. From there, it’s a short walk to Nos. 1 and 11.
Both holes are relatively short par fours – 350 and 367 yards, respectively – that will immediately immerse players in Merion’s long championship history. Dan Jenkins once wrote of the first tee, “You are exactly where just about every great in the game of golf has been before starting a major championship.” The 11th hole is where Bob Jones completed his Grand Slam by closing out Eugene Homans, 8 and 7, in the championship match of the 1930 U.S. Amateur. A plaque commemorating Jones’ unprecedented feat sits near the teeing ground.
One effect of this start, just like last year, is that on either Thursday or Friday, every player will need to complete 10 holes to make the “turn” while they will play only eight on the other day. That imbalance necessitated some changes to the starting times so that the 11th-tee starters don’t reach the first tee and create a bottleneck, due to players still beginning their rounds.
“We still have 13 groups off each tee in both the morning and afternoon waves; we just staggered the tee times to allow some more time to the players starting on No. 1,” said Hall. “Tee times there will start at 6:45 each morning, as compared to 7 a.m. for No. 11.”
The shuttling of players to their starting tees is nothing new, as the USGA did it at Bethpage in 2002 and 2009 (No. 10 there is 2.5 miles from the clubhouse), Pinehurst in 2005 (and will do so again next year), and at Pebble Beach in 2010. Spectators need to be aware that their favorite players, when starting from No. 11, will reach the 18th green sooner than if they had started on the 10th hole.
This year’s unusual start is a reminder that not all courses, typically ones dating back as far as Merion (1912), fit neatly into the pattern of a course layout consisting of inward and outward nines. And it adds to the charm of this year’s historic U.S. Open.
Greg Midland is the director of editorial and multimedia content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.