Tag Archives: U.S. Open

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2017 U.S. Open Preview

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Photos: www.erinhills.com

Like Chambers Bay in 2015, Erin Hills is a first-time U.S. Open venue and a relative unknown to the pros as it has little tournament history. It hosted a U.S. Amateur in 2011 as a preparation for the Open.

The heavily bunkered, tree-less course, which opened in 2006, by description sounds comparable to Oakmont, last year’s U.S. Open venue, where Dustin Johnson’s length and short-game prowess powered him to a break through major championship.

That win catapulted Johnson to the most dominant stretch of his career and the world No. 1 ranking. That momentum was stalled at the Masters after a freak fall caused him to withdraw with a back injury. Can he return to form on a course that will play to his strengths – namely length? Or will another big bomber raise the trophy?

On Thurs., we start to find out. Here’s a look at the leading storylines heading into the first U.S. Open ever in the state of Wisconsin.

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The Unknown – The knowns are these: the rough is thick and the course in long, because that’s what a traditional U.S. Open set up is. But practically everything else about the longest course in U.S. Open history (7,741 yards) remains a mystery.

The pros will be using their practice rounds to get used to the new layout and particularly its treacherous bunkers, of which there are three types, the nuances of its rolling terrain and the sight lines for a number of blind semi-blind approaches.

The course is such an unknown that ESPN golf analyst Andy North, a Wisconsin native, gave a 30-shot range for predicting the winning score.

“We really don’t know if it’s going to be closer to 15-over or 15-under,” he said.

Of note: the last major played in Wisconsin, the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, saw Jason Day post a major championship scoring record of 20-under.

Will someone solve Erin Hills and go on a similar birdie binge or will it be a week that sees a barrage of bogeys? We seem to have a true wildcard course on our hands, but there’s no such mystery about the favorite: It’s Dustin Johnson.

A Double For D.J.? – There hasn’t been repeat champion at the U.S Open since Curtis Strange defended in 1989. Will the 117th Open see Johnson snap that streak?

The fairways are reportedly twice as wide as the ones Johnson dominated at Oakmont a year, so the set-up is friendly to his prodigious length, but it’s his improved wedge and short game that has really been the game changer for his 2017 dominance.

Johnson, however, hasn’t seemed to have quite the same sharpness since returning to competition after the Masters. He missed the cut at his last event (the Memorial), but some analysts viewed that as a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to get a head start on his Open preparation.

We’ll soon see if that extra preparation pays off and Johnson can reclaim the dominating form he had going into the Masters, before which he had reeled off three straight victories.

If D.J. is right, are you betting against him? His putting has improved as well this year and he’s part of a Tour trend.

Rory TM putter

Photo: Golf Digest

How They Roll – Rory McIlroy is the latest to add a mallet putter to his bag in a last-minute equipment change this week. The mallet is becoming the preferred style on Tour. Putting is always key, but a hot putter could really get on a roll this week due to the impeccable course conditions.

Erin Hills has been closed since October to ensure premium conditions for the Open, especially on the greens, which, unlike Chambers Bay, are yielding compliments from the pros. The pros who figures out the greens the fastest could gain an early edge. Martin Kaymer solved Pinehurst once by putting from off the greens.

Who will wield the magic wand this week that will lead to victory this week? Will it be a past major winner or a championship newcomer like it has been in the previous six majors?

Break On Through, Take 7? – Sergio Garcia’s win at the Masters pushed the streak of first-time major winners to six. Can another first-timer get hot and continue the streak? Rickie Fowler? John Rahm? Justin Thomas?

Understandably, the Tour’s top bombers dominate the list of favorites. Will one of them prevail if D.J. can’t recapture his A game? If bogeys abound, it could turn into a real scramble (think British Open) and the bounces could favor another first-timer. But if U.S. Open experience prevails …

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Can recent history repeat? – Before D.J., the previous three U.S. Open winners were Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose. Rory McIlroy is also a past champion and the holder of the Open scoring record, 16-under in 2011.

Rose is on something akin to a major hot streak of his own. He finished runner-up to Garcia at Augusta and previously won the gold medal in the Rio Olympics playing under course conditions that sound a bit similar to what he’ll be facing this week at Erin Hills. GolfWeek actually has Rose listed as its No. 2 pick behind D.J. and ahead of Jason Day to raise the trophy this week (that’s a TaylorMade trio, by the way) and then rounds out its top five with Spieth and McIlroy.

Will one of the favorites prevail or will we major-victory rookies resume their rise at the majors? We’ll start to get some clues when the major fun begins on Thurs.

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SD Tourism: The U.S. Open Returns To Torrey Pines in 2021

USGA Names Torrey Pines Golf Course As 2021 U.S. Open Championship SiteTP3

Left: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and USGA Vice President Dan Burton at the March press event to announce the Open’s return to Torrey. Photo courtesy of the USGA.

Editor’s Note: The following is the first post of an occasional series I’m doing for the San Diego Tourism Authority to promote golf in San Diego. You can also find this post at http://www.sandiego.org/articles/golf/us-open-2021-torrey-pines.aspx

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An iconic champion at the height of his game. A saavy veteran challenger having the week of his life. A major championship golf event, the first in San Diego, played at recently renovated Torrey Pines.

A clutch putt. An 18-hole Monday playoff. A victory for the ages to add to the sports record chase of our lifetimes, secured on what we’d find out later was a broken leg, only enhancing the legacy of perhaps Tiger Woods’ greatest major championship performance.

Yes, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines had it all. And now it will have a sequel. The United States Golf Association awarded Torrey Pines its long-awaited second U.S. Open, slated for 2021.

We’ll continue to update this information as it becomes available but for now is just a future reminder of the return of one of the PGA Tour’s four major championships to the sunny shores of San Diego.

Total attendance for the 2008 Open was 295,000. The 2021 event should see similar attendance so plan your trip to the Open early.

“Just as San Diego served as home to one of the greatest championships in golf history in 2008, we’re confident that we will once again provide and exciting and dynamic venue for 2021,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer said at the press event to announce the tournament’s return.

Woods will be 45 when the U.S. Open returns to Torrey. His win in 2008 turned Torrey Pines into hallowed ground for golfers. Thousands now annually make the trek to San Diego to play the South Course and experience the mystique of walking in the footsteps of greatness.

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Torrey Pines Head Pro Joe DeBock says the boost the 2008 Open gave the course’s legacy and reputation can’t be overstated.

“You can actually play the course where they played the U.S. Open,” DeBock says. “Torrey Pines became very popular just for that fact. The course brings back those memories in a way that just going back to a stadium doesn’t.

“And it was one of the greatest championships ever.”

City officials used words like “passion,” “excitement” and “electricity” to describe the atmosphere they’re hoping to recapture in 2021. That’s a tall order but certainly fun to think about not only for San Diego golfers, but golf fans worldwide.

As is standard for Opens, the course will be closed during the tournament and the week of preparation prior. Fortunately for visiting golfers who want to squeeze in a few rounds during those two weeks, San Diego has abundant options, with nearly 90 courses in the county.

Golfers staying downtown are likely to gravitate to Riverwalk and its 27 holes, harbor-side Coronado Golf Course on Coronado Island, or Balboa Park Golf Course, one of Torrey Pines’ sister San Diego public courses.

Those willing to drive a little can discover Maderas Golf Club in Poway, one of the country’s two courses rated top 100 by Golf Digest, or Barona Creek in Lakeside, another course consistently rated among California’s best as is the Park Hyatt Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad.

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Until 2021, we have the annual Farmers Insurance Open to look forward to and Phil Mickelson’s renovation of the North Course at Torrey Pines in 2015. Yes, golfers have it good in San Diego.


JC Golf: U.S. Open Preview & Picks By The Pros

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          As the year’s second major, the U.S. Open, arrives, storylines abound that, refreshingly, don’t involve Tiger Woods.

Unlike the Masters, Woods’ absence at Pinehurst has been barely a blip on the media radar this week. Instead, players who are actually playing in the tournament have been the storyline and, of course, the course itself.

According to my golf-centric Twitter feed, these are the lead stories going into the tournament.

  1. Can Phil Mickelson complete his career Grand Slam?

After his win at the British Open last year, Mickelson has now won them all, save for the Open, at which he’s finish second an incredible six times, including at Pinehurst 15 years ago. Despite his clout of having won five majors, a Mickelson victory seems a bit unlikely when you consider his atypically quiet year on Tour. And he’s tinkering with his putting grip (going to the claw), which is already drawing doubters. As one columnist wrote, “There goes Mickelson, out-thinking himself again.”

But a Mickelson victory would certain give the Tour season a shot in the arm. As would …

2. Will Jordan Spieth Finally Break Through?

The Next Big Thing in golf would erase the “Next” with a major championship. To do it, he’ll have to learn to close, something he’s been unable to do thus far this season. But after finishing second to Bubba Watson at the Masters, a breakthrough at the U.S. Open would announce an arrival that seems inevitable. But as Jack Nicklaus says of Tiger Woods’ major chase: You haven’t done it until you’ve done it.

3. A Classic Venue Restored

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore oversaw a $2.5 million renovation of the No. 2 course to restore it to the original Donald Ross design and a more natural state. Among other things, that meant removing turf and restoring bunkers and waste areas. As a result, this Open isn’t expected to play like an Open in that it won’t have ankle-high rough. However, in the practice rounds the pros have reported that the greens have been tough to hit, thus the winner’s chance possible riding on a strong short game, which (back to No. 1) … hello, Lefty.

But the course setup has some forecasting controversy …

4.  Could We See A Rules Controversy Like the 2010 PGA?

The 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits is where a rules controversy erased Dustin Johnson’s best chance at a major victory. He grounded his club in what he believed to be a waste area instead of a bunker. He thus invoked a two-stroke penalty that cost him the championship.   

Similar course conditions at Pinehurst abound, meaning the rules official is certain to get a workout this week. Something to watch for, but here’s hoping we don’t have another major overshadowed by a rules controversy.

There’s also the chance for Bubba Watson to notch a second major and really put some sizzle into the Tour season. But none of our JC pros chose him. Their picks are listed below.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch

Rory McIlroy – I think he has momentum on his side and his game 9and mind) are now sharp enough to return to top form

Adam Scott – He has become one of the most consistent players on the planet (hence his No. 1 world ranking), he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game, so if the putter is working he should be a favorite

Long Shot…..Webb Simpson – Wait a second, a former champion as a long-shot?  After the 2012 championship, his game has fallen off, but he is getting hot at the right time and has the experience to prevail.

Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn –

Webb Simpson – Played well in the FedEx.

Troy Ferguson, Head Golf Professional, Twin Oaks –

Graham DeLaet. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn

Jordan Spieth – Too young to be scared of the U.S. Open.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Reidy Creek and Oaks North

Sergio Garcia – My wife’s favorite.

The Aura of ’08 Still Shines Brightly at Torrey Pines

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USGA and local officials celebrate the 2021 agreement

In a way, it’s still very much 2008 every day at Torrey Pines.

The mystique of the epic ’08 Open, site of Tiger Woods’ dramatic sudden-death victory over Rocco Mediate, now draws golfers from around the globe to tee it up on the South Course and walk what has become hallowed golf ground.

Merchandise with the ’08 Open logo still sells, stories of that week are repeatedly, and happily, retold and golfers mostly ask, “Hey, when’s that going to happen again?”

Now we know.

Torrey was granted its long awaited and much anticipated encore Tuesday when it was officially revealed “America’s Championship” would return to Torrey in 2021. City and USGA officials jointly announced and celebrated the agreement, passing out 2021 hats and having photos taken with a replica of the U.S. Open trophy.

The sentiment of recapturing the magic of ’08 was expressed by everyone, including the new mayor, using words such as “electricity,” “passion” and “excitement” in what they hoped to recreate in 2021. They’ll will be hard pressed to match the original, but we’ve now got seven years to ponder about how it could be topped.

After the announcement, I asked a few of the Torrey Pines staff members why it is that the 08 Open captured people’s imaginations in a way that few sporting events, not just in golf, rarely do. Think about it: Are people still talking about the 08 Super Bowl? The World Series? The Final Four? No.

Heck, people aren’t still talking about those things from a year ago.

Aside from the Hollywood-level drama, what’s different is part of what makes golf different.

“You can actually play the course where they played the U.S. Open,” says Torrey Pines Head Pro Joe DeBock. “Torrey Pines became very popular just for that fact. The course brings back those memories in a way that just going back to a stadium doesn’t.

“And it was one of the greatest championships ever.”

For comparison, you can try to recreate Christian Laettner’s iconic NCAA Tournament shot, but you can’t do it at the free-throw line of The Spectrum in Philadelphia.

However, you can walk to the 18th green at Torrey and recreate the 12-foot birdie putt Tiger drained to force the championship into an extra day.

And DeBock has. Many, many times now.

“I’ve recreated that putt so many times,” he says. “I originally did it for the media, but people still ask about it all the time.

“It’s a hard putt. If you get it too left, it stays left. It you get it too high, it stays high. It’s a tough putt to recreate.”

But it’s all part of the daily Open conversation at  Torrey.

“I talk about the U.S. Open in every lesson I give, and every tournament we have causes people to reminisce about it. It’s always a hot topic around here and will be even more so now.”

Possibly the only thing DeBock gets asked about more than the 08 Open is when there’d be another one at Torrey. DeBock said he’d been harboring a hunch for a while that it’d be back in 2021.

“When they announced Winged Foot (in New York) for 2020, I started to feel good about us getting it back in 2021,” he said. “When you look at the East/West geography balance, it made real good sense. And enough time had gone by.”

For those that don’t know, by the way, the 2019 Open is at Pebble Beach.

They opened the press event on Tuesday with a video montage of the 2008 Open and seconds later, Tiger was emphatically fist-pumping all over again.

“I still get chills watching that,” confided USGA Vice President Dan Burton. “And I know Rocco does, too.”

In a way the legacy and stature of 2008 has only grown since Tiger’s last putt fell, largely because that’s where his major march toward Jack’s record came to a historical hault.

For what will be six years now when Tiger tees it up at The Masters, Torrey has been the point of reference for his last major title in what still ranks as the most compelling storyline in sports.

Tiger will be 45 when June 2021 rolls around. Where his major odometer will be by then is anybody’s guess, but if he’s still in need of another to break the record, you’ve got to believe this will be coming too late in the game.

But that type of speculation led to a fun thought from Paul Cushing, the City of San Diego’s maintenance manager for golf operations.

“Who knows where the 2021 U.S. Open champion is right now?” he said. “He could be in high school. He could be in another country.

“It’s fun to think about it.”

It is. And we’ve got seven more years to do it. Let the game begin.

ImageFor $36, pin flags from the 2008 U.S. Open still sell

The U.S. Open Returns to Torrey Pines in 2021

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Just wanted to get something up about the big news of the golf day out here – the U.S. Open returning to Torrey Pines in 2021.

This is huge news and long anticipated, basically ever since Tiger Woods’ last putt dropped on his epic sudden-death victory in 2008, which, as we all know well, is his last major victory. I’ve got a post coming about the aura of the 2008 U.S. Open and how it still shines at Torrey every day, but for now I thought I’d give you a glimpse of the new hottest piece of golf gear in SoCal as of, oh, 1 p.m. today.

Traffic to the pro shop should be picking up any minute now. A great and well-deserved day at Torrey and for Southern California golf. Congrats to all the staff members who worked hard for years to make this happen for San Diego.

More thoughts on all of this to come.

FIO Course Conditions: Shades of the ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey?

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Editor’s Note: This is a follow up to the Southland Golf Magazine piece I did in January about the months of maintenance and preparation that go into preparing Torrey Pines to host the Farmers Insurance Open

A warm San Diego winter nearly devoid of rain has helped give Torrey Pines a golf course for the Farmers Insurance Open that is reminiscent of the PGA Tour’s major held there in 2008, says Paul Cushing, Torrey’s lead maintenance supervisor.

Cushing, the City San Diego’s Maintenance Manager for Golf Operations, described the course players were practicing on Tuesday, with thick rough and slick greens, as “U.S. Open-type conditions.”

“This is most definitely the closest the course has played to the 2008 U.S. Open for the Farmers,” Cushing says. “From a greens, rough and fairways standpoint, it’s very close.”

Cushing says course-friendly weather and diligent maintenance programs have resulted in a best-case scenario for course conditions.

“We have the ability to shape the golf course exactly like how we’d like it to play,” he says. “It’s going to be fast, firm and dry. It’s all the things you love to have to be able to present a tournament of this magnitude.”

Cushing says the ankle-deep rough has drawn compliments.

“Going around during practice rounds, everybody was talking about the rough. We’ve never had this quality of rough for the Farmers, especially on the South. It’s the best overseed we’ve ever had.”

Without a drop of rain in the forecast and high temperatures continuing throughout the tournament, Cushing says the Farmers is primed for one of its best years.

Besides the lush grass beneath their feet, Cushing hopes visitors will also notice the attention given to improving the look of Torrey on the horizon.

“We have really spent a lot of time the last two years cleaning up the canyon areas on the North and South to improve the viewing corridors. Some of the areas had really become overgrown,” he says.

“We wanted to improve the vistas and the views of the ocean, and I think people will really notice that.”

Cushing has graciously agreed to provide a daily course maintenance picture or two for socalgolfblog.com to give followers a unique look at the course and what goes into producing the Torrey Pines the world sees on TV. So you can you look forward to that.

Pinehurst A “Major” Advertiser

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I don’t mean to go all Editor & Publisher on you, but I had to point out this Pinehurst ad in this month’s issue of ClubCorp’s Private Clubs Magazine.

When you’ve been in the business for more than two decades, including 10 years in magazines, these are the things you notice.

This appears in the first few pages of the magazine,and it just stops you. It’s a clean ad with a tremendous photo and smart copy that promotes Pinehurst No. 2 hosting both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open this year.

It reads: “In June 2014, the greatest men and women in golf will play Pinehurst No. 2 … Until then, the first tee is open.”

A simple yet brilliant play on golfers’ desire to follow in the footsteps of the pros – or precede them. This ad makes me want to get on plane tomorrow. Now that’s a good ad.

Of local note, Scott Slater of San Diego hamburger fame as the owner of Slater’s 50/50, is also featured in the issue, which reminds that I need to get back to Slater’s. The only time I’ve been there I had no advance notice about what a goliath of a hamburger I would be served, and I was defeated soundly by a very tasty burger. A rematch is mandatory, preferably after a suitable fast.

Slater is a ClubCorp member at the University Club atop Symphony Towers, thus meriting the profile.

Taste of Torrey: Taking the Test of the South Course

ImageNo. 12 at Torrey Pines (South)

Seventeen months after unpacking my golf clubs in Southern California, I finally realized one of the tee times of my dreams on Tuesday: the South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.

The South, site of the 2008 U.S. Open and the annual PGA event, is where you come to walk in the footsteps of the pros and test yourself against the best.

As much as I had wanted to play this round soon after I moved out, I was cautioned to be leery of the challenge and really wait until my game was ready, or, I was told, it’d be like booking a luxury cruise and spending the entire time fighting sea sickness.

So I waited and let destiny decide the day, which finally arrived when I was invited to play the media event for the PGA’s Farmer’s Insurance Open, which takes place Jan. 23-26.

The day before my round, I recalled the speech I gave in golf school about the history of Torrey Pines. After my presentation, I asked for a show of hands from people who’d played the course. Six hands went up, which was reduced to two when I asked about the South.

Having not even walked the course, but plenty aware of its reputation, I asked what made it so tough.

The greens? “No, not any more severe than many country clubs you’ll play,” I was told. OK.

The sand? “Plentiful, but not impossible and avoidable with smart play,” I was told. OK.

The rough? “Can be a little tough,” they conceded.

OK, what is it then, I asked.

“The par-4s.”

I looked up the scorecard for Torrey and immediately understood. I saw par-4 blue tee yardages of 467, 445, 462 and 422 and grasped what they meant. More or less, make friends with your hybrids and long irons before you go because you’ll be playing them often on your second shots.

Per the set up of my event, I played the whites on Tuesday, which spared me about 400 yards and I figured would mitigate the challenges and make the course manageable.  That proved correct on the par-3s and par-5s, but some of the par-4s still proved beastly hard.

When we arrived at the first tee, we were cautioned about the thickness of the rough due to recent overseeding and told to make sure to track our shot “or you probably won’t find it.” In other words, it was the starter’s way of saying, “Good luck.”

When I got out on the course, I discovered the rough to be about like after a good five-day rain in the Midwest. Uncommonly thick for California, the rough, combined with the narrow fairways, proved to be the real challenge of the round.

Having played the beautiful, but more benign, North Course back in May, the South felt familiar, but it didn’t take long to realize I was in a very different place than just the other side of the course, although my game certainly held its own in the early going.

ImageNo. 3 at Torrey Pines (South)

Highlighted by a par on the iconic No. 3, the par-3 with the postcard-perfect view of the ocean and La Jolla in the distance, I actually carded a respectable opening nine (even on the par-5s, one-over on the par-3s) and finished the front with the type of momentum that had me expecting the best was ahead on the back. I’m here to report that didn’t happen.

Rather than bore you with a hole-by-hole breakdown of my closing bogey-fest, I’d like to walk you through a hole to give you an idea of what it’s like to be caught in the clutches of the South course.

For that, I submit my experience at the 12th, a gorgeous uphill 443-yard par-4 played back toward the ocean into a gentle breeze. Save for the length and the standard bunker cluster and tree trouble on the right, the hole looks manageable from the tee and might be if you hit the narrow fairway, which I didn’t. Instead, I pushed my tee shot right, about 20 yards into the thickest rough on the course.

After a lengthy search, during which I discovered two other balls before my own, I found my drive and was pleased to discover it was actually plenty long, just misplaced. I was 210  yards out, but a tree and the rough made a shot at the green impossible. It was a classic punch-out scenario, so I took my 4-iron and tried to muscle it out of ankle-high rough about 150 yards back in the fairway. I watched the ball shoot out low, hit the rough 5 feet before the fairway and … stop. Sigh.

I was 81 yards out but at the mercy of the rough I’d had already hacked out of too often. And this is where the course starts to work on you. Fearing the thick rough muting my shot, I hit a full gap wedge. I caught it clean and carried the green, with my ball, ignoring my pleas, just barely disappearing off the back. Ugh.

I found my ball just where I’d expected: five feet off the putting surface in thick rough, chipping back to a downhill. You probably can guess what came next. Trying to be too precise, I flubbed my chip four feet, leaving myself another nightmare chip. This time, naturally, the ball whizzed past the pin, leaving me a 25-footer.

I two-putted for a seven. The same scenario had basically played out on the two long par-4s on the front. As I was told, that’s where the course gets you.

Anyway, when you come to Torrey and are faced with deciding North vs. South, if you chose South, expect this to be you at some point. It’s part of the whole risk-reward thing, but, challenge aside, the rewards are many. A peaceful, awe-inspiring, historic setting. Birdies you truly will cherish if you are so lucky (I really would have loved to sink that 10-footer on No. 3). And a challenge that lets you know where your game really stands in the great golf universe.

The only question now is if you’re ready to hear the answer.

ImageVIew from the 17th fairway (South), looking back toward ocean and the North Course.