Watching from the gallery, or on TV, you might not be able to tell where the Chambers Bay fairways end and the greens begin.
Don’t worry, the players can’t tell either.
Or at least they couldn’t without a little artificial help.
“Because it’s all fine fescue and it’s all maintained at the same height, there is in most cases zero differentiation if you just stand back and look,” said Thomas Pagel, rules of golf director for the USGA.
“But we know what the green contours are supposed to be, and we know … from the architects where the greens start and stop. So we’ve actually dotted around the putting green. You’re not going to see it from afar: the spectators aren’t going to see it, you likely won’t see it on TV, but there are nickel-sized (dots) every 2 feet that go around the putting green.”
Knowing where a green begins or ends can’t just be a theoretical issue. Rule changes depending on whether the ball is on or off. On, and the ball may be lifted and cleaned. Off, and touching the ball incurs a penalty.
“The players are told if you have any question whether you’re on or off, go ahead and consult your referee,” Pagel said. “…We try to overprotect the players and make sure that we cover all of our bases. At the end of the day, you want the player to be confident and comfortable that what he’s doing is OK.”
The complication at Chambers Bay is that the entire course — tee to green — is fine fescue grass. The U.S. Open has never before been played on such a surface, and the decision to do so now seems a source of wonder to some of the touring pros.
“No one really thought the USGA would really play fescue greens, considering U.S. Opens are usually on firm, fast poa, bent or Bermuda greens, “ said touring pro Michael Putnam of University Place. “So that’s kind of the question that everyone asks. And yes: They are fescue.”
Course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. built a links-style course, and links courses are on or near the sea, near an estuary, no trees — or in this case, one tree — sandy landscape and fescue grasses.
“The roughs are fine fescue, the fairways are fine fescue, the teeing greens are fine fescue … and the putting greens are fine fescue,” said USGA executive director Mike Davis. “So when you look at it aesthetically, I can tell where the green really is.”
And it’s not just a matter of looks, but also a matter of play.
“I’ve never seen a golf course where they had to spot the edge of the green before to actually let us know where the fairway stops and where the green begins,” said 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. “Like I say, the fairways are faster than the greens in places. Some of the fairways are just as pure as the greens in places.”
Within those dotted borders, there are greens with contours that can help or bedevil. Davis acknowledged that most of the greens appear splotchy.
“I’ve had players say they’ve never seen greens that look this way,” Davis said. “But they really putt well. And at the end of it, this is all about the playability. It’s getting the right firmness, the right speed, and a nice smooth roll.”
Mission accomplished, said Ryan Moore of Puyallup, who has played the course more than most in this field.
“They’re not the prettiest greens in the world,” Moore said. “But no fescue greens are that pretty. But it actually rolls a lot better than it looks.”