U.S. Open Officials Bring Beach at Pebble Back Into Play for Championship

Among the items U.S. Open competitors might consider packing in their golf bags this week at Pebble Beach, a rope wouldn’t be a bad idea, Ernie Els said.

As he prepared for the second major championship of the year at the oceanside California course, Els found himself eyeing his golf ball as it came to rest on a beach down a cliff off the right side of the course’s par-4 10th hole.

“I think I could have got down there,” Els said in a news conference yesterday. “I don’t know if I would have come back up, I think you might need a rope or something.”

The 10th hole at Pebble Beach is one of nine built along the edge of the Pacific Ocean. For this year’s championship, the U.S. Golf Association has shifted the fairways on five of those holes closer to the edge of the cliffs, a decision that could result in a large number of errant shots coming to rest on the sandy shore. Adventurous players with cliff-climbing skills could have an advantage over acrophobic golfers.

With unpredictable winds often wreaking havoc with the flight of golf balls at the 91-year-old course, players said they expect more shots to plummet off the cliffs -- some of which rise as much as 100 feet above the ocean. While Els remained unsure if he would be willing or able to scale the slopes, other players said they were in favor of the changes.

“When you have a hazard I much prefer that the fairway to be cut up against it,” said Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who is seeking his first U.S. Open title. “I think it looks a lot better.”

During a practice round yesterday, Harrington hit a tee shot onto the beach that lines the left side of the 18th fairway. Had it been a competitive round, he would have been willing to scale the cliff, Harrington said.

Playable from Beach

“The guys went down there and said I could have played it,” he said. “I was shocked at that. I never, ever thought a ball could be played from down there. They said, yeah, I would have had no problem getting it back to the fairway.”

For this year’s tournament, officials have brought the fairways of the sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 18th holes closer to the ocean, a decision that has transformed the course back to its original design, said Mike Davis, the USGA’s director of rules and competition.

“In looking at old photos from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, that’s the way it was,” Davis said today in an interview. “We were trying to bring the hazards back into play. It creates more of a risk-reward situation for the players.”

Crashing Waves

With the sound of waves along the beach, the risk is obvious to players. The reward for a shot that hugs the coastline is a shorter route to the green and the possibility of a lower score.

It’s a risk New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was willing to take on the course’s ninth hole during an exhibition round last week. After hitting his tee shot to the right, the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player made his way down a cliff and attempted to hit his second shot back up to the fairway.

“He wasn’t too successful,” Davis said.

Brees, playing as part of an event with actor Mark Wahlberg, retired hockey player Wayne Gretzky and amateur Peggy Ference, finished with a score of 102.

When the tournament begins tomorrow, Els expects to see more players following in Brees’s sandy footsteps, especially on the ninth and 10th holes, which have been lengthened by about 100 yards in total.

“If the wind is into us on those holes, you’re going to see a lot of fun and games,” he said. “If you leak it, there’s no stopping the ball, it’s going over the cliff. It could be quite interesting this week.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Pebble Beach, California, at mbuteau@bloomberg.net

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