Ready, set, go at Shinnecock Hills

Jon Jennings, CGCS, and a troop of staff and volunteers are off and running strong as U.S. Open week kicks off at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.


Shinnecock Hills preparation
USGA executive director Mike Davis (left), tournament general chairman Jack Curtin (center) and Jon Jennings, CGCS (right) address Shinnecock Hills crew members and volunteers late Sunday afternoon. Their charge: daily preparations for the 118th U.S. Open that begins Thursday. Photo by Howard Richman

Mike Davis likes what he sees on Long Island.

“It is a marvelously conditioned golf course out there,” the USGA executive director said late Sunday afternoon as he spoke to the maintenance crew and volunteers at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., where something extra special is about to happen.

The 118th U.S. Open there this week is as big as it gets — and you get the impression from those who have a major stake in this major championship that they’re delighted with what Jon Jennings, CGCS, his staff and nearly 200 volunteers are overseeing.

Although the championship rounds don’t start until Thursday, reviews of Shinnecock Hills are already coming in stellar. That speaks volumes to the work that has been achieved leading up to this week. “Players I have talked to are raving about the condition of this golf course,” Jack Curtin, tournament general chairman, told the crew Sunday. “And we’re putting it in your hands for the next seven days.”

So far, so good, says USGA Green Section director of championship agronomy Darin Bevard. “J.J.’s got everything where it needs to be,” Bevard says.

This is the first U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills since 2004, and 14 years later, the golf course has a new look. It has been restored in spots, including the restoration of angles into holes, which was done to showcase how the course appeared as far back as the 1930s. “You really are on hallowed grounds here at Shinnecock Hills,” says Davis of the club, which was one of the five founding clubs of the USGA.

For Ben Brace, being part of this is extraordinary. “It (a U.S. Open) is the best you can do — top of the profession,” says Brace, a turfgrass graduate student at Penn State University who is volunteering. “It’s just a really neat experience to get the course ready for the best players in the world.”

After the maintenance crew and volunteers had feasted on crab rolls, cheeseburgers, pizza and tacos, assistant superintendent Michael Ford announced assignments for the evening, which included mowing greens, repairing fairway divots and single-rolling greens.

Jennings thanked all of those who are making this production possible. “We appreciate the time away from your home and from your employer,” Jennings said. “We’re going to have some great weather. The golf course is in a good spot as we head into the championship.”

Jennings even mentioned his sister, Martha Jennings, who is a volunteer on his crew. “She’s going to do an outstanding job on the bunkers this week, I’m told,” he said with a smile.

So far, smiles have been plentiful at Shinnecock Hills.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.