Tackling the Olympic Club one hole at a time

From the abundance of cypress trees, to the sweeping views of The City in the background, to the fog rolling in off the Pacific, the Olympic Club’s Lake Course is truly a gem. But upon closer investigation, this gem has an unpolished dark side.

The sloping fairways, the tabletop-size greens, the unforgiving rough and overall firmness of the course can wreak havoc on a player’s round.

So when the opportunity arose for media members to get a firsthand look at the rugged U.S. Open course, The San Francisco Examiner jumped at the chance.

We sent out our resident hacker, sports editor Dylan Kruse, to see what all the fuss is about.

Here’s a hole-by-hole breakdown of the course and a tale of Kruse’s trip into the lion’s den.


Hole 1: Par: 4 Yards: 520

  • Breakdown: And so begins “the hardest start in U.S. Open history,” according to USGA Executive Director Mike Davis. No. 1 has played as a par 5 in every other Open held at the Olympic Club, but will be a long par 4 in 2012. Finding a flat lie for the downhill approach shot will be tough on the sloped fairway.
  • Kruse’s card: My first thought standing on the first tee is to just get it airborne. I manage that with a decent drive, but the rest of the hole is a mess. I make the first of many trips to the beach.
  • Score: 8 (+4 par overall)

Hole 2: Par: 4 Yards: 428

  • Breakdown: Players will need to be accurate off the tee on this narrow fairway. The second shot will be an uphill shot to a blind landing area on the green. The green slopes back to front and falls way off on the front left. Any shots behind the green will be tricky to get up and down to save par.
  • Kruse’s card: After a drive that went so far left I thought it was headed across the Bay put me in trouble, it was survival mode the rest of the way. And survive I didn’t.
  • Score: 7 (+7 overall)


Hole 3: Par: 3 Yards: 247

  • Breakdown: The view from the third tee is breathtaking, but at 247 yards and significantly downhill, it’s a challenging shot to navigate. Bunkers line the green on both sides, leaving little room for error. Expect few birdies and a whole lot of sighs of relief from players who manage par.
  • Kruse’s card: I decided to explore the deep rough 20-25 yards right of the green. Who needs that short grass? All hopes of shooting anywhere close to 100 are out the window.
  • Score: 8 (+12 overall)

Hole 4: Par: 4 Yards: 438

  • Breakdown: Shaping a right-to-left tee shot will be key on No. 4. The second shot is slightly uphill into one of the hardest greens on the Lake Course. Anything off-target could roll off the shaved-down areas behind and to the right of the green.
  • Kruse’s card: After a tee shot in the rough (what a surprise), I smoke a 6-iron 20 yards short of the green. A chip and three putts and I’ve got my best score of the day. Progress, baby!
  • Score: 6 (+14 overall)

Hole 5: Par: 4 Yards: 498

  • Breakdown: A sweeping dogleg from left to right, this tee shot will need a strategy opposite that of the previous hole, testing players’ versatility. Anything right off the tee will bring some trees into play. The green has a narrow opening, but can be attacked with two solid shots.
  • Kruse’s card: The rough really begins to bear its teeth on this hole. It takes three mighty swings before I even get my ball back into the fairway and out of the jungle. I need a drink, and I don’t mean water.
  • Score: 8 (+18 overall)


Hole 6: Par: 4 Yards: 489

  • Breakdown: The only hole on the course with a fairway bunker, players will need to hit it about 295 yards to carry the sand on the left-hand side or elect to hit a shorter club. The green is surrounded by bunkers.
  • Kruse’s card: I hit my best drive of the day (that’s not saying much) down the right side, just in the first cut of rough. A solid approach leaves me short of the green and I scramble for what would be a bogey on a normal 489-yard hole, but at Olympic, it’s a double.
  • Score: 6 (+20 overall)

Hole 7: Par: 4 Yards: 288

  • Breakdown: Finally, a scoring opportunity. The only drivable par 4 on the course, players will need to choose to go for it and risk landing in the thick 5- to 6-inch rough surrounding the green or lay up and leave a 70- to 80-yard approach shot.
  • Kruse’s card: Thanks to a pop-fly tee shot that would have had Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford yelling “I got it,” I have a longer approach than I’d hoped for. I quickly learn going left of this green is entering the danger zone.
  • Score: 7 (+23 overall)

Hole 8: Par: 3 Yards: 200

  • Breakdown: The remodeled hole creates a natural amphitheater setting, with a hill surrounding the green and clubhouse in the background. Anything going left could be in danger of clipping a tree.
  • Kruse’s card: Finally, the shot I’ve been waiting for. I lofted a 6-iron up to about 25 feet away from the pin, leaving myself a solid look at a birdie. The putt just missed, but I finally had a par. I resisted the strong urge to channel Leonardo DiCaprio and shout “I’m the king of the world,” knowing full well more torture was in store.
  • Score: 3 (+23 overall)

Hole 9: Par: 4 Yards: 449

  • Breakdown: A relatively tame tee shot is offset by a difficult approach. Any iron shot that isn’t on point could run off the green because of the closely mown areas that are left and long. And of course, just like in almost every other hole, bunkers are in play.
  • Kruse’s card: The joy of playing the Olympic Club long sapped from me, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that snowmen will be the most popular number on my scorecard. Can you take a mulligan for an entire front nine?
  • Score: 8 (+27 overall)

Hole 10: Par: 4 Yards: 424

  • Breakdown: The fairway has been shifted several yards to the right, creating a greater demand for shaping the tee shot. Players will have a short iron for the approach, which could yield plenty of birdies on a putting surface that is relatively fast.
  • Kruse’s card: Finally, the highlight of my round. No, not the 10th hole, but rather the delicious, skinny hamburger on a hot dog bun from the snack shack that followed my putrid display of chipping on No. 10.
  • Score: 9 (+32 overall)

Hole 11: Par: 4 Yards: 430

  • Breakdown: When the wind is blowing, players will be forced to hit into it straight on at No. 11, causing the 430 yards to play even further. It’s a relatively straight-forward hole, but the hole location on the two-tier green could determine how tough it will play.
  • Kruse’s card: It seems so simple when you do it right. Solid drive, approach close to the green, chip on and two putts for bogey. Too bad there weren’t more of those, but I’ll gladly take any and all I can get.
  • Score: 5 (+33 overall)

Hole 12: Par: 4 Yards: 451

  • Breakdown: One of the more difficult tee shots on the back nine, players will blast through a narrow chute of trees. Greenside bunkers left and right will swallow up anything that is
    off-line and a little short, while a shaved-down area will release anything long on the back of the green.
  • Kruse’s card: In one of those you-couldn’t-do-it-if-you-tried moments, I banked my tee shot off a tree into the center of the fairway. It wasn’t enough to stop the double-bogey train.
  • Score: 6 (+35 overall)


Hole 13: Par: 3 Yards: 199

  • Breakdown: The first par 3 of the back nine is protected by bunkers in the front, taking out the option of landing something short and running it back to the hole. With the left side of the green shaved down, anything too far awry could trickle into a dry water hazard.
  • Kruse’s card: I learned the hard way that landing in the front bunker leads to a long bunker shot. Two tries and I’m out of the sand, but still far from finished. I figured two putts would have been too easy, so I took three.
  • Score: 6 (+38 overall)


Hole 14: Par: 4 Yards: 419

  • Breakdown: Shifting the fairway from its normal spot on the right to the left brings in the trees along the left side of the fairway. It’s a dramatic dogleg left, but a solid drive should lead to a short approach into a green flanked by a pair of bunkers.
  • Kruse’s card: After a solid drive, I put my approach in the front bunker. A decent blast out actually gave me a chance to save par, which of course I didn’t. But at this point, a bogey to me is like ice cream to a 5-year-old.
  • Score: 5 (+39 overall)

Hole 15: Par: 3 Yards: 154

  • Breakdown: The shortest par 3 on the course, No. 15 will reward accurate shots off the tee. Four bunkers practically engulf the green, so anything off the mark will wind up there. But players will be hitting short irons, which could lead to birdies.
  • Kruse’s card: Seeing a par 3 under 200 yards got me so excited, I yanked my tee shot straight right and off a tree, nearly pulling off the first negative yardage shot in history. Under my breath, language not fit for children spewed.
  • Score: 6 (+42 overall)

Hole 16: Par: 5 Yards: 670

  • Breakdown: When played from the back tees, which the USGA indicated it will possibly do two of the four days, this monster of a hole will be the longest in USGA history. With a big, sweeping dogleg to the left, reaching this green in two will be out of the question when played to its full distance.
  • Kruse’s card: I felt like I played this hole not half-bad, until I saw the final score. An approach and bunker shot a yard or two in the other direction and I could have saved myself two shots.
  • Score: 8 (+45 overall)


Hole 17: Par: 5 Yards: 522

  • Breakdown: Always a par 4 in past Opens held at Olympic, the 17th has shifted to a par 5, creating a birdie opportunity for players if they find the
    green in two. But with that, there is also significant risk. Bunkers surround the green and anything toward the back-right portion of it could roll down a hill and create a nearly impossible chip back up the hill.
  • Kruse’s card: Theme of the day: Tee shot to left rough, take two shots to get out of it, be thrilled score wasn’t worse.
  • Score: 7 (+47 overall)


Hole 18: Par: 4 Yards: 344

  • Breakdown: The scenic 18th requires precision. The landing area is partially blind from the tee box and it’s a severely uphill approach shot. Landing the ball on the front of the green leaves an uphill putt.
  • Kruse’s card: Beaten into submission, I barely am able to admire the hike up 18. I manage a double bogey and am left with one thought: Anyone who owns an “I’d rather be golfing” bumper sticker has clearly never played a U.S. Open-ready Olympic Club.
  • Score: 6 (+49 overall, aka 119)
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