Travelin’ Joe: U.S. Senior Open Edition

July 29, 2008

There’s one simple reason that the seemingly straightforward East Course at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs has bewildered the game’s greatest for 90 years: Call it Rocky Mountain magic. Celebrities ranging from U.S. Presidents to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope have traded chips, quips and three-putts at Broadmoor East. Actually, taking only three putts on some of The Broadmoor’s greens is a cause for celebration, due to its collection of the most beguiling yet exhilarating putting surfaces this side of Oakmont.

As readers who have been here can attest, every putt breaks away from Cheyenne Mountain. The players who will contest the U.S. Senior Open here this week know that too. The question is: How much will they break? The fellow who figures this out will likely win the tournament. Factor in 6,400 feet of elevation, slender fairways and rough with the texture of steel wool and you’ve got a superior test of championship golf.

Stretched to 7,254 yards, par 70, Broadmoor East is the longest course in U.S. Senior Open history. A couple of holes in particular, the 10th and 17th boast off-the-charts numbers, the latter a 545-yard par-4! Significantly, however, none of these holes will play quite as long as those fearful numbers would indicate, because the Colorado Springs altitude shaves roughly 8 percent off the posted figures. Thus, 17, a converted par-5, will play more like 480 yards and it’s downhill to boot. Bottom line: Don’t count on the guy with the biggest biceps to triumph here. Instead, put your money on a master strategist.

The Broadmoor’s East Course is an unusual amalgamation of nine Donald Ross-designed holes and nine from Robert Trent Jones Sr. Ross, a Scot who’s best known for creations such as Pinehurst No. 2, Oakland Hills and Seminole, crafted the resort’s original 18 in 1918. When the resort decided to expand the golf offerings to 36 holes, they called in Trent Jones, who added nine holes in 1957 and another nine in 1964. At that time, nine Ross holes and nine Trent Jones holes were combined to form the East course. If not a seamless fit across the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain, they blend admirably, especially following a recent restoration by architect Ron Forse, who reshaped existing bunkers, relocated others and added further tweaks in a manner sympathetic to the Ross style.

Ross’s original holes are holes 1-3 and 13-18-all of the holes on the hotel side of Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard. The Jones holes, 4-12, are hillier. While Ross routed his holes among spruce, pine, maple and aspen trees, collisions with lumber are few and far between. You will face several stern tasks before you even reach those daunting putting surfaces: find the proper side of the fairway to give you the optimum angle into the vexing greens, choose the correct club at altitude, and avoid the lush, club-twisting, Kentucky bluegrass rough.

Sounds simple, right?

Navigate those hazards and you’ll then face the real teeth of the course-the greens. The genius of Ross’ contouring is seen early and often, notably at the short par-4 2nd, where the putting surface is canted hard from right-to-left and front-to-back. Here’s hoping you can hit a crisp, spinning wedge shot!

Rugged par-4s highlight the Jones holes, notably the 504-yard, dogleg- left 10th and the nearly-as-long 11th, a converted par-5 that concludes in an elevated, three-tiered green. The course greeting the seniors this week closes in memorable fashion, with the monstrous, albeit downhill, 545-yard, par-4 17th followed by the historic, strategic 18th, a 417-yard par-4 that demands a drive down the left center of a skinny fairway to provide the ideal angle for an approach over a distressingly large pond. Oh yeah, and there’s a diabolically sloped green, too.

The epic 1959 U.S. Amateur final was decided on this green, which sports a pronounced back-to-front, left-to-right tilt. Charlie Coe’s 8-iron approach landed hole-high, but skidded a tad too far, leaving him with a delicate downhill chip, which he nearly holed. Young Jack Nicklaus planted his 9-iron eight feet below the hole. His putt never strayed from the center of the cup-and his first significant national title was won.

The winner of the U.S. Senior Open will be whoever best deciphers the wicked greens. For that battle, they-and you-would do well to take a lesson from Robert Trent Jones Sr. In 1957 he was asked to fill out a foursome with a healthy Nassau at stake. Jones, an excellent golfer, had little experience on these formidable greens. Head pro Ed Dudley, who held the same post in the winter at Augusta National, told another member of the foursome, “Don’t take Jones as a partner. He has never putted these greens. He’ll three-putt all the way around.” Told what Dudley had said, Jones snapped back, “If I can’t read a green, who can?”

Jones shot a one-over-par 73, three-putting only once. “Trent, how in God’s name did you do it?” asked Dudley. “Well, Ed,” responded Jones, “whenever I lined up a putt, I pulled my golf cap down just above my eyes, to block out any view of the mountains that might distort the line of the putt. It was simple, Ed.”

If you’re looking for the winner this week, watch for the guy on the practice green with his cap bill pulled down.