There's a well-worn cliche about the Masters Tournament that says "The tournament doesn't begin until the Back Nine on Sunday." Along those lines, the 2019 U.S. Women's Open won't begin until the players manage to negotiate the 11th hole at the Country Club of Charleston.
It's a 172-yard, par-3 where players have been known to lay up with their tee shot. Par is a great score and bogey isn't that bad. The elevated green runs at a 45-degree angle from left to right and is protected by deep bunkers on both sides and a huge false front. Players hit from an elevated tee that was used as a battery in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
The legendary Ben Hogan played an exhibition in 1959 honoring his friend, World Golf Hall of Fame member Henry Picard, who once served as the club pro. Afterward he remarked to the club members, "Your greens are beautiful but what you need for that 11th hole is about five sticks of dynamite."
He then added, "I guess it's not that bad but who wants to take 12 strokes on a hole when he's going pretty good?"
Jay Sigel, who won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur, British Amateur and played on nine Walker Cup teams, once said it's the only par-3 he's ever played where he doesn't wait for the group in front of him to leave the green before hitting his tee shot.
"Eleven is a brutal hole. Even when you have the perfect yardage, the perfect club in your hand where you can just swing, you still have to be so precise," Daniel said.
Shannon Rouillard, the senior director of the U.S. Women's Open, said "you can't not talk about the 11th hole. I think it will make or break some players' rounds. They're really going to have to be dialed in to their club selection playing that hole."
The Country Club of Charleston is much more than the 11th hole. It opened in 1925, designed by Seth Raynor, who died less than a year after building this course and Yeamans Hall Club in Hanahan. Raynor designed more than 100 courses over a 20-year period, but this will be the first U.S. Golf Association open championship played on a Raynor course.
"I couldn't be more excited to have the opportunity to set up a golf course for the best female professionals in the world on a Seth Raynor-designed course," said Rouillard, who also did the setup for the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur held here. "I fell in love with it then. It feels a little bit like going home to set it up again."
Rouillard said the yardage (6,535 yards) won't be much different than it was at the Women's Amateur. But she isn't sharing any secrets of how she will set it up for the Women's Open.
"It was really important to make the players think about their shot-making off the tee, and to do that we did feel inclined and felt it was important to narrow some of the fairways," Rouillard said. "I think adding that definition is going to help us better identify a champion."
Daniel said the Country Club of Charleston is a "second-shot golf course."
"You really need to position your driver to be able to attack a pin," she said. "If you can position your drive so you can attack a pin, then your iron play has to be good. If your driver is a little bit off, you can still get away with it. But you can't get away with bad iron shots."
"I look at the Country Club of Charleston like something you would see in England, an inland course in England. I think the European golfers are going to like the look of it, the feel of it."
Bogeys and birdies
Players will be challenged from the start. Daniel said No. 1 (413 yards, par-4) is "brutally long."
"The second shot has a little bit of a false front. If the greens are firm like they want, you have to hit a shot that hits in front of the false front and runs up to the green. I would think on No. 1 you would be happy to make par. It's a tough hole."
The seventh hole (371 yards, par-4) is something of an unsung hole.
"It's kind of a short, dogleg right, but man it's a good hole," Daniel said. "That green is so tough, particularly if they put the pin back right or back left. You feel good if you walk off that hole and played it well."
The 16th (437 yards, par-4) and 18th (429 yards, par-4) are also difficult holes where par will be a good score.
"Eighteen is a really tough finishing hole, the way that green sits up with the false front. It's a big green, but from the fairway you do not see the surface of it," Daniel said.
The par 3s — No. 3 (157 yards), No. 6 (198 yards), No. 11 (172 yards) and No. 17 (160 yards) — will present challenges. Daniel said players will have to be spot-on with their tee shot on No. 6 because "the angle of the tee and green really don't match up."
Asked about where players could be aggressive, Daniel said to look at the par 5s — No. 5 (489 yards), No. 9 (532 yards) and No. 15 (518 yards).
"At times five will be reachable in two. It's a tough green but I look at that as a birdie hole," Daniel said. "Nine is another hole I look at as a definite birdie hole. Fifteen is definitely a hole you can attack."