There are many features of Olympic Country Club that make it unique—not the least of which is the way the rolls in the greens and the contours of the fairways keep minutely shifting because of earth tremors. But the most unusual aspect of the course is that its famous stretch of holes, the ones that establish or ruin a tournament performance, occurs so early in the 18. They are the 2nd through the 5th (see cover), and their position puts a severe strain on the golfer. Instead of starting slowly and building to the climax of a round, he is immediately forced to attack the heart of the course. No touring professional understands the idiosyncrasies of Olympic better than Ken Venturi, who has played it hundreds of times. Here, with the aid of scale models that depict every terrain factor, the former U.S. Open champion gives an inside look at how to play these crucial holes, and then analyzes the remainder of the course.
Here is where the trouble begins, the 403-yard 2nd hole. It is no place to use a driver. I stand on the right side of the tee and try to fade a three-wood into the first orange circle, keeping it low and out of the wind. A long hitter will reach the second orange circle with the same club. This tee shot must not be hooked, for the landing zone is very tight. Even if hit perfectly, a driver will get you in the area of the red circle, a most awkward lie. The entrance to the green is narrow. The shot is about a six-iron, brought in left to right.
Here is one of the most interesting par-3s in golf. It is 220 yards, inclines downhill into a valley and usually has a brisk wind blowing from left to right. I am convinced that the only way to play the hole—and a way the touring pros won't enjoy at all—is to take advantage of what is known around Olympic as the members' bounce. There is no percentage in trying to fade or draw the ball into this green on the fly, as you almost always do on a par-3. Your margin for error is too small and, as you can see at right, if you get behind the traps on either side you are in serious trouble. Instead, I try to hit the ball straight with a long iron or wood, have it bounce in front of the green where the target area is widest and just take a quick skip up to the putting surface. I don't care where the pin is. All I want to do is get on the green and get my par. Notice in the view above how the tall evergreens on the left shield the hole. I try to take advantage of this shield by keeping the shot low. A shot above the tree line is at the mercy of the wind.
The view at right vividly shows the hazards that the 4th hole, a 431-yard par-4, presents. The opening off the tee is quite narrow, and branches of large trees (red) are an immediate hazard. The fairway slopes to the right, so the tee shot must be moved right to left—away from the trees and toward the center of the fairway. Length is no advantage, so I recommend using a three-wood. Ideally, this leaves you in the purple circle if you are an average hitter, or the yellow circle if a long hitter. A Nicklaus or a Palmer, using a driver, could reach the dark circle, but why bother? Because of the slope of the fairway your ball may easily bounce into the trees on the right. Even if your shot stays in the fairway, the up-slope there is so sharp that you cannot see the flag-stick. I would rather hit a four-iron from level ground where I can see the target than a blind six-iron off a bad lie. So spoon it off the tee, over the steep bank and into the hollow. Below, you can see clearly the arc the tee shot should follow and how much higher the green is than the tee-shot landing area. The long approach shot must be hit over the corner of the trap on the left and into the left side of the green. Anything to the right tends to kick away from the hole.
The 5th hole could have been 461 yards of misery but the USGA has made the fairway at the target area the widest on the course and that will help—a little. A large eucalyptus tree some 290 yards out serves as the perfect initial aiming point for the tee shot. I use a driver and hit a "slider," a shot that moves from left to right and hits into the slope of the fairway. It is not a fade, however, for it does not have backspin on it. It just slides to the right (red wire) and rolls, hopefully, to the indicated circle. The long hitter (yellow wire) has a narrower safe-landing area. The spot that must be avoided is the purple circle.
The view back from the green reveals why the purple circle means trouble. Even though much of the circle is in the fairway, the eucalyptus tree has completely hidden it from the green. Only the two landing areas at the right side of the fairway offer an open approach shot. Pros who like to draw their tee shots could have a lot of difficulty here. If a right-to-left drive goes too far, it will roll into trouble.
The complexities of the 5th hole are increased by the subtle problems around the green. After hitting the tee shot from left to right, it is best to draw your second shot, hitting it from right to left. You must stay clear of the bunker that guards the front of the green on the left and take advantage of the slope of the small hill to the right of the green. Note how the curve of the fairway accents the only good route to the putting surface—from the right.
This spot could be fatal in a U.S. Open. Now you see what happens when you let what appears to be a perfectly good tee shot get just a few yards to the left. You have found yourself in the purple circle, a place from which there is only a slight chance of getting the ball onto the green. If you try a hook up to the right—a shot that can scarcely be contemplated if your ball is in the rough—you have little hope of even reaching the green. The terrain on the right of the green will make a long hook kick sharply left. It is possible when there is no rough to hit a four-iron from the left section of the purple circle, between the big eucalyptus and the evergreens that border the left of the fairway. You can see the green through that opening. But that shot through the overhanging limbs will be impossible from the high Open rough.