The Olympic Club has been a part of the U.S. Open rotation since 1955, hosting five installments of the championship over 60 years. However, 2021 marks the debut of the U.S. Women's Open at the iconic San Francisco venue.
The course is touted for its difficulty (and its Burger Dog delicacy), and over the last two years, the USGA has been onsite ramping up the challenge for the best players in the women's game. They've narrowed the fairways by as much as 10 yards in some cases and grown the rough to gnarly lengths.
As those who passed the gauntlet of the opening rounds prepare to play the weekend, let's take a closer look at the host course. Olympic Club Director of Player Development Richard Sheridan, a Team TaylorMade staff professional, takes us on a hole-by-hole journey as he describes the strategy and shots players will need to test the mettle of Olympic.
Welcome to the Lake Course. The opening hole is probably the easiest on the property; it's very gentle. It's a subtle left to right par 5, and reaching in two is definitely in range for the medium to long hitters. It plays downhill and offers captivating views of San Francisco and Ocean Beach. If players find the fairway, then it's a green light with either a long iron or a fairway metal into a relatively flat green. Two bunkers lurk about 50 to 60 yards short of the green and can catch players who decide to lay up if they're not careful.
Overall, this is the best birdie opportunity on the course – and if you're not making four here, you're likely giving a shot back to the field. You need to get off to a good start because the next five holes are very difficult.
This is where the fun starts. About a third of the holes on the Lake Course have reverse cambered fairways - where you're fighting against gravity. Hole No. 2 plays as slight dogleg right, but the fairway tilts sharply to the left, so you have to control the shape and line of your drive to hold the fairway. The second shot is a bit deceiving because it plays uphill, and it's generally into the wind. I've seen many players fail to take enough club and come up short – and bunkers heavily guard the green. The green is also quite severe, as the complex slopes from back to front. If you're above the hole, you're likely facing the fastest putt on the course. Conversely, if you're putting uphill, it's the slowest putt on property. Controlling your tee shot and selecting the club on the second shot will be critical to success on this hole.
Of the par 3s I've played around the world, this among the most difficult. It sits on an amazing piece of property and is very scenic with the Golden Gate Bridge in the backdrop. It's quite long (it plays at 196 yards for the U.S. Women's Open), and it plays steeply downhill to a very narrow green. Once you arrive, the green is tough to read as the breaks don't purely follow convention.
They say Ben Hogan laid up on this hole four days in a row during his penultimate U.S. Open appearance here in the 60s. That goes to show that par is a good score, and making a three will pick up shots on the field.
This is the most severe of the reverse camber fairways. The hole is a sharp dogleg left up the hill, and the fairway slopes hard to the right. Most players will choose to hit a draw to hold against the slope to stay the fairway. However, you don't want to overdo a draw and end up on the left side. There, you'll be blocked out trees and reaching the green will be a challenge. On this hole, players will be wise to select a fairway wood or long iron off the tee, rather than being too far down there and getting yourself into trouble. The second shot is steeply uphill, and you're unable to see the bottom of the flagstick. The green slopes hard from left to right, making for some heavily breaking putts.
This is possibly the most demanding tee shot on the golf course. It's another reverse camber, as the fairway tilts left and hole doglegs right. There is a grove of trees on the right that can catch your ball if you're too aggressive. Literally, in years past, players have had balls stuck in the tree. Then there are trees on the left that will block you out and force you to hit a sweeping hook to reach the green. Longer hitters can benefit from taking 3-wood, so they don't get too far down the left side and end up blocked out. In an ideal world, you're hitting a short- to mid-iron into this green because it's small and very sloped. The fact that it plays slightly downhill and generally downwind is in the players' favor.
From the hardest tee shot on the course, we jump to No. 6, which is a straightforward par 4. The trees on either side can play with your mind, but given the accuracy of the players in the field, I don't think they will come into play. This hole is also home to the only fairway bunker on the entire course, and it can catch tee shots if players aren't careful. There's a valley short of the green that players must contend with on their approach. The green is as well guarded as any on the course, but a good tee shot will put you in position to attack.
Players may be able to take a breath for the first time since the opening hole. The short par-4 7th offers a little bit of a respite, as it will play 263 yards in the U.S. Women's Open and will be driveable for the longer hitters in the field. However, danger still lurks greenside with heavy bunkering and a severely tiered green complex. A large percentage of the field will play the analytics game and elect to go for the green on this hole if the conditions allow.
The par-3 8th is our signature hole on property. It's a picturesque layout with an amphitheater-type feel, as large grass banks run along the right side. The hole stretches back uphill towards the clubhouse, and there's a tree that overhangs the left side of the green that can come into play on overly aggressive tee shots. The green itself has some subtle movement, but it's relatively calm compared to other complexes on property.
The ninth hole features yet another of our infamous reverse cambered fairways – with the hole doglegging right and the slope in the wanting to force your ball left. However, because the gradient is less severe, players can be aggressive off the tee here should they choose. Most players will swing away with the driver and take on the dogleg. This is truly a second-shot golf hole, as the green is well guarded, and the amount of slope makes it challenging to read. Long and left, a tightly mown chipping area awaits, making for a tough up and down. Then there's steep bunkering on the right side. The U.S. Open moniker reigns true here. Fairways and greens.
The 10th hole is important for several reasons. Number one, it's the first chance to your hands on one of our famed Burger Dogs. They never disappoint. While the players in the field may forego the Burger Dog experience (except for maybe during their practice rounds), birdie will be the priority on this sharp dogleg left par 4. It's an inviting tee shot, one that you need to just take around the corner. On the approach, players will need to be mindful of a green that slopes away from you (moving front to back). Distance and spin control will be a premium. The green isn't overly complicated beyond that slope. While it's not quite as easy as the first hole, this is another handshake opener where players will be looking to make birdie.
Here you want to open your shoulders, make a hard turn and unleash on a tee shot. Distance is an advantage on this particular hole. The second shot will require precision as you play uphill into a two-tiered green. Being on the right tier is critical if you want to secure a good score at 11.
At 398 yards, the 12th is far from the most difficult hole on the course. The tee shot plays through a chute of trees that can play with your mind - I've seen good players catch those trees off the tee before. The fairway slopes down towards the green, so with a good drive, you're looking at short iron or wedge for the second shot. There's nothing overly complicated about the green - just avoid those deep bunkers on the front right.
This is a difficult par 3. Trees overhang both sides of the green, which adds an element of visual intimidation. If that wasn't enough to think about, there's a large bunker in front of the green that certainly gets your attention. If you miss the green left, there's a tightly mown area that makes getting up and down more of an adventure than a guarantee.
This is a good solid golf hole. You need to be in the right half of the fairway to give yourself a chance to attack the green on your approach. It's a slightly elevated complex, and the green slopes away to the left. If you're coming out of the rough, it can be a tricky green to hold. I can't overstate the fact that you need to be in the middle or on the right half of the fairway to succeed on this one.
The last four holes give you a chance to save your scorecard. Conditions pending, they are holes where you can make birdie – which should make for some exciting golf down the stretch on Sunday. No. 15 is the shortest par 3 on the course and will play 137 yards during the tournament. As accurate as the players in the field are, this is a definite birdie opportunity. Extremely deep bunkers sit at the front and to the right of the green, but they shouldn't be in play from that yardage. Expect to see a lot of tight shots and birdies here.
We go from the shortest hole on the course to the longest. During the third round of the 2012 men's U.S. Open, this stretch marked the shortest par-3 in U.S. Open history, followed by the longest par-5 in tournament history (at the time). It played at 671 yards for that round, but it will weigh in at 563 yards during the U.S. Women's Open and marks the first of back-to-back par 5s. This will be a true three shotter for most players in the field and demands a draw off the tee followed by a calculated layup. If you manage to do those two things successfully, you'll have a wedge shot into a heavily guarded green with bunkers short and right. The green slopes severely to the left, and if you happen to miss the green on that side, getting up and down from there is nearly impossible. Three solid shots will give you a good look at birdie.
This is the last of the reverse camber fairways. It was once a long par 4 but has since been converted into a par 5. There's not much worry off the tee; you just need to keep it in the fairway if you want any hope of reaching the green in two. The primary defense on this hole is the green. It plays very fast, and to give yourself the best chance of making a putt, you'll want to stay below the hole.
This is one of golf's iconic finishing holes. Don't be fooled by the short distance, this is a very challenging par 4. It plays uphill with the clubhouse in the backdrop, and first thing first: Finding the fairway is a must. If you miss to the right, you'll be blocked out by a grove of trees and have difficulty reaching the green in two. Because the green is elevated and so small, accurately gauging your distance is critical. From front to back, the green has a lot of length – but to call the width of it slender is generous. It makes for fast putts if you're above the hole, and putting across the green gives you some heavy breakers. It's surrounded by hills, creating an amphitheater environment – which can add to the drama on a Sunday afternoon as fans return.
Sheridan has been at the Olympic Club since November of 2017. He previously served as Director of Instruction at St. Andrews Links Academy and senior instructor at the Butch Harmon Golf School in Dubai while also coaching China's national golf team.
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