For the fifth time in its history, The Olympic Club in San Francisco will play host to this week's U.S. Open.
The excitement is at a fever-pitch, as Olympic Club PGA Head Professional Chris Stein explained to PGA.com just before the tournament started.
Stein told us about the preparation that goes into planning for the U.S. Open, changes to the course since the tournament was last played there in 1998, potential contenders and more.
PGA.com: Chris, we really appreciate you joining us. First of all, how exciting is it to be hosting the U.S. Open?
Stein: It is extremely exciting as our Lake Course will be showcased in front of 200 million viewers all over the world. With the changes to the course it will be interesting to hear what the players will have to say about the course as it is absolutely perfect.
PGA.com: I talk to PGA Head Professionals week in and week out about the intricacies that go into planning for a PGA Tour event. It's a lot of work. However, I would imagine that to prepare for a major championship of the U.S. Open's magnitude, it's even more work. What has the process been like?
Stein: The USGA officials have been on site for 2 1/2 years preparing all the logistics and I can't tell you how much vision and prep work goes into this event. Our Ocean Course, back in 1998, was used for parking and for this Championship parking for the public will be at Candlestick Park. Thus explaining how much larger all the structures are and space needed for the Merchandise tent, Corporate Hospitality, Television, Media and all the vendors.
For example, the Merchandise tent was 23,000 sq. ft. in 1998 and now it's 36,000 sq. ft. Over the past couple of months we have had to cut back play due to the great weather we had this winter with virtually no rain, so the course never received any rest and thus we had some difficulty with some of our new bent grass greens. With the cooperation of our membership cutting back the play was a necessity and the greens are perfect.
PGA.com: You mentioned some changes to the course. Can you tell us about them?
Stein: We have quite a few changes to the course. Players who played in 1998 will see new bent grass greens which were put in 2009. Four of those greens were completely redone -- hole Nos. 7, 8, 15 and 18. No. 8 went from a 142-yard par 3 to a 200-yard par 3 and the whole hole was moved to the right, bringing our beautiful Monterey Cypress trees back into play.
The course has been lengthened 373 yards and we will have the longest par 5 in Open history on No. 16 at 670 yards. A new bunker was installed a month ago on hole No. 17, which will be played as a par 5 this year. It was a par 4 for the past four Opens. This new bunker is placed 60 yards short of the green so now the players have to strategize where they want to place their ball if they need to lay up on their second shot. With No. 17 now a par 5, hole No. 1 is now a par 4 at 520 yards. The first six holes will be the toughest stretch of holes the players will be confronted with on any golf course they have ever played.
PGA.com: I don't know about you, Chris, but I can't think of a more exciting start to a golf season than what we've had so far in 2012. Tiger Woods has already won twice. Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald are both winners, trading back and forth the No. 1 spot in the world. Phil Mickelson has won and on it goes. It's really shaping up to be a special U.S. Open, isn't it?
Stein: I am sure the media is enjoying this with Tiger's latest victory on a course that was set up similar to Open conditions. If you look at the past Championships The Olympic Club has hosted we have had Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart either in the lead or tied in the last round and all four of these historic players failed to win. Whoever is crowned the Champion will be fantastic, but if it was one of the names you mentioned, it would make it a little more special. There are so many great players out there now and I will not be surprised with whoever wins.
PGA.com: Last question for you, Chris. With all the planning that has gone into tournament week, what is it that you're most looking forward to?
Stein: Getting a chance to meet some of the players and offer any advice they have on the course and experiencing the entire week with the staff and membership. It will be something none of us will ever forget.