LOS ANGELES – Mike Whan watched quietly from behind the ninth green Sunday as the day’s final group teed up while basking in the Southern California sun and the idyllic scene at the Los Angeles Country Club.
In contrast to the towering hedges that separate the thundering world of Wilshire Boulevard from the manicured oasis that is the North Course, Whan – CEO of the USGA – was keenly aware of the noise this year’s venue generated.
Whan and the USGA heard backlash regarding the unique course hosting its first US Open and an atmosphere at the venue that was a little too chilly for some.
“I’m not a big fan of this place,” Brooks Koepka said Friday. “I’m not a big fan of blind tee shots, and then I think there are just some spots where no matter what you hit, the ball just ends up in the same spot. I think it would be more fun to play like a regular round than it would be a US Open. I mean, there’s, what, two 8s yesterday. It does not happen.”
While hardly isolated, Koepka’s criticism falls in line with a strange theme for the week. Across the fandom, complaints rained down on Whan and the USGA as the field scorched the North Course on Day 1. The marine layer never lifted Thursday, and a relatively soft layout with little wind produced 37 rounds in the 60s and a scoring average of 71. 37. lowest in US Open history.
Social media spoke, and it wasn’t happy, although – to be fair – almost every player cautiously and correctly warned that tougher times were ahead.
Despite Thursday’s scoring onslaught, which included a pair of record-setting 62s, the par-70 North Course’s 71.77 average for the week ranks as the second-toughest on Tour this year, behind Oak Hill and the PGA Championship, and the Wyndham Clarks. The 10-under total was on par with recent US Open champions.
You didn’t have to be a fan of golf course architecture to appreciate the nuances of the North Course. The short, par-4 sixth hole provided a compelling mix of risk and reward with a 44 percent “going for the green” rate, and the layout’s collection of par 3s provided both difficulty and drama. There were three aces, the 15th hole brilliantly played just 81 yards on Day 3 (for a 2.92 average), and three of the layout’s five par 3s were among the Tour’s 10 toughest par 3s this season.
But then player complaints are as much a part of the US Open as player videos and merchandise tents. According to various players, there’s nothing wrong with the North Course that a few elevated tee boxes and some softened fairways can’t fix.
The more tangible criticisms focused on the crowds braving LA traffic and a landscape that was not at all user-friendly.
“I wish it had been higher. I wish it was a few more people. But yeah, I’m surprised there haven’t been as many people out as I thought this week,” told last year’s US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick told a couple of reporters. “Very bad … It’s disappointing on the USGA side.
“They’re going to have a great tournament, from what I’ve heard a lot of members have bought tickets and that’s why there are so many less people. Hopefully it won’t be the same for other US Opens going forward.”
The Beverly Hills Open had a limited footprint due to traffic issues and the layout’s routing challenges, and officials limited daily attendance to about 23,000. By comparison, 30,000 a day were allowed at the Country Club last year, and in 2016 at Oakmont, that number rose to nearly 50,000 a day.
For this lack of buzz, there was a distribution model that got the majority of those 23,000 tickets to corporate hospitality and LACC members. It all added up to a typical LA crowd – late arrival and early departure. It’s what you’d expect at a Lakers game or the Golden Globe Awards, which are held each year at The Beverly Hilton, just off the first green of the North Course, not the National Championship.
There will be quite a bit of pearl-clutching about the LACC’s lack of atmosphere and the North Course’s whimsical brilliance in the coming weeks, but what will be lost in the hand is the obvious fact that the course is now firmly entrenched in the US Open rotation.
According to a USGA official, corporate hospitality – including the sprawling skybox that spanned nearly the full length of the par-5 opening slot—produced record-breaking revenue and, even with a limited fan footprint, the premium on anything in Los Angeles more than compensated for the smaller crowds.
There’s also the dreamy combination of a prime-time finish on the East Coast and countless beauties in Beverly Hills, Sunset Boulevard and the Hollywood Hills that TV executives live for.
There is a “suggestion box” located about 30 feet up in a tree between the 18thth green and the club’s proshop, the subtext is obvious – keep your opinions to yourself.
In true Hollywood fashion, there are plenty of tweaks to be made before the US Open returns to the North Course in 2039, but Los Angeles Country Club is here to stay.