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Oakmont officials go to U.S. Open school

| Sunday, June 18, 2006

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- It's golf's version of continuing education.

From that moment in 2000, when Oakmont Country Club officials signed the contract with the USGA to bring the U.S. Open to Pittsburgh, preparations began to bring the greatest show in golf to one of the sport's great stages.

Included in those preparations are visits to U.S. Opens each year, like the one that more than a dozen Oakmont members and officials made to Winged Foot Golf Club this past week.

"We're refreshing our memory banks, doing a little tweaking to what's already in place," said Oakmont member Bill Fallon, who'll serve as the group chair for scoring next year. "Our goal in everything we do is to make sure that everyone -- players, fans, media -- knows they're at the national championship."

At various times during the week, the club president, the golf professional, an assistant chef, a few club hostesses and various members, who'll serve as committee chairmen next year, will visit.

From hospitality tents to wireless Internet to the physical infrastructure, it all gets discussed during a full schedule of meetings that take place every U.S. Open week.

"It's not like we're coming up here and spending five or six days sitting around watching golf and having cocktails," said Mickey Pohl, an Oakmont member who is the general chairman for the Open. "All of our people who come to the Open spend time during the week with USGA officials, and then, they shadow their Winged Foot counterparts. We're looking all week at what they're doing, what unexpected problems they've encountered and how we can do whatever is necessary to make it perfect next year."

Advances in technology and the improved athleticism and talents of the players have forced changes in golf courses, but, in Oakmont's case, it's also going to force an adjustment in the practice range.

"We have to determine whether our range is long enough, whether we have to think about putting a net up at the end of the range to protect No. 17," Pohl said. "It's very much different from when we hosted the Open in 1994."

John Zimmers, the grounds superintendent at Oakmont, also spent part of his week at this demanding golf course north of New York City. He wasn't doing as much watching, as his counterparts at Winged Foot prepared the course for play.

"I was at the golf course three days this week at 3 a.m.," Zimmers said. "I went out there with the crews to try to get an understanding is how the USGA is setting things up. With the different cuts of rough, we need to stay on top of how they're doing that. It was a very educational trip for me."

It appears as though the graduated rough utilized this year will become a standard for Opens in the future.

"And even that's a little different here than at Winged Foot," Zimmers said. "Up there, the golf holes are divided by trees. At Oakmont, the holes are divided by bunkers, so we need to get some more information on how we implement that here."

Traffic, parking, location of hospitality tents -- those things vary from venue to venue, but the USGA has a blueprint that has worked over the years.

Oakmont has hosted 13 USGA championships in its storied history. It, too, has some blueprints that have worked well.

"The USGA does this so well, and, with the experience we have and the venue we're so thrilled to have, we're looking forward to a great championship next year," Pohl said. "All that matters is what happens Thursday morning (first round), when it's showtime," Fallon said.

And that's why visits to future sites have become a staple of what the USGA does and why the clubs doing the visiting take them so seriously.

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