Del Paso Country Club Set to Test 2015 U.S. Senior Open Field
May 13, 2015
Once a regular stop on the United States Golf Association championship calendar, Del Paso Country Club could be headed that way again.
When this year’s U.S. Senior Open arrives at the course June 25-28, it’ll mark the first USGA championship at Del Paso since the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open. Prior to that, however, the course had hosted the 1957 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1964 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur and the 1976 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Following the 1982 U.S. Open, and after what had become on average a USGA appearance about every six years, the course dropped off the radar chiefly due to time.
Despite decades of improvements from architects ranging from Herbert Fowler to Sam Whiting, Del Paso, which was originally designed by Scotsman John Black in 1916, had simply lost its shine. As a result, the USGA stopped coming.
But now the course is back, with the U.S. Senior Open perhaps being just the start of another USGA championship run at Del Paso.
Make no mistake– this is not the Del Paso that Sam Snead played.
The transformation of the course into the new Del Paso began in 2001 when the private club took a good look at its course and came up with an idea to take it forward. Five years later in 2006, renowned architect Kyle Phillips, whose previous work included the highly acclaimed Kingsbarns Golf Links in Scotland and a renovation of California Golf Club in San Francisco, arrived to take on the project.
“After all the years of ‘improvements’, this once great championship course had lost its luster and identity,” said Phillips in a 2006 interview with Golf Course Architecture magazine. “Unfortunately there were not very good records of the early course or the changes that followed. We were able to pick out old architectural elements, especially the feel of the old Fowler push up greens. I thought it was a cool property, but there were all these weird gaps and angles.”
Over an 18 month span, and at a cost of $10 million, Phillips began his work which included– mass grading, shaping, fairway drainage and irrigation improvements and sand capping of the layout.
Along the way, Del Paso’s original Bermuda grass was replaced with rye grass, with bent greens being installed on the greens. The course, which had previously tipped out at a non-USGA like 6,300 yards, was also lengthened to over 7,100 yards.
Phillips walked away pleased with the results. Obviously, so too did the USGA.
“If you have a top 100 golf course then you want to restore the strategy of the course as much as the site and the modern game will allow,” Phillips said. “If the course has or has had strong architecture, then I like to restore that architectural style. Del Paso now has a very consistent and classical style.”
So just how will the new Del Paso play?
Come the U.S. Senior Open, it will play as a par-70 featuring for one a trio of par-3’s (No.5, No.14 and No.17) that can be played at 200 yards or more. There will also be six par-4’s— that can be played ranging anywhere between 450-490 yards.
But there’s more to it than simply being a brute.
“The course is longer, but it is not a course that is simply about power. There is a great variety strategy and terrific mix of lengths,” Phillips said.
Tom Lehman, who played the course during a media day held in the spring of 2014, agreed.
“I think it’s going to be a tremendous test,” Lehman said. “They did some work on the fairways so they have more angles. It’s going to be a good test of people’s driving ability.”
While he won’t be teeing it up, someone who knows Del Paso well is PGA Tour member and former NCGA Player of the Year Spencer Levin, who grew up in nearby Elk Grove.
Levin too expects that keeping the ball in the fairways will be a challenge at the championship.
“Del Paso normally can play very wide open, but I’m sure it won’t play that way with the USGA setting it up,” Levin said. “It’s long too.”
Joining Lehman among those expected to play in the championship include Colin Montgomerie, Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer.
There could be a few big names missing though, including Davis Love III and Kenny Perry.
Why? The PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship is also scheduled for June 25-28. The low four and ties from that event will earn automatic berths into this year’s British Open at St. Andrews.
“There’s going to be some players trying to get into the British Open,” Love III said. “I’ll probably be one of them.”
Perry, on the other hand, used his one-time top-25 money exemption for full PGA Tour status in 2015 earlier this season. The now 54-year-old, who is calling this season his ‘farewell’ to the PGA Tour, has played and stayed with the same family at the Travelers for nearly 25 years.
“For that reason, there’s a good chance that I’ll be at the Travelers instead,” Perry said.