One of the most striking things about the Lakeside course at Olympic Country Club is that it is so enjoyable to play. This is true whether you are a pro or a 100 shooter. It is one of the most beautiful courses I know and one of the best.
I must have played Olympic at least 300 times in my life. I used to be a junior member there, and I won the club championship in 1952 and 1953. I was away in the Army when they held the 1955 Open at Olympic, and I suppose I have not played there more than a couple of times a year since I turned pro, but the course has not changed much in the meantime. Basically Olympic will be the same for this year's Open as it always is, except for narrower fairways bordered by typical U.S. Open rough and some new tees that will slightly lengthen 10 of the holes.
I would characterize Olympic as a second-shot golf course. By that I mean you have to play your second shots into the par-4 holes with intelligence and finesse. The greens are on the small side, averaging about 5,000 square feet or so. It takes a great deal of skill to put the ball on most of the par-4s in regulation figures. Yet once you are on the greens you will not be too far from any of the holes. As a result, the excellent putters will have no advantage here over the better shotmakers who do not putt so well.
Because I say Olympic is a second-shot course does not mean that you won't have to drive well. After all, this is the Open. The USGA never gives you a lot of fairway to shoot at, and the penalty for driving into the rough can be much more severe than at any other tournament we play on the tour. The premium is on accuracy from the tee rather than length.
On the preceding pages I have described some of the problems involved in playing what you can call "Quake Corner," the 2nd through the 5th holes. This is as difficult a series of holes as you will find anywhere, and if you start poorly here with a few bogeys—or worse—you will find yourself playing defensive golf the rest of the way. Defensive golf is usually losing golf.
Unfortunately for those who cannot attend the tournament, television will not be able to bring you the action in Quake Corner. It is rare to find a course where the essence of the matter is put to you so early in your round, but that is Olympic.
I will not attempt to describe every problem on the course for you, but you will get a good idea of Olympic's general character if I conduct you on a quick tour and indicate the high spots from the touring professional's point of view, excluding the 2nd through the 5th holes, since you have just had a colorful look at them.
The first hole is a 536-yard par-5 that heads north from the clubhouse. The prevailing wind from the Pacific Ocean usually comes up sharply around noon, blowing from left to right and a little into your face. In addition, the fairway slopes from left to right, slanting down toward Lake Merced, which borders Olympic on the east. In fact, the entire course leans toward the lake, giving nearly every hole a hillside flavor.
You might think the first hole would be ideal for a man who draws his shots from right to left—into the wind and against the slope of the fairway. Actually, the opposite is true. The shot to play off the first tee is a slight fade. The reason is that the fairway turns sharply to the right at the target area, where it is only 29 paces wide. So a shot that is drawn or hooked must start out over the rough on the right, fighting it all the way, and if it is hit too strongly or has too much action it will carry into the rough on the left.
Unless you drive the ball at least 300 yards over the corner of the right rough, there is no point in taking a wood and trying to reach the green in two. The shrubbery just off the left side of the green is unplayable, and there is a deep hollow filled with long grass on the right. It is best to hit a safe iron to the plateau in front of the green, pitch over the rough and bunkers at the entrance to the green and hope to get your birdie with one putt.