As namesake could tell you, this Open course can be murder

John Steadman

June 17, 1993|By John Steadman

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- Some players may become s distraught they'll holler murder over what the golf course is doing to their games and otherwise genial dispositions. Proud, durable Baltusrol, which has hosted more U.S. Open Championships than any other, is again the venue for the rationing of birdies and the historical spilling of of blood from its pained and wounded warriors.

Baltusrol will extract its pound of flesh and cause some grown men -- and young ones, too, to worry and weep. The opening round was staged today as 153 professionals and three amateurs came swinging out of the tee-boxes in quest of a cherished golfing crown.

This, incredulous as it seems, is the only golf course in the world named for a murder victim, with its ghastly and grotesque details still subject to review from old court records.

A hard-working farmer named Baltus Roll was routed out of bed on a February night in 1831 by two hoodlums while Mrs. Roll fled into the countryside in search of help. Roll was strangled to death, the murderers tying his ankles and dragging him outside the house to die in the snow.

It's on the same property that a golf course was built in 1895, and then a master craftsman, A. W. Tillinghast (architect of such premier creations as New York's Winged Foot and Baltimore's Five Farms), made it over to be the classic it is with the subtle touch so emblematic of his work.

Baltusrol was the golfing home of two winners of the Open, namely professionals Willie Anderson and Johnny Farrell, both members of the Hall of Fame, and it was here that Jack Nicklaus won two of his four Open titles in 1967 and 1980.

Every hole has a point of traditional reference because this is the seventh Open contested at Baltusrol, which also has hosted six USGA national championships.

Where the contestants are getting a charitable reprieve is in the lengths of the roughs. They are usually allowed to grow to six inches and become thick enough to slow down a sledgehammer if you tried to drive one through.

Because there has been a lack of rainfall this year, the roughs aren't as foreboding. Tom Kite, the defending champion, says "they don't appear to be the kind of Open roughs you expect to find and there are even places where you can hit a wood out of it."

One reason for this is that the club's watering system is directed to the fairways, with Mother Nature given the responsibility of caring for irrigating the roughs. So far, the heavens haven't cooperated.

"We had the rough right where we wanted it about three of four weeks ago," said David Eger, in charge of setting up the course for the USGA. Then he explained the rain hasn't come along to activate the fertilizer that's there.

"It is about five inches in height but the lushness and thickness of it is less than desired," Eger said. "But it is rough and it is going to penalize them, yet maybe not to the extent some Opens have penalized players."

Only two par-5s, No. 17 and No. 18, are on the scorecard for what is a par-70, 7,152-yard layout in the rolling terrain of north central New Jersey. However, for the members, holes 1 and 7 are par-5s but become par-4s for Open campaigners.

The par-5 17th at 630 yards is the longest hole where any major event is played. To reach the green in two, which even John Daly hasn't been able to do, it takes two shots of better than 300 yards.

From the blue tees to the fairway is a demanding carry of 224 yards over rough and then the green, protected by eight sand traps, on a moderately elevated rise. It's the kind of a challenge where a man of average abilities might consider packing a lunch.

Baltusrol's greens, slippery as a freeway after an ice storm, will offer checks and balances. If the rough isn't going to play the role of the "bogey man," then the speed of the putting surfaces will more than compensate.

At last count, 46 tents, priced at $125,000 each, plus at least another $75,000 for food and drink, will be where corporate America and the lords of New York businesses will be entertaining their guests. Tickets, if you're lucky enough to have one, cost $200 for the four days of watching the most elite golfers in the world.

Never-reticent Fuzzy Zoeller, who doesn't know what it is to grimace or growl, took a different view of the surroundings. He called Baltusrol "very long and very boring," and this comes after practicing all this week.

The Open of 1993, just two years from its centennial celebration, is a sterling occasion for golf. Too bad old Baltus Roll, who was murdered by thugs at his home, didn't have a mashie niblick by his bedside to take a divot out of the craniums of the attackers.

May the victor, come Sunday night, bend a stiff left elbow to drink a toast to his memory.

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