Less than two weeks ago, Hazeltine National Golf Club looked more like Atlantis than the cow pasture it was once purported to be.
Several successive days of heavy rain had rendered the site of this week's U.S. Open unplayable.Helicopters were summoned in a desperate attempt to dry the greens. Some fairways were under water. The parking lots were submerged; Hazeltine officials made contingency plans to shuttle spectators to the course from miles away. The 40,000 daily spectators were being advised to wear wading boots because the gallery areas were quagmires.
"I was worried," Reed Mackenzie, U.S. Open general chairman and former Hazeltine president, said Monday. "But today . . . today, I'm delighted."
And for good reason. The last week has brought sunny and breezy conditions. Humidity has been low. The course and the parking lots have dried to the point that the three-eighths inch of rain that fell late Sunday was a welcome sight and not a prelude to disaster.
"There was talk yesterday afternoon that the fairways and greens were too hard and that we might need to put some water on them," Mackenzie said. "But the little bit of rain took care of that."
Ten days ago, rain was truly a four-letter word to Hazeltine officials.
The Open, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, was seen as Hazeltine's big chance to prove that the disaster of 1970 wouldn't be repeated. That was the year that Tony Jacklin fought off rainy, cold conditions to win on a young course that wasn't ready to host the Open.
Hazeltine is surrounded by farmland in this Minneapolis suburb. Dave Hill, who finished second in 1970, likened the course to a cow pasture, and almost everyone who played the course criticized famed designer Robert Trent Jones for his liberal use of severe doglegs.
Under the direction of Jones' son, Rees, the course has undergone a million-dollar face-lift. Doglegs have been reduced or eliminated. Trees have matured. Tees have been elevated to improve sight lines.
And most pros who practiced Monday gave thumbs-up to the new, improved Hazeltine.
"It's a nice course," said big hitter Davis Love III. "It's going to be challenging but not impossible, like a U.S. Open course should be."