ARDMORE, PA – “Forget about moving it around, exclaimed Dan Jenkins, the dean of all golf writers. “Play it here all the time!” he said, referring to Merion’s venerable East course, which is proving all the lowest common denominator broadcasters by proving quite the tough test despite the rain, thank you very much.
Still, the U.S.G.A. shoehorned the tournament footprint, we’re all going to have Band-aids on our heels for the next two weeks.
Since the door has been opened for “boutique U.S. Opens” from time to time, let’s talk about other possible venues we’d like to see that are 1) smaller or even lesser known courses that are also a logistical nightmare, or 2) places you wouldn’t ordinarily nominate as an Open venue, or 3) places they flat out need to go back to, then why don’t we bring the Open to the following places:
National Golf Links of America
National and Shinnecock are both in the world top 10 courses. They both have Golden Age pedigrees and phenomenal architecture. Best of all, they are adjacent to one another.
So why does Shinnecock get all the Opens?
One reason is that National doesn’t really want the OPen, but Shinnecock does. Former tournament director Tom Meeks’ head was enough to placate Shinnecock’s fury at him for burning down their golf course in 2004, so they have returned to the Rota and will host the Open in 2018.
Meanwhile, we’ll see National for the Walker Cup this year, the battle between the best amateur players from the U.S. and Europe.
“Clubs ask the U.S.G.A to host the Walker Cup five times more than they ask to host any other U.S.G.A. championship,” explained U.S.G.A. Architecture Archivist Tom Paul.
There’s a reason for that. It has more history than nearly any other U.S.G.A. event barring the National Amateur, and half the footprint (or less!) of any other event as well.
“If National reduced par to 70 it could hold its own for an Open. You’d have to make 7 and 18 into par-4s,” explained Paul. “Yes, that leaves only one par-5 on the course, number 9, but the trade off would be like here at Merion, the entire world would see what we’ve known for so long – that National is a beautiful and singular experience.”
I’ll tell you another singular experience: watching pro golfers grimace after four-putting the first green and taking an opening double bogey although the hole barely exceeds 300 yards. You don’t need length to make a course hard, you need curvy greens and thought provoking angles of play…
“The place is like a shrine, and it would be so great for golf fans to get a peek inside,” said gonzo golf fan Charles “Chucky” Cordova. “It’s always rated number one in all the rankings, the members all talk about its difficulty, so let’s see how the pros would do.”
The consensus is the pros would have their hands full under fast and firm conditions. Pine Valley and Merion are perhaps not sisters, but close cousins, both architecturally and superficially. The “Philadelphia School of Architecture,” a group of friendly architects that shared design ideas and consulted each other’s opinions on their design plans, worked together loosely at both courses.
Pine Valley hosts the Crum Cup every September, and the Sunday final rounds are open to the public, so you actually can get to see what is rightfully renowned as one of the most exclusive clubs in the World.
Expert Chip Oat “While the fairways are generous, and the rough is close to nonexistent, the penalty for missing almost any fairway on the course by more than ten feet is severe because you’re either in the trees or your in extremely difficult bunkers that are also in the trees,” explained golf architecture expert Chip Oat. “Moreover, in almost all cases if you miss a green, especially long, it rolls down a steep slope and into an awful place from which to recover. It’s like Garden City greens are steeply tilted and lightning fast, so putts from side hill or above the hole, are particularly difficult.”
With new tee boxes on the longer and harder par-4s, it would test the Tour pros just fine.
Winged Foot East
No club in America has two courses as equally good as Winged Foot. The West course is everything everyone ever says it is. With five U.S. Opens and a devastating synergy of history and misery, it really is the Yankee Stadium of golf.
It’s also the Graveyard of Champions, but that’s a story for another day…
But the East course is every bit the equal of the West course in difficulty, and has a more diverse, prettier natural setting. Did you know that for the U.S. Amateur, in 2004 the East Course played harder in score-to-par than the West Course? The par-3s are particularly tough, especially 13 and 17, so beautiful, but deadly. If Winged Foot and the U.S.G.A. wanted, they could simply re-arrange the footprint of the event.
We’ll gratefully see the return Oakland Hills’s South course to the Open Rota soon, maybe as early as 2021 or 2022, so why not bring back Riviera, where Ben Hogan won his first U.S. Open in 1948, and where Hal Sutton out-dueled Jack Nicklaus for the PGA Championship in 1983?
Everyone loves Riviera’s charm, gorgeous natural setting, strategic demands, and fair set up. Yes the kikuyu can get outrageous, but the course makes you think al the way around, there would be a great mix of birdies and bogeys, so the leaderboard would be exciting and mercurial, and the players’ familiarity with it would give everyone a chance to win. And again, the 10th hole shows you don’t need 500 yards to make a challenging hole…or an exciting hole for that matter.
Chicago Golf Club
We need a Chicago U.S. Open venue. The U.S.G.A. knows what every top publication knows – Medinah is the most over-rated golf course in America. It’s a big, ugly dog nobody likes but Medinah members. Too long, too much water, too many trees, too ugly, a lake with a name that’s too unpronounceable and to hard to spell, and it’s too bad we can’t get the PGA of America to drop it too. Plus, its clubhouse looks like the Saudi Arabia Ritz Carleton.
“Either the architect was a Shriner or he put on a Fez, hit every bar on Rush Street,” quipped Dan Jenkins.
Moreover, Cog Hill is Dog Hill, just as ugly, boring, and charmless. No, no, no.
Chicago Golf Club, on the other hand, is one of C.B. Macdonald’s masterpieces. It’s collection of par-3s are especially tough.
“It’s got one of the best Redans, Biarritzes, and Eden holes, I’ve ever seen,” said U.S.G.A. architecture archives committee chair Bob Crosby. “It held its own well during the Walker Cup a few years ago and it’s one of those courses the world needs to see if they want to study what makes a great golf course design, it’s extraordinarily good. Plus, although it wouldn’t have as much room as Merion does for tents and is probably a little easier than Merion, it also would be much easier for galleries to move around between the holes. There is a lot more room there for people to walk around.”
Garden City Golf Club
If we’re going to completely gridlock somewhere, let’s just make the biggest mess possible and do it in Long Island. Garden City is a lot like Merion: full of “half-par holes,” either much harder or much easier that four strokes. The hard holes are exceptionally difficult and the easy holes can be particularly tricky – just like Merion. Plus, remember what Chip Oat said earlier, the greens are as slick as a parquet floor and as canted as a Tilt-a-Whirl.
Pacific Dunes – The entire golf world should drop what it’s doing and book a trip to the southern dunes of Oregon for the greatest golf getaway west of Ireland. Pac Dunes gets nod over Ballyneal or Sand Hills because there is more for fans to do in the area once the golf is done…i.e. “not much” as opposed to “zero.”
Ballyhack – The U.S. Open also needs a southern venue. What about Lester George’s fire breather outside Roanoke? Huge, tumbling fairways, cavernous bunkers, and undulating greens would have pros howling with rage after shooting 75-75=MC, trunk slam, screech of tire, hasta Lasagna.
Sleepy Hollow – Macdonald, Raynor, Banks architecture set in the tumbling hills of the Adirondack by the shores of the mighty Hudson River. Skyline greens, Alps holes, haunted bridges, and the Headless Horseman. Too much fun!
Baltimore Country Club – This Tillie masterpiece gets overlooked in the discussion of his Pantheon of great designs, but it gave the Seniors fits at a recent Senior Open.
This article also appeared at Cybergolf.com