US Open Golf 2012: 10 Greatest Courses in US Open History

Jeremy Los@@JeremyALosFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2012

US Open Golf 2012: 10 Greatest Courses in US Open History

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    With US Open week upon us a lot of focus will be put on the players who will look to tame the famed Olympic Club in San Francisco. However, the biggest star of US Open week is often the course itself. 

    Our national championship is known for being the toughest test in golf and the courses used to host are often some of our nation’s most prized golf landscapes that are filled with history and endless allure. 

    Presented are what I feel to be the 10 greatest courses to have ever hosted the US championship.  

10. Medinah/ The Country Club

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    For the 10 spot I could not decide which legendary course to go with, so why not have a tie? Medinah and The Country Club at Brookline both have storied histories, ranging from the amazing story of Francis Ouimet at the 1913 US Open at Brookline to Hale Irwin’s last hurrah at Medinah in 1990.

    Both courses represent some our nation’s most storied and well-respected golf tests. The USGA has abandoned both of them for sometime now due to a multitude of reasons, but other major events have continued to find their way to the legendary clubs, giving golf fans everywhere a chance to witness some of the best golf America has to offer. 


    US Opens Held at Medinah: 3

    US Opens Held at The Country Club: 3

    Past Winners (Scores): Medinah: 1949, Cary Middlecoff (+2); 1975, Lou Graham (+3); 1990, Hale Irwin (-8)  The Country Club: 1913, Francis Ouimet (304); 1963, Julius Boros (+9); 1988, Curtis Strange (-6)

    Next US Open: TBD

9. Pinehurst No. 2

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    Opened in 1907, Pinehurst No. 2 has made a name for itself for its unique and extremely difficult green complexes. No. 2’s crowned and undulating green surfaces are some of the hardest in US Open history as the firm conditions often lead to good approach shots rolling off the putting surface.

    Outside of the diabolical green complexes, Pinehurst plays rather fair, measuring just under 7,500 yards. Original architect Donald Ross labeled the course the "fairest test of championship golf he had ever designed."

    The course has recently undergone a massive overhaul that has brought it close to its original design, eliminating the rough throughout the course and making hitting fairways and greens even more vital. Pinehurst will be the first course in history to host two USGA events in back-to-back weeks when its hosts the Men’s and Women’s US Open in 2014.


    US Opens Held at Pinehurst No. 2: 2

    Past Winners (Scores): 1999, Payne Stewart (-1); 2005, Michael Campbell (E)

    Next US Open: 2014

8. Oakland Hills

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    Located just outside of Detroit, Michigan lies a marvelous golf course affectionately labeled "The Monster." Designed by renowned architect Donald Ross, Oakland Hills earned its beastly reputation following the 1951 US Open Championship when Ben Hogan called it "the greatest test and toughest course" he had ever played.

    Recently stretched to just under 7,400 yards, the par 70 track features clever bunkering that will eat up errant shots, thick gnarly rough and quick massive greens. The large green complexes are nearly the same as they were 100 years ago, featuring a great deal of undulation and at times scary speed. Oakland Hills is a classic American golf course that has seemingly been abandoned by the USGA.


    US Opens Held at Oakland Hills: 6

    Past Winners (Scores): 1924, Cyril Walker (297); 1937, Ralph Guldahl (+1); 1951, Ben Hogan (+7); 1961, Gene Littler (+1); 1985, Andy North (-1); 1996, Steve Jones  (-2)

    Next US Open: TBD

7. Baltusrol

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    Seen as one of the Golden Bear’s favorite courses, Baltusrol has hosted a total of seven US Opens between its two famed tracks. Designed by legendary course architect A.W. Tillinghess,  Baltusrol features a classic-style layout that is not only tough but fair.

    At over 7,400 yards the Lower Course, which has been the main championship host, flows naturally with the rolling parkland near Baltusrol Mountain. The course itself is a no-thrills layout that challenges players with mostly length, forcing many players to go into greens with long irons; however, the greens really do not strike fear in the hearts of players.

    The traditional venue is great host for our national championship because it encompasses so much history and embodies the early days of American golf.


    US Opens Held at Baltusrol: 7

    Past Winners (Scores): 1903, Willie Anderson (307); 1915, Jerome Travers (297); 1936, Tony Manero (-2); 1954, Ed Furgol (+4); 1967, Jack Nicklaus (-5); 1980, Jack Nicklaus (-8); 1993, Lee Janzen (-8)

    Next US Open: TBD

6. Merion

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    This classic Northeast gem is one of the shortest courses to have hosted our national championship, but what Merion lacks in length it makes up for with its challenging layout and uniqueness. Known for its wicker basket flag sticks, Merion is often overlooked because it lacks the wow factor of other top-tier US Open tracks.

    Recently lengthened to just over 6,800 yards, Merion relies heavily on its tiny and tricky green complexes as well as the ‘white faces of Merion’—the treacherous Scottish-style bunkers that are scattered throughout the course—as its main defense against low scores.

    The small course sits on just 120 acres of land making it quite possibly the greatest golf course in America on a per acre basis. Merion will always be remembered for Ben Hogan’s heroic win after his near fatal car accident in the 1950 Open.


    US Opens Held at Merion: 4

    Past Winners (Scores): 1934, Olin Dutra (+9); 1950, Ben Hogan (+7); 1971, Lee Trevino (E); 1981, David Graham (-7)

    Next US Open: 2013

5. Olympic Golf Club, Lake Course

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    The host of this year’s US Open championship, the Olympic club is widely known as "The Graveyard of Champions" due to great champions that have fallen at the legendary San Francisco track. As the nation’s oldest athletic club, dating back to 1860, the Olympic club boasts a rich history and a layout that is generally the same as it was when the course was constructed.

    Measuring at over 7,100 yards for the 2012 championship, the course relies heavily on its natural terrain to challenge competitors. The lake course is known for its tree-lined fairways that are sloped severely. Some fairways possess so much slope that a shot down the middle has a chance to end up in the rough once it comes to rest.

    The club also boasts small greens, roughly 4,400 sq. ft., which have given players fits in past national championships. The course is a classic test of golf that has stood the test time for the most part.


    US Opens Held at Olympic Club: 4

    Past Winners (Scores): 1955, Jack Fleck (+7); 1966, Billy Casper (-2); 1987, Scott Simpson (-3); 1998, Lee Janzen (E)

    Next US Open: 2012

4. Shinnecock Hills

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    This beautiful classic links-style course located in Southhampton, New York hosted the second ever US Open Championship, and will be the first to host a US Open in three different centuries when the championship returns in 2018.

    At just over 7,000 yards, the course is rather short in today’s lengthy US Open lengthy layouts; however swirling-winds teamed with small undulating greens that are lightning fast and over 100 bunkers make the course a rather difficult test.

    Ben Hogan said that SHGC was one of his favorites because "Each hole is different and requires great amount of skill to play." Shinnecock may always be remembered as the course that played so fast in 2004 that groundskeepers had water down greens to make them playable. This Long Island gem is a United States institution that has stood the test of time and will continue to challenge the best players the world has to offer.


    US Opens Held at Shinnecock Hills: 4

    Past Winners (Scores): 1896, James Foulis (152); 1986, Raymond Floyd (-1); 1995, Corey Pavin (E); 2004, Retief Goosen (-4)

    Next US Open: 2018

3. Winged Foot (West Course)

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    Winged Foot is a bear of a course that will be known for making the best players in the world look like amateurs. The famed A.W. Tillinghast-designed track, which opened in 1923, measures at over 7,200 yards, featuring narrow fairways, 4-6-inch-high, thick, penalizing rough (during the ’06 championship) and insanely fast greens that have more undulations to them that desert sand dunes.

    Winged Foot has garnered a reputation for being out-of-this-world difficult following the famed ‘Massacre at Winged Foot’ US Open in 1974, and the struggles of every player in the field, especially Tiger Woods, in 2006 championship. That year would also feature a number of meltdowns on the devilish 18th hole, none more heartbreaking than Phil Mickelson’s on the 72nd hole of the week.

    Winged Foot may not be flashy, but it is the a top US Open host due to the pressure it puts on players to hit a perfect shot every time, as one errant shot could cost a player the tournament.


    US Opens Held at Winged Foot: 5

    Past Winners (Scores): 1929, Bobby Jones (+6); 1959, Billy Casper (+2); 1974, Hale Irwin (+7); 1984, Fuzzy Zoeller (-4); 2006, Geoff Ogilvy (+5)

    Next US Open: TBD

2. Pebble Beach

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    For casual and some hardcore golf fans, Pebble Beach is quite possible the most well-known course in US Open history. The links-style course that hugs the Pacific coastline has hosted our national championship five times, providing fans some of golf’s most picturesque views and some of the game’s most lasting memories.

    The course’s shear beauty alone easily warrants the USGA’s continual return; however behind its cosmetic beauty lays a beast of a course that has caused some of the game’s top players to look like mere mortals.

    Pebble Beach is a rather short course, for US Open standards, measuring just over 7,000 yards for the 2010 championship. To safeguard for its lack of length, Pebble relies on the smallest greens in championship history, measuring at a minuscule 3,500 sq. ft.

    The sloping, bumpy putting surfaces are often rock hard and roll between 12 and 13 on the Stimpmeter. Add sloping fairways, thick rough, and the largest water hazard on the planet and you have a rather challenging test, and that’s without the howling wind off the Pacific. 


    US Opens Held at Pebble Beach: 5

    Past Winners (Scores): 1972, Jack Nicklaus (+2); 1982, Tom Watson (-6); 1992, Tom Kite (-3); 2000, Tiger Wood (-12); Graeme McDowell (E)

    Next US Open: 2019

1. Oakmont

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    Oakmont is the quintessential US Open course, as it is absolutely essential to hit fairways and greens and be an outstanding putter. The famed Pennsylvania track could quite possibly be the toughest course in America, due in large part to the diabolical putting surfaces, which USGA Executive Director Mike Davis called "The Scariest in Golf."

    The famed Pew Bunkers and the fact that the 9th green is shared with the practice putting facility add a unique touch to the classic course design. Following a run of under-par championships at the course, Oakmont’s bite and allure was rejuvenated after the course was renovated back to its original links-style design leading up to the 2007 championship.

    The course was lengthened to over 7,200 yards and played at a par 70. That year the winning score would be plus-5, with the average score for the tournament nearing plus-6.


    US Opens Held at Oakmont: 8

    Past Winners (Scores): 1927, Tommy Armour (+13); 1935, Sam Parks Jr. (+11); 1935, Ben Hogan (-5); 1962, Jack Nicklaus (-1); 1973, Johnny Miller (-8); 1983, Larry Nelson (-4); 1994, Ernie Els  (-5); 2007, Angel Cabrera (+5)

    Next US Open: 2016