The Top 10 Golf Courses We Wish Were in the US Open Rotation
The R&A have a formally established rotation for the Open Championship. Unlike the R&A, however, the United States Golf Association has no official “Open Rota.” The U.S. Open, rather, is played at a variety of courses.
There are, however, a few courses which host the tournament with regularity—Oakmont, for example, has hosted the U.S. Open in 1983, 1994 and 2007.
Oakmont is a spectacular venue, and one which certainly should be included in the U.S. Open rotation. There are 10 other courses, though, that have either never hosted a U.S. Open that should or should be featured more prominently in the informal rotation.
Since the first U.S. Open at Newport Country Club in 1895, in addition to Oakmont, five courses have hosted the competition five or more times.
The USGA has, seemingly, made a commitment to choose an increased number of public courses as U.S. Open host sites (Bethpage Black has hosted the tournament twice in the last 10 years) and to play the tournament at new venues, such as Chambers Bay in 2015 and Erin Hills in 2017 (which has already hosted the U.S. Amateur and was essentially built to host the U.S. Open).
If we take the essential characteristics of a U.S. Open venue to be tight, hard, often undulating fairways, lengthy primary rough, small, fast, undulating greens and substantial length, then the 10 venues will all perform admirably as host sites for our nation’s national championship.
No. 10: Colonial CC
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Marvin Leonard's pride and joy, Colonial CC has only hosted one U.S. Open. As James Dodson notes in Ben Hogan: An American Life, Leonard talked the USGA into bringing the national championship to his bentgrass-in-Texas experiment in 1941 and it has not returned their since.
A golf tournament in Texas in mid-June is a daunting prospect, to be sure. The course may not be the best suited of all the venues on this list, however, the reasoning for including it on this list is largely sentimental and goes something like this:
The Colonial Invitational, held at Colonial since 1946, seems to have slipped down a peg or two in prestige in recent years. Because Colonial was Ben Hogan's home course (of sorts) and because of Hogan's friendship with Marvin Leonard, it would be nice to see the home course of the four-time U.S. Open champion get a second look from the USGA.
I acknowledge this, however, to be rather wishful thinking.
No. 9: Inverness
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Inverness hasn’t hosted a U.S. Open since 1979. A 1999 refurbishment should see the classic course, which is ranked in the Top 50 Courses in the U.S. by Golf Digest, poised to host another U.S. Open.
The straightforward, non-gimmicky layout is one of Donald Ross’s signature layouts. With minimal water in play, tight, pitched fairways and small greens, the course is an ideal Open venue. Add to this the club’s rich history, Inverness is worthy of another nod from the USGA.
No. 8: Southern Hills
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True, the last time Southern Hills hosted the U.S. Open in 2001 it seemed like the tournament was being played on the face of the sun.
The average high temperature in Tulsa in June, however, is only in the mid-80’s, which is only a few degrees warmer than hot and humid Pittsburgh, where the USGA’s darling Open venue, Oakmont, is located.
The course is a classic U.S. Open venue, with undulations in both fairways and greens a dogleg on most holes, forcing players to make strategic decisions about their angles off the tee. Additionally, three of the four par threes are over 200 yards in length, which, again, seems to be something the USGA favors.
The course has hosted the U.S. Open three times, but merits serious consideration for return visits every decade.
No. 7: Cherry Hills
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William Flynn's Colorado treasure has hosted three U.S. Opens including Arnold Palmer's legendary 1960 triumph, but hasn't hosted the tournament since 1978. This should change.
Additionally, the course hosted the 2012 U.S. Amateur, following Tom Doak's extensive renovations. Given the renovations to the already stellar course in expectation of the Amateur, it's not unreasonable to assume that the USGA is relatively happy with the work that was done and would be more inclined to consider Cherry Hills as an Open venue.
The scenic Colorado venue should certainly be considered to host another Open, as it has proven a very apt venue for a USGA event very recently.
No. 6: Hazeltine
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Host of the 1970 and 1991 U.S. Opens, Hazeltine will host the 2016 Ryder Cup, but hasn’t hosted a U.S. Open in over 20 years. “Open Doctor” Rees Jones made changes to the course in preparation for both the ‘91 U.S. Open and the ‘07 PGA Championship. With this in mind, the course should be well-suited to continue to host the U.S. Open.
Clearly, the USGA felt good about Hazeltine at one point, selecting to hold the U.S. Open at the course just eight years after it opened. The rolling course layout is designed to test every aspect of a player’s game. Indeed, Hazeltine was built for the express purpose of hosting major and national championships.
It’s time the U.S. Open made a return to Hazeltine.
No. 5: Oakland Hills
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“The Monster” hasn’t hosted a U.S. Open since 1996, and that's a shame.
The course will play host to the 2016 U.S. Amateur, but it's time that the classic venue is given another U.S. Open. The central location of the course (outside Detroit) is also a benefit to the USGA, who seem to be bouncing from coast to coast with the championship and skipping all the states in between.
It’s no coincidence that another Donald Ross course makes this list, as Oakland Hills has played host to the U.S. Open on six occasions.
The club recently underwent cosmetic renovations to the clubhouse. Assuming that the course plays as well as it did during the 2008 PGA Championship during the 2016 Amateur, there's no reason it shouldn't be considered for its seventh Open, as the course itself still has all the essential elements of a U.S. Open venue.
No. 4: The Country Club
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The site of Francis Ouimet’s improbable victory in 1913, The Country Club has hosted the U.S. Open three times.
Additionally, the course will host the 2013 U.S. Amateur. I hope that the decision to play the Amateur there next year is less of a nod to the centennial of Ouimet’s accomplishments and more of an assessment of how the course plays as a significant men’s tournament in expectation of returning the U.S. Open to this quality (no. 16 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses) venue.
Certainly, another Open is in the cards for this charter club of the USGA.
No. 3: Pinehurst No. 2
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Pinehurst No. 2 has inexplicably hosted the U.S. Open only twice, although Donald Ross’s North Carolina gem is slated to host the national championship in 2014. It appears that the USGA has caught on to the fact that the No. 2 course is a perfect U.S. Open venue, having held the tournament there twice in the past 10 years.
The 2011 renovation of the course, which was intended to return the course to Donald Ross’s original design, should ensure that the course that will be played in 2014 will be vastly superior to the course that Michael Campbell won the 2005 U.S. Open on. If this proves to be true, then Pinehurst No. 2 must be a staple in the U.S. Open rotation.
No. 2: Bandon Dunes
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Certain parties are convinced that Bandon Dunes will inevitably host a U.S. Open. The coastal Oregon golf course is well-regarded. Opened in just 1999, the course is already featured in the Top 10 of Golf Digest’s Best Public Courses.
The course features and abundance of undulations and a rating of 74.2. It may be relatively short by current U.S. Open standards (~6,700 yards) and will require some primary rough growth in areas, but the raw materials are there for a great U.S. Open.
No. 1: Whistling Straits
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The Straits Course has hosted the PGA Championship on two occasions and the U.S. Senior Open on one. Pete Dye’s masterpiece in Kohler, Wisconsin, has not, however, been selected to host the U.S. Open.
The greens at Whistling Straits, while moderately undulating, are enormous—8,000 square feet. The average green on tour is 6,000 square feet. Perhaps, this has dissuaded the USGA, who surely need a midwestern anchor venue for their championship. Or perhaps the club’s 967 bunkers present a rules quagmire that Mike Davis and company would prefer to avoid, following the Dustin Johnson debacle at the 2010 PGA Championship.
The Straits Course has performed well enough in the tournaments it has hosted. The USGA may be frightened by the idea of hosting the U.S. Open at a rather progressive design, which looks more like a links-style course than they may be comfortable with.
I believe it would be great theater to see how the USGA sets up the course and that a compelling tournament with a winner near par would be a very real possibility.