Ranking the 5 Best US Open Sites

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIMay 23, 2013

Ranking the 5 Best US Open Sites

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    The 113th United States Open will be played Father’s Day weekend at Merion Golf Club outside of Philadelphia.

    This is the fifth time this old course has hosted golf’s national championship; Merion has not hosted the Open since 1981.

    Considered to be too short by modern standards, Merion hopes a good tournament in a few weeks will give them a shot in the hosting rotation again and knock one of these courses off this list.

    How does a course make the list as a top five U.S Open Course?

    It must be on the current rotation and personify some part of what makes the Open truly a unique event. It also must be difficult to score on and have a connection with the rich history of the game.

    This is a tough list to crack. Lets count them down in order.

5. Bethpage Black

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    Open’s Hosted:  2 (2002, 2009)

    The only course on this list not currently slated to host a future Open, Bethpage Black represents everything the United States Golf Association wants to promote with their signature event.

    Anybody can play in this course in the middle of Long Island, as it is public.

    Setting golf’s toughest tournament on a public course also conveys their other message that anyone—provided you have a handicap 1.6 or better—can try out for golf’s national championship.

    Among enthusiastic New York crowds, Tiger Woods captured his second Open in three years over a hard-charging Phil Mickelson in 2002.   

4. Pinehurst No. 2

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    Open’s Hosted: 2 (1999, 2005) 

    Next Open Turn: 2014

    The extreme heat of summer usually sees the USGA shy away from playing the Open in the Deep South, but Pinehurst No. 2 is the exception.

    A course that requires great length and precision to master, Pinehurst’s toughest feature are greens that are contoured like upside down cereal bowls. Even the best approach shots need to be careful about landing and staying on the correct tier of the green.

    The USGA thinks so highly of this course that both the men and women will contest the Open here on successive weeks next June.

    Payne Stewart won the first Open contested at Pinehurst and died in a plane crash that fall.

3. Winged Foot

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    Open’s Hosted: 5 (1929, 1959, 1974, 1984, 2006) 

    Next Open Turn: 2020

    Nestled above New York City, this treasure of Westchester County is best known in recent years for Phil Mickelson’s double-bogey on the last hole that cost him his first Open title.

    A notoriously difficult course, only once in the five times Winged Foot has hosted the Open that the championship score was under-par—Fuzzy Zoeller at four-under in 1984.

    The common perception is that the USGA loves seeing over-par as the winning score. When Geoff Ogilvy won in 2006, his final score was five-over.

    When Hale Irwin won here in 1974, it was seven-over, one of two scores to break 10-over and referred to as the “Massacre at Winged Foot.”

2. Oakmont

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    Open’s Hosted: 8 (1927, 1935, 1953, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1994, 2007) 

    Next Open Turn: 2016

    No course has hosted the Open more than Oakmont Country Club.

    Oakmont is best known for a series of deep bunkers called the “Church Pews”, because of rows of grass that look like a church pew, and having the Pennsylvania Turnpike actually running through the course.

    Near the birth home of Arnold Palmer, Palmer was the overwhelming favorite to win his second Open when Oakmont hosted in 1962. Yet, Palmer found himself tied after 72 holes with a 22-year-old Jack Nicklaus.

    Nicklaus would go on to win his first major—along with it being his first professional win—the next day by three shots.

    Oakmont places an absolute premium on placing tee shots on the fairway, one of the many reasons it remains in the Open rotation.

1. Pebble Beach

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    Open’s Hosted: 5 (1972, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2010) 

    Next Open Turn: 2019

    With all apologies to Augusta National, the spectacular views make Pebble Beach the prettiest course in major championship golf.

    Add the history of what has happened each time the Open has been played here—highlighted by Tom Watson’s chip-in for birdie on the 71st hole from off the green to deny Nicklaus a fifth Open in 1982 and Tiger Woods record-setting 15-shot win in 2000—and you have on the California coast a signature course for the biggest championship in American golf.

    Weather is the biggest defense for Pebble Beach and a combination of fog, rain and high winds can turn this seemingly easy, shorter course into an absolute nightmare to play.