Ranking the Best U.S. Open Courses of All Time

Mike DudurichContributor IJune 15, 2013

Ranking the Best U.S. Open Courses of All Time

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    Golf courses that get the honor of hosting a U.S. Open are obviously several cuts above the thousands of other sites that would love to do so.

    While all of these courses are beautiful, there are some that are just a cut above the rest. Trying to rank them is like trying to choose the prettiest girl in a beauty pageant.

    Nevertheless, here’s my effort at ranking the best ones of all time.

9. Bethpage State Park (Black Course)

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    Hosting Resume: 2002 (Tiger Woods), 2009 (Lucas Glover)

    Best Attribute: The course is a public layout made over with government funds to separate it from the other four courses in the complex. It is now a thoroughly modern layout, with plenty to intimidate players at every level. It was the first public layout to ever host a U.S. Open.

    Signature Open Moment: The 2002 U.S. Open became another notch on Tiger Woods’ majors belt,and he was the only player in the field to finish under par. Bethpage Black was a beast and a big hit, breaking attendance records and creating great atmosphere the whole week. The loud New York fans had a blast with the players.

8. Baltusrol (Lower Course)

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    Hosting Resume: 1954 (Ed Furgol), 1967 (Jack Nicklaus), 1980 (Jack Nicklaus), 1993 (Lee Janzen).

    Best Attribute: It’s a course that has the classic look of a championship layout. The routing is superb in that it requires all the shots to be successful there.

    Signature Open Moment: Jack Nicklaus following up his 1967 Open title there by winning again in 1980. The great golf courses crave great champions, and the Lower Course got that with a double dose of Nicklaus.

7. The Olympic Club

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    Hosting Resume: 1955 (Jack Fleck), 1966 (Billy Casper), 1987 (Scott Simpson), 1998 (Lee Janzen), 2012 (Webb Simpson)

    Best Attribute: The Lake Course at the Olympic Club winds across rolling hills situated between Lake Merced and the Pacific Ocean. The course has it all: sloping fairways, difficult greens and very few flat lies anywhere.

    Signature Open Moment: Arnold Palmer dominated the 1966 Open, leading by seven shots with nine holes left. But something happened on the way to an Open title for Palmer, as he was caught by Billy Casper to finish tied at the end of regulation. Casper kept it going the next day in the playoff, beating Palmer for the title.

6. Pebble Beach

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    Hosting Resume: 1972 (Jack Nicklaus), 1982 (Tom Watson), 1992 (Tom Kite), 2000 (Tiger Woods), 2010 (Graeme McDowell)

    Best Attribute: Pebble Beach is perched on perhaps the most magnificent tract of land in the world. The stretch of holes from the 7th through 10th hug the cliffs in jaw-dropping fashion. The 4th through 6th aren’t bad, either.

    Signature Open Moment: Tom Watson’s chip-in from the gnarly rough behind the 17th green in the final round of the 1982 Open clinched his first national championship. It was the sixth of his eight major champions.

5. Winged Foot

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    Hosting Resume: 1959 (Billy Casper), 1974 (Hale Irwin), 1984 (Fuzzy Zoeller), 2006 (Geoff Ogilvy)

    Best Attribute: It’s a classic A.W. Tillinghast design and that in itself is enough of an attribute. It is a demanding layout with deep rough, lots of trees and small, testy greens.

    Signature Open Moment: From the middle of the 18th fairway in the final round, Fuzzy Zoeller waved a white towel of mock surrender when Greg Norman made a 45-foot par putt on the green ahead. Zoeller made a par of his own, forcing a playoff the next day. On the 18th in the playoff, Norman faded and waved his own towel as Zoeller was about to win by eight shots.

4. Pinehurst No. 2

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    Hosting Resume: 1999 (Payne Stewart), 2005 (Michael Campbell)

    Best Attribute: It is golf in its natural state, a classic design done originally by Donald Ross. A recent renovation by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw took away rough and replaced it with waste areas all around the course in the classic Ross manner.

    Signature Open Moment: Payne Stewart rolled in a par putt on the 18th late Sunday afternoon to defeat Phil Mickelson. The win was celebrated by construction of a statue of Stewart’s victory pose that stands behind the 18th green. Tragically, Stewart was killed in a plane crash a few months later.

3. Merion

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    Hosting Resume: 1934 (Olin Dutra), 1950 (Ben Hogan), 1971 (Lee Trevino), 1981 (David Graham)

     Best Attribute: Merion’s distinctive wicker baskets atop poles is just the beginning of the uniqueness on this Hugh Wilson design. It is short by modern standards, but it’s classically rugged by look and design. The easy holes are easy, but the hard holes are really hard.

    Signature Open Moment: Ben Hogan, just 16 months removed from a near-fatal automobile accident, came back in 1950’s final round, fueled by a miraculous 1-iron on the 18th hole to force a playoff the next day. He won that playoff, a tournament that has come to be known as the Miracle at Merion.

2. Oakmont

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    Hosting Resume: 1927 (Tommy Armour), 1935 (Sam Parks Jr.), 1953 (Ben Hogan), 1962 (Jack Nicklaus), 1973 (Johnny Miller), 1983 (Larry Nelson), 1994 (Ernie Els), 2007 (Angel Cabrera).

    Best Attribute: Has the most undulating putting surfaces in major championship history. Has more than 100 bunkers that are among the most penal in the game.

    Signature Open Moment: Johnny Miller recorded a majors record round of 63 in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open to come back from six shots behind and win the tournament.

1. Shinnecock Hills

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    Hosting Resume: 1896 (James Foulis), 1986 (Raymond Floyd), 1995 (Corey Pavin), 2004 (Retief Goosen)

    Best Attribute: It’s a true links layout with rolling, bumpy and unpredictable fairways. Near the outer edge of Long Island, Shinnecock Hills is always at the mercy of the ever-changing weather conditions. It’s just a classic, old course that is a timeless test of golf.

    Signature Open Moment: Raymond Floyd finished the 1986 U.S. Open as the only player to shoot under par, winning by a pair of shots over Chip Beck and Lanny Wadkins. It was windy and dusty that Sunday, a perfect setting for one of golf’s toughest guys to win a title.