One of these things is not like the others, might be the subtitle to this installment of Public Play Major Sites. We’ll go into a bit of detail farther along, but the first site on the list is not 100% the course that was used for the US Open. The 1912 edition took place in August, quite different from the now-recognized June dates that culminate on Father’s Day. Let’s find out a bit more about our public-access US Open venues
In 1912, Grover Cleveland was the 2nd iteration of the Country Club of Buffalo. The course was located on the outskirts of the city, but urban sprawl led the membership to seek greener pastures to the east. The course was turned over to the city, and became the only course to host both the Open and the now-defunct USGA Amateur Public Links championship (1926.) After World War II, a Veteran’s Administration hospital was built on a healthy chunk of the property, and many holes were rerouted. Still, the ghosts of Walter Hagen and Johnny McDermott still roam the fairways along Bailey Avenue. The freight is cheap and the golf is more than decent.
As Grover Cleveland was not a public course in 1912, the 1972 Open at Pebble Beach was the first, truly public open. The crowds were treated to a timeless performance by Jack Nicklaus, including his near ace at the penultimate hole. A decade later, the Golden Bear looked to have another Open in his pocket, only to have Tom Watson work his wedge magic and steal the crown away. Pebble isn’t a cheap date, but all who have played the course, carry memories of the oceanside holes into eternity.
Another resort, in the American southeast, considers itself to be the premier golf destination in the lower 48 (and the outer 2, for that matter.) It is said that Donald J. Ross, jr., poured all his efforts into #2, after he failed to receive the commission to design Augusta National. Perhaps true, perhaps not. The deuce received a wondrous restoration from Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw around 2010, and served as host of the Open for the third time, in 2014. Like Pebble, it doesn’t come cheap, but the subtlety of its fairways will compel a golfer to elevate the value of strategic play.
The People’s Open was the tag line for the 2002 playing of the august championship. Never before had a municipal course opened its arms to the greats of the golfing world. It didn’t hurt that Tiger Woods captured his second title at the Black. Midway out on Long Island, the Black is one of five courses at the Farmingdale (NY) state park. The other four aren’t slouches, but to play the Black is to play the epitome of public golf.
The municipal theme repeated itself in 2009, this time on the west coast of the USA. Torrey Pines, unlike Bethpage Black, was not untested. It had served as a venue for the annual San Diego PGA Tour event for decades. The way the course played in June of 2008 was quite different from February. Hobbled by a broken leg, Tiger Woods once again summoned greatness to defeat Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff. As for you, choose the North course (the non-Open course on property) for your Monday round. You might like it even more than the South.
It’s safe to say that the Open at Chambers Bay was one of the most unforgettable in recent memory. 4 or 5 golfers looked to have the event won, but only Jordan Spieth was able to survive and lay claim to the title. The SEATAC municipal course is a behemoth, situated at the bottom of a former quarry. The holes are oversized in every way, and a walk along Chambers Bay will turn your calves into grapefruits. Be sure to play a deck or two shorter, for the uphill holes are truly uphill. Unlike the Pebbles and the Pinehursts, Chambers Bay’s green fee won’t break the bank.
Never was a golf course more ripe for an assault on par than Erin Hills in 2017. Rains had softened the fairways and greens, and the width of the playing corridors (accompanied by an absence of wind and rough) had the aficionados crying that these weren’t Open conditions. Brooks Koepka’s breakout victory was confirmed the following year, when he repeated at storied Shinnecock Hills. Erin Hills is a glorious golfing park, Irish in spirit, in the middle of Wisconsin. With so much great golf (Sand Valley, Whistling Straits) in the Badger state, a stop by Erin Hills is a must.