Welcome to the Major Greens
JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT A PRO GOLFER DOESN'T MEAN YOU CAN'T ACT LIKE ONE. AT THESE PUBLIC COURSES - PAST AND FUTURE SITES OF THE US OPEN AND PGA CHAMPIONSHIP - YOU'RE FREE TO CHANNEL YOUR INNER ARNOLD PALMER.
IF TIGER WOODS WINS THE US OPEN this month, he will have back-to-back victories in golf 's toughest tournament. And he will also keep a much rarer streak alive: By prevailing on the Black Course of New York's Bethpage State Park, he will remain the only golfer in history to win the event on a municipal course.
No matter who triumphs, this month's tournament will be highly unusual: It's one of the few times in history when you can watch a prestigious golf event and then actually play the course. The nation's governing golf bodies, the USGA and PGA of America, don't traditionally hold their majors on public-access courses. In fact, it took the USGA more than a century before it played the Open on a "muni" (a type of public course that is owned by the city) in 2002, also at Bethpage, where Woods bested Phil Mickelson by three shots.
Public reaction to that tournament, instantly dubbed "The People's Open," was overwhelmingly positive and began a paradigm shift. Last year, it was played on a second municipal course, Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego, where Woods won again in what many critics have called the greatest finish in golf history, a dramatic playoff against Rocco Mediate. (Woods seems to be a man of the people: He kept his muni streak alive despite failing to win at any of the private venues in the intervening five years.) Three public Open venues were added in the past decade, with another, Washington's Chambers Bay, slated for 2015.
And the PGA Championship has also become more open to public courses recently. In 2004, it returned to Whistling Straits in Kohler, WI, after a nearly 30-year streak of private courses.
IF GOLF IS SOMETIMES VIEWED AS AN elitist pastime, part of the blame likely lies with America's three majors. While the British Open is held on a course the average golfer can play, this is almost never the case for US majors. The Masters is synonymous with Augusta National, a course played by only about 300 invitation-only members and their guests. The percentage of television viewers who have played the course is statistically insignificant.
Amazingly, after the US Open debuted in 1895, it took 77 years to reach a public course, played at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 1972. Since then, it has only been played on four courses that welcome golf fans to do more than watch, while the PGA Championship has been held on just eight public-access courses.
While this year's PGA Championship (Aug. 10-16) will be at the private Hazeltine National Golf Club just outside Minneapolis, next year it returns to Whistling Straits, and then to a new public addition in 2012, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, SC. And these are no slouches for vacationing golfers: Whistling Straits is rated by GOLF Magazine as the nation's third best public course and the Ocean Course fourth. (The latter is best known for hosting the 1991 Ryder Cup from tees so difficult it earned the nickname "The War by the Shore.")
While most televised courses are off limits to viewers, golf is still one of the only sports where you have the chance to play at the venues you watch professionals tackle. They won't let you bat in Fenway Park or shoot foul shots in Madison Square Garden any time soon, but you can tee up at Torrey Pines, Bethpage or next year's US Open venue, Pebble Beach Golf Links, rated by GOLF as No. 2 in the nation.
Steeped in history, Pebble Beach was extensively renovated for the tournament with the help of Arnold Palmer. Woods won the last time the Open was played there, in 2000, and past champs include a Who's Who of golf greats: Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Jack Nicklaus, the first ever to win it on a public course.
In fact, Pebble Beach has hosted more majors than any other public venue and - along with Pinehurst's fabled Number Two - is one of the only courses you can play that has held both the US Open and PGA Championship. Number Two joined the US Open rotation in 1999, when it was won by Payne Stewart just before his tragic death.
The bottom line is that out of the 271 times the majors have been held domestically (73 Masters, 108 US Opens and 90 PGA Championships), there are only 10 courses you can play without a member's invitation, plus two new additions coming soon, Kiawah Island and Chambers Bay. Fortunately, this dozen comprises an excellent assortment for the traveling golf fan, including some of the world's most historic, many rated higher than the majority of the private Major venues you can't play.
So while you watch Woods attempt to make history this month and keep his municipal winning streak alive, take notes. You just might play that course one day.
THE DAZZLING DOZEN
Pack those clubs and get ready to channel your inner pro. This list of US Open and PGA Championship venues includes courses - both municipal and public - that welcome golfers of all levels.
NUMBER TWO, PINEHURST RESORT, NC
(70 miles from Raleigh, NC)
RANKING: Fifth-best public
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 1999, 2005 (US Open); 1936 (PGA Championship) This was the seminal course of legendary designer Donald Ross. Although he worked on more than 400 courses, he lived in a house alongside this one, spending his life perfecting it. www.pinehurst.com
CHAMPION COURSE, PGA NATIONAL, PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL (17 miles from West Palm Beach)
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 1971, 1987 (PGA Championship)
This course (the best of five at one of Florida's largest golf resorts) is known for its difficult three-hole "Bear Trap" (holes 15-17), named for designer Jack Nicklaus, aka the Golden Bear. It's open to resort guests. www.pgaresort.com
PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS AT PEBBLE BEACH, CA
(122 miles from San Francisco)
RANKING: Second-best public
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 1972, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2010 (US Open); 1977 (PGA Championship)
Its claim to fame is the "Duel in the Sun" in 1982, when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson battled it out, with Watson dramatically chipping in on 17 to win. www.pebblebeach.com
THE DONALD ROSS COURSE AT FRENCH LICK RESORT, FRENCH LICK, IN
(136 miles from Indianapolis)
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 1924 (PGA Championship)
This is an extreme rarity: a "new" course by the late Donald Ross. The course reopened in 2007, after a $6 million dollar renovation using vintage photographs and drawings to restore Ross's original design. www.frenchlick.com
WEST COURSE, HERSHEY COUNTRY CLUB, HERSHEY, PA
(15 miles from Harrisburg)
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 1940 (PGA Championship)
This course has an unusual par-73 layout, and its par-3 fifth hole plays to a green on the front lawn of founder Milton Hershey's stately mansion. Tee times are available for guests at a Hershey Resort property. www.hersheygolfcollection.com
OCEAN COURSE, KIAWAH ISLAND GOLF RESORT, SC
(27 miles from Charleston)
RANKING: Fourth-best public
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 2012 (PGA Championship)
The '91 Ryder Cup was so long and windy that it was dubbed "The War by the Shore;" several pros vowed never to return. The variety of tees actually makes it a perfect challenge for golfers of all abilities. www.kiawahresort.com
STRAITS COURSE AT WHISTLING STRAITS, KOHLER, WI
(54 miles from Milwaukee)
RANKING: Third-best public
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 2004, 2010 (PGA Championship)
The first modern walking-only course, it has encouraged the rebirth of the caddie tradition in the US. Non-guest bookings can be made 14 days in advance. www.destinationkohler.com
CHAMBERS BAY, UNIVERSITY PLACE, WA
(41 miles from Seattle)
RANKING: best new course (2007); eighth-best public
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 2010 (US Amateur); 2015 (US Open) Owned by Pierce County, it will be the third municipal Open venue used. The course finishes strong, with holes 15-18 all running along the coast of Puget Sound. www.chambersbaygolf.com
BAY COURSE, SEAVIEW RESORT, GALLOWAY, NJ
(13 miles from Atlantic City, NJ)
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 1942 (PGA Championship)
The 17th hole is an homage by Donald Ross to his Scottish homeland, similar to the world-famous Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon. A par-3 of just 104 yards, it features a tiny green ringed by five deep bunkers. www.seaviewgolf.com
PECAN VALLEY GOLF CLUB, SAN ANTONIO, TX
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 1968 (PGA Championship) Non-residents can play this little-known local course for as little as $67. During the 1968 PGA Championship, Julian Boros edged the legendary Arnold Palmer by one stroke on the final hole to win. The renowned Bob Cupp extensively renovated the course in 1998. www.pecanvalleygc.com
SOUTH COURSE, TORREY PINES, SAN DIEGO, CA
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 2008 (US Open)
This 36-hole seaside facility hosted last year's US Open, which many golf pundits call the best pro contest ever. Tiger Woods made a long putt on the final 72nd hole to force an 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate, which also went down to the final hole. Woods won in the end. www.torreypines.golfcourse.com
BLACK COURSE, BETHPAGE STATE PARK, FARMING-DALE, NY
(45 miles from White Plains, NY)
RANKING: Seventh-best public
TOURNAMENT YEAR: 2002, 2009 (US Open)
The famously difficult layout is one of five within Bethpage State Park. When Tiger Woods won with 3 under par, he was the only player to break par on what is considered one of the toughest publics in the country. 516-249-0701