Most sports separate fans from the field of play. Baseball fans can’t hit a home run in Yankee Stadium, and NASCAR nuts will never do a victory lap at the Daytona International Speedway. Golfers are luckier: We can emulate iconic moments in our sport’s history. Jack’s 1-iron at Pebble Beach? Tried it! Payne’s winning putt at Pinehurst No. 2? Made it! So as the U.S. Open goes public this month at Torrey Pines, here’s where to create your own major memories.
OPEN MOMENT: 2002 (Tiger Woods); 2009
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Bethpage Black is part rite-of-passage, part test of manhood. Rees Jones fortified A.W. Tillinghast’s design for the 2002 Open, resulting in a walking-only layout with ligament-snapping rough, forced carries and terrifyingly swift greens.
OPEN SHOT TO RE-CREATE: After gut-busting tee shots just to reach the fairways at the 10th and 12th holes, Tiger Woods cemented his lead at the 554-yard, par-5 13th hole by reaching the green in two with a 2-iron from 263 yards. Go on, just try that one!
GETTING ON: Notorious as the toughest tee time in America, Bethpage offers three options: Call 516-249-0707 for a lottery-style tee time two days later (although your odds are probably better in the real lottery). Option two is sleeping in your car: Starting at 4:00 a.m., a park employee doles out “bakery tickets” that allow the first 24 players to play that day. Failing that, walk on as a single and hope for a threesome. Tuesdays through Thursdays offer your best shots.
OPEN MOMENT: 1972 (Jack Nicklaus); 1982 (Tom Watson); 1992 (Tom Kite); 2000 (Tiger Woods); 2010
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: You’d need the cranky disposition of American Idol judge Simon Cowell to criticize the Pebble Beach experience, though it would help to have his bank balance to play here. However, what you get for your money is one of the world’s most exhilarating layouts, filled with memorable holes like the tiny 107-yard, par-3 7th, where pros in the wind-blown final round of the 1992 U.S. Open were forced to punch 6-irons down the hill.
OPEN SHOT TO RE-CREATE: There is a fistful of legitimate candidates, but most opt to try emulating Tom Watson’s chip-in birdie at the 209-yard 17th. Purists will want to try it when the pin is on the back-left portion of the hourglass-shaped green.
GETTING ON: To play one round at Pebble Beach, you’ll need to book a two-night stay at a Pebble Beach Resorts property. That gets you a tee time up to 18 months in advance. Outside guests may call one day in advance or walk up and register with the starter. Holidays, such as Mother’s Day, Independence Day and the Christmas to New Year’s week, offer better chances of success.
OPEN MOMENT: 2008
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Rees Jones’ 2001 makeover turned a scenic if architecturally barren track into a formidable test. It will never be mistaken for one of golf’s greatest courses, but the South is relentless thanks to its stout par-4s, which will eat your lunch and ask for seconds. Two of the most brutal challenges come at the 488-yard 4th and the 504-yard 12th, which for good measure is also uphill and usually into the wind. Even Mr. Woods might have nightmares about this hole.
OPEN SHOT TO RE-CREATE: None, yet (but we’re willing to bet Tiger hits it).
GETTING ON: Non-residents can call the advance reservation system (877-581-7171) from 8 to 90 days out. Add $37 for the reservation fee. Until 7:30 a.m. it’s first-come, first-served on the first tee, so walk-on golfers have a shot. The average wait for a single is two hours. Monday and Wednesday tend to be the lightest days. Another option is booking a package with the Lodge at Torrey Pines or the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, each of which has access to daily tee times.
OPEN MOMENT: 1999 (Payne Stewart); 2005 (Michael Campbell); 2014
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Countless first-timers at No. 2 have suspiciously eyed the first few fairways — noting the lack of forced carries, rough and drama — and wondered what all the fuss is about. The answer comes the first time they try to hold the crowned greens or get up and down from the shaved-down chipping areas. The gently rolling terrain and fairways framed by longleaf pines make for one of golf’s most pleasurable walks, drenched as you are in more than a hundred years of serious golf history. But the demands for precise approaches and short-game prowess usually overmatch everybody on one of Donald Ross’ finest creations.
OPEN SHOT TO RE-CREATE: Everyone from Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods has teed it up here, but no shot resonates more than Payne Stewart’s 15-foot, uphill, inside-left-edge par putt on the 18th green to clinch the 1999 U.S. Open. A statue of Stewart thrusting his fist in the air sits to the left of the green. To get your chance, just play on Sunday, when the resort uses that same pin location.
GETTING ON: Simply book a stay-and-play package at Pinehurst Resort. Shoulder-season prices start at $309 per person and include golf, accommodations, breakfast and dinner. Resort guests who walk on pay $319-$379. Non-guests may call on the day of play to check availability. The walk-up rate is $410 year-round.