Time for a new U.S. Open tradition

Time for a new U.S. Open tradition

The par-3 17th hole at Pebble Beach required a long-iron shot during this year's U.S. Open. The figure-8 green was never intended to be as firm or as fast as the USGA made it.
Ross Kinnard/Getty Images

Juiced up to U.S. Open standards, the 17th hole at Pebble Beach became virtually unplayable. This is not the first time this has happened at one of our national championships. The 17th hole at the Olympic Club during the 1998 U.S. Open and the seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 were similarly abusive. This year, in addition to the 17th, Pebble’s 14th hole also drew a lot of criticism.

For all the praise heaped upon the United States Golf Association for recent U.S. Open course setups—and Mike Davis and company surely deserve it—I propose that it is time to abandon one of golf’s oldest traditions. The USGA should stop moving the U.S. Open from course to course. I know that is blasphemy to some, but I believe it is time to stop protecting the past and build a new tradition.

Hear me out before you call me nuts, because I really think this plan’s time has come.

I would like to see the USGA build two multi-course facilities—one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast—where all of our national championships could be played.

Each facility would be home to three courses: one to host the U.S. Open, another for the U.S. Women’s Open and a third for amateur events — the men’s and women’s U.S. Amateurs, the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup.

The most elite American designers would be asked to create these courses, with input from the USGA — Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore; Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish; Jack Nicklaus; Tom Doak; Rees Jones; Robert Trent Jones Jr. ; Pete Dye and Tom Fazio. Who wouldn’t be honored to donate his time and expertise to such an amazing project?

By having its own national championship facilities, the USGA would have year-round control of the speed and firmness of the greens, the thickness and depth of the rough, the trees and the width of the fairways. And because the courses would be built with modern golfers and equipment in mind, we would see challenging but logical holes instead of tricked-out versions of classic layouts. Imagine fairway bunkers that guard the fairway instead of being 10 yards in the rough because of altered fairway lines. With modern SubAir drainage systems, the USGA could control runout in fairways and firmness of greens even in rainy conditions.

Think about all that for a minute. By creating these facilities, courses like Merion, Winged Foot, Pebble Beach and Shinnecock Hills would no longer have to be lengthened or altered to meet USGA championship standards. The crown jewels of American golf course architecture could remain exactly as they were intended.

Spectator areas could be designed into the newly-built courses so more fans could see more of the action. Hospitality pavilions and media centers could be permanent structures, saving the USGA a lot of money while improving their utility. Even parking areas could be positioned closer. The bottom line would be a better experience for everyone at a lower cost.

In addition to allowing local golfers (and vacationers) access to the courses during non-tournament times, the national championship facilities could act as agronomy testing centers where the USGA could study the short- and long-term environmental effects of new grasses, fertilizers and maintenance techniques. Golf course superintendents could use the facilities for regional meetings and seminars. Lighted practice areas and a kid-size par-3 course could also be included. I have no doubt that golfers from all over the country would plan trips to play the U. S. Open course.

Like any major departure from tradition, a lot of people wouldn’t be too happy if this idea came to fruition. Many would argue that holding the U.S. Open at only two sites would render previous U.S. Open results and records meaningless. To that, I would say most of the comparisons are already pointless.

The St. Andrews Links Trust, which manages the Old Course (site of next week’s British Open), agrees with me. It has erased the tournament-record scores shot before the course was lengthened for the 2005 British Open. And because the course has been lengthened again in preparation for this year’s championship, a Trust spokesman recently said that a new record could be re-established again.

Some would argue that moving the U.S. Open around the country helps build enthusiasm in different areas. But in the 30 years since Jack Nicklaus won at Baltusrol in New Jersey, the tournament has only been played in 10 other states. In fact, since 1895 — when the first U.S. Open was played at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island—only 16 other states have hosted the event.

True, Chamber’s Bay in Tacoma, Wash., and Erin Hills in Hartford, Wis., are slated to welcome future U.S. Opens. But if the traditional date of mid-June is maintained, it’s highly doubtful the tournament is going anywhere in the Southeast except Pinehurst. And I wouldn’t look for it to go back to scalding-hot Southern Hills in Tulsa or Champions Golf Club in Houston.

The USGA’s course standards, as well as the modern logistical demands of a major event, put a real strain on many classic golf courses. Establishing a few national championship facilities could make running some of the most prestigious golf tournaments a lot easier and less expensive. At the same time, the quality of the venue and the fairness of the competition could be improved.

Think about it — all four of tennis’s Grand Slam events are held at the same venues each year, so why not two of golf’s?