Where Do They Go From Here?
A bumpy week at Bethpage Black raises questions about future U.S. Open venues. Geoff Shackelford breaks down the favorites, the contenders, and the sites on the outside looking in
Run out of select vintages at the media hotel, and you start to hear angry scribes say things like this: Lucas Glover will win a major before we come back to Bethpage again.
Now that Glover has taken possession of the U.S. Open trophy, the inevitable backdoor shuffling and rumor-mongering has some reconsidering Bethpage's future Open prospects.
Thankfully the USGA doesn't select venues based on media comfort or for that matter, anyone's comfort.
No, the decision these days is mostly about a confluence of course architecture and, as one USGA official insisted last week, "the partners." That means everything from club members, managers, course owners and local politicians.
The U.S. Open figures to keep visiting a regional mix of massive scale venues with the occasional downsized event played at an architectural marvel. With that in mind, here's where the most talked-about venues stand a week after Oakmont landed the 2016 Open and two weeks after Pinehurst agreed to host the men and women in back to back weeks.
Might As Well Call Them Rota Members
Pebble Beach: The USGA and Pebble Beach Company like to bicker but ultimately need each other and they know it. Recent course changes by Arnold Palmer came as a surprise to the USGA and it kills them to give Pebble a special deal. But then the Executive Committee will see those blimp shots and whiff the smell of burning logs in their plush Lodge suite, and all will be right with the world --every ten years. Pencil in 2020 for a return.
Pinehurst #2: After rain-delayed Bethpage, the June 2014 experiment to play men's and women's Opens in back-to-back weeks seems a little less sexy. And two weeks in Pinehurst will be tough on everyone except the lucky Executive Committee members lounging at the Carolina Inn. However, Pinehurst gives the USGA a quality southern venue in a great golf town.
Oakmont: Mike Davis may widen out some of Oakmont's fairways for the 2016 championship to highlight design elements lost in 2007's injury-thick rough. If the members don't go batty over a slightly gentler and an infinitely more interesting Oakmont, the USGA will be back here every ten years. If the macho Western Pennsylvanians juice their rough and resist a better setup, all bets are off.
One Last Time?
Olympic Club: Early reviews on the club's greens reconstruction have some Executive Committee members squeamish about the 2012 Open. While the USGA was not consulted on the drastic changes to the once character-rich 7th and 8th holes, some inside the organization expect to be blamed for the now bland holes. But San Francisco looks great on television and is even more fun to visit, especially if the Giants are in town. The course has plenty of space, there's bite back in the 18th green and the Lake Course has produced consistently exciting finishes. Albeit, with the wrong guys always winning.
Merion: Heading to this space-deprived venue for the 2013 U.S. Open still feels like a reach and many are predicting a one-off return if logistical issues turn out as painful as expected. Also going against it: the USGA can only do these revenue-light years so often. But there's no questioning the architectural artistry of the East Course. Tune in when it hosts this year's Walker Cup.
Congressional: They're redoing the greens again, starting the project after next week's AT&T event and way too close to the 2011 date. None of that can make the USGA happy. Yes, it's great to go to Washington D.C. and President Obama's love of golf will almost guarantee a historic appearance, but this should be it. The club can host Tiger's event and the USGA can go somewhere better.
Never Say Never Again
Winged Foot: The members passed on 2015 and historically have needed long breathers between Opens. Eventually they'll be back.
Shinnecock Hills: There have been hints of thawing tension between the club and USGA over the infamous "middle of the night" 7th green tampering accusations. The USGA's David Fay still insists an unwanted rolling occurred, the club says the USGA blew the pooch. Either way, Shinnecock members will want a Mike Davis-engineered setup to end the dreaded verb usage for over-the-top course conditions: Shinnecock'd. Following a rough week at Long Island neighbor Bethpage, Shinnecock's stock probably rose a bit.
Bethpage Black: The public course experiment has been a huge success despite lousy weather at both Bethpage Opens. The State of New York has Craig Currier to thank for that, as his crew delivered incredible course conditions despite brutal circumstances. Sources say the post-Governor Pataki regime has been less fun to work with and the finishing hole is a certified disaster. There are options for a composite hole, a restoration of Tillinghast's original or even using the Red Course's beautiful 18th. Once cooler heads prevail and the 18th hole situation is sorted out, count on a return. The long expected 2019 date still seems possible.
Torrey Pines: No doubt the Executive Committee longed for a return when ESPN racked up rain delay tapes from the epic 2008 Open. There it was: sunny, warm, never a chance of rain, convenient hotels and airing in Eastern Standard Time prime time. Hard as it is to believe, the USGA reportedly didn't make as much money here despite a sweetheart deal that the City of San Diego won't go for again. Still, look for common sense to prevail and a 2018 return when Tiger is still active and Phil Mickelson is contemplating one last sentimental run.