Most Polarizing U.S. Open Venues
June 10, 2015
Myopia Hunt, 1908
The Massachusetts course hosted four of the first 14 U.S. Opens, but this was its last, perhaps in part due to the players' difficulty with the course. Fred McLeod won in a playoff after shooting 322 in regulation -- the highest winning score in the rubber-ball era. "They must have used 10-ton steamrollers on the greens," noted one competitor years later, recalling another player nine-putting one green.
Oakland Hills, 1937
For the first time in Open history, a host course measured more than 7,000 yards. The length and thick rough, made practice rounds so challenging the USGA choose to move tees forward for the championship. The decision drew criticism from the media, suggesting that the course would play too easy. Sure enough, Ralph Guldahl set the 72-hole tournament scoring record with his winning seven-under 281.
Oakland Hills, 1951
In many ways, this was tournament in which the Open first developed its modern reputation as beings golf's most difficult major championship. The renovated course gave competitors fits, with only six rounds of par or better shot in four rounds. Ben Hogan won with a seven-over 287, shooting an amazing final-round 67 and then famously saying, "I'm glad I brought this course -- this monster -- to its knees."
The Olympic Club, 1955
Jack Fleck improbably denying Ben Hogan a fifth U.S. Open win is how this championship has come to be defined, but it was also memorable for its difficult setup. Fleck and Hogan both shot seven-over 287s.
The Country Club, 1963
The Open returned to Brookline for the first time since Francis Ouimet's historic 1913 win, but a bad winter/spring caused the course to be in less than peak conditions. High winds during the championship only magnified the rough setup, with Julius Boros winning a playoff over Jacky Cupit and Arnold Palmer after the trio shot nine-over 293s, the highest winning score since 1935.
That Gary Player won the event helps many forget the negative reviews the championship received, Bellerive having only opened six years before hosting the Open and had still yet to mature. Hord Hardin, a USGA Executive Committee member and a future Masters chairman, helped found the club and got the USGA to agree to bring the Open there. The course eventually received high marks, going on to host other more memorable majors.
Hazeltine National, 1970
Like Bellerive, Hazeltine hosted the major shortly after its opening, and players didn't hold back in their criticism of the multiple doglegs and blind shots found in the Robert Trent Jones course. "They ruined a good farm when they built this course," quipped Dave Hill. Tony Jacklin was the only player to break par for the championship, winning by seven strokes.
Winged Foot, 1974
A year after Johnny Miller won at Oakmont with a final-round 63, there would be no similar low numbers outside New York City. The championship became known as "The Massacre At Winged Foot," with players stymied by narrow fairways, lush rough and fast greens that made downhill putts a nightmare. Asked if the intent was make the best players in the world look bad, USGA championship committee chairman Sandy Tatum memorably stated "No, we're trying to identify them."
Atlanta Athletic Club, 1976
Before his death in 1971, Bobby Jones wrote the USGA requesting an Open come to Atlanta Athletic Club's new Highlands course. His wish was granted, but it meant the championship would be held at another then-untested venue. Mike Reid, a 21-year-old amateur, was the only player to break par in the first round with a 67. Jerry Pate's clutch birdie on the final hole to win the Open made for the week's lone truly memorable moment in the only time AAC hosted the event.
Inverness Club, 1979
Tom and George Fazio created a new dogleg par-5 eighth hole on the course ahead of the Open. During the first round, Lon Hinkle proceeded to reach the green in two by hitting his tee shot on the fairway of the adjoining 17th hole, a strategy employed by four others as well. Upset USGA officials proceeded to have a 24-foot spruce planted overnight to block the line to the wrong fairway, the press dubbing it the "Hinkle Tree."
The Olympic Club, 1998
During Friday's second round, the small, cantered 18th green gave players fits with a back-left hole location that proved too much. Payne Stewart, leading at the time, had a eight-foot birdie try he barely hit and watched it roll 24 feet. Tom Meeks, in charge of the course setup for the USGA, later admitted the location was a "terrible mistake."
Shinnecock Hills, 2004
USGA officials were trying for firm and fast conditions, but the baked-out course got away. Complaints began in the first round but escalated on Sunday, when the seventh green required watering throughout the day to make sure it would survive. A final-round 78.7 average and almost universal criticism forced the USGA to institute specific guidelines for course preparation for future Opens.
Though considered by many the most difficult of all U.S. Open courses, Oakmont rarely receives criticism for its bruteness. By in 2007, a few voices complained (most notably Phil Mickelson) about the thick rough, slick greens and the fact the par-3 eighth hole played 288 yards on Friday. Tiger Woods said a 10-handicap wouldn't have broken 100 on the course, prompting Golf Digest and the USGA to create the U.S. Open Challenge where the claim was put to the test on subsequent Open venues.
It was thought that Merion was too short to hold an Open after its last in 1981, given advances in modern golf equipment and the infrastructure needed to put on the event. But concerns that the pros would tear the course up or that the officials would trick up the course to keep it (and them) from being embarrassed never really came to pass, Justin Rose winning the title with a respectable one-over 281.
Chambers Bay, 2015
Not since Hazeltine National in 1970 has the USGA picked a course with so little history to host the Open. While the aesthetic beauty of the layout (which opened in 2007) is unquestioned, players early reaction to the all-fescue course and its unique links design has been mixed.