British Open 2019: 11 golf courses you might've forgotten hosted major championships
As fans of the modern game, we’re used to seeing golf’s biggest events held at the same rotation of courses. But with the Open Championship returning to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years, it got us thinking: Which other former major venues have been forgotten by time? Due to advances in equipment making some courses too short for today's players, or a lack of room for the infrastructure needed to host the game's premier tournaments, many classic courses have fallen out of the major rotation, some for quite awhile. You're likely familiar with great courses such as Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, which hasn't hosted a major since 1993 but remains a mainstay in our 100 Greatest, or Oakland Hills' South course, which last hosted the 2008 PGA and will undergo an extensive renovation by Gil Hanse this fall to prepare it for future majors. This list's purpose, however, is to shine the spotlight on some classic courses that aren't likely to get another major but were once considered worthy of hosting the game's best players.
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Minikahda Club, Minneapolis
The Minikahda Club, founded in 1899 in the countryside southwest of Minneapolis and remodeled in 1916 by Donald Ross, hosted its only U.S. Open that same year, won by amateur Charles (Chick) Evans, Jr. Later that year, Evans also won the U.S. Amateur, becoming the first to hold both USGA titles at the same time. (Bobby Jones would later match that feat.) Although he beat the pros at Minikahda, Evans decided to retain his amateur status and promote the well-being of caddies rather than turn pro. He soon established the Evans Scholars foundation, which today continues to raise money for caddie scholarships. Minikahda has hosted several amateur events in its history, most recently the 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur. Could it host another U.S. Open? It had its chance. Back in 1960, longtime club member Totten Heffelfinger proposed the club move to a newly planned Robert Trent Jones design farther south and west. The club membership voted it down, so Heffelfinger left and formed his own golf club, Hazeltine National. Hazeltine’s U.S. Opens, PGA Championships and even the recent Ryder Cup could all have been Minikahda’s, if only its members had taken the deal.
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Northwood Club, Dallas
Northwood Club in northern Dallas opened in 1948, a design by veteran Indianapolis architect Bill Diddel that was a rare (for its day) Texas course with bent-grass greens. Though immature in spots, the course was awarded the 1952 U.S. Open, just the second in the Deep South (following 1941 at Colonial). Eighteen months before the event, Texas golf architect Ralph Plummer was brought in to add new back tees, re-bunker most holes and carve out a new practice range. (The existing practice range was turned into a parking lot for the Open.) Julius Boros won the ’52 title by four shots, earning the $4,000 first-prize check, and then the pros forgot about Northwood. No professional event has been there since. That’s probably because Alpha Road bisects the course. Just a narrow country lane in 1952, it’s now a city street so busy that golfers must pass beneath it using two narrow tunnels, the sort of spectator bottleneck that makes big-time championships impractical. Northwood’s short-but-solid design has recently been upgraded by Oklahoma architect Tripp Davis. The white-rock canyon on the par-5 14th is still a highlight, and the greens and bunkers have special character now.
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Skokie Country Club, Glencoe, Ill.
One of the Chicago area’s great gems, Skokie hosted the 1922 U.S. Open won by Gene Sarazen. Skokie has a unique design heritage, routed first by Tom Bendelow (who also did nearby Medinah Country Club), then redesigned by Donald Ross in 1914 and unheralded designers William Langford and Theodore Moreau in the 1930s. Skokie made a brief appearance on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest in 1993 and has been restored by Ross-expert Ron Prichard. Skokie is another course short by today's standards, but challenges golfers with its undulating greens and strategic cross bunkering.
Prince’s Golf Club, Sandwich Bay, Kent, England
Sitting right next to Royal St. George’s, Prince’s held the Open Championship just once, in 1932, and Gene Sarazen took the title, becoming only the second golfer to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same years (matching Bobby Jones' feat). Prince’s didn't stay in the Open rota; with England entering World War II not too long after the championship, this seaside links sustained some damage in wartime. Until this year, Royal Portrush and Prince's were the only one-time Open venues. Prince's co-hosted the 2006 and 2013 British Amateurs and also held qualifying ahead of St. George's hosting the Open in 2011 and Portrush hosting this year.
St. Louis (Mo.) Country Club
St. Louis Country Club was one of C.B. Macdonald’s earliest designs, opening just three years after his ground-breaking National Golf Links and containing many of the “template” holes—a Redan, Eden, Biarritz and Short—that golf fans now associate with that legendary architect. But a curious thing had happened by the time the club hosted the 1947 U.S. Open, its only professional major. The course had gone from geometric greens to oval ones. The Biarritz second green lost its bisecting trench and became just a two-tiered putting surface. Daunting cross bunkers had been filled in. Some of that can be traced back to the 1921 U.S. Amateur, the first played west of the Mississippi, when golf professional Stewart Maiden (better known as Bobby Jones’ instructor) rebuilt several holes. The rest was likely the work of a generation of green committees that had little appreciation of Macdonald. It took a seven-year effort, starting in the late 1990s and led by golf architect Brian Silva, to reclaim old green contours, corner hole locations, strip bunkers and cross hazards. Today, St. Louis Country Club, too short for stroke play but still perfect for match play, is back the way Macdonald intended, even if the trench in the Biarritz second green is more shallow than it should be.
Myopia Hunt Club, South Hamilton, Mass.
This 1898 H.C. Leeds design in northeastern Massachusetts, about 45 minutes from Boston, hosted four of the first 14 U.S. Opens (1898, 1901, 1905 and 1908). The course plays very similar today, tipping out just shy of 6,555 yards—the shortest course to make Golf Digest's most recent 100 Greatest rankings. It marked Myopia Hunt's first inclusion on our 100 Greatest, the result of a 2013 restoration by Gil Hanse's team. With tiny, devilish greens, Myopia Hunt is still a heckuva test—it just lacks the square footage to host a tournament in today's game, though we'd love to see the world's best players tested by this New England gem.
Brian Walers Photography
French Lick (Ind.) Country Club
It’s now called the Donald Ross Course at French Lick, but back in 1924, just four years after it opened, the Donald Ross-designed Hill Course at French Lick Country Club in rural southern Indiana was a surprising choice for the PGA Championship. With 108 bunkers, knee-high rough and lots of uphill approach shots, French Lick was deemed brutal, “… the kind of a course that would make an old hard-nosed, red-headed Scotch golfer stand on the first tee and cry like a baby,” wrote one sportswriter. “People don’t perspire on this new course—they sweat.” A showman won the title, Walter Hagen, his first of four in a row and second of five PGAs overall. Installation of an irrigation lake in 1960 altered two holes, but thanks to an exquisite 2006 restoration by architect Lee Schmidt, Donald Ross remains at the Donald Ross Course, right down to its dramatically sloped putting surfaces. Still, the championship venue these days is the nearby Pete Dye Course at French Lick, built in 2008 with the express purpose of hosting another PGA. Dye hoped it would get the 2024 event. That’s not going to happen, but Dye’s design, which can be stretched to more than 8,000 yards, will be ready whenever the PGA of America decides to visit.
Wannamoissett Country Club, Rumford, R.I.
Another classic Donald Ross, many consider this the finest par-69 layout in the United States, routed on just 89 acres. Wannamoissett hosted the 1931 PGA Championship and is ranked among Golf Digest’s Second 100 Greatest courses. Too short at 6,732 yards to host a men’s major, it has hosted the prestigious annual Northeast Amateur since 1962. Like most Ross courses, the greens are the story at Wannamoissett—but the variety and distinctiveness of this layout is really what distinguishes the sub-7,000-yard layout.
Philadelphia Country Club (Spring Mill), Gladwyne, Pa.
When Philadelphia Country Club’s Spring Mill Course hosted the 1939 U.S. Open, it became the only Open contested on a par-69 course. Byron Nelson won the championship in a three-way, 36-hole playoff with Craig Wood and Denny Shute. Twenty years ago, this writer called the par 69 “a fluke [because] in January of 1939, the USGA had ruled any hole less than 485 yards should be played as a par 4.” But it turns out the club itself, not the USGA, reduced par from 71 to 69 to make it tougher for the Open. “During the last decade, there has been continuous improvement in the golf ball,” a club official was quoted in a Philadelphia paper. “Also, the modern club has been made much more powerful and effective. … The modern professional has achieved unbelievable distance and accuracy because he not only practices intelligently, but [also] because he goes into physical and mental training for tournament play.” Bear in mind, that was 80 years ago. It should be noted that Nelson, Wood and Shute tied after 72 holes with scores of 284, which was eight over par. Spring Mill’s clubhouse was relocated in the early 1960s, so the old par-5 18th hole, where Sam Snead could have won the U.S. Open outright with a par, only to take a triple-bogey 8 in the final round, is now the third hole.
(Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Seaview Golf Club, Galloway, N.J.
Seaview, near Atlantic City, N.J., was a last-minute host for the first wartime PGA Championship, its selection announced in April 1942, with the tournament held six weeks later, in late May. The match-play event was won by Sam Snead over Jimmy Turnesa, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final. It was Sam’s first major victory; he was inducted into the U.S. Navy the following day. Now a 36-hole resort known as Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, its Bay Course (designed by Hugh Wilson of Merion fame and rebunkered by Donald Ross) has been the longtime venue of the annual ShopRite LPGA Classic. Only the front nine of Bay Course was used for the 1942 PGA. The club’s then-third nine, The Pines, built by William S. Flynn and opened in 1931, served as the back nine for the championship. Another nine (holes 3-11 of the present Pines 18) were added by William and David Gordon in 1957. Today there’s ample room to host another men’s major, but neither course is long enough to pose a major test for tour pros, and reassembling the 18 holes used in ’42 would result in a course of just 6,419 yards, par 72.
Engineers Country Club, Roslyn Harbor, N.Y.
One hundred years ago, Engineers hosted the 1919 PGA Championship, and then the U.S. Amateur one year later. Engineers was designed by Englishman Herbert Strong, who grew up a few miles down the road from Prince's Golf Club, another one-time major host. Strong was the head professional at Inwood Country Club and ended up remodeling the course ahead of the club hosting the U.S. Open and PGA. Down the road on Long Island, Strong's routing on 210 acres of hilly Long Island countryside can draw some comparisons to Royal St. George's, also a few miles from his hometown. New York native Devereux Emmett would do remodeling work some years later. Engineers remains a stern test, albeit short by today's standards, today.