The Odds of Hosting a U.S. Open Are Getting Tougher
We handicap future Opens at 30 sites, including Chambers Bay (par-4 13th shown).
Though most golf fans are eagerly awaiting the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, there are some people hoping for a flop. These folks have a vested interest—emotionally and/or financially—with some historic sites that might have to wait a long time, if ever, before getting another Open.
The Open dance card has become overcrowded, and the list of very attractive wallflowers is growing.
For much of the 20th century, the Open was played at private clubs near large and mid-size cities. Unlike the British Open with its rota of 10 seaside links courses, the U.S. Open has been a movable feast, with no formal rotational schedule. In the past 50 years, the U.S. Open has been played on 23 courses.
I joined the USGA staff in 1978 and became executive director in 1989. The 1995 Open (Shinnecock Hills) was the first Open contract I executed. The ones that gave me the most satisfaction were the first-time public-access sites: Pinehurst (1999, 2005 and 2014), Bethpage (2002 and 2009), Torrey Pines (2008), Chambers Bay (2015) and Erin Hills (2017).
My last signed Open contract was in 2010 for my favorite Open site of all: Pebble Beach (2019).
Since 2011, Mike Davis and his talented team have nailed down superb sites: returns to Winged Foot (2020) and Torrey Pines (2021), and the presumptive debut of L.A. North (2023). There's also an expectation that the Open will return to The Country Club at Brookline in 2022 or 2024, depending on whether Boston is selected to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
So, what does the future hold? Will the USGA continue to seek new Open venues, public and private? Or will the U.S. Open become more like the British Open, using a smaller number of proven sites?
From my seat, now outside the arena, here are my predictions:
LOCKS EVERY 10 YEARS
Oakmont (nine Opens)
Pinehurst No. 2 (three Opens)
The changed appearance of these courses (Oakmont's extensive tree removal before the 2007 Open and Pinehurst No. 2's grass removal before the 2014 Open) and their willingness to host other USGA championships make these two a certainty.
LOCKS (WITH A CAVEAT) EVERY 10 YEARS
Pebble Beach (six Opens, including 2019)
Shinnecock Hills (five Opens, including 2018)__
These two are perhaps the most appealing Open sites: the Pacific-Atlantic bookends. So what's the caveat? Getting a signed contract. This process was always difficult with Shinnecock and occasionally an issue with Pebble. Though the USGA flinches at significantly altering financial terms among Open sites, these two are too valuable to lose. Television loves them, and that counts, especially when it's time to renew the contracts.
HIGHLY LIKELY EVERY 10-15 YEARS
Olympic (five Opens)
Winged Foot (six Opens, including 2020)
Two alpha males, one being a large athletic club (Olympic) and the other acting like one. Historically, the USGA has dealt with intra-club factions and disputes at both sites before getting a signed deal. One nagging issue for Olympic going back to 1955: the "right" player never seems to win. But San Francisco is a huge plus for the Eastern-based USGA. Winged Foot won the rights to the 2006 Open in a squeaker with its New Jersey cousin, Baltusrol, but turned down the opportunity to get the 2015 Open (as did Shinnecock).
SOMEWHAT LIKELY EVERY 12-18 YEARS
Torrey Pines (two Opens, including 2021)
Big crowds, great weather, hotels contiguous to the golf course, knockout views of the Pacific Ocean. Few get excited about the course, but it's a place that, over the years, has produced great PGA Tour champions and Tiger in the Open.
TO BE DETERMINED,BUT POSSIBLY EVERY 12-18 YEARS
Chambers Bay (2015 Open)
Erin Hills (2017 Open)
L.A.C.C. (2023 Open)
The anticipation for Chambers Bay is high. And I think the course reviews will be good. That said, I wonder how long it will take an Open contestant to channel his inner Dave Hill and complain the USGA has ruined a good gravel pit.
COIN FLIP EVERY 15-25 YEARS
Oakland Hills (six Opens)
Southern Hills (three Opens)__
Both of the Hills have been loyal partners over the years. If the USGA doesn't take action on these sites within the next year or so, look for both to ramp up the courting process with the PGA of America, an organization with which both have a history.
MAYBE EVERY 25 YEARS
Merion (five Opens)
The Country Club At Brookline (three Opens)
These two squared off for the right to host the 2013 Open. At the time the decision was made, The Country Club's composite course had yet to be reworked by Gil Hanse.
Merion would need to get the full support of the community as it did in 2013. It worked then, but with the changes in the game and the size of the place, could it succeed 25 years from now? That's probably too much of a gamble. The members would have to consider whether another Open could hurt Merion's reputation. If so, it might be time to step aside, as Myopia Hunt did after its fourth and final Open in 1908.
The Country Club appears to have gotten back in the USGA's good graces after a successful U.S. Amateur in 2013, and it's in line to get the 2022 or 2024 Open. But will the club have the stomach for an Open much larger in scale than the one in 1988? Remember this: After hosting the 1999 Ryder Cup, the club wiggled out of its commitment to host the 2005 PGA Championship.
Congressional (three Opens)
Inverness (four Opens)
Occasionally considered, but someone else always seems to win. Oakland Hills and Southern Hills have fallen into this category in the past.
After the 1997 Open at Congressional, then-USGA president Judy Bell and I would have bet money that the USGA would not return for an Open in the foreseeable future. But sometimes—hard to believe as it is—there are years when the available sites are solid, but not all that exciting. That's how it came to be that Congressional got the 2011 Open. I doubt—short of an act of Congress—that the Open will return to Congressional anytime soon.
Inverness could fall into the PGA of America galaxy. Even though Inverness isn't scheduled for a future PGA, it hosted the event in 1986, seven years after the club's last Open.
PGA OF AMERICA FACTOR
Baltusrol (seven Opens, four on the Lower course; two PGAs, including 2016)
Bellerive (one Open; two PGAs, including 2018)
Oak Hill (three Opens; three PGAs)
Hazeltine National (two Opens; two PGAs; 2016 Ryder Cup)
Medinah no. 3 (three Opens; two PGAs; one Ryder Cup)
Bethpage Black (two Opens; 2019 PGA; 2024 Ryder Cup)__
There isn't a course on this list that would prefer a PGA Championship over a U.S. Open. But when the PGA offers a Ryder Cup as part of a package deal, that changes things considerably. If the PGA wants to return to Baltusrol after its 2016 championship, it will probably need to offer the club the Ryder Cup, too.
Atlanta Athletic Club (one Open)
Nice folks, but no sizzle. And, by the way, Bob Jones never laid eyes on the course.
Champions (one Open)
If the site of the 1969 Open hasn't had its number called in 46 years, why would that change now? Besides, I believe the great Jackie Burke Jr. is fully invested in the club hosting amateur competitions.
Cherry Hills (three Opens)
The course is too short and the club property is too small to handle the modern U.S. Open circus.
Olympia Fields (two Opens)
Not all that memorable except for the large clubhouse and the tall clock tower south of Chicago. Though Cook County might have been great to JFK in counting votes in the 1960 presidential election, it did the USGA no favors at all during the 2003 Open. A bad memory with a long shelf life.
Riviera (one Open)
One of the top two or three stand-alone PGA Tour stops each year. Let the tour have it.
MY WISH LIST
Chicago Golf Club (three Opens)
This might be a better test of golf, circa 2030, than Merion or The Country Club.
Ponkapoag Golf Course (Canton, Mass)
I still believe Ponkapoag, a 36-hole facility south of Boston, has the stuff to be another Bethpage.
THE TRUMP FACTOR
Ferry Point (The Bronx, New York City)
I hope the PGA offers Ferry Point a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup, thus providing the USGA an opening to reclaim Bethpage Black for its own.