Today’s question comes from golf historian and Young Tom Morris biographer Stephen Proctor:
If @the_fried_egg set the US Open rota which courses would be included.
— Stephen Proctor (@SProctorGolf) October 20, 2019
This is always a fun topic—what golf tragic wouldn’t want this kind of power?—but here’s the thing: the U.S. Open already has a strong rota. In the past decade, the tournament visited Pebble Beach, Merion, Pinehurst No. 2, Oakmont, and Shinnecock Hills. The future sites are a murderer’s row of classic American courses.
Okay, so Torrey Pines in 2021 wouldn’t be my first choice from a design perspective. But the South Course has a lot going for it: it’s a municipal course in a major city, and it carries good memories from the 2008 Open, an all-timer.
That said, with apologies to San Diego, my ideal rota would skip Torrey Pines. I think the U.S. Open is at its best when it hews traditional. So I’d appoint five every-decade venues (Oakland Hills, Oakmont, Pebble, Pinehurst, Shinnecock) while developing a network of every-two-decade sites (Baltusrol, Bethpage, Brookline, Inverness, LACC, Merion, Southern Hills, Winged Foot). Toss in the occasional modern course, and you’d have a rota that would make the U.S. Open feel both time-honored and fresh.
But again, this is basically what the USGA already does. Sure, it’s fun to fantasize about Rory and Brooks vying for a championship at Cypress Point or National Golf Links or Seminole, but let’s be realistic. Those clubs want no part of a men’s major, nor do we want them to mutilate their courses in order to host one. So all in all, when it comes to venue selection, the U.S. Open does about as well as it can.
The more pressing issue, to my mind, is course setup. Why take the tournament to Merion if you’re not going to let it play anything like Merion? The key is figuring out how U.S. Open courses can both retain their architectural integrity and challenge the Trackman-enhanced T-1000s of today’s elite game.
Length won’t do it. Rough won’t do it. If a course wants to both stay true to its design and hold its own against top golfers, it needs firm turf. We’ve made this argument a number of times, so here are the Cliff’s Notes: no matter how well-designed a tournament venue is, angles and advanced shotmaking won’t matter unless the ball bounces and rolls after landing.
The trouble is, many pros associate firmness—and the unpredictability it brings—with unfairness. That judgment carries weight these days. At last year’s U.S. Open, Shinnecock Hills was wonderfully firm, but some questionable pins on Saturday gave grumblers an opening. Melodramatic whining and civil disobedience ensued. I found it all captivating, but the USGA wasn’t amused. The course-setup process got a makeover, leading to the conservative (but solid) presentation of Pebble Beach earlier this year.
So unless players begin to think differently about firm conditions or the USGA takes a stand, the U.S. Open may come to feel more and more like a regular PGA Tour event. And that’s a problem no rota can fix.
Just the Yolk is The Fried Egg’s mailbag series. Got a question you want us to answer? Let us know on Twitter @the_fried_egg or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.