Why the U.S. Open should stick to a few selected courses

What will the USGA do to Pebble Beach? Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- There is a reason the United States Golf Association continues to play its biggest championship at Shinnecock Hills -- and already has announced its return again for the U.S. Open in eight years.

Despite the controversy that seems to continually surround the venue and the logistical nightmares of holding such a big tournament in a remote part of Long Island, the allure is just too great.

Shinnecock is one of America's classic courses, one that is universally respected and admired. It offers a great vibe during U.S. Open week, and the potential for wind and rain adds to the mystique.

All of which makes you wonder: Why it is not part of a short list of courses that consistently serve as sites for the U.S. Open?

It seems to work quite nicely for The Open, whose rotation of courses is now 10 links venues -- nine in Great Britain, one in Northern Ireland. Since Turnberry first held the championship in 1977 (the famous "Duel in the Sun" won by Tom Watson over Jack Nicklaus), no courses that have not previously staged the tournament have come on board.

The USGA, however, has been to two new venues in the past four years. In the past 20 years, it went to a handful of venues that had not previously hosted the championship -- Pinehurst in 1999, Bethpage Black in 2002, Torrey Pines in 2008, Chambers Bay in 2015 and Erin Hills in 2017.

Before 1999, the USGA had not gone to a course that was getting its first U.S. Open since 1976, when the Atlanta Athletic Club staged the tournament.

So there have clearly been differing views on the subject. At times, the USGA hierarchy has wanted to stick to the tried and true. Then it ventured away from that philosophy with the idea to bring in new venues while mixing in the old ones.

Judging by the list of future venues already announced, it appears the USGA is of the mindset to return to traditional U.S. Open courses that are recognizable names and have, for the most part, a long history in the game.

So why not a set number of courses in the rotation and go from there?

"We've talked about that,'' said Mike Davis, chief executive of the USGA, in a recent interview with ESPN.com. "And I think that you're going to start to see us have less courses because I think there is a notion that some courses are better than others.''

This is the coming lineup:

  • Pebble Beach in 2019

  • Winged Foot in 2020

  • Torrey Pines in 2021

  • The Country Club (Brookline, Massachusetts) in 2022

  • Los Angeles Country Club in 2023

  • Pinehurst in 2024

  • Oakmont in 2025

  • Shinnecock Hills in 2026

  • Pebble Beach in 2027

That is quite the list of courses, with only Los Angeles Country Club's North Course a new venue, but one that has long been revered and coveted as a potential U.S. Open site. (L.A. Country Club was designed by renowned architect George C. Thomas in 1921 and held six Los Angeles Opens, the last in 1940. It underwent an extensive renovation in 2010 to return it to Thomas' original design.)

"Some courses just flat-out hold an Open better operationally than others, or can handle a rain event better than others,'' Davis said. "I think the reasons that we've had, say, 20-plus U.S. Open venues was because there was a desire to really move it around the country.

"But at the end of the day, there are over 100,000 that will go to Shinnecock Hills but there's millions of people who watch it worldwide. Somebody watching this event in Japan or Oklahoma City. ... They don't really care whether it's in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles. They want to watch the U.S. Open. I think we've maybe used geography a little too much. You won't see us show up in New York year after year. We do want to move it around.''

It is unlikely that the USGA would ever settle on a rotation of courses -- as the R&A has done for The Open -- and announce it. But what if the organization did? What would it look like? Here is one possibility.

Pebble Beach
The Northern California seaside course will hold the U.S. Open next year for only the sixth time, which is somewhat amazing. Why not more? It first hosted the championship in 1972, and has proved to be one of the most popular venues. It makes for a great television experience, too. Ideally, Pebble would become like St. Andrews, sort of the revolving "home'' for the tournament and a more frequent host. So after going there again in 2027, why not turn around quickly and return five or six years later?

The course near Pittsburgh where Dustin Johnson won in 2016 has staged nine U.S. Opens, the most of any course. There's a reason: It stands the test of time. It is seemingly as difficult now as it was when it first held the championship won by Tommy Armour in 1927. It also boasts a strong list of winners that includes Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Ernie Els. You won't get many arguments about Oakmont being in a rotation; it has already been scheduled for 2025.

The North Carolina course where Payne Stewart dramatically defeated Phil Mickelson in 1999 has quickly come into the mix of favored USGA venues. So successful was the first one that the U.S. Open has been back in 2005 (Michael Campbell) and 2014 (Martin Kaymer) and is already scheduled for 2024. If the desire is to move around the country at all, Pinehurst at least gives the USGA an opportunity for a more Southern location.

Torrey Pines
It has hosted only one U.S. Open, but it was a classic -- Tiger Woods' playoff victory over Rocco Mediate in 2008. The venue hosts an annual PGA Tour stop, which is a negative in the USGA's eyes, but it is just too difficult to overlook a couple of important factors. The weather in San Diego in June is a huge plus, and so is the opportunity for prime-time television viewing in the East. The Olympic Club in San Francisco, which hosted in 2012 and would be another excellent West Coast choice, seems to have fallen out of favor. And the U.S. Open needs more than just Pebble Beach in the west. So Torrey it is.

This might be a tough sell at this point. The No. 3 course last hosted the U.S. Open in 1990, when Hale Irwin won in a playoff over Mike Donald to become the oldest U.S. Open champion at age 45. But it later came into favor with the PGA of America, which held its PGA Championship there in 1999 and 2006 (both won by Tiger Woods) and the Ryder Cup in 2012. Next year it will be home to the BMW Championship on the PGA Tour for one year. But as much as Davis said the USGA's strategy is no longer so much about moving the tournament around the country, it needs a strong Midwest venue, and it's hard to knock Chicago. Perhaps the best bet for the area is Butler National, which last hosted the Western Open in 1990 and would be a viable U.S. Open venue if it were to get with the times and scrap its all-male membership policy. Medinah also had U.S. Opens in 1949 and 1975.

Winged Foot
The New York course has held five U.S. Opens dating from 1929, when Bobby Jones won his third U.S. Open, through 2006, when Geoff Ogilvy won but Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie are remembered for their botched shots at history. The course will hold the U.S. Open in 2020, and gives the New York area two venues in this hypothetical rotation. Bethpage Black would be another possibility, but it is getting the PGA Championship next year. Baltusrol also would be a possibility, but the seven-time host has not held the championship since 1993.

Shinnecock Hills
Even with the controversy over the Saturday setup, Shinnecock shined. The conditioning was excellent, and the changing weather makes for a compelling championship. It was windy on Thursday and rainy on Friday and windy again on Saturday and then quite warm on Sunday. Brooks Koepka's victory came in the fifth playing at the course and the fourth in modern times. It is already scheduled for 2026, and like Pebble Beach, this could easily be a venue that sees the championship more often.

Oakland Hills
The Detroit golf course where in 1951 Ben Hogan allegedly claimed to have "brought the monster to its knees'' when he shot 287, 7 over par to win, is a natural U.S. Open venue. It has hosted the championship six times (ESPN's Andy North won at Oakland Hills in 1985) but hasn't hosted the championship since 1996, when Steve Jones was the winner. The PGA of America swooped in with a Ryder Cup in 2004 (remember the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson first-day pairing?) and the 2008 PGA Championship won by Padraig Harrington. But this venue might no longer be viable for the PGA Championship in the spring, and it would give the USGA another Midwest location. The U.S. Amateur was played at Oakland Hills in 2016.

So that is eight venues in our rotation, with the idea that Pebble Beach gets the championship more frequently, with the other courses on an eight-to-10-year cycle, leaving room for a place like Los Angeles Country Club to earn its place or The Country Club -- which is hosting in 2022 for the first time since 1988 -- to be considered for more U.S. Opens. And it offers the potential to occasionally go outside the box with a place such as Chambers Bay.

"There might have been a handful of players going back to Shinnecock who played in 2004 [and also played in 2018],'' Davis said. "There is something to say if we went there more often, fans would know it better. We'd have repeat players going back.

"We're going back to Shinnecock in 2026, we're going back to Oakmont and Pebble Beach earlier. Some of these treasured venues, we like it there, the players like it there.''