The USGA takes its share of heat over various golf issues, but you have to give the Far Hills fraternity credit for at least one of its recent initiatives.
Its stated goal to open up the US Open was more than just talk. This week, golf’s national championship will be contested over a public-accessible course for the second straight year: Chambers Bay Golf Course (more on that below).
But it wasn’t always this way.
From its start in 1895 until 2000, the U.S. Open was played almost exclusively on private courses.
Since 2000, it has been played eight times on publicly accessible courses (munis and resort courses alike) and it’s scheduled to be played at three more of these sites in the next six years.
Here’s what you need to know if you want to play the distinguished group of public US Open golf courses:
Pebble Beach Golf Links (1972, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2010, 2019)
Pebble Beach, Calif.
In 1972, Pebble Beach became the first publicly accessible course to host the US Open, and it’s nice to see the USGA repeatedly return to this venerable venue. If and when you make your pilgrimage, definitely walk this easily walkable course and take a caddie (they’re worth every penny and carts are confined to the cart path). When scheduling your tee time, keep in mind that playing in the afternoon often yields the best scenery, because there’s less risk of fog. Players who have “taken it all in” on previous trips often choose to play earlier in the morning, which can result in speedier rounds.
Here are more tips on taking a Pebble Beach golf vacation.
Bethpage Black (2002, 2009)
The course that upped the ante on publicly accessible US Open courses was Bethpage Black. Not only is it public, as part of the State of New York parks system, it’s essentially publicly owned, too.
As you can imagine, tee times are snapped up fast, making it difficult — but not impossible — to score one.
You basically have three options: 1) use Bethpage’s tee time reservation system, 2) try to walk-on at the crack of dawn, which often involves camping out in or near your car, or 3) pay a lot of money to a little-known company that may be able to get you a tee time on the day you want to play.
All three methods are explained in detail here: How to Get a Tee Time on Bethpage Black.
Pinehurst No. 2 (1999, 2005, 2014)
The, ahem, major renovations by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were very well-received by both the men and women who competed in their respective US Opens last year. And believe it or not, the course got even better afterwards last summer, when the resort closed No. 2 to convert the greens from bentgrass to bermudagrass.
The biggest changes by C&C? The rough is gone; they stripped out nearly every inch of it, replacing it with the natural sand, wiregrass, and pine straw areas Donald Ross originally designed into it.
This rough removal / natural area replacement actually increased fairway widths to an average of 50 to 60 yards, opening up more “strategic playing options.”
You can read our more in-depth analysis of the changes here.
One more tip: when making reservations, ask if the “252” package is available; it includes a round on No. 2, lodging, and breakfast for $252 (a round on No. 2 alone can cost more than $400).
Torrey Pines Golf Course (2008, 2021)
La Jolla, Calif.
Like Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines is a municipal golf course, and most of its tee times are taken by locals.
Unlike Bethpage, however, Torrey Pines offers easier ways for out-of-state visitors to secure tee times.
If you want a guaranteed, advanced tee time, all you have to do is book a stay-and-play package at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, a treat in and of itself. Replacing the old, no-frills travel lodge that sat directly behind the 18th green of the South Course, the Lodge at Torrey Pines is, “an enchanting architectural marvel,” according to the hard-to-please editors of Golf Odyssey. “Secluded from La Jolla’s tony boutiques and congested traffic, it is an inspiring sanctuary for a grand tour of Torrey Pines’ two golf courses.”
The secret to saving a lot of money, however, is to take advantage of Torrey Pines’ walkup system and twilight fees, which can bring the price of a round on the South Course down from $300 to $110.
Most people assume their chances of scoring one of these discounted slots is slim and none, so the real secret here is that the availability of these off-peak rates is quite good and the walk-up system works pretty well.
Chambers Bay (2015)
University Place, Wash.
We usually don’t recommend taking a golf vacation to a given state for the sole purpose of playing one of its golf courses, but Chambers Bay Golf Course near Tacoma, Wash., is good enough to justify such a trip.
This linksy municipal course landed the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 US Open after only seven months in existence and will bring America’s championship to the Northwest for the first time ever.
If you go, make sure you’re in shape: it’s a long, expansive layout and it’s walking only. If you’re looking for recommendations on where to stay, read this post.
Erin Hills (2017)
This is another public course that caught the USGA’s attention even before it opened, and despite the need for significant architectural tweaks since its debut and an ownership change that might have derailed it, we’ll be watching the US Open from Erin Hills in 2017 (we got a preview when it hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur).
Going to be in or near Milwaukee and want to play here? You can stay overnight on the second floor of the clubhouse or in the new, on-course cottages. The accommodations are comfortable and well-appointed, but nothing over-the-top (reminded us of Bandon Dunes). Alternatively, many golfers stay at the Delafield Hotel, located 20 minutes away in the town of Delafield. Golfers with advance tee-time reservations at Erin Hills receive discounted room rates.
U.S. Women’s Open Courses
Let’s not forget, there’s another US Open that features some incredible players and courses, too: the US Women’s Open.
Here are the courses that have hosted it (plus one next year), public and resort layouts that you can play, too:
CordeValle, San Martin, CA (2016)
Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, NC (2014)
Blackwolf Run, Kohler, WI (2012, 1998)
Broadmoor Golf Club, East Course, Colorado Springs, CO (2011, 1995)
Pine Needles Lodge and Club, Southern Pines, NC (2007, 2001, 1996)
Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS (1999)
The Homestead, Hot Springs, VA (1967)
Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, SC (1962)
Atlantic City Country Club, Northfield, NJ (1975, 1965, 1948)
Have you played any of these US Open golf courses? What did you think of them? Please share your comments below.