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14 U.S. Open Golf Courses You Can Play Right Now

by Craig Better

Jun112013

Erin Hills is just one example of some of the fine -- and growing number of -- U.S. Open courses anyone can play.

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 goal to open up the U.S. Open was more than just talk.

Consider this:

From its start in 1895 until 2000, the U.S. Open was played almost exclusively on private courses.

Since 2000, it has been played six times on publicly accessible courses (munis and resort courses alike) and it’s scheduled to be played at four more of these sites in the next seven years.

Here’s what you need to know if you want to play them.

Pebble Beach Golf Links (2000, 2010, and 2019)
Pebble Beach, Calif.

In 1972, Pebble Beach became the first publicly accessible course to host the U.S. 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 and 2009)
Farmingdale, N.Y.
The course that upped the ante on publicly accessible U.S. 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 and 2014)
Pinehurst, N.C.
If ever there was a time to play Pinehurst No. 2, this might be the year to do it. The ahem, major renovations by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have had a chance to grow in, and the course will be closing for a few months immediately after the 2014 U.S. Open 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 has actually increased fairway widths to an average of 50 to 60 yards, opening up more “strategic playing options.”

You can read more about the renovation and see Pinehurst No. 2′s new look, 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)
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 U.S. 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)
Erin, Wisc.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. Open that features some incredible players and courses, too: the U.S. Women’s Open.

Here are the courses that have hosted it (plus one next year), public and resort layouts that you can play, too:

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 U.S. Open golf courses? What did you think of them? Please share your comments below.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anita June 11, 2013 at 10:05 am

We played Chambers Bay two years ago in April. It was the best golfing experience I’ve had! It’s walking only. The rates were so reasonable that we each hired a caddie. The caddies were experienced and fun. I couldn’t have played so well without them, because there are terrain difference I wouldn’t have noticed. My caddie helped instruct me on bump and run techniques. I highly recommend playing Chambers Bay. The course and staff are worth a visit.

2 Steve June 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Played most of these courses during the past five years. The one that I find surprising is Erin Hills. I played it before the ownership changes and re-design work. The course is absolutely in the middle of no where! I have no idea how they will ever be able to accommodate golfers and fans. The roads accessing the course are small, single lane roads, there are no hotels and no restaurants for miles around the venue. It will be interesting to see if the golfers will actually be able to get though the traffic to make their tee times, unless they arrive by helicopter!!

3 Michael Fielden June 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm

i’ve played Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines-South. Both were very memorable and challenging. I was able to walk up to both without an unreasonable wait time as a single.

4 Anonymous June 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Pebble Beach and Pinehurst #2 are very expensive but worth the price. Every golfer should go at least once.

Bethpage had the worst customer service I have ever encountered.

Torrey Pines has a great location but a very overrated course.

Blackwolf Run, Pine Needles and The Homestead were excellent.

5 Ed June 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Last week I walked up to Torrey Pines South at 6:00am, reserved a twilight tee time for 3:00 and our foursome played in a surprising 4 hours. While Torrey Pines, Erin Hills and Chambers Bay are good courses, they don’t approach the quality of some of the private clubs, specifically Hazeltine which I played last month. Also, my thought on a course to go along with Chambers is definitely Salish Cliffs , about halfway between Home Course and Gold Mountain.

6 Steve H June 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Just want to strongly endorse the trifecta recommendation of Chambers Bay, the Home Course and Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course. All are fantastic courses and quite different. Chambers greens are getting better but still need some work (I played it two weeks ago). The scenery, though, is spectacular and the you get a true Scottish links experience.

7 Andy A. June 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm

The Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Course which is a multi-time host for the LPGA US Open is a great, fun course to play. And it’s sister course right across the street, Mid-Pines, is a very nice, enjoyable course, too. Makes it easy to play both in one day and you can do it for about $200. Not to mention all the other options in the Pinehurst/Sandhills area. Most all courses can be played for $150 or less.

8 Ron June 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm

I have been lucky enough to play Old Waverly in West Point,MS on several occasions. This course was new and within weeks of being open and at the time it was a private course. I played as the guest of different members. It is a fantastic layout with plenty of length, and numerous challenges on the course to test anyone’s game regardless of your skill level. It has that deep South Charm, and the service is immpeccible. I haven’t lived in the area for many years and have not kept up with the course and changes to it since the Women’s US Open and other updates. But you can’t go wrong booking a tee time on this excellent layout. West Point is between Columbus, MS and Starkville, MS and north on Highway 45, wehn you get to this charming small town, just ask someone how to get to Old Waverly, it is in a rural area outside of town. Enjoy yourself.

9 David Fischer June 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I have played Pebble back in the day when the green fee was $275 which at the time was outrageous. Now the green fee is just stupid as it is for a number of these courses such as Pinehurst #2 and the Kohler courses. When the middle class public can’t afford to pay these green fees these courses are in effect private and not open to the public.

10 Jim H. June 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Chambers Bay greens are no longer slow like they were when the course first opened. They typically run 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 on stimp now, they are unputtable if they are 10 1/2 or higher on the stimp because of the slopes and contours on the greens. The greens has made me a better putter.

11 Rob Port June 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I grew up playing Bethpage and marshaled there for both Opens. I recently heard a rumor that the USGA doesn’t want to go back there again. That would be a huge disappointment. I think it is the best venue for the viewing and enjoyment for the public at any open venue I have ever been to (not to mention the great and difficult Tillinghast layout) and I have been to a dozen all over the country. Anyone hear anything about this?

12 Ryan June 11, 2013 at 2:46 pm

To Steve, RE: Erin Hills commentary….You ever been to the thriving metropolis of Haven, WI? It is where the PGA likes to visit for their Whistling Straits events. Even the State of Wisconsin partnered on that one inserting a new exit on I-43. Erin Hills should be fine. The roads miles away will likely be closed off to all but the players, workers, press and local residents and like at the Straits, public shuttles a plenty from afar. And at least Erin Hills has two ways to get there (though I’m betting they become a one way loop for the Open), not just one way in like at the aforementioned PGA venue further north. Helicopters, too? Maybe…..

Also, a more challenging course to walk I have not yet found. Walking 10,000 yds there is not out of the question.

13 David June 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I played Bethpage Black. It was fabulous. Now, I particularly enjoy watching the Barclays because it is neat seeing where the pros are and saying “wow, I was in the same place and actually played there”.

14 Norcal Golfer June 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I’ve played Torrey and Pebble a couple of years ago for my 50th. Have to say of the 2 Pebble is by far the most memorable, Torrey has good and bad spots but was challenging and not worth the asking price.

15 Jim W June 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Spent Sunday and yesterday at Erin Hills and the name is fitting. LONG walks, mostly up steep hills to the tees. I took 14,500 steps yesterday — 4 days + practice rounds means the 2017 pros better be fit. Course can be stretched to 8,100 yards and it is windy. Great fun to walk with caddies and the cabins are perfect for a foursome. They were having “U.S. Open Week” and attempting to replicate the 2017 conditions to come. Green speeds around 11 Monday with plans to move to 12 or 13 by this weekend.Good restaurant, too. I agree that shuttles can help with the traffic, but the hotels are gonna be a problem. I imagine the pros can rent houses from locals.
RE: Viewing a U.S. Open, I can’t agree with Rob, who was inside the ropes. Bethpage was the worst of the 5 or 6 Opens I have been too. They kept the ropes so far from the fairways and often behind humps and bumps that restricted viewership. Marion was better, but Hazeltine, Olympia Fields and Medinah were all better for viewing, though I would love to play Bethpage someday.

16 Doug Roberts June 11, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Have had chance to play about half of the list. My favorite experience was Bethpage. Sleeping in my car. Pulled up at 5pm night before to get the 7th parking spot. Befriended a group of Irish who bought me a steak dinner at the club and plied me with Guinness all night long. Starter came a calling at 5am sharp. My son and I got two of the last 4some available as someone actually slept over and played the Red! Played the tips with two wall street kids. Shot 95 and was happy.

17 Bruce June 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm

If you make the trip to Tacoma for Chambers Bay, I highly recommend staying an extra day and playing The Home Course, a few miles south. Owned by the WSGA, it is worth every penny.
Yes I live in the area…

18 Steve M. June 11, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Witch Hollow is the private course at Pumpkin Ridge. Its sister course, Ghost Creek, is public and has hosted the Nike Championship, various USGA events and the LPGA Safeway Classic. Both are great courses and worth a few miles of travel.

19 Craig Better June 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Whoops, you’re absolutely right, Steve. Replaced it with Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014.

20 Chris M June 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I’ve played Erin Hills, Torey Pines, and directed my brother to Chambers Bay. He felt the greens were very lumpy and slow over Memorial Day weekend 2011. Enjoyed the views and layout and likened it to Ballybunion Old. On Erin Hill the ownership change will enhance the course as there are more resources available to support it. Rich Tock, head of golf operations is exceptionally knowledgeable. The bones where there but they’ve never stopped tinkering, similar to #2 at Pinehurst. Erin Hill is filling out wonderfully. It is a bit of prairie links with the removal of a lot of the trees. The changes have been solid and it is a true risk reward course. I played Torrey Pines South before they lengthened it and loved it.

21 Western Golf Alliance June 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm

More on Chambers Bay. Strongly agree with the prior comment to play the WSGA Home Course, and ALSO Gold Mountain Olympic Course. It hosts this year’s US PubLinks Championship, and hosted the US Amateur in 2006. Those 3 courses – Chambers/Home Course/Gold Mountain Olympic – would be an OUTSTANDING golf trip; Those are 3 of the top 4 courses in Washington.

22 Bill S June 12, 2013 at 12:00 am

I have played Chambers Bay a couple of times and highly recommend it. It certainly is a different kind of golf. Take a caddie and enjoy the walk. As for the greens, I think they fit the course well, and need no improvement.
The Gold Mountain Olympic Course is worth playing as well. It’s nothing like Chambers Bay, more like a typical Pacific Northwest course. They have 36 holes there and the second course is nice too. I didn’t care for the Home Course on my only visit; it seemed a bit bland to me.

23 Garry June 18, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I have played Ballybunion and Lahinch and both were cheaper than pebble Beach,torrey pines or pinehurst#2. They are slowly making it impossible for the average golfer to play any of these courses.

24 Matt July 9, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I traveled to New York City two weeks ago. On a Friday morning, I took the 6a LIRR train from Manhattan to Farmingdale (one hour ride), hiked 20 minutes up to Bethpage State Park, and was teeing off the Black course by 8:30a. The course complex was crowded, but most people were not playing the Black course. I played in a three some, and there were tee times for singles open every hour (I’m sure it was harder to get on if you have a larger group). The course was magnificent–very long and very hard. It’s worth every penny. Two years ago, I arrived at Torrey Pines around 1p on a weekday, and was teeing off on the South course 20 min later (again, as a single). The next day, I played the North course, again as a walk up. I found both courses to be excellent, with the South just a bit more picturesque. For both Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black, I had absolutely no trouble walking on as a single.

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