Ranking the Top 10 U.S. Open venues of all time
L.A. Country Club makes its U.S. Open debut this year, but will it be among the best Open venues ever? We rank the 10 best U.S. Open golf courses in history.
Get ready for some interesting prime-time golf this weekend as the U.S. Open is held in Los Angeles for the first time in 75 years at a country club so exclusive that Hollywood types have never been allowed to become members. It is one of several courses tucked into the sprawl of Los Angeles, and only 18 of its 36 holes will be used for the third of this season’s four majors.
Within a 6-mile radius are two other George Thomas-designed private layouts – Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club – as well as Hillcrest Country Club, Brentwood Country Club, and a busy municipal layout, Rancho Park Golf Course.
Where is the U.S. Open golf 2023 being held?
Your best bet is that the USGA will have this Los Angeles Country Club layout especially tricked up, particularly the three long finishing holes that come into play after a par-3 15th that will be the shortest in U.S. Open history (It plays as long as 155 yards and as short as 92, although during the 2017 Walker Cup it played just 72 yards.)
No. 16 is a 543-yard par 4, No. 17 is a 528-yard par-4, and No. 18 is an uphill 493 yards. No. 11 is a drivable 290 yards to an itsy-bitsy green, and there are five par-3s and three par-5s – the first such configuration in U.S. Open history and the first time a U.S. Open golf course has had five par-3s since the 1947 U.S. Open at St. Louis Country Club.
No. 1 is a downhill 578-yard par-5 that will be reachable in two shots by nearly everyone in the field, and eagling No. 1 at least twice during the four days could be the key to victory. Viewership should be especially strong now that the NBA championship and Stanley Cup have been decided, with play continuing into the late evening hours on the East Coast of the United States.
But will it be remembered as a Top 10 U.S. Open venue? That remains to be seen, but it is a tough club to join -- just like L.A. Country Club itself. We will have our answer by Monday after this spectacle concludes, so for now we are wondering whether one of the sites listed below will end up getting bumped among the top U.S. Open golf venues by the time next year’s rankings are published. Next year, the event will return to Pinehurst No. 2 for the fourth time in 25 years. Other upcoming U.S. Open locations include Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y., and Oakmont CC in Pennsylvania.
Which golf course has hosted the most U.S. Opens?
That distinction belongs to Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh, which has hosted nine U.S. Opens and will host a 10th in 2025 after the USGA announced that Oakmont, like Pinehurst No. 2, will be an “anchor site” for the annual tournament. Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and, most recently, Dustin Johnson in 2016 are listed among the champions. Tommy Armour won the first U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1927.
Ranking the Top 10 Best U.S. Open courses of all time
- Congressional Country Club
Location: Bethesda, Md.
Site of U.S. Open: 1964, 1997, 2011
Past Champions: Ken Venturi, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy
This one makes the list for several reasons. Eight U.S. presidents have been members of the club, and it has the largest clubhouse of any country club in the United States -- featuring nine restaurants, an indoor duckpin bowling alley, a tennis club, a grand ballroom, one indoor pool, a lap pool with diving boards, a kids’ pool and main pool, a fitness center and grand foyer, and paddle ball courts. The USGA allowed the par-3 18th to be used as the finishing hole only once, in 2011, and the course has since been redesigned with the 18th now playing in the opposite direction.
- Baltrusol Golf Club
Location: Springfield, N.J.
Site of U.S. Open: 1903, 1915, 1936, 1954, 1967, 1980, 1993
Past Champions: Willie Anderson, Jerome Travers, Tony Manero, Ed Furgol, Jack Nicklaus (2), Lee Janzen
Baltusrol Golf Club was named after Baltus Roll (1769–1831), who farmed the land on which the club resides today. Located 20 miles west of New York City and designed by A.W. Tillinghast, in 1985 Baltusrol became the first club to have hosted both the U.S. Open and Women's U.S. Open on two different courses. Robert Trent Jones and his son, Rees, have both redesigned the 36-hole layout, which has hosted 15 different USGA competitions. Signature holes include the fourth on the Lower Course, a par-3 of 194 yards where players must hit over a pond to a two-tiered green; and the 17th, a par-5 of 650 yards where John Daly is the only player to ever reach the green in two strokes, although Tiger Woods fired his second shot over the green in two shots at the 2005 PGA Championship.
- Olympic Club Location: San Francisco, Calif.
Site of U.S. Open: 1955, 1966, 1987, 1998, 2012
Past Champions: Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson, Lee Janzen, Webb Simpson
When you talk about “location, location, location” as real-estate brokers do, there is no beating the sweeping views Olympic Club has of the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park. Its main clubhouse is just two blocks from Union Square in downtown San Francisco, and the club actually has two 18-hole courses and a nine-hole course nestled among the hills of one of America’s most beautiful cities. The 54-hole leader has failed to win every time the Open has been played at The Olympic Club, and in 1998 the slope of the 18th green was so challenging that Lee Janzen incurred a two-stroke penalty for using his putter to stop a ball from rolling. That green has since been redesigned to be less slippery.
- The Country Club
Location: Brookline, Mass.
Site of U.S. Open: 1913, 1963, 1988, 2022
Past Champions: Francis Ouimet, Julius Boros, Curtis Strange, Matthew Fitzpatrick
Founded in 1882, The Country Club is the oldest golf club in the United States and was one of the five charter clubs that formed the U.S. Golf Association. It was the site of Francis Ouimet’s famous victory in 1913, which we wrote about in our Biggest Upsets in U.S. Open history article, and it was where Matthew Fitzpatrick won last year’s U.S. Open by one shot over Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris. There are 27 holes on what is considered the best course in Massachusetts, and Ryder Cup history (and controversy) came in 1999 when Justin Leonard sank a putt on No. 17 that led to his fellow American teammates storming the green before Jose Maria Olazabal of the European squad had a chance to attempt his putt.
- Torrey Pines
Location: San Diego, Calif.
Site of U.S Open: 2008, 2021
Past Champions: Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm
A 36-hole public course overlooking the Pacific Open, Torrey Pines is a picturesque masterpiece re-designed by Rees Jones and Tom Weiskopf to make it a championship-caliber track. Tiger Woods won there in 2008 in a 19-hole playoff with Tom Lehman in which Woods birdied No. 18 on Sunday and then again on Monday to force a 91st hole. Jon Rahm won his U.S. Open 13 years later by making a pair of hard-breaking left-to-right putts on the 17th and 18th holes to win after beginning Sunday down by three strokes. When it comes to dramatic finishes, not many courses can stand up to what Torrey Pines has delivered.
- Merion Golf Club Location: Haverford Township, Pa.
Site of U.S. Open: 1934, 1950, 1971, 1981, 2013
Past Champions: Olin Dutra, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, David Graham, Justin Rose
On the Main Line just outside Philadelphia, the Merion Golf Club’s East Course was designed by Hugh Wilson, a Philadelphian who had never designed a golf course before. Wilson went to England and Scotland for seven months and copied the design of Scottish bunkers, which at this course are known as the “White Faces of Merion.” Jack Nicklaus has said of Merion: "Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world." It has held 18 USGA tournaments. Ben Hogan’s 1950 U.S. Open victory, which saw him come back from devastating car-crash injuries, is the most famous.
- Bethpage Black
Location: Bethpage, N.Y.
Site of U.S. Open: 2002, 2009
Past Champions: Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover
Bethpage Black is the most difficult of Bethpage's five courses, which were built as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s WPA program during the Great Depression. It is known for the warning sign at the first tee, placed in the early 1980s, which reads "WARNING The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers.” In 2002, Tiger Woods won there and was the only player to break par in what was considered one of the most difficult course set-ups in U.S. Open history, which is saying something because the USGA is famous for making already difficult courses even more difficult with rolled greens and extraordinarily long rough. The 2002 U.S. Open was the first ever held on a public course.
- Winged Foot Location: Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Site of U.S. Open: 1929, 1959, 1974, 1984, 2006, 2020
Past Champions: Bobby Jones, Billy Casper, Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller, Geoff Ogilvy, Bryson DeChambeau
One of several extraordinary golf courses in the northern suburbs of New York City, Winged Foot was founded by members of the New York Athletic Club and remains one of the most desirable membership clubs in the region. The 36-hole club (East and West Courses) were the last two courses designed by A.W. Tillinghast, and Winged Foot is on the National Register of Historic Places. The U.S. Open is played on the more difficult West course, with hole No. 6 measuring 640 yards from the championship tees. Geoff Ogilvy won in 2006 at 5-over, Hale Irwin won in 1974 at 7-over, two shy of the Open record of 9-over by Julius Boros in 1954. The Open will return in 2029 after it was held there in 2020 without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Pinehurst No. 2
Location: Pinehurst, N.C.
Site of U.S. Open: 1999, 2005, 2014
Past Champions: Payne Stewart, Michael Campbell, Martin Kaymer
They were not messing around when they built the Pinehurst complex after purchasing the land for $1.25 an acre -- building nine 18-hole courses along with a 9-hole course. Famed architect Donald Ross said of No. 2 after it opened in 1907 that the course was, "The fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” In 2011, a $2.5 million renovation was completed to return the course to what Ross had originally built but had been modified. There is currently a statue behind the 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 showing Stewart's famous victory pose after making a putt on the 18th hole to defeat Phil Mickelson.
- Pebble Beach Golf Links
Location: Pebble Beach, Calif.
Site of U.S. Open: 1972, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2010, 2019
Past Champions: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Gary Woodland
Hugging the Monterey Peninsula where sea lions and seals often sun themselves on the rocks along the shoreline, there is no more spectacular place in America to play Oceanside golf. The course was designed by champion golfers Jack Neville and Douglas Grant and opened on Feb. 22, 1919. The objective was to place as many of the holes as possible along the rocky and beautiful Monterey coast line, which was accomplished using a "figure 8" layout. It is a public course with greens fees of $625, although that rate is only available to those who stay at the on-site resort, where a room will set you back $1,045 per night. When you make your first million from sports gambling, book it. You will not be disappointed even if you hit a dozen Titleists into the Pacific Ocean.
Parameters of Rankings
We went for natural beauty, historical architecture, and accessibility in compiling these rankings, and let’s be honest: Narrowing down the list of great golf courses to a Top 10 is not all that easy. But we were partial to courses designed by some of the best course architects in the history of the sport, and we gave extra points to courses that proved exceedingly difficult after the USGA sadists got their hands on them to prep them for U.S. Opens.
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