August 28, 2009

The Best American Courses To Never Host a Major

Much has been made this week about "the pros not liking Liberty National" -- and perhaps they don't. My take is that if you put 10-12 million dollars on the line, and promised the winner a seven figure check, I think that the pros would play in a cornfield as long as it had eighteen sticks and a crowd of 20,000 fans to watch.

This is especially true if the tournament is a US Open or a PGA Championship. For any golf course, hosting a major is a badge of honor, one that cements something in the minds of the membership something very near and dear to their heart: the greatness of their golf course.

For most clubs, anyway. Above and beyond some of very best courses in the US are clubs that have courses so great that they are world-renowned works of golfing art. And unlike "lesser" clubs, their memberships' don't particularly give a damn if they get attention from the golfing world. In fact, it can be safely said that they would prefer they didn't. These courses ought to host major championships, but don't, and that's something of a loss to the game itself. What if, for example, St. Andrews was private and decided it was too much of a bother for them to host an Open Championship every so often?

Here are my top 3 American courses that should have a major on them, not that the members are asking me:

1. Pine Valley, Camden County, NJ

With a modest 155 slope from the championship tees, it is said that members say that no one with a handicap higher than 5 will break 100 their first time on the course, and that on at least one hole, that player will score a quintuple -- or worse. That is, if they were even invited -- a rare event indeed.

Pine Valley is one of the most exclusive pieces of real estate in the entire United States -- and it wants to stay that way. Never having hosted any major events (not to be confused with a Major) the reason most often cited is that there is not enough room for spectators on the property. Perhaps, but rhe only time the course ever received much television exposure was a 1962 Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match between Gene Littler and Byron Nelson.

2. Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Nebraska

The web site for this course is blunt: "The Sand Hills Golf Club is a private facility and does not accept any on-line requests for membership information or tee times." In other words, if you ain't already a member, don't bother us, kid.

Established in 1995, and designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, this course regularly appears in the top 100 lists as well as the best new course in the last fifty years in the US. What it looks like is mostly a mystery to golf fans: the entrance road is some 55 miles long, making a stolen glimpse all but an impossibility. It has never (to my knowledge) hosted even a made-for-TV event.

As a club, Sand Hills is all about golf: there is only a tiny changing room -- no bodacious locker room with poker tables, a small clubhouse and no tee times. In fact, there are no clocks on the property. If you can play Sand Hills, you have the time.

3. Cypress Point, Monterey, California

Poor Pebble Beach.

Lauded as it is, Pebble Beach is not even the best golf course on the street it is on. That distinction would definitely belong to Cypress Point, the uber-private club down 17 Mile Drive from Pebble.

Cypress used to host tournament play up until the 1990's, when it was decided that the PGA's new diversity requirements were not amenable to the membership -- they felt it was they themselves who would decide who could be a member, and no one else. Rather than meet the PGA's requirements, they decided to drop out of the Crosby (now AT&T) course rota and keep their global Top 3 course all to themselves.

It is a shame, because this is Alistair MacKenzie's finest course -- better even than Augusta National. The reason for that? Augusta National doesn't lay hard aside the ocean, and Cypress Point does, giving it additional unmatched scenery and the additional element of seaside weather. On top of that, Cypress has pretty much stayed the way it was since it was built - a few tweaks here and there - and Augusta National has been re-engineered so many times that it is almost fair to say that neither MacKenzie or Bobby Jones would recognize the place were they to walk its fairways today.

This isn't the case with Cypress Point. It is what it is, and that is one of the top golf courses in the world, hands down, no additional discussion necessary. No one needed to "improve" the Mona Lisa by adding new paint when DaVinci finished it, and no one has needed to re-work Cypress Point. Perhaps that's because the pros don't bomb it with 330 yard drives, but then again, if the wind is up - as it is most days in the Big Sur - they would be unwise to do so anyway. If there is a heaven, and as a golfer you end up spending eternity there - it probably looks a lot like Cypress Point. But it has never hosted a US Open or a PGA Championship.

1 comment:

  1. I second the motion. I think majors should be held on these courses too. That way I would actually get to see these courses. I don't think it's happening otherwise.

    Any idea if women are "allowed" to play any of the above?


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