Public Golf Supporters Rise Up and Take Your US Opens


We can all be forgiven for being wound like a watch spring by the end of the day, what with a sniper terrorizing the suburbs around our nation's capital and (whatever your opinion of it) the specter of war in Iraq. So any strategy that relaxes the muscles as evening comes on is much appreciated these days.
Here's a blessing to count: The U.S. Golf Association has chosen two public courses for its national championship.
The 2008 U.S. Open will be played at Torrey Pines Golf Club's South Course in La Jolla, Calif. The 2009 Open will be held again at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., the track that met with good reviews (from everyone but the players) in this year's championship.
It felt right this year, and will again in seven and eight years, that the national championship of the world's most egalitarian sport was played where the great mass of golfers can play. It felt like Election Day when politics were clean, like democracy in action. But this time with sports. I expected Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt to come around the corner with one-day badges, looking on a map for the grandstand by the 17th green.
For the USGA, the choices can't help but move the PR needle in the right direction. Five private clubs founded the USGA in 1894, and ever since, the association has endured allegations of elitism, sometimes justified. The public - some say the toughest public there is, New Yorkers - responded well to the summer golf festival at Bethpage.
With all that good feeling, can we be blamed for wanting more? Of course, not many public courses are U.S. Open quality. But just as an after-work exercise, let's daydream about some public venues across America we'd like to see host U.S. Opens. You pour us a beer.
New York City: Van Cortlandt Park. Yeah, I know, it's impossible. But talk about popular appeal: This is New York public golf central. I'm surprised there aren't hot dog stands on every other tee. And as long as we're going over the top, why not clear Central Park and see how many golf holes Rees Jones could work into it? Leave the Sheep Meadow high for the requisite U.S. Open rough. Note to USGA rules guru Kendra Graham: What's the ruling if my ball comes to rest under the bus stop shelter across 61st Street from the park? And 'Eeyyy, I'm chippin' ovah heah!
Pittsburgh: Oakmont. No, not that one: Oakmont East, the little public track right next to Oakmont Country Club on Hulton Road. For other Oakmont Opens, the East course was used as a parking lot. (Probably will be a again when the Open comes to Oakmont in 2007.) But in its natural life, the East is one of the few courses downtown day workers can reach after work for a quick nine before daylight savings sunsets. The Church Pew bunkers of Nos. 3 and 4 on the 'big course' are visible through the fence along the first fairway, but then you're on your own over hill and dale above the Allegheny River. Guaranteed Open fun: Watching the pros choke down 3-woods to drive the green of the downhill, 300-yard fifth hole.
Chicago: Cog Hill No. 4 is the obvious choice, and unlike the fantasies above, it's the real deal. The Jemsek family gem in Lemont has been host of the PGA Tour's Western Open since 1991. It has the toughness and interest a U.S. Open course needs, and it's no secret that the heirs of the late Joe Jemsek, who was known as the father of public golf in Chicago, would love to have the Open at Cog.
Chicagoans would love it too, just as they did at Medinah in 1990. But the public panache of a Cog Hill Open would work in The City That Works. My advice: Hang out on the back nine and watch hopes rise and fall on some of the toughest finishing holes the pros ever face. Oh, and don't worry, either the Cubs or the White Sox will be in town. That's the way the schedule works.
Portland, Oregon: Pumpkin Ridge. Between the hills on the city's western rim and the coastal mountains are delightful farmlands that boast a number of fine courses, but none better than the pair at the Ridge. USGA competition officials could use either course, or make a hybrid as the folks at La Costa did for their event. The climate is perfect, and the golf has the rustic feel the USGA seems to prize. The 1996 U.S. Amateur and 1997 Women's Open were great dry runs.
Thanks for indulging me in some of the fun I poked here. But think about it: The USGA may have started a laudable trend for the U.S. Open. That's not to say private clubs should be abandoned. But the mix is more reflective of golf in America today.
And since we started thinking about it, don't you feel a lot less wound up?