Erin Go Open


2010 U.S. OpenPEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Not a bad day for “to do” lists hard on the shores of Stillwater Cove.

In the span of two paragraphs the U.S. Golf Association kept Pebble Beach in the national championship fold and plugged a Midwest hole in the U.S. Open resume with a venue officials say will be a Grand Slam game changer.

The USGA announced on Wednesday at Pebble Beach that the U.S. Open will return to Pebble Beach in 2019, ahead of its unofficial once-a-decade stop, and the 2017 edition will go to Erin Hills, a four-year-old golf course 30 minutes northwest of Milwaukee.

On this the blue blazers got it right. Pebble Beach is a gem, regardless of this week’s outcome; and by all accounts Erin Hills has been groomed since before the first swale was dug for a national championship.

Yet while the 2018 site remains a work in progress, withTorrey Pines in San Diego and New York’s Bethpage Black among the early options, one place that seems certain not to get the ’18 nod is Chicago.

The second city has become, at least in USGA circles, something of a second thought.

Cog Hill, the public-access facility that regularly hosts the PGA Tour’s Chicago stop and underwent an extreme Rees Jones makeover to woo the U.S. Open, was reportedly Erin Hills’ primary competition for the ’17 championship and, according to USGA president Jim Hyler it is still part of the Open conversation.

“We’ll continue to consider courses in Chicago, but are very excited about Erin Hills,” said Hyler, noting that the 2017 Open was courted by seven Midwest venues.

Perhaps, but the hole in the Open rota seems to inexplicably expand with every Windy City whiff.

Hyler points out that the Open was recently in Chicago in 2003. Lost in that logic is the fact that four of the last eight have been played in the New York City area. Three of five, starting at Torrey Pines in 2008 and running through the Olympic Club in ’12, will be played in California.

“We like the West Coast,” Hyler smiled. “You don’t hear any rain (outside the press tent) do you?”

Good point, but still. By comparison the card on Chicago is clear. The U.S. Open has been played just twice in the Chicago area since 1975, and with nothing on paper at least through 2017 that’s an unacceptable and astonishing gap.

Wisconsin may deserve its first U.S. Open, but Chicago certainly rates better than a championship cameo every 20 years or so.

The PGA of America seems to have struck a balance on this. This year’s PGA will be played at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin and is scheduled to return in 2015. In the meantime the Ryder Cup will be played at Medinah in Chicago in 2012.

Some familiar with the Open’s lack of recent history in Chicago suggest the USGA soured on the area following the 2003 championship due, in large part, to its dealings with Cook County officials.

There is also the issue of a suitable venue. Chicago enjoys an embarrassment of golf riches, but few that have the infrastructure to host an Open. Cog Hill has the room but is something of a reach architecturally if you ask players. While Butler National, a one-time home of the Western Open, is a classic course with plenty of room but has membership restrictions that would preclude it from being considered.

If one were to gaze into the tea leaves Wednesday’s announcements would suggest Chicago, a town that knows a thing or two about droughts, should get used to more heartbreak. But if the Blackhawks can hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup surely the USGA can round up a serviceable friendly confine for the nation’s championship.