2002: Perspective - Pinehurst: The premier Open layout

Bethpage Black is a fabulous U.S. Open course, but it isn’t the best. From where I sit, that honor goes to Pinehurst No. 2.

What are the 10 best U.S. Open courses? Tiger Woods might start with Pebble Beach and Bethpage, where he has won his two U.S. Opens. However, because I haven’t won the U.S. Open, I am without prejudice (I also am without a golf game, but that’s another story).

Achenbach’s U.S. Open top 10:

1 Pinehurst (No. 2): This extraordinarily playable resort facility (it is almost impossible to lose a ball here) played host to its first U.S. Open in 1999 and quickly earned a return ticket for 2005. It richly deserved such an honor.

With a collection of rolly-polly Donald Ross greens and a multitude of chipping areas, No. 2 placed a premium on iron play and recovery shots.

The course didn’t even require the barbed-wire rough that is grown for most Opens (including Bethpage). The 1999 event was more fun to watch than any other recent U.S. Open.

2 Pebble Beach: The crown jewel of the U.S. Open rotation, Pebble is loved by everyone.

This is the most scenic Open site. Forget the opening holes – they are merely an appetizer. The sixth through the 10th have become America’s most famous stretch of holes, surpassing even the 11th, 12th and 13th at Augusta National.

3 Shinnecock Hills: Golfers can thank former USGA president Harry Easterly for bringing the Open back to Shinnecock. The championship was held there in 1896, then didn’t return until 90 years later in 1986. Located near the eastern end of Long Island, Shinnecock is more like a British Open layout than any other U.S. Open course. This is the ultimate challenge for all-around shotmaking and mental tenacity.

4 Bethpage (Black): A sprawling, visually stunning layout, Bethpage seemed instantaneously comfortable in playing host to this championship for the first time. The players loved it, the fans loved it, and Bethpage is here to stay.

5 Olympic (Lake): Famous as the place where two golf legends lost Open playoffs – Ben Hogan to Jack Fleck in 1955 and Arnold Palmer to Billy Casper in 1966 – Olympic is a glamorous Open site because of its San Francisco location. More than this, however, it offers the best U.S. Open examination of driving the ball.

6 Baltusrol (Lower): You have to love a course that has no par 5s among the first 16 holes. Both 17 and 18 are par 5s, but most players have been hammered long before then. Accuracy and course management are the keys here.

7 Oakmont: Boasts the most interesting greens of all the Open courses.

8 Winged Foot (West): When the U.S. Open returns here in 2006 after a 22-year absence, the setup will be the key. It was dubbed the “Massacre at Winged Foot” when Hale Irwin won with a 7-over-par total in 1974, yet Fuzzy Zoeller was 11 shots lower when he won in 1984.

9 Oakland Hills (South): Hogan won here, but so did Andy North and Steve Jones, making Oakland Hills perhaps the most mysterious Open course.

10 Merion (East): Sadly, Merion may never host another Open. The course seems too short, the size and location too cramped for the Open infrastructure.

This year’s Open at Bethpage was nicknamed the “People’s Open,” and what a great U.S. Open it was.

Now, to demonstrate its commitment to public golf, the USGA should quickly announce its intention to return to Bethpage Black, a public facility that is owned and operated by the state of New York and a place where a golfer can play for $31 during the week and $39 on weekends.

There is a modern precedent for announcing a quick return to a U.S. Open site. A year after it served as host for the 1999 Open, Pinehurst No. 2 was chosen for 2005. So the USGA should go ahead and make it official: The U.S. Open will come back to Bethpage.

U.S. Opens already are scheduled through 2007. In a marvelous coupling of public golf – one on the east coast and the other on the west coast – Torrey Pines in LaJolla, Calif., is expected to land the 2008 or 2009 Open and join Bethpage Black in the affordable category.

Private courses own Open history, so it’s no wonder that the 2013 Open apparently will be played at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. This will mark the 100-year anniversary of the stunning Open victory by amateur Francis Ouimet at the same course.

The U.S. Open is heading into a new era in which private, resort and public courses are united in a commendable trifecta.

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