2006: Winged Foot East: A classic venue fills blue-collar role
Top-100 courses usually get treated with tender loving care. But during the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club, the No. 38 layout on Golfweek’s America’s Best Classic Courses list will be, well, trampled upon.
Instead of golfers populating its fairways, Winged Foot’s East Course will be littered with trailers, hospitality tents and a lot of trash.
All of the glory during championship week will go to its more heralded fraternal twin, the West Course (No. 16 on the Classic list), meaning the East – also designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1923 – will be partially covered with the catering compound, corporate village tents and media facilities.
With the merchandise tent situated on Winged Foot’s practice range, a 310-yard-long, 100-yard-wide temporary range has been located on the East Course’s ninth fairway and will spill over onto the second. And yes, there will be a net at the far end to snag the most prodigious drives.
More than 20 acres of the East Course will be devoted to tournament infrastructure. That includes 75 tents, comprising 120,000 square feet of covered space, most of it with plywood boarding, which is not exactly conducive to turf cultivation. Tees and greens will be roped off. But when the Open carnival departs, the 6,750-yard, par-72 East Course won’t be up to its usual standard, which is every bit the equal of the West in design character and maintenance.
The East Course usually is home to about 40 percent of Winged Foot’s total play. Last year, according to first-year caddie master David Zona, the East registered 15,852 rounds compared with 22,187 for the West Course. This year has been very different, with the East Course not being played since April and not slated to be back in the Winged Foot rotation until mid-September.
In the past decade, golf championships have grown from simple events to major sporting occasions. Site selection criteria include room for behind-the scenes activities – everything from a TV compound and media tent to corporate entertainment, merchandise area, transportation staging and spectator food preparation. Multiple-course facilities have a distinct advantage when it comes to hosting such events, with the second or third layout often serving as a backstage area for what amounts to a sports stadium infrastructure set up on a temporary basis.
Multiple-course properties such as Pinehurst (U.S. Open 1999, 2005), Bethpage State Park (U.S. Open 2002, 2009), Torrey Pines (U.S. Open 2008), Oakland Hills (Ryder Cup 2004), Whistling Straits (2004 PGA Championship) and Olympia Fields (U.S. Open 2003) are ideally suited for such purposes. Rarely, however, is the second, supporting course as highly regarded as Winged Foot’s East. The closest example is Baltusrol, where the famed Lower Course – ranked No. 40 on the Golfweek Classic list and home to four U.S. Opens and the 2005 PGA Championship – is “supported” during majors by the Upper Course, ranked No. 66 on the Classic list and home to a U.S. Open (in 1936), two U.S. Women’s Opens and the 2000 U.S. Amateur.
Winged Foot trumps Baltusrol in the rankings, and the East Course alone has a pedigree few clubs can match. It has been home to quite a bit of championship history.
Roberto De Vicenzo won the inaugural U.S. Senior Open there in 1980. Susie Maxwell Berning won the second of her three U.S. Women’s Open titles on the East Course in 1972. Winged Foot East also was the scene of one of the saddest moments in championship golf in 1957 when apparent winner Jackie Pung signed for an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified, thereby handing the title to Betsy Rawls.
There won’t be any history on the East Course during this U.S. Open. For now, it simply can claim the distinction of being golf’s classiest trailer park.