Shinnecock Hills Golf Club arguably is the greatest major-championship test in American golf.
There’s certainly room for debate on that point. Some might cite the relentlessness of Oakmont, the demands that Pinehurst No. 2 places on the iron and short games, the grandeur of Pebble Beach or the thrills of Augusta National.
Certainly, though, Shinnecock Hills represents a wise return to the U.S. Golf Association’s roots after modern missteps two of the past three years at Chambers Bay and Erin Hills. This will be the fifth U.S. Open decided at Shinnecock Hills, which was founded in 1891 and is one of the USGA’s five founding member clubs.
Shinnecock Hills has stood the test of time through various iterations. The current design dates to 1931 and is credited to William S. Flynn and Howard C. Toomey. At No. 3 on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses list, it trails only Pine Valley and Cypress Point, and is the nation’s highest-ranked major championship venue.
It has everything one would want in deciding a national champion: length, penal rough, demanding second shots, and slick, inscrutable greens that challenge all facets of the short game.
To get a better feel for the test players will face at the U.S. Open, we asked Golfweek course raters who have played Shinnecock Hills over the past two years to share their observations on the course. Here’s what they had to say:
Two things everyone wants out of a U.S. Open golf course are for it to be long and difficult. At 7,445 yards, Shinnecock Hills will deliver a formidable challenge.
The first design feature that makes Shinnecock so special is the position you must put yourself in from the tee to have the best angle into the green. Playing from the rough and fescue almost guarantee a one-shot penalty. Some of the par 4s are so long that coming in on the wrong line makes holding the green almost impossible. The second distinguishing feature of Shinnecock is the fact that you are going to have to shape shots opposite of your stance (for example, hitting a fade from a hook lie and
vice versa), into greens that will only hold the correctly shaped shot.
Having played Shinnecock several times, the most memorable aspect comes after you miss greens on the short side. The greens are broken into areas that reject shots when coming in from awkward angles. The false fronts and run-offs make controlling the spin on your golf ball paramount. …
I don’t think Shinnecock Hills lacks anything. The only thing that comes to mind is the sixth hole that was redesigned by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. All along the right side, up to the water hazard, are native grass and sand that look like a Pinehurst No. 2 hole. This does not follow the look of the rest of the golf course.
– Patrick Conroy, Newtown Square, Pa.
It’s been a year since I played Shinnecock, spring 2017. At that time the greens were heavily top-dressed and the fear factor of hitting approaches into the lightning-fast greens was largely absent. The long grasses had yet to fill in for the season, so my impression was of a relatively wide-open course of great majesty.
The elevation changes are perfectly engineered from tee to fairway and fairway to green, adding just the right amount of consternation when calculating distance and where to place your shots to take maximum advantage of the risk-reward opportunities on each hole, especially with the swirling breezes I experienced that day. …
Vistas throughout are inspiring, and I especially liked “feeling” the routing in addition to seeing it. It’s hard to explain, but the holes unfolded so easily, as if they were almost inevitable, for lack of a better term.
– Marvin Weishaus, Demarest, N.J.
I found Shinnecock to be a classic! Every hole was right in front of you with no gimmicks. It’s the St. Andrews of the United States. Hole 11 was most memorable as a short but challenging par 3. The vistas from the course and clubhouse are unsurpassed.
– Dan Benson, Saline, Mich.
I have been lucky to play Shinnecock a few times over the past 11 years. From the moment you drive up to Shinnecock, you know you are in for a special day. You walk into the locker room and it is like stepping back into time. The green complexes are spectacular, and they were enlarged recently. There are a lot more tight lies around the greens, which will present a number of options for the players. …
After finishing Nos. 13-18, you know you have just played a special course. But the day is not over. You can sit on the porch and have a wonderful lunch with a Southside to make you forget about the 90 you just shot. It is just like going to the Swat room at Oakmont and having a Moscow Mule to forget about the 100 you just shot. Oakmont is my all-time favorite, but Shinnecock is no slouch. I hope it has enough length and teeth off the fairway to challenge today’s players.
– James “Deucie” Bies, Orlando
The first thing that struck me was just how big the course was. It seems to extend forever. The movement of the ground and the appearance and placement of the bunkers strike you. The greens were bigger than I thought, and I could see the pitch, but never could seem to play enough break. It is a true test of golf that a U.S. Open deserves. It can be terrible if the wind is up. Deep rough swallows a golf ball and it takes a weed whip to find it. …
I would rank it among the top 10 classic courses, but at the lower end. Shinnecock Hills is a place where what you see in front of you is what you get. … As a U.S. Open venue, it fits nicely with Oakmont, Pinehurst, Bethpage and Erin Hills – much better than Olympia Fields, Chambers Bay, Congressional.
– Doc Nocella, Farmington, Mich.
Shinnecock is pure golf as it is meant to be played. Everything at Shinnecock is visible out in front of you, it doesn’t have trees impinging on the lines of play, it usually rewards a well-played shot and can really punish a poorly played one.
The most important variable of how difficult the golf course can play from one day to the next is the wind. It can change the club you need to be swinging minute by minute, or as I found on the ninth hole, in the middle of your backswing! The caddie told me that the shot uphill into the wind was playing 190 yards, and as soon as I hit the ball and the wind gusted, he said, with the ball in flight, “Now playing 210 yards.” …
There were two things I found strange: the pond on No. 6 in front of the green, which seems out of place (there’s no other water on the course); and having Tuckahoe Road cut through the course, although it doesn’t affect play on the course at all. …
I think Shinnecock is a better test of golf than Pebble Beach, Merion and Augusta National, but playing Augusta is a special experience that is beyond belief. A comparison to Shinnecock’s neighbor, National Golf Links of America, is a tougher call for me – like asking me which of my children I like best. Shinnecock is your child that is incredibly gifted, possesses simple beauty and is a believer in being tough and fair (most of the time) with everyone. The National, on the other hand, is your child who is very handsome, can be wild and crazy, but is obviously a genius who just sees the world differently than others.
If you want a penal, beautiful and fun course to play, go play Shinnecock, and good luck! If you want a quirky, wild, unique and thoroughly enjoyable golf course that you could walk every day, then the National is for you. I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. I think I gave them the same rating.
– Dr. Steven Greif, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
(Note: This story appears in the June 2018 issue of Golfweek.)