When the best golfers in the world play the 2013 PGA Championship course at Oak Hill Country Club this weekend in Rochester, New York, history will be made for the winner. But for golf enthusiasts everywhere, experiencing the excitement of that course can only be had from the sidelines — Oak Hill is another private course, one virtually no fans watching on TV will ever be able to play. In the 94-year history of the PGA Championship, it has only been played on nine public courses. Still, as Major championships go, that’s a good record. The two other American Majors include the Masters, which has never played on a public course, and the US Open, which has visited four public courses since it began in 1895.
All total, there are less than a dozen Major venues you can play in this country. That’s the bad news. The good news is that these courses include some of the highest-quality greens in the nation, including Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina; California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links; The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina; and the Straits Course at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. Here’s the lowdown on each course’s offerings:
Top of the Leaderboard
Pinehurst is one of the most storied golf courses outside of Scotland, and the only public one to have hosted two different Majors (US Open and PGA Championship) and the Ryder Cup, along with tons of other important events such as the US Amateur. Opened in 1895, Pinehurst was the very first resort course in America. Just last year, the Donald Ross-designed Pinehurst No. 2 — the famed course is one of eight on the site, making it the largest golf resort in the country — got a historically accurate, multimillion dollar restoration, assuring that the links look the best they have in decades. Being a little more than a chip shot away from Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Carolina Hotel at Pinehurst Resort certainly doesn’t hurt either. Next year, No. 2 will again make history by being the first course to host the US Open and Women’s US Open in the same year — on back-to-back weeks.
In The Title Hunt
Pebble Beach, probably the most recognizable course in the country, has also hosted both the US Open and PGA, along with lots of other PGA Tour events, most notably the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The resort has two other stellar layouts, the Links at Spanish Bay and Spyglass Hill, as well as Four-Star accommodations at the Four-Star The Lodge at Pebble Beach.
Kohler’s The Straits course ushered in the current love affair with retro links golf design and has hosted the PGA Championship twice in the past nine years — a nearly unprecedented feat. It is one of four standout courses at the Kohler resort, one of the top golf retreats in the nation, with the Five-Star American Club and Five-Star Kohler Waters Spa on property.
Rounding out the terrific threesome is Kiawah Island’s The Ocean Course. This seminal work of legendary designer Pete Dye is likely the finest coastal set-up in the Eastern United States. It has hosted both the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup, and is one of five courses attached to the Five-Star The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
Bethpage Black on Long Island is not just a public course; it’s a municipal layout that sits in a state park. When the 2002 US Open was held there, it became forever known as the “People’s Open.” While Bethpage is both a great course and offers great value, it is famously difficult for non-residents to get on, requiring eager players to spend the night in their car while they wait in line for a tee time.
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick hosted the 1924 PGA Championship won by Walter Hagen, and was renovated and reopened in 2007. With great lodging packages at the associated French Lick Resort, it qualifies as a true hidden gem in Indiana. Other winners include the waterfront Donald Ross-designed Bay Course at Atlantic City’s Seaview Hotel & Golf Club, and the South Course at Torrey Pines in Southern California — stay at the superlative Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Lodge at Torrey Pines and you won’t have far to go after a round on the oceanfront course.
Photos Courtesy of Pinehurst Resort and PlayACGolf.com