Appeared in Summer 2011 LINKS
YOU SAY YOU’VE BEEN to Winged Foot and Baltusrol, played Olympic and Medinah, crossed the pond to Turnberry and St. Andrews. All right, mister bag tag collector, in the course of those visits, exactly how many courses did you play?
If your answer is six, you made a big mistake. In fact, you made at least six. Why? Because in all probability you played only the marquee courses—the ones that have hosted major championships. That’s fine, but the truth is, each of those courses, like U.S. Open-host Congressional, has an unsung sister that’s almost as good—arguably better—in that it’s easier both to get on and score on.
Herewith the Cinderella courses—forced to serve as parking lots during championship week but cherished the rest of the year by those for whom greatness means more than just an ability to test the pros.
On the East Coast
WINGED FOOT EAST (versus WEST) It’s 500 yards shorter than its brutish sister, but the beguiling East is strong enough to rank on just about every list of America’s Top 100. A taut test of driving and iron play, with the same daunting Tillinghast bunkers and greens as on the West.
BALTRUSOL UPPER (versus LOWER) While the championship course is flat, open, and relatively featureless, the Upper is a hillside charmer, where every shot must be carefully planned and
executed—many regard it as more than just geographically above its sister.
BETHPAGE RED (versus BLACK) When the USGA readied the Black course for the 2002 U.S. Open, the Red got plenty of attention as well. Today, this Tillinghast classic could hold a major itself. In the meantime you won’t have to wait on line five hours to play it. A
second on-site option: the Blue course.
OAK HILL WEST (versus EAST) Shorter and more forgiving off the tee than the East, Oak Hill West is marked by large, heaving, elevated greens that are certified Donald Ross, untouched since he designed them in 1926. Some of the members claim the back nine is the best nine at the club.
CONGRESSIONAL GOLD (versus BLUE) In 2000 Arthur Hills overhauled the Gold, regrassing the fairways, rebuilding the tees, and reworking the bunkers while chopping down more than 1,000 trees. Yet it retains a park-like serenity while posing almost as stiff a challenge as the Blue.
PINEHURST NO. 4 (versus No. 2) Eighty years after Donald Ross designed it, Tom Fazio gave No. 4 a spectacular facelift, adding five new holes and dozens of bunkers while honoring the essential Ross character. And it’s a prettier walk than No. 2. A second
on-site option: No. 8.
In the Midwest
MEDINAH No. 1 (versus No. 3) Number 1 is not the “claustrophobia of trees” that famed number 3 is. Instead, there are a few water hazards to contend with. The fast and fiercely sloped greens make this all the challenge you want, especially from the back tees of 6,713 yards.
WHISTLING STRAITS IRISH (versus STRAITS) A kinder, gentler sister to barren, windblown Straits, the Irish winds around lakes and through stands of mature trees. But Pete Dye has worked his magic with plenty of faux dunes, blind shots, and greens that
allow for a bump-and-run approach. Plus, you can take a cart here while at the Straits, it’s pedestrians only.
FIRESTONE NORTH (versus SOUTH) There’s no comparison—for the average player, the North is a far more enjoyable, varied, and scenic course than the monotonous bruiser the pros contend with across the street. With sand and water everywhere, it isn’t easy, but it will never lose your attention.
On the West Coast
OLYMPIC OCEAN (versus LAKESIDE) Lakeside, host of four U.S. Opens, may have more history but as the Ocean’s name
implies it’s here you’ll find the views. This used to rank among the best in the west until sea erosion tightened things a bit, but it remains a fair—and entirely different—test from its stern
sister across the street.
TORREY PINES NORTH (versus SOUTH) Even the pros have trouble with the 7,680 yards of the South. The North is not only more manageable, it has a far more spectacular site, with several of its holes running along the cliffs atop the Pacific.
ST. ANDREWS NEW (versus OLD) Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods all have sung the praises of the Old Course, but to St. Andrews locals, it’s not even the best course in town—that distinction belongs to the New (designed by Tom Morris in 1895), a formidable but fair test of every club in the bag. A second on-site option: the Jubilee.
TURNBERRY KINTYRE (versus AILSA) The 10-year-old Kintyre Course is a Donald Steel remake of the Arran Course involving 11 new holes, two of them alongside the sea. It’s a bit shorter than the championship course but the gorse-lined fairways call for accuracy from the tee. And fear not, there are the same breathtaking views of Ailsa Craig and the Irish Sea.
They live in the shadows of their vaunted sisters, but these tracks are just as good—and maybe even better
By: George Peper