Appeared in July/August 2002 LINKS
Just 45 years old, Hazeltine National Golf Club is relatively young for a club that has hosted 10 national championships. That Hazeltine has so successfully fulfilled its mission should come as no surprise. The club’s close connection with the USGA is reflected in its history and its membership. Totton P. Heffelfinger, the driving force behind Hazeltine, was the USGA’s president in 1952–53.
Heffelfinger was motivated to search for a golf course site when Minneapolis was undergoing rapid expansion during the mid-1950s. A member of the Minikahda Club, where Chick Evans had won the 1916 U.S. Open, Heffelfinger hired Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1959 to design the course that would become Hazeltine.
Opened in 1962, Hazeltine quickly was named the host of the 1970 U.S. Open. That debut didn’t go well. Players didn’t like the course, especially in windy conditions. Dave Hill shot 75 in the first round and was asked what he thought of the course.
“All it lacks is 80 acres of corn and a few cows,” Hill said. “They ruined a good farm when they built this course. Plow it up and start over.” Hill shot 69 the second round and reiterated his comments of the day before. (Hill eventually finished runner-up to Tony Jacklin; incidentally, when his second-place winnings arrived several days after the tournament, the check was unsigned.)
Hill’s comments led to numerous modifications to the course. Jones’ son Rees reworked much of the course, straightening out many of the doglegs, including No. 7’s nearly 90-degree turn. No. 16—formerly a long par 3 with a stand of elms short and left of the green—was turned into a short par 4 that plays along the shores of Lake Hazeltine. Seventeen was then converted from a short, uphill par 4 into a medium-length, downhill par 3.
The USGA loved the revised course for the ’83 Senior Open, and that led to the ’91 U.S. Open. Reed Mackenzie, general chairman of the 1991 U.S. Open, invited Hill back to play the course prior to that championship. Hill’s assessment was nothing like his first impression.
“I like it,” Hill said. “Part of it is maturity, of course. When we played in 1970 the greens were new and the trees were about as big around as my wrist. It’s all very mature now. When you stand at the 1st tee the first thing that catches your eye isn’t a silo, but a nicely bunkered green at the end of the fairway. The new 16th and 17th holes are gorgeous. It’s a lovely, fun course, yet demanding.”
Hazeltine today is one of America’s premier major-championship venues. It hosted the 2002 PGA Championship and the 2006 U.S. Amateur, and will be the site of the 2009 PGA and the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Yet, despite all the attention and acclaim it receives, the club has remained true to its spirit. “‘Unpretentious,’ that’s the word I’d use to describe Hazeltine,” says Mackenzie, citing as an example—and with a certain prairie pride—the simple metal lockers in the club’s locker room. “It’s a fairly modest club. We have a great cross-section of people here, some well-to-do, others of more moderate means.
“The only reason someone would join Hazeltine,” Mackenzie concludes, “is out of a pure love for the game.”
Year founded: 1962
Architects: Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones