As with few other sports, golf treasures tradition. Atop the history heap sit the greatest players, the most memorable championships, and the premier playing fields. In the United States, it was the golf and country clubs that fostered the growth of the game, beginning in the 1880s.
Which are the most historic American clubs of all? We used a combination of age, lore, distinctive course architecture, and impact on the game to arrive at a top 10. The clubs-only criteria meant we had to leave out some genuinely worthy course-oriented candidates, including Van Cortlandt Park, site of the nation’s first muni; Clearview Golf Course, the first course built, owned, and managed by African Americans; and Pebble Beach, which long ago was considered part of the Del Monte Golf and Country Club, but which these days is exclusively a resort property.
Here, then, are the 10 most historic golf-focused clubs in the U.S.
1. Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa.
As Herbert Warren Wind once wrote in the New Yorker, Oakmont is “without doubt the most historic and the most epitomical of all the courses over which the national championship (U.S. Open) has been played…” and is “so evocative of early American golf that it should be preserved as a national landmark.” Indeed, Oakmont has played host to more U.S. Opens than any other—nine, with a tenth scheduled for 2025—and was the first golf-oriented club to be enshrined on the National Registry of Historic Places, in 1987. Long feared and respected as one of the most difficult tests of golf on earth, thanks to its firm, unimaginably fast greens, the 119-year-old Oakmont layout has also witnessed some of golf’s most memorable moments, including Johnny Miller’s final-round 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open. The memorabilia-filled, green-and-white Tudor clubhouse, itself designated as a National Historic Landmark, is the cherry on top for Oakmont and its history.
2. Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.
Dating to 1896, and home to the legendary 110-year-old East course, Merion Golf Club occupies hallowed ground. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it has been home to 19 United States Golf Association championships—more than any other club. More importantly, Merion has witnessed some of the most memorable moments in the history of golf, including Bobby Jones’s triumph in the 1930 U.S. Amateur, which clinched the Grand Slam. Ben Hogan’s inspirational comeback to win the 1950 U.S. Open occurred at Merion, as did Lee Trevino playfully tossing a rubber snake at Jack Nicklaus prior to their 1971 U.S. Open playoff.
The suburban Philadelphia club is also known for its flagsticks, which have been topped with wicker baskets since 1915. Supposedly member and course architect Hugh Wilson was inspired by the shepherds he saw in Scotland, who carried their supplies in that manner.
3. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, N.Y.
One of the five founding member clubs of the United States Golf Association in 1894, Long Island’s Shinnecock Hills dates to 1891 and boasts the first building ever constructed for the express purpose to function as a golf clubhouse. Master architect Stanford White crafted the shingle-style, hilltop abode in 1892. Its golf course ranks among the top 10 in the world, thanks to a masterful 1931 design by William Flynn, dotted with remnants of earlier layouts designed by Willie Davis, Willie Dunn, and C.B. Macdonald. Its location adjacent to Peconic Bay yields breeze-fueled, fescue-framed fairways that have helped produce five of the greatest U.S. Opens in history—starting in 1896, and most recently in 2018, with a sixth on the way in 2026. In 2000, the club was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
4. Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J.
Rivaling Pennsylvania’s Oakmont as the club that has entertained the most U.S. Opens, Baltusrol dates to 1895, when founded by Louis Keller, publisher of the high society New York Social Register. In 1985, Baltusrol became the first club to have played host to both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open on two different courses, the Upper and the Lower, each designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1922. The 18-hole predecessor to those two layouts was the venue for two early U.S. Opens, in 1903 and 1915. Baltusrol’s tournament pedigree is further burnished from hosting four U.S. Amateurs and two PGA Championships—and the 2023 Women’s PGA and 2029 PGA Championships are on deck. In 2005, Baltusrol was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and nine years later, earned a designation as a National Historic Landmark to honor Tillinghast’s contributions, including the first side-by-side courses of 18 holes each ever built in the U.S.
5. The Country Club, Brookline, Mass.
Suburban Boston’s The Country Club is an American blue blood, a founding member of the United States Golf Association in 1894 and host to the sport’s greatest upset, when local amateur Francis Ouimet downed famed British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff for the 1913 U.S. Open. That event alone popularized golf in America as never before. The club takes its name from the fact that it was the nation’s first actual country club—devoted to athletic and social pursuits outside the city. It also was the first championship course in the world to be cobbled together as a composite layout, using holes from its three nines and combining two holes to make one. The Country Club was also where the restoration craze began in architecture, when Rees Jones re-installed long-faded features ahead of the 1988 U.S. Open, where Curtis Strange conquered Nick Faldo in a playoff. And never to be forgotten is Justin Leonard’s 45-foot, 17th hole bomb that clinched the 1999 Ryder Cup for the U.S.
6. Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Ill.
One of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association in 1894, Chicago Golf, as it’s known, was also site of the nation’s first 18-hole golf course, in 1892, as well as the first to host the U.S. Open outside of the northeast, in 1897, after its move to Wheaton from Downers Grove two years earlier. Seth Raynor retooled his mentor C.B. Macdonald’s course in 1923 and not much has changed since. The club hosted three early U.S. Opens and four U.S. Amateurs; more recently, it was the venue for the 2005 Walker Cup and the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2018.
7. Pinehurst Country Club, Pinehurst, N.C.
As with Pebble Beach, Pinehurst is best known for its resort component. Nevertheless, there’s always been a proper club affiliated with the unparalleled golf facilities, starting with the Pinehurst Golf Club in 1903, which transitioned to Pinehurst Country Club in 1947. Pinehurst was home to the first great club in the South, the first great course in the region (No. 2), and more than a century ago, set a new standard for establishing the genre of superb, sand-based, off-the-beaten path destinations. Donald Ross reigned here for nearly 50 years and the facility has played host to multiple U.S. Opens, the 1936 PGA Championship, the 1951 Ryder Cup, and countless PGA Tour and significant amateur events. In 2014, Pinehurst held in consecutive weeks the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open, the latter one of its finest editions, with Michelle Wie hoisting the trophy. Most memorable of all was the 1999 U.S. Open, when Payne Stewart edged Phil Mickelson with a 20-foot putt on the final green. He thrust his arm skyward—an act memorialized in a statue next to the 18th green.
8. Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
The most visible, revered golf clubhouse in the United States is Augusta National’s Southern Plantation-style edifice, best known for its two-story pavilion and its cherry-on-top cupola—a building which dates to 1854. The golf course goes back only to 1932, but since its legendary debut as host of the Masters in 1934, it has yielded more memorable lore than any in America. Credit also to its innovative Alister MacKenzie/Bobby Jones design, which emphasized width, angles, ingenious contouring, risk/reward excitement, little sand, and no rough, in contrast to most of the more penal championship courses of the day.
9. Newport Country Club, Newport, R.I.
Dating to 1893, Newport was one of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association the very next year. In 1895, the club played host in the same week to the inaugural U.S. Amateur, won by pioneering architect Charles Blair Macdonald, and to the first U.S. Open, won by the club’s assistant pro Horace Rawlins. Newport’s co-founder Theodore Havemeyer served as the first president of the USGA and the trophy presented to the winner of the U.S. Amateur bears his name. Draped upon a narrow spit of land between Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound, the course looks and plays like a Scottish links, though its enduring symbol is its Beaux Arts clubhouse. Tiger Woods captured a thrilling U.S. Amateur here in 1995, edging Buddy Marucci 1-up, while in 2006, Annika Sorenstam won an 18-hole playoff against Pat Hurst for her third U.S. Women’s Open and 10th major title.
A few sunset shots from Newport Country Club. A.W. Tillinghast designed the current course at NCC in 1923, but the club itself dates to 1893 and in 1895, NCC hosted the first U.S. Open and the first U.S. Amateur and was an original signatory of the USGA Charter. pic.twitter.com/mTuYV4N8cF
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) May 7, 2022
10. Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
A.W. Tillinghast’s superb East and West layouts at Winged Foot, each 99 years old, have spawned some of the most memorable moments in golf history, starting with Bobby Jones’s miraculous 12-foot putt on the West’s final green to earn a 36-hole U.S. Open playoff in 1929, which he won by 23 shots over Al Espinosa. Billy Casper won that same tournament in 1959. In subsequent U.S. Opens, Hale Irwin captured the 1974 event, while Greg Norman and Fuzzy Zoeller waved white flags of surrender to each other before Zoeller prevailed in 1984. Phil Mickelson’s wild ride on the final hole ended in disaster in 2006. There’s also the rainbow that greeted Davis Love III in his 1997 PGA Championship victory, as well as the golf course surrendering to Bryson DeChambeau at the 2020 U.S. Open. The East course has witnessed its own heroics, including the inaugural U.S. Senior Open there in 1980, captured by Roberto De Vicenzo, and two U.S. Women’s Opens in 1957 and 1972.