Ian Woosnam hits a bunker shot on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort during the in the 1991 Ryder Cup Matches, AKA the "War by the Shore." (Getty Images) At PGA National, Seve Ballesteros hit what Jack Nicklaus called the best bunker shot he'd ever seen. (Getty Images) The USA team won the 1979 Ryder Cup Matches on the Seth Raynor-designed Greenbrier Course in West Virginia. (Getty Images) Pinehurst No. 2 has not only staged six U.S. Opens but the 1951 Ryder Cup as well. (Courtesy of Pinehurst Resort) The Straits at Whistling Straits will test competitors at the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup -- and it's open for public play. (Courtesy of Kohler)

American Ryder Cup host courses open to the public: Play your own match-play fantasy



While most of the European venues that have played host the Ryder Cup have been open to the public in some form -- including the Gleneagles Hotel and Resort in Scotland for 2014 -- most Ryder Cups played in America have been played at private clubs.

But there have been some exceptions, including the 2020 course, the Straits at Whistling Straits, which is part of the American Club in Kohler, Wis. Counting the Pete Dye-designed Straits Course, which is has more of European links look than traditional American golf, there are five Ryder Cup courses in the United States, and you can play every one of them at the right price.

Some require a resort stay, but they are accessible. And all of them have a history, of course, so you can walk in the same footsteps of some golf's greatest players on both sides of the pond. Here's a look:

1991: The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C.

All the characters were there: Payne Stewart, Ray Floyd, Nick Faldo and even David Feherty. (Yes, that guy. He actually used to play this game at a high level.) There was a feud between Paul Azinger and Seve Ballesteros, and Bernhard Langer missed a six-footer for par on the final hole against Hale Irwin that would have given the Europeans a win and the necessary point they needed for a tie to retain the cup.

This was the turning point in the history of the Ryder Cup, where it was transformed from ho-hum to can't miss drama.

"The Ryder Cup became a Big Thing and an event never to been missed -- not quite the World Cup or the Super Bowl, but in there with Wimbledon and the World Series," author Curt Sampson wrote in his book, "The War by the Shore."

The Ocean Course at Kiawah was also a star. Opened the same year of The War by the Shore, it was designed by Pete and Alice Dye. There are views of the Atlantic from most every hole, and the par 72 can be stretched to 7,873 yards. Single-digit handicappers routinely don't break 100 there if the wind is up (which it usually is).

It's one of five golf courses at Kiawah Island Golf, and to play it (green fees are well over $350), you'll have to stay at the resort. Best bet is to book a package there.

1983: Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

It makes sense to stage a Ryder Cup at PGA National. After all, that's where the PGA of America (which heads up the U.S. contingent) is based, although the privately owned resort simply licenses the name. On a course designed by Jack Nicklaus with a stretch that bears his nickname (the famous Bear Trap holes of 15-17 that includes two dastardly par 3s), the Europeans nearly pulled it out, losing 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.

One of the reasons the Euros came so close was the third shot by Seve Ballesteros on the par-5 18th. Having hit two poor shots on the hole already, he found himself 245 yards away in a fairway bunker. Using a 3-wood, he flushed the shot, barely clearing the lip and carrying the water just short of the green. U.S. Captain Nicklaus called it the "greatest shot I ever saw," and it would help Ballesteros earn a half.

Today, both the Champion Course and the resort have undergone extensive renovations under new ownership. As one of the largest golf resorts in the country, it offers five courses, an amazing spa and great dining, tennis and other activities. More reasonably priced than most Ryder Cup venues, you can get great deals on packages there, especially in the summer.

1979: The Greenbrier at The Greenbrier Resort, White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.

While golf fans may be more familiar with the Old White TPC Course because it's the host course of the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic, it was one of the other courses, the Greenbrier Course, that staged the 1979 Ryder Cup.

This version of the Ryder Cup is significant because it's the first time that the rest of Europe was added to the Great Britain-Ireland roster, thanks in large part to Nicklaus suggestion following the '77 Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's in England, where The U.S. team won 12 1/2-7 1/2. In fact, the U.S. side had only lost three times to GB&I since the Ryder Cup began in 1927, hence Nicklaus' suggestion.

The U.S. team didn't lose at The Greenbrier either, but there were some interesting back stories. Ironically, Nicklaus, who didn't have a particularly stellar year in 1979, wasn't on the team. Another stalwart, however, was, but Tom Watson didn't get to play that year. Watson, the 2014 Ryder Cup captain, had to leave before the competition began in 1979 because of the birth of his first child. He got a ride in Jim Justice Sr.'s jet to be there. Today, billionaire Jim Justice Jr. owns the Greenbrier Resort, and Watson, following Sam Snead, is the resort's pro-emeritus.

The Greenbrier Course, which not only hosted the '79 Ryder Cup, was also the site of the women's professional version of the matches in 1994 when the Solheim Cup was played there. Many visitors will tell you they like the Greenbrier Course, a Seth Raynor layout redesigned by Nicklaus, better than The TPC Old White, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary (and cost $100 more for a round than the Greenbrier Course). Both are exceptional and very different, so if you stay at the resort, be sure to play both. The aforementioned and late Ballesteros, by the way, made his Ryder Cup debut at The Greenbrier.

1951: Pinehurst No. 2, North Carolina

Everyone knows about the U.S. Opens conducted on the Donald Ross-designed No. 2 Course at Pinehurst. We'll never forget Payne Stewart's putt and pose after he beat Phil Mickelson there in 1999 or the fact that the course had both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in consecutive weeks in 2014. But there was a Ryder Cup there, too, in 1951.

As we already established, the Ryder Cup then was more for the players than spectators, and it certainly wasn't a TV sport, so it got very little notoriety. But as you might expect, some of golf's biggest names competed in the only Ryder Cup ever held at Pinehurst. There was also something unusual about this one.

Midway through the matches, play was suspended so members of both teams could attend a college football game between North Carolina and Tennessee. Like North Carolina (which won 27-0), the U.S. team, captained by Sam Snead, also routed the GB&I team, 18 1/2 - 2 1/2. Among the U.S. team members were Lloyd Mangrum, Jack Burke Jr., Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret, who not only hit one of the greatest bunker shots in Ryder Cup history that week but also retired from Ryder Cup competition afterwards with a 6-0-0 career mark.

Pinehurst No. 2 has gone through a lot since then, including a recent $2.5 million, year-long renovation by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who sought to revert the course back to the original Ross design.

2020: Straits Course at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wis.

What does the Pete Dye-designed Straits Course have in store for 2020? Who knows? But I'm guessing it'll be entertaining if it follows the short history of Whistling Straits.

Nobody will forget the 2010 PGA Championship, when Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker (not realizing it was a hazard) and missed out on a playoff. Johnson's error was understandable since there are around 900 bunkers on the Straits Course, and where they begin and end isn't always distinguishable (some of them are waste areas).

Dye, who loves links golf, went all out on this one. Thousands of truckloads of sand were imported, taking a flat piece of property and transforming it into bluffs and dunes alongside Lake Michigan to create a sensational seaside links scape. It's pricey, around $400 including caddie to walk the course, but nearly everyone who has plays it says it's worth it. Plus, if you stay at the American Club, there are three other outstanding courses, making the trip to Kohler a true bucket-list destination.

Sep 08, 2014



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Mike Bailey

Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.