One of the marks of a great golf course is that it can challenge you without stealing sleeves of golf balls every time you play it. Designing a difficult golf course is relatively easy: plop ball-eating ponds and waist-high gunch all over the place and you'll have people howling, especially the vast majority of golfers who can't control their ball as well as the pros can. Not only do strokes pile up in a hurry, but all the time spent searching and dropping adds unnecessary time to a round. Many such courses think it's an advantage to promote the fact that water comes into play on 15 holes. To me, it's often a red flag.
Even when not hosting the U.S. Open, Winged Foot's West Course is, by all accounts, dastardly. Yet judging by its consistently high rankings, it is the kind of test golfers love to fail. That's partly because its main difficulty - the contouring of its world-class greens - comes at the ends of holes, not the beginnings. On no single hole at the West Course is a player liable to pick up after the first swing. Meanwhile, there are plenty of frustratingly penal tee shots elsewhere that completely ruin the experience of playing the hole after an errant tee ball. By loading the challenge into Winged Foot's approaches and green complexes, architect A.W. Tillinghast mostly leaves it up to golfers to make things difficult on themselves, rather than sucker-punching them off the tee.
What's more, courses like Winged Foot (and Pinehurst No. 2, another elite course where getting around with one ball is common) don't make as much of a dent in your wallet once you tee off. Contributing a few $4 golf balls per round to the clutches of the golf gods stinks.