Once upon a not-so-very-long-time ago, practically every U.S. Open venue was a private -- very private -- club that dated back to the Golden Era of golf course architecture.
Today, it's a lot tougher to nail down exactly what a "U.S. Open-style golf course" really is, whether you're talking about the era of golf course architecture or the club's guest policy.
Between 1999, when Pinehurst No. 2 was added to the rotation, and 2021, when Torrey Pines South will host for the first time since 2008, 12 U.S. Opens have been or will be staged at public golf courses. "America's Open" has, in fact, never been more open. The PGA Championship only has five of its venues open to the public: the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and Whistling Straits, plus 1974 host Tanglewood Park and 1987 host The Champion at PGA National and 2019 host Bethpage Black.
Here are the six U.S. Open venues open to the public, which can be broken down into three categories:
The historic, luxury resort courses: Pebble Beach & Pinehurst
Both around a century old, Pebble Beach Golf Links and Pinehurst No. 2 both anchor luxury, multi-course and multi-hotel resort villages. 17-Mile Drive along the Pacific coastline is a jewel of the west coast, while the shady, beautifully planned, walkable Village of Pinehurst feels stuck in time.
Whether you end up on the Monterey Peninsula or in the Carolina Sandhills, their luxurious, elegant hotels have only gotten better over time and are five-star all the way, from spas to fine dining -- but it's all with a golf-centric flair unlike anywhere else in the U.S.
They've both made their environs that much more golf rich. In fact, you could spend a week or more playing all the world-class golf in either destination outside the resorts and still feel like you missed a few courses.
Both Pebble and Pinehurst have become prized destinations for golfers all over the world, and it's very easy to book a trip to either, just a bit pricey and generally requires a golf package at either property. But last-minute tee times within 24 hours for non-guests are possible at each.
Mike Bailey recently penned an article on how to play Pebble Beach, while Jason Scott Deegan offers this guide to Pinehurst and the Carolina Sandhills.
The prestigious munis: Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines South
Bethpage Black, designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1936, is the standout at five-course Bethpage State Park on Long Island. 2,800 miles away, Torrey Pines, a coveted park and 36-hole facility that opened in 1957 on the bluffs of La Jolla, has been a staple on the PGA Tour long before its inclusion in the U.S. Open rotation.
Each classic design remains a stiff challenge. On a daily basis, Bethpage is the most difficult of the six public venues for the amateur, though Rees Jones' alterations of Torrey Pines South prior to the 2008 Open certainly made it longer and tougher than the next door North Course.
Playing both Torrey and Bethpage can be affordable but complicated depending on where your driver's license is from. At Bethpage, non-state residents pay $130-$150 per round on the Black but can only book their times two days in advance (and must register for the automated phone system). The Black's first hour of tee times each morning is open to walk-ons, which leads to a lot of overnight camping for those six tee times. One foursome per hour is also available to walk-ons who don't get that first hour and are willing to wait it out.
Torrey Pines' tee sheet has a similar first hour (or sometimes half hour) of walk-on tee times, but it's a little easier to book further out. Non-residents can book times 8-90 days in advance and pay up to $240, plus a one-time reservation fee of $45. City residents pay much less. (Click here for more details on Torrey Pines tee times).
Lastly, both Bethpage and Torrey also have pricier options for those who want a guaranteed tee time reserved in advance. At Bethpage, the NYGolf Shuttle company has a guaranteed block of tee times for the Black (starting at about $450 per person, which includes to/from transportation in a limo).
Torrey Pines has two luxury partner hotels that overlook the course -- the Lodge at Torrey Pines and the Hilton Torrey Pines, which offer golf packages.
The New Breed: Chambers Bay and Erin Hills
In some ways, Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Erin Hills (2017 U.S. Open) can be described as throwbacks: walking only, links-inspired courses sporting fescue turf that promote the old-school, bump-and-run game. Chambers overlooks the Puget Sound, and a railway line runs along the property much like so many of Great Britain's finest links. Erin Hills, meanwhile, has a small lodge and cottages on site in the style of old Britain's old Dormie Houses.
But there's no mistaking the modern yardage at each: Erin Hills can tip out at 7,810 yards, while Chambers Bay sports a yardage of 7,742 yards. Each course eats up lots of land: 650 acres for Erin Hills, while Chambers Bay features 250 acres within a 930-acre county park.
Of the six public U.S. Open venues, these two are the easiest to play (though not necessarily the "cheapest" if you have resident connections at Torrey or Bethpage). Chambers Bay, operated by KemperSports, can be played by non-county residents in peak summertime for $275. State residents get a price break, and county residents pay $169.
Located about 45 minutes from the heart of Milwaukee, Erin Hills has been closed since the summer of 2016 to prepare for the 2017 U.S. Open. When it reopens on July 1st, fees will be $280 this summer plus an optional caddie. But unlike Torrey, Chambers and Bethpage, local residents don't receive a break. There are no online tee times at this time; they must be made by calling the golf shop.
Bonus U.S. Open venue: Grover Cleveland Golf Course
The Country Club of Buffalo hosted the 1912 U.S. Open. The club later moved to a new location in the 1920s, but the old layout still exists in the form of Grover Cleveland Golf Course, one of two courses owned by Erie County. It can be walked for as little as $18 and stretches to just 5,621 yards.