HAVEN, Wis. – Derek Sprague, Kerry Haigh, Pete Bevacqua, Allen Wronowski, Suzy Whaley, Julius Mason and all the rest of the PGA of America brass must like the music of jazz great Billie Holiday. How does the old song go?
“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…that this heart of mine embraces…”
It will indeed be familiar courses – beloved Golden Age clubs materializing once again from the mists of history and modern, but equally popular newer venues – that will host the season’s final major in the next six years. Whistling Straits is already celebrating its third PGA Championship in just 11 years, and the next six years will see four more former major venues with a total of 13 major championships between them re-enter the PGA Championship lineup, while the other two have hosted either a tour stop or another high-profile professional event. Let’s take a closer look at what the future holds for the last major of the year.
2016: Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J. (Lower Course)
Of all the courses set to host the PGA, Baltusrol has by far the best pedigree. Named after Baltus Roll, a Dutch oxen farmer who was brutally murdered by thieves seeking to steal his secret fortune, Baltusrol is still the only club to have more than one course on its grounds host a major championship; the Upper Course hosted the 1936 U.S. Open won by Tony Manero, while the Lower Course has crowned Willie Anderson, J.D. Travers, Ed Furgol, Lee Janzen and Jack Nicklaus (twice).
Anderson’s triumph was his first of three consecutive U.S. Open victories, and he’s still the only man ever to three-peat at America’s National Open. He also shares the record for most U.S. Open victories with Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan (unless, like Dan Jenkins and Hogan himself, you count the 1942 “Hale America National Open” at Chicago’s Ridgemoor Country Club as the “Wartime U.S. Open”).
Since then, Baltusrol has given us a mixed bag of winners – either golfing royalty wins there or puzzling strangers, take your pick.
Obviously Nicklaus and Mickelson are immortals but back in the 1910s, so was J.D. “Jerome” Travers, who won four U.S. Amateurs and a U.S. Open in a span of ten years between 1906 and 1915, his final major victory coming at Baltusrol.
After that, you needed a spotter's guide to figure out who was hoisting the trophy. Tony Manero who won the 1936 Open with a record aggregate at that time of 282 was unknown to everyone except final round playing partner and good friend Gene Sarazen -- so unknown, in fact rumors circulated that he only won because he got advice from Sarazen, rumors that were later debunked by the USGA.
Then, in 1954, journeyman pro Ed Furgol won the Open when it returned to the Lower Course. History buffs remember that although Ed Furgol’s left arm was withered – historical references differ as to the cause: some say polio, some say a childhood accident, (he fell out off of a playground set of parallel bars) – came to the 18th hole at Baltusrol’s Lower Course in the final round needing a par to win the Open, but hooked his drive into the 18th fairway of the adjacent Upper Course. He famously hit a towering shot over the trees and onto the green to secure a one-shot win over Gene Littler.
Nicklaus won the next two Opens contested at Baltusrol and collected a truckload of scoring records along with the trophy. In 1967, he fired a final-round 65 – at that time a U.S. Open record – to power past Arnold Palmer by four shots. Then he opened his Baltusrol defense in 1980 with a major championship record 63, ultimately edging Isao Aoki of the weird putting style (the toe of the club in the air) by two shots. The plucky Aoki, even unknown in his own country, hung tough all four days, and it was only Nicklaus birdies at the final two holes, both par 5s, that provided the margin of victory. Nicklaus also claimed the U.S. Open aggregate-scoring record of 272 that week, a feat equaled in 1993 by Lee Janzen, who fired four rounds in the 60s to edge Payne Stewart by two shots.
Baltusrol’s penchant for low scores may ultimately have doomed it from hosting the U.S. Open for the foreseeable future. After all, it’s one thing when Nicklaus breaks the scoring record, but when Lee Janzen does it, “Golf’s Toughest Test” tends to lose it’s meaning. Still, the PGA of America was happy to scoop up the hallowed club as a major venue, and they were even more elated when Mickelson claimed the Wanamaker in 2005
“It’s a fine place to hold a major,” stated golf expert Bruce Moulton. “A stately old club dripping with over a century of golf history and dramatic finishes. Everyone loves Baltusrol.”
2017: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, N.C.
I must confess myself underwhelmed by the golf architecture of Quail Hollow. Originally designed by George Cobb and modified by Arnold Palmer and Tom Fazio, it’s hosted Kemper Opens, Paine Webber Invitationals and Wells Fargo events, but it’s more known for lavish parties and player-friendly perks than for being a truly great golf course.
For a golf course that boasts the difficulty of its “Green Mile” finishing stretch, Quail Hollow surrenders birdies like pints of lager at the local Irish pub. Just this year Rory McIlroy blowtorched the place with a third-round 11-under 61 on his way to a seven-shot victory over Webb Simpson. In fact, since the club began hosting a PGA Tour event in 2003, every single winner has been double-digits under par except one, and the average winning score is in excess of 13 under.
That is not major championship-caliber scoring, unless you want to turn this August event into a silly season shootout.
“I think they’ll make the course a lot harder,” opined Gary Woodland. "They’ll grow the Bermuda rough way up, they’ll tighten the fairways, and the pressure of a major will make it a lot tougher. Plus those last three holes are really difficult: 16 and 18 are hard driving holes, and 17 is as tough a par-3 as we play anywhere all year.”
Still, the acquaintance and awareness the players have with the course – they play it every year - should let a lot of riff-raff into the party on the leaderboard. You can sum up Quail thusly: too long, too much water, too much familiarity to the players, too much pandering to the bon vivant lifestyle, and it’s too bad they didn’t go to Oakland Hills instead.
2018: Bellerive Country Club, St. Louis, Missou.
Perhaps the most obscure of the future venues – they’ve only held two majors there in the last 50 years - Bellerive is more famous for the history that was made there than for great golf architecture.
“Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and now renovated by his son Rees, the course has moderate sized greens and rolling parkland terrain,” said PGA of America historian Bob Denney.
“I remember in 1965 when the U.S. Open was held there they said it was a long hitters course, but Gary Player won,” added ESPN’s Andy North, winner of the 1978 and 1985 U.S. Open. That was the year of major anti-apartheid riots. Player specifically was pressured heavily all week.
“They were very difficult on him that week,” North said. “The fact that he won despite all that made for a wonderful story,” he concluded.
In 1992, Nick Price became one of only four players to win both the PGA Championship and the Open Championship in the same year.
Bellerive will host the 100th plying of the PGA Championship. Happy Centennial!
2019: Bethpage State Park (Black Course), Bethpage, N.Y.
After hosting two U.S. Opens in seven years, Bethpage switches from a USGA venue to a PGA of America site. It was thought that a sort of informal trade occurred – the PGA got Bethpage Black and a few dozen Srixons; in exchange, the USGA got Oakland Hills back, which will celebrate its centennial by hosting next year’s U.S. Amateur.
The Srixons may be the better part of the deal, because the only thing rougher than playing Bathpage – yes, Bathpage, because every time it rains, the place turns into a mud pit – the only thing rougher than playing Bathpage in June is playing it in the New York City August heat.
The heat is both literal and metaphoric. The fans can turn the place into a cross between amateur night at the Apollo and a Brooklyn bar fight. First, there was the harassment of Sergio Garcia in 2002 and the dirty, X-rated cheers being chanted back and forth between the galleries at 17. Then there were drunks throwing up on their shoes and shouting obscenities in 2009 as everyone slogged through the muck and a Monday finish that had Tiger, Phil and Duval lurking, only to have Fluke-us…err…Lucas Glover drive off with the trophy.
There’s still a warrant out for his arrest in New York for that highway robbery.
There was one funny exchange, though. A young vixen shouted out to Camilo Villegas, “I love your hot body, Camilo!” during a practice round. Suddenly the portly guy next to her shouts, “People say I have the body of Camilo Villegas.” Everyone turned to look at him, Camilo and his caddie included. There was a profound silence as everyone waited for the next line from the guy.
“If you know what I was doing with it you’d be madder than Hell!”
Camilo stopped to give him a ball and an autograph.
"These fans say whatever they feel, and they don't care who's listening," Rocco Mediate stated. "That's what I like about it - they let you have it. They're with you or against you."
Despite the wild, frequently overly raucous crowds, there are many excellent golf holes at Bethpage, most of them unique in the Tillinghast portfolio. This author’s favorite stretch is No. 2-6. Beginning with a par 4 curving like a scimitar though the trees uphill to a pedestal green, and ending with a circular green all but completely surrounded Rees Jones’s inkblot bunkers, the stretch also includes two of the best holes in American golf – the iconic par-5 fourth hole with the famous glacier bunker bisecting the fairway and the par-4 fifth, with its heroic carry over a diagonally placed bunker. The approach must challenge the hazard as the safer you play, the more of a hard uphill hook you have to hit to avoid a stand of trees guarding the green.
“Don’t forget the finishing stretch,” adds Bethpage regular Charles Cordova, who plays the Black pretty much every weekend. “Two of the longest toughest par 4s in all golf; you climb steeply uphill at 15 only to plunge back downhill at 16, and their both close to 500 yards. And 17 is a magnificent par 3 that can totally turn the tournament on a dime.”
The Black, as it is known to its friends, will also host the Ryder Cup in 2024. (Make sure to thank Phil Mickelson for that; it was his idea.) The Europeans better bring their brass knuckles and truncheons that week…you know the New York fans will.
2020: TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, Calif.
Built in 1925 by Willie Watson and surrounded on three sides by Lake Merced, this true public-access facility has a tournament history second only to mighty Olympic Club in the Bay Area. Writer Art Spander of both the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Examiner, a 50-year veteran in the world of sports writing, a man who has covered everything of note, recalls some of the course’s illustrious history:
“I covered my first golf tournament there back in 1965. Back then it was in decline. The guys that were supposed to be taking care of the course were playing cards instead of working, and it suffered from the typical graft from city politicians. But the golf course was always renowned as one of the Golden Age greats. But then Sandy Tatum had the PGA Tour come in and use it as a venue and it’s hosted so many things since then,” Spander noted about the pretty and intelligent course carved through the native pines, cypress and eucalyptus, the last four holes of which play along the scenic lake, just across from Oly.
“There’s so much history,” Spander continued. "It had the Presidents Cup there in 2009 and will again in 2025. It had the match play, it had the AmEx…in fact one of the best comments about the course came from John Daly after he lost the AmEx. When they told him that they used to park cars on Harding Park for the Opens that were held at Olympic Club, he replied, ‘They should play it here and park the cars at Olympic.’”
Like Oly, they cut down many trees and let the rolling terrain and subtle breaks to the greens provide a more natural, U.K.-type of defense to the course rather than corridors of hardwoods.
“Perhaps my favorite story about Harding is the time Ken Venturi won there," Spander observed poignantly. "It was the final tournament of his career, the event they held in January the week before the Crosby. Ken suffered terribly from carpal tunnel issues and it was cold and rainy, but through all the pain he endured he won his final professional event that week on the same course that his father won on years earlier. It was incredibly emotional."
2021: Kiawah Island (Ocean Course), Kiawah Island, S.C.
Oh, no, not again. The single worst logistics for a major championship in this millennium (and much longer for that matter), it took a whopping 2 hours and 40 minutes to get back and forth between the hotel and the venue, a total of 22 miles and a crap-tastic waste of our most valuable asset – our time. As for the poor fans, there’s nothing like paying hundreds of dollars for tickets, only to find out you’ll be watching most it from a video screen on a bus.
Here are ten things you can do in the time it takes to get to Kiawah Island’s Ocean course:
10. Campaign for President of the United States.
9. Film the next Quentin Tarantino epic.
8. Catch up on a "Game of Thrones" marathon on HBO.
7. Walk twice around Tim Herron's waistline.
6. Plot the perfect murder of the guy who picked Kiawah Island in the first place.
5. Broker peace with Iran and North Korea.
4. Translate Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose into English from Italian.
3. Miss half the tournament.
2. Play the entire Pink Floyd catalog straight though.
And the No. 1 thing you can do in the time it takes to drive to Kiawah Island...
1. Walk to the golf course.
Although the transportation debacle did give rise to an uproariously funny Twitter exchange between two iconic golf writers (whose names were redacted to protect the guilty):
Writer 1: And now my media shuttle has broken down!
Writer 2: Oh good, I can moon you as we pass by.
2022(?): Trump Bedminster, Bedminster Township, N.J.
There’s a reason for the question mark above: As we sit here in the media center (or walk around the golf course), all the banners of the future venues hang from the rafters and grace the walkways of the course…all except one: Trump’s!
Shortly after the PGA of America announced that it was awarding Trump’s course the 2017 Senior PGA Championship and the 2022 PGA Championship, Trump announced his candidacy for President. Since then, Trump has made comments described as anywhere between “inflammatory” and “bat-shit crazy.” After one incident where he threw Latinos under his bus…
(“…More like his clown car,” snarled one pundit who spoke on condition of anonymity.)
After Trump made his comments in early June, the PGA of America decided to move this year’s Grand Slam of Golf from Trump’s course at Palos Verdes. With the missing banner shouting as loud as one of Trump’s wild campaign speeches, the question had to be asked: Does this mean that they were thinking about taking the PGA Championship away from Trump, too?
“I would say you're to make nothing of it,” said Pete Bevacqua, the PGA o America’s CEO somewhat pointedly. “We are scheduled to go to Trump Bedminster for our PGA Championship in 2022….I mean obviously everybody in this room's aware of the situation and presidential politics that is we don't want to get involved in.”
But then someone else pressed Bevacqua further, pointing out that on July 7, the PGA stripped Trump of the Grand Slam.
“Again, we won't be prognosticators here in terms of the presidential election. I think we're all smarter than that,” Bevacqua stated, shaking his head. “But I would tell you, you know, as you are well aware, we made the mutual decision with the Trump organization not to conduct this year's Grand Slam in Los Angeles. We didn't want the Grand Slam or any one of our events, our championships, to be compromised by politics or to be any kind of a political football. That's the intent of our championships, that's not what we want to bring to golf.”
But that still didn’t sate the press. One print journalist asked the officials after the interview was over why the banner wasn’t there and got the response that there wasn’t any room.
What? Sorry, guys, but that’s some funky jazz you’re playing. Everyone in the hall could point out many places where it could have been hung. And that still doesn’t answer the question of why a banner isn’t flying outside on the grounds.
“It looks like there a lot of room…there…there…there…” he said, pointing.
Talk about seeing a shark on a mountain top, Trump’s taste – somewhere between that of Caligula and Gene Simmons is so contrary to the ethos of golf as to be laughable. The mantra seems to be “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” Time will tell whether or not the PGA will be held at Bedminster or not. At any moment Trump could explode again. Just last night he stated to Anderson Cooper that he thought Hillary Clinton had committed a crime with her email and server shenanigans. Cooper’s response was hilarious:
“Mr. Trump ,I’m being told you have to go,” he said, hanging up the phone line.
The announcement today that Olympia Fields will host the Women’s PGA Championship brings the Chicago Golden Age course into play for the men’s major. French Lick is another possibility (after all, the PGA of America loves Pete Dye courses), and Oak Hill and Southern Hills would also be popular choices with both fans and players.
DID YOU KNOW?
Billie Holiday was actually born Eleanora Fagan.