With the west coast swing now complete on the PGA Tour, arguably the greatest stretch of golf courses each year has come to a close. It is hard to top Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and, lastly, Riviera. The latter of those three is annually one of the favorite stops among players. Celebrating its 90th year this year, its reputation attracts the world’s best.
“We don't play golf courses like this very often anymore on Tour,” said Rory McIlroy last week upon making his first appearance at the Northern Trust Open. “It's a real treat when you come to a golf course like this where it's not overly long, you don't have to really bomb it off the tee, but it's real strategic.”
George C. Thomas Jr.’s design has withstood the test of time, but it hasn’t withstood major golf tournaments outgrowing limited locations. As another year of tremendous golf leaves Los Angeles behind, it’s worth wondering what tremendous golf courses currently on Tour should be in the major championship rotation.
With your input, we’ve compiled the top 5:
Note: This list only includes golf courses that have not hosted a major championship in the last 20 years and are not slated to host in the next decade
Riviera Country Club
Major History: 1948 U.S. Open and the 1983 and 1995 PGA Championship
Why It Should: Everything about the course is perfect for a major test. The course has gone virtually untouched in recent history and somehow the scoring record for the tournament hasn’t been broken in three decades. It has the best short hole in golf (No. 10), which organizers could even re-route deeper into the back nine if they felt the need. Players get a scoring chance at 17, followed by a signature closing par 4 with an amphitheatre green. It is a flawless layout, great for spectators and wonderful on television.
Much was made this past week about the 2012 NCAA Championship, which benefited from one of the best assemblies of prep talent to go head-to-head in match play, but the tournament signified a more concerted effort by club leadership to be a major player in golf. The U.S. Amateur arriving in 2017 is part of that master plan to showcase the course on even bigger stages.
Why It Won’t: Traffic in Los Angeles is a nightmare, and the posh residential community just up the road from Santa Monica is not equipped to welcome the masses of a major. What the property lacks in parking and access pales in comparison to what it lacks in space for major hospitality. A litmus test for Riviera’s viability may be neighboring Los Angeles Country Club, which hosts the U.S. Open in 2023. While it has the benefit of a 36-hole property to squeeze fans in, there may need to be Merion-like concessions to make it all work.
PGA National, Champion Course
Major History: 1987 PGA Championship
Why It Should: Three words: The Bear Trap. It is one of the best stretches of golf, where tournament lives can end quickly, followed by a closing par-5 18th hole that has all of the risk-reward drama for a great close. There is plenty of room for corporate hospitality with other courses on property and the red-hot momentum of a strong annual field at the Honda Classic only benefits the lure of the Champion Course.
Why It Won’t: Larry Nelson is still sweating from 1987, when scorching temperatures flexed Florida’s summer golf dilemma. With the PGA headquarters at the entrance of course property, bringing the tournament home to roost makes perfect sense, if only the traditional August date was, well, not in August. If NASCAR can open each year with its biggest race, why not golf? Imagine the PGA bucking tradition and bringing the PGA Championship to the Bear Trap each January. Host it during the Super Bowl bye week when the entire sports world is looking for something to watch. With an Olympic conundrum looming every four years, why not set a fresh tone?
Major History: None
Why It Should: This course has hosted everything but a men’s major, including a Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, Solheim Cup and U.S. Amateur. It is one of the most visually stunning golf courses, and offers a stern test as well, which is always adapting to meet the demands of the modern game. It has proven itself capable of surviving huge crowds and has the space to accommodate the needs. Jack’s signature design -- a constantly evolving one -- is a celebration of him, and as the greatest player-designer, honoring his legacy with a major seems appropriate.
Why It Won’t: Does it want one? The Memorial Tournament feels like a quasi-major some years, and Jack’s influence brings in one of the best fields annually. Nicklaus is on record as saying he couldn’t see the Memorial moving anywhere, or taking a year off, so being able to turn the course around for a summer major would be
problematic. Unless that opinion, the only opinion, changes, don’t expect a major at Muirfield Village anytime soon.
Harbour Town Golf Links
Major History: None
Why It Should: Ranked No. 2 by professionals in a Golf Digest poll of favorite courses on Tour (beat only by Augusta National), this ballstriker paradise is a strong test of golf with some signature design. Just imagine a major champion striding down the 18th fairway with the lighthouse in the distance.
Why It Won’t: It’s hard enough to find accommodations for the players, media and fans that attend the RBC Heritage today. For those who encountered the long, two-lane road journey to Kiawah for the 2012 PGA Championship, the pilgrimage to get to a Harbour Town major would be epic. Once there, constricted space would largely limit fan experience.
Cherry Hills Country Club
Major History: 1938, 1960 and 1978 U.S. Open; 1985 PGA Championship; 2005 U.S. Women's Open
Why It Should: The BMW Championship introduced a new generation of professional golf fans to a legendary track and it didn’t disappoint. The course offers an enticing mix of elevation, hole variety (two par-4s are driveable) and tricky green complexes. It’s old (built in 1922) but also big. Plus, the Denver market would be a great host.
Why It Won’t: There are some serious space logistics with the course’s property, where the spectator entry point is a congested mess, hospitality is limited off the course and the range wasn’t even big enough for a 70-man field, not to mention short enough for pros to bomb drives onto University Boulevard. As big as the course is, the supporting space is equally as small.
Honorable Mention: Colonial Country Club, Firestone Country Club (South) and Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead)