I love all the postcard views at Pebble Beach. The seals are cute and the waves are spectacular and it has maybe the best golf bar in the world.
But you can keep Pebble, even if it can beat any other championship course 6-and-5 on beauty alone.
Augusta National is always going to be a leader in the clubhouse just on history. It doesn't have to wait around on anybody's rotation, it gets the Masters every single year. So of course it is in the conversation about where the championship of the world ought to be played.
You can keep Augusta, too.
I love Winged Foot, East or West. I love most of the British Open courses I've seen (with the notable exception of the Old Course at St. Andrews, a glorified muni that just happens to have more Tom Morrises than anyplace else). And if I could play one course every day for the rest of my life, it would probably be the National Golf Links of America.
But the best championship course of them all, the one that beats all of the above, is National's neighbor, Shinnecock Hills. Shinnecock has hosted only three U.S. Opens (the first was in 1896). Now we are about to make it four, and the third in the past eighteen years. So it's never going to have the résumé of Pebble, or Augusta, or Winged Foot, or Riviera, or anything with "Oak" in it. It doesn't have the cachet of Pine Valley, down in Middle Earth, New Jersey.
It's just the best. It is the best links course we have, even if it's not on the ocean. From the first tee, where you have to make the first decision of all the decisions to come—how much of the dogleg right do you want to cut off?do you want to bust a driver or go with something smaller?—until you try to hit it in the right place on eighteen, somewhere out there in Corey Pavinville, this is the best and most interesting test of golf there is.
Just ask Johnny Miller. He grew up at Pebble Beach and had great days there. When I spoke to him in late winter, he said that the Open should forget everyplace else and just go back and forth between Pebble and Shinnecock. That would be fine with him.
"I'll always have a soft spot for Pebble in my heart," Miller said, "but if I have to be objective, Shinnecock is just as good. They're the two best championship courses in America.
"A lot of that has to do with the weather. Augusta, for example, is pretty much the same every day. The weather doesn't change the character of the course from one day to the next, the way it does at Pebble and Shinnecock. At Shinnecock you can get four different kinds of winds in four days of the tournament. That makes it special, at least in my opinion. Then you throw in the variety of the holes and the quality of the shots you have to hit all the way around. It is a complete golf challenge."
He wasn't done. He'll be like this on the NBC broadcast. When Miller gets revved like this about something, get out of his way.
"Hole after hole after hole, it's totally different," Miller said. "I'm not talking about the views. I know you can get better views someplace else. I'm talking about the holes themselves. But it's even more than that. There's a church feeling to that place. There's a reverence to it. At Shinnecock Hills, it's all golf. The minute you set foot on the grounds, coming up the hill from the little highway toward that clubhouse, you don't have to be a golf historian to know you're someplace special.
"It's just one of those places. It hits you right in the gut. Oh, it's definitely the best in the East, I've been saying that since the first time I saw it. The minute I started walking around I thought to myself, 'Whoa, what a golf course!' I can't wait to see it again."
Then Miller got talking about number one, one of the best views at Shinnecock, just because you can look around and see so much of the course. "You stand up on that tee and it looks like nothing," Miller said. "Then you try to play it with the wind in your face. And it becomes a tyrant."
The wind will blow this June. Maybe there will be a day of rain like we got on day one in '86. Maybe somebody will be asked to do what Pavin did in 1995: make three pars coming home—on the par-five sixteenth, the par-three seventeenth, the par-four eighteenth—to win a Shinnecock Open. He made sure he hit the ball deep enough on sixteen that he didn't spin it back and off the green the way Greg Norman did when he was desperately trying to make birdie. Pavin then got the ball on the green at seventeen, even with the wind coming across on a hole where no one ever seems to be sure what iron to hit.
Then he did what he did on number eighteen, hitting one of the most famous shots into the last green in the history of the Open. Yes, it is a spectacular test of golf.
Shinnecock is in a remarkable corner of the golf world. National is right next door; you stand on the ninth tee at National and pick a spot on the Shinnecock clubhouse to aim at. There is no better day in golf, if you can swing it, than Shinnecock in the morning; a five-minute ride to National, over by Peconic Bay, for lunch; then National in the afternoon.
And the Atlantic Golf Club, another beauty, is twenty minutes east in Bridgehampton. In East Hampton, Maidstone. Another gem. And a Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore course north of that, the East Hampton Golf Club. All the way out east, Montauk Downs, one of the most beautiful public courses in the world.