But Shinnecock Hills is the heavyweight champion of them all. It has hosted just six USGA championships and one Walker Cup. It is a founding member—along with St. Andrews in Yonkers, The Country Club, Newport Country Club, Chicago Golf Club—of the USGA. Willie Davis designed the first twelve holes in 1891, to which Willie Dunn added six more in 1895. Charles B. MacDonald (who did National) then essentially built a new course in 1916, though he maintained some of Dunn's routing. After Howard C. Toomey made revisions in 1929, William S. Flynn came in and put in twelve entirely new holes while redesigning six of MacDonald's.
Somehow it is all perfect. "Nothing seems to be out of place," Miller said.
Plus, it's got the famous Stanford White-designed clubhouse, probably the finest in all of golf.
I'm not a member at Shinnecock Hills, but I've spent a lot of the last twenty-five years on Eastern Long Island. And because of my friendship with Jack Whitaker, who is both a member and one of the great citizens of golf, I have been fortunate to play the course a lot. In all kinds of weather, in the summer and in the fall. In wind and rain that sometimes made it feel as if we were playing on one of those British Open days when even Tiger can't break eighty.
I have hit an eight-iron into the sixth green when the wind was at my back. Then I played a couple of days later and had to hit a three-wood. I can tell you for a fact that no matter where Pavin was aiming when he hit that four-wood in '95, as good as you think the shot was, it was even better. Because the bounce he got, a true bounce toward the hole from where his ball landed—you might get that bounce one time in ten.
Or maybe never.
I can walk you out to the junk on the right side of the tenth hole and show you where Jack Nicklaus himself lost his ball in the first round of the '86 Open, in the wind and rain of that classic Shinnecock day.
And I can tell you about a day in the past, a magical day of golf at Shinnecock. I was there with Whitaker and an old Hamptons character named Donald "Red" Oglivie, who used to bartend at the Lobster Inn, maybe five minutes away. If you're on your way to the 2004 Open, you'll see it on your left, the north side of Route 27, just as 27 is about to become a two-lane road, which is what it is from there to Montauk.
Anyway, Red had been suffering from cancer for a long time, and we all knew he wasn't going to make it. Whitaker wanted him to play Shinnecock. We got to number eleven that day, as cute and nasty a par three as you will ever see. Small green. Wind always blowing, sometimes feeling as if it's coming from two directions at once. You don't want to hit it too high, especially if the wind's coming from your right, because your ball will take a left turn toward the clubhouse and won't stop before the practice green.
We all hit. All thought we'd hit the green. But you're never 100 percent sure until you get up there.
When we did, we saw one ball three feet behind the hole: Whitaker's. One ball just three feet in front: Mine.
I checked the hole.
Red had made a hole in one.
Whitaker and I putted out, made our twos. As Red walked ahead of us to the twelfth, Whitaker looked up to the sky and smiled and said, "You sort of owed him that."
Shinnecock is the whole package. The fact that its Open history is so limited—Raymond Floyd winning the '86 Open and Pavin beating Norman and Tom Lehman in '95, to go with James Foulis's victory in 1896—only makes it more special. It makes Shinnecock Hills feel like the Brigadoon of golf. If you love golf, you have to love this course. And if you are lucky enough to play it, you will never forget it—and perhaps hope that it never forgets you.
The late David Marr made it to the last Open there, Pavin's Open in '95. He was working for NBC then, and we all knew he was dying. But David Marr always knew the class places. After he did pass away, his request was honored, and some of his ashes were scattered near the thirteenth tee. And every time I've been lucky enough to play Shinnecock with Whitaker since then, we always walk up to the thirteenth and stop and say, "Hi, David." And smile.
Shinnecock makes you smile, even when it's breaking your heart.
Keep all the other places. The Open is back where it belongs. The golf gods don't just smile on old bartenders. This is one of those years when they smile on us all.