History at the US Open

Hungry Fan
June 7, 2018
This year, the PGA's US Open returns to Shinnecock Hills, home of some stellar golf traditions.

A Look at the Storied Traditions of Shinnecock Hills

June 14th kicks off this year's U.S. Open, which returns to Southhampton, New York's gorgeous Shinnecock Hills golf course. Incidentally, and as per usual, the U.S. Open coincides with Father's Day. But that's not what interests us so much. Rather, we thought we'd take a look at the notable history of Shinnecock Hills as the host of this marquee golf event and some of the traditions you might not have known you'd find there.

The Founding of the U.S. Open

The U.S. Open was founded in 1895 at the Newport Country Club in Newport, Rhode Island. Since its inception, the tournament has been open to any player, professional or amateur who has a handicap of 1.4 or below and who can successfully qualify for the tournament. Though the field may be large at first (and this year that number was north of 9,000 entries), 156 players eventually qualify to compete for U.S. Open glory. Much like the Super Bowl or the College Football Championships (and unlike the tennis U.S. Open), the location of the U.S. Open rotates each year, making its rounds among the most difficult courses in America. These courses are carefully selected by the USGA, which weighs a multitude of factors, including putting green firmness, course length, variation of the holes, and conditions of the rough. 

It did not take long for the famed course at Shinnecock Hills to meet the USGA's stringent criteria. In 1896, the USGA selected Shinnecock to host the second ever U.S. Open, just one year after the tournament's inception. 122 years later it returns again, and with it brings great stories, sights, eats, and hopefully new stories to recount in the years to come.

Shinnecock Hills: The Oldest Incorporated Golf Club in the United States
Copyright Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

It started in the late 1800s as an 80-acre parcel of land with noteworthy sand hills adjacent to the Shinnecock Canal in Southhampton, NY. In 1891, that parcel was transformed into a 12-hole golf course and it officially opened as the Shinnecock Golf Club. A year later, it got its famed Clubhouse. And two years after that, it expanded to a full-length 18-hole golf course. Recognized as the oldest incorporated golf club in the U.S., Shinnecock is also one of the five founding members of the USGA.

Repeat Performance

Hosting the second U.S. Open in 1896, Shinnecock Hills set the bar quite high as far as courses go. So much so, in fact, that it has returned many a time, playing backdrop to some of the greatest performances in golf history. Of those who have won, all are great for having won. Yet there are those whose careers may be more recognized than others. James Foulis is remembered for having won in 1986--his only other notable finish was having placed third the year before at the first ever U.S. Open. World Golf Hall of Fame inductee (1989) and winner of several PGA and Senior Tour tournaments, Raymond Floyd was victorious at Shinnecock in 1986.

The U.S. Open returned to Shinnecock again for a third time in 1995, when Corey "Bulldog" Pavin took home the prize. This win was particularly notable as Pavin achieved it during his stretch of 150 weeks (between 1986 and 1997) in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The fourth showing at Shinnecock in 2004 witnessed the dominance of Retief Goosen, who also spent quite some time--over 250 weeks in fact--in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking. His stretch between 2001 and 2007 included both his U.S. Open victories, including one in 2001 and the aforementioned second in 2004 at Shinnecock.

Now, 14 years later, we are back yet again at Shinnecock (as we will be again in 2026), where the weight of golf history hangs so heavily in the air, it's impossible for this year's competitors not to feel it. What's more, the history of intensity that this course boasts--the very intensity that propelled the USGA to choose it over a century ago--has not been lost upon, among others, Phil Mickelson. As he prepared for this year's outing in Southhampton, he noted to the New York Post that "[t]he fairways are a very fair width, the rough is brutal, it will be as penalizing as a hazard, trying to just get it back to the fairway. But the fairways are so wide that a well-struck shot ends up in the fairway. It’s not like in the past where you could hit a great drive, get a bad bounce and you have no lie.’’ 

The Fan Experience

Copyright Dana Shaw

The local charm of Southampton provides the backdrop to this historic golf event. The village oozes charisma and quaintness, easily enticing golf lovers to its local shops and businesses. (Also perhaps attractive is the community of summer residents who happen to occupy the upper echelons of American social, political and financial circles).

In Southhampton, you won't find a lot of national chain stores. Most of the shops are small, locally-run boutiques such as Herrick Hardware Store, which was founded in 1865. Perhaps more famous is goodies purveyor Tate's Cookies and local brewer, Blue Point Brewing Company. We had a chance to tour Blue Point's new home, which includes a killer brewery tour and indoor+outdoor beer garden and dining spaces. It's fantastic and we highly recommend it as something to do when not spectating top tier golf.

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It's worth noting that unlike many popular U.S. sports, golf notably lacks the traditional American Game Day experience we here at Hungry Fan® are known to celebrate. Game Day in the golf world is less centered around a tailgate or a grill, for instance, as fans opt to focus more on family and friends time watching the game itself. Needless to say, you're not going to find a parking lot full of 18-foot smokers in Shinnecock's parking lot. You're probably not going to see a group of folks beer funneling along the rough of Hole 14 either. What you'll find instead at Shinnecock--as with nearly any other golf club for that matter--is a tradition of etiquette that dictates that these activities probably won't occur for quite some time. (Read as: never). And that's OK! By no means does this imply that the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills lacks fan traditions.

In 2017, the USGA recommitted to continuing its long tradition of scheduling the Open to occur in mid-June, so that (provided there are no weather delays), its final round is played on the third Sunday, which is Father's Day. The overlap of this particular holiday and the Open is significant for fans and players alike, as it provides a special opportunity to spend quality time while enjoying (and in some instances) playing the sport so many of them love.

Starting New Traditions

This year, the USGA is ushering in a new tradition, which it's calling the "Celebration of Champions." Kicking it off on the Tuesday before the tournament begins, Shinnecock will play host to a four-hole exhibition tournament as a way to honor all of its champions. Those participating will be the professionals, amateurs, seniors, juniors, women and men who won USGA championships in 2017. They'll face off on holes 10-13 in an alternate-shot competition format with two-player teams. The USGA envisions this to be the U.S. Open version of the Par 3 competition that takes place every Wednesday before the Masters begins. Perhaps the most exciting bit of this historic Champions tournament will be its honorary starter--four-time U.S. Open Champion, Jack Nicklaus.

This U.S. Open will make history in another way as well. For the first time, the 2018 U.S. Open will no longer feature its traditional 18-hole Monday playoff (should it be necessary). Instead, fans and Open-goers alike will be treated to a two-hole aggregate playoff on Sunday evening, should the tournament end in a tie after 72 holes. (So no need to call in sick Monday. Sorry...or perhaps you're welcome, golf fans)!

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Making history and repeating old traditions, the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills is bound to be a weekend of firsts, of agains, of quality dad time, and above all, of incredible golf. Thousands of fans will attend, more will watch via TV and live stream, and all will be treated to the world's best golf. And those lucky enough to go, be sure to grab a cookie or two and a brewski for us.

Top image credit: Copyright USGA/John Mummert