This story originally appeared in the September 2010 edition of Chicago District Golfer magazine. It is being re-published with permission from the CDGA.
When the USGA announced last summer that Erin Hills had been selected as the site for the 2017 U.S. Open, the reaction from Chicagoans, like anywhere else nationwide, was: Why not our course?
How does the USGA select sites for its amateur championships? Have you ever wondered if the course you play regularly could be a site of a USGA championship?
Many factors go into the process to determine if a course can serve as a host site, and it is not always about the length. It is about variety and shot-making skills.
The USGA’s primary focus for selecting a future site is to choose a course that will provide a fair and challenging test for a particular set of players at certain skill levels.
First, a potential host club will send a letter to the USGA that expresses its interest in serving as a championship host site. From there, the USGA will gather information from the course that includes yardages from various tees, course history, course conditions, tournament history, grass types, even the weather and available amount of daylight at various times of the year.
The USGA looks at hotels in the area, the ability of players to walk the course (where applicable) and other factors. In addition, the USGA will also do some of its research about the course. Once all these steps have been completed, the USGA will follow up with the club to review the information and discuss the next steps in the selection process.
After the initial discussions, it is sometimes determined that the site is not suitable to host a USGA national championship because the course does not present the appropriate test of golf, does not have the necessary facilities, or the club’s interest does not match the USGA’s championship needs for a given year. In most cases, however, a site visit is required in order to truly ascertain if the course is able to handle a championship.
While on a site visit, the USGA reviews the facilities, including the clubhouse and even the proximity of hotel facilities and airports.
For instance, if a practice facility has only a small number of hitting stations, it’s easy to see the difficulty in giving 78 players, half of what is a typical championship field of 156 players, a sufficient warm-up opportunity before they start a round. Length of the course and forced carries also will dictate which of the USGA’s 13 annual national championships may be the best match for a course. If it has several holes where creeks or bunkers cross the fairway at 200-230 yards, it could be difficult for women to carry those areas, so a men’s championship may be better suited for the site. Long walks between greens and tees also can cause limitations.
The time of year and course conditions also play a factor in the selection process. If the weather is hot and the course typically dries out during June and July, but weather and course conditions are better in September, a fall championship might work. Or, if the course is located in a high elevation area, a summer championship might be better suited.
Even the clubhouse is important. Are there enough lockers for all the players? Is there adequate space for 200 people or more to eat breakfast and lunch? Is there sufficient space for USGA headquarters or a media office? Can the club accommodate a players’ dinner for 250-300 people?
After completion of the visit, a selection committee discusses and reviews all aspects of the visit in order to determine a course’s suitability. It makes no difference if the course is public or private; if the USGA determines that a course is suitable, the invitation is accepted and a new process of prepping for the championship starts.
While a similar review process is followed for the USGA’s Open championships – U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open – many more factors are analyzed, such as parking, transportation, hotels, the availability to secure and organize a larger number of volunteers, TV needs and a capacity of the course to handle a sizable number of spectators and support services. The Opens require much larger infrastructure and space.
But remember, there are only so many national championships each year. And with many more quality clubs nationwide interested in serving as a host at their course, worthy sites can be left out.
Teresa Belmont is assistant director, women’s competitions, for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.