News & Opinion

Pebble merits leadoff spot in Open rota

More than ever, the U.S. Golf Association needs Pebble Beach. All those picturesque, breathtaking vistas. All those cool, memorable holes. All that rich, vivid history. 

Oh, and all those bumped-up television ratings. That, too. 

So, eight years between U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach is better than nine. But why not seven? Or even five, just like Pebble’s kindred spirit, the Old Course at St. Andrews?

The USGA announced Oct. 24 that Pebble Beach will host the 2027 U.S. Open. Pebble already is hosting the 2019 Open, commemorating the course’s 100th anniversary, and also will hold its first U.S. Women’s Open in 2023. 

To which we say, with a touch of Northern California provincialism: Bring ’em on!

USGA officials should lean on storied, distinctive courses to anchor their Open rotation. Forget provincialism. Let’s see Oakmont’s church-pew bunkers and wickedly slick greens every five to seven years. 

Along the same lines, we want more of Pinehurst – its domed Donald Ross greens, rugged waste areas alongside the fairways and flashbacks to Payne Stewart holding off Phil Mickelson in 1999.

Pebble-Oakmont-Pinehurst. That’s a strong Big Three. 

This is not to suggest that the USGA entirely ignore fresh, intriguing venues. Chambers Bay (spotty greens) didn’t work especially well in 2015, nor did Erin Hills (weirdly wide fairways, crazy-low scores) in June – but occasional experiments are fine. 

And it’s a nice touch to insert a seldom-seen classic course every now and then, such as Merion in 2013 or Los Angeles Country Club in 2023. Merion dripped with history – any back story involving Ben Hogan demands our attention – and the curiosity factor will soar off the charts for LACC in ’23.

Even so, the USGA needs a core of courses at the forefront of its Open rotation. Pebble Beach counts as the perfect leadoff hitter, given its uncommon blend of setting, layout, climate, history and time zone. 

Don’t dismiss the West Coast angle. Ever since Tiger Woods outlasted Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in 2008 – and practically half the world watched – the USGA has craved venues in the Pacific time zone. 

The logic makes perfect sense. Saturday and Sunday rounds stretch into prime time in the East; television ratings climb, followed by advertising revenue; and so does the value of America’s national championship.

That’s partly why the Open will return to Pebble Beach in ’19 and Torrey Pines in ’21 and Los Angeles in ’23, and then Pebble again in ’27. That’s why Chambers Bay eventually might land another Open, unless it bolts for the PGA of America.

Yep, it could happen – as it did for Bethpage Black and Olympic Club, most notably. USGA officials turned to Pebble Beach for the 2027 Open only after reaching an impasse with Olympic officials, who weren’t exactly thrilled with the terms of an offer to host in ’27.

Not coincidentally, the PGA of America will announce a deal today to bring the 2028 PGA Championship and ’32 Ryder Cup to Olympic Club.

That means the USGA is losing another traditional U.S. Open venue on the West Coast. And that means Pebble Beach – still relevant at 7,000-plus yards, with an A-list of Open winners including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods – is more important than ever.

Ron Kroichick has covered golf for the San Francisco Chronicle since 2005. He also is a regular contributor to NCGA Golf, the Northern California Golf Association’s magazine. E-mail: r.kroichick@comcast.net; Twitter: @ronkroichick