Why composite courses have found a place in professional golf

The 2022 U.S. Open and the first stateside LIV Golf both feature composite layouts using holes from two separate courses.
England's Matt Fitzpatrick plays the 11th hole during the final round of the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club.

It might sound sacrilegious to compare the U.S. Open and the first LIV Golf Series event in America, but the two most talked-about golf events on U.S. soil in 2022 outside of The Masters do hold something unique in common.

They will have used composite golf courses.

The 2022 U.S. Open turned out to be an epic showdown between some of the game's youngest guns over a composite course at The Country Club pieced together by the United States Golf Association with holes from both the main 18-hole routing and its Primrose nine. The LIV Golf Invitational Portland event Thursday through Saturday at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., will mix holes from its private Witch Hollow and public Ghost Creek courses in similar fashion.

The concept of a composite golf course is an intriguing one. Why turn a traditionally strong routing like The Country Club or Witch Hollow into a Frankenstein of sorts by messing with the sequence of holes? It's all about hosting modern-day golf events. Challenging the best players in the world and showcasing the best holes is important at any tournament, but so is maximizing the logistics of hospitality tents, parking and prime spectator viewing for fans. It doesn't happen often, but golf fans could see more composite courses in the future as tournament organizers look for creative ways to put on the best event possible for spectators and players alike.

A 'Composite' U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy plays his second shot on the 13th hole from the composite course at The Country Club during the first round of the 2022 U.S.Open Championship.

The USGA pulled the 2022 U.S. Open off brilliantly thanks in part to the unique course setup. The routing was a composite of the club's 27 holes, using tees and greens from each of the three nines: Clyde, Squirrel and Primrose. The most unusual part of this hodgepodge was the 13th hole, which combined the first two holes of the Primrose nine by bypassing the first green and playing to the second green, set on the far side of a pond. It was one of the trickiest of The Country Club's long par 4s during the championship. Plus, the second hole, a 215-yard par 3 for the U.S. Open, typically plays as a 280-yard par 4 for members.

Though typically part of the main 18, the 11th hole hadn't been used in competition since the 1913 U.S. Open famously won by Francis Ouimet. The little downhill par 3 instantly became a star attraction in 2022. It extracted a double bogey out of World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler on Saturday and a three-putt bogey out of winner Matt Fitzpatrick in the final round. Both moments played a key role in the final outcome.

The course earned universal praise from both players and the media, all of whom are clamoring for a return major championship sooner rather than later.

"The Country Club is spectacular," said Keegan Bradley, a local hero from Vermont. "I absolutely loved it. It's my favorite U.S. Open venue I've ever played."

A New Composite Course at Pumpkin Ridge

Tiger Woods celebrates during the 1996 U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

It's somewhat surprising that Pumpkin Ridge's two Bob Cupp designs are being split up, considering that both have shown tournament chops in past competitions won by then-future World No. 1s. Ghost Creek hosted the Nike Championship in 1993 and 1994, a precursor to the Korn Ferry Tour's season-ending tournament. David Duval won it in 1993. But it was Tiger Woods who put Pumpkin Ridge on the map, winning his third consecutive U.S. Amateur in 1996 on Witch Hollow.

The U.S. Junior Amateur Championship and the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship were held simultaneously in 2000, utilizing both courses. Numerous other prestigious amateur and professional events have been held on the two courses since then, including the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, the 2006 U.S. Women's Amateur and the LPGA Tour's Safeway Classic from 2009-2011.

Ron Cross, the chief events officer for LIV Golf Investments, credits the USGA for originally discovering the composite course at Pumpkin Ridge featuring six holes from Witch Hollow and 12 from Ghost Creek. The first hole will launch from the 13th tee of Ghost Creek playing to the 15th green.

"When we went to do our site visit, the superintendent told us about it," Cross said. "We were interested to check it out. It made perfect sense. We are excited to put it to the test."

Cross said the trickiest part was matching the conditions from the public course to the private one. "To bring it together in consistent playing conditions in such a short amount of time to pull this off" is impressive, Cross said. "We had to match conditions of the green speeds and bunkers and grass cuts that are normally not exactly the same."

The ninth hole of Ghost Creek finishes at the clubhouse. Its location near the tournament's main spectator entrance, parking and range - home of the tournament's Club 54 hospitality tents - makes it ideal as the finishing hole for the composite course.

Hosting the controversial LIV event hasn't come without consequences for the club, which is owned by Escalante Golf out of Texas. As many as 40 members have resigned in protest, according to news reports.

More Composite Courses

Royal Melbourne uses a composite layout to host big events like the 2019 Presidents Cup.

Other highly regarded courses have been sliced and diced by tournament organizers in the past to create the "best" tournament venue possible. Each time it happens, the two courses have been designed by the same architect, a key component for a uniform look and architectural playing style.

The most famous composite course in the world is at Royal Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. The club uses 12 holes from the West Course and six from the East Course for major tournaments. There have been a lot of them for the men - including the World Cup of Golf in 1959, 1972, 1988 and 2013 and the 1998, 2011 and 2019 Presidents Cups - and a few notable ones for the women, including the 2012 and 2015 ISPS Handa Women's Australian Opens won by Jessica Korda and Lydia Ko, respectively. Having holes designed by the legendary Dr. Alister MacKenzie allows a seamless transition throughout.

Back in America, the 1998 and 2012 U.S. Women's Opens in Kohler, Wis., were contested on a hybrid course from Pete Dye using holes 1-4 and 14-18 from Blackwolf Run's River Course and holes 10-18 from the Meadow Valleys Course. Se Ri Pak's 1998 victory changed women's golf forever, launching a girls' golf boom in Asia that has proliferated today's LPGA Tour.

Se Ri Pak of South Korea hits out of a bunker during the 1998 Women''s U. S. Open at the Blackwolf Run Resort in Kohler, Wis.

The 1999 Diners Club Matches and 2000 Hyundai Team Matches - two exhibitions featuring two two-person teams from each major tour competing against one another - were held in SoCal on a composite layout of the Resort at Pelican Hill's two Tom Fazio courses, including holes 1-14 on Ocean North and nos. 15-18 on Ocean South. Golf fans might not remember such obscure exhibitions, but they did feature plenty of star power - Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster and Dottie Pepper, among others.

Juli Inster escapes a bunker during the 1999 Diners Club Matches at the Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Coast, Calif.

More recently, David Toms won the 2018 U.S. Senior Open on a composite layout from the East and West courses at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. In a way, both were already composite courses. Donald Ross designed 18 holes first and decades later Robert Trent Jones Sr. built 18 more. The routings were then reconfigured with a mishmash of holes from both architects on each layout to create what resort guests play today.

David Toms hits an approach shot on the third hole during the final round of the 2018 U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.

As distances players hit the ball surge and the need for more corporate and hospitality space grows, this trend of creating composite tournament courses might become more common. Who's next? The R&A mashing up the Old and New Courses at St. Andrews to host an Open? Let's hope it never comes to that.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Why composite courses have found a place in professional golf