There should be more future major championships at municipal golf courses, not fewer

After a great run of championships at accessible facilities, why are none scheduled from 2022 on?
Accessible to all golfers and affordable for locals, TPC Harding Park proved a popular venue for the 2020 PGA Championship. So why are no more municipal golf courses on the docket until at least 2032?

Few golfers are as consistently thoughtful as Rory McIlroy. That reputation has led to him receiving a somewhat broader spectrum of questions at press conferences than many of his peers. He gets the sorts of questions one would expect lobbed at Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, more than a dozen years his senior.

Last week was no different. At his pre-PGA Championship presser, McIlroy was asked about the importance of the recent mini-trend of hosting several recent PGA Championships and U.S. Opens at municipal course like TPC Harding Park.

His response was insightful: "I think it's very important. I've always said that golf, everywhere in the world, but I think especially in the United States, it can become more accessible still, and I think bringing the biggest tournaments in the world to public courses is a step in the right direction."

On the surface, it's not all that complicated an answer. Yes, it is nice when these high-profile championships visit golf courses that the public can access relatively easily and affordably. But McIlroy went a little further. I took "It can become more accessible still" as a subtle suggestion not just about the game in general, but its highest-profile tournaments. Sotto voce, McIlroy implied that perhaps it would be good for golf if municipal golf courses were more than an occasional stop on a stateside roving major schedule that is historically overwhelmingly weighted toward private clubs.

Bad news for Rory. As much as he and other pros might have enjoyed playing back-to-back PGAs at Bethpage Black and TPC Harding Park, there are no munis on the current schedule, even though the tournament is booked through 2031. Barring a shakeup to the current plan, McIlroy will be at least 42 years old the next time the chance comes again. Tiger Woods, whom we forget was raised on low-cost golf courses, will be 55; 2020 PGA champ Collin Morikawa will be at least 34.

If it's any consolation, they will play public venues twice in that span: next year at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, where McIlroy won in 2012; and in 2027 at the PGA's now-under-construction Frisco, Texas flagship facility.

Bottom line: from 2022 on, there are currently zero U.S. Opens or PGA Championships scheduled at municipal golf courses.

Anytime you can play a course that pros play, or even one professional plays, it's always really cool because you get a sense of what they go through every single day.
Collin Morikawa

In his own press conference before last week's event, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said of the organization's efforts toward improving the game's image, including recent uses of accessible golf courses, "we are for making the game look a lot more like the world so that the world can look a little bit more like the values and the beauty of our game."

This is an admirable sentiment, and there is reason to believe the PGA is earnest in its own attempts to make golf more inclusive, a project that goes far beyond major championship host sites. Initiatives like the PGA Junior League and PGA WORKS program address opportunities for junior golfers and persons of color looking to work in golf. These are positive steps.

Still, having to avoid municipal courses for more than a decade after two straight successful (even amid 2020's pandemic) outings is unfortunate. A run of exclusive private clubs, interspersed with upscale public venues, is what the old world of major championship golf looked like.

Asked why the long break from municipal PGA hosts, Waugh said, "Good news, bad news, not to blame anything, but I inherited a series of events and venues over the next 10 to 15 years, and so it is what it is." And that's true; Waugh only became PGA CEO in September of 2018. He seems eager to help steer the game toward inclusivity and we should take him at his word unless his and his organization's actions suggest otherwise.

Should we pencil Harding Park in for the 2032 PGA, then?

Future major championships at American public and municipal golf courses

So far, this century has been a good one for exposing golf fans to great public facilities, and both the PGA and the United States Golf Association (USGA) have been to thank.

Before 1999's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, the only non-private club that had ever hosted the event was Pebble Beach, in 1972, 1982 and 1992. Starting with that memorable week through next year, the USGA will have contested 12 of 23 championships at courses belonging either to resorts or municipalities: a rate of 52%. That's a commendable turnaround.

Pinehurst No. 2 is set to host in 2024 and Pebble Beach will host in 2027, the last year for which the event is currently scheduled. Hopefully the late 20s will include at least one municipal host venue. Could it be Chambers Bay, where the grass issues that plagued the 2015 U.S. Open have been fixed by a full transition to poa annua greens?

From 2004 through next year, the PGA Championship will have been played at resort or municipal courses seven out of 18 times: a rate of 39%. Also respectable, but with only 2 public and zero current future municipal PGA Championship sites, that percentage will deteriorate.

It seems that Frisco's two new golf courses will host their share of future championships, but perhaps the PGA could also take a fresh look at some other venues, including a former host site or two. One that jumps to mind is Tanglewood Park, near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It hosted the 1974 PGA, where Lee Trevino outdueled Jack Nicklaus. The Robert Trent Jones-designed Championship Course was remodeled in 2018. The weather in the Carolinas tends to be nice in May, too. It's a 7,100-yard par 70 at the moment, and some of its runway tees could be extended if necessary.

Recent showcases of accessible golf in America's movable major championships have helped remind viewers that great golf does not necessarily have to be expensive and cloistered. Next year will be nice, with Torrey Pines and Kiawah Island showing two different sides of accessible golf. Why does that momentum grind to an unnecessary halt in 2022?

View the future golf course sites for the PGA Championship, pro golf's major championship conducted by the PGA of America.
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From Shinnecock Hills to Winged Foot, view the full list of future U.S. Open golf sites as announced by the USGA.
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Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
11 Comments
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This take might deviate from the topic but I do feel it is relatable and a big challenge for the game of golf today when we are exploring ways to grow it. I think one misconception that exists in golf is that it is public/munis vs elitist, snobby private clubs when in fact there are hundreds of thousands of smaller, very much middle class private clubs that have been around in some cases, like my course, for over 100 years that have been struggling since 2008, some of which have filed for bankruptcy and/or sold and developed. These memberships largely consist of middle aged membership who are blue collar, hardworking members that like to have a good time. The easy answer as to why these clubs have struggled is declining membership but I think the data has shown across regions that there just aren't members. One thing that doesn't help grow the game and increase membership at these clubs is the perception I mentioned above. Tournament golf on the amateur level is a dying breed in American golf. People think an 18 hole scramble is a tournament nowadays and that is a shame. Feedback I have gotten is people feel intimidated joining a club and playing in a quota or four-ball bc they don't know the rules. I belong to a club just for the tournaments and camaraderie. The USGA should be doing a study on the deaths of smaller private club across the country then worrying about how far pros hit it. Viewers are going to watch the PGA/US Open whether it is at a muni or Brookline.

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As some allude to, access to major sites has two parts: physical and financial. The UK model is more "equitable" (IF one has the financial ability, one can access) and potentially game sustaining but most powers to be on this side of the pond are too wrapped up in their own egos to see the greater good and perpetuate the extreme elitist model. Golf is seeing a temporary surge but once the pandemic is under control, it will continue its decline as time and cost barriers are not going away with the way the game is currently structured, which are incongruent with modern life. The Metacomet's of the USA will happen with greater frequency - sad but reality.

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I agree on GW in Boston, great layout and it would be tremendous to have a PGA Championship in the city. Time to call Mr. Crenshaw! Triggs Memorial is fun too!

As a former New Yorker, The Black was a steal, and I let it beat me up too many times to count! The Red could host a championship and is worth a trip to Bethpage to play it if you live in the region.

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I agree, golf gets REAL expensive when you think about playing at a course where a pga tournament has been played at. On Maui, for instance, even to play the Kapalua Plantation course for locals is over $100. It is not a municipal course, but still, $100 round gets expensive. We play the municipal, Waiehu course along the beautiful coastline of Kahului harbor for $30, or $20 when we shared a cart before covid. If golf is ever going to really engage larger numbers, it needs to make it affordable for more people, this includes senior citizens.

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Golf is stuffy. Always has been. I live close to Torrey, awesome to play and know what the pros have done there.

However the $240 they charge nonresidents is outrageous. At that price point, there’s better courses in the area.

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a $300/round muni??!! $15 million redo!!!??

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Just a dream but wouldn't it be nice Add 4 Ross Courses with some work, Wilmington Muni in North Carolina, Green Complexes are outstanding, only plays about 6800, par 71, looks like it has some back tees they don't use any more. The North East could use a Major event, were pretty deprived of PGA golf now a days!! Triggs Memorial in Providence, Save Metacomet from Brad Faxon. Up near Boston in Canton Ma there old Ponky # 1. In Boston, there is real gem, George Wright GC a city owned Munil, par 70, ignore the card, it plays about 6800 + from the tips to back of the greens because of a bunch of new tees, with room to move back on some par 4's and 2 of the par 3' s, restore an old tee on a third par 3. Eight par 4 's out of 12 play over 400! Only one guy has had the guts to try public courses on a regular basis is Mike Davis! We need Ben Crenshaw to restore GW get rid all the over growth!

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Why do you insist on calling Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines, Pinehurst #2, and some of these other Muni's "Affordable". There is an obvious disconnect between price and value. I don't know what it costs to play Harding Park, but it is like Bethpage and Torrey, only the locals get a break on the green fees. If I am not a resident of the counties those courses are in, I'll be paying north of $100.00 to play there, which added to the cost of traveling there, lodging, etc. makes them far from affordable. The talking heads keep saying they want to be more inclusive, yet elitism in the form of cost is still a huge barrier.

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I live near Bethpage. The reason they charge so much for nonres is 2 fold, it does cut down on the already very heavy traffic (rare for an empty tee time), and adds rev.

Bethpage does offer 4 other courses all at reasonable nonres rates. The red course is quite good.

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Forget exactly where I read it but the story was that there is just a lot of bureaucracy in dealing with some government agencies. Shocking! I know.

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This point is well made, there are certainly a number of high quality public courses that would be challenging for the pros. But Collin Morikawa's point (perhaps implied by McIlroy) could be even stronger if the private US major venues made some rounds available as well. We are only able to enjoy playing private Open venues because most of these clubs allow non-members access one or more mornings/days a week. The joy of playing such tracks as Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, and many others should be repeated on our side of the pond.

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There should be more future major championships at municipal golf courses, not fewer