Which course is the best U.S. Open venue? Our 'definitive' ranking

Caveat No. 1: All future venues must have prior Open experience

Erin Hills is hosting the 2017 championship, while Los Angeles Country Club (shown) takes the tournament reins in 2023. Since each course will be holding its first Open, they were excluded from our ranking.

Caveat No. 2: A course has to have hosted an Open within the past 10 years.

Baltusrol Golf Club has held the second-most Opens of any course with seven, but the USGA hasn't been back to the New Jersey club (shown) since 1993. Our 10-year rule kicks out Oakland Hills Country Club (a five-time U.S. Open venue) and Inverness Club (four) from the conversation. With that in mind…

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No. 12: Chambers Bay

While Gary Player's "worst course I've ever seen" comments were a tad hyperbolic, Chambers Bay falls short of its Open brethren. Some pointed to the holes running together, others blame the USGA's set-up. As one of the panelists noted, "The course is more fun for recreational players than you might imagine, but seemed a little too quirky to host a U.S. Open."

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No. 11: Congressional Country Club

Despite its distinctive clubhouse and renowned history — five majors championships, including three U.S. Opens — Congressional scored low. A recurring criticism was the course's so-so front nine; others simply despised the entire layout. "If it were named Bethesda Oaks it would never hold an Open…state Open, that is," replied one of the panelists.

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No. 10: The Country Club

Brookline holds a special place in American golf. The Country Club has been the site of the U.S. Amateur six times, tied for the most with Merion. It's also seen three U.S. Opens (most notably Francis Ouimet's 1913 upset of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray), three U.S. Women's Amateurs and the famed Yankee comeback at the 1999 Ryder Cup. The course itself garnered shoulder shrugs from our panel, with three taking umbrage to The Country Club's habit of combining holes from its various nines to create its championship "course." The U.S. Open will return in 2022 after last hosting in 1988.

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No. 9: Torrey Pines

This was to be expected, as the pros often rank Torrey Pines as one of the "worst" courses on tour . That Torrey has just one Open to its resume didn't help matters, either. (Although the championship is returning in 2021.) However, the course's beauty cannot be denied, with Torrey boasting panoramic, breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

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No. 8: Bethpage Black

Bethpage Black, after hosting the 2002 and 2009 Opens, is no longer in the USGA rota, jumping to the PGA of America with scheduled events such as the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup. "The lore of the public course and the atmosphere when the locals get rowdy is very cool, but the course itself isn’t as challenging for tour pros as it is for everyday golfers," said one panelist. Another chimed in: "Brought muny golf back to the Open. 2002 was a blast; 2009 was a mud pit."

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No. 7: The Olympic Club

With five Opens under its belt, Olympic certainly has the championship pedigree; it's reputation as a perennial top-50 member of Golf Digest's 100 Greatest Golf Courses list is absolute. Olympic loses points on our ranking through no fault of its own, as Olympic Open runners-up — like Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson — tend to be more attractive names than the winners — Jack Fleck, Scott Simpson, Webb Simpson.

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No. 6: Winged Foot

History? Irrefutable: Winged Foot has been home to five U.S. Opens, with a sixth coming in 2020. Layout? Check: Designed by A. W. Tillinghast, the course has recently rid many of the Norway Spruce that lined the fairways, making Winged Foot more playable. Not to say it's easy: The mushroom-like greens are some of the hardest in the game. Only knock: Many of Winged Foot's Opens are remembered for the brute finishes or conditions (Phil Mickelson's collapse in 2006, The Massacre in 1974).

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No. 5: Pinehurst No. 2

More than a few panelists pointed out that this ranking was reflective of Pinehurst's efforts, led by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, to restore the No. 2 course to Donald Ross' original vision. The challenge — but fairness — of Pinehurst's greens aided this ranking, as well as its serene, agrarian ambience. The U.S. Open returns for a fourth time in 2024.

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No. 4: Merion

Some were worried in 2013 that Merion's lack of length wouldn't hold up against today's modern equipment. The club outside Philadelphia showed, in spite of its age, it's still as tough of an Open test as you'll find. Throw in a deep-seated history (Ben Hogan's comeback, Lee Trevino topping Jack Nicklaus in 1971) and, as one panelist put it, "You know you're in good hands with the U.S. Open goes to Merion."

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No. 3: Shinnecock Hills

Perhaps recency bias is hurting Shinnecock. The first picture that comes to the mind is the 2004 U.S. Open, a tournament where the USGA went overboard in its Sunday set-up: The average final-round score was 78.7 and not a single golfer finished their round under par. However, the links-style course has made for entertaining tournament play, and its history — four U.S. Opens, as well as the distinction of being one of the original five member courses of the USGA — puts Shinnecock in the conversation of best Open venue. The tournament returns in 2018.

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No. 2: Oakmont

The U.S. Open visited Oakmont for the ninth time in 2016. Oakmont's winners are a "who's who" of golf: Nicklaus, Hogan, Armour (and we'd be remiss in mentioning Bobby Jones' 1925 U.S. Amateur conquest or Sam Snead's victory at the 1951 PGA Championship). Johnny Miller's final-round 63 to win the 1973 Open endures as one of the seminal moments in major-championship golf. And the course, which removed thousands of trees to return it to its original design, is a masterpiece in challenge, aesthetics and experience.

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No. 1: Pebble Beach

Five U.S. Opens. Memories like Tiger's historic blowout, Jack's 1-iron into the 17th, Watson's chip-in. Perhaps the most scenic venue in America, on a course some consider the best in the world. Oakmont may be the USGA's de facto "home," but Pebble Beach garners the title as the best U.S. Open host.