The next Minnesota U.S. Open

Minnesota is not on the USGA’s schedule to host a future men’s U.S. Open. While we have hosted two recent PGA Championships and the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open, this summer will mark 21 years since the last time the men’s Open was contested in Minnesota. We will soon be mired in the second longest Open drought in state history; it was 40 years between the 1930 Open at Interlachen and the 1970 Open at Hazeltine (thanks in part to a Depression and a world war), then another 21 years before the Open returned to Hazeltine in 1991 (thanks mostly to an immature golf course).
While some states — New York and California being primary examples — can count on hosting a U.S. Open every half-dozen years or so, we in Minnesota are not so fortunate. For one thing, Hazeltine is considered our only possible Open venue, and the romance between Hazeltine National and the USGA seems to have cooled since the days of Joe Dey and Tot Heffelfinger. Even as the course continues to improve, Hazeltine has slipped off the Open rota, and may not find its way back.
Does that mean no more Opens for Minnesota? Not if a little imagination is brought to bear. Could there be other potential sites lurking inside our borders that should be considered? Setting infrastructure and hotel rooms aside (always a risk when trying to attract the USGA’s top traveling circus), perhaps Windsong Farm could be offered up as a U.S. Open Venue. It’s really no more remote than Hazeltine was in 1970 (“I’d withdraw, but I don’t know how to get back to town,” one pro famously groused at that tournament), and at 7346 yards, it can certainly be set up to test an elite international field.
Let’s think way outside the tee box and consider The Quarry at Giants Ridge. It’s only 7201 from the tips, but the elevation changes, trees and ponds of this northern beauty would present unique challenges to golfers unused to playing through forests and abandoned mine pits. It’s not that far from the Duluth, and there’s plenty of resort lodging in the area for officials, media and spectators who want a truly different Open experience.
But rather than look to the future, let’s look to the past and consider Minikahda or Interlachen. They have long been considered too short to host modern U.S. Opens, but the USGA has selected Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia for the site of the event in 2013. That club dates back to 1912 and was also considered too short, but will be pushed to a maximum distance of 6900 yards. Minikahda and Interlachen can come close to that figure; and, like Merion, they were both the site of significant major championship victories by Bobby Jones. The USGA could tuck the pins, grow the rough, stretch the yardage and see what the modern pros can do on these historic courses. If Merion works, could we at least think about it?

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