Golf is an aspirational game.
Watching the best players in the world competing on the game’s grandest stages, one can’t help but daydream about one day playing there, too.
Good news; you may not have the opportunity to shoot baskets at Madison Square Garden or bust fastballs out of Wrigley Field, but in golf, sometimes you actually can tee it up where the pros play.
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You even can aspire to test your game at several venues that either have played host, or soon will, to the PGA Championship or Ryder Cup.
Beginning in May 2019, in fact, the PGA will be played at three consecutive sites (Bethpage State Park Black, TPC Harding Park, and Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course) that allow public access.
Here are seven PGA Championship venues that you can play:
1. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey, Calif.
PGA Championship: 1977
Pebble Beach, where golf converges with one of nature’s most breathtaking canvases along postcard-perfect 17 Mile Drive, is a place that every avid golfer should visit once in his or her lifetime. Pricey, yes, but worth it. It was at Pebble in 1977 that Lanny Wadkins defeated sweet-swinging Californian Gene Littler in a playoff for the 49th PGA Championship. The championship was historic: For the first time in stroke play at a major, a winner was determined via a sudden-death format. Littler had been on top of the leaderboard all tournament, but Wadkins made up a six-shot deficit on Sunday, shooting 70 to force a playoff. Jack Nicklaus finished one shot out of the playoff.
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2. Whistling Straits Golf Course, Straits Course, Mosel, Wisc.
PGA Championship: 2004, 2010, 2015; Ryder Cup: 2020
Built along two miles of coastline along the shores of Lake Michigan, the Straits Course (maybe Pete Dye’s best) now has played host to three PGA Championships (2004, 2010, 2015), with a Ryder Cup headed to Wisconsin for 2020. The course has some dramatic holes that can be intimidating to a golfer and boasts an incredible set of par-3 holes, including the picturesque seventh (Shipwreck) and the daunting 17th (Pinched Nerve) that falls off into steep dunes alongside Lake Michigan.
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Vijay Singh won the PGA in a playoff at the Straits in 2004 Martin Kaymer prevailed in a playoff against Bubba Watson in 2010 (the year Dustin Johnson led through 71 holes but was penalized for grounding his club in a bunker); and Jason Day set a PGA scoring mark (20-under 268) in capturing his first major in 2015. Next on tap: the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Play the Straits course on a gray, blustery day, and you’ll think you’ve been dropped somewhere in the middle of Scotland.
3. The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.
PGA Championship: 2012, 2021; Ryder Cup: 1991
There is no easing into the Ocean Course at Kiawah, where the choppy Atlantic beckons to the right and steady breezes flow through the golf course on a daily basis. The very first tee shot demands accuracy to avoid a waste area that runs down the right side of the hole. And from there, off you go on a wonderful and scenic test of golf.
Rory McIlroy dominated the field here in the 2012 PGA to win the first of his two PGA titles, his closing 67-66 weekend propelling him to an eight-shot triumph. Twenty-one years earlier, Pete Dye’s Ocean Course had made its much-anticipated debut on a global stage by staging the intense and sometimes contentious 1991 Ryder Cup (dubbed The War on the Shore). When Bernhard Langer’s 6-foot putt on the 18th green slid past the hole in his singles match against Hale Irwin, victory belonged to the U.S. team.
4. Bethpage State Park, Black Course, Farmingdale, N.Y.
PGA Championship: 2019; Ryder Cup: 2024
There are five 18-hole courses on property, but only one of them cautions players with a large sign attached to a steel fence behind the opening hole. Warning. The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers. It’s the type of thing you might see before making the slow ascent on a rollercoaster.
The Black has played host to a pair of U.S. Opens in the last 16 years. Tiger Woods won in 2002, and Lucas Glover survived a crazy Monday finish to win in 2009. The Black also twice has been the host course to The Barclays, the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoff opener. Bethpage Black is a little easier on the wallet than some of the other major venues one can play. Is it worth sleeping in the parking lot for a tee time? You bet.
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5. PGA National, The Champion Golf Course, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
PGA Championship: 1987; Ryder Cup: 1983
Ah, yes, we welcome you into the infamous Bear Trap that helps to close out a solid test of golf just down the road from PGA of America headquarters. The Champion Course’s par-3 15th and 17th holes, both over water, are sandwiched by a strategic par-4 that also demands an approach be struck over water. Bogeys and doubles abound. Many a player at the Honda Classic has been caught in the Bear Trap.
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Larry Nelson captured a PGA here in 1987 when the event was played in February. He was 10 days short of his 40th birthday, and his 10-year exemption for winning took him almost to 50. And PGA National is where Europe fell painstakingly short in the 1983 Ryder Cup, with Spain’s Seve Ballesteros famously inspiring his teammates in a downtrodden locker room afterward, telling them they had what it takes to overtake the U.S. in this event. Two years later in Ohio, Europe finally won.
The Champion Course currently is closed for regressing and will re-open in mid-October.
6. French Lick (Ind.) Resort, Donald Ross Course
PGA Championship: 1924
Originally known as the Hill Course, this Donald Ross creation opened in 1917 and seven years later was the site of the PGA Championship captured by Walter Hagen. It was the first of his four consecutive PGA titles. In a grand match, he defeated Englishman James Barnes on the 36th hole of match play to capture his $6,830 winner’s share.
The Donald Ross Course is one of two courses on property at the French Lick Resort, which features two hotels and the French Lick Casino. In 2006, architect Lee Schmidt oversaw a renovation to the Ross in which many of the classic original features of the course were restored. Tees and greens were reshaped to show a classic squared look, and some sandy areas that had been lost through the years were returned. There’s nothing quite like playing an old classic.
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7. TPC Harding Park Course, San Francisco
PGA Championship: 2020
This venue has been around for a while, as the “Harding” in Harding Park is named for President Warren G. Harding. The course opened in 1925 and had a rich history before falling into disarray in the mid- to late-1990s. In 1998, Harding Park served as a parking lot for the U.S. Open being played at nearby Olympic Club. That might have been its low point.
But Sandy Tatum, the U.S. Golf Association legend, helped to spark renewed interest in returning Harding Park to its days of glory, and in 2002-03, a $16 million renovation led to a complete redesign of the golf course, which was stretched to nearly 7,200 yards. (In 2010, Harding Park would become part of the PGA Tour’s TPC network.)
Alas, TPC Harding Park is a championship venue once again, playing host to a pair of World Golf Championships events (Rory McIlroy won the WGC-Match Play at Harding in 2015) and readying itself for the 2020 PGA Championship. The course has some breathtaking vistas as it winds around Lake Merced, and will make a great setting for a PGA Championship.