Cows or corn not required at Hazeltine
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2002 US PGA Championship | Preview | 10 Aug 2002
The final event of what has been an eventful year in major golf takes place this week at the Hazeltine Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota with arguably the strongest field ever assembled for a major lining up.
Hazeltine was opened back in 1962, the brainchild of Totton Heffinger who became the USGA President in 1962/63. Heffinger set out alone to develop the course, some twenty miles from Minneapolis, after an initial plan to create a second course for his Minikahda Golf Club had fallen through. He engaged Robert Trent Jones in 1959 to design the course and it opened three years later.
In 1970 it hosted it’s second of many National Championships (the first had been in the 1966 US Women’s Open when Sandra Spuzich won). In 1970 it was the scene of Tony Jacklin’s win over Dave Hill at the US Open. Hill’s comments about the course throughout that week didn’t exactly endear himself to the good men of Hazeltine, suggesting that it was suitable more for grazing cows and growing corn rather than as a site for the US Open. History has shown that Hill’s comments were perhaps a little over the top, but the Club was wounded. He was perhaps though, voicing aloud the thoughts of many of the competitors that year. Even the great Jack Nicklaus had expressed his concerns re the merits of the course’s strategic design in an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated prior to the Open that year. As a consequence Hill’s and Nicklaus’s comments did spark some soul searching by the club and over the next few years several modifications were made to the course utilising the services of Rees Jones, the son of the original designer.
Interestingly enough Hill was invited back to Hazeltine in 1991 and played, then dined with the then US Open Chairman and now USGA President, Reed McKenzie. Hill liked what he saw of the changes and maturity that had taken place in the ensuing twenty one years.
Since that controversial and perhaps memorable US Open, the course has gone on to host the 1977 US Women’s Open (Hollis Stacy), the !983 US Seniors Open (Billy Casper) and the 1991 US Open where Payne Stewart beat Scott Simpson in a playoff. Perhaps reflecting the regard in which the course is now held, it has already been scheduled to host the 2006 US Amateur, the 2009 PGA and the 2016 Ryder Cup. Long gone are any suggestions that it be returned to the farming community.
Befitting the celebration of its 40th anniversary, the course will host the strongest field ever assembled for a major with all top one hundred players from the world rankings eligible and entered. Tiger Woods’s third round adventures at Muirfield have ensured that the media frenzy, that would have eventuated if he was on line for an historic calendar Grand Slam, is not about to happen. There will however be much interest in whether he can win three in a year for the second time, following on from 2000.
It is hardly likely that the revamped Hazeltine, now measuring some 7,300 yards, will this year suffer the vitriol that has for so long haunted the good folks in Chaska. Everything suggests this will be one of the great USPGA Championships.