US Junior on tap this summer
Baltusrol’s long-term agenda?
By M. James Ward
Last Thursday’s media rollout for the upcoming US Junior Amateur this summer at Baltusrol Golf Club provided an interesting peak behind the curtain for the historic Garden State club. Baltusrol has been the host location for a remarkable sixteen USGA Championships -- counting this year's Junior event. The club also served as host site (in 2005 and 2016) for the PGA Championship.
But the news of the day went beyond the club's hosting of the Junior event for the first time in club history.
Club president Rick Shea announced architect Gil Hanse has been brought on board as course consultant. The comments came unprompted from Shea in his welcome remarks to the assembled media and guests. What's interesting is a clear statement of direction for the historic club which had previously relied upon the Jones family -- Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and recently with Rees Jones in updating the two courses -- Lower and Upper respectively.
Hanse is the most sought after architect in golf -- given recent various successes including his design of the Rio 2016 Olympic Golf Course and in updating two classic courses slated to host the US Open in the next few years with Winged Foot (West) in 2020 and Los Angeles (North) in 2023.
Interestingly, it is Winged Foot that got the nod for the 2020 event over Baltusrol and it's fair to say the NJ-based club sought to replicate the success of the Mamaroneck, NY club in having the Hanse touch involved. Clearly, the leadership at Baltusrol believes something is needed in order to bolster the 36-hole A.W. Tillinghast design.
Hosting the Junior event is something Baltusrol is likely doing to curry favor with the USGA since hosting the last event of the Association with the 2000 Amateur. With the last of the seven US Opens played on the Lower in 1993 -- the next opening for America's national championship will not be until 2028. That marks at minimum a span of 35 years from having hosted America's national championship -- the longest in club history. Interestingly, the club had previously had a 13-year period between US Opens when hosting the 1954, 1967, 1980 and 1993 championships.
Although not stating at the podium an outright interest in hosting an eighth US Open, the desire of the club to remain a fixture in championship golf is clearly evident.
The Junior Amateur will showcase both courses, but it is the Upper which will stage the entire match play portion for the best junior players.
Baltusrol is the only club in US Open history where both courses at the same site have hosted the US Open. The Upper has not received overall fan and media attention, but architecturally, many, including this writer, see it as the superior design.
The US Open used to be a regular agenda item for Baltusrol. That is no longer the case and the competition among various sites to remain in the favor of the USGA is always subject to change. Witness the favor of Bethpage (Black) early on when hosting the 2002 and 2009 events -- then splitting and aligning with the PGA of America to host the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup Matches. The same can be said of Oakland Hills (South) which last hosted the US Open in 1985 but did host the Ryder Cup in 2004 and PGA Championship in 2008. In addition, the Detroit-area club has hosted two US Amateurs since the 1985 championship, thus far the USGA has not indicated if a return for a 7th US Open will happen.
Bringing in Hanse is a clear statement Baltusrol is keen to do whatever is needed in order to once again have America's national championship return to New Jersey. There are no guarantees and the payoff will not happen immediately, but the Junior Amateur is anything but "junior" to a club now intent in taking the needed steps to rejoin the conversation at the top of America's golf pecking order. Whether that happens or not will be a work in progress certainly worth watching.