Golf enthusiasts will have a rare opportunity this year to see the National Golf Links of America, one of the most exclusive and historic places in the game. How rare an opportunity is it? Considering that, at the present rate, the Walker Cup match is held there once every 91 years, it would be a decent idea to visit this Sept. 7 and 8, while you have the chance.
Unlike other courses, such as Shinnecock Hills, which is so close that the courses share a row of trees, the National does not host major championships. So it is hardly ever on public display. It does not have the length for a stroke-play tournament, but the U.S. Golf Association is certain that the club in Southampton is a perfect match-play venue, and will be a terrific site for this year's Walker Cup (tickets: 2013walkercup.com).
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Spectators and competitors -- amateur teams from the United States and Britain/Ireland -- will see spectacular views of Peconic Bay. They will see the iconic windmill (its blades should be intact by then, following post-storm repairs). They will see what golf historians consider the masterpiece of Hall of Fame architect Charles Blair Macdonald, the National's founder. USGA vice president Tom O'Toole this week compared it to the Mona Lisa.
Beyond all of that, in the words of current club president John Pyne at media day on Monday, "It is really fun to play."
Par-4 holes will tantalize today's long hitters into trying to drive the greens, then bedevil them with four-putts on sloped putting surfaces that will run 12 on the Stimpmeter. "This course is very subtle. You've got to know where to place your drive, where you place your second shot," Pyne said.
Club vice president Mike McBride, who was among the leaders in bringing the Walker Cup back to the National for the first time since 1922, added, "This isn't like Shinnecock next door, which is a really a major championship course, like Winged Foot or Bethpage. But you go to the fourth hole, and I don't care how good a player is. The ball has to hit perfectly on a downhill slope and stop."
O'Toole said the par-72 layout will play at 6,992 yards, with no U.S. Open-caliber rough. "We want balls bouncing around these wide fairways," he said, mentioning that some are 60 yards wide.
For at least a couple of days, the world will get the opportunity to see behind one of golf's densest veils. People will notice an unusual logo featuring golfers apparently on skis (reportedly based on designs on tiles in the 1912 clubhouse). They will see how down-to-earth the leadership is, and they might learn about the scholarship fund for its caddies and other employees, which last year helped 17 young people with their educations.
"I'm a firm believer that great courses need to give back to golf. It is just part of their heritage," McBride said. "It's a treasured design, it's a wonderful golf course, it is an important place for history and I knew it would be the right thing to do."
And it will be worth seeing, at least once a century.