Shinnecock Hills Golf Club History

By Ryan Watson

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, located in an affluent region known as the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island, was founded in 1891. The club was the brainchild of Edward Meade and Duncan Cryder after a trip to Europe where they saw a course being built firsthand. After returning to America, they bought the land on Long Island and opened their course in 1891, with the clubhouse opening a year later. The initial 12-hole course was designed by Willie Davis and a 9-hole course available only to female golfers opened in 1893, making Shinnecock Hills the oldest American golf club to allow women as members. The original golf course would then be lengthened to the now-standard 18 holes by Willie Dunn in 1894.

Shinnecock Hills also has a place in golf history as one of the five founding golf clubs of the United States Golf Association (USGA), the game’s governing body in America, and is America’s oldest golf club still in existence. It would host the second ever U.S. Open in 1896, as well as the U.S. Amateur. But the club is not without controversy. The land that the course was built on was illegally seized from the Shinnecock Indian Nation using forged signatures in 1859 and later sold to Meade and Cryder, and the tribe has used lawsuits to attempt to regain their lost lands. The Shinnecock Indian Nation also contends that the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club resides on the site of tribal burial grounds. However, a federal district court ruled in 2015 that the time elapsed between the fraudulent land grab and the present lawsuit is too long and voided the tribe’s right to the land.

Course Information

The original course was built by Scotsman Willie Davis in 1891, with the 12-hole course extended to 18 by professional Willie Dunn in 1894, a year before he finished runner-up at the inaugural U.S. Open.The course at Shinnecock Hills is widely considered to be the first links-style course in America. However, the course would be lengthened and redesigned again in 1901 by C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor. The last major overhaul of the course took place in 1937, when William Flynn again lengthened and rerouted many of the holes. The course moves with the rolling hills of Long Island and has deep rough that punishes any errant shot. In preparation for the 2018 U.S. Open, the course was lengthened an additional 449 yards to measure 7,445 yards. In addition, some fairways were narrowed to increase the challenge and some trees have also been removed. The course is well known for its tough sloping greens, which play extremely fast and have been the bane of professionals and amateurs alike.

U.S. Open History at Shinnecock Hills

As one of the founders of the USGA, Shinnecock Hills Country Club did not have to wait long to hold the organization’s most prestigious tournament. The 1896 U.S. Open hosted by the club was only the second edition of the tournament. Scottish golfer James Foulis won $150, about $4,200 in current dollars, when he defeated Englishman Horace Rawlins by 3 strokes over 36 holes. The tournament also proved to be a watershed moment for inclusion when African American golfer John Shippen, only 16 at the time, and member of the Shinnecock tribe Oscar Bunn were accepted into the competition. Shippen had worked as a caddie at the club and became a professional under the tutelage of club professional William Dunn, while Bunn was also a talented caddie who later would work as a club pro at multiple country clubs. When many of the Scottish and English professionals objected to the inclusion of non-whites, USGA president Theodore Havemeyer told the professionals that the tournament would continue with Shippen and Bunn even if they were the only two playing. The white players gave up their protest and the tournament continued as planned. Shippen would finish a respectable tied for 6th while Bunn finished 21st.

Shinnecock Hills would have to wait until 1986 to get its second U.S. Open. The course shared little resemblance to the 1896 course that Foulis conquered. In this edition, it would be Raymond Floyd who claimed the title. Floyd had to come back from a 3-stroke deficit on the final round to overtake Greg Norman and claim his fourth major championship. In 1995, when the U.S. Open returned for a third time, Norman was again in contention when he shared the lead going into the final day. Sadly, Norman would underperform again and be caught by a brilliant performance by champion Corey Pavin. The fourth U.S. Open hosted by Shinnecock Hills occured in 2004 and was won by South African Retief Goosen for his second U.S. Open title. This tournament is best remembered for its unforgiving playing conditions on the final round, where no golfer managed to play under par. The greens had dried out from unseasonable conditions to make both approach shots and putting on the tight greens nearly impossible. The course again proved a challenge with the 2018 U.S. Open, where no golfer carded a final score under par. Brooks Koepka became only the seventh repeat champion in U.S. Open history when he won with a score of +1 over Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.