Considered by many to be the best private golf club in Minneapolis, the mission of the founders of Hazeltine was to build and maintain a golf course suitable for the conduct of national championships. An important part of the mission was to develop a membership that supported this concept – a membership that felt a responsibility to the game of golf and its rules and traditions. Similarly, it requires the highest standards of conduct by all members and guests as they play the game.
Totton P. Heffelfinger, a former president of the United States Golf Association (USGA), wanted to create a golf club that would host major championships while providing a pure golf experience for its members. Hazeltine National Golf Club is the result of his quest.
There were many twists and turns along the way, including financial difficulties and a long period through which it looked like the early success in achieving the mission of the club would not be repeated. Despite those trials, the members of Hazeltine persevered to produce a resumé of championships that is unmatched among clubs less than fifty years old.
After early designs by another architect, Robert Trent Jones created a long and demanding layout to test the best players in golf. The course was opened for play in 1962. Over time, Jones modified many holes to adapt it to the needs of major championship play. In advance of the 1991 U.S. Open Championship, his son Rees Jones made changes to the design, and he continues to work with the club to maintain the competitive standard that his father set forth.
The first championship hosted by Hazeltine was the 1966 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Sandra Spuzich. In 1977, when the championship returned, Hollis Stacy won one of her six USGA titles by edging Nancy Lopez.
In between, the 1970 U.S. Open was won in a commanding fashion by Tony Jacklin, the last European to have earned the championship, until Martin Kaymer won in 2014. The difficulty of the Minnesota golf course and the windy conditions on the first day caused scores to soar, causing a backlash among some of the players. The events of that year set in motion a number of changes for the course.
The public debut of those changes, including the now-famous sixteenth hole, occurred in 1983, when Billy Casper emerged victorious in the U.S. Senior Open. The success of that championship paved the way for the return of Hazeltine to the international golf scene.
The culmination of that journey back was Payne Stewart’s celebrated playoff victory over Scott Simpson in the 1991 U.S. Open. In addition to rave reviews for the golf course, the innovations in championship operations and the financial results of the event set new standards for majors.
Hazeltine has hosted many important amateur events, including the 1994 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, won by Tim Jackson; the 1999 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship, captured by the University of Georgia (with Luke Donald of Northwestern taking the individual title); and the 2001 U.S. Men’s State Team Championship, won by the Minnesota team.
In 2006, the U.S. Amateur Championship was held at Hazeltine for the first time, and Richie Ramsay defeated John Kelly 4&2 in the 36-hole final. Ramsay became the first Scot to win the title in more than a hundred years.
The PGA of America brought the PGA Championship to Hazeltine in 2002, the first of three events that it will host at the course. Rich Beem won the championship by holding off a charging Tiger Woods, who birdied the last four holes. It was one of the most memorable finishes in championship history. In 2009 Hazeltine hosted the return of the PGA Championship. Y.E. Yang’s victory will go down in history as one of sport’s greatest upsets. The most notable aspect of it is that Yang did to Tiger Woods what Tiger has become famous for doing to everyone else. The premier event in international team competition, the Ryder Cup Matches, will elevate Minnesota golf again and be contested at Hazeltine in 2016.
It is not too bold a statement to say that Robert Trent Jones created the profession of golf course architecture as we know it today. He famously designed his own curriculum at Cornell that encompassed all of the elements that he thought would be required for his success, in the breadth of his studies displaying the creativity and vision that would mark his entire career.
After an eight-year partnership with Stanley Thompson, Jones struck out on his own, and within a few years was the best-known course architect. So innovative were his ideas and designs that he changed the world of golf in the post-War years, spawning imitators and critics alike as he revolutionized the game.
His designs featured a strategic philosophy that rewarded brave shots that were well executed and punished poor ones, but which offered the player looking to avoid risk a safer alternative. To the dismay of many professionals that were used to easier courses, Jones was not afraid to challenge their abilities. They learned that they couldn’t overpower a Trent Jones course.
While his original works first brought him attention, his work as “the Open doctor,” upgrading courses for that championship, also added to his reputation. Ben Hogan’s final round 67 at Oakland Hills in 1951 on the revamped Jones layout is considered by many one of the greatest rounds ever played, the champion surviving the ultimate test of golf. Jones delighted in making those tests harder as the skill of the players and the quality of the equipment improved.
He created or redid more than six hundred courses, and his work had a global reach that was unmatched. He first came to the shores of Hazeltine Lake in 1959, and laid out the original course which opened three years later. He redesigned a number of holes in the twenty years that followed.
In advance of the 1991 U.S. Open, Rees Jones, the son of Robert Trent Jones, succeeded his father as the architect charged with keeping Hazeltine qualified as a true test of major championship golf.
Rees had years of experience of working with his father, from charting the shots of professionals during Open championships as a boy to heading the East Coast office of Robert Trent Jones, Inc. for ten years. In 1974, he started his own design firm.
He developed a style that blended the strategic philosophy and innovation of his father with the classic themes of the traditional courses that were inspired by old Scottish links. He also became a leader in the creation of designs that are environmentally friendly, demonstrating that golf courses are often preferred in sensitive areas when compared to other uses, as demonstrated by such original designs as Atlantic Golf Club and Nantucket Golf Club.
Due to his work on The Country Club for the 1988 Open and Hazeltine for the 1991 Open, Rees Jones inherited Robert Trent Jones’ title of “the Open doctor.” His many upgrades of courses in advance of major championships also include the critically-acclaimed redesign of Bethpage Black in advance of the 2002 Open won by Tiger Woods.
At Hazeltine, Rees has upgraded his father’s basic routing by adding tees, adjusting fairways, and repositioning bunkers to maintain the demanding shot values of years before. The result is a golf course that continues to provide a challenge for professionals and members alike. The work of the father and the work of the son blend seamlessly to offer a test that has been honed over time.