(CNN) — Thursday sees the start of the most intense major golf championship of them all: the U.S. Open, played this year on the East Course at Merion Golf Club just outside of Philadelphia.
The tournament is recognized as the most challenging major by golf professionals and fans alike — the winning score is frequently over par, the rough is normally grown to penal lengths and the greens are normally extremely tough to putt on.
If you’re a golf fanatic, no doubt you’d love to play on some of these U.S. Open courses to see how you score compared to the world’s best.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Open is mostly played at private clubs such as Merion — you can’t play on these courses unless you’re lucky enough to be or know a member.
However, six public courses already have or will host the U.S. Open.
The great news is that anyone can play them as long as they can afford the green fee.
Bethpage Black Course, Farmingdale, New York
Bethpage Black, the toughest of five courses at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, joined the U.S. Open roster in 2002 after the U.S. Golf Association decided to bring its flagship tournament to a public venue.
The experiment proved such a success that the U.S. Open was again held at Bethpage Black in 2009.
Golf Digest ranked the course No. 42 on its 2013 list of America’s 100 greatest courses.
Tiger Woods won the first U.S. Open held at Bethpage Black in 2002. Lucas Glover took the 2009 event.
Anyone can play this monster 7,468-yard, par 71 course.
Be advised that this is a walking-only course, and there’s a sign near the first tee that reads “WARNING: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.”
Intimidated yet? That’s championship golf!
Bethpage State Park; green fee: $130 weekdays, $150 weekends; +1 516 249 0707
Chambers Bay, University Place, Washington
After the success of the Bethpage Black experiment, the USGA began adding more public courses to the U.S. Open roster.
The superb Chambers Bay course is one. It will host its first U.S. Open in 2015.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and opened for play in 2007, this stunning 7,165-yard, par 72 course hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
Visitors are warned that cart use is available only with a medical certificate and prior arrangement.
But if you’re up to it, this 950-acre property on the shores of Puget Sound is an absolute joy to walk.
Chambers Bay; green fee: $219; +1 877 295 4657
Erin Hills, Erin, Wisconsin
Near Milwaukee, Erin Hills will host the U.S. Open in 2017.
Specifically designed on gently rolling wetlands to accommodate a major championship and opened for play in 2006, Erin Hills hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2011.
The 7,823-yard, par 72 course is another walking-only venue, with neither buggies nor pull carts allowed; caddies are available for $50 (plus tip) per round.
Erin Hills; green fee: $200; +1 866 772 4769
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
Always in the discussion of most beautiful U.S. golf courses, this magnificent course features many holes beside the Pacific Ocean on California’s Monterey Peninsula.
In 1972, it was the first public course to stage the U.S. Open, won by Jack Nicklaus.
It hosted subsequent U.S. Opens in 1982, 1992, 2000 and 2010, and its next is scheduled for 2019.
“If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach,” Jack Nicklaus has famously said. “I’ve loved this course from the first time I saw it. It’s possibly the best in the world.”
Pebble Beach Resorts; green fee: $495; +1 831 622 8723
Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, North Carolina
Memorably won by the late Payne Stewart, the Donald Ross-designed Pinehurst No. 2 course held its first U.S. Open in 1999.
The course had already hosted a PGA Championship in 1936 and a Ryder Cup in 1951, and held its second U.S. Open in 2005.
Next year, it’ll become the first venue to host a U.S. Open and a U.S. Women’s Open in subsequent weeks.
The historic course opened for play in 1907 and measures 7,485 yards — it’s a par 70 from the back tees.
There are eight fantastic courses at the Pinehurst Resort, so it’s worth staying a few days to play some of the others, especially numbers 4 and 8.
Golf at Pinehurst is available only to overnight resort guests.
Pinehurst Resort; stay-and-play packages from $488 (includes a round on the No. 2 course, cart and range balls); +1 855 235 8507
Torrey Pines Golf Course, La Jolla, California
Just north of San Diego, the south course at Torrey Pines — a lush, 7,643-yard, par 71 course, with a number of clifftop holes overlooking the Pacific Ocean — hosted the 2008 U.S. Open.
That’s the event Tiger Woods won after hobbling his way around the course with a knee injury. He won on the first sudden death playoff hole after finishing tied with Rocco Mediate after 72 holes and again after the 18-hole playoff round.
Le Tigre won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January 2013, his eighth victory here.
Torrey Pines Golf Course; green fee: $183 Monday-Thursday, $229 Friday-Sunday and public holidays (prices include a cart); +1 877 581 7171
By Tony Smart
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