147 Custodians of the Game +1

Below is a list of 148 courses where the game, as I enjoy it, is celebrated. Why 148? That is because there have been 148 Opens – and with a few exceptions, that event has served as a celebration of the game. Same with this compilation, which started off with 147 in 2018. However, because the expression ‘147’ gained notoriety, I have elected to maintain that moniker but add a + figure for each annual update.

The purpose remains to highlight courses whereby when you walk off the 18th (or 9th!) green, you feel invigorated rather than exhausted, and the allure of returning to the first tee is strong. Harry Vardon’s words, ‘Don’t play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty,’ spring to mind. Elation beats frustration and these courses remain immensely enjoyable throughout all stages of life: from childhood, where one discovers the magic of the game; through the hubris of youth, where one aspires to become its master; through adulthood, where one seeks recreation and refuge from worldly demands; and through the later stages of life, where one may age gracefully while still enjoying this inscrutable game.

These are courses where you aren’t meant to hunt for balls in tall grass with your head down. They must be walkable. The focus is on the kind of features that are fun and engaging to play on a regular basis. As a consequence, width, playing angles and strategy are paramount. This is the time-tested recipe for pleasurable golf among all classes of golfer. Courses that struggle to reach 40 yards in fairway width are essentially absent; so too are courses with poor mow lines that preclude balls from running into bunkers. Courses that fare the best on this list combine design attributes for the thinking golfer with features that connect man to nature. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, courses which have influenced (or should influence!) the direction of architecture are prized. The opportunity to play artful recovery shots is crucial; an abundance of water hazards invites exclusion. A club with no tee times is to be savored, but so too is the feeling of being in the mix with fellow golfers at a bustling resort.

If the architecture of an eighteen hole course isn’t interesting at 6,400 yards, there is no chance it will be more interesting at 7,400 yards. Distance and toughness are far less meaningful measures of a design’s worth than the simple test of how badly one wishes to play the course on a consistent basis. Forget about how the holes photograph and ask yourself after the round: are you worn out or energized? If the latter, then the course should have a real hope of earning a place on this list. How has our original game, featuring a quick and enjoyable stroll outdoors, with engaging puzzles to solve, taken a back seat to the unimportant values of length and difficulty? How did the discussion become so messed up? Stimulating a desire to play again and again is the invaluable attribute of great architecture. Alas, too many designs are mediocre, meaning they fail at their most basic duty to stimulate a desire to play the game.

We need to celebrate the places that make you itch to play. That seems an unaddressed topic – until now. Since GolfClubAtlas went live in 1999, how we view the game has changed. Long form writing is dwindling on a popular basis; Herbert Warren Wind, Pat Ward-Thomas and Charlie Price are no longer here to remind us how the joy of the written word can bring a course to life. Instead, splashy photos of sprawling bunkers blitz the senses on social media. Courses continue to increase in size and, therefore, in maintenance expense and time required to play. This is a dangerous trend, as both time and money remain the great threats to any leisure activity, especially golf. A course with hundreds of bunkers along a lake can be spectacular to the eye, but if you as a golfer only want to wrangle with it once year, is that design to be lauded as much as one you wish to play on a weekly basis? Valuing the spectacular over the playable is a mistake, as it encourages developers to build more of the same. Not only is this ill-considered formula destructive to pace of play, it foists on the architect the prerequisite to build easy-to-photograph features that often have nothing to do with good golf. We as a community of golfers need to move the conversation away from the superficial and reorient the game back to features rooted in nature, subtle (and challenging to photograph) though they may be.

These Custodians of the Game (not ‘the only’ custodians, mind you, as plenty of others exist) are a counterpoint that celebrate those courses and clubs that embrace the simple virtues of the game. A score or so of household name courses are absent. Why? Because they promote the more cumbersome, Americanized version of the game. Perhaps over-eager employees rush to snatch your clubs upon arrival or “professional” caddies exist in place of youthful club carriers and are mandatory a majority of the time. The more people involved not playing the game, the less pure and more expensive the pursuit. Some construed this criteria as ‘anti-caddie’ when the 147 was initially published in 2018. That isn’t true; rather, it is simply pro-carrying-your-own-bag. The best places have the fewest rules and allow players to play in the manner in which they prefer.

Additionally, places with such policies fall prey to the temptation of conspicuous green keeping with everything overly manicured, to the point where the course appears jarringly unnatural. Imagine the silliness in overspending to make something look extra fake. Just as architects in the last half of the 20th century had to learn when not to use a bulldozer, clubs in the first half of the 21st century need to learn how not to over primp their courses. The colonization of nature must be avoided.

Policies that make golf more elaborate do not perpetuate a humble version of game; rather, clubs risk becoming enthralled by the trappings of the game more than the game itself. Only clubs that embrace a walking culture are on this list, and those that allow the option to carry your bag over your shoulder or take a trolley fare better than those that mandate a caddie until mid-afternoon. Clubs around well-heeled cities like London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Melbourne set the standard in this respect and many American clubs should reflect on why they have tedious policies in place that are absent in the game’s other leading cities.

This list will be ‘updated’ after the completion of each Open. And yes, next time there will be 149 courses. This effort is an on-going journey and in this version, clubs like Kittansett and Maidstone are acknowledged for their great restoration work. Indeed, restorations and my inability to travel outside the United States in 2020 meant the country count for North America rose this time around. As Covid fades, more Sean Arble Anglo-Welsh country gems lurk, including Kington, Welshpool, and Cavendish. Several courses like Toronto GC, New Zealand in England, and the Himalayan Golf Course in Nepal are also likely candidates for future additions, should I be fortunate to see them. For sure, my home course, Southern Pines GC, is a dead cert to join the list once Kyle Franz finishes his work later this year. I say that having playing ~10,000 holes there over 20 years, always having been happy.

The course designer is not included below as this list concerns more than just architecture. Nonetheless, a quick count shows that Colt, Doak, Macdonald/Raynor, Coore & Crenshaw and Ross lead the way. Many of the courses have been profiled on GolfClubAtlas and you can link on the club name to be taken directly to its profile. The criteria for the list below in bullet point form is:

  • A course that provides engaging puzzles to solve beats one which does not.
  • A course where the ball is encouraged to run beats one where it is not.
  • A course where you can carry your bag at anytime beats one where you cannot.
  • A course where you can play quickly while walking, beats one where you cannot.
  • A course that you can enjoy at all ages beats one where you cannot.
  • A course with understated maintenance practices beats one with conspicuous green keeping.
  • A club that emphasizes the simple game of golf beats one which pursues the trappings of status.
  • A course you want to play again and again beats one you only wish to play annually. 

The ‘purpose’ of this compilation mirrors the purpose of the web site: to foster discussion on what genuinely matters. To the extent that you value fun and engaging golf, you aren’t alone. Golf is a game – go have fun, which you will, should you find yourself at one of these 147 +1 Custodians of the Game.

Ran Morrissett
Southern Pines, North Carolina
United States of America

February 11th, 2021

CourseCountryComments
1ROYAL MELBOURNE (West) 1Nicklaus was spot on when he called it ‘a great members’ course’, and the furor the comment set off shows how far we have progressed over the past several decades. Perhaps the most faultlessly constructed course ever, thanks to the 5 years they took while using a horse drawn plough and scoop.
2NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA 1The purest translation of golf from the United Kingdom to North America.
3BARNBOUGLE DUNES 2Playing golf through dunes on a windswept, rugged island really is all that it is cracked up to be, even if it is in the opposite hemisphere from where your mind first wanders.
4ST. ANDREWS (Old) 1The standardization of revetted bunkers accommodates the crush of play at the expense of a variety. Nonetheless, the course epitomizes the flawless transition from fairway to green better than any other design, which makes it the gold standard for players of all ages. And its front to back greens help keep technology at bay.
5SAND HILLS 2The start in earnest of the minimalist movement, whereby man had every type of heavy machinery at his disposal but decided not to use it.
6ROYAL COUNTY DOWN (No.1)Image of the flag of Northern Ireland 1Rules of architecture are meant to be broken.
7PRESTWICK 2The best playing experience on mainland Scotland is augmented by a superlative range of two-shotters, from Sea Headrig to Narrows. Prestwick melds unconventional with traditional features to examine brawn, finesse and mental acuity and its impact on architecture can’t be overstated.
8BALLYBUNION (Old)This is a picture of the Irish flag 1Darwin’s exclusion of this course from his Golf Courses of the British Isles is explained by the fact that the course as we know it today was still evolving in 1910. Tom Simpson’s touches in the 1930s provided key finishing elements and green complexes as wonderful as 6, 8 and 9 elevate the course into the stratosphere. The club’s seven year concerted effort to return to all-fescue playing surfaces is now paying off handsomely.
9NORTH BERWICK (West)3The sheer variety of obstacles, hazards and greens makes other courses appear deadly dull. For originality, only Prestwick and St. Andrews can compete.
10LOS ANGELES (North)3America’s finest urban course. How good was George Thomas? He didn’t need to build a bunch of courses to make it clear that his vision for golf was as good as it got.
11ROCK CREEK CATTLE COMPANY4The allure of the American West collides with top drawer architecture. The blue grass fairways provide just enough friction to hold balls in different positions on its lumpy fairways so every shot and every round pose different challenges.
12ROYAL DORNOCH 4Herbert Warren Wind’s North to Dornoch article in 1964 was evocative and romantic. These days, getting to Dornoch is infinitely easier and the course is infinitely busier. Still, the collection of golf holes summons, and they have withstood the scrutiny of time since Wind first shined his light. Foxy is man’s ultimate tribute to the ground and not screwing up Mother Nature with bunkers. Shockingly, some of the interior holes like the 5th, 6th and 17th reach similar design highs. The kicker is how outstanding the supporting cast is, including the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 15th and 18th.
13ROYAL ST. GEORGE’S1Dating back to 1887, this is one of the oldest courses to appear. Laidlaw Purves, its visionary founder, built a burly, adventuresome, in-your-face experience, especially considering that the Haskell ball was well off in the future. Lots has changed over the ensuing decades including fewer blind shots (though, importantly, there are still several) and happily, the scale of the place remains immense. Ultimately, Purves would surely take great pride in the fact that the course’s evolution has been such that it 1) is allowed to test the very best and 2) remains supremely capable of doing so.
14RIVIERA 5As beneficial for an architect and shaper to study as any course in the world. Still has room to move higher with tweaks to 8 and 13 and news that they intend to chunk out and remove all cart paths is reason to rejoice. Calling out each player’s name on the elevated 1st tee snug to the clubhouse sets the stage for a memorable round, each and every time, on what is a surprisingly quiet course.
15RYE2The President’s Putter, the sport’s finest annual occurrence, highlights the joys of golf being an outdoor pursuit. Covering Rye’s 6,500 yards in 68 strokes is wholly unreasonable due in part to a famed quintet of one shotters. Covering the course in less than 3 hours, however, is de rigueur at this two ball and foursomes haven. To quote Darwin, ‘I regard St. Andrews and Rye as the most entirely seaside golf courses.’
16THE COUNTRY CLUB (Clyde/Squirrel)6This old fashioned throw-back is epitomized by small greens and cross hazards, both of which make the golfer wonder what went wrong in modern architecture. Whaling away with the driver does you no good and the emphasis is refreshingly on hitting fairways and greens.
17CAPE KIDNAPPERS 1The clifftop setting captures the imagination but it is the strength of the interior holes that make the course a world-beater. Luscious though they may be, aerials of the fingers of land don’t convey the rolling topography and its the release of tee balls 30, 40, even 50 yards along the broad sloping fairways that is such a distinctive underpinning to the joy of playing here.
18MAIDSTONE7Similar to Cypress Point, the routing meanders through a variety of environments and yet, unlike Cypress Point, it doesn’t receive the credit for doing so. Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration work greatly enhanced/exposed both the dunescape and the greens and propelled this course 26 spots higher from the inaugural list. Once upon a time, the club’s reputation carried the course. Now, the course is underrated and should enjoy a an elite status in design for the uncommon number of interesting questions that it poses, starting straightaway at the domed 1st green.
19ARDFIN5No whining on the yacht! A 36-hole day can show this 6,800 yard course as being the most handsome on the list (when the sun pops out) as well as the hardest (when the Inner Hebrides winds kick up) despite ‘only’ having 34 bunkers. The weather greatly shapes the playing experience but under all conditions, the stretch from 5 to 16 fills my dreams. Go with a friend, enjoy match play and you may well have the time of your life. Only the card and pencil set addicted to stroke play can ruin this stunning walk, which is what they deserve for playing that lumbering form.
20PINEHURST No.28The Home of American Golf had best have a course of design magnitude worth emulating. Happily, it does and Pinehurst No. 2’s attributes are profuse. Wide fairways, no rough, an absence of searching for balls, fascinating land movement before the greens (e.g. study the ~15 yards prior to greens like 2 and 8), well placed hazards (just look at 16 – a blind bunker 100 yards short left of the green paired with a spectacular 60 yard long one that extends from the green’s right) and famous greens are just the beginning. The property’s lack of hilliness and its tight green to tee walks make it a walker’s paradise. It all adds up to the design ideal, now augmented by superior fast running playing conditions. Pinehurst’s appeal is summed up by a Minnesota couple who are members. The husband plays off scratch and his wife is a 32 handicap. The course worldwide they most enjoy playing together? You guessed it.
21LAHINCH2This is a picture of the Irish flagEven when Darwin was quoting from someone else, he was the best: ‘The greatest compliment I have heard paid to Lahinch came from a very fine amateur golfer, who told me that it might not be the best golf in the world, but it was the golf he liked best to play.’ The incomparable dunescape deflects attention from the course’s greatest design attribute: its diverse green sites.
22CABOT LINKS 1Example no. 2 of the advantages of a slow build. Sacrilege not to have one of Thompson’s Big Five as the best in the country, and I am biased, but after 40+ rounds, I contend that Rod Whitman’s work, especially 30 yards and in to the greens, is supreme, as amplified by the fescue fairways. One of the game’s top dozen set of two shot holes.
23FISHERS ISLAND    9Before property prices exploded, one of the Kings of Routing was given the opportunity to showcase his talent along a jagged island’s perimeter. He didn’t mess up, further highlighting how the engineer Raynor excelled with rocky sites.
24SUNNINGDALE (Old) 3Of all the places within 30 miles of Big Ben to go for an invigorating walk over captivating heathland, this may be the best. Better yet, you get to do so with clubs in hand and dog in tow.
25PEBBLE BEACH10There are 2,637 holes on this list. Pebble owns the least functional (the 12th), the most superfluous set of bunkers (those right of the 13th fairway), one of the elite sets of par 5s, and the game’s most captivating stretch (holes 3-10). It has also been relentlessly kind to walkers for decades, when most resorts weren’t. Conversely, its greens have altered/shrunk the most in size from their Golden Age roots of any set on this list. All told, Pebble Beach represents an unnecessarily mixed architectural bag, which shouldn’t stop a single golfer from beelining here at any price.
26SOMERSET HILLS11What Charles Dickens might call a tale of two 9s is simply two of the best 9-holes in America together on one property. More than 100 years after Tillinghast gave us this exceptional parkland model, is it too much to ask for another course to be built that is equally beguiling?
27CASTLE STUART 6A strategic masterpiece, with something to be accomplished, shot after shot after shot in a sumptuous setting. Further proof that we are in a second Golden Age and that Mike Parsinen is truly missed.
28YEAMANS HALL12Eighteen supreme putting surfaces meld with southern hospitality and well-placed fairway bunkers to render a strategic marvel. The unpretentious Lowcountry setting complete with live oaks draped with Spanish moss sets the soothing tone.
29BANFF SPRINGS2The golfer alternates between being awed by four majestic elements: the immediacy of the Canadian Rockies, the Bow River, the castle-like hotel and Thompson’s architecture. Impossible to want more!
30BALLYNEAL13The best course you can join if your family wasn’t on the Mayflower.
31NOTTS4There are plenty of charming 6,500 yard courses on this list; this one’s just as charming but also 10% longer.
32BANDON TRAILS14The golf is of such a quality that you couldn’t care less that the ocean isn’t a frequent backdrop.
33SOUTHERN HILLS 15The greatest family country club in America doesn’t get its proper recognition, as it is only seen on television in the inopportune times of June or August. The term ‘Maxwell rolls’ applies to greens but you might not think so once you see these exquisite fairways. Hanse has finished what Foster started and the course for excellent fun should eventually exceed its reputation for hosting majors.
34ROYAL WORLINGTON & NEWMARKET5Not just an ideal 9-holer, one of the world’s ideal courses. Set across modest land, the design, especially its savage greens, highlights the lack of thought that curses 99% of subsequent world-wide designs.
35PACIFIC DUNES 16Doak not only has as many courses listed as any architect, five are front loaded in the top thirty-five. Without doubt, this is Doak’s most important design as it directly led to so many other stellar projects. Though it is easy to understand why an architect might dream of building a course for a quiet private club, what is more career enhancing is building a course that everyone can play.
36CABOT CLIFFS3Unless you like cliff top holes and playing over ravines, or holes through dunes, or inland ones over rivers with hills and forests as backdrops, then this course isn’t for you. The winds off the Gulf of St. Lawrence exacerbate the elastic nature of its 6-6-6 combination of pars, providing indelible moments.
37CHICAGO GC17Akin to The Sacred Nine, Chicago GC provides another reminder that you don’t need great land to create great golf; you just need great architecture, which really boils down to great green complexes.
38ST. ENODOC (Church) 6The most rambunctious landforms aren’t always in Ireland.
39CALIFORNIA GC OF SAN FRANCISCO 18The below-the-ground work is as attractive as what’s above ground, which is saying something. When you throw in the wind, this firm and fast-running fescue course feels like the Melbourne Sandbelt relocated to Northern California. Arguably, no course has progressed further this century than here, though some members at Sleepy Hollow might disagree.
40KINGSTON HEATH3The Merion of the southern hemisphere, with so much going so right on a smallish parcel with the added benefit of being able to carry your bag all the time. Great work has occurred here since I last saw it, as we learned from GCA’s March 2017 Feature Interview.
41HIRONO 1The Prestwick of the East, nothing had changed for two generations of players, including tree growth. Thankfully, Martin Ebert corrected that in 2018/9 and restored Alison’s trademark brawny features. To date, I have only seen pictures of Ebert’s efforts so no telling how high this will rise after a revisit.
42MUIRFIELD7Not one of the 20 best raw links properties (Andrew Kirkaldy’s comment of an ‘auld water-meadie’ hits too close to home) but one of the 20 best links worldwide, courtesy of the architecture, especially the greenside bunkering. Holes 13 and 17 are design marvels.
43CRYSTAL DOWNS 19For all its well chronicled attributes, what gets lost in the shuffle is just how pure a MacKenzie/Maxwell design this remains. The pace of the greens is the only thing that Maxwell and MacKenzie wouldn’t recognize.
44ROYAL LYTHAM & ST. ANNES7Thought provoking golf is always beautiful, even if the setting isn’t. If you love tacking around hazards, this Open course will resonate, especially if you avoid the fairway bunkers which are among the game’s most penal courtesy of their vertical sod faces.
45OCEAN COURSE AT KIAWAH ISLAND   20Most links are built in cooler climates that support fescue fairways. That was never an option in South Carolina, so this coastal course was always going to be different and its plateau greens have effortlessly held the best at bay since inception. Like Pinehurst No.2, resort guests – playing from the correct set of tees – can have fun one week and the course can host a major event the following week with no tricks required. Always a pleasure to find a design where the challenge isn’t predicated on green speed.
46SWINLEY FOREST8Hosting outside events invites peril – best to avoid altogether if you love your Golden Age course. Witness here: The purity of this design has been a testament to the merit of not tinkering with a Colt layout, until recently.
47TRINITY FOREST  21Coore & Crenshaw have worked on some of the best properties in the world over the last quarter century, including coastal sites in five different countries. Yet, somehow they transformed this landfill 8 miles south of Dallas into arguably one of their top five designs of all-time. How is that for talent?!
48ROYAL CINQUE PORTS 9No idea why this course doesn’t get more adulation ; its green contours rival those at Macrihanish and it doesn’t end with a whimper. Sir Peter Allen agreed as he nominated here for his last round.
49JASPER PARK 4George Thomas described in 1929 why you should love this course. Four Canadian courses – all open to the public – make the top 50.
50ESSEX COUNTY, MA22Called home by both the Curtis sisters and Donald Ross, American golf grew up on these 19th century grounds. Ancient mounds, ditches, ravines and exposed bedrock set the stage for a series of long short holes, short long holes, and long long holes that offer a glimpse into golf’s sporty origins. The members should be inordinately proud of the fact that the course is presented today with more vitality than at any point in the club’s distinguished history.
51NARUO 2Nobody builds courses with medium size greens anymore which makes this course all the more appealing as it ambles over stunning landforms.
52CULVER ACADEMIES23A friend did a driving loop from coast-to-coast across America during Covid. He found two spiritual homes in Middle America, one on each side of the Mississippi River. No surprise, one was Sand Hills. The other? This nine-holer in Indiana. He goes so far to write ‘Royal Worlington is to St. Andrews as Culver is to NGLA.’
53ROYAL LIVERPOOL 10History and the ability to test the best matters. So does being able to walk a course when you turn 70 years old. Darwin’s line of ‘there is little but the line of sandhills in the distance to suggest all the glory and beauty and adventure of seaside golf’ says it all. What a thrill – more like an honor – to have watched Tiger’s virtuoso tactical performance here.
54THE COUNTRY CLUB, OH 24The merits of this Flynn design are evident today to the point where I consider it Flynn’s second best. Few others seem to agree but once Gil Hanse finishes here, this already loftily ranked parkland course has decided upside potential.
55ROYAL TROON8An example of how hosting majors can unfavorably stereotype a course. Troon is both more comely and more varied than for which it receives credit.
56HOLLYWOOD, NJ25Two ways to tell the chops of an architect: what he does when presented with bountiful natural features and what he does when he isn’t. This is a study of the latter, with Walter Travis making the  most of a rectangular parcel when he layered A++ hazards and greens onto it.
57PORTMARNOCKThis is a picture of the Irish flag 3The appreciation of this course has muted in recent years as bigger scale courses with splashy bunkers emerged – and it is only a matter of time before people realize the folly in that. Some of the game’s great green sites (e.g. the 5th, 8th, 12th, and 15th) are found here.
58WHITE BEAR YACHT CLUB   26Durban garnered great fanfare for decades because of its one-off fairway undulations; WBYC offers the same but without the tree issue and superior greens. William Watson joins Langford & Moreau and Wayne Stiles as architecture’s most unsung heroes in North America.
59HAAGSCHEFlag of the Netherlands 1Admittedly you need to be fit like a Dutchman to play 36 holes in a day over its heaving dunes, but its distinctive landforms warrant it to be considered Europe’s best.
60ROYAL NORTH DEVON11Naturalists rejoice; Too bad this course isn’t on television every April as the game would win. The golf is as vital today as a century ago, so it isn’t a museum though the clubhouse is. Inevitably, coastal erosion won out around the turn and the golfing world is adjusting to how the hallowed grounds of the 7th and 9th now play with their holes having been altered and their pars reversed.
61NEW SOUTH WALES 4The shortcoming of returning nines is showcased here but for exhilaration, few courses can compete, and for variety, the four par-4s in a row from 13-16 are without peer for diversity.
62OLD TOWN27Opened in 1939, Maxwell’s design brought a close to the Golden Age of Architecture with an exclamation mark. If you think that golf should be a series of level lies that provide perfect stances, best head elsewhere. Attention to detail here is Friar’s Head-isque.
63CHANTILLY (Original) 1Tom Simpson delivers the kind of thoughtful design that The Architectural Side of Golf implied he would. Cross bunkers and the use of the ravine near the clubhouse elevate this to Paris’s best and highlight for the umpteenth time how wise the contributors were to the 1976 World Atlas of Golf.
64ROYAL WEST NORFOLK 12A round at St. Andrews is enhanced by sharing it with golfers from around the world. Selfishly, a round here is typically made extra special by the sense that you have the place all to yourself. Still, Brancaster remains far more than a walk back in time as holes such as 8, 9 and 14 are as good as the game offers.
65EASTWARD HO!28Herbert Fowler was a man for all seasons: be it on heathland, linksland or a glacial moraine like here, Fowler knew how to create great golf while disturbing as little earth from tee to green as possible.
66GLENEAGLES (Kings)9So what if it isn’t long enough to tax professionals anymore?! That’s an equipment issue, not a design flaw and a six handicapper would rather find himself here in the ‘Riviera of the Highlands’ than most anywhere else.
67CAMARGO29This elegant club has been an especially good caretaker and we should start celebrating places like here where a monster restoration project has never been required because they never screwed it up.
68WEST SUSSEX 13Twenty-five courses from England make this list, which equates to one every 2,013 square miles and substantiates my long-held contention: England is the world’s finest country for golf. Scotland is close behind with one course every 2,172 square miles while the USA has one every 55,072.
69INVERNESS30Andrew Green’s recent work expunged several non-Golden-Age elements and shifted the conversation from fixating on what was wrong at this American stalwart to celebrating the outstanding architecture that produces too many notable two-shotters to list.
70MYOPIA HUNT31America’s first world-class course, the narrowness that plagued the set-up for decades is a thing of the past, revealing just how exceptional the Leeds design is.
71WOODHALL SPA (Hotchkin)14Twosomes routinely cruise around the course in under 3 hours, despite being one of the world’s most intelligently bunkered courses.
72MORAINE32The course once again properly reflects its name, which guarantees a stimulating time.
73CAPILANO5A cheery start with the first six holes played downhill gives way to even better golf as the architect transports the golfer back uphill without the golfer ever realizing it. Its four hole closing stretch cements it as one the best courses on the west coast of North America.
74HARBOUR TOWN 33We are the midst of a second Golden Age with some of the greatest architects of all-time building and restoring courses. Harbour Town is the one design though where I doubt any living architect could have done  a better job. Hard to believe it has already celebrated its 50th anniversary and its-glued-to-the-ground features have lent it a timeless quality.
75WOKING15Golf’s great think tank at the turn-of-the-20th century still flummoxes golfers in a most appealing manner to this day.
76DE PANFlag of the Netherlands 2A much easier walk than the Haagsche, the Colt architecture is sound but throw in holes on each side that engage large dunes and you have the epitome of the ideal course to play on a weekly basis. The thatch roof clubhouse completes the idyllic picture.
77SLEEPY HOLLOW34George Bahto is smiling down from heaven because when Macdonald left this property for the last time over a century ago, it wasn’t half as good as it is today. Making something better than it ever was under Macdonald and Tillinghast elevates the meaning of a ‘custodian’ to an entirely new level.
78PARAPARAUMU BEACH2The best example of the Kiwi golf culture, where the expense of the game is within reach for all over this special, crumpled land. One of the warmest welcomes in the sport.
79SCOTTSDALE NATIONAL (The Other Course)35A celebration of the Sonoran desert. Jackson-Kahn excelled at making it look like the site was fantastic and that little work was required. In my mind, its wide fairways and wild greens earn it the moniker of NGLA West, which also means numerous rounds are required to understand all the playing angles that the architects enthused into the landscape. As with the one on Long Island, one round only whets the appetite and starts the education process.
80SUNNINGDALE (New)16The Old moves to and fro from the clubhouse in a more appealing manner, which makes sense as it was built first; otherwise, The New stacks up hole-for-hole with its older sister.
81LAWSONIA LINKS36Not the longest or hardest course in golf rich Wisconsin, ‘just’ the most fun. Few states have progressed more than the Badger State in the past decade.
82PALMETTO 37Possessing an austere Stanford White clubhouse from the 1890s overlooking superior land works for Shinnecock Hills, and it does so here, too.
83BRORA10When people dream of playing golf in Scotland, this is what they are thinking of, even if they don’t know it.
84GULLANE No. 1 11In the battle between the heart (North Berwick) and brain (Muirfield), this East Lothian gem gets overlooked in a miscarriage of justice.
85STREAMSONG (Blue) 38Width returned to course design in the mid-1990s, ultimately becoming the rage 20 years later. Somewhere along the line, architects forgot how to make wide fairways hold strategic interest off the tee. Not here, good drivers delight in the advantages they can seek.
86SILLOTH ON SOLWAY 17Some greens are in dells, some on high, some are narrow strips and it all adds up to England’s least-seen and least-appreciated gem, located 20 miles from the border with Scotland.
87DISMAL RIVER (Red) 39If there is such a thing as an underappreciated Doak course, this is it. Much is rightly made of the back nine, to the detriment of a wonderful group of half-par holes (4, 8 and 9) on the front. Like Ardfin, the course benefits from the luxury provided to the architect of not having to start and end near the same spot.
88ST. GEORGE’S HILL 18Its most famous hole (the downhill one-shot 8th) might not be one of the top-five holes on the course, as there are a slew of superlative two-shotters headlined by the drivable 4th and the impossible 10th.
89PIPING ROCK40The third Macdonald club on this list with a polo field for the practice range. While polo doesn’t connote exciting land, Macdonald’s timeless architecture shines thanks to the dialed-in presentation. Why is it that so many custodians of Macdonald/Raynor/Banks architecture respect what they have while other architects are treated more shabbily?
90KITTANSETT41A prime example of central features – be it bunkers, mounds, or grass-covered rock piles – instilling tremendous playing interest. While the 3rd with its island green on the beach will always be its most photographed hole, it is an anomaly in that every other green is open in front to aid in your battle with the coastal breezes.
91WALTON HEATH (Old)19One of the grand expanses in the game and one of the few ‘heathland’ courses that actually adheres to the definition.
92WYKAGYL42New York’s version of Somerset Hills, whereby topography, streams and pitched greens vex the player without length needed as a crutch. The club brought in Coore & Crenshaw to tie together the work of several architects (including Ross and Tillinghast) and the course is the best it has been in its 115 year existence. That’s the very definition of a great custodian.
93ST. GEORGE’S6Very few – as in perhaps none – clay courses feature this kind of land movement, which proves the perfect canvas for Thompson’s theatrics.
94MACRIHANISH12Child-like giddiness grips the golfer as he steps onto the dramatic, cliff-side first tee but it’s the set of greens that make the course worth the drive as their roly-poly contours match the wonderful micro-movement that precede them. Indeed, a visit in August, 2019 served as a reminder of how many good greens the incoming nine possesses, with its incomparable greens from 12-15 helping drive this course 28 spots higher than before. Neatly bound up in a mere 6,300 yards, Machrihanish is precisely the sort of action filled, fast playing course that North America lacks.
95KIRTLAND   43Hard to fathom but the back nine of this suburb course east of Cleveland is the inland equivalent to County Down’s front nine, with every hole crammed full of great golf and natural wonder. And its best hole might be on the front (the 9th).
96EL SALER 1Javier Arana’s effortless masterpiece joins Dye’s Harbour Town as the only two courses built from 1950 to 1990 to feature on this list.
97 ALWOODLEY20MacKenzie’s reputation for exciting features is justified, but this early work is more demure – and all the better for how it compliments the gorgeous heathland setting. MacKenzie began his career as an ordinary, frustrated club member, believing if his fellow members would accept a few of his well-considered suggestions their home course could be improved greatly. The rest is history!
98VICTORIA5Perhaps the most stunning restoration in the southern hemisphere this century, Victoria went from being choked by trees and brush to being exposed for exactly what is: a spectacularly located course in the heart of the Sandbelt. Bunkers edge into the fairways in all sorts of uncomfortable places with the tight fairway grasses expertly feeding directly into them. Lots of interesting, though subtle, playing angles now exist within its widened playing corridors.
99THE HARVESTER44The first of three courses from Iowa to make the list, this Keith Foster design was revamped in 2018. If you know how hilly this portion of Iowa is and that a 60-acre lake dominates the central portion of the property, then you won’t be caught off-guard like I was by how dynamic the golf and visuals are.
100ROYAL PORTHCAWL1Beauty and great architecture are a powerful combination. A rousing start and the elevated views to the water from all parts on the course are fully appreciated during approaching weather.
101DAVENPORT    45Unlike at Kirtland and Milwaukee, C.H. Alison incorporated the river valley on both nines and his exceptional use of land contours away from the river valley, especially at the 3rd and the eye-popping 7th, leads to a well balanced course that captivates from start to finish. Similar to Lawsonia and Kirtland, this Golden Age design has benefited from the practiced hand of Forse Design.
102SAINT LOUIS CC46This cornerstone design still constitutes the perfect country club course – 6,500 yards, tight routing, deep, well-placed hazards and great green contours. Compare that to the countless designs built since that pale in comparison and one wonders how architecture veered off course when a design ideal of this magnitude has existed in the middle of the country since 1914.
103ROYAL MELBOURNE (East)6The fact that the East holes seamlessly mesh with the West ones to form the Composite tells you all you need to know about Alex Russell’s design chops. Need more convincing? Study holes 7-14 in the flat third paddock to appreciate his talent level or compare his work here to that at Paraparam to understand how the man’s work resists being stereotyped. Other designs by this ‘distinctly brainy’ Aussie, including the recently restored Yarra Yarra and Lake Karrinyup, percolate just outside the 148.
104WOLF POINT RANCH47A testimony to how great architecture (Mike Nuzzo) and green keeping (Don Mahaffey) can dovetail together to provide a thrilling experience over mundane land. A case study for how modern architecture should proceed.
105HUNTERCOMBE 21Its 13 bunkers add an important element that Royal Ashdown Forest lacks and its greens are so good that the course is one of the few on the list to get away with a brush under-clearing issue.
106CHAMBERS BAY   48When visiting her son who lives two blocks away, my wife went for a morning jog through the public path that bisects this public course. She was so captivated by the surrounds – the wavy topography, the hues and contrasts – that she stopped and took pictures. She NEVER stops when she is exercising, so this was monumental. When a course resonates equally with non-golfers and golfers, you have something genuinely special.
107HUNTINGDON VALLEY49Last fall, I received these words via text: ‘Played HV for the first time today and was blown away. The course was so firm and fast, I felt I was in Scotland. I can’t recall any northeast course that firm. Incredible – sets a new standard.’ I share the quote because this entire list is shaped by the hundreds of emails, calls and texts that I receive annually and the vitality of the list is largely due to such feedback.
108ST. ANDREWS BEACH7The strength and personality of the holes on this public course impel the golfer forward, supplying this young course with an ethos that its ownership never has. Conditioning needs to improve and then holes like 2, 16 and 18 will finally receive the recognition they are due.
109THE JOCKEY CLUB 1Most flat courses lack interest at the greens; most courses aren’t designed by Alister MacKenzie.
110AUSTIN GC50Crenshaw shrewdly once noted that ‘It is amazing how many things a course can do without’ and this design embodies that very ethos. As such, it represents the rare modern design that makes one reflect on what is – and isn’t – important.
111FRASERBURGH 13Peter Thomson’s high regard for Braid as an architect is duly noted by this being the 4th Braid course to make the list. The club has less fascination with long grass than Cruden Bay down the road.
112GAMBLE SANDS51Coming from Southern Pines, my vocabulary doesn’t include adjectives to capture the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest. Nonetheless, this course embraces the scale and monumental beauty of the region. Driving away for the first time in 2016, I remarked that I couldn’t wait to return. I did so in 2019, also remarking upon departure that I couldn’t wait to return. Is anything more important in architecture than instilling the desire to return?!
113PENNARD2The last place where I played 56 (!) holes in a day as its unconventional features warrant constant experimentation. Less polished than Porthcawl, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
114CAPE BRETON HIGHLANDS    7Like Ardfin, this is one of the game’s great walks, even if it takes a while. Unfortunately, being situated in a national park has the disadvantage of making prudent tree removal problematic. The fairways need more light and air circulation and allowing the holes to breathe would enhance one’s appreciation of nature, which is – yes – one reason why parks were created.
115CAPE ARUNDEL 52Nobody built greens like Walter Travis, and these rival the ones at Hollywood as his best set. A course doesn’t need to measure more than its 5,900 yards to be a standout, but it does need to be flawlessly presented. Thanks to a wonderful consulting architect, greenkeeper and head professional, it is.
116MORFONTAINE (Valliere)2The two altered holes keep this 9 holer from being well higher, though it is still the most engaging 9 holes on the property, which is saying something.
117FRENCH LICK (Ross) 53Ross at his untethered best, this course has hosted plenty of regional events and required no asinine tampering like tree planting or narrowing of fairways to do so.
118PROUTS NECK 54A shabby chic Maine coastal gem that highlights a willingness by New Englanders to keep the sport clutter free.
119GLENS FALLS    55If you think Upstate New York ends at the northern edge of Westchester County, you’ve missed out on one of Donald Ross’s best courses, draped along a tumbling Adirondack mountainscape. Fully restored, this course has heaps more upside, courtesy of dazzling greens and what would be long views to Vermont.
120 THE ADDINGTON    22Starting a course with a one-shotter is an interesting, though rarely used, ploy. It immediately spaces out play and in the case of The Addington, provides no hint as to the thrill ride that the golfer soon enjoys. Stay tuned as the Clayton, DeVries & Pont restoration over the next several years stands likely to catapult this bodacious design much higher.
121NEWPORT    56The variety found within its bunkers in terms of size, depth, placement and configuration shows how wanting most designs are in this regard. The fact that the grand clubhouse doesn’t have a kitchen shows what is important.
122THE CREEK 57The Great Gatsby, romantic setting gives way to some audacious architecture, especially the Punchbowl and the island Biarritz green complexes.
123THE ISLANDThis is a picture of the Irish flag 4The opposite of Cabot Cliffs in that the first eight holes are par 4s, though the variety is such that you are blissfully unaware. Then, you play the second nine where the best holes are, including one of the game’s finest 6-hole finishes.
124OLD MACDONALD 58When a non-architect dominates a list like Mike Keiser does this one, you know that the game has strayed from its roots at times and that it was fortunate that a friend like him came along to push it back on path.
125CEDAR RAPIDS CC59Ross’s only course in the state was rejuvenated by one of North America’s most intelligent, cost-effective restorations. Who doesn’t feel more at home at a club that looks after the best interests of its members versus ones that recklessly splash money about to ‘impress’? How well run is it? After a horrific wind sheer event toppled hundreds of trees in August, 2020, the club methodically swung into action. Progress has been such that there is every reason to believe the course will be even better in July 2021 than when I saw it in July 2020, with one-off landforms like those left of 2 and 9 fully exposed for all to appreciate.
126MINCHINHAMPTON (Old)23Hard to believe a bunkerless, common ground course could have so many standout holes but after playing the 1st, 2nd, 8th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 16th, and 17th (i.e. half the holes!), you wonder what the current fascination with artificial, man-made hazards (aka bunkers) is all about. Old Minch is a field of dreams for many (including non-golfers) and congratulations to the Club for following Edmund Burke’s words, ‘We Reform, in order that we may Conserve.’
127HIDDEN CREEK60A design so good, you could be forgiven for thinking it is in England. It is the rare course built in America in the past fifty years where you insist on playing 36 holes each day you are there.
128PEDREÑA 2This sub-6,400 yard course has one reaching for every club in the bag. By the end of the round, the player is convinced that courses over 6,500 yards are nothing but a bloated waste of time.
129BEVERLY    61In the prior century, Beverly embraced its macho reputation for being difficult, thanks to over-treed, narrow playing corridors and severe greens. As of June 2020, after a methodical and meticulous restoration project that lasted 20 years, the course has blossomed into one of Ross’s most thought-provoking designs, courtesy of some of the widest fairways in the Midwest. However, you ‘gotta hit ’em’ as the greens reject sloppy tactics.
130DORMIE   62The design was always top drawer and better still, this club always embraced dormant Bermuda fairways through the winter months so that the broad slopes play as Coore & Crenshaw intended. Now in safe hands, accouterments are following, some of which, like walking paths across several wetlands, enhance the playing experience. As the luxe clubhouse takes shape, watch how perceptions elevate, but realize that the golf was always as good as people will soon say it is.
131SAINT-GERMAIN    3Europe’s version of Merion. The presentation of Colt’s 1920 work is so pure that the course ranks among the very best inland courses for a hickory match. That also means it is a great place to learn the game, as well as grow old. Even for Colt, the set of par 3s is a stand out.
132LIPHOOK 24Some courses prize their toughest holes. Not Simpson and not here as he was nonplussed by the long, straight, hard 12th as it merely required stout hitting. The rest of the holes are a chess match with Simpson.
133ASKERNISH    14The design warrants inclusion ~100 spots higher but more resources are required to beat back the impenetrable sea grass and keep the animals from undermining the playing experience. Nonetheless, Askernish remains a re-affirming experience that golf is simple yet exhilarating. Should be a part of most annual UK pilgrimages. Like a paw-shaped bumper sticker that reads ‘Who saved Who?’, go here for you.
134OMAHA CC63Given its Midwest location, no wonder the club fosters its Maxwell connection. However, it was Wayne Stiles that did the original routing that provides today’s backbone.  Accustomed to working with rolling New England property, Stiles knew just what to do on this surprisingly hilly site.
135LOST FARMS8The routing here defies description, with holes toing and froing in every direction. That’s a good thing, given Tasmania’s windy location. The gorgeous, tiny one shot 4th kicks off the course’s best four hole stretch but the design pièce de résistance is Coore’s work in the flats, namely the 2nd and 12th greens and the outrageously clever 16th hole. The course storms home from there with a couple of corkers, too.
136ST. GEORGE’S, NY64Macdonald was a keen fan of Emmet and after playing here, you will be too. This is the sixth (!) Hanse restoration on the list.
137 FANO 1Fishers Island received a letter in the 1980s stating in part, it wasn’t eligible for inclusion in that magazine’s Top 100 because their tees weren’t level enough. WELL! Fano’s tees are mostly level because they are often artificial mats, in a telling sign that tees aren’t a critical factor for inclusion on this list. At under 5,600 yards, Fano’s scorecard won’t impress nearly as much as how the sumptuous crumpled links land was incorporated into the holes on this island course just off Denmark.
138NATIONAL (Moonah)9Opened in the late 1990s, this is one of the first designs that perfectly tied the scale of the fairways and bunkers together to take advantage of nature’s riches, all-the-while allowing it to play well in the Pacific winds that sweep across Gunnamatta Beach. Should I ever see Ellerston and once Bob Harrison finishes his work at Newcastle GC, his name may well appear 3 1/2 times within this compilation.
139CANTERBURY65When you tackle this uber-distinctive Herbert Strong design, especially the five finishing holes, remember it was built with hickory clubs in mind, so no whimpering! This is the third course from Cleveland to make the list.
140TOBACCO ROAD   66The owners revere Mike Strantz for creating this one-off gem. In turn, I give the owners credit for how the course has evolved. The whining they must have endured in the early days – the opening tee shot is too intimidating, the hazards are too deep, the greens are too wild, etc.  They never backed down and now the course enjoys a devoted following. Tree clearing and improved Bermuda grasses since Strantz’s passing have the vision fully realized. C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘You will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original.’
141ST. EMILLION4The first golf family of France built their tribute to the game in the heart of Bordeaux. This Doak design opened in 2016 and continues his ability to surprise even after three decades of building courses. The rolling French countryside and medium-size greens that befuddle are the stars while the light hand of bunkering is refreshing. Holes 6, 8, and 15 all warrant consideration in Doak’s eclectic top 18.
142THE DUNES, SC  67The fact that North and (the more diminutive) South Carolina have the same number of courses on this list is testimony to how the Palmetto State’s coastline was better utilized for golf. Having worked for Stanley Thompson prior to WWII, Robert Trent Jones Sr. had been schooled on how to deliver a course chock full of variety. And that’s what he did with his early works, including this 1949 masterpiece that carried over many design tenets from the Golden Age. Just how good is it? None of the subsequent modern day architects that worked in the greater area (and they have built ~90 courses) have bested it.
143GEORGE WRIGHT 68What a story! This municipal course has come all the way back thanks to a Green Keeper and City that cared. Accomplished in the later stages of Ross’s career, the construction of the course across tumbling, rocky terrain was a massive undertaking and the Maestro had by then developed the ability to make it come off as effectively as his works on better sites. The end result was a harbinger of man being able to provide interesting golf where it matters most (i.e. near where people live) even when the land wasn’t ideally suited.
144MID OCEAN1The 10th course from the Macdonald/Raynor/Banks school to make the list. Macdonald brushes the golfer along the cliffs at the start and finish but otherwise, the course plays inland over hilly terrain. The world beater Cape 5th hogs the attention but the two sub-400 yarders on the front (the 4th and 8th) are stellar in their own right with technology now prompting people to attempt stupid things.
145RUSTIC CANYON    69Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford combined to create the best course built in California since their hero George Thomas passed away in 1932. People have ‘a good time’ playing lots of courses but this is one that spurs people to email me recounting the joys they discovered.
146ROARING GAP70Ross didn’t build a punchbowl green complex in Pinehurst but he did here, which gives you a hint of how much fun this mountain top retreat is to play. The view behind the penultimate green extends for miles and miles and the Home hole seemingly extends for miles and miles, except it is a one shotter! As I wrote in its profile, ‘It’s a very neat – though hard to accomplish – trick that Ross pulled off: make the design so diverse and compelling that length becomes largely immaterial.’
147 GOSWICK25If this was your regular, you would think you had died and gone to heaven. The fact that most people haven’t heard of it reflects the incredible depth of English golf.
148RHODE ISLAND CC   71Half-par holes abound with a seemingly unreachable two shotter like 7 book ended on one side by a drivable par 4 and on the other by a reachable par 5. The good club golfer is always challenged and meanwhile, the sight and sound of women and teenagers on this course substantiates that Ross once again hit the sweet spot for pleasurable golf for all. What did he know that other architects fail to grasp?
Country Count
ARGENTINA1
BERMUDA1
DENMARK1
NORTHERN IRELAND1
JAPAN2
NETHERLANDS2
NEW ZEALAND2
SPAIN2
WALES2
FRANCE4
IRELAND4
CANADA7
AUSTRALIA9
SCOTLAND14
ENGLAND25
USA71
Total148