147 Custodians of the Game

Below is a list of 147 courses where the game, as I enjoy it, is celebrated. Why 147? That is because there have been 147 Opens – and with a few exceptions, that event has served as a celebration of the game. Same with this compilation. When you walk off the 18th (or 9th!) green, you should feel invigorated rather than exhausted, and the allure of returning to the 1st tee should be 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 (sorry Prairie Dunes). They must be walkable (sorry Kapalua Plantation). The focus is on the kind of features that are fun and engaging to play on a regular (even daily) basis (sorry Carnoustie). 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 absent (sorry Portrush); so too are courses with poor mow lines that preclude balls from running into bunkers (sorry Bethpage Black). 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 to 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 (sorry Muirfield Village). 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 6,200 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 regular 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. There has been much hand-wringing of late about the decline of the game and what should be done to reverse this presumed decline. The fact is most courses are mediocre at best, bordering on awful. We need to celebrate the places that make you itch to play. That seems an unaddressed topic to date, 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 golf 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 all the time? To date, the various rankings have valued spectacular over playable and that 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 spectacular, but superficial, and reorient the game back to features rooted in nature, subtle (and challenging to photograph) though they may be.

This inaugural list of 147 Custodians of the Game (not ‘the only’ custodians, mind you) is a counterpoint that celebrates those courses and clubs that embrace the simple virtues of the game. A score or so of house-hold name courses are absent. Why? Because they promote the more cumbersome, Americanized version of the game. Perhaps over-eager employees rush to assist in snatching your clubs 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. Additionally, places with such policies fall prey to the temptation of conspicuous greenkeeping with everything overly manicured, to the point where the course appears more jarringly unnatural than courses already are. 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.

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 whole-heartedly 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 typically 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 would do well to reflect on why they have tedious policies in place that are absent in the game’s leading cities.

This list will be ‘updated’ every July, after the completion of each Open. And yes, next year there will be 148 courses. This inaugural effort is merely a starting point on a journey. Several courses like Toronto GC, Trinity Forest and the Himalayan Golf Course seem likely to be future additions, should I ever be fortunate to get there. Restorations mean the country count for North America may rise though there are always more Sean Arble Anglo-Welsh country gems lurking with Cleeve Cloud, Kington, Welshpool, and Cavendish at the top of the list for 2019.

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 and Ross lead the way. Many of the courses have been profiled on GolfClubAtlas and the club name eventually will be linked to the 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 greenkeeping.
  • 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 as to 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 Custodians of the Game.

Ran Morrissett
August, 2018

 

 

CourseCountryComments
1ROYAL MELBOURNE (West) 1Nicklaus was spot on when he called it ‘a great member’s course’, and the furor the comment set off shows how far we have progressed over the past few 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 in Scotland is augmented by a superlative range of two-shotters, from Sea Headrig to Narrows. It melds unconventional with traditional features to examine brawn, finesse and mental acuity. Prestwick’s impact on architecture can’t be overstated.
8BALLYBUNION (Old)This is a picture of the Irish flag 1People are mystified that Darwin excluded this course from his Golf Courses of the British Isles but the course as we know it today was still evolving in 1910. Green complexes as wonderful as 6, 8 and 9 elevate the course into the stratosphere and Simpson touches in the 1930s provided key finishing elements.
9NORTH BERWICK (West)3The sheer variety of obstacles, hazards and greens makes other courses look deadly dull. For originality, only Prestwick and St. Andrews come close.
10THE COUNTRY CLUB (Clyde/Squirel)3This old fashion throw-back is epitomized by small greens and cross hazards, both of which make the golfer wonder what went wrong in modern architecture. Wailing away with the driver does you no good and the emphasis is refreshingly on hitting fairways and greens.
11ROYAL ST. GEORGE’S1Horace Hutchinson had no idea what lay in store for Sandwich when he said of it in 1897, ‘Happy is the club that has no history.’ The first of the truly immense, landscape devouring courses. And still the best.
12ROCK CREEK4The allure of the American West collides with top drawer architecture.
13LOS ANGELES (North) 5Rivals Brookline for America’s finest urban, parkland course.
14CAPE 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 maybe, 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.
15FISHERS ISLAND 6Before 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 and it’s fascinating how Raynor excelled with rocky sites.
16ROYAL DORNOCH 4People fawn at the name Dornoch but I left here in 1981 from my one visit with the impression that the interior holes were superior to the coastal ones. This is the course I am most keen to re-visit.
17SUNNINGDALE (Old) 2As hard as it is to build a great course, it is harder to build a great club. Sunningdale stands alone with the dogs of its members better behaved than members elsewhere.
18CABOT LINKS 1Sacrilege not to have one of Thompson’s Big Five as the best in the country, and I am biased, but after 40 rounds, 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.
19RIVIERA 7As 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 but news that they are going to chunk out and remove all cart paths by 2020 is reason to rejoice.
20RYE 3The President’s Putter, golf’s finest annual occurrence, highlights the joys of golf being an outdoor pursuit. Covering Rye’s 6,500 yards in 68 strokes is shockingly unreasonable due 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.’
21BALLYNEAL 8The best course you can join if your family wasn’t on the Mayflower.
22LAHINCHThis is a picture of the Irish flag 2Hole for hole, as good as Ballybunion until the final three holes. Even 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.’ 
23YEAMANS HALL9Raynor’s 18 greatest putting surfaces meld with southern hospitality and well-placed fairway bunkers to render a strategic marvel. The non-golf areas are some of the best presented in the game.
24SWINLEY FOREST 4England’s version of Swinley Forest.
25PINEHURST No.2 10This course wouldn’t have appeared 2 years ago, as a cart or caddie was mandatory the majority of the time. Common sense has prevailed and now walkers better understand one of architecture’s best kept secrets: Pinehurst No. 2 is hugely underrated from tee to green. Rare for a modern U.S. Open host site to make this list but that is the flexibility of short grass.
26ARDFIN 5A 36-hole day might well 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 Hebridean winds kick up).
27SOMERSET HILLS 11America’s version of Swinley Forest.
28CASTLE STUART 6A strategic masterpiece, with something to be accomplished, shot after shot after shot in a sumptuous setting.
29BANFF SPRINGS2The golfer alternates between being impressed 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!
30PEBBLE BEACH12There are 2,610 holes on this list and Pebble owns the worst (the 12th), the most overrated (the 17th), the worst set of bunkers (those right of the 13th fairway), one of the elite sets of par 5s, and the most captivating stretch, holes 4-10. It has also been relentlessly kind to walkers for decades, when many resorts weren’t. An unnecessarily mixed bag, which won’t stop a single person from heading there.
31NOTTS5There are plenty of charming 6,500 yard courses on this list; this one’s just as charming but also 10% longer.
32BANDON TRAILS13The golf is of such a quality that you couldn’t care less that the ocean isn’t a frequent backdrop.
33ROYAL NORTH DEVON 6Naturalists 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.
34PACIFIC DUNES 14Doak not only has as many courses listed as any architect, five are front loaded in the top thirty-five.
35ROYAL WORLINGTON & NEWMARKET 7Set across modest land, the design highlights the lack of thought that curses 99% of subsequent world-wide designs.
36CABOT CLIFFS3Unless you like cliff top holes and playing over ravines, or ones 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.
37ST. ENODOC (Church) 8The most rambunctious landscape isn’t always reserved for Ireland.
38CALIFORNIA GC OF SAN FRANCISCO 15The below-the-ground work is as attractive as what’s above ground. When you throw in the wind, this firm and fast-running fescue course feels like the Melbourne Sandbelt relocated to Northern California.
39KINGSTON 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 the March 2017 Feature Interview.
40CRYSTAL DOWNS 16For 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.
41ROYAL LYTHAM & ST. ANNES9Thought 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.
42THE COUNTRY CLUB, OH17When I first played Flynn’s second best design in 2009, I remember thinking that I would never trust any ranking where this course didn’t feature prominently; celebrating this kind of ‘give and take’ architecture that a person would enjoy playing on a regular basis drove the creation of this list.
43SOUTHERN HILLS 18The 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.
44MAIDSTONE19The routing meanders through a variety of environments with the net result being the golfer is asked an uncommon number of interesting questions.
45MUIRFIELD7Not 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 courses worldwide, courtesy of the architecture, especially the greenside bunkering. Holes 13 and 17 are design marvels.
46JASPER PARK 4George Thomas described in 1929 why you should love this course. 4 Canadian courses – all open to the public – make the top 50.
47NARUO 1Nobody builds courses with medium size greens anymore which makes this course all the more appealing as it ambles over stunning landforms.
48WHITE BEAR YACHT CLUB 20Durban garnered great fan fare for decades because of its one-off fairway undulations; WBYC offers the same but without the tree issue and superior greens. After books on Raynor, Flynn, and Emmet, William Watson joins Langford & Moreau as architecture’s most unsung heroes.
49ROYAL TROON8An example of how hosting a major can unfavorably stereotype a course. Troon is both much prettier and more varied than for which it receives credit.
50ROYAL LIVERPOOL 10History and the ability to test the best matters. So does being able to walk a course when you turn 65 and 75 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 to have watched Tiger’s virtuoso tactical performance here.
51CULVER ACADEMIES 21Once slated for eighteen holes, this nine holer highlights how good a course can be when only the best land is used.
52ROYAL CINQUE PORTS 11No idea why this course doesn’t get more recognition; its green contours as a set are more than the equal to Macrihanish and it doesn’t end with a whimper either. Sir Peter Allen agreed as he nominated here for his last round.
53PORTMARNOCKThis is a picture of the Irish flag 3The appreciation of this course has muted in recent years as bigger scale courses with spashy 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.
54HAAGSCHEFlag 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 features warrant it to be considered Europe’s best.
55YALE 22A stupendous design over rocky terrain, held back from being even higher by university politics and a union.
56NEW SOUTH WALES 4The shortcoming in returning nines is showcased here but for exhilaration, few courses can compete, and for variety, I have never seen four par 4s in a row as diverse as 13-16.
57CAMARGO 23No surprise, the better the land, the more Raynor’s template and original holes sparkle as they take on a life of their own. Here, a superlative set of template one shotters are complemented by an inordinately strong supporting cast of original two shotters, headlined by the 4th, 6th, 9th, 12th and 18th holes. The elegant club has been an especially good caretaker.
58CHANTILLY (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 1977 World Atlas of Golf.
59CAPE BRETON HIGHLANDS 5Like Adrfin, this is one of the game’s great walks, even if it takes a while. Some of golf’s finest fairway contours are found here, and overshadow some exceptional green contours like those at the 2nd and 18th. Its set of three shotters is unsurpassed.
60ROYAL WEST NORFOLK 12Many people who read this web site have golf art adorning their walls of holes from the turn-of-the-20th century. Such paintings convey a certain rawness that connects us to the roots of the game. Brancaster still does, in a celebration of natural golf.
61HIRONO 2The Prestwick of the East, nothing has changed for two generations of players, including, unfortunately, tree growth. No telling how high this will rise when the restoration is complete.
62INVERNESS 24The common denominator of the world’s greats is a sterling collection of par 4s – and this course competes in that area like few others. Andrew Green’s recent work that expunged several non-Golden Age elements insured its inclusion on this list.
63SLEEPY HOLLOW 25Who said parkland golf can’t dazzle?
64SUNNINGDALE (New) 13The 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.
65EASTWARD HO! 26New York and California benefited the most from the Golden Age but tiny Massachuetts joins Ohio and Pennsylvania to round out the top 5 golf states in the country.
66WEST SUSSEX 1427 courses from England make this list, which equates to one every 1,863 square miles and substantiates what I have always contended: England is the best country in the world for golf. Scotland is close behind with one course every 1,932 square miles while the USA has one every 60,270.
67ST. GEORGE’S 6Very few – as in none – clay courses feature this kind of land movement, which proves the perfect canvas for Thompson’s theatrics.
68ESSEX COUNTY, MA 27Few courses can compete with this early Ross for variety, from a driver par-3, to a 600 yarder, to a hole up a mountain, to some stunning New England topography, to a couple of flat holes, it is all here.
69WOODHALL SPA (Hotchkin)15 Twosomes routinely cruise around the course in under 3 hours, despite it being one of the world’s more intelligently bunkered courses.
70MORAINE28The course once again properly reflects its name.
71CASA DE CAMPOFlag of the Dominican Republic1In an unrepeatable career that spans six (!) decades, Dye comes up with his personal favorite. Its low profile features lend the course a timeless quality. Hard to believe it will celebrate its 50th anniversary before long.
72 WOKING16Golf’s great think tank at the turn-of-the-20th century still flummoxes golfers in a most appealing manner to this day.
73DE 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.
74BRORA9When people dream of playing golf in Scotland, this is what they are thinking of, even if they don’t know it.
75OLD TOWN29Opened in 1939, Maxwell’s design brought a close to the Golden Age of Architecture with an exclamation mark.
76ST ANDREWS BEACH 5The 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.
77KIRTLAND 30Its back nine is the inland equivalent to County Down’s front nine, with every hole crammed full of great golf and natural wonder.
78GLENEAGLES (Kings) 10So what if it isn’t long enough to tax professionals anymore?! That’s an equipment issue, not a design flaw and a five handicapper would rather find himself here in the ‘Riviera of the Highlands’ than most anywhere else.
79MYOPIA HUNT 31The glorious Hanse restoration has proven just how exceptional the Leeds design is. Arguably America’s first world-class course, the narrowness that plagued the set-up in recent decades is a thing of the past.
80PARAPARAUMU BEACH 2The 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 game.
81WYKAGYL 32New York’s version of Somerset Hills, whereby topography, streams and pitched greens vex the player without length needed as a crutch.
82GULLANE No. 1 11In the battle between North Berwick and Muirfield, somehow this East Lothian gem gets overlooked in a miscarriage of justice.
83LAWSONIA LINKS 33Not the longest or hardest course in Wisconsin, ‘just’ the most fun.
84STREAMSONG (Blue) 34Width 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.
85CAPILANO 7A 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.
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 appreciated gem, located some 20 miles from the border of Scotland.
87MILWAUKEE CC 35Everything you want in a parkland setting: topography, a winding river, and Alison’s magic.
88DISMAL RIVER (RED COURSE) 36If there is such a thing as an underappreciated Doak course, this is it. Much is made of the back nine, to the detriment of a wonderful group of half-par holes (4, 8 and 9) on the front.
89PIPING ROCK37Polo doesn’t connote exciting land but 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 much more shabbily?
90EL SALER 1Javier Arana’s effortless masterpiece joins Pete Dye’s Casa de Campo as the only two courses built from 1950 to 1990 to feature on this list.
91PALMETTO 38There is nothing about the names Leeds and MacKenzie that scares the purist.
92ROYAL 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.
93AUSTIN GC39Crenshaw 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.
94CAPE ARUNDEL40Nobody built greens like Walter Travis, and these are his best set. The course doesn’t need to measure more than its 5900 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.
95ST. 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.
96WOLF POINT41A testimony to how great architecture (Mike Nuzzo) and Greenkeeping (Don Mahaffey) can dovetail together to provide a thrilling experience over mundane land. Case study #1 for how modern architecture should proceed.
97HUNTERCOMBE 19Its 19 bunkers add an important element that Royal Ashdown Forest lacks. Case study #2 for how modern architecture should proceed.
98THE JOCKEY CLUB 1Most flat courses lack interest at the greens; most courses aren’t designed by Alister MacKenzie.
99WHISTLING ROCK 1If you are into design, where does your interest stop? Is it just at golf course architecture? Or is it at art? Or is it building architecture? This place has it all and the long interior views let you soak it all up at once.
100SAINT LOUIS CC 42Mid Ocean enjoys the more exotic locale but this design is purer to Macdonald/Raynor and features fewer lows.
101FRASERBURGH 12Peter 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.
102ALWOODLEY 20MacKenzie’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. Never forget: Alister 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!
103RUSTIC CANYON 43Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford combined to create the best course built in California since their hero George Thomas passed away in 1932.
104PENNARD2The 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.
105HIDDEN CREEK 44A design so good, you could be forgiven for thinking it is in England. It is the rare course built in America in the past thirty years where you insist on playing 36 holes each day you are there.
106MORFONTAINE (Valliere)2The two altered holes keep this 9 holer from being well higher, though it is still more engaging to play than the Main Course.
107FRENCH LICK (Ross) 45Ross 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.
108PROUTS NECK 46A shabby chic Maine coastal gem that again highlights a willingness by New Englanders to keep the sport clutter free.
109SAINT-GERMAIN3Europe’s version of Merion. The presentation of Colt’s work is so pure that the course still 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.
110NEWPORT 47The 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 clubhuse doesn’t have a kitchen shows what is important.
111THE ADDINGTON 21Starting a course with a one shotter is an interesting, though rarely used, ploy. It immediately helps space out play and in the case of The Addington, it provides not one iota of a hint as to the thrill ride that the golfer will soon enjoy.
112THE CREEK 48The Great Gatsby, romantic setting gives way to some audacious architecture, especially the Punchbowl and the island Biarritz green complexes.
113THE 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.
114OLD MACDONALD 49When 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 is lucky to find a friend like him.
115CEDAR RAPIDS CC50Ross’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 splashes money about to ‘impress’?
116HAMBURGER 1Much more is made of MacKenzie’s exotic travels to the southern hemisphere than Colt’s ventures to Europe and North America but remember: MacKenzie joined Colt’s firm, not the other way around.
117CHICAGO GC51With property boundaries no different than any other square, Midwestern, suburban plot, America’s Muirfield provides another reminder that you don’t need great land to create great golf; you just need great architecture. The third Macdonald club on this list with a polo field for the practice range.
118PEDREÑA 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 bloated, expensive wastes of time and money.
119MINCHINHAMPTON (Old) 22Hard 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 bunkers (i.e. artificial, man-made hazards) 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.’
120GEORGE WRIGHT 52What 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 if the land wasn’t ideally suited.
121 GLENS FALLS53No golfer’s education is complete without a tour of upstate New York.
122 LIPHOOK 23Some 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 course is a chess match with Simpson.
123TACONIC54This quintessential New England course features greens with such character that it can hold at bay today’s college player who drives it 100 yards (!) longer than his predecessor did when the course opened. It acts as a breeding ground for people to learn the simple pleasure of carrying their bag that sticks with them for life.
124MACRIHANISH13Child-like giddiness grips the golfer as he steps onto the dramatic, cliff-side first tee but it’s the really fine set of greens that make the course worth the drive as their roly-poly contours match the wonderful micro-movement that precedes them.
125NATIONAL (Moonah)6Opened 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 winds that sweep off the Pacific and across Gannamatta Beach.
126ST. GEORGE’S, NY55Macdonald was a keen fan of Emmet and after playing here, you will be too. This is the sixth (!) Hanse restoration on the list.
127WALTON HEATH (Old)24One of the few ‘heathland’ courses that actually adheres to the definition.
128HUNTINGDON VALLEY56This Flynn design stands out around greater Philadelphia for fostering original thoughts on agronomy and course presentation.
129NEWCASTLE7The course lacks the scale and bunkering that has made Australian golf justly famous – and that’s fine for how prosaic would architecture be if every course needed to fit a regional stereotype?! The star here are the 18 targets, which alternate from being perched to built-up to lay of the land. Even after 300 rounds here, I never tired of figuring out how to manage my game better for next time.
130ASKERNISH14The design warrants inclusion ~80 spots higher but alas, 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 can be both simple yet exhilarating. If ever there was a place we should collectively support, it’s here.
131HUMEWOOD1The Southern African climate yields consistently blanched and firm playing surfaces, allowing Major Hotchkin’s work to shine.
132FRANKLIN HILLS57The purity of the Ross layout is a testament to the merit of not hosting big events.
133CANTERBURY, OH58When you tackle this distinctive Herbert Strong design, especially the five finishing holes, remember it was built with hickory clubs in mind, so no whining! This is the third course from Cleveland to make the list.
134ST. 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 27 years of building courses. The rolling French countryside and medium-size greens that befuddle are the stars while the light hand of bunkering is quite refreshing. Holes 6, 8, and 15 all warrant consideration in Doak’s eclectic top 18.
135THE GOLF HOUSE CLUB, ELIE 15Greater judgement is required to play here effectively than courses 1,000 yards longer. As much as any course in this compilation, the landing area for approach shots is enticingly short of the green, a number of which slope from front to back.
136BALTIMORE (Five Farms) 59Keith Foster’s restoration maximizes one’s appreciation of the special rural setting.
137ALDEBURGH 25Nobody worries less about par than England, which helps explains the number of outstanding sub par 70 courses.
138ROARING GAP60Ross 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.
139KENNEMERFlag of the Netherlands3Not the only time in his career that Colt utilized an outer and inner loop to make evaluating the wind an art form.
140FANO1Fishers Island received a letter from Golf Digest in the 1980s stating in part, it wasn’t eligible for inclusion in the Top 100 because their tees weren’t level enough. WELL! Fano’s tees are mostly level because you hit off artificial mats, in a telling sign that tees aren’t a critical factor for inclusion on this list. At under 5,600 yards, the scorecard won’t impress nearly as much as how the sumptuous crumpled land was incorporated into the holes.
141ROYAL ST. DAVID’S3The opposite of Spyglass in that a bunch of solid holes greet the golfer early before disappearing into the dunes for a rousing finish. As with life, it is much more satisfying to build toward something special than to start fast and flounder.
142WE-KO-PA61The finest expression of desert golf with the course feeling a part of the rolling desert landscape as opposed to thrust upon it.
143LITTLE ASTON 26Colt lent important finishing touches to this Vardon design, specifically his numerous cross hazards helped turn this parkland course into a very fine test of driving. As Patric Dickinson noted, ‘Little Aston is in good taste and has a good taste.’
144FALSTERBO1This relatively flat course on a peninsula is a haven for walkers and trolleys and indeed, plenty of the fit Swedes bicycle to and from the course!
145MID-PINES62A greater variety of greens than its famous neighbor 4 miles away has the locals swooning for good reason. Kyle Franz’s work leaves little doubt that you are playing golf in the Carolina Sandhills.
146ISLE OF HARRIS 16The count is 9 holes, 5 punchbowl-ish greens, 1 greenkeeper and an honor box. Unbridled joy.
147GOSWICK27If this was your regular, you would think you had died and gone to heaven.

 

Country Count
ARGENTINA1
DENMARK1
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC1
GERMANY1
NORTHERN IRELAND1
SOUTH AFRICA1
SOUTH KOREA1
SWEDEN1
JAPAN2
NEW ZEALAND2
SPAIN2
NETHERLANDS3
WALES3
FRANCE4
IRELAND4
AUSTRALIA7
CANADA7
SCOTLAND16
ENGLAND27
USA62
Total147