Golf’s finest courses generally occupy sandy, rumbling land with native features unlocked by the game’s cleverest minds. Such land is even better when it’s been thoughtfully hand-crafted over a period of years and just happens to be close to where people live. No other “members' course” ever had it this great. Perhaps the most faultlessly constructed course ever, thanks to the five years they took while using a horse drawn plough and scoop.
NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
The purest translation of a game born on one island with ideal conditions for good golf to another, also with ideal conditions for good golf.
Playing golf through dunes on a windswept, rugged island really is all that it is cracked up to be - even if it occurs in the opposite hemisphere from where your mind first wanders.
No course better epitomizes the flawless transition from fairway to green - making it the gold standard for players of all ages - or better exposes one’s appetite for risk. Plateau greens with front-to-back slopes present questions one never tires of attempting to answer.
The start in earnest of the minimalist movement, whereby man had every type of heavy machinery at his disposal but elected not to use it. By embracing its natural setting rather than fighting against it, Sand Hills initiated a return to site-driven golf that has inspired countless courses in its wake, whether they know it or not.
Golfers yearn to explore, not only in hopes of finding scintillating golf but also desirous of discovering something different. To that point, one of the game's one-off wonders is County Down, where several rules on architecture were bent, if not broken. The man who deserves the most credit? George Comby, probably not the name you were expecting. As the game transitioned to the rubber core ball, this autocratic member took it upon himself to expand the course, sometimes out of his own pocket. Design greatness stemmed from a person who knew the land the best. County Down has never felt like an architect's 50th or 100th course - and that's because it wasn't.
Fusing the unconventional with the traditional creates a Scottish cocktail of brawn, finesse and mental acuity that is unequalled. Yes, its impact on architecture cannot be overstated but go for its sensational golf, courtesy of holes including Railway, Sea Headrig, Narrows and Alps.
Darwin'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 has paid off handsomely. Time spent here with Neil Regan in 2019 was illuminating on many levels and he is missed.
Parkland golf may not sound as alluring as links or heathland - until you play here. This gets my vote as best of breed for a few things including parkland golf, restorations, and inland greens.
Plenty of courses feature exciting topography. Fewer are along a coast and of those, only a handful feature a lighthouse as a promenient land mark. Still, no course couples those three features with views of Mt Fuji except, you guessed it, the Fuji Course at the Kawana Resort. However, that is NOT to say a great course was a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the founder, Baron Okura, was smart enough to pivot away from an initial plan and elicit the help of C.H. Alison. That's when things started to fall in place as Alison's subsequent routing took seamless advantage of the abundant fairy-tale features.
The sheer variety of obstacles, hazards and greens makes other courses appear deadly dull. For originality, only Prestwick and St. Andrews can compete.
The Sandy Koufax of golf design, George Thomas reminds us that quality, not quantity, is the key metric for a master craftsman. Good on him - and lucky us - for realizing the potential of southern California’s rolling hills and barrancas as an ideal canvas upon which to build world-class golf.
In 1964, Herbert Warren Wind's “North to Dornoch” essay was both evocative and alien. These days, getting to Dornoch is infinitely easier and the course, correspondingly busier. Yet the collection of golf holes still summons the pilgrim, and has withstood the scrutiny of time since Wind first shined his light.
ROCK CREEK CATTLE COMPANY
A persuasive counter-argument to the thousands of courses that suffer from horrible mow lines. Nothing is more hapless (and easier to fix) than bunkers detached from play by thick rough. Here, bluegrass fairways release the ball forthwith into bunkers while still providing just enough friction to highlight different stances on lumpy fairways, combining the virtues of links golf in spectacular fashion with the allure of the American West.
In 1887, Laidlaw Purves built a burly, adventuresome, in-your-face experience for the Gutta-Percha age. Much changed in the ensuing decades in terms of equipment and design preferences (including the desirablity of blind shots). Through it all, Sandwich remained triumphant, held together by the constant of its immense scale. Purves would take great pride in knowing the course still tests the very best while its tumbling dunes remain awe-inspiring for the rest of us.
As beneficial for an architect and shaper to study as any course in the world, because it explains how to do more on a site not blessed with obvious greatness. 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.
The 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 seems 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."
THE COUNTRY CLUB (Clyde/Squirrel)
The timeless appeal of moderate size greens and cross-hazards makes today’s golfer wonder why modern architecture veered off track to the degree it did. Whaling away with the driver on this throwback does you no good and the emphasis remains refreshingly on hitting fairways and greens, as championship competitors found to their dismay in 2022.
The 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.
Once upon a time, the club's reputation carried the course. Now, the course, if anything, may be underrated and should enjoy an elite status in design for the uncommon number of interesting questions that it poses, starting straightaway at the domed 1st green. Coore & Crenshaw's restoration work exposed the dunescape and enhanced the greens, propelling this course 25+ spots higher from the inaugural list. Similar to Cypress Point, the routing meanders through a variety of environments but unlike Cypress Point, it doesn't receive credit for doing so.
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.
The Home of American Golf had best have a course 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 where I can have fun one week and the U.S. Open roll into town shortly thereafter.
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." The incomparable dunescape deflects attention from the course's greatest design attribute: its diverse green sites.
Imagine the pressure that Raynor felt going back to re-do the one course that possibly meant as much to his mentor as NGLA. Thankfully, unlike my putting, he didn't choke and the student became the master when he served up the finest collection of greens of any Macdonald/Raynor/Banks course.
Pebble Beach’s mixed architectural bag shouldn't deter a single golfer from beelining here at any price. Though its greens have altered/shrunk the most in size from their Golden Age roots of any set on this list, the game's most captivating stretch (holes 3-10) remains here for all to enjoy. Much to the resort's credit, it has been relentlessly kind to walkers for decades.
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 and example no. 2 after Royal Melbourne of the advantages of a slow build.
The Prestwick of the East, nothing had changed for two generations of players, including tree growth. Martin Ebert corrected that in 2018/9 and restored Alison's trademark brawny features. Its club history book published at the end of 2022 is a must for any golf library.
“The national parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." The words of Wallace Stegner, one of my all-time favorite authors, ring as true today as when he wrote them in 1983, and I have spent more non-golf vacation time at Glacier and Yosemite than anywhere else in the past decade. Yet, how nice would it be to find yourself in a national park-type setting while playing world-class golf? So it is at CapRock Ranch, where holes dance to and from - and over - the Snake River Canyon. Time to move the conversation past Gil Hanse as the best at restoring courses and to acknowledge his original works.
One of the Kings of Routing was given the opportunity to showcase his talent along a jagged island's perimeter, before property prices exploded. He didn't mess up, further highlighting how the engineer Raynor excelled with rocky sites. Let's start celebrating clubs like here where a course closure and a monster restoration project were never required because they never screwed things up.
Of 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.
I lived 1,000 yards from here while working for the USGA in the mid-1980s. At the time, I thought it was one of the finest parkland courses I had ever seen. Now, having seen another ~1,500 courses, I know it is. If you prefer your sweaters slightly moth eaten and your cars with wood panels as I do, you will relish the club's understated vibe.
Might this rival Barnbougle Dunes as Doak's ultimate expression in architecture? All the key ingredients are present: ideal soil, one-off landforms captured within the fairways, lack of eye candy, and eye-popping interior green contours with short grass often to the high side of the putting surfaces. Throw in knowledgeable owners and first-rate green keeping practices and you have a course with no flaws.
ROYAL WORLINGTON & NEWMARKET
If you ever want to understand how architecture can elevate a modest site and turn it into an absorbing chess match, head to the Sacred Nine. Not all architecture is created equal, which gives a community like GolfClubAtlas plenty of material for endless education and enlightenment.
The greatest family country club in America was miscast as a tyrannical brute when it was only seen on television in the inopportune Tulsa times of June or August. Prior to the May 2022 PGA, Hanse finished what Foster started and the joyful volatility of the outcome reminded us that a course can be both fun and challenging. The term 'Maxwell rolls' applies to greens but you might not think so once you see these exquisite fairways.
Raynor is famous for many reasons, including his ability to route holes and his pronounced green pads. That's all true here but another of his strengths stands out as well, namely his lack of superfluous dirt movement from tee to green. Here, no attention is deflected from the unpretentious Lowcountry setting complete with live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Alas, the soothing tones get hijacked by the intense golf requirements of its dazzling greens, highlighted by the Double Plateau 1st, Cape 10th, and Knoll 14th.
The 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!
America's unique contributions to architecture have been the genres of desert and prairie golf. An exemplar of the latter, this brand of treeless golf is set in chop hills of northeast Colorado and exhilarates in the same manner as any tumbling links. Golf's ultimate benefit is that it reconnects man to nature - and this design has few peers in doing so.
When something is to be accomplished, shot after shot after shot, in a sumptuous setting, you have the makings of a strategic masterpiece. Further proof that we are in a second Golden Age and that Mark Parsinen's absence is acutely felt.
Who needs the ocean as a backdrop when holes are this good?! Give the man who made it possible credit too, appreciating that when a non-architect like Mike Keiser plays such a dominant role in the direction of the sport, the game in America had strayed too far from its roots.
Without doubt, this is Doak's most important design, in part because 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. Doak not only has as many courses listed as any architect, six are front loaded in the top forty.
What a ride! You start with arguably the best four hole stretch on the property, which gives way to the course's two most famous holes in 6 & 10. Then the golfer loops around a church before climbing to high ground. You gather your breath on the 15th tee before concluding the round with the second best four hole stretch. Afterwards, grasping for superlatives for Braid's work becomes the pleasant task in the clubhouse.
The respect Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw share for Prairie Dunes is immense. Though Coore, in print, has cited Cypress Point as his favorite design, conversations I have had with him make me suspect that Prairie Dunes could be candidate 1B, so soft is the Maxwells’ touch upon the land. How Perry (and Press) infused so much golf interest into targets that are moderate in size is a lesson more modern architects need to study.
Unless you like cliff top holes or playing over ravines, or holes through dunes, or inland ones over rivers, 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. My favorite hole rotates between the most obvious (e.g. the impossibly glorious 2nd) or the least likely (e.g. the inland 11th) or the most controversial (e.g. the 17th where your tee ball may finish ~50 yards from where you initially look).
CALIFORNIA GC OF SAN FRANCISCO
You can carry your bag at any time. Additionally, there are trolleys, should you prefer that mode or perhaps you desire a caddie? Golf carts are around back of the pro shop, out of sight. You can do that too but the Cal Club has enjoyed a walking culture since Kyle Phillips overhauled the course in 2008. Its ever-rising golf IQ attracts members that appreciate keeping carts off the fescue fairways, a defining component of the joy of a game here. A contender for the best run club in America.
Read the March 2017 Feature Interview with Richard Macafee for details on all the things that have gone right on this 125 acre parcel since inception. It is a timely - and important - reminder that not all courses have to occupy an ungodly amount of land.
Distance for distance sake gains no footing in the Custodians. However, the need to hit every club should be lauded and this lengthy heathland course accomplishes that without surrendering one iota of its charm. That's a very neat, but elusive, trick to pull off.
Coore & Crenshaw have worked on some of the finest properties in the world over the last thirty years, 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. To understand how that is possible is to understand that one to four foot rumples often yield the best golf.
As easy to overpraise in name of “fairness” as it is to overlook in the name of topographical blandness, Muirfield is proof that a masterclass in routing, bunkering and dignified restraint can remain as joyful for senior members playing a winter foursome as it is testing for a champion golfer at the height of summer. Many courses claim to want that. Very few actually pull it off. Holes 13 and 17 are to architecture what the club's famous lunches are to the game's social fabric.
The Garden City GC of Europe, with countless open greens at grade from the fairways. What trajectory and where you land your approach shot is up to you, making it a supreme design for all ages. Bumbling across sandy loam in the French countryside blessed with a panoply of textures and colors, trolley in tow, has quickly become my golfing ideal.
When you are the best at what you do, proving so need not take so long (think Secretariat at Belmont). Harry Colt only made a couple of visits to North America but his work at Pine Valley and in the great Industrial cities of Chicago and Detroit proved transformational. Likewise, just north across the border, Colt was given a stunningly wonderful piece of property and the Maestro wasted little time in devising a series of holes that took maximum advantage of the course's ravines and interesting landforms. The addition of Paul Scenna as Green Keeper and his subsequent work to reveal the property's majestic elements evelate this course into the upper echelon of Colt's work.
The pace of the greens is the only thing that Maxwell and MacKenzie wouldn't recognize; otherwise, the course remains remarkably pure to their original vision. As a set, these greens expose the fragility of the human psyche like few others and have influenced/inspired some of the finest green builders in golf today.
A delight to find a course where accurate driving still matters, courtesy of some of the game's most vertical fairway bunker walls.
OCEAN COURSE AT KIAWAH ISLAND
Darwin once enthused that the plateau greens on The Old Course require the player actually have to hit shots. Agreed (!) and that same principle has been on display here since inception, most recently during the marvelous 2021 PGA Championship. Indeed, the raised green complexes are so clever and rife with challenge that green speeds above 10 aren't an underpinning for the course to test the best. How refreshing!
A friend did a driving loop from coast-to-coast across America during the pandemic. 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.'
Given that its green contours rival those at Macrihanish, why doesn't this links receive uniform adulation? Was Sir Peter Allen misguided to nominate here for his last round? Highly doubtful.
Called 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.
Read the November 2021 Feature Interview with Richard Latham to appreciate this heathland course's transformation over the past six years. One of the game's most intelligent bunker schemes.
A handful of design tenets shape classic designs and we yearn for fresh ways in seeing such principles applied. One sterling example is Pikewood National where two men with no prior experience in course design built a thorough original that reminds you of no other course. It instantly became my favorite mountain course (and mountain course is defined as a course on a mountain, not in a valley), courtesy of its artful routing, features being at grade and a superior set of greens. Never once did they run low on ideas or resort to bunkers as a design crutch.
Admittedly you need to be fit like a Dutchman to play 36 holes in a day over its heaving dunes, but there is something deliciously confrontational about the golf here. Namby-pamby tactics gain no favor, you need to bring game but the exhilaration derived from a well played round over its rollicking landforms is deeply satisfying.
George Thomas described in 1929 why you should love this course. Nothing has changed since.
Some sniff at the classic out-and-back routing but I see great pacing. The golfer is edged into the round with several manageable two shotters along the Firth of Clyde, the long 6th transports him into the juiciest dunes for half the round, and then its classic 5-3-4 finish asks any remaining questions. The cherry on top is finishing directly in front of the clubhouse with out of bounds tight behind. A treasure for traditionalists.
Two 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. Renaissance's Brian Schneider crushed the course's restoration, with the finishing touch in 2022 being the re-done 17th.
Some courses are for long hitters, some courses are for straight hitters, and some courses are for smart hitters. A good golf club welcomes all kinds, but a proper club like Portmarnock knows that having a course that rewards smart hitters means their members will never tire of the prospect of arriving at this sanctuary for golf.
Five glacial moraine courses make the Custodians. Kudos to William Watson for the manner in which he captured, and then preserved, the jumbled landforms within his holes. The kicker, though, is his green contours, very nearly the equal to the land itself.
The concept of a two green system made sense back in the day when there were warm and cold weather grasses. That impetus has gone away and yet, by some design miracle, it works to perfection at this elegant course, thanks to recent work by Gil Hanse and Neil Cameron. Koymo Ohtani, who closely studied Alison's work, is the mastermind behind the original design.
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 play with their holes having been altered and their pars reversed. Still, naturalists find every reason to rejoice when here.
A course's routing provides its backbone yet as a topic, it isn't understood and therefore, rarely discussed. Doak's 2020 book on routing greatly helped and thirty years prior to that, just before The Confidential Guide, he wrote this pearl about Cruden Bay: "The genius of this is that the golf course is routed exactly the way you might be inclined to wander the property if there was no golf course here." Those words have always stuck with me, especially when encountering holes at other courses that are blandly laid out parralel to one another.
The shortcoming of returning nines is evident as holes 9, 10, and 18 are smushed together near the clubhouse but for exhilaration, few courses can compete, and for variety, the four par-4s in a row from 13-16 are without peer.
Opened 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 ruthless.
Tom Simpson delivers the kind of thoughtful design that The Architectural Side of Golf implied he would. Cross bunkers and the use of a 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.
A 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 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. Though I doubt that John Dutton pushed cattle through Norfolk, his endearing campaign slogan about "being the opposite of progress" rings true here.
William Shakespeare wrote, "When I saw you, I fell in love." I don't know if the bard was in Chatham on Cape Cod when he penned those words, but they certainly apply to Herbert Fowler's handiwork. The numerous swoon-worthy moments never disappoint but it is how high the lows are that make this a world-beater.
History 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.
The merits of this Flynn design are evident to the point where I consider it his second finest design. Maybe more will agree now that Gil Hanse completed a full restoration in the fall of 2022.
Building medium size greens is not the flavor of the month which makes this timeless design all the more appealing as it ambles over stunning landforms.
Hosting outside events invites peril toward Golden Age courses. Swinley Forest sidesteps such potential pitfalls and meanwhile, shares their 6,430 yard, par 69 Colt gem with properly introduced guests. We all win.
Like a marriage, a long-term relationship between two parties speaks well of both. In this case, this discrete club in a leafy, rolling suburb outside of Cincinnati has enjoyed ...a 35+ year relationship with Renaissance Golf Design. Don Placek has been working on refinements that began with a bunker restoration project in the early 2000's along with grassing line adjustments, green expansions, tree and vegetation management and some teeing ground edits ever since. Most recently, last August, he reintroduced Camargo's original edition of The Road. Word has it that his work, with a full shaping assist from Brian Schneider of RGD, will have tongues wagging and will broaden the conversation beyond the obvious talking point of Camargo’s invincible set of one shotters, which is arguably Raynor’s finest.
Celebrating a course like this is why the Custodian list was created. Well removed from London, it is on the edge of the South Downs National Park. The combination of pines and heather were expertly exploited by the heralded Sir Guy Cambell, Major C.K. Hutchison and Colonel S.V. Hotchkin. In common with many elite English courses, par is under 70, which means the course barely has to measure 6,200 to provide ample challenge. It also means you are done in under three hours. A golf nirvana.
Andrew Green expunged several non-Golden-Age elements and shifted the conversation from fixating on what was wrong at this American stalwart to what is right.
No wonder Alister MacKenzie vacationed here. Child-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 2019 visit served as a reminder of how many good greens the incoming nine possesses, particularly the incomparable string from 12-15.
The third Macdonald club on this list with a former 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 get treated more shabbily?
This was the pivotal moment in design from World War II to Sand Hills. Hard to believe Harbour Town has already celebrated its 50th anniversary with its glued-to-the-ground features lending the course a timeless quality. In acknowledgement of what Pete and Alice Dye meant to their craft, and how they returned the short par four to design, my Flag Bag is comprised of the 13th hole here and the 3rd hole at The Ocean Course.
A slew of superlative two-shotters headlined by the drivable 4th and the impossible 10th might over shadow its most famous hole (the downhill one-shot 8th). Kudos to the club for recent tree thinning and the resultant heath regeneration.
What a shame America's first great course hasn't been more emulated. After all, features like his nefarious trench bunkers on 4, 9, 10, and 11 and exasperating tilts within the 1st, 4th, 6th, and 13th greens aren't trademarked.
One of the grand expanses in the game and one of the few 'heathland' courses that actually adheres to the definition. GolfClubAtlas's 2021 Book of the Year was A Matter of Course - The Life of William Herbert Fowler, 1856-1941.
A much easier walk than the Haagsche, the Colt architecture delights but throws 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.
The course once again reflects its name, which guarantees a stimulating time. Interestingly enough, Alex 'Nipper' Campbell routed some of the tougher holes uphill and some of the shorter holes downhill, a ploy that Pete Dye later would hone in on.
Situated in Canton, Ohio, the wonderfully rolling property replete with natural features and Ross's routing serve up a litany of wonderful surprises. Highlights include Ross's use of a stream at 4, 5 and 11 and central hazards at other holes. This is parkland golf at its dynamic best, though conversations do bog down on its bold greens as neat hole locations are surrendered at modern speeds.
Golf’s heathland think tank at the turn-of-the-20th century still flummoxes golfers in a most appealing manner to this day.
To think that the name architect does all the work is naive. His crew - the people whom he surrounds himself with and whom he trusts to do the vast majority of the physical work - largely determine the success of any project. Here in Japan, Coore & Crenshaw assembled a stellar team headlined by James Duncan, Keith Rhebb, Trevor Dormer, Quinn Thompson, Toby Cobb and Rob Collins. The result? As I wrote on Instagram, "Sometimes, everything falls into place on a project and magic happens."
A cheery start with the first six holes played downhill gives way to even better golf as Stanley Thompson transports the golfer back uphill without the golfer ever realizing it. Its four hole closing stretch cements it as one the most admirable designs on the west coast of North America.
George Bahto is smiling down because when Macdonald left this property for the last time over a century ago, it wasn't half as good as it is today. A great course has to have great greens and Sleepy Hollow now fits that bill, courtesy of Gil Hanse's work in 2016. For example, Leven and Road greens emerged from where none of note previously existed.
The best example of the Kiwi golf culture, where the expense of the game is within reach for all over this special, rumpled land. Mercifully, the task to tease holes from this dunescape fell to Alex Russell - and his light touch remains a marvel to this day. Anyone who goes to New Zealand and doesn't play here doesn't know what he/she is doing.
SCOTTSDALE NATIONAL (The Other Course)
A 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 infused into the design.
The 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 sibling. Not many heathland courses can claim par 5s as good as 6 and 14.
Possessing a Stanford White clubhouse from the 1890s overlooking superior land works for Shinnecock Hills, and so it does here, too. Still, nothing steals the spotlight from so many best of breed moments like the par 3 7th, the par 5 14th, and the slew of outstanding par 4s that have you bewitched before you reach the 6th tee.
When people dream of playing golf in Scotland, this is what they are thinking of, even if they don't know it.
Some 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 Scottish border. For more, please read the February, 2020 Feature Interview with Club Secretary Alan Oliver.
In this day of golf destinations that border on being golf factories, Erin Hills is refreshing in that it remains just 18 holes, allowing for a quiet, traditional atmosphere for golf over its glacier-shaped terrain. This rare blend of a championship-minimalist design has more than its share of superlative holes (such as 2, 9, 12, 15 and 18), complete exposure to the wind, and tight playing surfaces for all to enjoy.
In the battle between the heart (North Berwick) and brain (Muirfield), this East Lothian gem offers its own distinct brand of golf that has contented players for generations.
A prime example of central features - be it bunkers, mounds, or grass-covered rock piles - instilling 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.
This design was ahead of its time as it flew in the face of convention. Back in late 1990s and 2000 when it was being built, wide fairways, bouncy-bounce playing conditions, and wild and wooly bunkers were atypical. Move the clock forward and all its playing attributes - including Dan Lucas's masterful hand at green keeping - are now lauded. Kudos to DeVries for being a pioneer.
Courses no longer long enough to tax professional are often the very ones we should head toward. A six handicapper would rather find himself here in the 'Riviera of the Highlands' than most anywhere else.
Similar to Thomas in Los Angeles, Abercromby didn't need to stamp out a bunch of courses to prove he was one of the best. Clayton, DeVries & Pont's on-going work has his bodacious masterpiece marching higher as Abercromby's efforts are allowed to breathe. By 2024, this course will be as good as its black and white photos have always conveyed.
Beauty and great architecture are a powerful combination. A rousing start and the elevated views to Rest Bay from all parts on the course are fully appreciated during approaching weather. Unfortunately, the long views also mean that the excellent green contours sadly go undiscussed.
Very few - as in perhaps none - clay courses feature this kind of land movement, which proves the perfect canvas for Thompson's theatrics.
There is an understandable rush to get to the 6th tee, whereby the drooling commences and lasts close to the end. In the process, holes 1 and 2 become among the most underappreciated opening holes in golf.
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!
Hard 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 is arguably on the front (the 9th).
This cornerstone design still constitutes the ideal country club course - 6,500 yards, tight routing, deep, well-placed hazards and great green contours. As with Myopia Hunt, one wonders how architecture veered off course with so many bland designs when a design ideal of this magnitude has existed since 1914. Even worse, this was in the middle of America where all could take note. Unfortunately, the only people who borrowed the most design tenets from this Macdonald/Raynor were, alas, Macdonald/Raynor!
Willie Park Jr. gave this design his greatest gift: his time. He worked and worked on it, teasing into each green such character that modern architects come here now to seek inspiration. What Park didn't do was lazily scatter bunkers around to doll up the challenge. Indeed, he determined that the course required fewer than 20 bunkers, often times deploying grass hollows to superior effect. William Blake, who wrote 'You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough' would be proud.
Topography with the occasional rock outcropping, streams and pitched greens vex the player without length needed as a crutch. In 2005, Coore & Crenshaw tied together the work of several architects (including Ross and Tillinghast) with the result being that holes like 8, 14 and 15 rival the best in Westchester County for presentation, playing values and strategy.
This gleefully public Langford & Moreau course in central Wisconsin represents that rare time in the United States whereby stellar architecture and affordability commingle. Exposing people to this level of architecture is the surest way to have people fall in love with the sport.
Javier Arana's effortless masterpiece joins Dye's Harbour Town as the only two courses built from 1950 to 1990 to feature on this list.
Perhaps the most stunning restoration in the southern hemisphere this century, Victoria went from being choked by trees and brush to being exposed for 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.
This design embraces the impossible scale and beauty of the Pacific Northwest. 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?
The two altered holes are fine but not great and hinder this 9-holer from being even higher. The fact that it appears at all is testament to Simpson's 7 holes, whose interior green contours are must-see stuff.
If you know how hilly this portion of the Hawkeye State 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. Keith Foster revamped his own work in 2018, and now it also features some of the firmest playing surfaces of any course on the Custodians.
Hard 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.'
Unlike 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.
The cumulative yards across all eighteen holes whereby one can land a ball short of a putting surface and have it scamper onto the green is as great here as any design in the country, thanks to the designers, the climate and the grassing schemes. Without doubt, this municipal deserves another U.S. Open.
In the fall of 2020, 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 hinges on such feedback.
The strength of the individual holes on this public course impel the golfer forward, supplying this young course with a personality all its own. Presentation needs to improve and then holes like 2, 16 and 18 will finally receive their due as among the best in this golf-proud country.
Most flat courses lack interest at the greens; most courses aren't designed by Alister MacKenzie.
Forget the glorious long views to the Vermont mountains, the real standout feature of this valley course is its stunning array of greens, from the 'top hat' 5th putting surface to the 6th at the base of a hill to the volcano 9th to ones that fall from front to back. The penultimate hole is a 400 yarder across the property's most tumbling land and the course concludes with a 150 yarder across a corner of a lake. You might not suspect that the man who built Pinehurst No. 2 and Oakland Hills also built Glens Falls - but that's the beauty of Ross. Stereotype him at your own peril.
I play most of my golf in the late afternoons, and one of the most magical spots in world golf to find yourself late in the day is the crest of the 15th fairway. The shadows creeping over the trees, the sunset colors, and the distant Rocky Mountains turning purple are sure signs of a higher power. No, I am not talking about Coore & Crenshaw (!) but after playing these greens, you will be. Additionally, the club was founded by golfers who get it - you can walk and carry at any time which helps you appreciate Coore's routing as it moves seamlessly between the High Plains and the Black Forest.
Crenshaw shrewdly once noted that "It is amazing how many things a course can do without" and this design embodies that ethos. As such, it represents the rare modern design that makes one reflect on what is - and isn’t - important.
One of the game's least tamed playing experiences re-affirms that golf can be simple yet exhilarating. The course isn't around the corner from anyone but the compelling nature of the stretch from 6 to 15 provides the impetus to head to the Outer Hebrides. Some of the best holes in world golf are here, even if it isn't expensive to play.
Talking about your home course is like talking about your round - no one cares! Still, walking five thousand miles on one course lends perspective. Kyle Franz's work in 2021 provided the playing attributes that this Ross routing over rolling sand hills in Moore County long deserved. Eighteen months in, and we are all still trying to figure out how to tackle this superlative set of greens. Approach shots like those into the 11th and 13th dazzle and befuddle, requiring constant expermentation.
When describing a course, if one of the first descriptives is "it's in great shape", then something is amiss. Meanwhile, this Welsh untamed beauty makes the heart flutter and embraces its wild environs to perfection. The thought of stopping never crosses one's mind - last time I was here, I played 56 holes, an unusual number to be sure.
Visit their new website www.theislandgolfclub.com, look at the home page, and that's all you need to know. And yes, its finishing six-hole stretch is as epic as the home page indicates.
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, green keeper and head professional, it is. Nobody built greens like Walter Travis, and these rival the ones at Hollywood as his best set.
Ross 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.
The 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.
As we have seen elsewhere on this list, architecture is the great equalizer. Blue Mound may not be located on a glacial moraine or be in a river valley or on a huge deposit of sand like some brethren Wisconsin courses but wait until you see the eighteen greens that Raynor cooked up. Bruce Hepner's restoration efforts coupled with Alex Beson-Crone as Green Keeper have this walker friendly course at peak.
In the prior century, Beverly embraced its macho reputation for being difficult, thanks to over-treed, narrow playing corridors and severe greens. After a methodical and meticulous Ron Prichard restoration 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 fierce greens reject sloppy tactics.
Macdonald was a keen fan of Emmet and after playing here, you will be too. This is the eleveenth (!) Hanse restoration on the list.
In 2020, Mike DeVries's opened up a glorious 350 yard swath of land in front of the stately clubhouse that houses the 1st, 18th, 11th, 12th and 8th holes. This portion is an exercise in avoiding a minefield of 30+ bunkers. Meanwhile, Colt, grasping that variety is key, adorned the course's two standout holes (the 12th and 16th, both beefy two shotters) with no bunkers. Meanwhile, the grace in which Bloomfield members go about the game in a quiet, dignified manner stands as a ballast to places that have gone mad by embracing speakers/music to enliven a sport that needs no such help.
This 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 a bloated waste of time.
Plenty of clubs implode under their own perceived importance. Not here. This laid-back South Carolina charmer harkens back to simpler times and meanwhile, its star Green Keeper Nick Price has made great strides in improving the playing surfaces. Walter Travis built the original course and Donald Ross later layered on top the features that make today's golf so compelling. Too few places exist in America of such pedigree that don't break the bank.
Macdonald/Raynor/Banks studiously borrowed the finest design concepts to render their work as blatant examinations in thought. Sharing the owner's vision and high regard for their work, Dana Fry captured their magic when he created the South Course. Its flat bottom bunkers with abrupt grass faces don't pander and the green contours are every bit as artistic as the bunkers are pugnacious. A great addition to the American golf scene, some 125 years after Macdonald's first effort.
The presentation of Colt's 1920 work is so pure that the course ranks among the finest 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.
For those wondering Harry Smead's best course, this is it. For those wondering who Harry Smead is, he worked for Langford & Moreau, so this wasn't beginner's luck that he got so much, so right to such dazzling effect. In fact, this river valley course was home to Herb Kohler (and Pete Dye when he was working in Wisconsin) and its influence can be seen in Dye's excellent River Course at Blackwolf Run.
In 2003, Sunningdale's board made the heroic decision to turn the club's largest asset over to Mike DeVries and let him reimagine the holes in a single cohesive manner. Over a fifteen year period, the course was transformed from being a tree-choked design hodge-podge to a spacious playing delight capped off by sensational greens. Generations of members will forever be thankful that they have a Golden Age fueled course, even if it was built in the 21st century.
Peter Thomson’s high regard for Braid as an architect is duly noted by this being the 4th Braid course to make the list. So many gems like this exist across Scotland that the moniker of The Home of Golf still applies. In fact, the fifteen courses from Scotland that appear equate to one course every 2,005 square miles. That pips England, which averages one course every 2,187 square miles. To put that in perspective, the United States - with half the courses on this list - averages one course every 50,626 square miles.
This visitor friendly club allows outside play at certain times for under $100 and to say these eighteen William Watson greens measure up to those at nearby Crystal Downs and Kingsley tells you all you need to know about how underrated he is as an architect. His bunkering scheme being fully restored could propel this course into the top five in the golf rich state of Michigan.
Given its Midwest locale, 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.
Imagine the incessant whining in the early days - the opening tee shot is too intimidating, the hazards are too deep, the greens are too wild, etc. Happily, like Strantz, the owner never backed down and this unapologeticly original design now enjoys a devoted following. Tree clearing and improved Bermuda grasses since Strantz's passing in 2005 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."
RAWLS COURSE AT TEXAS TECH
Doak moved well over a million cubic yards to lend this flat site intense playing interest. Much of the dirt was placed along the perimeter, pushing the views inward across land that was then given lusciously rippling movement. Add in the Texas winds on the high plains and you have an inland course that plays shockingly like a links, especially when its fairways are dormant. The 2nd hole can be a driver/eight iron and so can the parallel 4th in the opposite direction. The rub? There is 140 yards delta in length between the two holes! A true outpost.
This Long Island jewel explores different pockets of property and is united by Jim Wagner's excellent detail work. The first several holes stay in the vicinity of the clubhouse before the par 5 6th transports the golfer into the open section, whereby the golfer spends the next hour playing along the water before crossing the Woodmere Channel at hole 14 and heading home. The stretch from 7 to 9 hard along the water is the headline act but quality golf is demanded throughout its 6,450 yards. Two monster par 4s are found at 4 and 17 but the 155y 5th rivals 11 at Shinnecock Hills for its ability to inflict damage, both emotional and scorecard-wise!