||ROYAL MELBOURNE (West)
||Nicklaus was spot on when he called it ‘a great members’ course’, and the furor the comment set off shows how far we have progressed over the past several decades. Perhaps the most faultlessly constructed course ever, thanks to the five years they took while using a horse drawn plough and scoop.
||NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
||The purest translation of golf from 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 is in the opposite hemisphere from where your mind first wanders.
||ST. ANDREWS (Old)
||The 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.
||The start in earnest of the minimalist movement, whereby man had every type of heavy machinery at his disposal but decided not to use it.
||ROYAL COUNTY DOWN (No.1)
||Rules of architecture are broken countless times, making this rugged course as beloved as any on the list.
||A logical way to analyze a golf course is to focus on the merits of its individual holes and how they work together. It matters not when or who built them. In the case of Prestwick, the player is bowled over by its superlative range of two-shotters, from Railway to Sea Headrig to Narrows to Alps. Prestwick melds unconventional with traditional features to examine the whole lot: brawn, finesse and mental acuity. Yes, its impact on architecture can’t be overstated but go there for its sensational golf holes.
||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.
||OAKLAND HILLS (South)
||In 2002, I was given a clubhouse tour by the club historian as part of a Donald Ross Society event. The walls were adorned with mesmerizing black and white aerials that showed a course with spacious playing corridors draped across a landscape that resembled a roiling sea. Large scale bunkers were cut into upslopes at the most diverse and interesting places. Courtesy of a phenomenal Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner restoration in 2020, I played that very course in 2021. Its already world-famous greens were expanded by over 30% as part of the restoration, leaving them without peer.
||NORTH BERWICK (West)
||The sheer variety of obstacles, hazards and greens makes other courses appear deadly dull. For originality, only Prestwick and St. Andrews can compete.
||LOS ANGELES (North)
||George Thomas didn’t need to build a bunch of courses to make it clear that his vision for golf was as good as it got. Good on him – and us – for realizing the potential of southern California with its rolling hills and barrancas as providing the ideal canvas upon which to build world-class golf.
||ROCK CREEK CATTLE COMPANY
||Thousands of courses suffer from horrible mow lines. One quick gauge regarding how well a course is presented is the connection between fairway and bunkers; Nothing more hapless than bunkers detached from play by thick rough. Here, its blue grass fairways release the ball forthwith into bunkers while still providing just enough friction to hold balls in different positions on its lumpy fairways. The virtues of links golf combines in spectacular fashion with the allure of the American West.
||Herbert Warren Wind’s North to Dornoch article in 1964 was evocative and romantic. These days, getting to Dornoch is infinitely easier and the course busier. Still, the collection of golf holes summons, and they have withstood the scrutiny of time since Wind first shined his light. Foxy is man’s ultimate tribute to the ground and not screwing up Mother Nature with bunkers. Shockingly, some of the interior holes like the 5th, 6th and 17th reach similar design highs. The kicker is its outstanding supporting cast, including the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 15th and 18th. No one leaves disappointed, which is a rare for a course which has had so much famed heaped upon it.
||ROYAL ST. GEORGE’S
||In 1887, Laidlaw Purves, its visionary founder, built a burly, adventuresome, in-your-face experience, especially considering that the Haskell ball was well out in the future. Lots has changed over the ensuing decades including fewer blind shots (though, importantly, there are still several). One constant though has always been its scale, which remains immense. Ultimately, Purves would take great pride in knowing that the course’s evolution has been such that it 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. Still has room to move higher with tweaks to 8 and 13 and news that they intend to chunk out and remove all cart paths is reason to rejoice. Calling out each player’s name on the elevated 1st tee snug to the clubhouse sets the stage for a memorable round, each and every time, on what is a surprisingly quiet course.
||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 is wholly unreasonable due in part to a famed quintet of one shotters. Covering the course in less than 3 hours, however, is de rigueur at this two ball and foursomes haven. To quote Darwin, ‘I regard St. Andrews and Rye as the most entirely seaside golf courses.’
||THE COUNTRY CLUB (Clyde/Squirrel)
||This old-fashioned throwback is epitomized by small greens and cross hazards, both of which make the golfer wonder what went wrong in modern architecture. Whaling away with the driver does you no good and the emphasis is refreshingly on hitting fairways and greens, as the players will find to their dismay in June 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.
||Similar to Cypress Point, the routing meanders through a variety of environments and yet, unlike Cypress Point, it doesn’t receive the credit for doing so. Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration work greatly enhanced/exposed both the dunescape and the greens and propelled this course 25+ spots higher from the inaugural list. Once upon a time, the club’s reputation carried the course. Now, the course is underrated and should enjoy an elite status in design for the uncommon number of interesting questions that it poses, starting straightaway at the domed 1st green.
||No whining on the yacht! A 36-hole day can show this 6,800 yard course as being the most handsome on the list (when the sun pops out) as well as the hardest (when the Inner Hebrides winds kick up) despite ‘only’ having 34 bunkers. The weather greatly shapes the playing experience but under all conditions, the stretch from 5 to 16 fills my dreams. Go with a friend, enjoy match play and you may well have the time of your life. Only the card and pencil set addicted to stroke play can ruin this stunning walk, which is what they deserve for playing that lumbering form.
||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, summed up by a Minnesota couple who are members. The husband plays off scratch and his wife is a 32 handicap. The course worldwide they most enjoy playing together? You guessed it.
||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.
||Pebble Beach represents a mixed architectural bag, which shouldn’t deter a single golfer from beelining here at any price. Its greens have altered/shrunk the most in size from their Golden Age roots of any set on this list but the game’s most captivating stretch (holes 3-10) remains here. Much to the resort’s credit, it has also been relentlessly kind to walkers for decades.
||Not just an ideal 18-holer, one of the world’s ideal courses. Set across modest land, the design, especially its savage greens, highlights the lack of thought that curses 99% of subsequent world-wide designs.
||Example no. 2 of the advantages of a slow build. Sacrilege not to have one of Thompson’s Big Five as the best in the country, and I am biased, but after 40+ rounds, I contend that Rod Whitman’s work, especially 30 yards and in to the greens, is supreme, as amplified by the fescue fairways. One of the game’s top dozen set of two shot holes.
||Before property prices exploded, one of the Kings of Routing was given the opportunity to showcase his talent along a jagged island’s perimeter. He didn’t mess up, further highlighting how the engineer Raynor excelled with rocky sites.
||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.
||What Charles Dickens might call a tale of two 9s is simply two of the best 9-holes in America together on one property. More than 100 years after Tillinghast gave us this exceptional parkland model, is it too much to ask for another course to be built that is equally beguiling?
||ST. PATRICK’S LINKS
||Might this rival Barnbougle Dunes as Doak’s ultimate expression in architecture? I don’t see why not, as all the key ingredients are present: ideal soil and land, 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
||* See Chicago GC, six spots above, and substitute 9 for 18.
||The greatest family country club in America gets miscast, as it is only seen on television in the inopportune times of June or August. Hanse finished what Foster started and the course for excellent fun should eventually exceed its reputation for hosting majors. 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. In doing so, 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 the dazzling green pads, 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 contribution to the genre of architecture has been desert and prairie golf. This is the later, set in chop hills found in northeast Colorado. This brand of treeless golf 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.
||A strategic masterpiece, with something to be accomplished, shot after shot after shot in a sumptuous setting. Further proof that we are in a second Golden Age and that Mark Parsinen is truly missed.
||The golf is of such a quality that you couldn’t care less that the ocean isn’t a frequent backdrop. Give the man who made it a possibility credit too, knowing that when a non-architect like Mike Keiser acts as an inflection point, the game had strayed too far from its roots.
||Doak not only has as many courses listed as any architect, six are front loaded in the top thirty-seven. 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.
||ST. ENODOC (Church)
||The most rambunctious landforms aren’t always in Ireland.
||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 holes are often controversial, witness the 17th here.
||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.
||The 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 in the March 2017 Feature Interview.
||There are plenty of charming 6,500 yard courses on this list; this one’s just as charming but also 10% longer.
||The Prestwick of the East, nothing had changed for two generations of players, including tree growth. Thankfully, Martin Ebert corrected that in 2018/9 and restored Alison’s trademark brawny features. To date, I have only seen pictures of Ebert’s efforts so no telling how high this will rise after a revisit.
||Coore & Crenshaw have worked on some of the best properties in the world over the last quarter century, including coastal sites in five different countries. Yet, somehow they transformed this landfill 8 miles south of Dallas into arguably one of their top five designs of all-time. To understand how that is possible is to understand that two to five foot rumples often yields the best golf.
||Not one of the 20 best raw links properties (Andrew Kirkaldy’s comment of an ‘auld water-meadie’ hits too close to home) but one of the 20 best links worldwide, courtesy of the architecture, especially the greenside bunkering. Holes 13 and 17 are to architecture what the club’s famous lunches are to the game’s social fabric.
||LES BORDES (NEW)
||Architecture-wise, this could be 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.
||The pace of the greens is the only thing that Maxwell and MacKenzie wouldn’t recognize; otherwise, this remains remarkably pure to their original vision and design virtues.
||ROYAL LYTHAM & ST. ANNES
||A delight to find a course where driving skill 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!
||ROYAL CINQUE PORTS
||Given that its green contours rival those at Macrihanish, I have no idea why this links doesn’t receive uniform adulation. Was Sir Peter Allen misguided to nominate here for his last round? Doubtful.
||ESSEX COUNTY, MA
||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.
||Hardly anyone builds courses with medium size greens anymore which makes this design all the more appealing as it ambles over stunning landforms.
||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.’
||WOODHALL SPA (Hotchkin)
||Read the November 2021 Feature Interview with Richard Latham to appreciate this heathland course’s transformation over the past several years. One of the most intelligent bunker schemes in the game.
||Admittedly you need to be fit like a Dutchman to play 36 holes in a day over its heaving dunes, but its distinctive landforms warrant it for consideration as Europe’s best.
||George Thomas described in 1929 why you should love this course. Four Canadian courses – all open to the public – make the top 60.
||An example of how hosting majors can unfavorably stereotype a course. Troon is both more comely and more varied than for which it receives credit.
||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 for 2022 being the re-done 17th.
||Bigger scale courses with splashier bunkers have emerged in recent times, very few of whom demand the shot qualities that make this demure design so endearing. Some of the game’s great green sites (e.g. the 5th, 8th, 12th, and 15th) makes this a haven for better ball strikers. Just look at the champions it has produced over the decades for confirmation. A proper golf club.
||WHITE BEAR YACHT CLUB
||Durban garnered great fanfare for decades because of its one-off fairway undulations; WBYC offers the same but without the tree issue and superior greens. William Watson joins Langford & Moreau and Wayne Stiles as architecture’s most unsung heroes in North America.
||ROYAL NORTH DEVON
||Naturalists rejoice; Too bad this course isn’t on television every April as the game would win. The golf is as vital today as a century ago, so it isn’t a museum though the clubhouse is. Inevitably, coastal erosion won out around the turn and the golfing world is adjusting to how the hallowed grounds of the 7th and 9th now play with their holes having been altered and their pars reversed.
||NEW SOUTH WALES
||The shortcoming of returning nines is evident but for exhilaration, few courses can compete, and for variety, the four par-4s in a row from 13-16 are without peer for diversity.
||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 Friar’s Head-esque.
||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.
||ROYAL WEST NORFOLK
||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 all to yourself. Still, Brancaster remains far more than a walk back in time as holes such as 8, 9 and 14 are as good as the game offers.
||Herbert Fowler was a man for all seasons: be it on heathland, linksland or a glacial moraine like here, Fowler knew how to create great golf while disturbing as little earth from tee to green as possible.
||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 COUNTRY CLUB, OH
||The merits of this Flynn design are evident today to the point where I consider it Flynn’s second best. Few agree but once Gil Hanse finishes here, that will change.
||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.
||This elegant club has been an especially good caretaker. We should start celebrating places like here where a monster restoration project has never been required because they never screwed it up.
||Twenty-five courses from England make this list, which equates to one every 2,014 square miles and substantiates my long-held contention: England just pips Scotland as the world’s finest country for golf. Scotland comes in a super tight second, with one course every 2,018 square miles while the USA has one every 54,286.
||Andrew Green’s recent work expunged several non-Golden-Age elements and shifted the conversation from fixating on what was wrong at this American stalwart to what was right.
||The third Macdonald club on this list with a polo field for the practice range. While polo doesn’t connote exciting land, Macdonald’s timeless architecture shines thanks to the dialed-in presentation. Why is it that so many custodians of Macdonald/Raynor/Banks architecture respect what they have while other architects get treated more shabbily?
||WALTON HEATH (Old)
||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 and is a must for any golf library.
||The course once again properly reflects its name, which guarantees a stimulating time.
||A trip to Pinehurst and here in 1981 stoked my interest in golf architecture, a passion that has never waned. Hard to believe Harbour Town has already celebrated its 50th anniversary and without question, its glued-to-the-ground features have lent the course a timeless quality. In acknowledgement of what Pete and Alice Dye meant to their craft, my Flag Bag is a mix from here and Kiawah.
||A course’s routing provides its backbone and as such, its importance can’t be overstated. Sadly, as a topic, it was rarely discussed or even understood up until Doak published his book on routing in 2020. 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, resurfacing countless times when encountering copious parallel holes wholly devoid in imagination.
||Golf’s heathland think tank at the turn-of-the-20th century still flummoxes golfers in a most appealing manner to this day.
||A much easier walk than the Haagsche, the Colt architecture delights 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.
||North American architects need not head overseas for inspiration and fresh ideas, they should return to the game’s roots at places like Myopia Hunt and another Leeds’ design gem, Kebo Valley. 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. What a shame America’s first great course hasn’t been more emulated.
||Situated in Canton, Ohio, the conversation on this Donald Ross design is stuck on green speeds as too many neat hole locations are surrendered at modern speeds. That is regrettable as the wonderfully rolling property replete with natural features and Ross’s routing serve up a litany of pleasant surprises. In particular, Ross’s use of a stream at 4, 5 and 11 and central hazards at other holes has one wondering how this course flies under the radar.
||ST. GEORGE’S HILL
||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).
||A 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.
||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, crumpled land. One of the warmest welcomes in the sport.
||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 enthused into the landscape.
||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.
||Possessing an austere 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.
||GULLANE No. 1
||In the battle between the heart (North Berwick) and brain (Muirfield), this East Lothian gem gets overlooked in a miscarriage of justice.
||SILLOTH ON SOLWAY
||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 border with Scotland. For more, please read our February, 2020 Feature Interview with Club Secretary Alan Oliver.
||DISMAL RIVER (Red)
||Much is rightly made of the back nine, to the detriment of a wonderful group of half-par holes (4, 8 and 9) on the front. Like Ardfin, the course benefits from the luxury provided to the architect of not having to start and end near the same spot.
||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 visit in August, 2019 served as a reminder of how many good greens the incoming nine possesses, particularly the incomparable string from 12-15. Neatly bound up in 6,300 yards, Machrihanish is precisely the sort of action filled, fast playing course that North America lacks.
||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 2023, this course will be as good as its black and white photos have always conveyed and cracking the top 50 in the Custodians seems inevitable.
||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 least appreciated, good holes in golf.
||MacKenzie’s reputation for exciting features is justified, but this early work is more demure – and all the better for how it compliments the gorgeous heathland setting. MacKenzie began his career as an ordinary, frustrated club member, believing if his fellow members would accept a few of his well-considered suggestions their home course could be improved greatly. The rest is history!
||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).
||SAINT LOUIS CC
||This cornerstone design still constitutes the perfect 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 now modern architects come here 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 less than 20 bunkers. 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.
||Stellar architecture and affordability rarely commingle in the United States, much to the game’s detriment. This gleefully public Langford & Moreau course in central Wisconsin represents that rare .10% of the time.
||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.
||The first of three courses from Iowa to make the list, this Keith Foster design was revamped in 2018. If you know how hilly this portion of Iowa is and that a 60-acre lake dominates the central portion of the property, then you won’t be caught off-guard like I was by how dynamic the golf and visuals are.
||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.
||ROYAL MELBOURNE (East)
||The fact that the East holes seamlessly mesh with the West ones to form the Composite tells you all you need to know about Alex Russell’s design chops. Need more convincing? Study holes 7-14 in the flat third paddock to appreciate his talent level or compare his work here to that at Paraparam to understand how the man’s work resists being stereotyped. Other designs by this ‘distinctly brainy’ Aussie, including the recently restored Yarra Yarra and Lake Karrinyup, percolate just outside the 149.
||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, kudos to the designers, the climate and the grassing schemes. Without doubt, this municipal deserves another US 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 is due to such feedback.
||ST. ANDREWS BEACH
||The 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. Presentation needs to improve and then holes like 2, 16 and 18 will finally receive the recognition they are due.
||THE JOCKEY CLUB
||Most flat courses lack interest at the greens; most courses aren’t designed by Alister MacKenzie.
||If you think Upstate New York ends at the northern edge of Westchester County, you’ve missed out on one of Donald Ross’s neatest courses, draped along a tumbling Adirondack mountainscape.
||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.
||Peter Thomson’s high regard for Braid as an architect is duly noted by this being the 4th Braid course to make the list.
||Talking about your home course is treacherous as the sentimental homer factor is unavoidable. Still, walking several thousand miles at one place (sometimes with clubs, sometimes with dogs, sometimes both) over a 22-year period lends perspective. In short, Kyle Franz’s work in 2021 provided the playing attributes that this elegant Ross routing over rolling sand hills in Moore County long deserved.
||The 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.
||CAPE BRETON HIGHLANDS
||Like Ardfin, this is one of the game’s great walks, even if it takes a while. Unfortunately, being situated in a national park has the disadvantage of making prudent tree removal problematic. The fairways need more light and air circulation and allowing the holes to breathe would enhance one’s appreciation of nature, which is – yes – one reason why parks were created.
||Nobody built greens like Walter Travis, and these rival the ones at Hollywood as his best set. A course doesn’t need to measure more than its 5,900 yards to be a standout, but it does need to be flawlessly presented. Thanks to a wonderful consulting architect, greenkeeper and head professional, it is.
||FRENCH LICK (Ross)
||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.
||A shabby chic Maine coastal gem that highlights a willingness by New Englanders to keep the sport clutter free.
||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.
||The opposite of Cabot Cliffs in that the first eight holes are par 4s, though the variety is such that you are blissfully unaware. Then, playing the second nine, we encounter the best holes, including one of the game’s finest 6-hole finishes.
||CEDAR RAPIDS CC
||Ross’s only course in the state was rejuvenated by one of North America’s most intelligent, cost-effective restorations. Who doesn’t feel more at home at a club that looks after the best interests of its members versus ones that recklessly splash money about to ‘impress’? After a horrific wind sheer event toppled hundreds of trees in August, 2020, the club methodically swung into action. Progress has been such that there is every reason to believe the course will be even better in 2022 than when I saw it in 2020, with one-off landforms like those left of 2 and 9 fully exposed for all to appreciate.
||Opened in the late 1990s, this is one of the first designs that perfectly tied the scale of the fairways and bunkers together to take advantage of nature’s riches, all-the-while allowing it to play well in the Pacific winds that sweep across Gunnamatta Beach. Should I ever see Ellerston and once Bob Harrison finishes his work at Newcastle GC, his name may well appear 3 1/2 times within this compilation.
||ROYAL ASHDOWN FOREST
||The more photographs I see of courses on Instagram slathered with expensive to maintain bunkers, the more I yearn to return to this bunkerless delight.
||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.
||In the prior century, Beverly embraced its macho reputation for being difficult, thanks to over-treed, narrow playing corridors and severe greens. As of June 2020, after a methodical and meticulous restoration project that lasted 20 years, the course has blossomed into one of Ross’s most thought-provoking designs, courtesy of some of the widest fairways in the Midwest. However, you ‘gotta hit’em’ as the greens reject sloppy tactics.
||ARCADIA BLUFFS (South)
||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.
||Europe’s version of Merion. The presentation of Colt’s 1920 work is so pure that the course ranks among the very best inland courses for a hickory match. That also means it is a great place to learn the game, as well as grow old. Even for Colt, the set of par 3s is a stand out.
||One of the game’s least tamed playing experiences, Askernish 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 for travel.
||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.
||The routing defies description, with holes toing and froing in every direction. That’s a good thing, given Tasmania’s windy location. The gorgeous, tiny one shot 4th kicks off the course’s best four hole stretch but the design pièce de résistance is Coore’s work in the flats, namely the 2nd and 12th greens and the outrageously clever 16th hole where the correct play, unbeknownst to the golfer on the tee, is often to the outside of the dogleg. The course storms home from there with a couple of corkers. The island climate is ideal for fescue and the manner in which Coore placed greenside bunkers (sometimes 30 yards away!) lets the design blossom in all winds.
||ST. GEORGE’S, NY
||Macdonald was a keen fan of Emmet and after playing here, you will be too. This is the sixth (!) Hanse restoration on the list.
||Mike DeVries’s 2020 restoration of this Colt gem epitomizes the return of parkland golf’s joys in America. The glorious 350 yard swath was completely open up that houses the 1st, 18th, 11th, 12th and 8th holes. That golf all plays in front of the stately clubhouse and is an exercise in avoiding a minefield of over 30 bunkers. Meanwhile, Colt, grasping that variety is the key to architecture, adorned the course’s two best holes (the 12th and 16th, both beefy two shotters) with zero bunkers. The grace in which its 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.
||I give the owner credit for how this Strantz course has evolved. The incessant whining he must have endured in the early days – the opening tee shot is too intimidating, the hazards are too deep, the greens are too wild, etc. The owner never backed down and now the course enjoys a devoted following. Tree clearing and improved Bermuda grasses since Strantz’s passing have the vision fully realized. C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘You will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original.’
||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 here on the high plains in the western part of the state and you have an inland course that plays shockingly like a links, especially when its fairways go dormant. The 2nd hole can be a driver/eight iron and so can parallel 4th in the opposite direction with the rub being that there is 140 yards delta in length between the two holes! Arguably, this is Doak’s least seen and most underrated design, as this course is a true outpost.
||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. Restoring more of Watson’s bunkering schemes would be an exciting development.
||Some courses prize their toughest holes. Not Simpson and not here as he was nonplussed by the long, straight, hard 14th as it merely required stout hitting. The rest of the course is a chess match with Simpson.
||GRAND ST. EMILIONNAIS
||France might be the least appreciated of the great golfing countries. Geographically diverse, and the beneficiary of both the best Golden Age and modern architects, its golf scene lacks for nothing. Here, the first golf family of France built their tribute to the game in the rolling countryside of Bordeaux. As is often the case with a Doak design, the land is the star and moments such as those at holes 6, 8, and 15 make you want to hit a small satchel of balls until you get the shots just right. Only 30 bunkers were required to assist the challenge presented by these medium-size greens. Après golf, if there is a better hang than the UNESCO world heritage town of Saint-Émilion, I haven’t seen it.
||Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford combined to create the best course built in California since their hero George Thomas passed away in 1932. This one spurs countless emails where golfers recount the joys found at this minimalist design located in a house-free, secluded canyon as they play beside and over a variety of diagonal hazards.
||Fishers Island received a letter in the 1980s stating in part, it wasn’t eligible for inclusion in a magazine’s top 100 because their tees weren’t level enough. Well! Fano’s tees are mostly level because they are often artificial mats, in a telling sign that tees aren’t a critical factor for inclusion on this list. At under 5,600 yards, Fano’s scorecard won’t impress nearly as much as how the sumptuous crumpled links land was incorporated into the holes on this island course off Denmark. News of pending work is greeted with trepidation.
||RHODE ISLAND CC
||Half-par holes abound with a seemingly unreachable two shotter like 7 book ended on one side by a drivable par 4 and on the other by a reachable par 5. The good club golfer is challenged, yet the course remains a hub for family activity, substantiating that Ross again hit the sweet spot for pleasurable golf for all. What did he grasp that alludes other architects?