Imagine you had an unlimited budget and unobstructed access to any golf course in the USA, where would you go? Do you choose the ultimately exclusive clubs like Augusta where ordinary mortals can only view from their TV or do you choose a less exclusive but enormously rewarding round at Whistling Straits? Every avid golfer; the purist, the snob and the beginner, has their own bucket list and reasons for choosing one over another.
The Ocean Course by Pete Dye is consistently ranked as one of the top courses in the world. It has stunning panoramic views and unrivaled golf history that make playing this legendary course an unforgettable experience. Located on the easternmost end of Kiawah Island, just 45 minutes from Charleston, The Ocean Course has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere — 10 right along the Atlantic, with the other eight running parallel to those. The Ocean Course also has the distinction of being one of only four courses in the U.S. to have hosted every PGA of American major event, including The Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship. Kiawah Island is a golfer’s seaside paradise that also features courses designed by Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, and Clyde Johnston.
Everyone learns to take failure in stride at Pine Valley. Abysmal scores are a way of life. That’s because the underlying principle of founder George Crump’s design for the course is the island. The tee is an island. The fairway, despite being 50-55 yards wide, is also an island. And so, of course, is the green. Each of these isolated plots is tightly defended by sand, scrub, rough, dense woods, sometimes water, sometimes steep falloffs — a no-man’s land of potentially unplayable lies. Players must tack unerringly from one island to the next, or pay a heavy price. Nonetheless, golfers dearly love the place. Though only 15 miles from Philadelphia, this 620-acre tract in the New Jersey pines occupies a world all its own — simple, serene, the clubhouse an old L-shaped pebbledash structure short on style and grace but long on welcoming warmth. And the caddies are among the best anywhere.
Located on the famed 17-Mile Drive that winds through some of the most dramatic and expensive real estate in the country, Pebble Beach Golf Links is the jewel in the crown of a golf region that could be the world’s most concentrated cluster of world-class courses. Opened in 1919, the Jack Neville and Douglas Grant-designed course; augmented over the years by at least eight other men, including Alister MacKenzie, Jack Nicklaus and, most recently, Arnold Palmer. It’s impossible to highlight just one set of 18 holes at Pebble Beach without shortchanging some of the best courses in the country. Pebble Beach Golf Links, set atop the jagged coastline cliffs, is perhaps the most famous, with jaw-dropping ocean views, particularly at the eighth hole. For the ultimate in luxury, stay at The Lodge of Pebble Beach, or for a more laidback atmosphere, head to the Mediterranean-style Casa Palmero.
In contrast to the other three majors, The Masters is a beautiful celebration, like opening day baseball. Like an immaculately trimmed Japanese garden, is it the perfect golf course. No club has tinkered with its golf course as often or as effectively over the decades as has Augusta National Golf Club, mainly to keep it competitive for the annual Masters Tournament, an event it has conducted since 1934. All that tinkering has resulted in an amalgamation of design ideas, with a routing by Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones, some Perry Maxwell greens, some Trent Jones water hazards, some Jack Nicklaus mounds and swales and, most recently, extensive re-bunkering by Tom Fazio.
Glamorous Cypress Point, Alister Mackenzie’s masterpiece woven through cypress, sand dunes and jagged coastline, wasn’t always the darling of America’s greatest courses. Critics were often heard saying, “It’s not surprising that good players might find Cypress Point wanting: it has several easy holes and a weak finisher.” Opinion has evolved over the years and this magnificent course often ranks number one in America’s Most Fun Courses to play. In the 2000s, member Sandy Tatum, the former USGA president who christened Cypress Point as the Sistine Chapel of golf, convinced the club not to combat technology by adding new back tees, but instead make a statement by celebrating its original architecture and consequently, Cypress remains timeless.
Located in Kohler, Wisconsin, about 90 minutes north of Milwaukee and built by Pete Dye in 1998. If you want to know what it is like to play golf in Ireland but don’t want to fly across the Atlantic, Whistling Straits is as close as you’ll ever get. The land the course was built on was formerly a U.S. Army base. Owner Herb Kohler instructed Dye that he wanted the course to resemble Ballybunion. The eight holes that play along Lake Michigan are the most dramatic. Similar to his work at Casa de Campo, Dye does a brilliant job of situating green sites along and above the water. The course is also over-run with bunkering. Many holes have scores of bunkers. Many of the bunkers don’t actually come into play, but they give the course a dramatic and rough and tumble look.
Non-golfers may have never heard of Bandon, Oregon, but you can be assured that dyed in the wool golfers know this small seaside town as the home to one of the greatest golf resorts in the world. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort opened the Bandon Dunes Golf Course in 1999 which was quickly joined by Pacific Dunes in 2001, Bandon Trails in 2005 and then Old Macdonald in 2010. In 2012 a nifty little 13 hole par 3 course called Bandon Preserve opened for play which completes the current course lineup at the resort. There are many things that make Bandon Dunes special and the golf courses are the first and foremost. These aren’t just ordinary golf courses . . . these are links golf courses. Not only are these courses some of the very few authentic links courses found in North America, but they have also been rated as some of the top golf courses in the U.S. and the world by several golf publications.
This area is known as the country’s cradle of golf, and its crown jewel, Pinehurst. The stories of champions and the traditions of championship golf have been created at Pinehurst since 1898. As the site of more championships than any other golf course in the country, Pinehurst hosted 14 days of championship play in 2014, with back to back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open Championships for the first time in their history. After years of tinkering with something that wasn’t broke, the owners have finally attempted to recreate the special playability that was Pinehurst’s hallmark converting the greens to bent grass…with special care to maintain the existing contours of the marvelous Donald Ross greens and surrounding humps and hollows. One of Pinehurst’s prettiest holes, the par-3 15th, is here. Known as the Cathedral Hole, it’s fronted by a pond and encircled by a stand of ancient pines, the tops of which resemble the pipes of an organ.
According to many experts, Merion (East) is the best course per acre on the planet. The Hugh Wilson layout is impressive by virtually anyone’s standards, but it is a masterpiece when you consider the course sits on less than 120 acres. Though restricted in available acreage, the course doesn’t feel short and delivers one of the most challenging experiences in America. Famously known as the “white faces,” the bunkers at Merion were the first to have raised lips on the back side of the bunker so that the bunkers appear to be looking back at the golfer. The greenside bunkers have deep, elevated lips next to the putting surface as they have built up over time from sand flying out of bunker and onto the lip. The club is walking-only and completing your round in the four hour the pace of play guideline isn’t a suggestion, it’s a self-enforced requirement. One factor that helps with the pace of play requirement is the equally stern enforcement of players never taking a mulligan – another Merion dedication to the roots and honors of the game.
The trio of William Vanderbilt, Duncan Cryder and Edward Mead decided to build a course in the swank Long Island town of Southampton and is one of the oldest organized courses in the country. From the start, Shinnecock Hills has been admired and studied. The course hosted the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur tournaments in 1896. But in 1901 the popular women’s-only Red Course was abandon to allow for a lengthening and redesign of the 18-hole White Course. When a highway development in 1931 cut the course in two, another redesign was completed but much of the course known to golf lovers today dates from this era. Three U.S. Open Championships have been played at Shinnecock Hills in the modern era and The U.S. Open will return to the course in 2018. The famous clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills, designed Stanford White, sites on top of a hill and is an indelible icon of the club.