Best Golf Courses, America and Europe
As a student of golf history, golf architecture, and avid golfer, my qualifications provide a worldly perspective to identify a “best course” list.
Of the hundreds of golf courses I've played, these fourty two, in my opinion, are the most deserving.
1. Turnberry (Ailsa), Scotland, is the finest linksland golf course in the world. With a beautiful links - dunes setting, Turnberry has all the elements of a classic tournament golf course. When in Scotland, suggest you go out of your way to play this exceptional golf course.
2. Pine Valley, US, is deservedly the best inland course in the world. Recent lengthening of holes number 3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 14, and 18 has greatly enhanced the overall shot-making quality of Pine Valley. Having played Pine Valley over 20 times, I can fully appreciate this magnificent golf course. What a masterpiece!
3. Augusta National, US, has arguably the best contoured greens in America and is the best managed facility in golf. As an on course volunteer during the Masters tournament for 30 years, I feel I know Augusta National better than most on my "best of" list. My favorite hole at Augusta is number thirteen, a short dog leg left par five, where an eagle or bogey has change the hopes of many a player contesting to win the Masters.
4. St. Andrews (Old), Scotland, displays strategic golf with difficult bunkers that must be avoided if one is to advert disaster. After playing over 30 rounds on the Old Course I am still learning how to think me way through each hole and adjust to the ever changing winds. My good friend, Gordon Moir, Director of Greenskeeping at St. Andrews, has taught me what little I know about how best to play the Old Course.
5. Cypress Point, US, has the best variation of holes to include sand, dunes, pineland, and the Pacific Ocean. If you had the opportunity, you would never tire of playing this great golf course. Cypress is naturally beautiful, scenic, and challenging.
6. Royal County Down, N. Ireland, has the best golf course routing plan in the world. The course flows from hole to hole with an extensive variety of shot values experienced. When I played Royal County Down and walked off the course, I said to myself, "You just played a golf course that must rate as one of the best in the world." That was over 20 years ago, and I have the same opinion today.
7. Shinnecock Hills, US, is one of the most difficult tournament courses in the United States. Located on eastern Long Island, Shinnecock Hills feels more like Scotland than almost any other golf course in America.
8. Royal Dornoch, Scotland, has beautiful scenery and classic linksland hole designs. Aside from the natural beauty of the sea (firth), which is very visual on many of the holes, this is truly a great golf course in all respects. Lots of thorny gorse can be found on the golf course, and if you visit in April, when the gorse is in bloom, it's a spectacular sight.
9. Pebble Beach, US, has some of the finest examples of "ocean holes" in the world. The first few holes and the middle of the back nine are good but not great golf holes. The Pebble Beach Golf Course is all about the ocean holes, starting at the fourth through number ten and finishing with holes number seventeen and eighteen.
10. Royal Aberdeen, Scotland, has the most demanding first nine holes in golf. After playing this course a half dozen times, I came away with the same conclusion each time. If you want to play one of the hardest nine holes in golf, you'll find it on the first nine at Royal Aberdeen. Royal Aberdeen is a fantastic links golf experience.
11. Carnoustie, Scotland, is one of the hardest tournament courses in the world. The golfing great Ben Hogan only played in one British Open, and that was at Carnoustie. He won the tournament in convincing fashion on this "most difficult" tournament golf course.
12. Royal Birkdale, England, is best defined by the modest to large sand dunes through which the fairways flow. Birkdale is an excellent links tournament course that exhibits a wide variation of golf holes. After playing this course once, I came back the following year to play it again before the 2008 Open and liked the course better the second time around.
13. Sunningdale (Old), England, located outside of London, the Old course is half of a 36 hole golfing complex that, in my opinion, is "the best 36 hole facility in the World." A heathland course noted for massive and continuous heather groupings found lining the roughs. Over a hundred years old and this golf course still plays to the modern game while traditional in every repsect . You will find strategic bunker placement and reasonablly concoured greens.
14. Sunningdale (New), England, the New course is the other half of the 36 hole facility. I played both the Old and the New courses at Sunningdale in the same day. I thoroughly enjoyed both courses, recalling this day, as one of the most memorial golfing days in my life.
15. Royal Troon, Scotland, starts out with holes that are not as visual as some of the great links courses. However, once you get to the middle of the front nine, the course gets very interesting, which holds your attention through to the eighteenth. I played Troon within weeks after the 2004 Open with my friends, Eric Bergstol and Gordon Moir – from St. Andrews, and can report that we enjoyed this course at first sight.
16. North Berwick, Scotland, has some of the most unusual golf holes in Scotland. The original "Redan" style green can be found at the 15th and the raised 16th green are among the unique features you'll experience. The clubhouse and the finishing 18th hole give you the feeling of the Old Course at St. Andrews. Having played North Berwick over a dozen times I still look forward to coming back each year to play with my friends, Stuart Greenwood, who is the Greenskeeper and Alan Phillips, Club Captain (2009).
17. Walton Heath (Old), England, located outside of London, you will find another excellent example of a heathland course with continuous native heather found in the roughs. This course is over a hundred years old and still qualifies for consideration as a major tournament site. Walton Heath is an attractive course, with a strategic design, that includes well placed bunkers.
18. Ballybunion (Old), Ireland, is one of the best examples of holes routed between large fescue and marum (beach) grass sand dunes. The first time I played the Ballybunion Old, I fell in love with the large sand dunes and the way the holes flow through, around, and over the dunes. This is a great linksland golf course that every golfer should experience in his golfing lifetime.
19. Lahinch, Ireland, is one of the finest dunes/linksland golf courses in the world. Some people would argue that Lahinch is a better links course compared to Ballybunion Old. Lahinch is a great golf course, with all of the classic linksland fescue, sea, sand, beach, and great golf holes. As this course is relatively close to Ballybunion, you should play both courses if you are in the west coast of Ireland.
20, Royal Portrush, N. Ireland, is a fantastic thirty six hole facility. The Dunluce course is a strong championship layout in every respect and the Valley course a great links course in its own rite. This is one of the best thirty six hole golf facilities in the World.
21. Swinley Forrest, England, located outside of London, is a gem of a golf course. A very private facility Swinley Forrest has not received the public acclaim that other English courses have. This is a century old heathland course with large and continuous heather groupings found adjacent to the primary roughs. This course is traditional in every repsect and provides one of the most enjoyable expeiences any golfer could expect. If you can arrange for an invite to play Swinley Forrest I am sure you will share my opinion.
22. Bethpage Black, US, is big, bold, long, and strong. The Black is an expansive golf course with spacious room between holes. The features are bold, with a linksland feel to the site, even though it's an inland course with some tree lined fairways. If you want to experience one of the finest tournament golf courses in the world, then make arrangements to play Bethpage Black. As a side note, in 2002 and 2009 I worked the US Open week on the hole - pin setting team.
23. Oakmont, US, is a golfing experience that every low handicapper should try. Known for extremely fast putting greens, day in and day out, year after year. Oakmont is a great tournament course that has retained its high reputation for over 100 years. Oakmont is a very difficult golf course to score on. In 2007 I worked the US Open week on the stimpmeter and pin setting team and recorded a green speed of 15’ before Sunday’s final round.
24. National Golf Links, US, has excellent examples of linksland holes blended into natural settings. Built in the early part of the 1900's, the National Golf Links is the masterpiece of C.B. MacDonald, who spent a good portion of his life designing, constructing, and improving one of the greatest linksland courses in America. The National doesn't get the press that Shinnecock does (the two courses sit side by side), nor is it as difficult, but it's just as fun and rewarding to play.
25. Muirfield, Scotland, has a routing plan that allows for a change of wind direction as you play the golf course. Close to the sea, but not on the water, this very solid tournament course displaying a variety of holes that reward good shot making. Not as visual as some links courses, Muirfield makes up for this with a wide variety of solid golf holes.
26. Bayonne Golf Club, US, is a links style golf course in an urban setting with Hudson River and New York City views on thirteen holes. Anyone who has visited the links courses of Ireland and Scotland will attest that Bayonne is on the same high ground with the finest natural links courses of the world. The most dramatic aspect to the property is the enormous scale of the site as observed from the clubhouse which is positioned high on a hill, in the center of the golf course. Holes number sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, are as challenging as anyone's best.
27. Ballyliffin Golf Club, Ireland, located in the most north west part of the country this fantastic facility has two must play links courses. The Old Links is a Faldo redesign in 2009 and the Glashedy Links was designed by two Irishman, Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock.
28. Prairie Dunes, US, may be one of the most under rated golf courses in America. Constructed in the mid-1930 in south central Kansas, Prairie Dunes is a mix of great golf holes, native grasses, natural beauty, and classic golf course design. This is a must play course for those who appreciate the best golf courses in America.
29. Merion (East), US, is one of the finest examples of a "strategic" golf layout that forces you think your way around the golf course. Shot placement is the key to scoring at Merion - this course has some of the best finishing holes in golf.
30. Western Gailes, Scotland, is a linksland course routed among a seemingly never ending string of small- to medium-sized sand dunes covered with fescue and marum (beach) grass. One of the most enjoyable links course to play in Scotland. If you are near Troon, Prestwick, or Turnberry you should play Western Gailes.
31. East Lake, US, is a classic golf course that made me feel like Bobby Jones was just around the corner. Strong holes can be found at East Lake, with a very good long par three for the finish. East Lake is a tournament ready golf course and is a must play on your "bucket list".
32. Winged Foot, US, West course is strong and long, with big sand bunkers guarding the greens. Be ready for a lot of "sandies" if you are going to score well at this golf course. One of Tillinghast's best architectural designs that includes the famous par three on hole number ten.
33. Pinehurst (No.2), US, has putting green contours that make it difficult to hit close to the pin. The great golf course architect Donald Ross spent much of his life creating his most famous design. No doubt Ross was greatly influenced by what he saw as a young man growing up in Dornoch, Scotland. When I played Royal Dornoch I found green contours with collection areas that were similar to those constructed by Ross at Pinehurst.
34. Castle Stuart, Scotland, is only a few years old but is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the finest links courses in the country. Excellent views of the country side and water, along with a wide diversity of golf holes makes this course a necessary stop.
35. Glen Eagles, Scotland, Kings course is a James Braid design that is over ninety year old. This course is a inland design set in a rolling country side. Masterful examples of using the natural flow of the land to "set in" golf holes with a minimum of construction excavation. Great greens sites and surrounds.
36. Saunton Golf Club, England, has two Championship courses that have been rated on the list for the 100 Best Courses in the UK. Both the East and West are true links courses with many excellent golf holes.
37. Portstewart Golf Club, N. Ireland, will provide you with some very strong links dunes holes on the front nine and rolling links land on the back nine. Very enjoyable for anyone who likes links golf.
38. Victoria National, US has numerous small lakes adjacent to many of the golf holes. Built on an old coal strip mine site this Tom Fazio design is one of the best of the new golf courses built over the past 20 years. Great golf course with lots of shot selection variety.
39. Harbortown, US, has a masterful routing with strategic design concepts. The golf course architect, Pete Dye, must be given credit for setting a new direction for golf course architecture when he designed Harbortown in the 1960's. At Harbortown, you'll find a mix of great golf holes, where shot placement is the key to scoring.
40. Garden City, US, is an old time links golf course in a New York City setting. Once on the golf course you feel like you are in Scotland. This is truly a great golfing atmosphere and experience - men's only club.
41. Baltusrol Golf Club, US, Lower course,designed by A.W. Tillinghast in the 1920's is one of the strongest championship courses in America.
42. Baltusrol Golf Club, US, Upper course, also designed by A.W. Tillinghast is every bit the equal to its sister course. This makes Baltusrol one of if not the best 36 hole facility in America.
My "Best Courses List" includes only courses that I have played and having played some of these courses more than once has helped to validate my thoughts and opinions.
There are still many great courses see and play and that is an on going adventure.
I do update my list from time to time as the opportunity presents itselt to play more of the great courses of the world.
When I see other "Best of listings" I often wonder how many of the courses included on a list the raters have actually played themselves?
How can one effectively rate a golf course if they have not played most of the consensus "Best of" courses. There should be qualifications to be a golf course rater.
First, I would exclude all golf course architects from participating in "Best of" lists, only because some may have a greater affection for their own designs, especially if they have a dog in the hunt.
Second, raters should not be placed in a position that would influence their opinion due to commercial considerations. Wine and dine activities has moved many mediocre courses into a "Best of" list somewhere.
Third, raters who are editors or writers for golf related magizines are too close to commercial temptations to fairly participate in course evaluations.
Fourth, only those who have no commercial ties and have played most of the consensus "Best of" courses should be selected to identify the "Best Golf Courses."
Courses you should play if...
...you play Bethpage Black, US -- you should take time to play Bethpage Red. For the average golfer, you may have more fun playing the Red course, and the course design is very good.
...you play Royal Dornoch, Scotland -- you should make time to play Tain, Brora, and Golspie. All are close to Dornoch and are very good links courses. If you could play only one, I would suggest the "Old Tom Morris" original 1890 designed Tain Golf Club (with a reputation for good greens).
...you play Royal Aberdeen, Scotland -- you should play Murcar Golf Links. Located adjacent to Royal Aberdeen, the Murcar Links has some holes that are as good as any in Scotland. Additionally, close to Royal Aberdeen is Trump's new links course. The new Trump course has a very good links design and is well worth playing.
...you play Royal Portrush, N. Ireland -- you should schedule to play Portstewart, which is close by Portrush,and Ballyliffin, about an hours drive from Portrush. What a great ninety hole (five rounds) golfing trip this would make.