“Bucket list”? That’s too long-term. Grab your clubs and hurry to these great places as soon as you can.
Would you believe that Rickie Fowler has never played any of the courses at Bandon Dunes Resort? Or that Greg Norman has never played Pine Valley? It’s true.
Any discussion of courses we love usually ends with confessions about the ones we’ve not played yet. Heck, one of my golfing buddies, Peter, has played 94 of the Golf Digest Top 100, and even he can rattle off 10+ courses he still needs to add to his list.
But it would be a crying shame to go much longer without trying the six courses I offer here. These special places are accessible to all golfers, as they are public. Most you’ve heard of, but they may include a surprise or two. And while some are handier to reach than others, all are worth the trip. There are nine-hole courses and even a putting course that in my opinion are just as much fun as the classic 18-hole layouts. Golf should be about the experience, not the number of holes you play.
Would any list be complete without “The Home of Golf”? This one requires a hop across the ocean, but it’s eminently worth it. Once you’re here, there’s much to be said for starting at the beginning—St. Andrews’ Old Course, which dates back to the 15th century. You can feel the wonderful history, and with the clubhouse of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews as a backdrop, the first tee shot will give you chills.
There are six more links in St. Andrews providing a palette of amazing landscape to experience here. Close by is Kingsbarns, where the duo Mark Parsinen and Kyle Phillips shaped a masterpiece on land that was mined during World War II. The views from this venue are memorable, and the par 3 15th that plays over a rocky inlet (where the wind is most always present) may be your Kodak moment.
Besides golf, the town of St. Andrews has many great restaurants and shops, as well as Fisher & Donaldson, which might be the best pastry shop you will ever visit. (In my book a great cinnamon bun is a fine reward for walking 18.)
2. PINEHURST RESORT, PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA
A visit to Pinehurst is de rigueur, as there are at least six courses here that one should experience. My first priority would be Pinehurst course No. 2, a Donald Ross masterpiece that has seen numerous renovations, with the last one completed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2010.
Following the elimination of the Bermuda grass rough and the introduction of native hardpan sand with wiregrass, the course has a more natural feel and offers a great challenge, as evidenced by the 2014 U.S. Open for both women and men.
A caddie here will increase your enjoyment of this great track. Pinehurst course No. 4 has recently benefited from a wonderful renovation by Gil Hanse, and now it is a worthy companion to No. 2. A fun fact here is that Hanse occupied the home of Ross while he was on the property. Hanse and his team also created a cool nine-hole short course called “The Cradle,” which is an ideal complement to other courses in the Pinehurst complex.
When you arrive at the resort you will see what was the first miniature golf course in the U.S. Created in 1916 by James Barber, it offers the entire family a fun introduction to this historic resort.
To be honest, there’s also another reason I love visiting here: The pancakes at the Pinehurst Resort are world-class.
3. LAWSONIA LINKS, GREEN LAKE, WISCONSIN
Make this your next Wisconsin stop. Lawsonia Links, designed in the 1930s by Wil – liam Langford and Theodore Moreau, is a must-visit for sure. The layout will test your short game, as the elevat-ed greens and mounds will challenge your shot-making skills. Pro tip: You’ll want to practice your bunker shots before arriving.
4. SAND VALLEY GOLF RESORT, NEKOOSA, WISCONSIN
Then there’s the Badger State, with both old and new courses to try. For the latter, it’s time again to thank Mike Kaiser (the developer of Bandon Dunes) along with Craig Haltom, who recognized that this land had unlimited potential. And thank you, Michael and Chris Keiser (Mike Keiser’s sons), for delivering what Golf Digest has recog-nized as the “best new course of 2017.”
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were entrusted with the responsibility of designing the first course (May 2017), and while they moved more earth here than at Sand Hills, their award-winning private course in Nebraska, the Sand Valley course fits the land like a great jigsaw puzzle. The sand here is employed in many different ways, from bunkers to waste areas, and I can assure you that you will use every club in your bag.
The second course at Sand Valley is Mammoth Dunes by David McLay Kidd, and it showcases Kidd’s maturity and style. The 14th hole was created with the design help of a Golf Digest “armchair architect” contest. Brian Silvernail, a graphic designer from Florida, presented the winning entry, and it’s a beauty. This drivable downhill par 4 has a sloping fairway and a Redan-style green (unusual for a par 4 hole). If you are skilled or lucky enough to drive into the speed slot on the right, you will be rewarded with a ball close to the green. Add a 17-hole par 3 course (by Coore and Crenshaw) and you will have a perfect couple of days of great golf and fun.
5. BANDON DUNES GOLF RESORT, BANDON, OREGON
With five distinctly different golf courses and a great par 3 track, this resort is the perfect starting point. Every golfer owes a debt to Mike Keiser, who had the courage and conviction to find an area on the Oregon coast that was ideal for a unique golf experience.
The first course, Bandon Dunes by David McLay Kidd, opened in 1999 and showcases this property’s magnificent dunes and ocean views. When Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes course debuted in 2001, it was amazing that a second course could be created on the same land with such a different feel. Then in 2005 came the opening of Bandon Trails, fashioned by architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and we all started to believe that this was indeed a special area that could be developed in many different ways.
Old Macdonald (my favorite) opened in 2015. Here designers Doak and Jim Urbina approached their task by asking, “What would the great Charles Blair Macdonald have created on this land?”—Macdonald being one of the premier course architects of the early 20th century. Old Macdonald is a great walk (all of the courses at Bandon should be experienced walking) on a huge canvas of land. For example, the first hole provides an expansive fairway to hit, and it’s only when you arrive for your second shot that you realize the difficulty lies ahead with an elevated green.
The journey continues with a unique collection, each respecting Macdonald’s genius.
The trend-setting Bandon Preserve (Coore and Crenshaw) par 3 course opened in 2012, with all of the proceeds going to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, an organization that supports conservation, community and the economy on the southern Oregon coast.
The first time you play you will be smiling for the rest of the day, as each hole has a twist or turn or slope and elevation to challenge your short-game skills. If ever a course were to be compared to an Easter egg hunt, this would be it. It’s only toward the end that you notice there are only 13 holes. I guarantee you will not care.
6. SILVIES VALLEY RANCH, SENECA, OREGON
Oregon again? Sure—the state has some of the best land in the country for golf, and Silvies Valley Ranch, situated 300+ miles from Portland and 200 miles from Boise, makes my list, as it’s big (100,000+ acres) and offers many activities beyond golf.
When the goats (3,000) outnumber the local residents, you know this is not a typical golf course. Oh, and by the way, you can even use one of the goats as a caddie, as Akbar Chisti, the founder of Seamus Golf, has designed a unique golf bag specifically for this purpose!
Architect Dan Hixson created two 18-hole layouts, which are played on alternate days, allowing you to play the course in both directions. Hixson’s excellent par 3 layouts are especially great and add to the fun of playing here.
Don’t forget to sample the farm-to-table cuisine at Silvies and enjoy the many available nongolf activities, such as hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Does this exhaust my list of great courses? No way—there are many more, with Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., and Pebble Beach in Pebble Beach, Calif., as additional standouts I can’t neglect to mention. It’s also great to play a course that has recently hosted a major, because if you watched the tournament you’ll have enhanced knowledge of the venue. But the half-dozen venues I’ve described here are great for starters. Make sure, if you can, that they don’t linger long on your “not yet” list.