47a4cf28b3127cce9854a404439c00000035103AZMm7ho4YqI’ve been blessed in my golf life. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to play some of the finest courses in the world (and some real goat tracks, too). With trips to Bandon in ’15 and to Ireland/Scotland in ’16 to play the likes of Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Machrihanish, my blessings will only grow—and so will the list, obviously. For now, however, here is my list of favorite courses in the world.

  1. North Berwick (West Links) (East Lothian, Scotland) Is there a better back nine on the planet? Since I’ll never get to play Augusta, no. But Augusta doesn’t have stone walls to hit over or wonky split greens or the original “redan” hole or mounding that mimics Prestwick. If I ever win the lottery, I’m moving here.
  1. Cruden Bay (Cruden Bay, Scotland) Consider this a 1-B ranking as it plays second fiddle to no one on my list. Quirky and beautiful, CB is proof that a “short” course can capture the imagination and still be challenging.
  1. Prestwick (Prestwick, Scotland) Home of the first Open. Delightfully quirky course design by Old Tom. Crazy mounding everywhere. Yet there were “modern” holes too. Shot 81 with a 9 on the famous 17th, “The Alps.” (Nick also took a 9 here and was in the mid 70s, unadjusted.) Miffed after 17, I drove the 18th—with a hybrid. If you’re not having fun here, you’re a golf grouch.
  1. Royal Dornoch (Dornoch, Scotland) May the The Open never be played here; the secret would get out and too many bad golfers would snatch up the tee times. Played 36 in a day here and it still wasn’t enough. Nice to see it crack Golf Digest’s Top 10 Courses in the World.
  1. Muirfield (East Lothian, Scotland) Ernie Els dubbed it “the best bunkered course in the world.” I found why on just about every hole. Weather was fairly miserable. A “big boy” course if there was one. The stateliness and grandness of the course cannot be ignored, either. Title as the Augusta of Scotland is well earned.
  1. Turnberry (Ayrshire, Scotland) Around the 5th or 6th hole my buddy Nick shouted, “Does it get any better than this!?” Of course that was the first day of a two-week Scotland golf pilgrimage and, yes, it got a lot better—not by much, though. History is everywhere. Back nine is better than the front.
  1. St. Andrews (The Old Course) (St. Andrews, Scotland). Remarkably unremarkable unless you’ve read Alister MacKenzie’s “The Spirit of St. Andrews,” then it’s a magical round through history. Along with the birth of my boys, marrying my wife, one of my most joyful memories was carting a birdie on the 18th. Literally brought me to tears. So did my caddie with his one-liners (on one of my putts: “I hit my grandmother harder.”) and jabs (on me electing NOT to chip over the Road Hole bunker and putt out to the side: “Aw, ya pussy.” Followed by a wink and a smile.)
  1. Spyglass (Carmel, California) Made a 10 on #1. Then went par-par-par-par. Shot 92 as a 16-year old who had only been playing three years up to that point. After that, I went from being hooked on golf to obsessed. Getting back here and the Monterey Peninsula is a must. Hoping to do so in ’17 when (and if) i make it to my work sabbatical.
  1. Chambers Bay (Tacoma, WA) Like somebody picked up Scotland and slammed it down on the edge of the Puget Sound. Difficult to walk (reportedly 8 mi.). Not a bad or unmemorable hole to be found. Having the US Open here will be very, very interesting. Price tag ($200 in summer) is too steep.
  1. Wailea (Gold) (Wailea, HI) What a ride! Low expectations were greatly exceeded. Provides a nice and welcome break from windy Maui courses. Fantastic views! Forgiving fairways, but big drives are required to score on many holes. Greens were a bit shabby from recent sanding and punching but that’s a nit.
  1. Pinehurst—#4 (Pinehurst, North Carolina). After being washed out on the 13th hole of #2 by a tropical storm, getting to play #4 twice in ‘13 turned out to be a surprising treat. #13–#15 is the 3-5-3 combo I’ve ever played. Pretty wide landing areas but the greens required accuracy and mirrored its big brother, #2, at times.
  1. The Dormie—(West End, North Carolina) A Coore & Crenshaw gem just 15 minutes from downtown Pinehurst. Wide open fairways. Speedy, subtly undulating greens. Crenshaw’s signature is all over the place. “Biggest” course I’ve played since Muirfield. Sadly, it isn’t getting much play. Hope it’s around in five years.
  1. Kaanapali (Royal) (Lahania, HI) This is the poor man’s Kapalua, but imminently more playable and fun—and much more affordable. A little touristy at times but for resort golf it’s pretty darn good. Recorded a 364-yard, downhill, wind-aided drive. See? Fun! Playing back into the wind, less record breaking.
  1. Gold Mountain (Olympic) (Bremerton, WA). $60 and change to play this course on the weekend? Are you kidding me? What a steal! I thought I played some good munis until I ran into this place. Last two holes are out of character with the rest of the course that makes for a slightly disappointing but forgivable finish.
  1. Tobacco Road (Sanford, North Carolina) This course is wacky tabacky! Quirky, wild ride on every hole. Massive mounds, sprawling waste areas and crazy undulating greens. At $69, well worth the 40-minute drive from Pinehurst. Played 35 and half holes—don’t ask.
  1. Kapalua (Plantation) (Kapalua, HI) Makes the list almost purely on reputation. Greens are incredibly difficult to read and fast, particularly downwind. Hard not to have fun bombing it down holes 1, 7, 11, 17, 18. Holes into the wind are round wreckers. Jaw-dropping views of Molokai! The price is equally jaw-dropping: $275. Far too much.
  1. St. Andrews (The New Course) (St. Andrews, Scotland). Lacks the allure and history and memorable holes of the Old Course, but it was 100% links golf. I might have been the only one from the ’12 trip who enjoyed his round here.
  1. Pinehurst—#2. (Pinehurst, North Carolina). Thanks to Tropical Storm Andrea, I’ve never been so wet in my life. Could barely hold onto the club. As advertised, though—long with fairly generous landing areas and upside down teacup greens. Lacks memorability, which is why it’s low on the list.
  1. Pine Needles (Pinehurst, North Carolina). Understated Southern charm set among stately pines, yet very grand feeling. The name is apropos. Quad-triple-birdie-par-par start is likely the strangest start I’ve ever had to a round—including my now infamous Pat Perez moment in a greenside bunker on #1. Very enjoyable course, however.
  1. Pasatiempo. (Monterey, California.) Played it back in the late 1980s before it got restored to its original state recently, so it’s hard to remember holes. A very difficult but rewarding course that is a must-play on any trip to the Monterey Peninsula.

Honorable mentions: Colonial Country Club (Dallas, TX); Nairn (Nairn, Scotland); The Links at Bodega Bay (Bodega Bay, California); The Presidio (San Francisco, CA)

 

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