Golfers and design aficionados have lots to celebrate. Although new course openings have slowed in recent years, a clutch of original creations — from the likes of Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw and Gil Hanse — joined some inspired renovations to make 2017 memorable. New on this year's list of best new courses is a special citation awarded to the pack of remarkable par-3 tracks that have popped up on the landscape — a welcome and inclusive trend. The short of it? Great design keeps elevating the game in great ways.
BEST NEW COURSE OF THE YEAR
Streamsong Resort (Black)
7,331 yards, par 73
Team the design skills of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner with a massive sandy tract in central Florida and expectations for success will soar. When there are already two top-ranked courses on property — Coore-Crenshaw's Red and Tom Doak's Blue — the pressure to produce a winner becomes even more intense, although Hanse didn't see it that way. The standard set by Coore, Crenshaw and Doak was so high that he and Wagner only needed to match it. They've accomplished just that — and then some. The Black course at Streamsong Resort opened in September, and it's brawnier than its siblings, with wider fairways, bigger bunkers, larger greens, more expansive views, and tremendous memorability from hole to hole. Debate will be fierce in the years ahead as to which of the Streamsong courses is top dog. In the meantime, we'll let the Black bask in its glory as GOLF's Best New Course of the Year.
BEST NEW PRIVATE COURSE/INTERNATIONAL COURSE
Cathedral Golf Club
Thornton, Victoria, Australia
7,023 yards (6,422 m), par 72
Greg Norman the architect is fast approaching the success levels of Greg Norman the golfer. With more than 100 course designs in 34 countries, Norman is prolific, and with Cathedral he's now also back in the winner's circle, notching his first win since 2007 in our Best New Private Course category. For the few who'll get to glimpse the ultra-exclusive retreat, two hours northeast of Melbourne, it will be easy to see why. The Shark's spacious design rolls through hills and valleys, with natural beauty chief among its highlights. The five par 3s vary nicely in yardage and direction, while the five par 5s offer tempting risk/rewards and the par 4s range from petite to power-packed. The 194-yard par-3 17th brutalizes overly faded shots, while the 593-yard par-5 18th demands a perfectly placed drive, second and third, as water lurks for much of the journey. With the mountains of the Cathedral Range as an elemental backdrop, it's understandable why Norman says of Cathedral, "It's very special to me, because there's nothing like it in Australia — or the world, for that matter."
RENOVATION OF THE YEAR
Trump Turnberry (King Robert the Bruce)
6,921 yards, par 72
After winning over the skeptics with his sensational redesign of Trump Turnberry's Ailsa course in 2016, architect Martin Ebert turned his attention to Turnberry's respected but unloved second course, most recently known as Kintyre. In the minds of some, Ebert performed a minor miracle, transforming the newly named King Robert the Bruce course into a layout that now compares favorably with the Ailsa, the world's 16th-ranked course. It's that good. Renovations to 14 holes and the creation of four new ones on Bain's Hill, the property's highest point, have greatly increased the variety, aesthetics and strategic options. Newly established sandy waste areas, a wetland installed between the fifth and 13th holes that replaces a gorse patch, and a spate of holes that more dramatically interact with the sea are highlights. Also more prominently in view is the Turnberry Lighthouse, erected on the grounds of the castle ruins where Robert the Bruce (yep, he's for real) was born.
BEST NEW COURSE YOU CAN PLAY
Sand Valley Golf Resort
6,913 yards, par 72
Mike Keiser's grand experiment with award-winning public golf started with Oregon's Bandon Dunes. His latest trophy course is Sand Valley, in central Wisconsin. Situated on an enormous natural sand deposit 170 miles northwest of Milwaukee, it features dunes and ridges that rise six stories and sprawl in every direction. Sand Valley debuted on our 2017 U.S. Top 100 Courses list at No. 52 — thanks to a firm-and-fast layout from Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that sports wide, rumpled fairways and a paucity of forced carries and water hazards. With a back nine that plays nearly 500 yards longer than the front, be prepared for a muscular closing stretch. But the entire journey is so much fun that even a bogey at the testing, sand-splashed, 523-yard par-5 18th won't wipe the smile off your face.
BEST NEW COURSE YOU CAN PLAY (HONORABLE MENTION)
Shepherd's Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
7,151 yards, par 72
Pete Dye and protégé Tim Liddy blew up the existing Links course at this Gold Medal–winning resort 60 miles south of Pittsburgh, then dropped in Shepherd's Rock in its stead. Surprisingly fun and playable for a Dye championship design, Shepherd's Rock may soon prove more popular than its tougher, Dye-designed sib, Mystic Rock, which hosted the Tour's 84 Lumber Classic from 2003–2006. Still, the new course is hardly a pushover. From its 149 bunkers, angled fairways and myriad water hazards — most memorably at the 455-yard, par-4 18th, where a lake to the right and a rock waterfall back-left frame the green — there's trouble lurking everywhere. However, the wide, generous fairways, open approaches and soothing views of the Laurel Highlands and Allegheny Mountains make Shepherd's Rock a course worth flocking to.
SPECIAL CITATION: Spectacular New Short Courses
The stepchild of golf layouts has to be the par-3 course. Some purists don't even consider such tracks to be real golf, while others assume they're just for kids. Actually, the greatest par-3 courses can be every bit as scenic and provocative as their bigger brothers — they just lack the critical element of driver play or, in some cases, many other clubs in your bag. This year witnessed a profusion of superb shorties. Here are just a few time-saving layouts worthy of your attention:
THE CRADLE, a nine-hole Gil Hanse design at Pinehurst; THE SHORT COURSE at Mountain Shadows, an 18-hole redesign in Paradise Valley, Ariz.; THE OASIS at Diamante, a 12-hole Tiger Woods design in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Gary Player's 13-hole MOUNTAIN TOP at Big Cedar Lodge, Hollister, Mo.; L'IL WICK at Wickenburg, in Wickenburg, Ariz.; THE LAKES at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta, a night-lit layout in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico; THE SPIETH LOWER 40, a six-holer (with Jordan consulting) at the University of Texas Golf Club in Austin; and the 12-hole MULLIGAN, a private Tom Doak creation at Ballyneal in Holyoke, Colo. In 2018, look for a 17-hole Coore/Crenshaw–designed shorty at Sand Valley.