True, the number of 18-hole course openings in the U.S. dwindled to single digits in 2012. But when we look globally — more than 90 tracks opened the world over — 2012 becomes a year worth celebrating.
Leading the way is Donald Trump's Scottish tour de force, Trump International Golf Links Scotland. While it may never live up to the Donald's self-pronounced hype as "the greatest golf course in the world," Trump Scotland can claim the title of greatest new course of the year.
Asia leads the world in high-profile openings, including several stunners in South Korea, while the region's most noteworthy debut is Coore/Crenshaw's Shanqin Bay on Hainan Island, China.
Closer to home, Canada's Cabot Links is a seaside standout, and exciting new projects in Oregon, Texas and Florida leave no doubt that while new and notable courses are in shorter supply these days, there's plenty of brand-new offerings that are worth your (tee) time.
BEST NEW U.S. COURSE YOU CAN PLAY: STREAMSONG RESORT (RED COURSE)
Polk County, Fla.
7,148 yards, par 72
Our course ranking panelists were wowed by both Streamsong's Red and Blue courses, but Red gets the "Best New" nod by an eyelash. Streamsong dishes out a unique palette for Florida golf: tall, odd-shaped sand piles, significant climbs and drops, firm, fast-running Bermuda fairways and lakes submerged in the sand.
Tom Doak's Blue feels more natural, yet the Red boasts more drama. The Coore/Crenshaw creation is the more demanding driving course, with more water in play, bigger greens and more holes framed by trees or sand.
The Red's bold finish includes the 208-yard, par-3 16th, a forced-carry Biarritz hole with a vast swale bisecting the green, and the reachable 540-yard par-5 18th, set in the shadow of a towering dune.
With a backdrop that conjures Southwest Ireland and weather that's pure Florida, both courses instantly earn "must-play" status for any serious golfer.
BEST NEW U.S. COURSE YOU CAN PLAY HONORABLE MENTION: STREAMSONG (BLUE)
Polk County, Fla.
7,164 yards, par 72
Tom Doak's Blue course offers smaller, more low-slung greens than the Red, with superior interior contouring and friendly green surrounds that help funnel the ball to the target. Its arsenal of outstanding holes starts with the opener, a short par-4 that affords a commanding view of the entire property.
Other standouts are the par-3 7th, which demands a lake carry to a sloping green cocooned in the sandhills, and the marvelous 590-yard, par-5 17th, with its risk/reward-inducing cross bunkering. While Red (barely) wins honors as best new U.S. course, some would call the Blue better, if less dramatic. That's Streamsong's beauty: 36 holes of pure, scenic fun.
BEST NEW U.S. COURSE YOU CAN PLAY HONORABLE MENTION: BANDON PRESERVE
1,468 yards, par 39
When you boast four of the top 15 public courses in the nation, what do you do for an encore? Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser crashed his own party.
His marching orders to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were to create a par-3 course worthy of any Bandon layout.
This quirky 13-hole layout sports one-shotters ranging from 65 to 164 yards. Sure, you won't need your driver, but amid the breezes, bunkers and Pacific Ocean views, it's all the golf you could ask for. Bandon Preserve proves that good things do come in small packages.