For Connoisseurs of new golf courses, 2009 won't be remembered as a vintage year. The world recession has battered the golf industry, so while we previously celebrated course-design trends, we now just celebrate course openings. There have been fewer causes for celebration this year than in any other since World War II: By mid-October, just 33 new 18-hole courses had opened in the United States. Compare that with 398 in 2000. And course openings outside the U.S. are only slightly more common.
\nOn the bright side, the Class of 2009 can hold its own against the crop of debutantes in most other years, with a solid offering of mostly affordable seaside and mountain layouts.
\nNever has a winner of our Best New Course honors so polarized our panelists as the Pete Dye course at French Lick. The staggering yardage and equally staggering price tag has sparked considerable opposition.
\nTake the closing trio of holes, for example: a 301-yard par-3, followed by a 518-yard par-4, and then a 657-yard par-5.
\nFor all that, there are compensations for savvy golfers: shorter tees to choose from, golf packages, and mandatory forecaddies to guide you through the challenges.
\n The bottom line: This is a violent thrill ride with one classic Pete Dye hole after another. If you like that sort of thing, you'll never forget Dye's contribution to French Lick.
\nRobert Trent Jones II carved this short, hilly layout in the steep foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains as an amenity for Harrah's Cherokee Hotel & Casino, 45 minutes west of Asheville. It's spectacular throughout, but stray off the tee and you'll have a better chance of beating the casino than you will of making par.
\nA heavy hitter in the hospitality industry delivers its first golf course and it's an impeccable complement to the brand. Rees Jones sculpted a superb resort golf course not terribly demanding but with gigantic bunkers and water in play for nearly the entire back nine. It's all the Florida golf you'd want when the wind blows.
\n4. Ritz-Carlton GC, Dove Mountain (Saguaro/Tortolita)
7,849 yards, par 72
Green Fees: $80-$225
\nHome to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Jack Nicklaus' brawny romp through the desert sports vast fairways, but its defenses rely on forced carries over desert washes, enormous bunkers and wildly sloping greens. The resort's third nine of a planned four, Wild Burro, is Jack's favorite, but start with the tournament nines, then catch your breath.
\nSoutheastern Washington has never been a golf hotbed, but architect Dan Hixson's effort in the state's desert-like wine region may change that. The massive bunkers that melt into the terrain dominate the design, but the endless vistas of the Blue Mountains and swaying wheatgrass rough will linger long after you've returned to civilization.
Stone Canyon Golf Club
Blue Springs, Mo.
7,131 yards, par 72
Green Fees: $50-$75
\nLonnie Poole Golf Course at North Carolina State University
7,358 yards, par 71
Green Fees: $45-$75
\nThe Preserve on Rathbun Lake
6,987 yards, par 72
Green Fees: $47-$58.50