Top 100 Courses in the U.S.

GOLF Magazine's biennial Top 100 Courses in the World Rankings are determined by a 100-strong international panel whose members include major-championship winners, architects, journalists and a cadre of connoisseurs who have played all of the world's top 100 courses. Panelists evaluate a ballot of 493 courses. Although there are no set-in-stone criteria they must follow, we have confidence in their sense of what constitutes "greatness" in a course. These are the best courses in the United States. See below for more information about each course.

1. Pine Valley Pine Valley, N.J. George Crump/H.S. Colt, 1918

2. Cypress Point Pebble Beach, Calif. Alister MacKenzie, 1928

3. Augusta National Augusta, Ga. Alister MacKenzie/Bobby Jones, 1933

4. Shinnecock Hills Southampton, N.Y. William Flynn, 1931

5. Pebble Beach Pebble Beach, Calif. Jack Neville/Douglas Grant, 1919

6. Oakmont Oakmont, Pa. Henry Fownes, 1903

7. National Golf Links of America Southampton, N.Y. C.B. Macdonald, 1911

8. Merion (East) Ardmore, Pa. Hugh Wilson, 1912

9. Sand Hills Mullen, Neb. Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, 1994

10. Pinehurst (No. 2) Pinehurst, N.C. Donald Ross, 1907

11. Fishers Island Fishers Island, N.Y. Seth Raynor, 1926

12. Seminole Juno Beach, Fla. Donald Ross, 1929

13. Winged Foot (West) Mamaroneck, N.Y. A.W. Tillinghast, 1923

14. Pacific Dunes Bandon, Ore. Tom Doak, 2001

15. Crystal Downs Frankfort, Mich. Alister MacKenzie/Perry Maxwell, 1932

16. San Francisco San Francisco, Calif. A.W. Tillinghast, 1918

17. Chicago Wheaton, Ill. C.B. Macdonald, 1895/Seth Raynor, 1923

18. Prairie Dunes Hutchinson, Kan. Perry Maxwell, 1937/Press Maxwell, 1957

19. Riviera Pacific Palisades, Calif. George C. Thomas Jr./Billy Bell Sr., 1926

20. Los Angeles (North) Los Angeles, Calif. George C. Thomas Jr., 1921

21. Friar's Head Baiting Hollow, N.Y. Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, 2003

22. The Country Club (Clyde/Squirrel) Brookline, Mass. Willie Campbell, 1895/Rees Jones, 1985

23. Oakland Hills (South) Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Donald Ross, 1917/Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1950

24. Bethpage (Black) Farmingdale, N.Y. A.W. Tillinghast, 1936

25. Kiawah Island (Ocean) Kiawah Island, S.C. Pete Dye, 1991

26. Garden City Golf Club Garden City, N.Y. Devereux Emmet, 1899/Walter Travis, 1906

27. Whistling Straits (Straits) Kohler, Wis. Pete Dye, 1998

28. Muirfield Village Dublin, Ohio Jack Nicklaus/Desmond Muirhead, 1974

29. TPC Sawgrass (Stadium) Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Pete Dye, 1980

30. Shoreacres Lake Bluff, Ill. Seth Raynor, 1921

31. Camargo Indian Hill, Ohio Seth Raynor, 1921

32. Baltusrol (Lower) Springfield, N.J. A.W. Tillinghast, 1922

33. Olympic (Lake) San Francisco, Calif. Sam Whiting, 1927

34. Southern Hills Tulsa, Okla. Perry Maxwell, 1936

35. Bandon Dunes Bandon, Ore. David McLay Kidd, 1999

36. Maidstone East Hampton, N.Y. Willie Park Jr., 1924

37. Oak Hill (East) Rochester, N.Y. Donald Ross, 1923

38. Somerset Hills Bernardsville, N.J. A.W. Tillinghast, 1918

39. The Golf Club New Albany, Ohio Pete Dye, 1967

40. Quaker Ridge Scarsdale, N.Y. A.W. Tillinghast, 1926

41. Ballyneal Holyoke, Colo. Tom Doak, 2006

42. Inverness Toledo, Ohio Donald Ross, 1919

43. California Golf Club of S.F. S. San Francisco, Calif. A.V. Macan, 1926/A. MacKenzie, 1928/Kyle Phillips, 2007

44. Winged Foot (East) Mamaroneck, N.Y. A.W. Tillinghast, 1923

45. Harbour Town Hilton Head Island, S.C. Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus, 1969

46. Medinah (No. 3) Medinah, Ill. Tom Bendelow, 1928

47. Streamsong (Red) Streamsong, Fla. Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, 2012

48. Old Macdonald Bandon, Ore. Tom Doak/Jim Urbina, 2010

49. Old Sandwich Plymouth, Mass. Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, 2004

50. Bandon Trails Bandon, Ore. Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, 2005

51. Plainfield Plainfield, N.J. Donald Ross, 1921

52. Wade Hampton Cashiers, N.C. Tom Fazio, 1987

53. Pasatiempo Santa Cruz, Calif. Alister MacKenzie, 1929

54. Yale University New Haven, Conn. C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor, 1926

55. The Honors Course Ooltewah, Tenn. Pete Dye, 1983

56. Streamsong (Blue) Streamsong, Fla. Tom Doak, 2012

57. Piping Rock Locust Valley, N.Y. C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor, 1913

58. Spyglass Hill Pebble Beach, Calif. Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1966

59. Sebonack Southampton, N.Y. Jack Nicklaus/Tom Doak, 2006

60. Yeamans Hall Hanahan, S.C. Seth Raynor, 1925

61. Rock Creek Cattle Company Deer Lodge, Mont. Tom Doak, 2008

62. Valley Club of Montecito Montecito, Calif. Alister MacKenzie, 1929

63. Congressional (Blue) Bethesda, Md. D. Emmet, 1924/Robert T. Jones Sr., 1962/Rees Jones, 2011

64. Baltusrol (Upper) Springfield, N.J. A.W. Tillinghast, 1922

65. Newport Newport, R.I. Willie Davis, 1894/A.W. Tillinghast, 1923

66. Shadow Creek North Las Vegas, Nev. Tom Fazio/Steve Wynn, 1990

67. Essex County Club Manchester, Mass. Donald Ross, 1917

68. Eastward Ho! Chatham, Mass. Herbert Fowler, 1922

69. Myopia Hunt Club South Hamilton, Mass. Herbert Leeds, 1896

70. Peachtree Atlanta, Ga. Robert Trent Jones Sr./Bobby Jones, 1948

71. Nanea Kailua-Kona, Hawaii David McLay Kidd, 2003

72. Cherry Hills Cherry Hills Village, Colo. William Flynn, 1923

73. The Creek Club Locust Valley, N.Y. C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor, 1923

74. Kittansett Marion, Mass. William Flynn/Fred Hood, 1922

75. Milwaukee River Hills, Wisc. H.S. Colt/C.H. Alison, 1929

76. Chambers Bay University Place, Wash. Robert Trent Jones II, 2007

77. Monterey Peninsula (Shore) Pebble Beach, Calif. Bob Baldock, 1961/Mike Strantz, 2004

78. Old Town Club Winston-Salem, N.C. Perry Maxwell, 1939

79. Ridgewood (West/East) Paramus, N.J. A.W. Tillinghast, 1929

80. East Lake Atlanta, Ga. Tom Bendelow, 1908/Donald Ross, 1913/Rees Jones, 1994

81. Gozzer Ranch Harrison, Idaho Tom Fazio, 2007

82. Interlachen Edina, Minn. Willie Watson, 1911/Donald Ross, 1921

83. Trump National (Old) Bedminster, N.J. Tom Fazio, 2004

84. Hazeltine National Chaska, Minn. Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1962/Rees Jones, 1990

85. Scioto Columbus, Ohio Donald Ross, 1916

86. Boston Golf Club Hingham, Mass. Gil Hanse, 2005

87. Olympia Fields (North) Olympia Fields, Ill. Willie Park Jr., 1922

88. Calusa Pines Naples, Fla. Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry, 2001

89. Baltimore (Five Farms East) Lutherville, Md. A.W. Tillinghast, 1926

90. Bel-Air Los Angeles, Calif. George C. Thomas Jr./Billy Bell Sr., 1926

91. Colonial Fort Worth, Texas John Bredemus, 1935/Perry Maxwell, 1940

92. Trump National Doral (Blue Monster) Miami, Fla. Dick Wilson, 1962/Gil Hanse, 2014

93. Mountain Lake Lake Wales, Fla. Seth Raynor, 1916

94. Blackwolf Run (River) Kohler, Wis. Pete Dye, 1988

95. Fox Chapel Pittsburgh, Pa. Seth Raynor, 1925

96. Bellerive St. Louis, Mo. Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1959/Rees Jones, 2007

97. Country Club of Fairfield Fairfield, Conn. Seth Raynor, 1920

98. Crooked Stick Carmel, Ind. Pete Dye, 1964

99. Torrey Pines (South) La Jolla, Calif. Billy Bell Jr., 1957/Rees Jones, 2001

100. Aronimink Newtown Square, Pa. Donald Ross, 1928

Muirfield Village

Jim Mandeville/Nicklaus Designs

Dublin, Ohio

Conceived by Jack Nicklaus in 1966 to be his hometown equivalent of Bobby Jones' Augusta National, this 1974 collaboration with architect Desmond Muirhead was an instant smash, as much for its strategic design as for its flawless conditioning. Equally impressive was how Nicklaus seamlessly integrated spectator areas into the closing holes, using hillsides and amphitheater-style mounding to provide patrons with clear views of the action.

Baltusrol (Upper)

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Springfield, N.J.

If its brawnier sibling, the Lower, is considered the premier tournament track, this mountainside A.W. Tillinghast-designed layout is much more fun, with its beguiling set of sloping greens and sidehill lies all parts of the puzzle to be solved. Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour were all in the field when the Upper hosted the 1936 U.S. Open, but little-known Tony Manero emerged the winner.

Yeamans Hall Club

Larry Lambrecht

Hanahan, S.C.

Yet another quiet Seth Raynor classic dating to 1925, this Charleston-area spread sprawls over a huge acreage, allowing for plenty of strategic options via width, angles and bunker placement. In the late 1990s, Tom Doak sensitively restored the massive, often squared-off greens, nay that feature wild undulations. The tranquility of the property is emphasized by the Lowcountry setting, complete with vast marshes and live oaks drenched in Spanish moss.

Valley Club of Montecito

Larry Lambrecht

Montecito, Calif.

One of the quietest of America’s great courses is this 1929 Alister MacKenzie creation that was recently restored by Tom Doak. Nestled in between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean north of Los Angeles, Valley Club is softer and shorter, at 6,650 yards than many so-called “Championship” tests, yet few anywhere offer more charm, nor sounder strategic bunkering.

Trump National (Old)

Trump Bedminster (Old) is a 2004 Tom Fazio creation that unfolds over rolling horse country terrain in rural New Jersey.
Brian Morgan

Bedminster, N.J.

Co-host to the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur, won by Jordan Spieth, and venue for the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open and 2022 PGA Championship, this 2004 Tom Fazio creation unfolds over rolling horse country terrain in rural New Jersey, on land that once housed the automaker John DeLorean’s estate. Its massive scale provides for a 7,560-yard layout, with huge bunkers, extra-large greens and plenty of risk/reward options. A very recent redesign in 2015 involving the closing holes has been well-received.

Ridgewood (East/West)

Larry Lambrecht

Paramus, N.J.

The classic argument at Ridgewood centers on which of the three A.W. Tillinghast-designed nines is best—the East, West or Center. Holes from each have been used at tournaments such as the 1935 Ryder Cup, the 1990 U.S. Senior Open, when Lee Trevino slipped by Jack Nicklaus and the 2001 Senior PGA, when Tom Watson closed the deal. Best of the bunch might be the 291-yard 6th on the Center, which offers a half-dozen routes to the elevated green. Vijay Singh, Matt Kuchar and in 2014, Hunter Mahan have won Barclays PGA Tour events here.

Plainfield Country Club

Larry Lambrecht

Edison, N.J.

Despite its charm, intimacy and ingeniously contoured greens, big bashers have thrived at the Donald Ross-designed Plainfield, from Laura Davies, who won the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open here, to Dustin Johnson, who topped the field at the 2011 Barclays, to the late club member Bobby Thomson who hit the “Shot heard ‘round the world,” a ninth inning blast that sent his New York Giants to the 1951 World Series. Gil Hanse has worked for more than a decade on restoring as many Ross features as possible.

Peachtree

Russell Kirk

Atlanta, Ga.

Bobby Jones and Robert Trent Jones Sr. collaborated on this hilly, forested track north of the city. Like that other top-ranked Georgia course, Augusta National, Peachtree features inspired green contouring, dogwoods and pines along the fairways and minimal fairway bunkering. It played host to the 1989 Walker Cup Match.

Olympia Fields (North)

Kirk H. Owens / USGA

Olympia Fields, Ill.

Venue for the 1925 and 1961 PGA Championships, the 1997 U.S. Senior Open and for two U.S. Opens, in 1928 and 2003, when Jim Furyk captured his only major so far, this Willie Park Jr. design on Chicago’s south side is a handsome parkland track loaded with strong par-4s. The third hole, with its approach to an elevated green and the 14th, which calls for a shot across a gulley, are standouts. In August 2015, Bryson DeChambeau raised the U.S. Amateur trophy here.

Newport Country Club

Larry Lambrecht

Newport, R.I.

One of the oldest clubs in the U.S., dating to 1894, is also among the most historic, having played host to the first official U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in 1895. One hundred years later, Tiger Woods captured the Amateur here. Newport was also venue for Annika Sorenstam’s 2006 U.S. Women’s Open victory. A.W Tillinghast substantially changed the original design; today, the course is an Old World delight, with wind, fescues and tawny-colored fairways.

Nanea

Larry Lambrecht

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

The brainchild of financial wizards Charles Schwab and George Roberts is this Hawaiian hideaway carved from a Big Island mountainside with views overlooking the Pacific on every hole. Nanea spreads out to 7,503 roomy yards, courtesy of Bandon Dunes architect David McLay Kidd, but they could shorten it by 3,000 yards and you still wouldn’t see anybody else. Echoes former Canadian Open champion Peter Oosterhuis, “You feel like it’s just you and the golf and nothing else.”

Myopia Hunt Club

Larry Lambrecht

South Hamilton, Mass.

Host to four very early U.S. Opens from 1898 to 1908, Myopia Hunt is nearly unchanged since then, making it a time warp for all who play there. Situated 30 miles from Boston and named for its nine co-founders who all wore glasses, Myopia today provides a sturdy, though not overwhelming test from the 6,539-yard tips, thanks to undulating ground, deep bunkers and topsy-turvy greens.

Kittansett

Larry Lambrecht

Marion, Mass.

Founding member Frederic Hood teamed with Golden Age great William Flynn to create a breeze-fueled seaside test along Buzzards Bay. Best known is the par-3 third, which calls for a 170-yard shot over the bay to an elevated green completely encircled by sand. Gil Hanse has helped restore its classic virtues.

Interlachen

Russell Kirk

Edina, Minn.

Today’s Interlachen is a Donald Ross design from 1921 that retains its flavor, even after several tweaks. Situated in a leafy suburb of Minneapolis, Interlachen achieved early renown as venue for the 1930 U.S. Open, won by Bobby Jones in his Grand Slam year. Not quite long enough these days to test the big bashers, its small ridges, cunningly placed bunkers and vexing greens have provided sufficient challenge at the 1993 Walker Cup, 2002 Solheim Cup and at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Inbee Park.

Cherry Hills

John and Jeannine Henebry

Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

One of William Flynn’s only designs west of the Mississippi River has hosted three U.S. Opens, including one of the best ever, when Arnold Palmer charged from seven back to win in 1960. Amid Rocky Mountain backdrops, the main defense comes from the tough-to-read, sloping greens, solved only by Billy Horschel in 2014 when he captured the BMW during the FedEx playoffs.

Calusa Pines

Larry Lambrecht

Naples, Fla.

Among the most impressive architectural achievements of the past 15 years is this 2001 Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry design in southwest Florida, where a flat tract was transformed with astonishing skill. A man-made dune ridge six stories high dominates the experience, while transplanted vegetation, artfully sculpted bunkers and undulating fairways are impressive highlights.

Boston Golf Club

John and Jeannine Henebry

Hingham, Mass.

Gil Hanse’s inspired 2005 design takes elements of Pine Valley and The Country Club and blends them in a potent stew. Rugged, rocky terrain, pockets of wetlands and shaggy, irregular bunkers comprise the visual appeal and the drama comes from a stretch of holes, 5 through 8, that traverse an old gravel quarry.

Bellerive

John and Jeannine Henebry

St. Louis, Mo.

Gary Player captured the 1965 U.S. Open here, Nick Price the 1992 U.S. Open and Peter Jacobsen the 2004 U.S. Senior Open. It follows, then, that a superior ballstriker will win the PGA when it returns to Bellerive in 2018. Robert Trent Jones Sr. produced Bellerive in 1959, employing his signature style of meaty par-4s leading to elevated greens well-fortified by bunkers and water. His son Rees has instilled more variety in subsequent renovations, while still maintaining the character.

Baltimore (Five Farms East)

Courtesy of Baltimore Country Club

Lutherville, Md.

Leo Diegel snapped Walter Hagen’s PGA Championship winning streak at four when he triumphed here in 1928. More recently, Loren Roberts captured the Senior Players Championship in 2007, by skillfully handling the severely breaking greens and memorable A.W. Tillnghast-designed par-5s such as the “Barn Hole” 6th and the endless 14th, with its “Hell’s Half Acre” bunker complex.

Somerset Hills

Larry Lambrecht

Bernardsville, N.J.

A wonderful routing on a tight piece of property not far from the USGA headquarters showcases A.W. Tillinghast’s imagination, while his brilliant Redan-style par-3 2nd hole shows that he could adapt with the best of them. A restoration by Tom Doak and associate Brian Slawnik helped put back firm and fast conditions along with reestablished bunkers and green edges. Yanking out numerous trees has yielded better conditions, and a better appreciation for the marvelous terrain.

The Golf Club

John and Jeannine Henebry

New Albany, Ohio

One of Pete Dye’s early masterworks, circa 1967, this men-only domain in suburban Columbus was where Jack Nicklaus got his introduction to design, as an unpaid consultant. With bunkers and water hazards framed by railroad ties and tall native grasses scattered throughout, the distinctive Dye style began to take hold. A superb set of par-5s is a highlight.

Winged Foot (East)

Larry Lambrecht

Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Neither as long nor as tough as its illustrious West sibling, the equally attractive East is preferred by many course connoisseurs for its superior pacing and variety. No stranger to big-time events, the A.W. Tillinghast-designed East witnessed Roberto DeVicenzo claim the very first U.S. Senior Open here in 1980. A 2015 restoration by Gil Hanse put back many of the most ingenious green contours that had been lost or changed over time.

Oak Hill (East)

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Rochester, N.Y.

Host to three U.S. Opens, the 1995 Ryder Cup and a handful of PGA Championships, including 2013, when Jason Dufner triumphed, Oak Hill has witnessed numerous renovations since it debuted in 1924. Yet, its character is unmistakably Donald Ross, thanks to such holes as the 323-yard, par-4 14th, its vexing undulations yielding superb risk/reward opportunities.

Maidstone

Larry Lambrecht

East Hampton, N.Y.

One of the nation's oldest and most socially prestigious clubs has offered golf since 1891. However, its current layout is a Willie Park Jr. design (with help from brother John) that dates to 1924. Recently restored by Bill Coore, Maidstone's edge-of-the-Atlantic location is fully realized by the course's mid-section, which skirts the dunes and beach.

Quaker Ridge

Larry Lambrecht

Scarsdale, N.Y.

This quiet club across the street from Winged Foot counts Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye as admirers. Its outstanding cluster of gently rolling par-4s, notably the 6th and the 11th, provided a terrific canvas for amateurs such as Justin Rose and Jason Gore in the 1997 Walker Cup Match. Dating to 1916, the course was made over by A.W. Tillinghast in 1926.

Ballyneal

Evan Schiller

Holyoke, Colo.

Tom Doak’s 2006 design in the remote, treeless prairie of northeastern Colorado plays like a links, hard and fast, with sandhills, fescues and a different wind every day. The 335-yard, par-4 7th is one of golf’s great short holes, drivable for some, and with its skillfully placed bunkers and wickedly contoured, E-shaped green, interesting for all others, no matter the distance of the second shot.

Southern Hills Country Club

Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America via Getty Images

Tulsa, Okla.

Site of three U.S. Opens and a quartet of PGA Championships, this Depression-era Perry Maxwell design rolls out heat, humidity, wind and stern rough framing fairways and greens. Maxwell's oval and clamshell bunkers lack imaginative shaping, but they're perfectly placed. The 9th and 18th both climb steep hills to reach the greens, the latter being one of the game's toughest closing par-4s. Tougher still is the creek-guarded 12th, which Ben Hogan once called the greatest par-4 in the U.S.

Inverness

Fred Vuich / USGA

Toledo, Ohio

A marvelous collection of Donald Ross-designed par-4s set the stage for two of Greg Norman’s most crushing defeats, the first when Bob Tway holed a bunker shot to win the 1986 PGA Championship, the second when the Shark lipped out putts on two straight holes, handing the 1993 PGA Championship playoff win to Paul Azinger. A recent renovation has restored Ross features, but also added length to test today’s tournament players.

California Golf Club of San Francisco

Gary Lisbon

South San Francisco, Calif.

For most of its 80-year history, the Cal Club, as locals call it, served up a well-regarded Bay Area course, but one that clearly played third fiddle to Olympic and San Francisco. Not anymore. Following a Kyle Phillips re-do that was part restoration and part re-design, many feel this private A. Vernon Macan/Alister MacKenzie layout is now near-equal to its more venerated neighbors. Yanking out trees to restore city skyline and mountain views and reinstalling the sprawling, multi-lobed MacKenzie bunkers have elevated the Cal Club to rarified air.

Olympic Club (Lake)

John Mummert/USGA

San Francisco, Calif.

Laid out on the side of a hill overlooking Lake Merced, its fairways hemmed in by thousands of cypress and eucalyptus trees, its greens and landing areas bracketed by wrist-fracturing rough, Olympic has proved to be an imposing test for five U.S. Opens. On fog-free days, the 247-yard, par-3 third enjoys stellar views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Camargo

John and Jeannine Henebry

Indian Hill, Ohio

This low-key 1926 Seth Raynor creation in suburban Cincinnati dishes out extremely deep bunkers and huge, squared-off greens on a property laced with valleys and ravines. The usual Macdonald/Raynor template holes are in place, from a Biarritz to a Redan, yet the two strongest par-3s might be the 5th and the 11th, modeled after the two one-shotters at St. Andrews.

Shoreacres

Gary W.Kellner

Lake Bluff, Ill.

Steep ravines affect play throughout the back nine on this short but sweet 1921 Seth Raynor parkland design. Set into rolling terrain on Chicago's North Shore, alongside Lake Michigan, Shoreacres benefitted from a 2007 Tom Doak restoration that revitalized classic template holes such as Biarritz-style par-3 6th and the Redan-style par-3 14th.

Harbour Town

Rob Tipton / Boomkin Productions

Hilton Head Island, S.C.

A favorite of PGA Tour pros for more than 40 years, Harbour Town boasts the iconic candy cane-striped lighthouse that backdrops the 18th hole—and so much more. A place of subtle beauty, this is a shotmaker’s paradise where power takes a backseat to precision. Mixing live oaks, lagoons, tiny greens, bunkers banked by railroad ties and a closing stretch along the Calibogue Sound, this Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus collaboration delights and terrorizes at every turn.

TPC Sawgrass (Stadium)

Chris Condon/Getty Images

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Venue for the PGA Tour's Players Championship since 1982, Pete Dye's imaginatively-designed, variety-filled and occasionally terror-inducing track has crowned winners such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Adam Scott. One of the wildest finishes took place in 2013, when Sergio Garcia, tied with Woods, splashed two tee shots at the infamous island-green 17th, made quadruple-bogey, and sunk to eighth place. Some sniff at its artificiality, yet for shotmaking options and memorable individual holes that require a blend of power and finesse, TPC Sawgrass has few peers.

Whistling Straits (Straits)

David Cannon/Getty Images

Kohler, Wis.

Venue for the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships, this 1998 Pete Dye design on Lake Michigan was once a poker table-flat military training base in World War II. Eventually it became a site for illegal dumping of toxic waste. Dye and owner Herb Kohler engineered a mind-boggling cleanup, moved 3 million cubic yards of dirt, trucked in 7,000 loads of sand to create the hills and bunkers and relocated the bluffs farther back from the shore. All Kohler told Dye was "I want the course to look like it's in Ireland." Mission accomplished.

Garden City Golf Club

Russell Kirk

Garden City, N.Y.

This ancient, men-only Long Island layout dates to 1899. Devereux Emmet and Walter Travis most influenced the design, which today plays as firm and as fast as any British links, much as it did in the old days, with tall fescue and sea breezes constant companions. Laurie Auchterlonie captured the 1902 U.S. Open here with record scores, owing to the debut of the longer, more durable Haskell ball.

Kiawah Island (Ocean)

Courtesy of Kiawah Island Resort

Kiawah Island, S.C.

A blend of tidal marsh carries, scrub-topped dunes and wildly undulating greens pair with 7,600 muscular yards to form a relentless mix of beauty and brawn. While architect Pete Dye has softened his greens and their surrounds over years, the Ocean Course remains among the toughest tests in the country. That's what competitors in the 1991 "War by the Shore" Ryder Cup maintain; Rory McIlroy, who decimated the course in winning the 2012 PGA Championship, might feel differently.

Bethpage ( Black)

Jim Krajicek

Farmingdale, N.Y.

In the education of a golfer, Bethpage Black is a bar exam. The Black scares golfers with a sign at the first tee: "Warning -- The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers." Among the highly skilled? Tiger Woods and Lucas Glover, who captured the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens here. The "People's Open," as the 2002 U.S. Open came to be known, brutalized players with its Rees Jones-restored A.W. Tillinghast layout, owing to rugged, uphill par-4s, massive bunkers and wrist-fracturing rough. Woods was the only golfer to break par for 72 holes.

Oakland Hills (South)

Nile Young

Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Ben Hogan called this course a "monster" in capturing the 1951 U.S. Open, thanks to a severe course setup and alterations by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Following events such as the 2004 Ryder Cup and 2008 PGA Championship won by Padraig Harrington, the brilliant Donald Ross routing and beguiling green contouring has restored its status to "great," as opposed to "hard."

The Country Club (Clyde/Squirrel)

Larry Lambrecht

Brookline, Mass.

A Boston Brahmin society haunt for more than 100 years, this tree-lined track has played host to three U.S. Opens and the 1999 Ryder Cup. Its tournament course is a composite layout, comprised of 18 of the club's 27 holes. The Clyde/Squirrel combo was used for the 1913 Open when local lad Francis Ouimet stunned the Brits. The current "Open" course borrows several holes from the Primrose nine, designed by William Flynn in 1927.

Friar's Head

Evan Schiller

Baiting Hollow, N.Y.

Tree-dotted dunes, open meadows and bluff-top views of Long Island Sound highlight play at this understated 2003 Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design. The fact that it's Phil Mickelson's favorite modern course is further enticement. Holes such as the par-5 14th that incorporate a dazzling combination of strategy and beauty call to mind an east coast version of Cypress Point.

Los Angeles (North)

Larry Lambrecht

Los Angeles, Calif.

Gil Hanse's team restored George Thomas' Golden Age classic to perfection in 2011.Bunkers were reshaped and relocated, fairways were widened and re-shaped to provide alternate routes and a natural barranca was brought back into play as a strategic hazard. LA North occupies valuable real estate on the edge of Beverly Hills and after selective tree removal, players now enjoy long-hidden vistas of the city skyline and Santa Monica Mountains.

Prairie Dunes

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Hutchinson, Kan.

After weeks of tromping around the yucca-choked sandhills of Hutchinson, architect Perry Maxwell pronounced, "There are 118 good golf holes here. All I have to do is eliminate 100 of them." He eliminated 109 of them. Only nine holes were built in 1937 (the present-day 1,2,6,7,8,9,10,17 and 18) and Maxwell's son Press added the other nine 20 years later. All that's missing is an ocean at this linksy-looking layout that played host to the 2002 U.S. Women's Open (Juli Inkster) and 2006 U.S. Senior Open (Allen Doyle).

Medinah (No. 3)

Larry Lambrecht

Medinah, Ill.

Any course that’s undergone as many changes as Medinah No. 3 cannot claim to have an all-world design, but it’s flair for producing major drama at tournament time has been borne out again and again. Witness Hale Irwin’s 1990 U.S. Open heroics, Tiger’s unforgettable duel with Sergio in the 1999 PGA and the rash of critical putts the Europeans made at the 2012 Ryder Cup. Brutally long, this well-treed layout is mostly straightforward, with three par-3s that play over 30-acre Lake Kadijah.

Chicago Golf Club

John and Jeannine Henebry

Wheaton, Ill.

One of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association in 1894, Chicago Golf, as it's known, was also site of the nation's first 18-hole golf course, as well as the first to host the U.S. Open outside of the Northeast. Seth Raynor retooled his mentor C.B. Macdonald's course in 1923 and not much has changed since, as it serves up a parkland/prairie blend of classic British template holes that its designers favored.

Streamsong (Red)

Larry Lambrecht

Streamsong, Fla.

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 spice the play on the Coore-Crenshaw-designed Red course. The uphill, 474-yard, par-4 opener sets the tone, with a drive over water and scrub. Most dramatic is the 208-yard, par-3 16th, a funky, stunning Biarritz hole, with a forced carry over water leading to a green that’s bisected by a massive hollow.

Old Macdonald

Wood Sabold

Bandon, Ore.

This 2010 Tom Doak/Jim Urbina collaboration features turnpike-wide landing areas and gigantic, heaving greens that are hard to miss. To get the ball into the hole, however, you’ll need to master angles, strategy, trajectory and the ground game, making for an Old World links experience second to none in the U.S. The course pays homage to the design style and template holes of C.B. Macdonald, American’s pioneer architect, though the most memorable hole is a Doak/Urbina original, the par-4 7th, where the elevated green peers down over the beach.

Old Sandwich

John and Jeannine Henebry

Plymouth, Mass.

This exclusive 2004 Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw creation occupies a prime piece of ground in the pine hills of eastern Massachusettes, not far from Cape Cod. Creatively contoured greens and their surrounds place an emphasis on short-game prowess while the sand dunes and fescues lend authentic coastal flair to the proceedings.

Bandon Trails

Steven Gibbons / USGA

Bandon, Ore.

Unlike its elder Bandon siblings, “Trails” doesn’t cling to cliffs, but it’s no less spectacular. It opens in massive, scrub-covered dunes, then plunges into pine forest and touches linksy meadow before returning to dunesland. Along the way are stirring long views of the Pacific and a superb set of wildly different par-3s.

Wade Hampton

John and Jeannine Henebry

Cashiers, N.C.

Tom Fazio’s gorgeous mountain masterpiece dates to 1987 and it has held up beautifully. Winding streams, graceful elevation changes and Chimney Top Mountain backdrops are among the attractions. The downhill par-3 17th, to a green tucked in pines and hardwoods and the option-laden par-5 18th, with a creek that twists up the left side, are standouts.

Pasatiempo Golf Club

Rob Babcock

Santa Cruz, Calif.

Par has been shaved from 74 to 70 since Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s finest public access course first opened in 1929, yet it seldom takes a beating, even at the hands of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson or Tiger Woods, none of whom has bettered 67. How can such a pipsqueak in the yardage department play so difficult? Try rolling terrain that’s crisscrossed by barrancas, slender fairways hemmed in by trees, hordes of deep, artfully sculpted bunkers, Pacific Ocean breezes and nightmarishly quick, canted greens.

Yale University

Larry Lambrecht

New Haven, Conn.

Students pursuing a Ph.D in golf course design appreciation could do no better than Yale. Designed in 1926 by C.B. Macdonald with Seth Raynor, Yale dishes out classic template holes that mimic the greatest examples of British links tests—that were somehow successfully transplanted to the hilly, rocky, wooded terrain of southern Connecticut. The Biarritz-style ninth and the Redan 13th are standouts.

The Honors Course

Fred Vuich / USGA

Ooltewah, Tenn.

One of Pete Dye’s less celebrated, yet greatest creations, this 1983 design in the northeast suburbs of Chattanooga is wooded, wetland-infused tract that might be the tightest 7,450 yards you’ll ever play. Tiger Woods captured the individual title at the 1996 NCAA Championship here, despite a final-round 80, which attests to the difficulty.

Crystal Downs

Larry Lambrecht

Frankfort, Mich.

Due to its remote location in northwest Michigan, Crystal Downs was long overlooked and underrated. This 1932 Alister MacKenzie/Perry Maxwell collaboration became better known after Tom Doak introduced it to Ben Crenshaw in the 1980s and word began to spread. Don't be fooled by its miniscule 6,518 yards from the tips. Crystal Downs is perched on a bluff that peers down on both Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake, so the combination of strong breezes, thick fescue roughs, wildly undulating terrain and fiendishly contoured, firm and fast greens help keep the par of 70 an elusive target.

Streamsong (Blue)

Larry Lambrecht

Streamsong, Fla.

Hewn from the remnants of old phosphate mines, Streamsong Blue features a distinctive sand-based canvas that puts an emphasis on ground-game prowess. Tom Doak crafted fairways that cling to the terrain as if they’ve been here for thousands of years. Greens melt into their surrounds. Imaginative green contouring forces players to think before approaching. After the dizzying panorama from the par-4 first, the next stunner is the203-yard, par-3 7th that demands a lake carry to a wildly undulating green cocooned in the sandhills. This is retro golf with modern trappings.

Piping Rock Club

Larry Lambrecht

Locust Valley, N.Y.

C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor team to craft this Long Island layout in 1913 and after a Tom Doak restoration, its Old World features remain intact. A mostly open front side yields to a back nine that climbs into the woods. The Redan-style par-3 3rd and the Biarritz-style par-3 9th are superb early examples of the design duo’s template holes.

Spyglass Hill

Joann Dost

Pebble Beach, Calif.

Part of the rotation for the PGA Tour’s Bing Crosby (now AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) since 1967, this Robert Trent Jones Sr. design has been one of the Tour’s hardest layouts for nearly 50 years. Few have conquered its dune-flecked start nor its final 13 holes through the pines, except Phil Mickelson in 2005 and Luke Donald in 2006, when both posted astonishing 10-under-par 62s.

Pacific Dunes

David Cannon/Getty Images

Bandon, Ore.

The highest ranking American links, this 2001 Tom Doak creation checks in as one of the greatest modern designs in the world. It fits so majestically into its billowing terrain, it looks like it's been there 100 years. Scattered blow-out bunkers, gigantic natural dunes, smartly contoured greens and Pacific panoramas are headliners.

Winged Foot (West)

Russell Kirk

Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Hale Irwin survived the 1974 "Massacre at Winged Foot" U.S. Open to win at seven-over-par. Geoff Ogilvy didn't fare much better in 2006, when his five-over total took home the trophy. 1996 PGA Champion Mark Brooks summed up this Golden Age A.W. Tillinghast design this way: "There are probably six hard holes, six really hard holes and six impossible holes." Frighteningly contoured, pear-shaped greens, cavernous bunkers and a procession of rugged par-4s define the trouble here. On a "difficulty" scale of 1 to 10, Jack Nicklaus once rated this a 12. Who are we to argue?

Fishers Island

Larry Lambrecht

Fishers Island, N.Y.

Accessible only by ferry, this exclusive retreat off Connecticut is populated by the oldest of the Old Money crowd, many of whom still enjoy hoofing it. Why wouldn't they, given the classic Seth Raynor design, the delightful tumbling terrain and the spectacular views of Long Island Sound. As Tom Doak put it, "I cannot deny that on a breezy summer's day, Fishers Island is one of the most idyllic places possible for a round of golf."

Pinehurst (No. 2)

Courtesy of Pinehurst Resort

Pinehurst, N.C.

Donald Ross' 108-year-old chef d'oeuvre rolls gently and spaciously through tall Longleaf pines in the Carolina Sandhills, with holes culminating in the legendary "inverted saucer" greens that have confounded the game's very best since they were first grassed in 1935. For the 2014 U.S. Open, a Coore-Crenshaw restoration brought back the tawny-edged fairways and native roughs last seen in the 1940s.

Sebonack

Larry Lambrecht

Southampton, N.Y.

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak meshed their design skills to create a seaside gem that abuts the National Golf Links of America overlooking the Great Peconic Bay. Competitors at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open were bedeviled and bedazzled by undulating greens with false fronts and sides and by memorable holes such as the downhill, dogleg left 11th, the short, bunker-strewn par-4 5th and the superb par-5 18th along the Bay.

Rock Creek Cattle Company

Larry Lambrecht

Deer Lodge, Mont.

Among Tom Doak’s finest work since he crafted Pacific Dunes, the aptly named Rock Creek Cattle Co. is surrounded by a 30,000-acre working ranch in southwestern Montana. The beefy 7,466-yard, par-71 layout plays shorter than its listed distance, due to the 4,567-foot elevation, though the horns come out via the deep, jagged-edge bunkers and the severely contoured greens. Doak routed a beguiling blend of holes across the rugged terrain and each hole benefits from majestic mountain backdrops.

Congressional (Blue)

John Mummert / USGA

Bethesda, Md.

Not far from the nation’s capital in suburban D.C., this Golden Age product has been revised and improved by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and later his son Rees. Now it is among the most respected tournament courses. Tree-lined and hilly, it’s best known for its long, downhill, par-4 closer with water short, left and long, and for its three U.S. Opens, most famously Ken Venturi’s 1964 win and most recently, Rory McIlroy’s dominant march in 2011.

Shadow Creek

John and Jeannine Henebry

North Las Vegas, Nev.

Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn demonstrated that with sufficient money and imagination, there’s nothing that couldn’t be accomplished in golf course design. Hewn from flat, featureless desert, Shadow Creek emerged with rolling hills, a forest of pines, bursts of flowers and a network of creeks and lakes.

Essex County Club

Larry Lambrecht

Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.

Charm, intimacy and fiendishly contoured greens characterize one of Donald Ross’ early masterworks, a 1917 creation that unfolds over wonderfully rumpled terrain near the sea northeast of Boston. Its miniscule back-tee yardage of 6,401 yards strikes fear into no one. Instead, the course owes its stature to its superior mix of memorable holes, bunker variety and green sophistication. Lexi Thompson was one of the few who has solved the Essex putting riddles, posting a 4-0-1 record during the 2010 Curtis Cup.

Eastward Ho!

Larry Lambrecht

Chatham, Mass.

Architect Herbert Fowler of Walton Heath fame produced Eastward Ho! in 1922. It’s a lay-of-the-land, Cape Cod beauty that overlooks aptly named Pleasant Bay. Fescue-fringed holes tumble up and over small ridges, providing maximum variety and an Old World look. Restoration specialist Keith Foster and superintendent Frank Hancock recently teamed to yank out trees, expand greens, recover lost bunkers and firm up the course.

The Creek Club

Larry Lambrecht

Locust Valley, N.Y.

Stretching less than 6,500 yards from the tips, this C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor collaboration is a layout that radiates enjoyment rather than frustration. Following a quiet opening quintet, the Creek explodes with the 465-yard, par-4 sixth, a stunning hole that starts with a panorama of Long Island Sound, then plunges downhill to a punchbowl green, one that is guarded by low mounds and by a gargantuan fronting bunker. From there, it’s a carnival of breeze-fueled tests that embrace trees, reed-edged marshes and Frost Creek, an inlet of the Sound and which gave the club its name.

Chambers Bay

Angus Murray

University Place, Wash.

Controversial home to the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open, this 7,500-yard, walking-only, Robert Trent Jones II design unfolds atop an old gravel mine at the southeast tip of Puget Sound, 45 minutes south of Seattle. The eye candy commences at the first hole, a par-4 that shares a fairway with the 18th a la St. Andrews, amid 50-foot dunes.

Monterey Peninsula (Shore)

Russell Kirk

Pebble Beach, Calif.

The Shore course joined the rota for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2010, replacing Poppy Hills. The layout dates back to a handsome, if bare-boned 1961 Bob Baldock/Jack Neville design, but its current character is all Mike Strantz, the late designer who finished an amazing makeover in 2004. Strantz carved out 12 new holes and reworked six others and the rock formations, twisted trees and unimpeded ocean views make this a splendid alternative to the region’s more famous Big Three.

Old Town Club

Larry Lambrecht

Winston-Salem, N.C.

A 2013 Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw renovation has sparked renewed attention to the low-key, yet dramatically undulating 1939 Perry Maxwell layout near Wake Forest University. Back in place are the lacy-edged bunkers, the classic tees and fairway lines and the double green shared by holes 8 and 17 (a Clifford Roberts idea). A brilliant routing and beguiling green contours were always in place.

Gozzer Ranch

John and Jeannine Henebry

Harrison, Idaho

Turn Tom Fazio loose on a canvas that includes a beautifully treed valley, rocky bluffs that sprout 100-foot spires and dazzling vistas of Lake Coeur d’Alene and the results are typically stunning. Tattered-edge, small, shallow bunkers, a departure from Fazio, add to the distinctiveness.

Scioto

Courtesy of Scioto

Columbus, Ohio

Jack Nicklaus learned to play on this classic layout that Donald Ross crafted in 1916. Bobby Jones won the 1926 U.S. Open over its gently rolling parkland terrain and the club has also played host to the 1931 Ryder Cup and 1950 PGA Championship. Back in 1966, Sports Illustrated chose its par-4 2nd as the finest second hole in the U.S. Today, at 460 yards, with an elevated green, it’s still worthy.

Bel-Air

Dick Durrance

Los Angeles, Calif.

Draped across the hills above Sunset Boulevard, overlooking Westwood and Century City, Bel-Air features a brilliant 1926 routing by George Thomas that weaves in and out of canyons. The back nine bows with the fabulous 210-yard par-3 10th that demands a 150-yard carry across a steep canyon to a two-tier, well-bunkered green. The uphill par-4 18th plays beneath one of golf’s iconic symbols, the Swinging Bridge, recently renamed for longtime pro Eddie Merrins.

Trump National Doral (Blue Monster)

Courtesy of Trump National Doral

Miami, Fla.

An extraordinary makeover from Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner took what had become a tired resort course and turned it into one of the toughest tests on the PGA Tour, a fire-breather that once again lived up to its name. Newly installed teeth in the form of added yardage, altered angles, contoured greens and steeper slopes around the greens have dramatically altered the layout, strengthening it in every way.

Mountain Lake

Larry Lambrecht

Lake Wales, Fla.

This veritable museum piece of early Seth Raynor design is set into improbably rolling terrain in central Florida. There are likely 5,000 tougher courses in the U.S., fewer than five of them, however, enjoy Mountain Lake’s charm, grace and timelessness. In typical Raynor fashion—learned from his mentor, C.B. Macdonald--template holes make up many of the individually memorable tests. Many had seen their features decimated over time. In 2002, however, architect Brian Silva used old aerials and ground photos to restore the bite.

Blackwolf Run (River)

Paul Hundley

Kohler, Wis.

Often an afterthought to its sibling, Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run’s River is a major venue in its own right. It played host to the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, when nine of its holes paired with Blackwolf Run’s original front nine (now the back nine of the Meadow Valleys course). Dye’s typically penal hard edges along water hazards, ligament-snapping rough and nasty, steep, grass-faced bunkers are angst-inducing, but memorable holes abound, such as the remarkable short par-4 9th, with three legitimate options off the tee and the handsome, if brutal closing stretch of 16-18 that incorporates a twisting arm of the Sheboygan River.

Fox Chapel

John R. Johnson

Pittsburgh, Pa.

A 1925 Seth Raynor design, Fox Chapel has always lagged in the shadow of its neighbor, Oakmont. However, after hosting three Champions Tour majors, it stands on its own, with Tom Lehman calling it one of the three best courses the tour plays. The course features the usual assortment of classic template holes, from a Redan (the par-3 6th), a Biarritz (the par-3 17th), a Punch Bowl (the par-5 2nd) and a Cape (the par-4 5th). Wildly contoured greens and 96 deep bunkers add further menace.

Country Club of Fairfield

Larry Lambrecht

Fairfield, Conn.

Short on overall distance at 6,358 yards, but long on variety and fun, Fairfield illuminates its greatness through its scenery, on low-lying land adjacent to Long Island Sound and through its links-like shotmaking demands, due to its reliance on nature’s humps and bumps and to the ever-present breezes coming off the Sound. Seth Raynor and A.W. Tillinghast are the primary architects of this Golden Age great.

Crooked Stick

Ken May

Carmel, Ind.

Pete Dye’s earliest masterwork dates to 1964. This Indianapolis-area spread is where he first expressed his design aesthetic and philosophy in a major way, with his innovative strategies and railroad tie bulkeading that he borrowed from Great Britain. The watery 16th and 18th holes here set the stage for future Dye aqua-dramatics, but it’s John Daly who will forever be associated with Crooked Stick, due to his come-from-nowhere amazing performance to win the 1991 PGA Championship.

Sand Hills

John and Jeannine Henebry

Mullen, Neb.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw had to move only teaspoons of dirt to construct the most natural, hew-to-the-land layout built in the past 50 years. Rolling, sandy terrain, rippled fairways crafted to accommodate ever-present winds, wavy prairie grasses and gigantic "blow-out" bunkers, which are in reality eroded dunes, create the sensation of being seaside in the middle of land-locked Nebraska. This 1994 design gave rise to the "If-you-build-it-they-will-come" generation of remote courses that would dominate course rankings for the next 20 years.

Torrey Pines Golf Course

Pacific heights: The 198-yard third hole at Torrey Pines' South Course.
Evan Schiller

La Jolla, California

Thanks to Bethpage Black and Harding Park, municipal courses are back in vogue as venues for big-time tournaments.

The granddaddies of the genre remain the North and South courses at Torrey Pines near San Diego. Rees Jones toughened the South four years ago in anticipation of the 2008 U.S. Open, adding 28 bunkers and more than 500 yards, and turning a good test into a 7,607-yard monster.

The North is a more manageable 6,874 yards from the tips. Both tracks are used in the 2006 Buick Invitational (Jan. 23-29), though the South pulls solo duty for the weekend.

Most tee times are made by calling 619-570-1234 up to seven days in advance, starting at 7 p.m. PST.

Other options include staying at either The Lodge at Torrey Pines or the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, both of which offer packages with tee times.

Greens fees on the South course are $115-$135. The North will cost you $75-$85. 800-985-4653, torreypinesgolfcourse.com.


The Lodge is just 20 minutes from downtown San Diego. Weekend packages that include two rounds at Torrey Pines and two nights accommodation start at $569 per night. Call 800-656-0087 or visit lodgetorreypines.com.lodgetorreypines.com.

Aronimink

Russell Kirk

Newtown Square, Pa.

Twenty years after Donald Ross designed Aronimink, he visited the layout and declared, “I intended to make this course my masterpiece, but not until today did I realize I built better than I knew.” Set into a rolling, wooded tract in suburban Philadelphia, Aronimink rose to prominence after hosting the 1962 PGA Championship won by Gary Player.

Merion (East)

John Mummert/USGA

Ardmore, Pa.

Jack Nicklaus once said of Merion, "Acre for acre, it might be best test of golf in the world." At less than 7,000 yards from the tips, what makes Merion so distinctive -- and testing -- is its remarkable variety. Some par-4s are short, others are monsters. One par-3 is tiny, at 115 yards. The other par-3s measure 236, 246 and 256 yards. Holes play uphill, downhill and along the sides of small ridges. The famous par-4 11th, where Bobby Jones clinched the 1930 Grand Slam, is slashed by a creek, while the par-4 16th demands a shot over an abandoned stone quarry that is filled with wild growth of trees and shrubs. In short, Merion has everything.

National Golf Links of America

Fred Vuich/Golf Magazine

Southampton, N.Y.

Venue for the 2013 Walker Cup Match, NGLA, or "National," as it's known, offers the greatest variety of strategic holes and greens in golf. There are blind shots, links-style holes that feature firm, fast-running fairways, forced carries and a remarkable mix of short and long holes. Pioneer American architect Charles Blair Macdonald admittedly crafted holes alongside Great Peconic Bay to mimic the greatest he had seen in his travels across Scotland and England, yet in many cases, his are better. The presence of a windmill next to the 16th green and the legendary lobster lunch adds to the ambience.

Course Spy: Pebble Beach Golf Links

No. 8 at Pebble Beach, one of America's best -- and toughest -- holes.
Pebble Beach Company

Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, Calif.
6,828 yards, par 72
Green fees: $495
800-654-9300
pebblebeach.com

\nService
Considering the price, you might expect champagne and caviar at every tee. What you actually get are smiling staffers at the bag drop and savvy caddies on the course. Pebble's got that going for it, which is nice. Now, about that Dom Perignon ...

\nPace of Play
Crammed behind groups of camera-clickers, we crawled around in five and a half hours — without encountering a marshal. The resort's indifference to this problem is an insult to any golfer who takes the game as seriously as Pebble takes itself.

\nQuality
There are holes you'll never forget (5-10, and the closing duo) and others (1, 3 and 11) you'll struggle to remember. Given the crowds, we can't demand pristine conditions, but it would've been nice if they'd mentioned that they'd just punched the greens.

\nValue
Sure, it's pretty. But the glacial pace and midtier conditions detract from what should be a storybook experience. Is a round of golf ever really worth $495? Maybe — if you don't mind skipping your monthly payment on the Mercedes-Benz.

\nVerdict
Pebble looms so large in every golfer's imagination that the place can actually have a hard time living up to the expectations. Still, if at all possible, you've got to try to play it once. Or even twice — especially if you have all day to spare.

Shinnecock Hills

Fred Vuich For Sports Illustrated

Southampton, N.Y.

Venue for four U.S. Opens since 1986, with a fifth on the way in 2018, Shinnecock boasts a William Flynn design that combines parkland bunkering and greens with a seaside sensibility. Its location adjacent to Great Peconic Bay means wind is a near-constant factor and its fescue-framed fairways resemble a British links. Toss in a storied hilltop clubhouse and a remarkably varied routing among heaving undulations and you have what Johnny Miller calls, "Golf's Holy Grail -- a genius course."

Cypress Point

Mike Ehrmann For Sports Illustrated

Pebble Beach, Calif.

As Alister MacKenzie himself must have felt about his 1928 design, it's almost inconceivable that land this stunning was made available for golf. For the lucky few who have access to super-exclusive Cypress, they're privileged to enjoy the best walk in the sport. The trek to the 15th tee, amid wind, waves, deer, gnarled Cypress trees and near-isolation is spiritual. And the over-the-ocean, 231-yard, par-3 16th is golf's ultimate heroic gut-check.

Pine Valley

Pine Valley Golf Club topped GOLF Magazine's list once again.
Brian Morgan

Pine Valley, N.J.

There's no secret as to why Pine Valley has been ranked No. 1 in the World by GOLF Magazine since 1985. As architect Tom Doak once expressed, "Deep down, it's still golf's most awesome experience, a shining example of golf architecture in the raw so that even the color-blind can understand it. The course possesses more truly outstanding holes than any other I've seen." Uniquely beautiful and brutal, 97-year-old Pine Valley serves up multiple forced carries on holes that hopscotch from one island of turf to the next. It's an unforgettable gallop through trees, sand and scrub.

Swinley Forest

Getty Images

Ascot, England

England's Harry S. Colt, one of the giants of early 20th Century architecture, called this 1910 design "the least bad course" he had ever built, proving as Tom Doak memorably puts it, he "was no Muhammed Ali when it came to self-promotion." One of the most lightly played private clubs in Britain, this quiet enclave features wide, wooded fairways, gigantic bursts of rhododendrons in springtime and a back tee yardage under 6,100. Yet, par is only 68 and matching it requires excellent ball-striking, due primarily to a series of meaty par-4s.

Walton Heath (Old)

David Cannon/Getty Images

Tadworth, England

Its bleak, heathland setting won't set anyone aglow but as a test of character and shotmaking, Walton Heath has few peers. A superb, strategic delight, it is stern but fair, with heather, gorse, rough and bunkers that must be avoided at all costs. Yet, the chalk beneath the sandy subsoil allows for firm fairways that yield plenty of links-like run. Host to many important tournaments in the past 100 years, Walton Heath was the venue of the 1981 Ryder Cup, when arguably the strongest American side of all time -- featuring Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite to name eight -- demolished the Europeans, 18.5 to 9.5.

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