GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Courses You Can Play list yields so many great highlights, it's tough narrowing it down to just the Top 10. Nevertheless, duty calls. It was tough leaving out a trip to Bethpage Black, but I'm not sure that sleeping overnight in your car to procure a tee time there is a highlight or a lowlight. In any case, here are my Top 10 bucket list experiences that are drawn from the Top 100 Courses You Can Play.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.
$495-$530; 800-654-9300, pebblebeach.com
Magical moments come in bunches at Pebble Beach. Say what you will about the price tag - somewhere north of five Franklins these days - but as once-in-a-lifetime experiences go, the cost is irrelevant. It's all worth it for one unforgettable round at this seaside gem that's played host to five U.S. Opens and millions of memories.
No more thrilling, spectacular stretch of holes exists anywhere than holes 7 through 10. And is there anything in golf that can compare with that final stroll up the par-5 18th as it curves to the left around Carmel Bay? Nicklaus's 1-iron in '72, Watson's chip-in in '82, everything Tiger did in 2000 - you have a chance to join them with just one swing.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon, Ore.
$75-$275; 888-345-6008, bandondunesgolf.com
If you build it, they will come - provided they can get a tee time. From Day 1 in the spring of 1999, passionate course connoisseurs have flocked to Bandon Dunes Resort, the greatest "must-play" public course mecca ever built in the United States.
Draped atop the craggy headlands of the Pacific Coast in southern Oregon, Bandon is situated two-and-a-half hours from Eugene and more than four hours from Portland. Half the fun is merely getting there. It's tough to top a facility with four of the Top 15 public-access courses in the country, including the Number 1-ranked Pacific Dunes, but Bandon never stops.
In 2012, they added Bandon Preserve, a spectacular 13-hole par-3 course crafted by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The remote location, often times wacky weather and walking-only policy are plusses for some, drawbacks for others, but for purists, Bandon Dunes is the ultimate buddies trip in the U.S.
Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla.
$100-$300; 407-876-2429, bayhill.com
After he waxed Jack Nicklaus in an exhibition at Bay Hill in 1965, Arnold Palmer liked the place so much he bought it. Mr. Palmer has held court here since 1976 and there's nowhere else on earth that you're more likely to run into him than in the grill room, in the locker room or on the putting green. Honestly, that's what makes this place great.
Still, not even the King has played the course quite so well as Tiger Woods, a seven-time winner at Bay Hill, including a four-peat from 2000-2003. Perhaps the scariest second shot in golf is the over-the-lake approach to Bay Hill's banana-shaped 18th green. Go long and a nightmare downhill chip from rough or sand awaits, with water beyond. The approach to such a slender target is so tough it even rattles Woods.
"You can't really say 'get up' or 'get down' because you don't really know," says Woods.
To play Bay Hill, you must be a guest of the 70-room lodge, but it's worth the splurge if only to bask in the aura of Tiger's triumphs and potentially to shake hands with the King himself.
Coeur d'Alene Resort, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
$150-$270; 208-667-4653, cdaresort.com
For two decades, island greens were all the rage in architecture. Coeur d'Alene's version, however, remains unique. Golfers hit to a true floating island, one that's capable of moving up or back on any given day, thanks to a system of cables attached to the bottom of gorgeous Lake Coeur d'Alene.
A six-passenger mahogany boat called "Putter" transports you to the green, where you dock, then putt out. Scores of red geraniums, a pair of gleaming white traps and a smattering of evergreens add beauty to the green, but most beautiful of all is the certificate they create for you if you make par or better. As gimmicks go, it's one of the best ever.
Still, Coeur d'Alene is more than a one-hole wonder. There may be 99 more challenging courses among our Top 100, but Coeur d'Alene might reign supreme in the looks department. For sheer eye candy and the ultimate island green, Coeur d'Alene belongs on your bucket list.
TPC Sawgrass (PLAYERS Stadium), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
$245-$385; 904-273-3235, tpc.com
From the moment you make your tee time, you're thinking about one golf shot - and you know which one I'm talking about. Pete Dye's fiendishly exciting 17th is golf's ultimate gut-check. No par 3 anywhere demands such perfection with club selection and ball flight. Because the tee box isn't elevated, the mildly rippled, apple-shaped island green (which is larger than it looks) isn't framed particularly well, which only increases the feeling of dread. Persistent breezes and a pot bunker jabbed into the right-front of the green complicate matters further. By the time you slow your palpitations to execute a short iron that you know you can hit in your sleep, you'll wake up to the most exciting shot in golf.
Whether you treat the Players Championship as "the 5th Major," what's undeniable is the special buzz that percolates around the event. Unquestionably, the course design itself has something to do with the vibe, thanks to the finest collection of risk/reward holes in golf. You owe it to yourself to sample each and every one - especially No. 17 - at least once in your life.