This article is from 2006. The latest Top 100 Courses You Can Play ranking is here.
The best sports rivalries are classic grillroom fodder. Ali-Frazier. Affirmed-Alydar. Army-Navy. Where public-access golf in the United States is concerned, however, the main event is caught-fresh-this-morning current. It's perennial No. 1 Pebble Beach versus 5-year-old upstart Pacific Dunes, and the new No. 1 on our list of the top 100 courses you can play, by a whisker, is Pacific Dunes.
Not that Pebble has slipped. The Monterey coast remains as majestic as ever and No. 7 is at the top of every list of must-play holes. But the majority of our course-ranking panel agrees that Pacific Dunes has more world-class holes (and fewer weaker ones) and that is the measure that matters most.
Designed by Tom Doak in 2001, Pac Dunes spent four years on our list at No. 2, and, predictably, a furious debate preceded its coronation as king. Pebble supporters came out swinging, scoring with potent left-right combinations. "Pebble Beach, no contest!" said one very certain panelist. "Pebble Beach has always been my No. 1. You'd need an earthquake to change my vote!" chimed one of our more geological-minded raters.
Strong players rushed to Pebble's defense. "If forced to make a choice, I would pick Pebble," reasoned one panelist, adding, "As a low single-digit handicapper, many of Pacific's challenges are relevant only if the wind kicks in." Said a rater who plays off scratch, "Pacific Dunes is too short to be considered the equal of Pebble Beach."
Romantics and the historically attuned also chose Pebble. "The 'Monterey Ocean' is more beautiful than the 'Bandon Ocean' and seems to come into play more often at Pebble Beach." Added another sentimentalist, "You cannot discard the tradition nor dismiss the location and what the name 'Pebble Beach' means to the golf world. It is revered."
Nevertheless, the Pacific Dunes camp deflected every blow and launched a furious counterassualt. "Pacific Dunes, for many reasons," said one rater. "Value, ambiance, a more authentic golf experience and a greater number of really outstanding holes." Echoed another panelist, "Pebble is a wonderful collection of very good (and some great) golf holes, but carts [Pacific Dunes is walking only], very slow play and real estate interrupt the flow of the experience."
The panelists who most acurately sums up the majority view says, "I love them both and have played Pebble Beach many, many more times. I just like the atmosphere at Bandon much more."
If we're certain of one thing, it is this: The rivalry between the two courses is destined to be a classic. Go play both of them--and tune in for the next installment in 2008.
The 20 new courses on our list represent the largest turnover since we started the list in 1996. What that should tell you is the quality of daily-fee golf in America keeps getting better and better. Go to the List