Golf Magazine's resident course expert Joe Passov has been around the world more than the Space Shuttle, playing nearly 1,500 courses in 49 states and 25 countries on five continents. (When the Links at Ross Ice Shelf is completed, it's Antarctica or bust!) He has carded a 74 at Harbour Town, a 101 at Canterbury (with an ace!) and everything in between. He has teed off at 5:42 a.m. in the Phoenix heat, swatted shots in "daylight" at midnight in Finland, and has dueled with designers ranging from Tom Doak (as teenagers at Spyglass Hill) to Pete Dye (at Bel-Air). He's downed Caribou at Alaska's North Star Golf Club, rice wine at South Korea's Haesley Nine Bridges and perhaps more halfway-house hotdogs than any man alive — with the waistline to prove it.
In honor of this special issue, our road warrior shares his unimpeachable, comprehensive and completely subjective list of the best courses, greatest holes, coolest driving ranges and golfiest trips the planet has to offer.
No. 1 Course You've Never Heard Of
The Lava Fields course at Mission Hills Resort ($200 USD; 86-898-6868-3888, missionhillschina.com) in Haikou, Hainan Island, China. Overshadowed by the seemingly dozens of tracks that bear the "Mission Hills" stamp, this 2010 Brian Curley design is the best of the bunch — and perhaps the best in China. The fifth course at the "new" Mission Hills zigzags through black volcanic rock and overflows with massive bunkers and dramatic forced carries, but plays to more softly contoured, less fiercely guarded greens than its brawny sibling, Blackstone.
No. 1 Driving Range
If the pasha of practice Vijay Singh ever sets foot here, he'll think he's died and gone to Heaven. The range at Florida's World Woods Golf Club ($49-$119; 352-796-5500, worldwoods.com) in Brooksville is the best golf practice facility on the planet. This public spot an hour north of Tampa sports two superb Tom Fazio 18s and a nine-hole short course. But more memorable is the staggering 23-acre circular practice range, which provides hundreds of hitting stations in four directions, target fair-ways and greens, bunkers with native and white sand, and short-game areas hidden between trees. Toss in a three-hole warm-up course, an irons-only range and a two-acre putting green, and you've got the grand enchilada of practice areas.
No. 1 Course Under $50
Sure, times are tighter than Chubby Chandler's waistband, but that doesn't mean you can't afford a fabulous public course. Wild Horse Golf Club ($37-$50; 308-537-7700, playwildhorse.com) in Gothenburg, Nebraska, is a 1998 design by Dan Proctor and Dave Axland, who helped Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw bring nearby Sand Hills to fruition. Wild Horse rides through wind-blown, treeless, firm terrain, framed with wheat-colored native grasses and tattered-edge bunkers. The course has earned a No. 67 ranking on our Top 100 Courses You Can Play list. Nebraska is a bit of a hike, but at around $50 with a cart midweek, it's a worthy trek.
No. 1 Course Under $100
Ranked No. 90 in the U.S. (ahead of private classics such as Long Cove, Bel-Air and Desert Forest) and No. 18 in our Top 100 Courses You Can Play, the Pine Barrens course at World Woods can't be beat for less than a Benjamin. I've already raved about the practice facility, but World Woods is worthy of a full round, too, especially from June through October, when it's $50 or less to ride. In peak season, January 1 through March 31, it will cost you just $99, cart included, Monday through Thursday. Carved through pine forest and sandy waste areas, this 1993 Tom Fazio design has invited comparisons as a "public Pine Valley." That's a bit of a stretch, but it's a mighty fine value. Risk-reward options abound, notably at the drivable par-4 15th. If you can't get enough of World Woods after the range and the Pine Barrens, the second Fazio course there, Rolling Oaks, forms the most harmonious duo since Simon met Garfunkel. To make a day of it, play both courses for $70-$178. That's not a deal. It's a steal.
No. 1 Bachelor Party Golf Destination
The five musts for golf bachelor parties: affordability, lodging options, destination accessibility, bountiful nightlife and good golf. For these, nothing can touch Las Vegas. Of course, bachelor parties involve many moving parts — and I'm not just talking about the gyrating dancers. With the Caesars Palace Total Experience (800-649-1191; totalexperiences.com), an agent does the time-consuming work of arranging your group's tailor-made trip, such as procuring tee times at Cascata and Rio Secco (both solid courses), dinner reservations, and insider access to hot spots. The Ã¼ber-concierge service is free if you stay at Caesars or another Harrah's property. A Golf Magazine colleague recently tried it and scored a spacious room on the Strip, two rounds of golf, and an upgrade to a sleek bar's private lounge. Of course, in true Hangover spirit, he still can't remember how he lost that tooth.
No. 1 New Year's Golf Destination
Arizona mornings are too chilly. Hawaii is too far away. To ring in the new golf year, give me Miami, with its balmy breezes, barely clad beachgoers, and boldly bunkered tracks like Doral, Fairmont Turnberry Isle and the Biltmore. Take it from LeBron: Exploring South Beach is a must. I recommend a night or two at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton (786-276-4000, ritzcarlton.com). Not only is it steps away from the ocean and South Beach's shopping options, but the property's "Club Level Experience" package (starting at $1,099 per night from 12/27 to 1/1) is a deal in disguise. It includes access to the VIP lounge, where unlimited booze and three meals daily await, leaving you plenty of cash for a spa visit, or an extra 18 holes.
No. 1 Living Course Architect
Pete Dye created a sea change in the way both pros and Average Joes thought about course design. In the early 1990s, multiple architects told me, "Pete's the only true genius in our business." After playing more than 30 of his designs, I concur. I'm not a particular fan of the hard edges and repetition that characterize many of his works, but he definitely made course architecture a riveting debate topic — for which I'm grateful.
No. 1 Beverage-Cart Snack
Forget stale cheese crackers or dry ham sandwiches. When Ashley's beverage cart arrived in the fourth fairway at Albuquerque's Sandia Golf Club ($56-$85; 505-798-3990, sandiagolf.com) bearing warm, rum-soaked rice pudding, I could not resist. The savory concoction paired nicely with the panoramas of the burnt-orange Sandia mountains.
No. 1 Par 3
I turn 50 soon. When I was younger, I could carry tee shots well over 200 yards. These days, I can't carry a tune. Still, there's no more exhilarating hole on the planet than Cypress Point's 16th. The wind-whipped 235-yarder demands a long forced carry over the Pacific Ocean, but there are shorter, alternate routes that make the hole playable, and no less spectacular, for the likes of me. The combination of surf crashing into rocks and a large, circular green ringed with bunkers is nearly overwhelming. But pull it off and you'll have a memory for life.
No. 1 Par 4
A blind tee shot aimed directly over a hotel? A road and wall practically flush against the back-right side of the putting surface? A bunker in front of the green from which you may never escape? Only in Scotland. If you designed the 490-yard 17th at St. Andrews (Old Course) ($104-$228 USD; 011-44-1334-466666, standrews.org.uk) today, you'd face a malpractice suit. Yet no other par 4 on earth makes taking just four strokes so satisfying. The stories, history and dreamlike location are great, but the hole is brilliant because there are myriad ways to play it, especially if you'll settle for a 5. Me, I crave a 4 — please, just once! No matter your score, this is a white-knuckle ride from start to finish.
No. 1 Par 5
Azaleas bloom, Rae's Creek twists, and four flash-faced bunkers back the green, all forming an indelible tableau. The 510-yard par-5 13th at Augusta National Golf Club is not just the world's most beautiful hole. It's also the best. Strategically, the hole is supreme, its tight turn off the tee thwarting the technology boom. If the drive doesn't curve enough, a sidehill lie or a shot off the pine needles will give pause to any golfer. From the member tees, 10-handicappers face the same challenges, making it a truly democratic test. Amen to that!
No. 1 Worst Tour Venue
To its credit, the PGA Tour has weeded out most of the awful venues in recent years. So let's just finish the job and stick a knife in Torrey Pines' North Course, long-time co-host to the San Diego event. The much shorter sibling (by nearly 700 yards) to the South, this 1957 Billy Bell Jr. design boasts bland bunkers, vapid greens and an utterly forgettable back nine. The Farmers Insurance Open should be played entirely on Torrey South.
No. 1 Opening Hole
Best first salvo goes to Machrihanish ($49-$101 USD; 011-44-1586-810213, machgolf.com), Old Tom Morris's gem in southwestern Scotland. The 436-yard par 4 demands a bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew tee shot over a corner of the Atlantic, where the Sound of Jura meets the Irish Sea. Phew! I haven't encountered an opening scene this dramatic since Inglourious Basterds.
No 1. Underrated Course
Over the years, the public Forest Dunes ($85-$155; 989-275-0700, forestdunesgolf.com) in Roscommon, Mich., has attracted plenty of supporters and awards, but it's never smashed the "must-play" barrier it so deserves — because of its middle-of-nowhere location (about 40 miles south of Gaylord, where Treetops is located), and because there's so much competition in Northern Michigan. But the Tom Weiskopf design that he considers among his best is flawlessly maintained and melds memorable aesthetics, from the mature trees of the Huron National Forest to natural exposed sand dunes to Weiskopf's artful bunker shaping.
No 1. Overrated Course
Though it's seen more face-lifts than Bruce Jenner and Joan Rivers combined, I still don't get what the fuss is about over Medinah No. 3. The Chicago-area course is the site of two recent PGAs (both won by Tiger) and will host the 2012 Ryder Cup. It's an old, long, wooded brute, which used to be the benchmark of great major championship courses. But haven't the New Minimalists taught us that variety and options make for the best golf? I love the history and the Moorish clubhouse, but the uninspiring terrain and massively macho course leave me cold.
No. 1 Couples Trip
Mrs. Travelin' Joe and I can't get enough of Boulders Resort, the golf-resort equivalent of a Barry White album. Aptly located in Carefree, Ariz., north of Scottsdale, its adobe-style casitas melt into the desert landscape, which is highlighted by prehistoric rocks that lend the property its name. With memorable golf, a superb spa, and plenty of sunshine — plus a short drive to Scottsdale's shopping districts — lovebirds can't go wrong. Bonus: Rooms come with a fireplace. Crank up the AC, then light the fire.
No. 1 Course to Play Solo
A solitary stroll on a great layout is one of life's overlooked pleasures. My most memorable solitary game was at San Francisco Golf Club, which provided an entire afternoon of sweet seclusion, graced only by silence, trees on the perimeter and clusters of gorgeous Tillinghast bunkers. As for public offerings, my top choice is We-Ko-Pa's Saguaro course ($75-$175; 480-836-9000, wekopa.com) in Fort McDowell, Arizona. Late in the day, this is desert bliss. The walkable Coore-Crenshaw creation is a romp across rolling terrain on tribal land, with no homes smudging the dazzling mountain scenery. Late in the day, accompanied only by snacking rabbits, Saguaro cacti, and hawks circling overhead, the effect is peaceful and sublime.