The 18 Best Courses in the U.S.

The 12th hole at Augusta National.
Evan Schiller

1. Pine Valley
Clementon, N.J. (Private)
Course finder profile
One way of assessing a golf course is to determine how many great holes it possesses and how few banal ones. Well, Pine Valley has no humdrum holes and no fewer than 15 great ones, probably more like 16 or 17, or, some would argue, 18.

2. Cypress Point
Pebble Beach, Calif. (Private)
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Cypress is also one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. Bob Hope once memorably summed up the club this way: "One year they had a big membership drive at Cypress. They drove out 40 members."

3. Augusta National
Augusta, Ga. (Private)
Course finder profile | Official Site
One of the most exclusive clubs in the world, the 300 or so members of Augusta National include generations of Southern society folks and corporate titans who are discouraged from using the club too often. Microsoft founder Bill Gates was kept out for years for the sin of stating publicly that he wanted in. He made it, eventually.

4. Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach, Calif. (Resort)
Course finder profile | Official Site
Telecasts often lavish attention on Pebble's closing holes, but the real magic is to be found on the front nine. The most spectacular series of holes you'll find anywhere are Nos. 5 through 8, which are on the promontory between Stillwater Cove and the Pacific Ocean.
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5. Shinnecock Hills
Southampton, N.Y. (Private)
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A unique aspect of the course is that the longest par 4s generally play downwind while the shorter par 4s play into the wind, which usually blows from the southwest. Because the terrain is so hilly, and the native grasses so thick, Shinnecock Hills is challenging both off the tee and from the fairway.

6. Oakmont
Oakmont, Pa. (Private)
Course finder profile | Official Site
Oakmont's main defense is a medley of slick, wildly contoured greens, which are bolstered by thick, tangled rough, ditches along the fairways and, not least, some 200 bunkers.
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7. Merion (East)
Ardmore, Pa. (Private)
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The East course at Merion has hosted four U.S. Opens -- in 1934, 1950, 1971, and 1981 -- and the Open returns in 2013. It is best known for the 1950 U.S. Open, when Ben Hogan won just 16 months after a near-fatal car accident.

8. Sand Hills
Mullen, Neb. (Private)
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This links-style course is hilly, yet not too difficult to walk. There are plenty of natural and man-made bunkers, but no water hazards, trees or out-of-bounds stakes in play. The greens are undulating and fast.

9. Pacific Dunes
Bandon, Ore. (Resort)
Course finder profile | Official Site
Pacific Dunes opened in 2001, and is considered by many to rival Pebble Beach as the finest public access course in the country. At 6,633 yards, Tom Doak's layout is a bantamweight by modern standards, and there are some quirks -- two greens at No. 9 and consecutive par 3s at Nos. 10 and 11 -- but the entire package falls together seamlessly.
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10. National Golf Links of America
Southampton, N.Y. (Private)
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Wandering amid the windmills, punchbowl greens and views of Peconic Bay, is a membership that values its privacy. Just take it from a couple of PGA Tour winners who asked to come tee it up after missing the cut at the 1995 U.S. Open at nearby Shinnecock Hills. "Certainly," they were told. "Who is the member with whom you'll be playing?"

11. Pinehurst (No. 2)
Pinehurst, N.C. (Resort)
Course finder profile | Official Site
Pinehurst No. 2 has no signature hole and no breathtaking aesthetics, but it proves that a course can be much greater than its individual holes. You can land a jumbo jet on the generous fairways without dislodging a pinecone, but No. 2 is the toughest course on the planet from within 50 yards of the greens.
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12. Seminole
Juno Beach, Fla. (Private)
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This course was designed to resemble a Scottish links course, so there are few trees but plenty of water hazards. Most of the greens and tees are slightly elevated, and the terrain is predominantly flat, but there is a ridge of mounding that comes into play in the middle of the course.

13. Winged Foot (West)
Mamaroneck, N.Y. (Private)
Course finder profile | Official Site
The fairway bunkering defines the correct side of the fairway on nearly every hole at Winged Foot. In order to attack the severely undulating greens and avoid the deep bunkers that guard them, a player must approach from the ideal side of the landing area. Fail to do that and you risk scoring a big number.

14. Crystal Downs
Frankfort, Mich. (Private)
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This course was built on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake. The tree-lined fairways are extremely hilly, so expect many uneven lies. One small pond comes into play on the 550-yard, par-5 8th hole.

15. San Francisco
San Francisco, Calif. (Private)
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One of the oldest tracks in California, this A.W. Tillinghast gem opened in 1915, well before many of Tillinghast's East Coast masterpieces. At just over 6,600 yards in length, the course is not long by modern standards, but it rewards long and straight shots off the tee.

16. Prairie Dunes
Hutchinson, Kan. (Private)
Course finder profile | Official Site
On this secluded course in central Kansas, which features prairie grass rough, each tee shot is unique and the greens are undulating. The club was founded by Emerson Carey and his four sons in the mid 1930s.

17. Chicago
Wheaton, Ill. (Private)
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One of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association in 1894, Chicago was also the site of the nation's first 18-hole course and the first to host the U.S. Open outside of the northeast.

18. Oakland Hills (South)
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Private)
Course finder profile | Official Site
Designed by Donald Ross, the South course opened in 1918 with Walter Hagen as the first head professional. The signature hole on the South course is the par-4 16th, which requires two well-executed shots up a dogleg right fairway to reach a very small green. The last five holes are known as the "fearsome fivesome."
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