BEST INTERNATIONAL RENOVATION: Abiko Golf Club
Tokyo, Japan; private
No architect influenced Japan's classic courses as much as England's C.H. Alison. More than 80 years after Alison left his mark, deep, boldly sculpted bunkers in that country are still referred to as "Alisons." It's not surprising, then, that this prestigious Tokyo club turned to the most prolific architect in New England, neo-classicist Brian Silva, to spruce up this 1930 design by Alison disciple Rokuro Akaboshi. With co-designer Kye Goalby, Silva transitioned the old Japanese two-green system -- one bentgrass, the other local korai grass -- down to one, and also reshaped and repositioned bunkers to give them aesthetic and strategic flair. Their work didn't stop there, however. The pair also altered a handful of holes to inject more drama into the picturesque setting, most notably by moving the green of the par-4 fifth to the edge of a ravine. Silva and Goalby succeeded by retaining all of Abiko's classic virtues while adding both new textures and visual excitement throughout.
BEST NEW U.S. PRIVATE COURSE -- HONORABLE MENTION: The Cliffs at Mountain Park
Travelers Rest, South Carolina; private
Globe-trotting Gary Player has design projects in 36 countries. His new effort -- and there's no shame in being edged out for top honors in this category by Tom Doak's Dismal River -- is actually stateside. Located on a valley parcel edging the North Carolina/South Carolina border near the Blue Ridge Mountains, the newest addition to the Cliffs Communities stable is a links/parkland mashup. Run-up areas funneling to the green are the norm here, even as the North Saluda River snakes its way through the layout. Variety is the theme. The par-3 seventh weighs in at only 125 yards from the tips, while No. 16 is a beefy 245-yard one-shotter; muscle-bound par 4s such as the fifth and 14th are balanced out by the enticing, drivable, downhill 320-yard 17th. Generous fairways and minimal rough enhance playability and help you relax as you prepare to hit your tee shots -- although native grasses form a handsome hazard for wayward swings. Where, exactly, the 78-year-old golf great finds the energy to get his passport stamped so often is a tribute to the Black Knight's legendary fitness. The flags Player has planted on this Mountain are a tribute to his admirable course-design legacy.
BEST U.S. RENOVATION YOU CAN PLAY: Mistwood Golf Club
Romeoville, Illinois; 7,040 yards, par 72; $55-$90; 815-254-3333, mistwoodgolf.net
Raymond Hearn is no stranger to Renovation of the Year honors -- he picked up the award for his work at Chicago's ancient Flossmoor Country Club in 2009. But this year, he takes home our Best U.S. Renovation You Can Play award for altering one of his own designs, one that only dates to 1998. Why renovate now? Owner Jim McWethy's position was simple: "We want to elevate Mistwood into the ranks of the best golf courses in the Midwest." The result? Mission accomplished. Fescue grasses replaced much of the traditional rough, decreasing fertilizer and pesticide usage, lowering maintenance costs and enhancing wildlife habitats. New stone walls around lakes and ponds add a distinctive touch, as does the addition of 19 stacked-sod-wall bunkers, a rarity in the region. Hearn saved the most dramatic transformation for the par-5 third, relocating the green and converting the creek in front of it to a pond behind it. Mistwood may have been young for a face-lift, but this beauty is ready for its close-up.