The Best New Golf Courses for 2017

December 28, 2016

Although new course construction remains sluggish, a fistful of superb new courses is on tap for 2017. Among the highlights is a pair of highly anticipated designs from Rio Olympic course architect Gil Hanse, two stellar efforts from Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and dramatic creations from veterans Rees Jones and Tom Fazio. Here’s a snapshot of what to expect from the best new courses to open in 2017.

Sand Valley

Mike Keiser’s grand experiment with sensational public golf started with Oregon’s Bandon Dunes. His latest expression is Sand Valley in central Wisconsin. Situated on an enormous natural sand deposit near the town of Rome, just south of Wisconsin Rapids, Sand Valley features dunes and ridges up to 60 feet high that sprawl in every direction. There’s no ocean here like there is at Bandon, but the fun factor could be every bit as substantial. The Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed first course opened to preview play in September; the official opening will be May 2. Early reviews, including ours, indicate that Keiser has another winner. The aptly named, fast-running layout twists this way and that, with the risk/reward factor tied to immense sand valleys that are to be admired—and avoided. 

Coore told me recently, “It’s incredible working on a site that’s pure sand. You get things done so fast, and it’s so easy to change or fix things.” When I asked him to compare the layout to other Coore-Crenshaw tracks on sand, such as Streamsong (Red) and Bandon Trails, he said, “Sand Valley is completely different than anything we’ve ever done.” One glimpse at the layout and you’ll see why. 

Green fees at the walking-only layout (caddies are available) will range from $85-$195 if you’re a resort guest, $95-$215 as an outside guest. A second course, designed by David McLay Kidd, is on tap for 2018.

Streamsong (Black)

Perhaps the most celebrated warm-weather spreads to open in the past five years are the Red Course at Florida’s Streamsong Resort, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and its sibling, the Blue, a Tom Doak creation. Both are ranked in the top 15 of our Top 100 Courses You Can Play. A baby brother joins the group in 2017, the Black, brought to life by Gil Hanse and his design partner, Jim Wagner. Just because the Black is an infant, however, don’t expect it to crawl before it can walk. Whispers are already starting that the Black could be the best Streamsong course yet.

All of Streamsong’s courses were hewn from reclaimed phosphate mining land. The resulting sand base, gigantic, dune-like spoil piles and unusually rolling (for Florida) terrain yielded a terrific canvas for golf holes. Combine that with superintendent Rusty Mercer’s wizardry for getting Bermuda grass to play firm and fast, and you have links golf without an ocean. Florida’s Streamsong Resort is about to get even better. 

“The grow-in is going very well,” Hanse told me recently, “with an anticipated opening in the second half of 2017. With the Red and Blue courses being intentionally intertwined, the main difference with the Black is the scale of the property, features, and the feeling of being on a bigger landscape.”

The big, bold layout will play to an unusual par 73 and measure more than 7,500 yards from the tips. Look for Australian Sandbelt-style bunkering, a la Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath—and let the debate begin, as to which of the three Streamsong courses reigns supreme.



Trinity Forest

Texan Ben Crenshaw captured the Byron Nelson Golf Classic in 1983. Thirty-five years later, a course he co-designed will host the event for the first time. Gentle Ben and design partner Bill Coore have crafted an extraordinary layout a mere 10 minutes south of downtown Dallas and the quality of the design, the terrain and the infrastructure has prompted sponsor AT&T and the PGA Tour to shift the venerable Byron Nelson event there starting in 2018. Opened to preview play in the fall of 2016, Trinity Forest’s rolling, hilly topography yields firm and fast playing conditions.  

The mostly wide open holes allow for great gallery movement and for local breezes to have an effect, yet the perimeter of the property is framed by handsome hardwoods, creating an almost arena-like effect for the golf.

As usual for Coore-Crenshaw, the strategic options and ground game emphasis are remarkable, leading to tremendous variety. Also outstanding is the assorted shapes, sizes and placements of the bunkers. For help avoiding them or escaping them, Jordan Spieth’s coach, Cameron McCormick relocated there this past year, and is available for lessons by the hour as the club’s Director of Instruction. Initiation in the private club is reputed to be $150,000, and it’s already attracting many of Dallas’ movers and shakers, including Spieth and Hunter Mahan. The USGA has also toured the new layout, so don’t be surprised to see a national championship return to Texas in the future. In the meantime, Trinity Forest jumps to the top of most-coveted invitations in golf.     

The Summit

Tom Fazio has an incredible track record in the Las Vegas desert. Shadow Creek set a new standard for opulence and creativity. Wynn Las Vegas was a worthy encore. Discovery Land Company has an unparalleled development success record in the western United States—and elsewhere—with acclaimed projects such as Estancia and Mirabel in Scottsdale, Gozzer Ranch in Idaho, Kuki’o in Hawaii and Baker’s Bay in the Bahamas, where Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler spent their 2016 spring break. All feature Tom Fazio courses. Pair Fazio, Discovery Land and Las Vegas and you have The Summit—and another winner.

Situated nine miles from the Las Vegas Strip, and next to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, The Summit is a private golf community on 555 acres. Its prime recreational amenity is the 7,459-yard, par 72 layout that sports nearly 300 feet of elevation change and environments that vary from arid, desert target golf to lush oasis, Shadow Creek-style golf. Contrasts are best realized via the 194-yard, par-3 second hole, a true desert creation that skirts a dry wash and enjoys mountain views, while the 245-yard, par-3 11th plays downhill, over a lake, amid palms and lush landscaping, with unforgettable vistas of the Vegas Strip. As safe bets in Las Vegas go, The Summit is at the top.  

Danzante Bay

The government of Mexico originally intended for Loreto, a coastal town on the Sea of Cortez, to be a prime golf and resort draw for upscale tourists on the Baja Peninsula. Instead, it was Los Cabos, 315 miles to the south that claimed the honor first. Rees Jones is aiming to change that with Danzante Bay at the Villa del Palmar Resort.

Best known as the “Open Doctor” for his renovations of U.S. Open courses, the younger son of Robert Trent Jones Sr. has carved out some noteworthy original designs as well. Time will tell with Danzante Bay, as only 11 holes have opened, with the other seven due for late 2017. Yet, one of the current creations is already making a gigantic splash, the 178-yard, par-3 17th. The downhill hole features a peninsular green jabbed into the rocks, the diagonal green fronted by sand, cactus and canyon. In the backdrop are the Sea of Cortez and a sliver of mountain in the distance.  Jones told me that the hole is “the most spectacular we’ve ever designed.” It’s easy to see why.

$75-$125 to play the existing 11 holes;

Mountain Shadows Short Course  

Originally designed in 1961 by Jack Snyder, this 18-hole, par-3 layout in Paradise Valley, Arizona, edging Scottsdale, has been restored, and to an extent, reimagined by his protégé, architect Forrest Richardson. Short by yardage, at 2,300 yards from the tips, with holes ranging from 60 to 200 yards, Mountain Shadows is long on variety and views. It’s tucked into the grounds of a fabled resort that’s set to reopen concurrently in February 2017 and nestled between Camelback and Mummy Mountains. Each provides glorious backdrops on many holes. 

Richardson left most of the routing intact, but made changes where necessary—and they succeed brilliantly. The course breathes much better than its old par-56 version, and sports tremendous variety in the green settings, contouring and configurations. That will make for short game and putting fun. A turf reduction has helped in appearance and in water-use reduction. Most of all, Mountain Shadows now provides a terrific option for the Scottsdale golf crowd that takes just two hours—perfect for families, as well as that extra round in winter’s shorter season for buddies’ trips. 

The original Mountain Shadows used to be home in its late 1970s glory days to a pre-season kickoff event that would host many local PGA Tour players looking to re-stoke their competitive fires before the first event of the year. New glory days await.