Rookie Class: The Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2012

Five new courses debut among the nation's best public-access tracks.



Allen Kennedy/Pronghorn

Ever since its 2004 debut, this Jack Nicklaus Signature design wowed a select few members with prehistoric lava rock ridges, firm and fast Old World fairways and greens, and vistas of snowcapped mountain peaks in the Cascade Range.

It wasn’t until 2010 that it opened its doors to outside play, and it didn’t take long for our evaluators to discover that great golf in Oregon is hardly confined to the coast. While Bend’s 3,200-foot elevation makes for feel-good golf and wonderful conditions, it’s the layout that catapulted Pronghorn to the highest ranking among our 2012 newbies.

The Golden Bear framed most of the holes in sagebrush and stubby juniper trees yet kept playability high, thanks to ample landing areas and hazards positioned diagonally. This allows for bite-off-all-you-dare approaches, nowhere better executed than at the 378-yard, par-4 13th, which boomerangs around a lake and finishes at a green nestled into a rock ridge.

More decisions await at the 15th and 16th, a pair of marvelous par 5s that zigzag through the high-desert trees and shrubs.

If your next Oregon golf trip starts on the coast, at Bandon Dunes, consider driving five hours northeast and ending it in the mountains, at Pronghorn.


Prairie Club

Brian Oar/Fairways and Greens

Picture the widest fairways imaginable. Now double them. Behold the massive driving zones at this two-year-old Tom Lehman/Chris Brands design, which is carved into the rolling terrain of northwestern Nebraska.

Still, these spacious fairways can be difficult to hit because of the firm, rumpled landing areas that can funnel errant tee shots into dense native fescues or worse — i.e., into some of the largest, most cunningly situated bunkers ever built.

The putting surfaces are equal in scale and firmness to the rest of the course. Given the speed, contour and constant wind, a mere two-putt is often cause for celebration.

The 478-yard, par-4 second hole exemplifies the stern challenge posed by the Prairie Club’s Dunes. A 70-yard-wide fairway looks welcoming, but it slopes to the right, with O.B. edging the right-hand side. However, the best angle of approach to avoid a yawning front-left greenside bunker is from the treacherous right side. It’s a perfect risk/reward hole — and if you have a reliable draw like Lehman’s, it’s not quite so daunting.


Lighthouse Sound

Chris John

Arthur Hills unveiled this artistic layout in 2000, and it quickly became the signature dish on the Ocean City, Md., golf menu.

Expansive views of Assawoman Bay and the Ocean City skyline greet golfers throughout the round. Variety rules, as 10 holes skirt pristine marshes contained within the 1,000-acre site, while others are lined with mature hardwoods.

Though huge, the greens can be hard to hit, thanks to ever-present winds off the bay, and harder to hold, because of their firmness and contouring. An excellent quartet of tough par 3s will linger long in memory.

Equally stirring are the 622-yard par-5 seventh, “Devil’s Elbow” (as nasty as its name implies), and the 558-yard par-5 12th, “River’s Edge,” named for the St. Martin’s River that skirts the left side of the hole. The 430-yard, par-4 fourth is unforgettable; it demands a precise drive over a marsh to a ribbon of fairway framed by Assawoman Bay to the right and a bunker left, and the long, narrow, peninsula green juts into the bay and affords outstanding views of Ocean City.

The course dropped out of our list in 2010 after conditioning issues, but recent visits emphatically confirm that Lighthouse Sound is Top 100 material.



Larry Lambrecht

What Michigan’s Upper Peninsula lacks in an all-too-brief golf season it makes up for with superb courses, such as this dazzling 2005 Mike DeVries design.

Throughout its rough-and-tumble, up-and-down journey, the course twists through forests and edges wetlands. Most memorable are the exposed granite outcroppings that serve as turfed-over houses for elevated tee boxes and as aiming points behind greens, and that are also jabbed into and alongside fairways.

Lake Superior views accompany the opening tee shot, and neither the scenery nor the challenge lets up, culminating with the forested, downhill, saddle-shaped 18th fairway. You might escape without scuffing your ball on the short par-4 fifth and par-3 sixth, which defend their targets with rock walls. But don’t expect to finish your round unscathed.


Dormie Club

Evan Schiller

This Pinehurst-area layout deserves attention less for the ownership and development issues that have plagued it since its 2010 inception and more for its sublime design.

Typical of courses from the dynamic design duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the creation offers extra-wide, pine-framed fairways festooned with spectacular, sprawling bunkers, as well as massive, artfully contoured greens that demand touch and ingenuity (and perhaps multiple plays) to figure out.

Unusual for this design team are the healthy number of forced carries over wetlands, the result of environmental restrictions and 150 feet of elevation change on the property. The gigantic 653-yard, par-5 10th illuminates these virtues. The tee shot demands a 180-yard carry, but the final 400 yards of the hole run downhill.

Equal parts power, imagination and ground game prowess — that’s Dormie Club’s formula for success.

Best Public Courses in Every State
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