Six new additions made our list of America’s best public-access courses.
No. 12 Streamsong (Red)
The dynamic design duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are responsible for our highest debuting course, which presents a palette that’s unique in Florida golf. Hewn from a gigantic sand sprawl left over from its incarnation as a phosphate strip mine, the Red sports tall, odd-shaped sand piles; significant climbs and drops; firm, fast Bermuda fairways; and lakes and lagoons. The Red was designed in conjunction with Tom Doak’s Blue course and has more drama than its sibling, from the lakes to the propped-up and handsomely framed greens to the demands off the tee. The 474-yard opening hole demands a drive over water and scrub — check out the massive dune left of the fairway — and an uphill approach. The 208-yard, par-3 16th features a forced carry over a lake to a Biarritz green bisected by a huge swale. With a caddie, the course is an enjoyable walk, thanks to a friendly back-tee slope of 130.
No. 16 Streamsong (Blue)
Many of our judges preferred Streamsong Blue to the Red. This goes to show that course ratings aren’t all, well, black and white. Although both tracks share the distinctive sand-based canvas, Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf Design crafted the Blue with subtle differences from the Red. The land used for the Blue appears perfectly suited for golf holes — fairways cling to the terrain as though they’ve been there for centuries, and greens seem to melt into their surroundings. Imaginative contouring forces players to think before they hit their approach shot. After the dizzying panorama on the par-4 first, the next stunner is the 203-yard, par-3 seventh, which demands a lake carry to a wildly rippling green. Tempting and treacherous, the drivable par-4 13th might be the best-designed hole on the entire 36-hole property, and the risk/reward par-5 17th sports brilliant cross-bunkering. As with the Red, the Blue is pure fun, with an emphasis on ground-game prowess that’s rare in American golf.
No. 71 The Greenbrier (Old White TPC)
For three decades, the Old White sat in the shadows of its sibling, The Greenbrier Course, which was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1977 and would prove a handsome test at the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup. But today, the Old White TPC gets to bask in the sun. This 100-year-old C.B. Macdonald classic has recaptured old admirers and reeled in new ones, thanks to a sensitive restoration in 2007 by architect Lester George, a rebranding as a TPC facility in 2011, and an infusion of capital improvements by new Greenbrier owner Jim Justice. Host to the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic since 2010, the Old White yields low numbers for the game’s best. Yet what lingers for most are its Old World charms. The tumbling terrain in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia is an ideal setting for classic Macdonald template holes such as a Redan (the par-3 eighth), an Eden (the par-3 15th) and the unusual par-3 Punchbowl 18th, where the proper shot inches closer and closer to the bottom of the “bowl” (the middle of the green). Macdonald, a pioneering American architect, left a body of work confined mostly to extremely private clubs. Luckily, the Old White TPC is a Macdonald creation that everyone can play.
No. 77 True Blue
Architect Mike Strantz left us far too soon, succumbing to cancer in 2005 at age 50. Not everyone appreciated his innovative designs. Those who did are huge supporters of Top 100 stalwarts Caledonia, Tobacco Road and the private Shore course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club. True Blue, the sibling to Caledonia on the southern tip of Myrtle Beach, finally gets its due, 16 years after its 1998 debut. Softened over the years but still worthy of the Strantz signature, it garners a fistful of votes as Myrtle’s best course. Hole to hole, the variety is simply astounding. The course is mostly open, with beauty and menace mingling with lakes, marshland and plenty of scrub-filled natural sandy areas. Trees are only an occasional factor. Mostly you’re grinning — and sometimes groaning — at challenging tests such as the 624-yard, par-5 opener, where all three shots flirt with wetlands, sandy waste areas and a creek. A breather at the short par-4 second? Hardly. For front-hole locations, the two-tiered green serves up the most slender sliver of a putting surface imaginable. The fun continues through the watery trio of closing holes. Rarely has golf architecture had a shaper as artful as Strantz. The full measure of his formidable skill is on display at True Blue.
No. 83 Wilderness Club
Few courses are as aptly named as this remote five-year-old layout in northwest Montana, 10 miles south of the Canadian border. A collaborative effort from Nick Faldo and Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design, the Wilderness Club finished No. 2 in our 2009 ranking of Best New Private Courses, then fell victim to the recession. Ultimately, this pristine layout went public. “Knowing we had such an exceptional parcel of land,” said Curley, “we went to great lengths to move as little earth as possible.” The effort shows. Although the rugged bunkers show hand-of-man evidence, they’re so skillfully sculpted that they don’t compete for attention with the open meadows, deep-blue glacial lakes and corridors of Ponderosa pines. Natural marsh areas, blowout bunkers and native grasses add texture. The sand-based soil allows for drainage, while the closing holes around Grob Lake — and the views of the snowcapped mountains that edge Glacier National Forest — provide visual thrills aplenty. Contrasting the brutish 503-yard, par-4 ninth with the 320-yard, drivable par-4 10th speaks to the diversity of its challenges.
No. 93 Pelican Hill (Ocean South)
The burning question at Pelican Hill is which of the two drama-filled, Tom Fazio–designed courses is better: Ocean North or Ocean South? North is the players’ track; it’s longer by 400 yards, with more forced carries. Yet by the slimmest margin, South, its two-years-elder sibling, has cracked our Top 100 list. With holes that plunge into canyons and climb atop ridges, both courses benefit from the usual superb Fazio bunkering and contouring. Roomy landing areas, dense vegetation, coastal pines and eucalyptus and dazzling Pacific Ocean panoramas further define the layouts. With a higher tally of great holes, the South takes the prize. Recognized for its merits since its 1991 debut, Ocean South (and North) dropped off the radar when it closed from 2006 to 2008 to allow development of the on-site resort. Upon reopening, management needed a few years to create properly firm conditions. Ocean South sports back-to-back oceanside par 3s at the 12th and 13th, the latter a two-green setup with the putting surfaces separated by an enormous sand feature. The resounding crescendo comes at the 453-yard, par-4 18th, where you’ll cross two yawning canyons to reach the green.