Cornerstone — Greg Norman’s finest North American
project to date — is easily the best high-altitude course
in the nation, and quite possibly the world. Set on
the Uncompahgre Plateau in southwestern Colorado,
Cornerstone is pure mountain golf, with jaw-dropping
vistas and bunkers dotted with elk tracks.
Purists will appreciate the tough forced carries and
greens that often demand run-up approach shots, and
the fast greens and shaved surrounds even things up
for players of all abilities. The 9,213-foot altitude might
make you think twice about walking Cornerstone, but you
definitely won’t hesitate when it comes to playing it twice.
The second course at Bedminster is an out-and-out triumph for “The Donald.” Only a paucity of in-your-face natural drama kept this from the top spot. In contrast to Trump’s Top 100, Tom Fazio-designed Old course here, the New is exudes an Old World feel, with stylish bunkering, small, brilliantly contoured greens and tremendous variety throughout, with a near-perfect blend of open and wooded holes. Trump and Understatement are seldom mentioned in the same sentence, but he has succeeded here on crafting a modern course worthy of a national stage.
Master minimalists Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who topped our 2007 Top Private Course list with Colorado Golf Club, ventured to the other side of the country for their latest effort-yet remained in the mountains all the same. Situated 40 minutes west of Orlando on shockingly hilly terrain for Florida, with more than 250 feet of elevation changes, Sugarloaf Mountain offers heavily sloped fairways and the occasional blind tee shot, as well as a healthy mix of very short and very long par-3s and 4s. Oaks, firm, fast greens, a variety of bunkers and views of Lake Apopka add further character to this unusual course.
Some panelists felt this Tom Doak design was his best work since Pacific Dunes, while others were less inclined to laud, owing to the severely contoured greens. Still, the consensus is that this firm, fast, undulating layout that’s surrounded by an 80,000-acre working ranch is superbly routed, with majestic scenery and inspired bunkering. The 435-yard, par-4 opener, with its split fairway and the 598-yard, par-5 closer, which plays from a rock cliff overlooking a trout stream, with the snow-capped Tetons in the backdrop, bookend a terrific round.
Stamp Tom Fazio’s typically gorgeous fairway and bunker shaping on a pine-studded mountain property in the Lake Tahoe region and you have a potent combination when it comes to scenery and playability. Course buff and 2-time U.S. Open champ Lee Janzen called it the best Fazio course he’s ever played. With holes such as the 468-yard, par-4 18th, its green backdropped by a boulder pile and by forested mountain peaks beyond, it’s easy to see why.
Jack Nicklaus has returned to his fire-breathing, go-go ’80s design style in with a bang, fashioning a golden grizzly that’s rated 77.0 and sloped 152 from the tips. Most of the trouble comes on and around the smallish greens, a healthy number of which require forced carries. The lake- and creek-guarded 482-yard, par-4 4th highlights the premium on the aerial game. If flying it in successfully isn’t working, you can always head for Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport, 10 miles down the road.
The latest installment in the hugely successful Cliffs family is this gently rolling Tom Fazio mountainside layout that sports player-friendly features such as saddle-shaped fairways that help funnel balls back into play and soft, nicely flowing green surrounds. Still, there’s plenty of bite to be had, such as the drama-filled tee shot at the 558-yard, uphill par-5 8th and via the brute strength required to conquer the 492-yard, uphill par-4 18th. While the back tee slope of 141 shows that Keowee springs is hardly a pushover, it’s just the kind of comfortable spread that makes it a terrific “every day” course — except that at the Cliffs, you members can play a half-dozen others as well.
Situated near the high-altitude horse racing mecca of Ruidoso, New Mexico’s first Audubon Signature course is an environmentally sensitive Robert Trent Jones II design that darts through sagebrush and juniper. Rocks and underbrush practically swallow up the landing zones on the front nine, so course management is at a premium, but so are superb views of the Capitan and Sierra Blanca, nor more so than at the question mark-shaped, 630-yard, par-5 1st hole.
Way up in Idaho’s panhandle, north of Coeur d’Alene, Jack Nicklaus has weaved a stunning tapestry that overlooks one of the state’s most pristine lakes, Lake Pend Oreille atop an old public layout that nobody wanted. The combination of forests, lake views and Nicklaus’ penchant for stirring risk/reward holes have breathed serious new life into the property.
Forty miles southeast of Phoenix, Tom Lehman carved out extra-wide fairways and few forced carries to allow the middle-handicapper to smash his driver about, but he used intricate contouring on and around the greens to place a premium on intelligent approach play. Mountain backdrops ring most of the holes, and they’re especially appealing on those holes that run to the north, but it’s the cleverly crafted green complexes that elevate Encanterra.