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No. 13 at Pacific Dunes / Wood Sabold
11. Pacific Dunes, Bandon, Ore., U.S.: Pacific amps up the drama and memorability quotients, as well as the more exciting green contouring, notably at the par-4 4th and par-4 13th, the latter bracketed by a massive natural sand dune to the right and by 75-foot-high cliffs to the left, with strategic interest that matches the beauty. More significantly, Pacific has the largest collection of truly memorable holes of any public-access course in the U.S.
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No. 16 at Bandon Dunes / Wood Sabold
10. Bandon Dunes, Bandon, Ore., U.S.: The course that started the Bandon/American links craze, this 1999 David McLay Kidd design proved that if you build it, they will come. Credit visionary owner Mike Keiser for entrusting this cliff-top, gorse-cloaked property to the young Scotsman, who created such memorable seaside tests as the par-4 4th, par-3 12th and par-4 16th, each with eye-popping scenery and enjoyable risks and rewards.
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No. 10 at Turnberry (Ailsa) (David Cannon / Getty Images)
9. Turnberry (Ailsa), Turnberry, Scotland: Now under the Trump aegis, Turnberry provides unforgettable images, from Tom Watson’s heroic and tragic performances to remarkable seaside holes such as the 9th, called by Gene Sarazen as the greatest par-4 in golf and the 10th, which some feel is even better. Both sports churning surf and a lighthouse to the left, as well as vistas of the football-shaped monolith called Ailsa Craig jutting out of the sea.
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No. 11 at Ballybunion (Old) / Larry Lambrecht
8. Ballybunion (Old), Ballybunion, Ireland: “Nothing less than the finest seaside course I have ever seen,” pronounced Hall of Fame writer Herbert Warren Wind. Echoed five-time Open champion Tom Watson, “It is one of the best and most beautiful tests of links golf anywhere.” With dunes, beach and sea all in sight and in play, it’s easy to see why Wind and Watson were so wowed. One glimpse of the par-4 11th or par-3 15th and you’ll see why.
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No. 9 at Oitavos Dunes / Getty Images
7. Oitavos Dunes, Cascais, Portugal: Situated 30 minutes west of Lisbon, Oitavos Dunes rolls out an Arthur Hills design that peers down at the Atlantic Ocean at every turn and traverses three distinct landscapes, from dense stands of umbrella pines to sprawling, scrub-covered dunes to open, coastal transition areas bracketed by vegetation and buffeted by sea breezes. It’s not exactly a pure links, but it’s awfully close.
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No. 2 at Diamante (Dunes) / Larry Lambrecht
6. Diamante (Dunes), Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: Not quite a links, but built on sand and next to the sea, Diamante is like golf in Ireland, only 30 degrees warmer. Gigantic sand dunes, Pacific Ocean panoramas and superb risk/reward variety are highlights, as well as unforgettable individual holes such as the par-3 2nd and par-5 17th.
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No. 3 at Trump International Golf Links / Larry Lambrecht
5. Trump International Golf Links, Aberdeen, Scotland: When you come out of the blocks trumpeting your new creation as “the greatest course in the world,” as Donald Trump did in 2012, you’re asking for trouble. That said, it’s awesome. It will require the fescue grasses to mature in order to play more like a true links, but its massive dunes, soaring sea vistas and supreme challenge make it a standout.
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No. 4 at Royal County Down / Evan Schiller
4. Royal County Down, Newcastle, Northern Ireland: Perhaps golf’s most fearsome looking bunkers --deep, with the fear factor amplified by the densely whiskered edges -- populate the entire course. Golf’s best front nine boasts the 217-yard, par-3 4th, with its healthy, stunning carry over gorse bushes, and the blind par-4 9th that does offer other views, the Irish Sea, the Mountains of Mourne and the red brick steeple of the Slieve Donard Hotel among them.
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No. 13 at Lahinch (Old) / Larry Lambrecht
3. Lahinch (Old), Lahinch, Ireland: Two of the most iconic eccentricities in golf come back-to-back, at Old Tom Morris’ “Klondyke,” the par-5 4th and “Dell,” the par-3 5th. Toss in Alister MacKenzie’s brilliant drivable par-4 13th, tall, fescue-topped dunes, an intimate in-town setting and goats that act as weather barometers for an utterly charming package.
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No. 4 at North Berwick (David Cannon / Getty Images)
2. North Berwick (West Links), North Berwick, Scotland: Bewilderment eventually leads to enchantment at North Berwick, the quirkiest of all the great courses. Home to the legendary “Redan” hole, the par-3 15th, this 136-year-old antique also serves up “Pit,” the par-4 13th which features a low stone wall in front of the green, “Gate,” the par-4 16th with its bizarre double-plateau green and a short par-4 18th where even a casual push could shatter car windows.
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No. 18 at the Old Course at St. Andrews (Mark Newcombe / Visions in Golf)
1. St. Andrews (Old Course), St. Andrews, Scotland: I practically hyperventilated on the first tee here during my maiden Old Course voyage. Overwhelming tournament and design history, the ancient strategy riddles to solve and the hand-in-glove setting in the “Auld Grey Toon” makes St. Andrews the single incomparable links experience.