Travelin’ Joe’s Top 5 Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em Courses

1 of 5 Larry Lambrecht
1. St. Andrews (Castle), St. Andrews, Scotland Many of the Don King-style tufted mounds dotting the fairways have thankfully been removed since the Castle course opened in 2008, and a few greens have been smoothed out, but this David McLay Kidd design still freaks out many a first-timer. Kidd enjoys vexing and even frustrating the player, as long as it's also a stimulating experience. I loved the routing and was okay with the playability (having a caddie helps), but I wished his crazy greens numbered only five or six, rather than all 18. Joe Six-Pack has enough trouble finding these putting surfaces without having to face a nervous breakdown on every one of them.
2 of 5 Larry Lambrecht
2. Gleneagles (PGA Centenary), Auchterarder, Scotland If you think the critics' teeth were gnashing over Ireland's K Club and Wales' Celtic Manor, wait until they see the site of the 2014 Ryder Cup. This inland 1993 Jack Nicklaus design at one of the world's best resorts looks as Scottish as a McDonald's—with a similar level of sophistication. I played it for the second time in 2009 and can remember only one strong hole, the par-4 5th. A handful of David McLay Kidd's tweaks improved the course, but now Nicklaus himself is undoing some and adding a few others, so the jury's still out for some. Despite the numerous changes, my vote hasn't changed: "Guilty."
3 of 5 David Cannon/Getty Images
3. Old Head, Kinsale, Cork, Ireland I'm honestly not sure what alienates serious golfers about Old Head. The clifftop setting is one of the most spectacular in the world, and a handful of holes just scream "Best in Show." They are unforgettable. And while I've written before about the rocky, heavy ground, the bland bunkers and the unsophisticated green complexes, I'm still enamored with the golf experience here. Maybe purists simply resent that a setting so magnificent doesn't have a design to match. I'll agree, to a point.
4 of 5 Aidan Bradley/Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club
4. Machrihanish Dunes, Machrihanish, Scotland When this David McLay Kidd design opened in the summer of 2009, our course-ranking panelists howled — and not in a good way. The course was simply opened too early in an effort to capitalize on the west coast British Open that year at Turnberry. I feel Kidd did marvelous work on a site hamstrung by environmental restrictions, creating one of the boldest, most natural links ever produced, with stunning sea views among the sandhills. That said, I also feel it's a brutal walk, with too many blind shots and funky bounces that punish marginal shots disproportionately. After playing two rounds in 2010 I liked it overall, but addressing those issues sooner rather than later could lead to love.
5 of 5 Pete Fontaine/Icon SMI
5. Wentworth (West), Virginia Water, Surrey, England I never thought this H.S. Colt classic had much charm in the first place, but the Top 100 staple in suburban London has long been revered as a big-event stage. An ongoing Ernie Els revamp has brought numerous changes, which last year included a controversial new burn fronting the newly elevated 18th green that stopped anyone from attacking the par-5 in two, resulting in dull pitches and two-putt pars. Els and owner Richard Caring claimed that the new look was compatible with the Colt style, but it assuredly is not. I don't like the new look nor the new playability. Links-style bunkers and garish green complexes have no place on a Colt course. Still, if it ain't Colt, at least it's dramatic.