Unconventional Golf Courses

1 of 7 Fred Vuich/SI
Chambers Bay Golf Course, University Place, Washington Giant sand dunes, rumpled fairways, coastal breezes, stunning sea views. Where are we? The surprise answer is Washington State, specifically, Chambers Bay, 45 minutes south of Seattle. Planted atop an old gravel mine, this walking-only municipal layout slotted to host the 2015 U.S. Open boasts many distinctive features. Among them are the shared fairway between 1 and 18, the par-4 5th called "Free Fall," that plummets 80 feet and offers two possible greens 150 yards apart and the par-5 18th that plays alongside 40-foot-tall concrete structures that in a former life were sorting bins for the gravel operation.
2 of 7 Joel Riner
Coeur d'Alene Golf Resort, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho The park-like setting along Lake Coeur d'Alene looks extremely serene, and except for the beds of brilliant red geraniums, looks pretty traditional, too. Then we arrive at the par-3 14th hole, which since its inception, is among the most famous one-shotters on the planet. This unforgettable stunner is an actual island green that can stretch 218 yards. The 15,000-square-foot putting surface is bracketed by flowers, junipers and bunkers and surrounded by the lake. Through a system of cables and winches, the green can shift yardage on a daily basis. To reach the putting surface, you and your putter (and wedge at times) are ferried, along with your caddie. Just remember-your putt will break toward the water.
3 of 7 Palmetto Hall Plantation
Palmetto Hall Plantation (Robert Cupp course), Hilton Head Island, S.C. Unlike anything you've ever seen, Palmetto Hall's Cupp course was designed on computer, with the results replicated in the field. Thus was born (in 1993) the first geometric golf course, with square and rectangular tees and greens, trapezoidal bunkers and grass pyramids lining the sides of many fairways. It may be the only course in golf where you need a protractor and compass to break par.
4 of 7 Larry Lambrecht
Whistling Straits (Straits course), Haven, Wisc. Herb Kohler gave Pete Dye a directive as to his proposed new course alongside Lake Michigan: "I want it to look like Ireland." However, Dye's starting canvas was startling. It was an old army base, which required the removal of concrete bunkers, an airstrip and underground fuel storage tanks, along with toxic waste that had accumulated over the years. Master magician that he is, Dye complied, building a heaving, wild links that sits high above the lake, with tufted mounds and nightmarish sand pits — in other words, it resembles the real thing. Two memorable PGA Championships later, the Straits has cemented its place as among the greatest — and most unusual — layouts in golf.
5 of 7 Desert Mountain
Desert Mountain Golf Club (Renegade course), Scottsdale, Ariz. One respected critic called this private spread "the most versatile course in the world," and it's easy to see why. Each hole at Renegade features two greens, or else one green with two flagsticks. The Gold flags are usually farther away and more fiercely guarded by contour or hazards while the white flags allow for more run-ups, with softer surrounds. Want to work on your iron game? Play a short set of tees and go for the gold flags. Or smack it from the tips and play stress-free to the white flags. Have it your way — that's the operative phrase at the aptly named Renegade.
6 of 7 Great White Shark Enterprises
El Camaleon at the Fairmont Mayakoba, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico At the first PGA Tour event ever held in Mexico, leader Fred Funk's final round was nearly dashed when his first drive of the day finished near the lip of a hazard. It wasn't just any hazard, however. This was the "Devil's Mouth," the opening to a gaping cenote, an underground, freshwater cave that monopolizes the middle of the fairway. Funk recovered and won the event, but not before dueling with limestone-lined canals that bisect the layout, jungle-like mangrove swamps, natural rock caverns and the Caribbean Sea at this Greg Norman design, that's as much fun for spelunkers as it is for golfers.
7 of 7 Bob Martin/SI
St. Andrews (Old Course), St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland The most unconventional design of all was golf's very first design. It was nature that carved these holes, back as far as the 1400s with the hand of man not interfering until hundreds of years later. Today, man and nature have conspired to craft the most unique championship course of all, with 14 holes sharing gigantic double greens, bunkers so infamous they have their own names and a public thoroughfare crossing the 18th on a road from which you cannot take relief. Still, its most head-scratching test is the par-4 Road Hole, a scorecard-wrecker of 495 yards that demands a drive directly over the Old Course Hotel, followed by a demonic approach. If played short, it runs into a frighteningly deep bunker. Hit it long and right and you'll find a pebbled path, a paved road and a stone wall, all of which are in play. In the 1800s, the Old Course actually played counter-clockwise, over the same holes, and once a year, the practice is revived. For many, this convention-defying course is also golf's greatest.