Pinehurst — Course No. 2 • Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina
Why we picked it: You can’t find a more apropos example of classical, parkland-style golf architecture than this Donald Ross creation, which opened in 1907. It doesn’t have the dramatic landscaping of most of our other courses, but the enormous pines that straddle its fairways and decidedly old-school aesthetic of Ross makes it a walk down golf’s hallowed past.
The complex, undulating greens are particularly challenging, one reason why No. 2 has hosted two U.S. Opens since 1999 and why it will make history in welcoming both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open in 2014. The layout defines the role of strategy in golf, and a painstaking Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore restoration, which was unveiled just last month, returned Ross’ natural and strategic character that had waned over the years.
Quotable: “My mouth literally falls open when I see the incredible work that they’ve done. I’ve got to say, I’m so excited about 2014, because it’s going to be a very unique U.S. Open.” — USGA Executive Director Mike Davis in an April story in the North Carolina newspaper, The Pilot, commenting on the restoration.
TPC Sawgrass — Stadium Course • Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Why we picked it: The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is the permanent host of the PGA Tour’s The Players Championship, and everything about it was designed to challenge the world’s top players and accommodate spectators. This is where the concept of stadium golf was pioneered. But it’s also a public course, so the design aesthetic was to fashion a balanced course that didn’t favor one particular style of play. No two consecutive holes play in the same direction, and there is an ideal blend of hole lengths and layout.
Quotable: “It’s like having a 3 o’clock appointment for a root canal. You’re thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later you’ve got to get to it.” — Mark Calcavecchia, on the island green at the 17th hole.
Bethpage State Park — Black Course • Farmingdale, New York
Why we picked it: One of five 18-hole golf courses at Bethpage State Park in Long Island, the Black Course is one of America’s most revered municipal tracks. The par-71 track, designed by legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast, in 2002 became the first publicly owned and operated golf course to host the U.S. Open, which was won by Cypress native Tiger Woods. It also hosted the rain-marred 2009 U.S. Open won by Lucas Glover. Stretching as long as 7,366 yards, the Black has been characterized as big, brawny and New York-tough, testing golfers with a six-mile hike that traverses deep bunkers and tiny greens, many of which can’t be seen from the middle of the enormous fairways. The course’s fourth and fifth holes, which dogleg left and are aggressively guarded by bunkers, are hailed as two of the best.
Quotable: “The Black Course is an Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers.” — Text of the infamous welcome sign at the Black Course.
Mauna Kea Golf Course • Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Why we picked it: The centerpiece of a ravishing resort on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, Mauna Kea opened in 1964, followed a year later by the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel which, at the time, was the most expensive hotel ever built at $15 million. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, the course received a major upgrade at the hands of his son, Rees Jones, in 2008, further elevating its stature as one of America’s greatest public courses.
The links-style course overlooks Kauna’oa Bay, one of the most picturesque spots on an island that has a myriad of them. Carved out of an ancient lava bed, the layout offers glorious ocean and mountain views, and its signature third-hole, a 175-yard par-3, is as beautiful as it is treacherous, as it plays down toward the ocean in the face of fierce trade winds. Jack Nicklaus formally opened the course in 1965, playing a round with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. The Golden Bear’s judgment? “The most fun course I have ever played.”
Quotable: “Mauna Kea is not only one of the premier golf courses in existence, but one that cannot be replicated. It differentiates itself from other courses because of its history, its pedigree and its setting.” — Architect Rees Jones.
St. Andrews Links — The Old Course • St. Andrews, Scotland
Why we picked it: No golf property comes close to capturing the history or ambiance of the Old Course, which was established in 1552 and has hosted 28 British Open Championships. The quaint town of St. Andrews is as much a walk through Scotland’s rich past as the course itself — compare photographs from 100 years ago and very little seems to have changed on the course or around it.
This is where the standard of 18-hole golf courses was established, and it’s a safe bet that most of the original rules of golf were hashed over its links layout. One fascinating aspect of the Old Course is its huge double greens, with 14 holes sharing the same green. Other iconic features are the Swilcan Burn Bridge, which traverses the first and 18th holes, and the par-4 17th, which features the notorious Road Hole Bunker and an infamous stone wall behind the green.
But it’s the inherent layout of the course that makes it so memorable. It’s flat, but it’s on furrowed linksland that hides much of itself from the view. Most of the holes have the same strategy: drive left, where there is ample room, and face a difficult approach shot, or drive right for an easier approach but perilously close to out of bounds or bunkers.
Quotable: “I fell in love with St. Andrews’ Old Course the first time I ever played it.” — Tiger Woods, who won the British Open there in 2000 and 2005.
Shadow Creek Golf Course • Las Vegas, Nevada
Why we picked it: Thirteen years after opening, this incredible feat of human engineering has lived up to its hype. The $40 million course, which turned a barren piece of desert into one of the most opulent playgrounds ever created, is constantly listed among the country’s top courses. And, much like the city it calls home, the course traffics in illusion: play it and you’d never know you’re in the middle of the desert, thanks to the thousands of trees that were transplanted during building. Along with the Carolina forest feel, the mesmerizing flora and fauna, swans, pheasant, quail and wild turkeys adorn the course. But Tom Fazio didn’t just create an oasis: each of Shadow Creek’s 18 holes was created to stand on its own. Part of the course’s allure is its exclusivity. Owner Steve Wynn opened Shadow Creek in 1989 as an invite-only course. He later revised that to guests at the various MGM Resorts hotels.
Quotable: “There is so much to see and experience the first time that your senses are overcome, but for entirely different reasons than in a casino ... You could be anywhere but where you are. So in that, it fits the whole mirage that is Las Vegas.” — Shadow Creek PGA General Manager Mark Brenneman, in a 2003 article in Southland Golf magazine.