The Breaking Eighty Top 100 Courses in the World (2016)
Over the last two years I’ve been fortunate enough to play a lot of really good golf courses all over the world.
I’ve taken thousands of photos, played thousands of holes, and started to have a much better understanding of what makes a good golf course.
I’ve also been able to form opinions about which courses I enjoy the most.
There’s a very distinct (and at times, quite large) difference between what I enjoy and what constitutes a good course.
If you look at many of the “top 100” lists from major publications you’ll in many cases see a big slant towards difficult, championship golf courses with a lot of historic pedigree.
Usually, those courses are worth of being as highly ranked as they are. However, does that mean that some of them were my favorite courses to play?
The fun thing about this list, is that I get to decide what get’s ranked where, and why. This is the Breaking 80 Top 100 Golf Courses list for 2016.
WHAT THIS LIST IS NOT
This is not a list of which courses I think are the best from an architectural stand point. If I were rating them for say GolfWeek or Golf Digest I would rank them very differently based on their architectural merits.
With this list I asked myself one simple question:
Which courses would I enjoy playing the most?
I went through and asked myself over and over and over again “would you rather play course #1 or course #2” – this list is based on those answers.
As much as possible I tried to throw out exclusivity and pedigree. For instance in all honesty, if you told me I could go play Tobacco Road or Oakland Hills – I’d probably still choose Oakland Hills – yet I have Tobacco Road ranked higher.
This leads to the question “How on earth could you have Tobacco Road ranked higher than Oakland Hills??”
MY PRIMARY RANKING FACTOR
When creating this list, I took into account everything from course difficulty, strategic shot values, scenery and personal affinity – but there’s one ranking factor that will always remain paramount for me.
How much fun did I have playing the course? Was there a lot of variety? Was each hole distinct and keep me entertained throughout the round?
I mean after all, that’s what golf is supposed to be about right? Having fun?
This is why in many cases you’ll find very highly ranked courses (by traditional measures) that are far superior from an architectural standpoint, not ranking as high as other courses.
That said, in some cases, much of the fun can be derived from the exclusivity, location, or history of a course.
Now that you understand a bit about my unconventional ranking strategy, let’s get on with it.
I finally have enough courses under my belt to do a true top 100 list. Keep in mind, some of the ones towards the bottom are certainly not “best in the world” – but remember, this list is based on courses that I’ve played.
I’ll be releasing ten new courses in this list over the next ten days, so enjoy, and keep checking back!
Breaking Eighty Top 100 Golf Courses for 2016
#100: Boat of Garten – Boat of Garten, Scotland
This is one of the most recent courses I played, and chances are, you’ve never heard of it. It was a recommendation from Mr. Tom Doak himself for while I was in Scotland.
What you’ll find is a short (5800 yards) course with lots of elevated tee shots and uphill approaches. There are some strategic holes, fun shots, and you truly feel like you’re in a unique place.
#99: Half Moon Bay (Old) – Half Moon Bay, CA
The hardest part for me with The Old Course at Half Moon Bay is the fact it’s basically routed through a subdivision with houses dotting the entire course.
That said the 18th is one of the very best holes in golf, and the hotel on the property (Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay) is one of the best properties I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at.
I mean, c’mon, a room with your own private fire pit?!
#98: Fossil Trace – Denver, CO
Is it “Mickey Mouse”? Yes. Is it gimmicky? Yes. Is it fun? Hell yes.
This one of only two Jim Engh courses I’ve played (and the other is one of my favorite courses), and it really is a ton of fun. But what keeps it from being ranked higher is that some holes are just a little too ridiculous. While it has one of my favorite closing holes I’ve played, it might have one of the worst opening holes.
#97: Heron Lakes (Great Blue) – Portland, OR
I’ve traveled the world playing some fantastic golf courses, yet the muni in my backyard still makes this list. It provides a solid challenge, has some great risk/reward holes, and you get it at all at a price that can’t be beat.
Next to Ghost Creek, this is definitely the best public golf option in Portland.
#96: Half Moon Bay (Ocean) – Half Moon Bay, CA
It’s really too bad that they didn’t do more with the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay. It’s such a fantastic piece of land, with some incredible views, but I found the routing flawed (easy for errant tee shots to hit some greens). That said, there are still quite a few fun holes, and I don’t think you’ll find many people walking off the course saying “that sucked.”
#95: St. Andrews (New Course) – St. Andrews, Scotland
There is so much good golf in Scotland, and for many the New Course would be near the top of their favorites list. For me though, while it was a great course architecturally, it just didn’t have some of the other intangibles to truly make it one of my favorites (fun and scenery being two big ones here)
#94: Pound Ridge Golf Club – Pound Ridge, NY
Pound Ridge is an over the top Pete Dye design about an hour outside of New York City and it’s high daily fee (nearly $200) keeps play down.
That said, similar to Fossil Trace, despite it’s over-the-topness it’s still a ton of fun to play and if you’re looking for a good public option in NYC and don’t feel like Bethpage or Ferry Point, it’s definitely one to consider.
#93: The Bear at Grand Traverse – Traverse City, MI
The Bear is the poster child for the 80s when it comes to golf architecture. Long, hard, golf. Built in 1985 by Jack Nicklaus, it’s consistently ranked as one of the toughest courses in America – and in my experience, it is.
That said, the course has an enjoyable routing, some truly scenic holes, and despite being brutal at times, it is definitely an enjoyable round.
Full Recap: The Bear at Grand Traverse
#92: Royal Troon – Troon, Scotland
Man, this course. When asked to name my most overrated courses, Royal Troon is almost always top of mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad course. But I found the out and back routing to lack enough variety to make it one of my favorites. I describe it as 6 boring holes, 6 great holes, and 6 more boring holes.
That said, the Postage Stamp 8th is an all-world par 3, and worth playing just for that.
#91: The Bull at Pinehurst Farms – Sheboygan Falls, WI
The Bull has a lot of similarities to The Bear. Jack Nicklaus. Top 100 Public. Really hard.
I shot over a hundred while I was there, and aside from a few opening holes with houses, it’s a scenic walk and a fun round. If you’re in Kohler for Blackwolf or Whistling and want something different or a little bit less expensive, it’s absolutely worth a round.
Full Recap: The Bull at Pinehurst Farms
#90: Whistling Straits (Irish Course) – Kohler, Wisconsin
There’s no denying that Kohler is one of the best golf destinations in the US, if not the world. All four of the resort courses at Kohler are fantastic, as is The Bull listed above at #90.
My round on the Irish Course was the foggiest round I’ve ever played. In Scotland, they would never have allowed us to go out. So because of that, I can’t rank the course any higher. But in typical Pete Dye fashion there were certainly some fun golf holes – I think.
#89: Pine Needles – Southern Pines, NC
During my Pinehurst trip awhile back I had to choose 2 of 3 courses to play on my last day. It came down to Pine Needles, Dormie Club, and Mid Pines.
I went with the first two, and I’ve gotta say I was a little disappointed by Pine Needles. It is certainly not a bad design, but I’ve found many Ross courses I’ve played to lack the variety of some of the more modern tracks I tend to enjoy more.
That said, I wish I’d played Mid Pines as I’ve heard nothing but raving reviews from people whose opinions I trust in this sort of thing.
#88: The Blue Monster at Doral – Miami, Florida
Man what a beast of a course. Lots of sand, lots of water, and no letting up.
It beats you up from the very first hole, and never relents. It doesn’t hurt that we had 30mph gusts on the day we played.
That said, the company was great, and the course was in impeccable condition (as to be expected at any Trump course).
#87: Astoria Country Club – Astoria, Oregon
There aren’t many true links courses in the United States, but Astoria is one of the few. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride, and I’ve truly never played anything like it.
It’s one of those love or hate it courses, but I enjoyed the rolling dunes, funky holes (I’m looking at you #3), and the knowledge that it is the true definition of a “hidden gem”.
#86: Mountain Ridge – West Caldwell, New Jersey
Upon my return from a trip where I played Mountain Ridge, I saw a Jewish friend of mine who was originally from NYC. I told him I played there and he said “Wait, what?! How did you get in? I’m Jewish and even I got yelled at when I took a wrong turn into their parking lot.”
The course has benefitted from a fantastic tree removal effort, and more than one person has said they have the best greens in New Jersey. Yep, they’re that good.
#85: Portland Golf Club – Portland, Oregon
Not many people know about the rich history of Portland Golf Club – which boasts a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup. It’s one of the most historic courses in Oregon, and is always in impeccable shape.
I’m fortunate enough to usually play it 3-4 times a year, and it grows on me more with every round. It definitely feels like a northwest golf course with tree lined fairways and some nice elevation changes.
#84: Tokatee Golf Course – Blue River, OR
Is Tokatee the most difficult golf courses out there? Nope.
Does it have the most interesting and varied hole designs? Nah.
Is it a really fun course in a truly unique setting? Absolutely.
I play Tokatee every single Memorial Day weekend, and it never gets old. It sits at the base of the Three Sisters mountains and doesn’t take itself too seriously – which usually leads to very good golf in my experience.
#83: Cog Hill #4 – Chicago, Illinois
Cog Hill was one of the very first top 100 public courses I ever played – and it will beat you up!
The facilities themselves definitely left a lot to be desired, but the course was the definition of long, championship golf. It’s primary defense is in it’s bunkering, which basically seems like it is everywhere.
Full Recap: Cog Hill #4
#82: Bay Harbor (Links/Quarry) – Bay Harbor, MI
Bay Harbor is a beautiful property in Northern Michigan that features 3 very distinct nines. Each one truly feels like a different course – and frankly, I like that.
The Links is perched high up over Lake Michigan and has stunning water views. While the Quarry plays in, yeah you guessed it, and old quarry – and might have had my favorite holes between the two.
Full Recap: Bay Harbor (Links/Quarry) Review
#81: Columbia Edgewater Country Club – Portland, Oregon
Columbia Edgewater is a great Macan design that is similar to Muirfield in that it has an inside out routing (front 9 is inside the property, and back 9 goes around it.
It’s always in great shape, and gets rave reviews from LPGA players who compete in the Portland Classic each year.
It also boasts a nice par 3 course and one of the best practice facilities I’ve ever seen.
#80: Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys) – Kohler, Wisconsin
Of the four courses at Kohler, this is probably the most overlooked, which is too bad, because it has many of the same features as it’s bigger brother, the River Course, and a ton of imaginative holes.
When Blackwolf has hosted the US Women’s Open, they’ve used a composite of the two courses, so many of the holes on this course have seen pretty major tournament use.
#79: Aspen Lakes – Sisters, Oregon
Aspen Lakes is one of the most underrated courses in Oregon. Let’s ignore for a second that the high desert is probably my favorite landscape, and that Central Oregon is one of my favorite places in the world, period.
Aspen Lakes has incredible mountain views, varied and unique hole designs, and its signature red sand bunkers – that look great, but admittedly aren’t always the best to play out of.
Don’t miss this on any Central Oregon trip.
#78: Coeur d’Alene Resort – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Coeur d’Alene goes down as one of the most fun times I’ve had on a golf course. I say this despite playing on a day where it was pouring down rain and we were the only ones on the course.
The conditioning is second to none, and it has some of the most favorable local rules I’ve ever seen. You’ll go for the island 14th, but be surprised by how many fun, scenic holes are scattered throughout the round.
Full Recap: Coeur d’Alene Resort
#77: Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek) – North Plains, Oregon
The public side of the 36 hole property, Ghost Creek is one of those courses I could play day in and day out. While there are a few pedestrian holes, the majority stand out – especially #3, 6, 9, 16, and 17. When it comes to public golf in Portland, this is as good as it gets.
Full Recap: The Best Public Golf Course in Portland
#76: Pinehurst (#2) – (Pinehurst, NC)
You’re probably thinking, “how on earth is this so low?!”. The reality of Pinehurst #2? It’s a long, difficult golf course. It’s worth doing once as a bucket list item, but at $450/round, there are other courses in the area that are immensely more enjoyable. Those Ross greens are pretty spectacular though.
Note: Remember, this is the ranking for my favorites, not my opinion of which are the best!
Full Recap: How I Shot My Best Round Ever on Pinehurst #2
#75: Pinehurst (#8) – Pinehurst, NC
Remember how I said there are more enjoyable courses in the area than #2? Frankly, I found #8 to be more fun and more enjoyable than it’s historic big brother. Fun holes and elevation changes make this a solid, and more affordable option on a trip to NC.
#74: Nirwana Golf Club – Bali, Indonesia
While I was living in Bali in 2011 I had the opportunity to play this course twice, and unfortunately I only remember bits and pieces of the course – as this was before my golf obsession really hit. I’ll make it back there one of these days, and if so, there’s a good chance it’s ranking could climb.
#73: Adios Golf Club – Coconut Creek, FL
Adios was one of my top 3 surprises of 2016. I played with my buddy David down there before hitting the PGA show in January, and man, what a fun course. I haven’t played much “Florida Golf” but I found Adios to have more variety than I expected, some fun strategic holes, and a club attitude that you won’t find many other places.
#72: Turning Stone Resort (Kaluhyat Course) – Verona, NY
Kaluhyat at Turning Stone Resort was just bared knocked out of my Top 50 last year. I found it to be the best of the three courses at Turning Stone, and a true golf adventure. It had a little bit of everything, open holes, elevation, forests.
It kept you engaged throughout the entire round and was worth the drive up there from NYC. Not to mention the resort and casino was much more impressive than expected.
Full Recap: Kaluhyat at Turning Stone
#71: Aronimink Golf Club – Newtown Square, PA
Aronimink was the last round we played on our June Philadelphia swing. It was a race against time from flood like weather that didn’t hit until I was pulling out of the gate at the airport that night.
Aronimink is a beautiful club and one of the hardest courses you’ll find. By now you should know long, classic, championship golf is not necessarily my preferred style. But Aronimink had some fun holes, and if you’re playing from the correct tees, it’s a definite treat.
#70: Salish Cliffs – Shelton, Washington
I was totally surprised by Salish Cliffs. From the opening with a reachable par 5, short par 4, and then long downhill par 3 – I knew this was going to be a fun round.
It stayed interesting all the way through, and is definitely worth taking the time to play if you’re heading to Chambers Bay.
#69: Old Oaks Country Club – Purchase, NY
I was supposed to go play Yale, but we pulled an audible the morning and went to Old Oaks instead.
Man what a place. Stately, massive, and…completely unknown?
Most people I’ve talked to have never heard of it. It’s too bad as it’s a really underrated Tillinghast track. This might have been the round when I realized I much prefer Tillie’s courses to Ross’.
#68: Garden City Mens Club – Garden City, NY
When it comes to exclusivity, it doesn’t get much more so than Garden City. The experience was incredible, and the company great. But the day I played it was early in the season and the course was still coming back from the winter and wasn’t in the best shape.
Would love to experience it again to better appreciate it’s subtleties.
#67: Waverley Country Club – Portland, OR
This dropped a fair amount this year. Even though I still really enjoy the course, the last couple plays through I’ve found the front to be not quite as good as I remember, but the back is still one of the best finishers I’ve played.
A club I’d love to be a member at one day. Next to Bandon it’s probably on the best spot of land for a golf course in Oregon.
Full Recap: Waverley Country Club
#66: Turnberry (Ailsa Course) – Ayrshire, Scotland
I’ve talked to a lot of people who say Turnberry is their favorite course. While I thoroughly enjoyed my round, there were many other courses in Scotland that I preferred.
Would love to experience it after the recent remodel, as I can imagine 9-11 are now unbelievable.
#65: Streamsong (Red Course) – Bowling Green, FL
People often ask me what I thought of Streamsong. Short answer? The courses there are great!
But there’s always a caveat…it didn’t meet my expectations.
It had been talked up for so long and been spoken so highly of, I think my expectations were way too high.
I found the Red to have a fantastic opening set of holes, but after the first six, I found there to be more of a mix of great holes, and some that were a bit more forgettable.
#64: Atlantic Golf Club – Bridgehampton, NY
One of the first of the “new” ultra exclusive courses in the Hamptons, Atlantic was built in the early 90s and is a beast of a course. That being said, it’s long and hard while still being interesting and fun.
We had the whole course to ourselves the day we played, and considering we played Maidstone in the morning, it was truly a memorable round.
#63: Ayodhya Links – Bangkok, Thailand
Ayodhya Links is a course that I never thought I would get to play, but the stories around it are pretty fascinating.
First off, the entire course was lost to a flood in 2011. They rebuilt and remodeled the entire course from the ground up, and in 2015 it was named one of the Top 100 Courses in the World by Golf Magazine – much to the chagrin of many notable raters who didn’t believe it should be there.
Thank you to the gesture of a very kind friend, I was able to play the course, and I found it to be quite good. The strategy, conditions, and variety was all there in spades.
#62: Chambers Bay – Tacoma, Washington
Chambers is another course that many people love to hate after the debacle that was the 2015 US Open. However, the variety, the fun holes, and the views make this a course that would be hard not to enjoy. You’ll definitely hit a few golf shots there you won’t see anywhere else.
#61: Olympic Club (Lake Course) – San Francisco, CA
Let’s not be mistaken, the Olympic Club is hard. It forces you to move the ball in every direction possible, and be on top of your putting game in the process. It’s truly a championship course, and while I found some of the holes to feel a little familiar by the end, there’s no doubt it’s a place I enjoy getting beat up when given the opportunity.
Not to be missed: the burger dog, and the men’s locker room.
#60: Gulph Mills Golf Club – King of Prussia, PA
Golf Magazine recently claimed that Gulph Mills was the toughest tee time to get in the state of Pennsylvania – that’s saying something.
I found the course to have great variety, was in good condition, and despite a brutally hot day, had a fantastic round. Sticking it close for a birdie on the par 3 6th was definitely a highlight.
#59: Essex County Club – Manchester-by-the-sea, MA
Anyone wanting to know why Essex County is so good, needs to simply look at the fact that Donald Ross lived on the course for a number of years. I found the back 9 to be the better of the two, with elevation change that was reminicsent of Yale at times and some wonderfully fun semi blind shots.
#58: Medinah #3 – Chicago, IL
One of the most famous championship venues in golf, Medinah #3 has some great holes, but by the end became a little long and repetitive. The pars 3s, while all excellent, began to feel similar by #17, and with a score over a 100, I took quite the beating.
#57: Forest Dunes Golf Club – Rosscommon, MI
Forest Dunes is in the middle of nowhere. But the Weiskopf layout is worth the trip. It’s in a beautiful region of the country, and you can get some awesome stay and play deals in the fall. And there has never been a better time to go considering they just opened their new Doak reverisble routing called The Loop, which was just named best new publuc course by Golf Digest.
Full Recap: Forest Dunes
#56: Old Macdonald – Bandon, Oregon
Don’t get me wrong I love Old Macdonald, and Golf Digest even ranked it as the #2 most fun course in the country! However, while a very enjoyable course with an interesting story (the hommage to CB Macdonald) the brutally long stretch of 9-12 leaves a sour taste in my mouth every time I play it.
#55: Trump National Bedminster -Bedminster Township, NJ
I wasn’t expecting to like this course much, but considering at one point Mr. Trump claimed it was the very best course in the world (just like every other course he owns), I was excited to play it.
As to be expected the conditioning was impeccable, and while it was certainly a tough test of golf, I thought it had a nice variety and was fun to play. I’ve learned I have an affinity for modern parkland style courses, and despite being a little bit ball busting, it was a very enjoyable round.
#54: The Country Club (Clyde/Squirrel) – Brookline, Mass
This is another one that the purists will totally hate on me for. The Country Club is one of the most exclusive courses in the country, and playing it was such a special treat. If you asked me to rank it based on the design and architecture – it’d be top 50 in the world.
But for how much I enjoyed it? It’s not quite as high. I enjoyed the back 9 much more than the front, but also my experience was skewed having played off season in some pretty nasty weather.
#53: Machrihanish Golf Club – Campbeltown, Scotland
I know people who say that Machrihanish is one of their very favorite courses in the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are some world class holes there. The opening tee shot is second to none, and it’s as true a links test as you’ll ever find.
But compared to some other top Scottish courses many of the holes blended together for me, which keeps this from cracking the top 50.
#52: Carnoustie Golf Links – Carnoustie, Scotland
Carnoustie is kind of akin to Bethpage Black here in the states. It’s long, hard, public, and has sort of a no frills vibe going for it. While not nearly as scenic as some of it’s other Scottish neighbors, I enjoyed my round here more than expected – and the history is second to none. Just be prepared for a beating.
Full Recap: Carnoustie Golf Club
#51: Tetherow Golf Club – Bend, Oregon
The exact opposite of Pronghorn, Tetherow is one of the most unique courses in the world. It’s in the high desert, but the fescue grass has it playing like a links course. It’s extremely high on the fun factor, and the greens can leave you some truly terrifying putts. I enjoy it everytime I head out, and with the work they’ve been doing there, it’s only getting better.
Full Recap: Tetherow: The Most Polarizing Course in Oregon
#50: Cascata Golf Club – Boulder City, NV
When it was built, Cascata was Caesar’s answer to MGM’s Shadow Creek. While not quite the transformation that Shadow was it’s a dramatic course with tons of great elevation, and the Vegas price tag to go along with.
That said, everything about the experience is first rate, and if you don’t feel like blowing another 400 bucks at the blackjack table, this would be a great alternative.
#49: St. Andrews (Old Course) – St. Andrews, Scotland
From an architecture stand point, the Old Course is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) courses in the world. From a history stand point? It’s unparalleled.
But being totally honest? For the average golfer, there are courses you will find more enjoyable. It’s very flat, not very scenic, and now that I’ve played it, if given the choice to play there or some of the other courses nearby? I’d probably choose one of the others more often than not.
#48: Spyglass Hill – Monterey, CA
Anything on the Monterey Peninsula is going to have some cache, and Spyglass Hill is no exception. The bigger, more brutal brother to Pebble Beach might the best opening 5 holes in golf, or at least it should be up there.
However after that I found it to get a little less interesting, and the inland holes became more hit an miss. It’s one of the tougher courses you’ll play, and I was a little battered by the end.
#47: Dormie Club – North Carolina
Coore and Crenshaw are probably my favorite modern designers, and I look forward to hopefully playing many more of their courses in the future. Dormie Club was originally supposed to be a very exclusive private club, but the recession threw a wrench in those plans. Their loss is the public’s gain – I’d take this over Pinehurst #2 8 times out of 10.
Full Recap: The Dormie Club
#46: Wolf Creek – Mesquite, Nevada
This is like the Six Flags of golf courses. Up, down, left, right – you won’t find many courses for just flat out fun and unique experience. You pretty much have to take a cart, and you’ll play holes that while not always the most strategic, may very well give you vertigo. This is one of those “must play at least once” type courses.
Full Recap: Wolf Creek Golf Club
#45: Plainfield Country Club – Edison, NJ
Home of last year’s Barclays, Plainfield is a fantastic Donald Ross layout. It starts to border on the “long, championship style” courses that aren’t always my favorite, but I really enjoyed my round out here – especially the back nine.
#44: Rolling Green Country Club – Springfield, PA
During my trip to Philly this year, Rolling Green was the course I didn’t know a whole lot about, and next to placed like Merion, Aronimink, and Philly Cricket – I wasn’t totally giddy about playing it.
After the round though? Wow. Great variety, lots of elevation, and some really fun and unique holes. It’s easy to see why it was chosen to host this year’s US Woman’s Amateur.
#43: Eugene Country Club – Eugene, Oregon
For years Eugene Country Club has been ranked as by Golf Digest as the best non-Bandon course in Oregon.
There are 15 courses on that list, and up until last month I’d played 14 of them. Pretty sad considering I grew up in Eugene, and my sister used to work here.
Nevertheless, it was worth the wait. The course has some of the best par 3s in the country, and one of the most serene parkland settings I’ve played.
#42: Streamsong (Blue Course) – Bowling Green, FL
While it’s usually Streamsong Red that gets the nod as the better of the two, personally I preferred Tom Doak’s Blue Course. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s fun – and if you’re not on your game, you’ll probably have a long day.
#41: Oakland Hills (South Course) – Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
There aren’t many major tournaments Oakland Hills hasn’t hosted. This struck a better balance of difficulty and hole variety, than say Medinah or Olympic – and the greens are some of the slickest and most difficult I’ve putted on.
Full Recap: Oakland Hills (South Course)
#40: Bethpage (Black Course) – Farmingdale, NY
What many consider Tillinghast’s best work, barely cracks my top 3 of his. Bethpage is another course everyone should play at least once, due to it’s accessibility and increasing lore in the golf history books. Expect lots of sand, extremely difficult rough, and a brutal walk that will leave you begging for more.
Full Recap: Bethpage Black
#39: Galloway National – Absecon, NJ
On the outskirts of Atlantic City, Galloway is a course that’s largely flown under the radar. It was in absolutely perfect shape, and while it’s one of the more difficult courses I’ve played, I still found it very enjoyable and full of memorable holes.
The short par 4 12th, and par 3 17th are two in particular that really stand out.
#38: The Creek Club – Locust Valley, NY
I’m going to admit, when I first played The Creek it was because I literally looked at the Golf Magazine Top 100 America list and wanted to cross off another course – I didn’t know anything about it.
But wow, what a special place. This was hands down one of my best golf days of 2016. Perfect weather, perfect course, and one that exceeded all expectations.
Some might knock it for a weak opener, but I actually found the first 5 holes (save for a pretty weak Eden hole) to be very good – and things only got better from there.
#37: Pronghorn (Nicklaus Course) – Bend, Oregon
This was the course that started it all for me. My very first top 100 public course I played. I love Bend and Pronghorn. The course has a few of my favorite holes in Oregon (12-15) and is a treat to play every time I have the opportunity. Not to be missed on a trip to Central Oregon
Full Recap: Pronghorn (Nicklaus Course)
#36: Trump International Golf Club – Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Speaking of brutal walks, this might have been the longest, toughest, most difficult walk of my life. – partially due to the torrential wind and rain, I’m sure. I was surprised by just how good Trump’s course here really was. It had a modern take on links golf that kept things interesting and fun, even if I thought my lungs were going to give out at times.
Full Recap: Trump International Scotland
#35: Erin Hills – Hartford, Wisconsin
Host of the 2017 US Open, Erin Hills is another very difficult walk, and the course, which can be stretched out to over 8,000 yards is no slouch either. Another course with excellent stay and play deals, if you live in the midwest, this is a must play. I’ve never been to Ireland, but I feel like this might be as close as I’ve been.
Full Recap: Erin Hills: Home of the 2017 US Open
#34: Bandon Preserve – Bandon, Oregon
This is the only course on this list that isn’t a full 18 hole course, but it’s so good that I had to include it. Any one of of the 13 holes on Bandon’s par 3 course would make for a great hole on any of the bigger courses.
But to grab a bunch of friends, some beers, and set out in 30mph winds? Now that’s fun that is only topped by perhaps a day at the Sheep Ranch.
#33: Crosswater Golf Club – Sunriver, Oregon
I usually play Crosswater a few times a year, and love it every time. It has a solid variety of holes, forcing you to be very strategic at times (4th hole with extremely shallow green), and to flat out bomb it at others (687 yard par 5, 12th). While I do wish there were a bit more elevation at times, this is a must play when visiting Central Oregon.
Full Recap: Crosswater Golf Club
#32: Pacific Dunes – Bandon, Oregon
Another one that you might expect to be higher. I love Bandon and I love Pacific Dunes, but having played the course 3 times now I just don’t love it as much as many other people do – as much as I wish I did.
Full Recap: Pacific Dunes
#31: Ballyneal Golf Club – Holyoke, CO
Ballyneal is probably the most remote golf course I’ve ever played. I mean, it’s out there – but I mean that in the best way possible.
It’s the ultimate destination club, and fortunately their golf course makes every second of the journey worth it. It feels like a links course in the middle of nowhere, and that’s because, well, that’s essentially what it is.
There are no tee boxes at Ballyneal, so each round feels very much like a game of “choose your own adventure.”
#30: California Golf Club of San Francisco – San Francisco, CA
Cal Club as most people affectionately call it, has some of the most brutal (and beautiful) bunkering I’ve ever seen – no surprise, considering Alistair Mackenzie helped with them. This course has flown under the radar, but it’s among the best courses in a state full of phenomenal golf.
#29: Pumpkin Ridge (Witch Hollow) – North Plains, Oregon
I may be slightly biased on this one, considering it’s my home course – but the setting and variety here is absolutely stunning. The par 5 14th is one of the best short par 5s in the world, and while it may not have the length to host a modern day US Open, it’s a course that can still challenge some of the best players in the world.
#28: Myopia Hunt Club – Hamilton, Massachusetts
Walking off the highly unique short par 4, first hole, I knew I was going to like this course. It goes up, it goes down, it goes short, it goes long. It’s tradition and history is deep and the course itself is extremely special.
With that said, it seemed on nearly every hole drives I thought were pretty good ended up in bunkers I didn’t know were there 🙂
#27: Pronghorn (Fazio Course) – Bend, Oregon
The Fazio course at Pronghorn gets very little play, and as such is in immaculate condition. It’s views of the Three Sisters mountains are unparalleled, and the par 3 8th over an ancient lava tube is one of the best and most unique par 3s you’ll ever play.
Full Recap: Pronghorn (Fazio Course)
#26: Colorado Golf Club – Parker, CO
I knew I was going to like Colorado Golf Club before I even set foot on the property. It’s Coore Crenshaw on a beautiful piece of land, and some incredibly unique holes.
CGC is also one of the best match play courses I’ve ever played, and it has some excellent risk reward short par 4s and par 5s.
#25: Blackwolf Run (River Course) – Kohler, Wisconsin
When I think of the River Course, the first word that comes to mind is fun. Dye uses bunkers and water, to weave you through a tapestry of different landscapes, and he gives you multiple options on every hole – with the best example of this being the three distinct fairway options on the par 4, 9th.
Full Recap: Blackwolf Run (River Course)
#24: Tobacco Road – Sanford, North Carolina
This might be the most controversial course here, it’s very much a love it or hate it course. Personally? I love it. It’s unique, rebellious, and features one unique hole after another. It’s so good, I’m still trying to convince some of my golfing buddies to fly across the country to play it with me. And at under $100 a round most of the time? It’s one of the best values here.
Full Recap: Tobacco Road
#23: Philly Cricket Club (Wissahickon Course) – Philadelphia, PA
Possibly with the exception of Pinehurst #2, I’m not sure there has been a more celebrated restoration in America than the Tillinghast designed Wissahickon course. It’s just so good. You’re engaged all the way through the round, and there isn’t a weak hole on the property.
#22: Gleneagles (Kings Course) – Gleneagles, Scotland
There were a handful of big surprises in 2016, but none were as big as the Kings Course. This was literally a matter of “we have some time, where in Scotland can we drive and go play a round?”
We randomly decided on Gleneagles, and almost played the Centenary course instead. What a mistake that would have been. The Kings course was incredibly diverse, with fantastic long holes, short holes, wide fairways, narrow fairways – it made you think throughout the whole round.
We barely got the whole thing in before dark, and I’m amazed this course doesn’t get more attention than it does- it was that good.
#21: The Course at Yale – New Haven, Connecticut
How Golf Digest doesn’t have this as a top 100 course is totally beyond me. The conditioning may be lacking compared to many other courses, but the quality and diversity of the holes is absolutely incredible.
#20: Kingsbarns – Fife, Scotland
When I played Kingsbarns the Scottish fog was out in full force (as were the flashing red guidance lights) – but that didn’t keep me from immensely enjoying the course. Kyle Phillips did a tremendous job of blending old and new, and making a course that’s one of the most fun and enjoyable anywhere.
#19: Pasatiempo – Santa Cruz, California
Pasatiempo was my first Mackenzie course, and is another one Golf Digest didn’t have ranked highly. While there may be a few pedestrian holes, more often than not the course is world class with some of the best bunkering I’ve ever seen.
16 is easily one of the top 5 green complexes I’ve seen. Probably the most underrated course by traditional measures that’s on my list.
#18: Bandon Dunes – Bandon, Oregon
I used to have Pacific Dunes ranked ahead of Bandon, but having played them both a few times since, I just keep finding myself enjoying Bandon Dunes more. The ebb and flow of the course from inland to water constantly keeps you entertained and excited for the next leg of the journey.
Full Recap: Bandon Dunes
#17: Whistling Straits – Kohler, Wisconsin
One of the most well known, and highly ranked public courses in the country, Whistling Straits is grand in every sense of the word. Each of the 4 par 3s rests on the banks of Lake Michigan, and if the views don’t distract you and kill your round, the nearly 1,000 bunkers on the course most likely will.
Full Recap: Whistling Straits
#16: Loch Lomond – Alexandria, Scotland
There’s no denying that part of the allure of Loch Lomond is that it is so hard to get an invitation to play. Next to Merion, it was probably my most anticiapted round of 2016, and it didn’t disappoint.
The setting right on Loch Lomond and within the national park is spectacular, and I found the course to be engaging all the way through. I wasn’t expecting to like the inland holes as much as I did, either.
It’s becoming pretty clear that I’m a big fan of modern parkland courses – and this might be the best example I’ve played.
Full Recap: Loch Lomond: The Most Private Club in Europe
#15: Arcadia Bluffs – Arcadia, Michigan
Yes, I said it, I like Arcadia better than Whistling Straits. Whistling Straits is more strategic and demanding, but Arcadia is just a blast to play. Almost every hole has views of Lake Michigan, and while critics will look at holes like 11 and call it a “bobsled course” – that doesn’t change the fact that for the average golfer it’s a ton of fun to play.
Full Review: Arcadia Bluffs
#14: Hudson National – Croton-on-Hudson, New York
Apparently I have a thing for big downhill holes, as #5 at Hudson National is the epitome of this. Hudson was the first top private I played in the NYC area and I enjoyed it immensely. Fazio created a unique, and fun course that uses elevation change to create a true adventure of a golf course.
Full Review: Hudson National
#13: Somerset Hills – Bernardsville, New Jersey
When you think of Tillinghast you think of ball busting courses like Bethpage Black. Somerset is much more subdued and friendly – and I loved it. From the beautiful and severe #2 redan hole, I was hooked.
Integrating features of the land, like the old horse race track on the property make it all the more special.
Full Recap: Photo Tour of 2015 NYC Trip
#12: Diamante Dunes – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Diamante is the top ranked course in Mexico, and for good reason. It’s essentially a links experience in the desert, and was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The views were amazing, and the “all-inclusive” atmosphere makes for a gluttonous, but incredibly rewarding experience.
I also took my favorite golf photo I’ve ever taken here.
Full Recap: Diamante Dunes
#11: The Club at Black Rock – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
This was the first top 100 course I ever played, and is another one where I could see purists cringe – but there’s no denying the course is incredibly fun and scenic at the same time.
The par 4 11th hole with an approach in between two waterfalls is one of the most unique holes you’ll ever play, and there’s at least 3 or 4 other holes that would be in contention for a top 100 holes list.
Full Recap: The Golf Club at Black Rock
#10: Maidstone Club – East Hampton, New York
This is another one that barely makes the cut for Golf Digest. I’ve heard complaints that it has a weak opening and a weak finish – but I didn’t think so. I thought the course eased you into the round beautifully, and then smacked you in the face with some world class holes.
It’s not overly long or difficult by today’s standards, but it had just the right amount of personality and quirk to make me fall in love with it.
Full Recap: 2015 NYC Golf Road Trip
#9: Castle Stuart – Inverness, Scotland
Castle Stuart was one of only two golf courses from 2016 to make it into the top 10, and for damn good reason.
It’s modern links at it’s finest. Infinity greens, risk reward par 5s, and a handful of dramatic holes you simply won’t see anywhere else.
I’d be curious to play some of the links courses that I’ve ranked above it again, because it would not surprise me to see this rise even higher in the future.
#8: Boston Golf Club – Hingham, Massachusetts
My Boston whirlwind last year was fun because we got to play 4 of the best courses in the city (read: country): Essex County, Myopia, Boston, and The Country Club. Everyone we talked to had a different opinion on how these ranked. I knew I would love Boston. I like modern course designs, and Hanse did an incredible job crafting memorable and strategic holes.
#5, “Shipwrecked,” might be the most unique short par 4 I’ve ever played – and if you know me, you know I love short par 4s!
Also, thank you Jeff for bringing me along on your Boston whirlwind – looking forward to the next one!
#7: San Francisco Golf Club – San Francisco, CA
This proves I don’t just like modern designs. SFGC was one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had on a golf course. It’s one of Tillinghast’s earliest designs, and similar to Somerset Hills, stands out as being quite a bit different than his other work.
It took me two years to get on the course, but a really big thank you to the two people who helped make this happen. I sincerely hope we can do it again one day, and that I can find a way to return the favor!
#6: North Berwick – East Lothian, Scotland
Often overlooked by many on Scotland trips in favor for Open Rota courses, North Berwick is one that should never be missed. It’s home to the original (and best I’ve played) redan green, and at just over 6400 yards won’t scare anyone with it’s length.
However, the quirkiness of the course made me fall in love with it. The 16th psuedo-biarritz green might be my favorite green in the world, and the 13th green tucked behind a stone wall is something you won’t find anywhere else.
Full Recap: North Berwick
#5: Cruden Bay – Aberdeenshire, Scotland
You want to talk about adventure golf? It doesn’t get much more adventurous than this. It’s amazing this course was built so long ago, because it has so many features that I love in the more modern courses I play – you know except for so many blind shots.
There are few things as rewarding in golf as the view from the 9th tee box after the hike to get up there.
#4: Bandon Trails – Bandon, Oregon
In my previous top 25 list of a couple years ago, Bandon Trails was the outright winner. Which many have been shocked by as traditionally it’s the lowest ranked of the four courses at Bandon. My rationale? It’s the most unique.
Hundreds of courses have ocean.
Very few weave dunes, meadows, and forest together in a way that flows so well. And as for 14? I don’t hate it as much as everyone else. Just calls for a different strategy!
#3: Royal Dornoch – Dornoch, Scotland
What’s there to say about Dornoch? It’s one of the oldest courses in the world, and the more courses I play, the more I see course designers that have been heavily influenced by the course. Tom Watson once said it’s “the most fun he’s ever had on a golf course.”
For me, it’s not hard to see why. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but totally worth it.
Full Recap: Royal Dornoch
#2: Merion Golf Club (East) – Ardmore, PA
To put it simply, Merion has everything I look for in a golf course. Unique, fun holes. A bevy of short par 4s, and does all of this while still being strategic, and providing a true challenge and test of golf.
I knew before I played Merion would either shoot to the top of the list, or I’d find it wasn’t my style and would consider it overrated.
Luckily in this case, it was totally the former that prevailed.
#1: Pebble Beach – Monterey Peninsula, California
I should preface this by saying, I had lowered my expectations for Pebble after hearing so many people say it’s overrated.
I’m sorry, Pebble Beach is an absolutely phenomenal golf course. Not only are the water holes unique and beautiful, but even the inland ones (with one or two exceptions) were still world class.
Someone recently told me Pebble beach was boring. If you think Pebble Beach is boring, I can’t imagine what course you would say is fun.
For me, I’ve yet to see a better combo of fun and excellence in architecture and design. It’s that good.
Full Recap: Pebble Beach, a Camaro, and an MVP
Wrapping Up 2016
I hope you had as much fun following along as I released my Top 100 courses as I did creating the list (and playing the rounds).
I truly am one of the luckiest guys in the world, and I don’t take that for granted. This next year I’m excited to be devoting even more time to Breaking Eighty and rolling out some pretty cool projects here on the site.
If you’ve enjoyed the photos, like the reviews, and want to get occasional updates on what’s going on? Check out our email list below – I’d love you forever.