The Breaking Eighty Top 100 Courses in the World (2017)
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 by traditional standards.
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 worthy 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 2017.
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.
There were 22 courses new courses worthy of being in contention this year, and those pushed out some old favorites. 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 2017
Entries 100-91 in this year’s top 100 are Oregon heavy – as some of my local favorites from the region are slowly getting pushed further down as I play more courses globally.
But each year I find myself more excited, as the quality of the courses continues to increase.
#100: 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.
#99: Tokatee Golf Course – Blue River, OR
Is Tokatee the most difficult golf course 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.
#98: 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
#97: 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.
#96: 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.
#95: 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.
#94: 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
#93: 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
#92: 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
#91: 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.
#90: 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.
#89: 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.
#88: 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
#87: Rustic Canyon Golf Course – Moorpark, CA
Rustic Canyon may very well be the best value in the United States. This Gil Hanse design wasn’t exactly in tip top shape when we played in January – but I could easily look past the conditioning given how much fun the routing is.
It also marks the spot of the only hole in one I’ve ever seen in person. Unfortunately, it wasn’t mine…
#86: Aronimink Golf Club – Newtown Square, PA
Aronimink was the last round we played on our June Philadelphia swing last year. 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.
I’d expect this to rank higher now that Hanse has completed his restoration – I just haven’t played it since then. Also cool to see them finally get their major with the 2027 PGA Championship.
#85: 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.
#84: 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’.
#83: 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.
#82: Turnberry (Ailsa Course) – Ayrshire, Scotland
I’ve talked to a lot of people who say Turnberry is their favorite course. Anywhere.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my round, there were many other courses in Scotland that I preferred.
From what I hear though, the recent remodel has made some fantastic changes and 9-11 are even better than they already were.
#81: Waverley Country Club – Portland, OR
Waverley is set on one of the most beautiful pieces of land for golf in the state of Oregon. Very few places I’ve played compare with the finish on 16-18. There is truly something special about this club that you don’t see often in Oregon. It feels like it’d be more at home with the Golden Age clubs of the Northeast. If there’s one place I hope to be a member at one day, this is it.
Full Recap: Waverley Country Club
#80: 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.
#79: 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.
#78: 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.
#77: 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.
#76: 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.
#75: 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.
#74: 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 reminiscent of Yale at times and some wonderfully fun semi blind shots.
#73: 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.
#72: Hawk’s Ridge Golf Club – Ball Ground, GA
On this year’s trip down to the Masters I was able to sneak in a few rounds of golf before hand, and the first one of the trip was Hawk’s Ridge with my buddy Drew, one of our Eighty Club members.
The course reminded me a lot of my home track, Pumpkin Ridge (both are Bob Cupp designs), and I found myself really enjoying the routing. There were certainly some memorable holes, and while the grass was dormant while I was there – it played great. Rumor has it John Smoltz used to helicopter in to de-stress on game days before he pitched for the Braves
#71: 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
#70: 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.
#69: 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.
#68: 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.
#67: 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.
#66: Scioto Country Club – Columbus, Ohio
The average golfer might not know it, but Columbus is a hot bed of world class golf. Flying a little more under the radar next to some pretty heavy hitters is Jack Nicklaus’ childhood course where he learned to golf: Scioto.
Scioto is Championship course that truly has some teeth – but aside from the fact I got food poisoning the day of my round there – I truly enjoyed it. Memorable par 3s, and hands down one of the best, and busiest country clubs I’ve been to.
Full Recap: 2017 Ohio Golf Trip
#65: 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
#64: 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.
#63: Atlanta Athletic Club (Highlands Course) – Atlanta, GA
Atlanta Athletic Club unfortunately got the designation of what may have been my highest score of the year. Pretty sure I didn;t break 100. But there wasn’t much to complain about considering the conditioning was perfect, there were many memorable (and scenic) holes, and it’s got history rivaled by very few in the South.
Hopefully next time I’m able to make it back and play the Club’s other course, as I’ve heard nothing but good things.
#62: Valhalla Golf Club – Louisville, KY
After our round at Double Eagle Club was canceled due to weather, we were able to lineup a tee time at Valhalla on short notice. In a stroke of luck, our very first Eighty Club member happened to be in town, and we were able to enjoy an extremely enjoyable round at the Club.
I found Valhalla to have a more interesting routing than expected, and the course truly exceeded my expectations. It wasn’t difficult to remember every hole, and it strikes a great balance of an enjoyable members course, and a stern test for the pros.
#61: 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.
#60: 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.
#59: 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
#58: 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
#57: 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
#56: 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.
#55: 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.
#54: 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.
#53: Huntingdon Valley Country Club – Huntingdon Valley, PA
Huntingdon Valley was the first stop in this year’s Eighty Club even in Philly, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We played the Toomey/Flynn nines, which have fantastic elevation change, a handful of excellent short pars 4s, and one of the best clubhouse views you’ll find.
It’s a sleeper in the stacked world of Philadelphia golf, and one I’d love to play again.
#52: Quaker Ridge Golf Club – Scarsdale, NY
You better bring your A game when you show up at Quaker, as it isn’t going to take it easy on you. For me the course stands out for it’s memorable par 3s and some brutal bunkering that will take it’s toll if you’re shots are a little off.
This would probably be ranked higher were it not for the first 8 holes that all had out of bounds on the right. As someone with a tendency to slice, this definitely affected my enjoyment of the course a bit. Look to see this ranking improve as I master that baby draw 🙂
#51: Camargo Club – Cincinnati, OH
Easily the best collection of template par 3s I’ve ever played. Camargo Club is truly special in the world of golf. It’s understated, quiet, and it doesn’t need to be loud or flashy to let the world know just how good it is. It’s my first Raynor, and is the type of course that I can only imagine enjoying more and more with more plays.
#50: The Golf Club – New Albany, OH
Teeing it up at The Golf Club was one of the most pure experiences I’ve had on a golf course. You pull through the gates and your transported to another secluded world. A world where no one will bother you, where you nearly always have the course to yourself, and where Pete Dye displayed some of his very best work.
#49: 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.
#48: 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 I’ve ever putted on.
Full Recap: Oakland Hills (South Course)
#47: 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
#46: 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.
#45: The Valley Club of Montecito – Montecito, CA
Playing at The Valley Club is a really special experience. The club itself has one of the best vibes I’ve ever seen. The membership is more laid back than you’d expect, and the Clubhouse is one of the all time greats. Things get even better once you hit the course. A nearly original Mackenzie design shows off a unique routing, excellent bunkering, and a course that won’t overwhelm you with difficulty – in the best way possible.
#44: 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)
#43: 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
#42: 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
#41: The Creek Club – Locust Valley, NY
Before my round at The Creek, I admittedly didn’t know a whole lot about it – and I’m glad I didn’t. The surprises kept coming around every turn, leading to a very memorable experience.
The view going over the crest on 5 is one of golf’s all time great reveals.
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. I can only imagine how good it’s going to be when Hanse is done with his work there.
#40: 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.
#39: 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
#38: 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
#37: 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.”
#36: 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.
#35: 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 🙂
#34: 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)
#33: 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.
#32: 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)
#31: 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
#30: 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.
#29: 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.
#28: 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 quite as much as many other people do – as much as I wish I did.
#27: Riviera Country Club – Los Angeles, CA
There are certain clubs who have a greatness that you can’t quite quantify or identify without experiencing it. I found Riviera to be one of those clubs. If you’re a diehard about golf course architecture, this is one of those “must study” courses. As everything from concept to execution is a masterclass in golf course design.
It’s difficult yet playable, tough yet fair, and the Redan 4th is one of the toughest par 3s I’ve played. Simply put, while I was unsure going into it, Riviera is every bit as good as it is made out to be.
#26: 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.
#25: Atlanta Country Club – Marietta, GA
Hands down, the number one best surprise of 2017. I arranged a tee time at Atlanta Country Club on short notice while down for the Masters after a couple other scheduled rounds fell through.
I didn’t know a whole lot about it, but had heard nothing but good things. The way the course weaves through a canyon makes for a unique setting, and I felt like I had strategic decisions to make on nearly every hole. Highly underrate and worth playing when in the area.
#24: 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.
#23: Winged Foot (East) – Mamaroneck, NY
To be totally honest, I really didn’t think I was going to like Winged Foot East. I thought it was going to be a long, hard championship course that while great for the pros, would be a brutal and tedious for someone like me.
Boy was I wrong. Winged Foot had memorable par 3s, great risk reward short par 4s and was one a real treat to experience the history of the Club.
#22: 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
#21: Arcadia Bluffs – Arcadia, Michigan
Is Arcadia Bluffs the most strategic course? Nope. Is it a holy grail to quality golf architecture? Ha, not a chance. But this is one of those courses, where the the overall experience and fun factor make you forget about all of that. I can remember every hole on the course, the views are second to none, and there aren’t many rounds where I had more fun than here.
And yes, personally, I enjoy it more than that other course across the lake 🙂
Full Review: Arcadia Bluffs
#20: 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.
#19: 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
#18: 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
#17: 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
#16: 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
#15: 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
#14: 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
#13: 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!
#12: 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.
#11: 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
#10: 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!
#9) Fishers Island Club – Fishers Island, NY
Fishers Island wins the award for one of the more difficult courses to get to, as after your drive or train ride to New London, you board a 45 minute ferry to the island – and another 10 minute drive to the Club.
You’re rewarded for your expedition however with the crown jewel of architect Seth Raynor’s repertoire. It’s one of the most scenic courses on the planet, and has some excellent template holes – including a Double Plateau that is one of my favorite greens in the world.
#8) Muirfield Village – Dublin, OH
“Jack’s Place” was so much more than I thought it would be. It felt like “Augusta Jr.” in regards to everything from infrastructure to conditioning, and while a brutal challenge I found the course to be more fun and varied in it’s routing than I’d anticipated. Each hole led to a new surprise, which had me saying “oh, now this is cool.” And that’s a sign of a good course in my book.
#7: 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.
#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: Los Angeles Country Club (North Course) – Los Angeles, CA
While unfortunately we were only able to experience LACC on one of the wettest LA days on record – it didn’t dampen the experience of one of the best golf courses I’ve ever played. The routing is genius, and always leaves you a little disoriented as to where you are on the property. The holes are memorable, and the devilish little tongue on the short par 3, 15th – is one of the coolest pin locations I’ve seen on a golf course – making it only 78 yards long.
#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
Final Thoughts on 2017
Once again, I was extremely fortunate to play some excellent golf courses this past year, and meet some incredible people along the way.
The whole reason I do this is simply because I enjoy experiencing new places and meeting new likeminded people. I in no way consider myself an expert in course design or architecture, I’m simply someone who enjoys experiencing everything the game has to offer.
If you were one of the people who had criticisms of this list, that’s totally fine. We all have differences of opinion, and I simply ask that you keep this in perspective. It’s golf. It’s not life or death. It’s supposed to be fun. This was simply a list of the courses I enjoyed the most, nothing more, nothing less. We all have different preferences for everything in life – these are simply my preferences and are in no way is an indication of which courses I actually think are the “best.”
Thanks to everyone who followed along and has supported Breaking Eighty and everything we’re doing here. I can’t wait to see where 2018 takes us, and hopefully we have a chance to meet somewhere along the way!
Update: I mistakenly left Portmarnock off this list. It will be updated shortly to add that in.