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Top Ten Golf Courses in the USA

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Whilst Europe may be the birthplace of golf, the USA has undoubtedly mastered the game. From the verdant woodland courses of the East Coast, through the rolling plains of the Mid-West, right onto the rugged coastal courses nudging against the Pacific Ocean, the USA offers possibly the widest range of golfing opportunities on Earth!

To try and conquer all of America’s diverse courses in one fell swoop is slightly ambitious, so this list of Top Ten Golf Courses aims to simply give you a glimpse into what is on offer. Golf is big business in the States, so large investments are being continuously made into modernising and building new, ‘all signing and all dancing’ golfing facilities across the country. With that fact in mind, this list will continue to evolve, so we would love to hear about your USA golf experiences in due course.

I would also like to point out that several of the courses on this list are strictly ‘members only’ affairs, but don’t let that deter you. Whilst you may need to befriend ‘someone in the know’ I believe that it’s important to dream and aim high, so showing you these courses is meant to spark your imagination and help you to form you very own golfing ‘Bucket List’.

I hope you enjoy our jaunt around the Top Ten Golf Courses in the USA and that this guides helps you to plan your American adventure!

10. Crystal Downs

The first course on this top-ten list is not only Michigan’s golfing pride and joy, but a national treasure. Crystal Downs, which is sandwiched between Lake Crystal and Lake Michigan, is a pristine example of Scotsman Alister MacKenzie’s work from the late 1920s. The course is set on a 100-foot high sand-ridge, offering players incredible views over sparkling lakes and densely forested north Michigan countryside.

What makes the paly at Crystal Downs stand out is that it’s unorthodox; the holes are unconventional (for example the kidney-shaped green on the 7th hole) and the undulating, angled fairways seems to spring out at you when you least expect it. The course has been designed to add a little ‘adventure’ into your play, meaning that it’s a unique challenge, even for golfers of the highest ability.

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Courtesy of http://www.dimpledrock.com/golf-photography/Crystal-Downs-Country-Club

Despite being ranked in the top 20 courses in the world, you may be surprised to hear that Crystal Downs has only once hosted a major competition: the 1991 U.S. Senior Amateur. This is likely to be due to its remote location and lack of facilities needed to accommodate the crowds. However, for me, this quality is a bonus, as Crystal Downs obviously provides such exquisite golf that it doesn’t need to hide behind any pomp and ceremony.

9. Bandon Dunes

The next course on the list is somewhat of an infant in comparison to some of the 100-year-old golf clubs on this list. Created in 1999, Bandon Dunes (one of the six courses in the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort) instantly won a huge amount of praise and acclaim from golf aficionados.

With an almost British style course, Brandon Dunes lives by the philosophy of being open to the public and putting great golf above all else. The course is completely natural and strives to maintain an environment of indigenous vegetation. The scenery is also breath-taking, with the Pacific Ocean and undulating terrain taking a starring role in your game.

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Courtesy of http://bandondunesgolf.com/

Bandon Dunes is also traditionally home to the lowest scores of all 6 of courses in the complex, mainly thanks to its forgiving fairways and relatively gentle greens. Locals will tell you September is the best month to go to Bandon, but the best-kept secret is February, which is also when you’ll benefit from off-season rates.

8. Pebble Beach Golf Links

The legendary Californian coastline is always a popular destination for tourists, whether you are passionate about wine, water sports or whale watching. But for us golfers, the Californian coast also boasts one of the most beautiful pieces of golfing architecture in the world: Pebble Beach Golf Links.

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Courtesy of http://www.greatamericanthings.net/sports/pebble-beach-golf-course/

With rugged coastlines framing your shots and incredible views of the Pacific, it’s no wonder that many consider Pebble Beach to be more of a scenic wonder than a golf course! But whilst it is stunning, it’s unfair for nature to take all of the credit. Jack Neville and Douglas Grant designed Pebble Beach Golf Links in 1919. Their design complimented and harmonised with the landscape, meaning that the course seems to hug the coastline, incorporate the cliffs and utilise the back-drop of the Pacific Ocean to its full advantage.

But Pebble Beach is not just a ‘pretty face’, it is in fact a major player on the US golf circuit. Pebble Beach has hosted the U.S. Open five times, most recently in 2010. It has an incredibly distinguished set of champions including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods, and Graeme McDowell. The Open is due to return in 2019, to celebrate the course’s 100th birthday.

Pebble Beach, unlike many of the top US courses, is completely open to the public, but beware the Green Fees of $495, which have been said to be the most expensive in the world!

7. Merion East

The next course on the list owes its success to cricket rather than golf. Back in 1896, fuelled on by the golf-fever sweeping the States, the members of Merion Cricket Club in Pennsylvania, decided to swap their wickets for tees and built, what Jack Nicklaus now calls, the place for ‘the best test of golf in the world’.

The cricketers entrusted 32-year-old Hugh Wilson to build Merion East Golf Course, even though he had never designed a course in his life! He was packed off on a seven-month trip to Scotland and England, to learn all he could about the ‘superior’ British courses, before being let loose on Merion East.

And learn he did! The course he built has now hosted 18 United States Golf Association (USGA) championship tournaments, which is more than any other course in the States. Merion East is also acclaimed to be in the top 15 courses in the world.

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Courtesy of http://www.meriongolfclub.com/

The layout of Merion East is akin to a seaside links course: with lush landscapes linked by a multitude of sand encircled mounds, varied contours of the fairway and perilous angles on the greens. It is tougher than many of its US counterparts and aesthetically very different to most American courses. It is, in essence, a parkland course, which may lack majesty and manicuring, but packs a punch with its personality. Every hole is different and the ever-changing, rolling terrain mean that you need to focus and contemplate every shot.

6. Sand Hills

When you think of the state of Nebraska, images of endless prairies, plains, porch swings and pick-up trucks instantly spring to mind. But don’t let this humble and down-to-Earth ethos fool you into thinking that nothing happens here; on the contrary, when it comes to golf, Nebraska is home to a somewhat elusive gem.

Sand Hills Golf Course has been named in the top-ten courses in the world, but some argue this is a rather controversial decision. The area itself (Sand Hills) is set over a huge meadow that extends some 20,000 square miles and not only plays home to 18 holes, but also to grazing cattle and cowboys, giving you a real taste of the mid-west! But this isn’t the cause of controversy; the real reason is that the course is closed for eight months of the year, meaning that very few are given the opportunity to fully master the sandy dunes and generous fairways Sand Hills Golf Course has to offer.

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Courtesy of http://holygrailgolfer.blogspot.co.uk/

Personally, I quite like the ‘secretive’ and private nature of this course, which I’ve heard is one of the most relaxing places in the States to play. It is a members’ only club, so if you want to play there you will need to befriend one of the lucky few to be admitted to this remote course. You may question why people would want to join such a ‘stripped-back’ golf club? The answer is that, without the frills, lakes, trees and high-tech facilities, Sand Hills is all about varied and demanding shots and pure, unencumbered golf.

5. Oakmont

114 years ago, Henry Fownes decided that a plot of old farmland, in north-east Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, would make the ideal links-style course. It took him 1 year, 150 men and two dozen teams of mules, but he completed one of the most difficult, yet most internationally recognised course in the USA.

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Courtesy of Oakmont Country Club: http://www.oakmont-countryclub.org/

Oakmont has played home to more major championships than any other course in the US, racking up nine US Opens, two US Women’s Opens and three PGA Championships. It has also received acclaim for some of golfing’s greats, including Jonny Miller who said that “It’s probably the best course in the world . . . This is the greatest course I’ve ever played.”

At Oakmont, there are hardly any trees, there are no water hazards and some of the holes are poker straight. So why has it been given the moniker of ‘the toughest course in the world’? There are two words to describe Oakmont: ‘Greens’ and ‘bunkers’. The greens themselves are lightning fast and the bunkers, especially the imaginatively designed ‘Church Pews’, which catch out many errant drives from the 3rd and 4th holes, make Oakmont a seriously challenging place to play.

The great news about Oakmont is that non-members can play here- if you dare that is!

4. Augusta National

The next course on our list is possibly the most famous golfing spot in the USA, if not the world. The Augusta National Golf Course, situated in the state of Georgia, has played home to a little competition called ‘The Masters’ (you may have heard of it) since 1934. Augusta National is extra special, as The Masters is the only competition played on the same course, year, after year, meaning that it has become firmly fixed in the public’s mind.

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Courtesy of http://augusta-national-golf-club.coursesofamerica.com/

Being one of the most filmed courses in the world, it is no surprise that the landscape of Augusta National is beyond perfect. It is, however, important to note here that, like all things that look almost too perfect, nature has been tampered with. If you like your courses rugged and ‘as God intended’, August National will not be the course for you. That being said, this ‘holy ground’ is still a wonder to behold, with immaculately groomed fairways, flawlessly positioned lakes and methodically positioned trees.

The most famous course in the world plays home to some of the most famous holes in the world. The 11th, 12th and 13th holes all form ‘Amen Corner’, where some of the exciting golf known has taken place. The 12th hole in particular is as treacherous as it is beautiful; with Rae’s Creek in front of the green and a boarder of almost regal trees, this placid setting often falls foul to swirling winds.

When it comes to playing here, Augusta National prides itself on the phrase ‘If you have to ask, you’re not welcome’. Sadly, this course is an exceptionally exclusive private club. If you want to rub shoulders in the clubhouse with likes of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, you will have to be invited in. Remember, ‘if you have to ask, you’re not welcome’!

3. Shinnecock Hills

The first course on our top three is Long-Island based, Shinnecock Hills. This links-style golf course is a major, global player, having played host to the US Open no less than four times, with the fifth planned for 2018. And this isn’t the only claim to fame; the course also prides itself on being the oldest in the USA, with records dating back to 1891.

Shinnecock Hills was inspired by Scottish course designer Willie Dunn, and, as such, has a distinctly British feel about it. With treeless landscapes and unforgiving winds sweeping off from the Atlantic, you could almost believe that you were playing on one of Ireland’s famous links-courses too! It is, however, immaculately sculpted.

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Courtesy of http://www.eastlongisland.com/shinnecock-hills/

The rolling landscape on the back nine, along with dense reed-edged fairways and 150 bunkers, make this course a constant, but enjoyable challenge. No hole is the same either, so a huge amount of skill and determination is required to conquer this course. Sadly, like a large amount of top American courses, a round at Shinnecock Hills is by invitation from a club member only.

2. Pine Valley

The penultimate course could have justifiably made it to the top spot, but was sadly just pipped to the post. Pine Valley in southern New Jersey was ranked as the ‘world’s best course’ by Golf Magazine in 2012 and 2015 and still remains a firm favourite of the golfing consignetti.

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Courtesy of Forbes Magazine

Established in 1913, Pine Valley was an architectural Everest. The designer, George Arthur Crump, ordained that ‘no hole should be laid out parallel to the next; no more than two consecutive holes should play in the same direction; and players shouldn’t be able to see any hole other than the one they were playing’. Crump also wanted every player to have to use every club in their bag! So, as you can imagine, the going is far from easy at Pine Valley!

The club today is a private, so you have to be a member (invited by the board) or a guest to play here. It’s also a ‘men’s-only’ affair, with women only permitted to play on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a rather ‘bijoux’ course, in the sense of its petit size. Despite being described as one of the world’s best, Pine Valley has neither played host to a major tournament, nor do the course owners plan to make any modifications to enable them to do so. Evidently keeping their air of exclusivity, and their trees, is far more important!

1. Cypress Point

So, what’s America’s top golf course?

Every golfer in the world would love to play at Cypress Point in California, but the sad reality is that, unless you are fortunate enough to be accepted as one of the circa 250 members, or can befriend one of the lucky few to be admitted to this exclusive club, you may never get the opportunity to see it first-hand. Rumour has it that even J F Kennedy was refused entry!

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Taken from www.planetgolf.com- a great reference site for the world’s best golf courses.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t gawp at its splendour! Created by the renowned designer, Alister Mackenzie, the 18-hole course of Cypress Point opened in 1928. Regarded as Mackenzie’s ‘masterpiece’, it is often to referred to as one of the top 3 courses ever created and has been heralded as the most exclusive club in the world!

The course itself is visually stunning, with the dense, verdant Del Monte Forest during the front nine, which seamlessly gives way to the rugged coastal landscape on the back nine. The most infamous hole is the sixteenth, which requires a 231-yard tee shot over the Pacific Ocean to a fairly modest green that is framed by tricky bunkers.

This world-famous course has played home to ‘The Bing Crosby Tournament’ and ‘The Walker Cup’ and sets the bar for golfing luxury across the world.

I hope you have enjoyed our whirlwind top of the Top Ten Courses in the USA. If you enjoyed this, why not take a look at our guide to the Top Ten Courses in Europe?

Join us next time when we will be going to the far-flung reaches of the Earth: from Australia to China, we will be tackling the Top Ten International Golf Courses.

 


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