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Reynolds Lake Oconee (Great Waters) Greensboro, Ga. Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club (Champion) Orlando, Fla.
Few have conquered its dune-flecked, oceanside start, nor its final 13 holes through the pines, except Phil Mickelson in 2005 and Luke Donald in 2006, when both posted astonishing 10-under-par 62s. Hewn from flat, featureless desert, Shadow Creek emerged with rolling hills, a forest of pines, bursts of flowers and a network of creeks and lakes. ($159-$245) Few courses so successfully fuse beauty, challenge and playability as this 1992 effort that hugs the shoreline of Lake Oconee for nearly the entire back nine. ($100-$160) Abutting the postcard perfect campus of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., Taconic blends heart-of-the-Berkshires charm with superb shotmaking challenges. Still, it’s the 470-yard, downhill, par-4 11th that will set your camera clicking. Most memorable, however, are the Gotham visuals, from the Whitestone Bridge to the East River to the Manhattan skyline. Manele Golf Course Lanai City, Lanai, Hawaii ($325) Jack Nicklaus’ 23-year-old hillside layout in the shadow of the Four Seasons Resort is best known for its incomparable 202-yard, par-3 12th, its green and tees separated by vertical cliff faces and the crashing surf of Hulopo’e Bay 150 feet below. ($75-$235) We-Ko-Pa’s original course, designed by Scott Miller in 2001, zigzags through cactus-framed canyons, climb atop ridges and offer stunning vistas of Four Peaks Mountain and Red Mountain, with nary a home or road in sight. ($89-$175) This 1963 creation from Robert Trent Jones Sr. ($200-$225) Open only to guests of Turning Stone, this pristine, 12-year-old Tom Fazio parkland creation is maintained like a PGA Tour course—which it once was. Trout-filled Grandmother Creek affects play on 14 holes, including at the signature 472-yard, par-4 3rd, where it must be carried to find the green. The Virtues Golf Club Nashport, Ohio ($59-$99) Situated 45 minutes east of Columbus, this gift to the masses from its legendary basket-making parent, Longaberger, is newly renamed and now under new management. The Irish is blanketed with bunkers, crisscrossed with streams and pockmarked with gigantic man-made dunes. ($75-$130) This 2005 Mike De Vries design on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula twists through forests and edges wetlands throughout its rough-and-tumble, up-and-down journey. Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club (Ghost Creek) North Plains, Ore. Omni Barton Creek Resort (Fazio Canyons) Austin, Tex. The most memorable seaside tests are the par-4 fourth, the par-3 12th and the par-4 16th, each with eye-popping scenery and enjoyable risk/rewards. Mixing live oaks, lagoons, tiny greens, bunkers banked by railroad ties and a closing stretch along the Calibogue Sound, this Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus collaboration delights and terrorizes at every turn. Tall, odd-shaped sand piles, significant climbs and drops, firm, fast-running Bermuda fairways and lakes submerged in the sand spice the play on the Coore-Crenshaw-designed Red course. Women’s Open, when nine of its holes paired with Blackwolf Run’s original front nine (now the back nine of the Meadow Valleys course). ($110-$272) This clifftop, city-owned venue overlooking the Pacific Ocean in suburban San Diego stretches 7,600 yards, following a 2001 Rees Jones renovation that also moved greens closer to canyon edges. Strategic tests such as the double-fairway, par-4 10th and the drivable par-4 17th, framed with sand and fescues, are superb. Most remarkable was the 2012 event, when Tommy Gainey’s final-round 60 catapulted him over Davis Love, Jim Furyk and David Toms for the win. Designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, Erin Hills controversially was chosen to host the 2017 U. He also outfitted the layout with deep bunkers and closely mown green surrounds that place an emphasis on precise approaches. An antebellum clubhouse and 18th hole that border an old rice plantation and the Waccamaw River completes a pretty picture. Fallen Oak dishes out streams, orchards, lakes and wetlands, along with Fazio’s sprawling bunkers—plus an Acadian-style, Southern Mansion clubhouse. ($155) Former Western Open/BMW Championship venue Cog Hill in the southwestern Chicago suburbs became Tiger Woods’ personal playground. Scattered blow-out bunkers, gigantic natural dunes, smartly contoured greens and Pacific panoramas are headliners. Some sniff at its artificiality, yet for shotmaking options and memorable individual holes that require a blend of power and finesse, TPC Sawgrass has few peers. Ocean views stun the senses, along with bluff-top sand dunes sprinkled with Scotch broom and gorse bushes, coastal pines, crashing surf, wind-whipped tall native grasses, and stacked sod bunkers. A place of subtle beauty, this is a shotmaker’s paradise where power takes a backseat to precision. ($85-$255) Streamsong dishes out a unique palette for Florida golf. ($69-$149) An inspired Tom Weiskopf design three hours northwest of Detroit rolls through man-made sand dunes and red pine forests, with ground game options aided by firm, fast, rumpled fairways and perfectly groomed greens. Marsh-tinged wetlands, bold bunkers and views of the Atlantic Ocean are highlights. ($265-$280) Thirty-five miles northwest of Milwaukee, Erin Hills occupies a massive, topsy-turvy spread of ridges, dunes and fescue grasses, lending an Ireland-in-the-Heartland ambiance -- but no Emerald Isle course stretches to 7,823 yards, as this one does. ($135-$220) Deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 20 miles north of the North Carolina border, English architect Donald Steel draped the Highland course across mountain peaks and into valleys that edge a River Dan gorge. ($69-$209) Don’t let Caledonia’s miniscule 6,526 back tee yardage fool you: Stands of hardwoods, lakes, wetlands and imposing live oaks whose branches swat away stray shots like Tim Duncan make this 1994 Mike Strantz design a complete test of shotmaking. ($200) Picture Shadow Creek drenched in Deep South aesthetics and you have another Tom Fazio-MGM masterpiece, 20 minutes inland from the coastal Beau Rivage. The drivable par-4 13th set in a box canyon, is another standout.
What follows is an all-carry shot over a cactus-filled canyon.
Mauna Kea Golf Course Kamuela, Big Island, Hawaii 33.
The Greenbrier (Old White TPC) White Sulphur Springs, W.
Play it soon; rumor has it that it’s on the chopping block. For back-tee golfers, the swinging bridge tee box at the 175-yard, par-3 11th rocks.
Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman staged a memorable Shell’s match here in 1998. The oasis-in-the-desert ambiance is achieved via 15,000 pines, planted atop slopes that cocoon virtually every hole and by the handsome water features that grace 11 holes. ($60-$255) Talon, a 1994 David Graham/Gary Panks design, has terrific variety and many memorable holes.
Unforgettable is the par-5 3rd, its fairway dominated by a giant boulder positioned dead-center of the landing area. The Harvester Golf Club Rhodes, Iowa ($99-$129) Iowa hasn’t exactly produced a bumper crop of superior public courses, but this 16-year-old Keith Foster design 30 miles northeast of Des Moines is an exception. Creeks, wetlands, woods and tall fescues grasses will terrorize the wayward hitter. The lake comes into play on the back nine and must be carried on tee shots of both the 17th and 18th holes. ($99-$189) Wetlands, bunkers and the Deschutes and Little Deschutes Rivers come into play early and often on this 1995 Bob Cupp/John Fought design. ($165-$280) One of the rare Donald Ross creations west of the Mississippi, Ross carved the Broadmoor from the foothills of the Cheyenne Mountain in 1918. Contrasting the brutish 503-yard, par-4 ninth with the 320-yard, drivable par-4 10th speaks to the diversity of the challenge. Strategic shot options, acres of salt marshes and handsome views of the Atlantic City skyline are all part of the package. This 2001 Arthur Hills design zigzags through wetlands, salt marshes and hardwoods—often on the same hole— and pauses here and there to dish out superb vistas of Assawoman Bay and the Ocean City skyline. However, these fairways feature firm, rumpled landing areas that will funnel side-spinning shots into dense native fescues or, worse, into some of the largest formalized bunkers ever created. Wetlands, rock ledges and rolling, forested terrain provide all the golf you could want. Engh’s unique “muscle” bunkers flex throughout the round, their narrow, squiggly shapes bracketed by biceps of grass. ($39-$169) Situated 25 minutes south of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and recently retooled by original architect Brian Curley and original consultant Fred Couples, this still-muscular 7,546-yard design features sprawling bunkers, fescue-framed fairways, inspired green contouring and nary a weak hole, together with mountain vistas—and no homes to mar the views. The option-laden drivable par-4 fourth hole is one of the Lowcountry’s best risk/reward tests. While the final four holes along the Atlantic rightly earn acclaim as “the Bear Claw,” the best of the 18 might be the 437-yard, par-4 9th, with the ocean looming to the right. At their best, during their 1920s heyday, they blended design characteristics of both Donald Ross and Seth Raynor with the result here a rolling, mostly treeless layout (hence the “Links” misnomer), though one with a fabulous set of deep bunkers and elevated greens. Blind shots, mounds in incomprehensible places and greens that list like a ship in a storm explain how a 6,500-yard course can boast a slope of 150. Most memorable are the back-to-back oceanside par-3s at 12 and 13, the latter a two-green setup with the putting surfaces separated by an enormous sand feature. ($100-$220) It’s startling to imagine that until 1995, this tract housed the Glenview Naval Air Station—total elevation change: three feet.