Golf Digest, or is it Golf Magazine… or maybe it is both… always coming up with their top 100 courses lists. Top 100 courses in the world. Top 100 courses in the USA. Top 100 public courses. Top 100 private courses. Top 100 courses you can play. Top 100 courses built in a leap year. Top 100 courses built before 1987. Top 100 courses built after 1987. Top 100 listings of top 100 course lists…. You get the idea.
Time For MY List
I’m not sure I’ve even played 100 courses, so I’m now setting out to do a couple of things: post my list of top 10 “favorite” courses I’ve played, and create a list of all the courses I have played.
My criteria for these ratings is simple. First and foremost is the total “experience” at the course. High influence goes to the quality of of the golf, shot by shot. I take into account playability, course architecture, scenery, originality. From there I factor in the facilities, location, and staff. Regarding course architecture I’m not a snob like some golf writers. The course doesn’t need to have X number of redan holes, X number of dogleg-left and dogleg-right holes and all that. I consider playability, strategy, and the number of options available to play a particular hole or shot. For instance, does an approach to a particular green offer the golfer two options, high carrying shot or a run-up shot?
Drum roll please… Below is the list my top 10 favorite golf courses played, and links to the course review/photos/blogs if available.
#1: Black Mesa Golf Club – La Mesilla, New Mexico
Black Mesa Golf Club has stolen my golf heart. From the first round I played this Baxer Spann design in 2007 through the last eight years, there isn’t a course I’ve played that has given me more enjoyment. There isn’t a course I’ve played which places so much value on EVERY shot, on every hole. There are no sleeper holes. There are no boring shots. None.
Combined with the serenity and scenery of a high New Mexico desert there is no place like it. To top it off the pro and director of golf Tom Velarde has become one of my best friends in golf, a relationship I value deeply.
The course has had some maintenance issues recently, which is tough. The staff is working hard to bring the course back to the condition it was in for the years that it was ranked the #1 course in New Mexico.
#2: Kingsbarns Golf Links – Kingsbarns, Scotland
Another course which owns a piece of my golf heart is the fabulous Kingsbarns Golf Links. Kingsbarns is a “modern links” course a short 15 minute drive from the town of St. Andrews. I could spend the rest of this month describing how beautiful this layout is, with so many waterside holes looking over the North Sea.
With the standard prevailing winds this challenging links course has razor sharp teeth. Nowhere else have I been beaten up on a course and loved it so much. I fondly remember crushing a four iron to the 132 yard 8th hole, downhill. So much wind that shot, which would have normally gone some 225-230 at home, went 125 yards…. DOWNHILL! Then on the next hole, the par-5 9th, I remember debating going with 3-wood or hybrid, from 134! I went with hybrid and killed it. Nice shot, about 20 yards short.
The course architecture at Kingsbarns is fantastic. Credit designer Kyle Phillips. The facilities tremendous. The Kinsgsbarns chili is to die for. The “wee pints” are frosty.
I also have a great friend in director of golf Alan Hogg. Yes, HOGG!
#3: Carnoustie Golf Links – Carnoustie, Scotland
One of the most satisfying and amazing golf experiences I’ve ever had was playing Carnoustie Golf Links. Carnoustie is regarded by many as the toughest golf course in the world. Carnoustie is a “links” course and water is nearby, but not visible from the course. Carnoustie does not feature any notable elevation change, unless you count the elevation change between being in a bunker and out of one. Then it is huge. The bunkering on this golf course is the most amazing I’ve ever seen, or played.
The layout is so enjoyable yet challenging, especially when the wind kicks up. Playing the par-5 6th hole “Hogan’s Alley” was such a thrill, and I made a hell of a bogey after my tee shot went out of bounds left. Yes, made birdie on the 2nd ball. No, I don’t play mulligans.
The layout at Carnoustie is stunning. I can’t wait to get back there. Two supposed “friends” told me (1.5 handicap) I couldn’t break 100 there and I did so easily, an 88 without losing a ball. I started off great, even par after the first five holes. The course slowly consumed my shots from that point on, and I loved every second.
#4: The Old Course – St. Andrews, Scotland
Hell of a list when the Old Course is in 4th place! Realistically the Old Course should be in its own list of one. This is the most unique golf course I’ve ever played. There is nothing like playing this layout, which has been serving up pars and birdies for over 1,400 years. The architecture of the course is so unlike anything else with it’s shared greens, amazing bunkering, criss-crossing holes, wind, weather, caddies, history. All the greatest players the game of golf has ever seen have competed and won on this course, from Tom Morris to Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros… I could go on.
The Road Hole? What a golf hole. We have a love/hate relationship. My only par on the 17th was following an out of bounds shot that hit the Old Course Hotel observatory, an all glass building. No worries, it is bullet-proof glass. The price I had to pay for that amazing par? Nothing better then a double-bogey on the rest of my rounds on the Road Hole.
The finishing hole and I have a deeply loving relationship. In the four times I’ve played the 18th during a round of real golf* I’ve carded two pars and two birdies. Two-under lifetime!
*I have played the finishing hole a few times with a putter, a ball, golf partners, and a wee bottle of scotch at around 2 a.m.
#5: Ballyneal – Holyoke, Colorado
Back in 2006 I had the distinct opportunity to play the Tom Doak designed Ballyneal two weeks before the course officially opened. At that time my round there was the most pure, enjoyable, and amazing golf experience I’d ever had. I had not been to Scotland yet.
Tom Toak is an amazing golf architect and his product built in a set of dunes in the middle of the flat plains of central USA is tremendous. The course played like a true links, hard and fast. The routing and layout found a great path through the unique dunes situated in the middle of thousands of acres of cornfields.
I haven’t been back to Ballyneal since, but I’m aching to. Need to get there soon.
#6: Sand Hollow Championship Course – Hurricane, Utah
Pretty cool that one of my top 10 courses is in my home state of Utah. From my garage it is exactly a 3.5 hour drive to Sand Hollow Resort, with its Championship Course and 9-hole Links Course. I’ve spent many rounds enjoying what could be the most stunning back nine anywhere.
#7: Diamante Dunes – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Diamante Dunes is rated the #1 course in Mexico, and for good reason. The Davis Love III design sits next to the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. It sits on top of, winds through and around huge white sand dunes left there by the constant thrashing of the ocean over hundreds of thousands of years.
Diamante Dunes is the sister to the new Tiger Woods design which just opened called El Cardonal.
My experience at Diamante Dunes was pure golf, ocean, wind, air, and dunes. A marvelous experience. Soon (perhaps already) the holes will be lined by real estate development, high end homes and such. That purity will forever be gone, except in my memory.
#8: Balcomie Links – Crail, Scotland
A short 20-30 minute drive southeast of St. Andrews, Scotland lies the very salty and wonderful town of Crail. Crail is home to Balcomie Links, a Tom Morris design which opened in 1895.
Balcomie Links is not about length, difficulty, or even par-72. Balcomie Links is authentic Scottish links golf and absolutely bleeds character. This is perhaps the most enjoyable walk I’ve had in Scotland.
The golf was fabulous too.
#9: La Cima Club De Golf – Andes Mountains, Colombia
One of the world’s best ski areas is a 20 minute drive from my house. The highest ski lift at Alta Ski Area dumps skiers off at 10,450 feet. Colombia’s La Cima Club De Golf’s highest green is a mere 450 feet lower, at 10,000 feet above sea level.
La Cima is not an architectural masterpiece. The course is not designed by a famous designer (to my knowledge). It isn’t the home of major championships. It isn’t in the heart of Scotland, on the coast of Monterey, or in Florida. Though it is none of those things, it is truly one of the coolest golf experiences I’ve had, especially teeing off “above the clouds” and watching my ball disappear into them.
#10: Colonial Williamsburg Gold Course
Picking number 10 was tough. There are many courses which could occupy this spot, and picking one means the rest are left out. I narrowed it down to two courses, oddly enough both designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. The first option was Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, the second, Colonial Williamsburg’s Gold Course.
When looking back at some of my experiences on so many great courses, I couldn’t help noticing my body and mind felt “it” when I came across my Colonial Williamsburg Golf Course review. What a special place.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Gold Course is on nationally preserved real estate and will never be altered or developed. There will not be homes on the course, nor will there be a Red Lobster near the entrance. The Golf Course was designed by one of golf’s all time great architects Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and plays fantastically.
The whole experience at the Golden Horseshoe is a bucket list worthy item.
Gil Hanse’s home course: Applebrook in Pennsylvania. Hanse is the architect for the 2016 Olympic golf course in Rio.
Cabo Del Sol in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (Nicklaus). Best tacos of any course…
Black Lake Golf Course in northern Michigan.
Oasis Palmer Course in Mesquite, Nevada.