My brother and his wife bought me a golf ball cabinet (shown at the bottom of this post) about ten years ago, and I started collecting logo balls from all the different courses I played.
This does not mean that these are the top ten courses in the United States, of course – merely the top ten that I have played.
Living in Wisconsin gives a lot of great reasons to stay in-state for golf, but the Winter provides an even better excuse to play outside of it, as well. Without further adieu, here are my favorite non-Wisconsin courses in the country.
1. Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR):
Yardages: Black-6633, Green-6142, Gold-5775
Slope/Rating: Black-142/73, Green-133/70.7, Gold-129/68.6
Golf Digest: #2 US public, #18 US top 100, 18 toughest, #1 Oregon
GolfWeek: #2 US modern, #1 US resort, #1 Oregon
Golf.com: #1 US public, #20 world, #12 US top 100, #1 Oregon
Designer: Tom Doak (2001)
Maybe the most awarded public course in the entire country, Pacific Dunes is the crown jewel of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort property. Chocked full of spectacular views from the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the winds and elements that come in to play at Pacific Dunes help create a truly European golfing experience right here in the United States.
2. Bandon Dunes (Bandon, OR):
Yardage: Black-6759, Green-6247, Gold-5751
Slope/Rating: Black-130/73.6, Green-129/71.1, Gold-122/68.7
Golf Digest: #7 US public, #37 US top 100, #33 toughest, #2 Oregon
GolfWeek: #8 US modern, #5 US resort, #2 Oregon
Golf.com: #8 US public, #63 world, #34 US top 100, #2 Oregon
Designer: David McLay Kidd (1999)
3. Kiawah Island, Ocean Course (Kiawah Island, SC):
Yardages: Tournament-7356, Ocean-6779, Dye-6475, Kiawah-6202
Slope/Rating: Tournament-144/77.3, Ocean-138.73.6, Dye-134/72, Kiawah-132/70.9
Golf Digest: #21 US top 100, #3 US public, #1 South Carolina, #44 world
GolfWeek: #15 modern, #1 South Carolina, #8 resort
Golf.com: #6 top 100 you can play, #25 US, #1 South Carolina
Site of one of the most dominant PGA Championship victories in the history of golf (Rory McIlroy decimated the field in 2012), the 1991 “War by the Shore,” and of course the upcoming 2021 Ryder Cup, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is an esteemed Pete Dye design on one of the most beautiful pieces of land in the country.
4. The Prairie Club, Dunes Course (Valentine, NE):
Yardages: Tour-8073, White-7525, Blue-7099
Slope/Rating: Tour-135/75.0, White-133/72.4, Blue-128/71.7
Golf Digest: #35 US public, #3 Nebraska
GolfWeek: #82 US modern, #2 Nebraska public, #21 US resort
Golf.com: #74 US public, #1 Nebraska public
Designer: Tom Lehman (2010)
Maybe the most underrated course on the entire top 100 courses list for every major publication, the Dunes course at The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska is a world-class Tom Lehman design that rewards and punishes golfers over its 8,000-plus yards of links golf.
The highest rated track at one of the most unique, remote golf destinations in the country, the golf and resort at The Prairie Club are well worth the travel time.
5. Old MacDonald (Bandon, OR):
Yardages: Black-6944, Green-6320, Gold-5658
Slope/Rating: Black-133/74.1, Green-127/71.3, Gold-119/68.2
Golf Digest: #12 US public, #55 US top 100, #3 Oregon
GolfWeek: #6 US modern, #5 US resort, #2 Oregon
Golf.com: #10 US public, #88 world, #45 US top 100, #3 Oregon
Designer: Tom Doak, Jim Urbina (2010)
Designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, and opened to the public in 2010 as Bandon Dunes Resort’s fourth course, Old MacDonald pays homage to arguably the greatest golf course designer of all time, Charles Blair MacDonald. “What would C.B. MacDonald have created on this magnificent parcel of rural land alongside the Pacific Ocean?” Doak and Urbina’s design is masterful in its simplicity, with wide open fairways but the hardest green complexes I have ever seen. Paradoxically, Old MacDonald’s greens are the largest greens in the world.
Old MacDonald offers a unique experience: True and spectacular links golf in the United States.
6. Streamsong, Red Course (Streamsong, FL)
Yardages: Green-7148, Black-6584, Silver-6094, Gold-5184
Slope/Rating: Green-130/74.2, Black-125/71.7, Silver-119/69.4, Gold-122/70
Golf Digest: #18 US public, #100 US greatest overall, #4 Florida
GolfWeek: #30 US modern, #2 Florida public, #12 US resort
Golf.com: #52 US top 100, #12 US public, #2 Florida public
Designer: Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw (2012)
7. Chambers Bay (University Place, WA):
Yardages: Teal-7585, Sand-6513, Navy-7165
Slope/Rating: Teal-142/76.8, Navy-139/75.6, Sand-135/72.4
Golf Digest: #26 US public, #2 Washington
GolfWeek: #29 US modern, #1 Washington public
Golf.com: #64 US top 100, #17 US public
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Bruce Charlton, Jay Blasi (2007)
Site of the 2010 US Amateur, and future site of the 2015 US Open, Chambers Bay is Scottish golf on American soil… Beautiful American soil, that is, nestled among the cliffs alongside the Puget Sound just outside of Seattle.
8. Dismal River, Tom Doak “Red” Course (Mullen, NE):
Yardage: 6994-4830 (range), club tees-6334
Slope/Rating: Not Available
Golf Digest: #2 Nebraska
GolfWeek: #23 US modern
Designer: Tom Doak (2013)
One of Golf Digest’s best new courses in 2014, and GolfWeek’s #23 overall course in the United States for 2015, the Red course at Dismal River is the perfect complement to the Nicklaus White course at the same club.
A softer course with great angles and beautiful scenery, the Doak course is a must-play for anyone visiting the Sand Hills of Nebraska.
Yardage: Black-6759, Green-6247, Gold-5751
Slope/Rating: Black-130/73.6, Green-129/71.1, Gold-122/68.7
Golf Digest: #14 US public, #74 US top 100, #4 Oregon
GolfWeek: #21 US modern, #9 US resort, #4 Oregon
Golf.com: #13 US public, #49 US top 100, #4 Oregon
Designer: Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw (2005)
The perfect complement to the coastal, links courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon Trails is a masterfully created Coore/Crenshaw design that features out-of-this-world elevation changes among sand dunes, meadows and rich forests.
10. Streamsong, Blue Course (Streamsong, FL):
Yardages: Green-7176, Black-6698, Silver-6285, Gold-5531
Slope/Rating: Green-131/74.1, Black-127/72, Silver-123/69.7, Gold-122/71.6
Golf Digest: #24 US public, #6 Florida
GolfWeek: #43 US modern, #3 Florida public, #14 US resort
Golf.com: #62 US top 100, #16 US public, #3 Florida public
Designer: Tom Doak (2012)
A slightly “Softer” course than its sister Red course at Streamsong, the Blue course features wide fairways and diabolical greens.
Featuring the signature par three hole of all par three signature holes, the Blue course is a wonderful combination of strategic golf and beautiful scenery in the most un-Florida-like setting of Florida.
11. Shoreacres Golf Club (Lake Bluff, IL):
Yardages: Black-6530, Raynor-6309, Green-5457
Slope/Rating: Black-133/71.4, Raynor-130/70.4, Green-120/66.5
Golf Digest: #99 US top 100, #7 Illinois
GolfWeek: #20 US classic
Golf.com: #30 US top 100
Designer: Seth Raynor (1921)
One of the best back nines ever, and a truly ingenious layout and routing by Seth Raynor make this Illinois gem one of the country’s perennial best of the bests.
12. Dismal River, Jack Nicklaus / “White” Course (Mullen, NE):
Yardages: Black-7457, Gold-6726, White-6046
Slope/Rating: Black-149/77, Gold-139/73.2, White-135/69.6
Golf Digest: #5 Nebraska
GolfWeek: #168 US modern
Designer: Jack Nicklaus (2006)
One of the toughest golf courses in the entire country, the “White” course at the Dismal River Club is a brute of a golf track! It is also absolutely gorgeous, features some of the greatest use of elevation I have ever seen and is a ton of fun to play.
Reviews of the Nicklaus course have been mixed throughout the years, with some saying it is an unfair course or difficult for the point of being difficult (ie: The sand trap in the middle of an elevated green complex). I disagree, though, I think it offers an unparalleled golfing experience with some of the most unique golf holes in the country.
13. The Classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake (Brainerd, MN):
Yardages: Tour-7102, Black-6717, Blue-6438
Slope/Rating: Tour-145/75.6, Black-141/73.9, Blue-134/72.1
Golf Digest: #63 US public, #10 Minnesota
GolfWeek: #8 Minnesota public
Golf.com: #5 Minnesota public
Designer: Scott Hoffman, Geoffrey Cornish, John Harris, Warren Rebholz (1996)
The Classic at Madden’s has been a perennially top 100 rated course in the United States for the past eleven years, and for great reason.
This course was designed from the tournament tee boxes in, allowing for a challenging and fun track to all skill levels of golfers.
2013 finds the Classic with a new charge: Trying to return the game of golf to walking and/or facilitating their world class caddy program. The signature (if you can say there is only one) hole on the course, the par four eleventh, was voted one of the three prettiest golf holes in the state of Minnesota.
14. The Prairie Club, Pines Course (Valentine, NE):
Yardages: Black-7403, White-6824, Green-6080
Slope/Rating: Black-134/75.0, White-128/72.4, Green-115/69.4
Golf Digest: #75 US public, #6 Nebraska
GolfWeek: #94 US resort, #3 Nebraska public
Golf.com: #3 Nebraska public
Designer: Graham Marsh (2010)
15. Greywalls at Marquette Golf Club (Marquette, MI):
Yardages: Black-6828, Gray-6685, White-6114
Slope/Rating: Black-144/73, Gray-140/71.4, White-132/69.2
Golf Digest: #9 Michigan
GolfWeek: #66 US modern, #2 Michigan public
Golf.com: #81 US public, #3 Michigan public
Designer: Mike DeVries (2005)
From the first tee on, the Greywalls course at Marquette Golf Club is unlike any course I had ever played or seen. Tremendous elevation changes, picturesque cliffs and rock walls, and exaggerated mounding and undulations make for a “Wild and wooly” golfing experience at this U.P. golfing gem.
Greywalls is anything but fair, but provides one unique and visually mezmorizing hole after another. Rated the number two public course in the state of Michigan, this course is well worth the drive and $130 greens fee.
16. The Harvester (Rhodes, IA):
Yardages: Black-7340, Blue-6840, White-6430
Slope/Rating: Black-140/76, Blue-132/73.1, White-128/70.8
Golf Digest: #42 US public, #1 Iowa
GolfWeek: #99 US modern, #1 Iowa public
Golf.com: #55 US public, #1 Iowa public
Designer: Keith Foster (2000)
A Midwest new-school gem from Keith Foster, The Harvester is rated perennially as the number one course in the state of Iowa, and top 50 in the country.
Foster masters the use of angles and setting up strategic golf at The Harvester, making it a true shot-makers paradise.
The Harvester features one of the best sets of par three holes I have ever seen – equaled only by courses like Whistling Straits, Chambers Bay, SentryWorld and Blackwolf Run.
17. RTJ Golf Trail at Ross Bridge (Hoover, AL)
Yardages: Black-8191, Purple-7466, Orange-6783, White-6200, Teal-5312
Slope/Rating: Black-135/78.5, Purple-127/74.9, Orange-118/71.3, White-117/68.7, Teal-123/70.2
GolfWeek: #2 Alabama public
Golf.com: #7 Alabama public
Designer: Robert Trent Jones (2005)
The premiere course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Ross Bridge is one of the five longest golf courses in the entire world – almost 8,200 yards from the tips and almost 7,500 yards from the first tees in!
The expansive yardage at RTJ Ross Bridge is far from the only jaw-dropping aspect of the course. It’s rolling terrain offers amazing vistas, almost ridiculously elevated tee shots, great conditions and practice facilities, and wonderful shot values.
17. Kiva Dunes (Golf Shores, AL)
Yardages: Gold-7092, Blue-6464, White-5849, Red-5006
Slope/Rating: Gold-132/73.9, Blue-129/70.8, White-119/67.8, Red-115/68.5
GolfWeek: #4 Alabama public
Golf.com: #2 Alabama public
Designer: Jerry Pate (1995)
The former number one rated course in the state of Alabama, Kiva Dunes is the crown jewel of Gulf Shores golf. Designed by former US Amateur and US Open champion, Jerry Pate, the course features great conditions and beautiful scenery, not to mention an incredibly challenging layout just inland of the Gulf of Mexico.
18. World Woods, Pine Barrens (Brooksville, FL):
Yardages: Yellow-7237, Black-6817, Green-6316
Slope/Rating: Yellow-133/75.3, Black-131/72.5, Green-125/70.2
Golf Digest: #66 US public, #23 Florida
GolfWeek: #112 US modern, #5 Florida public
Golf.com: #36 US public, #5 Florida public
Designer: Tom Fazio (1990)
A perennially top 100-rated course in the country, the Pine Barrens at World Woods is a very unique and beautiful golf course, even for Florida. World Woods does away with the typical 4-hole-types in Florida golf (houses left and houses right, house lefts and water right, water left and houses right, or water left and water right) and provides a very different, very secluded environment and wonderfully manicured golf courses.
Cut from pine tree forests, the courses at World Woods actually feature very little water, and replace it instead with sand and a surprising amount of elevation for Florida golf.
19. True Blue (Pawleys Island, SC):
Yardages: Black-7126, Blue-6812, White-6375
Slope/Rating: Black-145/74.3, Blue-141/72.8, White-127/70.1
Golf Digest: #29 South Carolina
GolfWeek: #6 South Carolina public
Golf.com: #77 US public
Designer: Mike Strantz (1998)
True Blue is a huge course. With seemingly as much sand as there is fairway, the course features dramatic water features and some of the most creative and visually awesome hole layouts I have ever seen – including on television.
True Blue is a must-play for any off-season group planning a trip to the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina.
20. Pumpkin Ridge, Witch Hollow (North Plains, OR):
Yardages: Black-139/74.7, Blue-131/72.4, White-134/69.7, Green-142/73.9
Slope/Rating: Black-7017, Blue-6537, White-6083, Green-5740
Golf Digest: #8 Oregon
GolfWeek: #151 US modern
Designer: Bob Cupp (1992)
35 minutes outside of downtown Portland, Witch Hollow at Pumpkin Ridge has played host to some major golf events since opening in 1993, including playing host to Tiger Woods’ third and final US Amateur championship in 1996 before turning professional and changing the game of golf forever.
The course is mature beyond its 22 years of play, and with small greens, tight fairways and high fescue is a great challenge for golfers of all skill levels.
21. Cog Hill No. 4 Dubsdread (Lemont, IL):
Yardages: Black-7554, Gold-7144, Blue-6750
Slope/Rating-151/77.8, Gold-144/75.8, Blue-138/73.9
Golf Digest: #53 US public, #11 Illinois
GolfWeek: #134 US modern, #1 Illinois public
Golf.com: #34 US public, #1 Illinois public
Host to dozens of PGA events in its storied past, No. 4 Dubsdread is the number one rated golf facility in Illinois, and Golf Digest’s 18th toughest course in the country. The course is perhaps best known for its 98 deep sand traps that were structurally fortified during 2008’s course rework by Rees Jones. The bunkers, located around every green and in virtually every area a drive can land, play a major role in making this the second hardest course I have ever played.
Slope/Rating: 141/74.4, Blue-135/71.9, Green-133/71.2
Golf Digest: #25 Illinois
GolfWeek: #6 Illinois public
Golf.com: #4 Illinois public
Designer: DA Weibring (2000)
Host to the PGA’s annual John Deere Classic, TPC Deere Run is the true golfing gem of the Quad Cities area. Situated along the Rock River, the course has been the site of some unbelievable heroics in the past couple of years, including Zach Johnson’s fairway bunker shot to two feet in a 2012 playoff, and last year’s hole-out on eighteen by then up-and-comer Jordan Spieth to force the playoff he would later win.
23. Pumpkin Ridge, Ghost Creek (North Plains, OR):
Yardages: Black-6839, Blue-6386, White-5921, Red-5111
Slope/Rating: Black-147/74.5, Blue-139/72.1, White-136/69.8, Red-132/71
Golf Digest: #67 US public, #13 Oregon, Best new public (1992)
GolfWeek: #7 Oregon public
Golf.com: #56 US public, #6 Oregon public
Designer: Bob Cupp (1992)
Ghost Creek at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club is the top public course in the greater Portland area, and is named for its meandering, shows-up-when-you-don’t-expect it “Ghost Creek.”
The creek runs throughout the property, sneakily in spots that oftentimes seem to be completely safe. The course’s small greens and mature trees provide great protection against scoring, although there are fantastic opportunities to score with terrific drivable par fours and reachable par fives.
24. TimberStone (Iron Mountain, MI):
Yardages: Forest-6937, Boulder-6533, Timber-5836
Slope/Rating: Forest-148/75, Boulder-144/72.9, Timber-135/69.8
GolfWeek: #89 resort, #10 Michigan public
Designer: Jerry Matthews (1996)
One of the most well-kept golf courses in the Midwest, Timberstone was to me the biggest surprise among the three courses played during our “U.P. Golf Trio” vacation. A converted ski hill during winter time, Timberstone at Pine Mountain has elevation only outdone by Greywalls, and phenomenal tee-to-green conditions that make this one of the best overall golf experiences anywhere.
26. Peninsula Golf Club (Fort Morgan, AL)
Yardage: Depends on combination of courses:
Marsh to Lakes: Tee#1-6976, Tee#2-6472, Tee#3-5774, Honours Tee-5325
Marsh to Cypress: Tee#1-7185, Tee#2-6693, Tee#3-5889, Honours Tee-5315
Lakes to Cypress: Tee#1-7003, Tee#2-6495, Tee#3-5685, Honours Tee-5316
Slope/Rating: Depends on combination of courses:
Marsh to Lakes: Tee#1-125/72.6, Tee#2-116/70.1, Tee#3-104/67, Honours Tee-120/70.1
Marsh to Cypress: Tee#1-121/73.2, Tee#2-116/70.6, Tee#3-103/67.1, Honours Tee-115/68.7
Lakes to Cypress: Tee#1-124/72.
Designer: Earl Stone (1995)
Other Out-of-State Courses Reviewed/Photographed:
Craft Farms, Cotton Creek (Gulf Shores, AL):
Yardages: Gold-7127, Blue-6617, White-6080
Slope/Rating: Gold-133/73.3, Blue-124/71.4, White-117/69.1
Harborside International, Port Course (Chicago, IL):
Yardages: Gold-7123, Blue-6589, White-5977
Slope/Rating: Gold-136/74.8, Blue-130/72.3, White-124/69.4
GolfWeek: #14 Illinois public
Designer: Dick Nugent (1995)
Juliette Falls (Dunnellon, FL):
Yardages: Viking-7236, Platinum-6729, White-6269
Slope/Rating: Viking-143/75.4, Platinum-139/72.6, White-130/70.4
GolfWeek: #18 Florida public
Kiawah Island, Osprey Point (Kiawah Island, SC):
Yardages: Tournament-6902, Osprey-6545, Fazio-6162
Slope/Rating: Tournament-135/72.8, Osprey-133/70.5, Fazio-130/69
Lost Key Golf Club (Perdido Key, FL):
Yardages: Black-6801, Blue-6447, White-6001
Slope/Rating: Black-144/72.6, Blue-135/70.3, White-123/68.2
Shepherd’s Crook (Zion, IL):
Yardages: Silver-6,827/6,769, Black-6,272, Gold-6,002
Slope/Rating: Silver-128/72.1, Black-123/69.5, Gold-119/67.9
Stone Creek (Oregon City, OR):
Yardages: Black-6873, Blue-6525, White-5989
Slope/Rating: Black-132/73.2, Blue-127/71.4, White-126/68.8
A gorgeous Peter Jacobsen designed course in Oregon City, Stone Creek has one of the toughest back nines I have played anywhere, with several long, uphill par fours. The property runs through a beautiful track of land with tall trees and significant changes in elevation, and was the site of my first ever even par nine – 36 on the front.
Sweetgrass (Harris, MI):
Yardages: Black-7275, Blue-6829, White-6439
Slope/Rating: Black-143/75.2, Blue-137/73.3, White-134/71.3
GolfWeek: #12 Michigan public
Golf.com: #17 Michigan public
A beautiful new links-style course at the Island Resort and Casino in Harris, Michigan, Sweetgrass features some of the most prime golfing conditions I have found anywhere. From the tee boxes to the fairways and greens, every detail of the care and maintenance of this course is held to a high standard that provides a phenomenal golfing experience.
The seventeenth hole was an instant classic for me: A long par four over a marshland with an elevated green and traps everywhere.
ThunderHawk (Zion, IL):
Yardages: Black-7031, Brass-6631, Silver-6124
Slope/Rating: Black-137/74.1, Brass-133/72.3, Silver-128/69.9
GolfWeek: #5 Illinois public
Golf.com: #7 Illinois public
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (1999)
Part of the Lake County Forest Preserve, ThunderHawk is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course near the border of Wisconsin and Illinois. Rated as a top ten course in the country in 2010, I expected a lot from this course and was not disappointed. It helped that I shot the lowest nine at that point in my life with a front nine 39. Play slowed considerably on the back and I finished with an 86, but it was one of the most enjoyable rounds I have ever played.
ThunderHawk compares favorably to The Bull and Blackwolf Run in terrain and layout, and is what I would consider to be a fantastic “hidden gem.”
TPC Tampa Bay (Lutz, FL):
Yardages: TPC-6898, Blue-6610, Green-6332
Slope/Rating: TPC-140/74.2, Blue-136/72.1, Green-131/70.4
A typical TPC layout with water and deep, white sand traps everywhere, and devilishly fast greens, TPC Tampa Bay is a must-play in the Tampa area.
World Woods, Rolling Oaks (Brooksville, FL):
Yardages: Yellow-7333, Black-6873, Green-5943
Slope/Rating: Yellow-132/74.8, Black-129/72.3, Green-121/70.3
GolfWeek: #9 Florida public
Golf.com: #11 Florida public
My previous 64-ball golf cabinet got me started with ball collecting, and I want to memorialize it here:
My brother and his wife got me a golf ball trophy cabinet four years ago for Christmas, and so I started collecting logo balls from the courses I’ve played since then. It holds 63 balls, and I’ve gotten to the point where I am now removing balls and replacing them with better courses on a regular basis.
Any time I play with somebody new, I inevitably get into the conversation of “the best course you’ve ever played.” Man, that’s a tough question, but one I am going to attempt to tackle in this post.
My trophy ball cabinet as of July 12, 2015:
Top Row: Wilderness at Fortune Bay (MN), Stone Creek (OR), The Bull, Milwaukee CC, Erin Hills, TimberStone (MI), Chicago Highlands (IL), Classic at Madden’s (MN), Legend at Bristlecone
2nd Row: Pumpkin Ridge (OR), TPC Deere Run (IL), Lawsonia, Sand Valley, Streamsong (FL), Pacific Dunes (OR), SentryWorld, West Bend CC, University Ridge
3rd Row: Geneva National, Greywalls (MI), World Woods (FL), Whistling Straits, North Hills CC, Prairie Club (NE), Dismal River (NE), Racine CC, Washington County
4th Row: Peninsula Golf Club (AL), Strawberry Creek, Torrey Pines (CA), Bandon Trails (OR), Johnsonville Sausage, Kiva Dunes (AL), Chambers Bay (WA), Wild Rock, Sweetgrass (MI)
5th Row: True Blue (SC), The Oaks, Old Macdonald (OR), Blackwolf Run, Kiawah Island (SC), Pine Hills CC, ThunderHawk (IL), Wild Ridge, Horseshoe Bay
6th Row: Westmoor CC, Ozaukee CC, Cog Hill (IL), The Harvester (IA), Bandon Dunes (OR), Castle at the Bay, Juliette Falls (FL), Hawks Landing, Bishops Bay
7th Row: Bulls Eye CC, Big Fish, Harborside (IL), The Bog, TPC Tampa Bay (FL), Trappers Turn, Tuckaway CC, Hawks View, Grand Geneva