Brian Murphy’s Top 50 Course Rankings

This is the current list of my favorite golf courses I’ve played. This list will be updated as I play new courses or re-visit tracks after a long hiatus or significant course changes.

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1. Mammoth Dunes (Rome, WI)

Architect: David McLay-Kidd (2018)

The second course built at Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes is a clinic on how to build a course that is very playable yet visually intimidating. The track lives up to its moniker, meandering through a towering dunescape and around a giant V-shaped ridge. The result is a scenic roller-coaster round on an awesome property, and one heck of a fun course.

The jaw-dropping par-3 13th at Mammoth Dunes plays uphill over a vast expanse of sand to a green perched on the course’s flagship ridge.

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2. Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

Architect: Tom Doak (2001)

Following the smashing success of the original Bandon Dunes course, Tom Doak’s masterpiece was built on a more compelling property than Bandon’s OG, weaving through large dunes and shore pines and emerging upon the ocean several times in stunning fashion. Pacific Dunes’ greens and fairways are a bit less spacious than those of the other Bandon Dunes courses, demanding a higher degree of precision. The variety of the layout, the raw beauty of the property, and the strategic aspects of the hole design make this an unforgettable track and my favorite course at the world’s best golf resort.

The par-3 17th plays downhill to a green nestled against a giant hill covered in gorse.

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3. Milwaukee Country Club (River Hills, WI)

Architects: Charles Alison and H.S. Colt (1929)

The top-ranked classic course in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Country Club is brilliantly laid out over a dramatic property encompassing an epic six-hole stretch over and along the Milwaukee River. All 18 holes are memorable, however, thanks to distinctive and punishing bunkers and sloping, a superb routing, and immaculate conditioning. Milwaukee Country Club is Wisconsin’s ultimate private golf experience, and those lucky enough to get a chance to play there are in for a special day.

The par 5 10th at Milwaukee Country Club is the start of a thrilling 6-hole stretch along the Milwaukee River.

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4. Whistling Straits (Straits) (Haven, WI)

Architect: Pete Dye (1998)

With miles of uninterrupted, pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, former PGA Championship and Ryder Cup host Whistling Straits is the masterwork of renowned maximalist architect Pete Dye. The crown jewel of the Kohler Club resort, Whistling Straits was once a flat military base. Dye moved mountains of dirt to create as convincing of a man-made dunescape as I’ve ever seen. Eight holes run along the shore of Lake Michigan, but nearly every hole feels right on the lake. The golf is dramatic, demanding, and stunningly memorable.

The 12th is one of four spectacular par-3’s at Whistling Straits that hug the lake.

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5. Erin Hills (Hartford, WI)

Architects: Dana Fry, Michael Hurdzan, and Ron Whitten (2006)

Erin Hills occupies a gifted property just west of the Kettle Moraine, loaded with glacially-sculpted hills and valleys ideally spaced for golf holes. The architects barely had to modify the land, as natural greens and fairway corridors already existed in the terrain. The course has a very interesting history, culminating with hosting the 2017 U.S. Open.

A commitment to excellence and investment in world-class service have pushed this track into the stratosphere of my favorite courses, and it’s a must-play for anyone living in or visiting Wisconsin.

The short par-3 9th at Erin Hills plays downhill to a postage stamp green surrounded by natural-looking bunkers.

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6. Crystal Downs (Frankfurt, MI)

Architects: Alister McKenzie & Perry Maxwell (1929)

In 2003, I lucked into an opportunity to play Crystal Downs through my friend’s grandparents, who lived near the course and were members. Widely regarded as Alister McKenzie’s Midwest masterpiece (with noteworthy assistance from his apprentice Perry Maxwell), this golden age classic is wedged between Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake, featuring dramatic elevation changes and incredible greens complexes. Many of the holes were memorable, but after 19 years since playing it, the par-4 6th to a horseshoe green still stands out in my memory as an extremely unique and innovative hole.

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7. Bandon Dunes (Bandon, OR)

Architect: David McLay-Kidd (1999)

The OG of the best golf resort on the planet, this track blazed the trail for U.S. destination golf in remote locations. Unknown twentysomething David McLay-Kidd maximized every slope and feature on this stunning property perched high above the Pacific Ocean. Firm and fast, this true links course is pure fun, and the anticipation builds until the enthralling 16th, a reachable par-4 hugging the cliffs in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.

Check out Brian’s review of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort at https://wiscogolfaddict.com/2022/06/30/bandon-dunes-golf-resort-a-golfers-dream-come-true/

The jaw-dropping par-4 16th at Bandon Dunes, as shown from the left of the hole.

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8. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (Kiawah Island, SC)

Architect: Pete Dye (1991)

The Ocean Course was famously tabbed to host the 1991 Ryder Cup before it even opened. Pete Dye delivered a world-class track, weaving through marshes and dunes with the whole course playing on or near the ocean. The course is both brutally difficult and stunningly beautiful, and despite playing it 20 years ago I still have vivid memories of this fantastic layout.

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9. Arcadia Bluffs (Bluffs) (Arcadia, MI)

Architects: Rick Smith and Warren Henderson (2003)

Located off the beaten path in northern Michigan, this gem is the Whistling Straits of Michigan, and is arguably more scenic than the course we know and love on the Wisconsin side. The property slopes heavily toward a massive bluff, with sweeping views of Lake Michigan on nearly every hole and three holes directly on the waterfront. The view from the clubhouse may be the best in all of golf, with a panoramic vista that stuns the senses. The course itself is a thrill ride that plays over dramatic elevation changes, around heaving manmade dunes, and onto very undulating greens.

The par-5 fifth at Arcadia Bluffs plays past a vast waste bunker to an undulating green set on a cliff above Lake Michigan.

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10. Bandon Trails (Bandon, OR)

Architects: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (2005)

The only inland course at Bandon Dunes, this track had the seemingly impossible task of living up to the first two amazing courses at the resort, without having oceanfront. Coore and Crenshaw delivered a brilliant routing, blending holes into three distinct environments and weaving the experience together with hiking trails guiding golfers between the holes. It’s a surreal experience in nature, with 18 very compelling holes to stir the golf senses as well.

Check out Brian’s review of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort at https://wiscogolfaddict.com/2022/06/30/bandon-dunes-golf-resort-a-golfers-dream-come-true/

The natural-looking par-4 15th at Bandon Trails darts between bunkers to an undulating green.

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11. Lawsonia (Links) (Green Lake, WI)

Architects: William Langford and Theodore Moreau (1930)

On the sprawling Lawson estate located along Green Lake, an ambitious golden age project took form in the 20’s with Langford and Moreau, masters of the steam shovel, moving mountains of dirt to create their masterpiece. The greens complexes are massively elevated and sloped, placing a huge premium on short game prowess. Highlights include the “boxcar” par-3 7th and the entire back nine which plays cohesively in a dramatic, open plot of land.

The extreme downhill par-4 6th at Lawsonia Links, with the 8th hole in the background.

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12. Torrey Pines (South) (La Jolla, CA)

13. Sheep Ranch (Bandon, OR)

14. Old Macdonald (Bandon, OR)

15. The Links at Spanish Bay (Del Monte Forest, CA)

16. Oneida Golf & Country Club (Green Bay, WI)

17. Conway Farms (Lake Forest, IL)

18. Pine Hills Country Club (Sheboygan, WI)

19. Blackwolf Run (River) (Sheboygan, WI)

20. The Club at Lac La Belle (Oconomowoc, WI)

21. Princeville (Makai) (Princeville, HI)

22. University Ridge (Verona, WI)

23. Torrey Pines (North) (La Jolla, CA)

24. Nakoma Golf Club (Madison, WI)

25. Stanford Golf Course (Stanford, CA)

26. Racine Country Club (Racine, WI)

27. SentryWorld (Stevens Point, WI)

28. Maple Bluff Country Club (Madison, WI)

29. North Hills Country Club (Menomonee Falls, WI)

30. The Club at Strawberry Creek (Kenosha, WI)

31. Bishop’s Bay Country Club (Middleton, WI)

32. Kiawah Island (Cougar Point) (Kiawah Island, SC)

33. Treetops (Signature) (Gaylord, MI)

34. The University Club of Milwaukee (Brown Deer, WI)

35. Glen Erin (Janesville, WI)

36. Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells, WI)

37. Cog Hill (No. 4) (Lemont, IL)

38. Thunderhawk Golf Club (Beach Park, IL)

39. Beaver Creek Golf Club (Beaver Creek, CO)

40. Abbey Springs (Fontana, WI)

41. Seabrook Island (Crooked Oaks) (Seabrook Island, SC)

42. The Bog (Grafton, WI)

43. The Glen Club (Glenview, IL)

44. Blackhawk Country Club (Madison, WI)

45. Morningstar Golfers Club (Waukesha, WI)

46. Innisbrook (Copperhead) (Palm Harbor, FL)

47. The Oaks Golf Course (Cottage, Grove, WI)

48. Whiteface Club & Resort (Lake Placid, NY)

49. Hapuna Golf Course (Waimea, HI)

50. Washington County Golf Course (Hartford, WI)

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Honorable Mention:

Hawk’s Landing Golf Club (Madison, WI)

Harborside International (Port) (Chicago, IL)

Geneva National (Player) (Lake Geneva, WI)

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