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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

11. Pinehurst No. 4 (Pinehurst, NC)

Architects: Donald Ross (Original, 1919), Gil Hanse (Redesign, 2018)

Widely regarded as the second-best track at Pinehurst, No. 4 has been tinkered with for decades by many big-name architects, and its character has evolved as architectural eras have come and gone. The most recent take on the property by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner seems like the most genuine interpretation of Donald Ross’ original golden age intentions for the layout, with a routing sculpted out of a restored sandscape that maximizes strategy, options and challenge. The redesigned greens complexes are impressively varied, with an array of slopes and angles that will keep all golfers on their toes.

The par 3 sixth at Pinehurst No. 4 plays past a series of rugged, deep traps to the right.

12. 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.

13. Mid Pines Inn (Southern Pines, NC)

Architect: Donald Ross (1921)

Mid Pines is one of Ross’ original creations only a few miles away from his other iconic golden age project, Pinehurst. The venue oozes with history and tradition, starting with its massive, old-school clubhouse. The routing has been left untouched, winding trough a pristine wooded property. The attention to detail on maintenance of the property rivals most botanical gardens, and creates some tremendous visuals throughout the round. The track is short, but its narrow width and strategic placement of hazards more than make up for it, demanding precision and a thoughtful approach.

The reachable par 5 15th at Mid Pines tumbles down a hill to a tough, perched green site.

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

Set atop towering cliffs overlooking the Pacific, Torrey Pines may be the most spectacular setting in all of municipal golf. The South Course, host to the annual PGA Tour’s prestigious Farmers Insurance Open and two-time U.S. Open host, is a brutally difficult yet gorgeous track traversing canyons and featuring multiple encounters with the ocean.

The signature par 3 third at Torrey Pines South is one of many stunning panoramic ocean views on the property

15. Sheep Ranch (Bandon, OR)

The sixth and newest layout at the best golf resort on the planet, Sheep Ranch is a Coore/Crenshaw masterwork of routing on a flat, exposed plot of land perched atop rugged cliffs. Sheep Ranch offers the best views at Bandon, and its playable setup offers the best chance to score well at the resort, provided the wind doesn’t blow hard.

Sheep Ranch features large, undulating greens, with nine of them hugging the cliffs, including the par 3 7th shown here

16. Old Macdonald (Bandon, OR)

The fourth course built at Bandon Dunes features less spectacular views than its counterparts, but Tom Doak and Jim Urbina created massive, undulating template greens to make up for it. This true links course pays homage to the great classic architect C.B. Macdonald, and requires sound strategic thinking and an excellent short game. Signature spots such as the Ghost Tree on #3 and the clifftop green on #7 add drama to an otherwise less striking property, at least by Bandon’s standards.

The par 3 12th at Old Macdonald is a classic Redan template playing over rugged, windswept bunkers

17. Tobacco Road (Samford, NC)

Architect: Mike Strantz (1998)

Known as “Pine Valley on Steroids,” this roller coaster ride cut out of the North Carolina sandhills features some of the boldest (mostly) manmade features and slopes I’ve ever seen. While Strantz’ funhouse layout is visually intimidating, plenty of room exists with bailout options available, allowing for an aggressive approach that could pay off in big way on a good ball-striking day. However, be sure to avoid the array of diabolical spots on the track, or you could find yourself “Strantzed” with a large number on the scorecard.

The 18th at Tobacco Road features one of the more subdued greens on site – and it is three-tiered!

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

This track may be the red-headed stepchild of the Pebble Beach resort, but it sure occupies a compelling property. Over half of the layout meanders over dramatic dunes set alongside the ocean and 17-Mile Drive, while the rest of the routing takes golfers through a majestic maritime forest. This RTJ2/Tatum design is often cited as one of the country’s best potential redesign projects given the quality of the land, but the bones of a great course are already there.

The first at Spanish Bay is one of the most spectacular opening holes I’ve played, a reachable downhill par 5 diving straight down to the ocean and an infinity green

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

Architects: Dorr Packard and Stanley Pelcher (1929)

Oneida is a classic gem, with old-school greens complexes that just got fabulous restorations by Roger Packard and Hills & Forrest. This scenic track alternates between forest and parkland settings, with Duck Creek winding its way throughout he layout, adding tremendous character and challenge. In many ways this property reminds me of Milwaukee Country Club, and it’s one of the state’s top classic courses and top private clubs in in its own right.

The approach to the par 4 15th hole must skirt past a steep-faced bunker on the front left side, a staple at Oneida

20. Conway Farms (Lake Forest, IL)

Architect: Tom Fazio (1991)

This former BMW Championship host is one of the top modern properties in the greater Chicago area, playing over a mostly meadow-based but varied setting. Its immaculate conditioning and firm, challenging greens set Conway Farms apart from its peers.

21. Pine Hills Country Club (Sheboygan, WI)

Architect: Harry Smead (1905)

My only round at Pine Hills came many years ago, but my memory of the experience on this fabulous track is still vivid. The course occupies a dramatic property of rolling hills and forest, with several encounters with the Pigeon River throughout the round. Pine Hills’ use of bold contours and sloping greens is reminiscent of Langford/Moreau steam shovel wizardry. I’ve heard the recent Drew Rogers restovation is nothing short of spectacular, and I hope to play it myself sometime soon and see how far Pine Hills ascends these rankings.

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

The River Course at Blackwolf Run lives up to its moniker with the Sheboygan River in play on many holes. This is one of the most demanding, intimidating tracks in I’ve played, complete with signature Pete Dye architectural themes. Half of the course used to be a part of the original Blackwolf Run championship layout, while the newer half crosses the Sheboygan River into a section of wildly rolling, forested topography for one of the toughest but most beautiful stretch of holes in the state.

The par 3 4th at Blackwolf Run (River) is a slicer’s nightmare, with anything missed right doomed to a watery grave

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

This historic property nearly closed up shop after flooding of lower-lying areas threatened to render large portions of the layout unplayable, but businessman Matt Morse stepped in with a massive investment to save the course. The resulting near-total teardown and redesign by Craig Haltom yielded a dramatic, innovative, engaging golf experience, complete with spectacular bunkering and memorable greens.

The par 4 6th at The Club at Lac la Belle skirts around a marsh, and its recently raised fairway from the 2020 Haltom redesign has resulted in improved drainage on this previously flood-plagued area of the property

24. Princeville (Makai) (Princeville, HI)

25. Minocqua Country Club (Minocqua, WI)

26. PGA West (Pete Dye Mountain) (La Quinta, CA)

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

28. Nakoma Golf Club (Madison, WI)

29. Stanford Golf Course (Stanford, CA)

30. University Ridge (Verona, WI)

31. Racine Country Club (Racine, WI)

32. SentryWorld (Stevens Point, WI)

33. Maple Bluff Country Club (Madison, WI)

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

35. Mid South Club (Southern Pines, NC)

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

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

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

39. Treetops (Signature) (Gaylord, MI)

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

41. Glen Erin (Janesville, WI)

42. Abbey Springs (Fontana, WI)

43. Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells, WI)

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

45. Thunderhawk Golf Club (Beach Park, IL)

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

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

48. The Bog (Grafton, WI)

49. The Glen Club (Glenview, IL)

50. Blackhawk Country Club (Madison, WI)

Honorable Mention:

The Glen Club (Glenview, IL)

Disney (Magnolia)

Innisbrook (Copperhead) (Palm Harbor, FL)

Morningstar Golfers Club (Waukesha, WI)

The Oaks (Cottage Grove, WI)

Whiteface Club & Resort (Lake Placid, NY)

Hapuna Golf Course (Waimea, HI)

SilverRock Resort (La Quinta, CA)

Washington County Golf Course (Hartford, WI)

Hawk’s Landing Golf Club (Madison, WI)

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