I have been renovating my home office lately, and last week had the thought that I would love to try my hand at drawing or painting – who knows, maybe I can eventually learn how to draw something that I can hang in my own home?
Chambers Bay Course Rankings:
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. (2007)
I had the opportunity to play Chambers Bay for the second time last month. Host of next year’s 2015 US Open, Chambers Bay is one of the premier links courses in the United States.
What impressed me the most during my return visit to this Pacific Northwest gem… Beyond the obvious beauty of the course and Puget Sound… Was the facility’s unique new customer service program.
As a high-end, walking-only fine fescue facility, there are times when course marshaling is necessary. Rather than having marshals who cruise around and tell people to hurry up or pick up their pace, they have adopted a new, more customer friendly method: Personal experience liaisons.
At five distinct times during our round, we were helped by three different Chambers Bay staff members. Raph, who is the head of the customer experience initiative, joined our group on the first tee and walked and chatted with us through the fourth. He pulled pins, helped find balls, fixed marks on the greens, fore-caddied, helped with lines/reads, and basically spoiled us, in general. No one was happy to see him leave our group to help out others.
I was the saddest to see him leave, having started the round with birdie/bogey/par/birdie while he was there! The funniest story we got out of Raph was about the Speaker of the House visiting the course a few weeks prior. In his outgoing and personable way, Raph approached their group – with a huge divot repair tool in his hands – and was subsequently accosted by Secret Service agents. I don’t tell it as well, but it was hilarious.
We saw Raph again several other times during the day, including after the seventh to help us find our way to the eighth and then along with another staff member (this hole is always staffed for forecaddying purposes) who helped spot tee shots on the incredibly narrow, but drivable, twelfth hole. I hit the fringe of the green off the tee on that hole, and shouted to Raph that he should stick around with our group as I was playing great when he was there. “I will follow you…” he started singing back.
Our last great on-course customer experience came on the famed par three fifteenth: “The Lone Fir.” After teeing off we were met on the green by a third customer experience representative who fixed our ball marks, asked about our round, pulled the pin and wished us well.
With the recent loss of the Eisenhower tree at Augusta National, “The Lone Fir” beyond this green is now considered to be the most iconic tree in all of golf:
The par threes at Chambers Bay are awesome, including the aforementioned fifteenth, the seventeenth, ninth and third.
Chambers Bay is the kind of course and environment that can make amateur photographers look like they have solid skills. For your viewing enjoyment, the following are some of my photos from the round:
False front on seven, nicknamed “Humpback”:
For more photos and my original hole-by-hole review of Chambers Bay, please visit the following link:
Location: University Place, WA
Yardage: Teal-7564, Navy-7088, Sand-6420, White-5890, Blue-5253
Slope/Rating: Teal-142/76.8, Navy-141/74.7, Sand-136/72.1, White-130/70, Blue-130/71.1
Weekend Rates (walking only): $205
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
Architect: 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
Architect: 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
Architect: Pete Dye (1991)
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
Architect: 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
Architects: Tom Doak and 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
Architects: Bill Coore and 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
Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. with Bruce Charlton and 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
Architect: 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
Architects: Bill Coore and 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
Architect: 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
Architect: 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. Reynolds Plantation, Great Waters (Greensboro, GA):
Yardage: One-7073, Two-6581, Three-6069, Four-5667, Five-5107
Slope/Rating: One-138/74.0, Two-133/71.9, Three-129/69.6, Four-122/67.7, Five-126/70.1
Architect: Jack Nicklaus (1992)
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
Architects: Scott Hoffman, Geoffrey Cornish, John Harris and 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. 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
Architect: 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.
15. 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
Architect: 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.
16. 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
Architect: 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.
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
Architect: 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.
18. 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
Architect: 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.
19. 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
Architect: 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.
20. 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
Architect: Graham Marsh (2010)
21. Reynolds Lake Oconee, The Oconee (Greensboro, GA):
Architect: Rees Jones (2013)
22. 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
Architect: 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.
23. 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
Architect: 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.
24. 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
Architect: Dick Wilson (1964), Rees Jones (2008)
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
Architect: 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.
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
Architect: Arnold Palmer (1987)
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
Architect: John Sanford (2007)
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
Architect: Tom Fazio (1988)
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
Architect: Arnold Palmer (1997)
Peninsula Golf Club (Fort Morgan, AL)
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
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.
Architect: Earl Stone (1995)
Peninsula Golf Club Website
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
Architect: 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.
Reynolds Lake Oconee, The National (Greensboro, GA)
Yardage: One-7034, Two-6544, Three-6094, Four-5759
Slope/Rating: One-139/74.0, Two-138/72.0, Three-136/71.1, Four-128/68.6
Architect: Tom Fazio (2000, 2014)
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
Architect: Keith Foster (1999)
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
Architects: Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy (2002)
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
Architect: Paul Albanese (2008)
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
Architect: 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.”
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
Architect: 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.
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.
Architect: Bobby Weed (1991)
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
Architect: Tom Fazio (1991)
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
GolfWeek: #29 US modern, #1 Washington public
Golf.com: #64 US top 100, #17 US public
The 920 acres of Chambers Bay’s layout features but one tree, which is seen from many holes on the course but is featured magnificently on the par three fifteenth, aptly named “Lone Fir.” This downhill tee shot is to a large green that slants heavily from left to right, making the best approach either long to the backstop, or left just short of the deep pot bunker. My tee shot was headed straight towards this bunker, and fell right to twelve feet above the pin.
After checking in at the pro shop, I was met by the course’s shuttle to bring a handful of us to the practice range at the base of the hill. The fescue hitting surface on the range is similar to that on the course, and I was glad I failed with some wedges early and learned my lesson about hitting them on such finely shaved surfaces.
After hitting a half bucket of practice balls on the range (included with greens fees), the shuttle picked us up and brought us to the first hole tee area, which also features a large and swelling practice green. It was evident quickly that these putting surfaces would not be anywhere near as quick as I’d expected – very good to know ahead of time!
I met David, Roland and Maricel, who I would be playing with for my round, here and we each chose our tee boxes. Of the five sets available, we had one player at four different boxes. Dave, a four-handicap from Atlanta, started on the teals until we were warned it was not allowed. In fact, we were told that anyone caught on these tees two times would be asked to leave. He then switched to the navy tees, which measure to 7088 yards (compared to 7564 from the teals).
The starter advised us to add at least 200 yards to the overall distances to account for the nuances found on an all-fescue golf track. I chose the sands, which are a more pedestrian 6420, and are strongly suggested for players whose handicaps are between seven and fifteen. As an 11.5, these provided plenty of challenge. Roland and Maricel, a nice young couple from Vancouver, played from the white (5890 yards) and blue tees (5132), respectively.
I was happy with my selection of the sand tees on the first hole when Dave had a 491-yard par four start compared to my 465. I hit a long drive left, finding my first deep fairway bunker of the day. Headed out toward the Puget Sound, the first hole is a big test to open a round.
The second hole, while shorter, would not prove to be much easier. Massive sand traps line the fairway, and a slippery infinity green was pinned in the back left, making for a long approach to get close.
The third is the first of the par threes at Chambers Bay, and is aptly nicknamed “Blown Out.” With a subtle wind in our face, the short 130-yard shot played significantly longer than expected, as my nine-iron was short by fifteen to twenty yards.
The fourth is a short par five by most course’s standards, but at Chambers Bay plays anything but. With a tee shot straight down the fairway, the green is reachable with a massive second shot, but flirts the entire distance with a massive sand and waste area that falls far from the hitting surface.
From highly elevated tee boxes, the fifth plays downhill and between parallel waste areas that must be avoided for any chance of par.
Six, while not overly intimidating from the tees, has one of the toughest green complexes on the entire course. With three craggy bunkers surrounding its narrow green, the mounding around the fairway leaves most wayward tee shots with blind approaches. I was blinded entirely, and found myself in the narrowest of these greenside bunkers (to the left), which did not end well for me.
A normally long par four nicknamed “Humpback,” the seventh is currently playing to a more manageable distance around 300 yards. The actual green has been out of commission since February, and is being reworked to soon feature an uphill approach area that keeps short shots from falling more than 50 yards from the green, and well hit shots from consistently bouncing long.
This will be a glorious par four, with two large fairway mounds that resemble the hump-like backs of the celebrated whale for which the hole is named.
As it is currently just over 300 yards, this is far from an easy hole, with a rolling green (normally a fairway, of course) found in a dramatic swale adjacent to the sand collection area.
The eighth provided all kinds of issues for my game on Sunday. The hillside left is tall and slopes towards the fairway. Not even this huge slope could usher my first two shots toward the fairway, though, and I found myself hitting from high off the hillsides. My third shot was well-struck from a hiking path forty-plus feet above the playing surface, landing on the green and subsequently rolling down and off the right side. It would take me four attempts to putt the ball hard enough up this greenside mounding to finally re-find the putting surface.
The number one handicapped hole on the course, the entire right side drops steeply from the fairway and can add considerable distance to this already long par five.
The ninth is one of the most highly elevated par threes I have ever seen. The teal, navy, sand and white tees are one hundred feet above the green, with almost vertical sand traps lying thirty feet beneath and right of the green complex. At 168 yards from the sand tees, a prevailing head wind held my six-iron up high enough to bury short at the base of the front-side trap, leaving a wall of sand to be carried to find the green surface.
The tenth hole runs parallel to the first, but requires two much more demanding shots. The dunes and fairway bunkers on each side of the fairway make accuracy off the tee important, and the approach is even more challenging to a narrow green with deep pot bunkers all around.
The eleventh has a huge mound in the middle of the fairway that is easily driven to leave a mid-range approach to a well guarded green that is fronted by a long right-side sand trap. This trap must be carried to a green that is surrounded by high mounds and slants heavily from right-to-left. Hitting to the right side of this green should usher the approach on nicely. The left side of the fairway is much more open around the green, and can be bailed out to for a less tricky approach.
The twelfth hole at Chambers Bay is best described by its name: “The Narrows.” This uphill drive is short at 262 yards from the sand tees, but is anything but easy!
High dunes encompass each side of the driving area, and anything sliced will end up in tall fescue with no visible approach. I found myself on one of these dunes, which created one of the most fun shots of my entire round.
A course employee and I found my Callaway Hex Black embanked in a hillside just off a walking path, about 75 yards from the front of the green. This green is long – about 50 yards from the front to the back, and the left side of the complex is heavily raised and can be used to bank shots off of to find the putting surface. The staff member gave me a line which was easily 15 yards further left than I’d expected, and I somehow managed to hit a pure shot off the bank and roll to about 30 feet above the pin. We shared a bit of a “bromance” on this hole, ending in high fives and an enthusiastic fist bump.
The thirteenth is a wonderful par five. At 512 yards from the sand tees, the drive is to a wide area that is primarily blind. From there, the hole gets very interesting. Huge lowered sand traps that are dropped from the right side of the fairway area influence a layup to about 100 yards out, and the left side of the green area rolls right to a small green that falls off to that side.
The tee shot on the long par four fourteenth is awesome. The back tees are played from highly elevated boxes, and must carry about 200 yards of depressed wasteland to find a fairway that slopes strongly from right-to-left, and considerably downhill. I had one of my longest drives of the day on this hole, leaving about 120 yards in to a large green that slopes right to left on the back.