My Top 50 Golf Courses in America

When my brother and his wife bought me a golf ball cabinet about ten years ago, I started collecting logo balls from all the different courses I played. I hadn’t started my foray in to golf writing at the time so its contents grew slowly but steadily, consisting primarily of muni tracks around Waukesha County.

I started WiscoGolfAddict in 2011, and during that year played 59 different courses including three of my first private clubs. With 2012 came my first out-of-state golf trips: Myrtle Beach with my cousins Frank and Jeff, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a group of friends. It was also the year I played my first Tour courses, including Erin Hills, Blackwolf Run’s River course, Chambers Bay, University Ridge and Cog Hill No. 4 Dubsdread. I played 126 rounds in 2012 at a total of 52 different courses.

While I’d consider 2012 to be the year that opened my eyes to world-class golf, I’d also consider it to be the year that opened my eyes to the way golf can drain my bank account. An audit of my post-season golf charges that year was just shy of $10,000.

My first media event invites started coming in 2013, first for a pre-event media day at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run, and soon after a weekend trip to Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minnesota. Exciting things with my golf writing were starting to snowball, and they have only continued to this day.

Through my writing I have experienced amazing public and private golf courses around the country, built out a wonderful network of industry experts and friends, and am continuously learning about all the things that make golf great – especially from the design and architectural side.

The experts (Doak, Fazio, Coore, Crenshaw, Jones, Staples, Trent Jones, Jr, …) may score 80-95 on a scale of 100 for their course design knowledge. I can’t claim to know more than 10-20, which is probably still generous, but the path to learning is filled with playing new styles of courses and constantly picking up on the both subtle and not-so-subtle nuances that architects institute in their designs. It’s an adventure I hope to enjoy for years to come.

While Golf Digest, GolfWeek and Golf.com release their best courses in the US lists on an annual or semi-annual basis, I have just one: This running list of the 50 tracks I consider to be the best in the country… out of the hundreds that I’ve played.

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1. Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

Architect: Tom Doak (2001)
Yardages: Black-6633, Green-6142, Gold-5775
Slope/Rating: Black-142/73.0, Green-133/70.7, Gold-129/68.6

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The Top 50 Golf Courses in America (click here for the list)

Chambers Bay: A Fresh Feel on Customer Service; Photo Gallery (WA)

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:

Hole 15: Par 3 (172/139/127/116/103)

The par threes at Chambers Bay are awesome, including the aforementioned fifteenth, the seventeenth, ninth and third.

Hole 9: Par 3 (227/202/168/144/132)
Hole 15: Par 3 (172/139/127/116/103)
Hole 17: Par 3 (218/206/142/119/92)

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:

Hole 1: Par 5 (498/491/465/436/361)
Hole 2: Par 4 (404/395/366/337/301)
Hole 3: Par 3 (165/145/130/111/92)
Hole 4: Par 5 (568/530/480/406)
Hole 5: Par 4 (490/465/441/423/323)
Hole 6: Par 4 (447/418/369/315/283)
Hole 6: Par 4 (447/418/369/315/283)
 
Hole 7: Par 4 (508/482/449/435/363)
The last time I was at Chambers Bay, there was a temporary green in the fairway on seven. Now finished, this is a beast of a par four with maybe the nastiest false front I have ever seen.
Hole 7: Par 4 (508/482/449/435/363)

False front on seven, nicknamed “Humpback”:

Hole 7: Par 4 (508/482/449/435/363)

Hole 8: Par 5 (602/557/523/488/441)
Hole 9: Par 3 (227/202/168/144/132)
Hole 9: Par 3 (227/202/168/144/132)
 
Hole 10: Par 4 (398/381/360/330/311)
 
Hole 11: Par 4 (500/457/425/402/378)
 
Hole 12: Par 4 (304/281/262/246/219)
Hole 12: Par 4 (304/281/262/246/219)
 
Hole 12: Par 4 (304/281/262/246/219)
 
Hole 13: Par 5 (534/527/512/486/437)
Hole 13: Par 5 (534/527/512/486/437)
 
Hole 14: Par 4 (521/496/407/383/309)
Hole 14: Par 4 (521/496/407/383/309)
 
Hole 15: Par 3 (172/139/127/116/103)
Hole 15: Par 3 (172/139/127/116/103)
Hole 15: Par 3 (172/139/127/116/103)
 
Hole 16: Par 4 (425/396/359/323/279)
 
Hole 17: Par 3 (206/191/172/142/119)
 
Hole 18: Par 5 (604/541/514/487/462)
Hole 18: Par 5 (604/541/514/487/462)
Hole 18: Par 5 (604/541/514/487/462)

For more photos and my original hole-by-hole review of Chambers Bay, please visit the following link:

Course Wrap-Up:
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
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (walking only): $205