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)

Watercolor: Dismal River, Doak Course 18th Hole

View from behind the pin on the finishing hole of the Tom Doak golf course at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, Nebraska.

View from behind the pin on the finishing hole of the Tom Doak golf course at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, Nebraska.

I started this watercolor of the view from behind the pin on the 18th hole at Dismal River Club’s Doak course a few weeks ago, and finally finished it last week.

The Doak course, reviewed here, was recently named by GolfWeek as the 23rd best modern golf course in the United States, just behind TPC Sawgrass, the Boston Golf Club, Bandon Trails and Spyglass.

Located in the majestic Sand Hills of Nebraska, the Dismal River Club resides in the same town as the country’s number one rated modern course, Sand Hills Golf Club, but is a cool hour drive away (although they are ~ 10 miles apart, as the crow flies).

A two-hour drive from The Prairie Club in “nearby” Valentine, Nebraska, Dismal River and the Sand Hills region of Nebraska is arguably the hotbed for golf course design and architecture in the United States, with plans for high-end new courses in the works at both clubs. Intense elevation and rolling hills, massive blowouts and sand features, and the overall local agronomy make this area ideal for links golf at its very best.

Golf Course Review: Dismal River Club, Doak Course (NE)

The Dismal River Club, Doak Course Rankings:

Golf Digest: #2 Nebraska
GolfWeek: #23 US modern

Designer: Tom Doak (2013)

The Tom Doak course at Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, Nebraska opened this past year to tremendous national acclaim.

The newest of the world-class courses in the Sand Hills region was named by Golf Digest as one of the best new courses of the year, along with the Blue and Red courses at Streamsong (one of which was also designed by Doak, and the other by Coore/Crenshaw), Gamble Sands in Washington, Sewailo Golf Club in Arizona, and a number of other impressive new builds around the country. Dismal’s new course was named the third best new track in the country, just behind the two at Streamsong which opened this year as both top 25 overall courses in the United States.

Minimalistic golf is all the rage, and there is no better topography in the United States for minimalistic golf than in the rugged Sand Hills.

Simply put, the Sand Hills is home to the richest golf terrain in the entire country with beyond-drastic elevation changes, beautiful natural grasslands and prairies, and massive sand blowouts.

With the vast Ogallala Aquifer underlying 174,000 square miles of land in this golf-rich region, hundreds of feet of rich sand lies beneath the terrain where some of the nation’s best golf courses have recently been designed: The Dismal River Club and the number one rated modern course in the country, Sand Hills Golf Club (both in Mullen), The Prairie Club’s Dunes course and Pines course in nearby Valentine (nearby is relevant in this area), Wild Horse in Gothenberg and others that are quintessential examples of natural golf done right in the heart of our country.

Some say that Sand Hills golf is a renaissance of golf course architecture in North America – Renaissance Golf Design being the name of Doak’s design firm, of course – and they are right. The great boom of new golf courses in the United States has died off almost completely since the 1990’s when everyone with a few bucks felt like putting up a new track, but the quality of what is being put forth now is unlike anything that has been seen before… The Red Course at Dismal River is a prime example.

The Doak course features wonderful lines and bunkering, fantastic conditions and course strategy that is second to none. There are blind shots, of course, but terrific back-drops to provide aiming cues. The greens are perfect and well-contoured, and risk/reward opportunities abound throughout the back nine.

Doak’s “Red Course” at Dismal River provides an unprecedented throw-back golfing experience: The tee boxes have no tee boxes – rather, they imply an area where tee shots should be taken near; the gigantic bluffs running along the course’s borderline frame tee shots and target areas, and the back nine features the Dismal River, itself, playing alongside the playing surface.

The course sprawls, and is touted as a walking course that provides shuttles to get players from side to side. The drive to ten from the pro shop took about ten minutes, but the gorgeous natural scenery left my friend, Brian, and I happy to be driving the grounds and marveling at the beauty of the Sand Hills that is evident everywhere.

During our drive to ten, we were met up with by co-owner and CEO of the Dismal River Club, Chris Johnston, who is one of the top private club owners in the country and renowned as a true golf visionary.

We were teeing off earlier than we originally expected to, though, and he was unfortunately not able to join us that early for the round. In our defense, we had a 15-plus hour drive ahead of us back to Wisconsin and I had to work the following morning. At a property like this, there was no way in the world we were going to miss out on seeing everything we could before that kind of drive, even if it meant getting less than an hour of sleep before heading in to the office the next day!

With time limited, we were only able to play the back nine of the Doak course (along with the Jack Nicklaus course, which is reviewed here). The back nine of the Doak course, to say the least, is spectacular. To be totally honest, and I am guessing Brian would agree with me on this one, I wish we would have played the entire Doak course and I would have been happy to drive straight from Nebraska in to the office. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to see the rest of it in the near future.

Without further ado, I present to you the ninth hole, as well as the back nine of the Tom Doak “Red Course” at the Dismal River Club:

The 9th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 9th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

9th hole at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, NE

9th hole at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, NE

10th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

10th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

10th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

10th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

10th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

10th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 11th hole at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, NE

The 11th hole at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, NE

The 11th hole at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, NE

The 11th hole at the Dismal River Club in Mullen, NE

The 12th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 12th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 12th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 12th hole at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 13th hole on the Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 13th hole on the Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 13th hole on the Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 13th hole on the Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 14th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 14th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 14th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 14th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

Brian and I both tidied up our approaches on 14…

The 14th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 14th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 15th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 15th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 16th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 16th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 17th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 17th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 17th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 17th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 18th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 18th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 18th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 18th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 18th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE

The 18th hole on the Tom Doak course at the Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, NE


Course Wrap-Up
:
Location: Mullen, NE

The Dismal River Club Website

Golf Course Review: Dismal River, Jack Nicklaus Course (NE)

The Dismal River Club, Nicklaus Course Rankings:

Golf Digest: #5 Nebraska
GolfWeek: #168 US modern

Designer: Jack Nicklaus (2006)

Coupled with our trip to The Prairie Club in Valentine, Nebraska, my friend and mentor in the golf writing industry, Brian Weis and I decided to add one more stop to an absolutely legendary golf trip: Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, Nebraska.

The understated entrance to the Dismal River Club

We went out of our way for hours from Valentine to Mullen, which is locally known to be America’s biggest little city. Hooker County is home to just over 700 residents, and we were driving in Mullen for about 45 minutes (30 of which was on one-lane back roads) before arriving at the Dismal River Club.

Dismal River is rated as one of the finest private golf clubs in the country, and the Jack Nicklaus course is considered to be one of the nation’s most challenging and controversial tracks.

The story goes that when Jack was hired to cultivate this stretch of land in the Dismal River Valley of the Sand Hills, he was told to create the most exciting, challenging course imaginable. With out-of-this-world elevation changes, rolling land and pastures, massive sand, prairie grass and yucca-covered dunes and everything else that goes along with the Sand Hills region, the potential was infinite.

Some say the course is challenging for the point of being challenging. The sand trap in the middle of the uphill green on ten, for example, cannot be seen from the tee boxes but would make for an un-welcomed site if hit in to. This trap makes the green complex like a donut. With a back pin location, I was happy to have flown it left.

Interior sand trap on hole 10: Par 3 (190-95; 160)

“Play like a champion today,” the sign says, and that’s about all that can be done if wanting to “Tame” the Nicklaus course at Dismal River.

“Play Like a Champion Today” sign en route to the Nicklaus course

Outside of the tee boxes, there are very few spots at Dismal River that are level, and that goes doubly for the fairways. For example, take a look at the fairway on one:

Hole 1: Par 4 (433-275; 411)
Uphill fairway on hole 1: Par 4 (433-275; 411)

The second hole tee shot is blind, so trust that it will appear atop the hill. The fairway slopes left to right and a little downhill, with the green being well below the level of the playing surface, making the approach rather daunting.

Hole 2: Par 4 (507-343; 409)

Short and left is the best way to hit the second hole green complex:

Hole 2: Par 4 (507-343; 409)

The first par three on the Nicklaus course has a massive sand trap to the left and a dramatic false front that surrounds the front trap.

Hole 3: Par 3 (188-88; 146)

A look back to the tee boxes from the third hole green complex:

Hole 3: Par 3 (188-88; 146)

The first par five on the Nicklaus course, the fourth is also perhaps the property’s signature hole. The website shows the windmill that guards the flight path toward the green area to be the only spot on the Nicklaus course where water can be found.

This authentic windmill adds great character to the fourth hole, personally, although I have heard some people say they cannot believe a man-made structure was placed where it can block the path of an approach. To me: How does that make it any different than a massive tree, other than that it adds a certain element of rustic charm to the hole and property? I love it.

Hole 4: Par 5 (578-416; 524)

A look at the approach area on four, including the rustic windmill:

Hole 4: Par 5 (578-416; 524)

The uphill par five fifth hole is mostly blind over the front greenside bunker. Account for enough change in elevation, or find the tee shot bounding back down the hill to set up another blind approach.

Hole 5: Par 3 (185-113; 141)
Hole 5: Par 3 (185-113; 141)

One of the most exciting holes on the front nine, the sixth is a short par four with one of the trickiest approaches. The fairway narrows approaching the green before rising sharply to a green perched well above the playing surface. This is a really beautiful golf hole.

Hole 6: Par 4 (348-233; 305)
 
Hole 6: Par 4 (348-233; 305)
With an elevated tee shot, the key to seven is staying away from the left-side fairway bunker while still being within range of the green as the fairway doglegs from right to left. At 437 yards from the members tees, this is a strong par four.
Hole 7: Par 4 (475-308; 437)
Cattle roam most property lines at Dismal River – this one was watching us finish the seventh hole:
Hole 7: Par 4 (475-308; 437)

Another short par four, the eighth can actually be reached from the tee – Brian did it. The smart play, of course, is to lay up to the fat side of the fairway and leave a short iron in over the mass of sand traps that divide each side.

Hole 8: Par 4 (333-218; 296)

A more conventional drive [than trying to drive the green off the tee] leaves a straightforward approach over sand.

Hole 8: Par 4 (333-218; 296)

Brian’s tee shot, which was on the green under regulation:

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Hole 8: Par 4 (333-218; 296)

A long par five, the front nine finishes downhill with a true three-shotter. Playing around 600 yards, the drive will run out a little, but hitting this green in two would be a monumental achievement given all the sand surrounding it with the exception of a narrow false front on the right.

Hole 9: Par 5 (618-458; 590)
Hole 9: Par 5 (618-458; 590)
Hole 9: Par 5 (618-458; 590)

One of the most polarizing holes on one of the country’s most controversial golf courses, the aforementioned par three tenth features a mostly blind tee shot to a green that is ringed around a craggy, inlaid sand trap.

Hole 10: Par 3 (190-95; 160)
Hole 10: Par 3 (190-95; 160)

The massive green complex on ten falls sharply downhill half-way through the green, as well as off the front-right.

Hole 10: Par 3 (190-95; 160)

Although controversial from a design perspective, I loved the green’s interior trap… Probably because my tee shot did not find it!

A look from the back of the tenth hole green complex, showing the back half of the green and inland bunker:

Hole 10: Par 3 (190-95; 160)

Visibility from many of the tees on the Nicklaus course at Dismal River can be somewhat limited. Keeping with that theme, the par four eleventh plays uphill and then down and right. The fairway actually bowls inward over the fairway’s horizon, making the tee shot much less challenging than it appears from below.

Hole 11: Par 4 (443-318; 401)
Hole 11: Par 4 (443-318; 401)
Hole 11: Par 4 (443-318; 401)

Twelve is a great par five. With a long fairway that juts in and out of the natural grasslands, staying on the fairway is obviously important, but not always easy. There is very little rough area on the Nicklaus course, which sticks well with Nicklaus’s ongoing efforts to design courses that fit well with the land while promoting the utmost in sustainability (for watering, number of different grass cuts, etc.).

Hole 12: Par 5 (572-428; 536)
Hole 12: Par 5 (572-428; 536)
Hole 12: Par 5 (572-428; 536)

The thirteenth is one of the most straight-forward holes on the course at Dismal River. A modest carry over the prairie grass leads to a fairway that ends before a forced carry over native grasses and sand that front the green complex.

Hole 13: Par 4 (400-267; 379)
Hole 13: Par 4 (400-267; 379)
Hole 13: Par 4 (400-267; 379)

Fourteen is a great driving hole! The fairway runs sharply downhill and right, which is troublesome considering the size of the traps that lie in front of the uphill green (not to mention, at 441 yards, it’s bound to be a long approach over them).

Hole 14: Par 4 (515-298; 441)

A mid-length par three, the fifteenth is tricky given the angle of the green (heavy right-to-left) and the sizable trap that resides short-left.

Hole 15: Par 3 (186-102; 161)

We ran in to some fellow traveling golf nuts on the tee box at sixteen, who let us play through and also asked us to snap a picture of their group – we figured we would have them do the same for us:

Hole 15: Par 3 (186-102; 161)

The sixteenth plays left-to-right with a tee box offset from the right side. I always enjoy these kinds of tee shots as they work well with my fade.

Hole 16: Par 4 (425-330; 383)

The recessed green on sixteen is best run up on:

Hole 16: Par 4 (425-330; 383)

A look at the sharp decline from front to back on the sixteenth green complex:

Hole 16: Par 4 (425-330; 383)

The elevated tee boxes on seventeen play out to the left alongside the dramatic sand hills in the distance.

Hole 17: Par 4 (457-324; 413)
Hole 17: Par 4 (457-324; 413)

Bending right-to-left and downhill, the seventeenth is again approached in a recessed green complex.

Hole 17: Par 4 (457-324; 413)
Hole 17: Par 4 (457-324; 413)

Quite possibly the most beautiful, and also intimidating, tee shot I have seen in my entire life is found at the eighteenth on the Nicklaus course at Dismal River.

The cart ride to the tee boxes takes a few minutes of winding uphill. When the teeing areas finally appear and this amazing vista shown below is unveiled… WOW!

Hole 18: Par 5 (515-351; 505)

The first thing you’ll notice is the elevation: It’s tremendous! The second thing: The vast ocean of sand that lines the left side of the green. The third: The right side is for all intents and purposes dead. Then, “I’m going to have to get the ball somehow on to that fairway, and then up that giant hill in three shots. Really?”

“Jack’s Shack,” a post-round bar and grille, resides above the eighteenth hole to the right. The drive back to the clubhouse is a little lengthy, and who wouldn’t first love to have a drink overlooking this spectacular golf course? It was, unfortunately, closed while we were onsite. We also had a daunting 14-hour drive hanging over our heads after finishing the round, which would put us back in Milwaukee with about an hour left before I would have to be at work.

Hole 18: Par 5 (515-351; 505)

My tee shot on eighteen – “He hauls off and hits one – a big hitter that Lama – straight in to the crevice of a ten thousand foot glacier.” I obviously hit the middle of the desert on the left, which might as well have been the crevice of a ten thousand foot glacier…

Hole 18: Par 5 (515-351; 505)
 
Brian’s tee shot on eighteen:
Hole 18: Par 5 (515-351; 505)
 
Continuing the uphill climb to the green…
Hole 18: Par 5 (515-351; 505)

… And almost there:

Hole 18: Par 5 (515-351; 505)

I consider myself to be blessed for all of the amazing opportunities that I have been allowed during my “Golf writing career.” Dismal River, and our entire Sand Hills experience including The Prairie Club, is among the very best golf I have ever been blessed to play.

If you ever have the chance to play Dismal River, play it. This is a bold statement I am about to make, but the Dismal River golfing experience was WELL worth driving hours in the opposite direction before our trip back!

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Mullen, NE
Yardage: Tips-7368, Members-6638, Forward-4965
Slope/Rating: Tips-149/77.0, Members-139/73.2, Forward-135/69.6
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: Private

The Country’s Best Non-Wisconsin Golf Courses… That I’ve Played

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.

I filled the cabinet years ago, and when I had to start replacing really good golf courses in order to add new ones I figured it was time for a new cabinet. Researching options online, I saw some good looking cabinets but nothing that really screamed to me – especially not for hundreds of dollars.
I decided to create one. During a week where my wife was on the road for work, I spent over 30 hours in the basement backroom constructing, painting, sanding, staining, allowing it to dry, drilling… Over and over again until I had a 203-ball cabinet that is everything I wanted it to be.
I’m sure this one will eventually fill up, too, but my golf ball display case now has room to grow.
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From left to right, top to bottom: Row 1: Lake Breeze (FL), Kettle Hills, TimberStone (MI), Bristlecone Pines, Horseshoe Bay, Wild Ridge, Wild Rock, Castle at the Bay, Stone Creek (OR), Chambers Bay (WA), Lawsonia, Pumpkin Ridge (OR), The Wilderness at Fortune Bay (MN), Blue Mound CC, Muskego Lakes, Kettle Moraine, Devils Head Row 2: Vail (CO), Mee-Kwon, Willbrook Plantation (SC), The Legend at Bristlecone, The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, TPC Deere Run (IL), Kiva Dunes (AL), Pine Hills CC, Bandon Dunes (OR), Whistling Straits, Streamsong (FL), WGA logo ball, The Classic at Madden’s Resort (MN), Rolling Hills, Whispering Springs, Drugan’s Castle Mound, Wanaki, Quit Qui Oc Row 3: Paganica, Rock River Hills, Hartford, Deer Creek, Baraboo CC, West Bend CC, Geneva National, University Ridge, ThunderHawk (IL), Dismal River (NE), Sand Valley, Pacific Dunes (OR), Kiawah Island Ocean Course (SC), Milwaukee CC, Chicago Highlands (IL), Hawk’s View, Edgewood, Morningstar, Lake Arrowhead, Arrowhead HS Row 4: West Bend Lakes, Atlantis (Bahamas), Tuckaway CC, Kiawah Island Osprey Pointe (SC), Strawberry Creek, Bandon Preserve (OR), The Harvester (IA), RTJ Ross Bridge (AL), The Prairie Club (NE), Johnsonville Sausage, Old Macdonald (OR), Bandon Trails (OR), SentryWorld, Big Fish, Washington County GC, Golden Sands, Songbird Hills, Willow Run Row 5: The Preserve at Deer Creek, Rainbow Springs, Grand Geneva, River Club (SC), Fire Ridge, Harborside International (IL), Racine CC, SentryWorld (old), Blackwolf Run, Erin Hills, North Hills CC, Torrey Pines (CA), Cog Hill No. 4 Dubsdread (IL), World Woods (FL), Bulls Eye CC, TPC Tampa Bay (FL), Blackstone Creek, Old Hickory Row 6: Western Lakes, Fox Hills, Nagawaukee, Juliette Falls (FL), Sweetgrass (MI), Ozaukee CC, Greywalls (MI), Peninsula (AL), PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Westmoor CC, Bishops Bay, Ironwood, Christmas Mountain, Oakwood Park, Dretzka Row 7: McCall CC (ID), Broadlands, Missing Links, Brighton Dale, Shepherds Crook (IL), Fairways of Woodside, The Oaks, True Blue (SC), Hawk’s Landing, Trapper’s Turn, The Bog, Chula Vista, New Berlin Hills, Silver Spring, Lake Jovita

I have been blessed to be able to play some great golf courses over the past half decade, both in Wisconsin and out. This listing is dedicated to the top ten golf courses I have played in the country, outside of our great state.

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.

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The beautiful par four 4th at Pacific Dunes

Pacific Dunes Website

 

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)

16-IMG_0829

Maybe the country’s best drivable par four – the 16th at Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes Website

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.

02-img_6028

Hole 2: Par 5 (543/528/501/495/419)

Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Ocean Course Website

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.

IMG_2550

The par three 7th on the Dunes course at The Prairie Club

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.

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The par four 14th at Old Macdonald

Old MacDonald Website

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)

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Tee shot on the par five 18th on the Red course at Streamsong Golf Resort – missing here is the incredibly well constructed green

Streamsong Resort Website

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.

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“The Lone Fir” at Chambers Bay – one of four out-of-this-world par threes

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.

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A look back at the rolling terrain beyond the 18th hole of Doak’s fabulous Red course at Dismal River

Dismal River Golf Club Website

9. Bandon Trails (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: #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.

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The controversial, yet spectacular, par four 14th at Bandon Trails

Bandon Trails Website

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.

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Quite possibly the world’s most photographed par three, the 7th on the Red course at Streamsong

Streamsong Resort Website

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.

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Seth Raynor’s ultimate masterpiece? The back nine he created among the ravines at Shoreacres is amazing

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)

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Reynolds Lake Oconee, Great Waters Website

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.

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Consistently voted one of the most beautiful golf holes in the state of Minnesota, the par four 11th is an absolute masterpiece

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.

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Mountain golf in the Midwest? You can’t beat Greywalls at the Marquette Golf Club or “The Perfect Foursome” golf trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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.

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The par three 8th at The Harvester – one of 18 fabulous golf holes 

The Harvester Website

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.

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The most dramatically challenging tee shot I’ve ever played – the 18th on Jack Nicklaus’s White course at Dismal River

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.

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17th hole tee shot with the Ross Bridge Resort looming overhead

RTJ Trail at Ross Bridge Website

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.

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6th hole tee shot

Kiva Dunes Website

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.

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Consistently named one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, a look at the approach on the par four 12th on the Pine Barrens course at World Woods

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)

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Decisions… Decisions… Challenge carrying the ravine or lay up right on the glorious par five 18th on the Pines course at The Prairie Club?

21. Reynolds Lake Oconee, The Oconee (Greensboro, GA):

Yardages:
Slope/Rating:
Architect: Rees Jones (2013)

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Reynolds Lake Oconee, The Oconee Website

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.

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The renowned par three 3rd at True Blue – site of an oft-played Dustin Johnson commercial for Myrtle Beach

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.

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A look back at the tough par four 14th on the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge

Pumpkin Ridge, Witch Hollow Website

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.

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Insane [yet typical] bunkering on the fifth hole of Cog Hill No. 4 Dubsdread

 25. TPC Deere Run (Silvis, IL):
Yardages: Black-7075, Blue-6530, Green-6274
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.

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The par three 16th at TPC Deere Run, host to the PGA’s annual John Deere Classic

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)

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Approach shot in to the par four 18th on the Cotton Creek course

Craft Farms Website

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)

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The par three 15th / “Anchor Hole” at Harborside International’s Port course

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)

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Dogleg left par four 8th at Juliette Falls

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)

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Hole 11: Par 3 (223/208/179/97/82)

Kiawah Island, Osprey Point Website

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)

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The gorgeous dogleg right par four 5th at Lost Key

Lost Key Golf Club Website

Peninsula Golf Club (Fort Morgan, AL)

Yardage:
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:
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)

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A look back at the par four 7th on the Lakes course at Peninsula Golf Club

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.

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A look at the approach on the tough par four 9th along Ghost Creek

Pumpkin Ridge, Ghost Creek Website

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)

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A great approach shot in to the 8th green on The National at Reynolds Lake Oconee

The National at Reynolds Lake Oconee Website

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)

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Tee shot on the par four 15th at Shepherd’s Crook

Shepherd’s Crook Website

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.

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Par three 6th over water at Stone Creek

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.

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One of the coolest par fours found anywhere: The 17th at Sweetgrass, nicknamed “Turtle”

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.”

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Demanding tee shot on the par four 12th at ThunderHawk

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.

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The most awe-inspiring tee shot in the Midwest: The par three 17th at TimberStone

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)

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Tee shot on 18 at TPC Tampa Bay

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)

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A look back at the long, gorgeous downhill par three 8th on the Pine Barrens course at World Woods

Notable Media Rankings:

 


 

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:

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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