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)

A [Small] Sneak Preview of Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley

This past May (therefore, a small sneak peak), I spent the weekend on Petenwell Lake in Adams County, Wisconsin, for my friend Scott’s bachelor party. Our buddy Kyle and I headed up to Sand Valley Golf Resort a few hours before our group’s scheduled tee times for a sneak preview of the second championship course on site, Mammoth Dunes.

I love Sand Valley. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the original course there expertly: It’s fun, challenging, unique, FAST, rugged and tremendously beautiful. It also makes visitors feel as if they’re hundreds if not thousands of miles from what they know to be Wisconsin.

I’ve written quite a bit about Sand Valley, but have yet to post anything about David McLay Kidd’s upcoming Mammoth Dunes. We were able to walk six holes [with a guide and without clubs – it was still an active construction site], and they looked spectacular:

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Hole 1: Par 4 (413/394/358/324/221/198)

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1st hole green complex at Mammoth Dunes

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Hole 2: Par 4 (410/406/360/330/286/236)

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Target area off the tee on 2

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From the central fairway bunker on 2

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A look back toward the tees on 2

If you visited Golf Digest’s website any time during 2016, chances are you noticed an interesting reader competition: “The Armchair Architect.” 532 entries were received and reviewed by David McLay Kidd, Mike Keiser and Ron Whitten, and the winning entry was by computer gamer Brian Silvernail of Rockledge, Florida.

Silvernail’s proposed hole is a split-fairway downhill par four where flying three traps on the right side will propel tee shots downhill and left, making it a potentially drive-able par four.

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Brian Silvernail’s winning “Armchair Architect” entry (linked to Golf Digest article)

I never submitted my entry for the competition, but after working on it with the topographic map that was provided I can see in person that my hole design probably wouldn’t have worked. My concept was to have distinct risk/reward areas where the smartest shot is a shorter one to a plateaued fairway on the left.

The right side would lead to longer drives and shorter approach shots, but those approaches would be made more challenging by uneven and tight lies, a blowout trap that obstructs the player’s view on that right side, tricky green contours that would make holding those shots difficult, and a more rugged path, in general. Meanwhile, a downhill shot from the plateau to the left would allow the smart player to hit a wide open green from an even lie, unobstructed view and receptive putting surface.

In person, I don’t think the area allotted has enough space to make something like that happen, and plus there’s a distinct possibility that the concept would look gimmicky, contrived and probably not be considered anyway.

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The par four 14th – subject of Golf Digest’s Armchair Architect contest – being roughed in

 

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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A beautiful, natural location for the 15th green complex

I had been drooling over pictures of the par three 16th for quite some time – it looks as good in person as it does online:

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Hole 16: Par 3 (180/164/134/134/113/113)

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The massive green complex for the par three 16th

The tee shot on seventeen brings players back out in to the wide open area used for the course’s first two holes:

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Hole 17: Par 4 (432/427/363/352/260/237)

The fairway on 18 is shared in parts by the first, 17th and 18th holes. Miss this fairway and you’ve got some real accuracy issues.

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Hole 18: Par 5 (536/511/488/473/438/360)

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The approach on 18 heading back to the Mammoth Dunes clubhouse

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A look back from the 18th hole green

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View from the patio of one of the suites in the Mammoth Lodge

The new clubhouse and lodge at Mammoth Dunes was done beautifully, featuring common spaces and private lodging in the rustic farmhouse design style that’s swept the nation stemming from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

The Mammoth Bar and clubhouse are now finished and fully operational, but earlier this summer they looked like this:

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View of The Clubhouse from the first hole tee boxes – it has since been completed

One of my favorite things great golf resorts do is to add non-championship golf, golf-related facilities. Keiser created “The Punchbowl,” as well as the 13-hole Bandon Preserve par three course at Bandon Dunes; Paul Schock added the Gil Hanse designed “Horse Course” at The Prairie Club; World Woods has a wild, 2-acre putting green and practice holes; to a lesser degree, Streamsong has a fun par three bye hole.

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If Coore/Crenshaw’s design work on The Sand Box is comparable to their work on Bandon Preserve, visitors to Sand Valley will be in for a real treat

What do these things all have in common? They’re great places to spend extra time and especially initiate camaraderie through one-off competitions (aka gambling).

Sand Valley is finishing their first add-on golf facility: A 17-hole par three track designed by Coore/Crenshaw. The initial plan was to name it “Quick Sand,” but in conversation with Craig Haltom of Oliphant yesterday at Lawsonia it sounds like they’re now leaning toward “The Sand Box.” The short course is one of the things I’m most looking forward to checking out next season, and I don’t think they can go wrong with either name even though I love Quick Sand.

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The sandy area to the far left in this image is the site used for the Sand Box

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Sand Valley GM Glen Murray in the Mammoth Dunes pro shop, then still under construction

Preliminary plans are in the works for a weekend buddies trip to Sand Valley next Spring, and to say I’m looking forward to that trip is an understatement. Now we’ve just gotta make it through another long and cold Wisconsin winter…

Have you made your first pilgrimage to Sand Valley yet? If so, what were your impressions, where do you think the courses will stack up against the country’s best destinations, and what are you most excited for?

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Rome, WI

Sand Valley Golf Resort Website