Florida Trip and a New Fan Favorite: William Robbins (FL)

Last night I returned from a family scuba diving vacation to Florida that turned out to not only be a family vacation, but also an unexpected golf trip.

I brought my clubs in anticipation of playing one round at Juliette Falls, located five minutes from the rental house we were staying at in Dunnellon, Florida.

Juliette Falls was a fantastic golf course: Beautiful and challenging, with especially great par threes. I liked it so much that I made a second visit later in the week for their $38 twilight rate. I only got in 14 holes, but made the best of the back nine with a birdie, two pars and two bogeys (one was a three-putt, ugh). I will be writing a full review on it in the near future, so make sure to check back.

I also reached out to World Woods prior to my trip, but didn’t know of a date and whether or not I would have a car to use to get there.

With chilly March weather that ranged from the mid-30’s to high 70’s, we worked out the dive-related trips around sunny days, and I somehow had Friday open.

Friday was beautiful in Brooksville, a one-hour drive from Dunnellon and true championship golf location.

Entrance to World Woods in Brooksville, FL

Home to two of Florida’s highest rated courses, the Pine Barrens (ranked #60 in GolfWeek’s listing of the top 100 courses in the country, and #4 in Florida; also ranked #76 in the country by Golf Digest) and the Rolling Oaks (ranked #8 in Florida by GolfWeek), World Woods is also widely known to have the country’s (and possibly the world’s) best practice facility that includes a circular 23-acre practice range, a 36-hole/two-acre putting green, an iron range and three practice holes.

World Woods certainly provides a world-class golfing experience for all. If there is something beyond world-class, though, it provided it for me.

Following 18 holes on the Pine Barrens in the morning, I found myself with an hour to spend before a 1:40 tee time on the Rolling Oaks with my cousin Cari’s boyfriend, Dan, who lives in the area and is a regular at World Woods.

I decided to check out the three practice holes to work on my drive and approach shots, which ailed me throughout my morning round.

When I arrived at the first practice hole, a dogleg left par five, there was another cart already at the back tees. When he invited me to play through, I asked if he’d like to join. It turned out to be William Robbins, a former NGA Hooters Tour player and recently turned professional golfer.

William is working on his game to begin playing PGA Tour qualifiers, and moved to the Brooksville area this past Tuesday. World Woods charges just $120/month for unlimited access to their practice facilities, and he intends to put them to good use in pursuit of the dream to attain his PGA Tour card.

We played the three holes and spent some time chatting about our favorite courses (my favorite golf conversation), as well as his path to where he is today. William grew up in Ohio and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina, eight years ago. He has a plus-five handicap, professional swing coach, an unbelievable wealth of golf knowledge and advice, and a love for the game that rivals or even surpasses mine.

Having only used the practice facilities since Tuesday, I was able to get William in to our 1:40 tee time and the three of us arrived to the first hole on the Rolling Oaks.

William obviously plays the back tees. Dan and I briefly discussed the challenge we should face: The tips (gold tees) on the Rolling Oaks are 7,333 yards, the blacks are 6,873, and the greens are 6,438. I played the greens along with two other singles on the Pine Barrens, and fared how I expected to this early in the season: Poor touch around the greens, and the same slice tendency I have had for 23 years that continues to reduce my distance off the tee.

Our brief conversation that ensued:

Dan: “Probably the greens… Ah what the hell, let’s play the tips!”
Me: “Dude, the tips are 7,333 yards!?”
Dan: “We’re here to have fun, let’s see the whole course!”
Me [being as quickly and easily inspired as I am]: “Good call. I’m in.”

The first hole started out well. Dan, using a Pittsburgh Steelers putter to his psychological advantage, parred the 424-yard par four. I tapped in for bogey, and William snaked in a 25-footer for birdie. This game’s easy.

The rest of the front nine did not play as easily, but things picked up very well on the back.

Highlights included Dan’s driver-driver green-under-regulation on the 606-yard par five tenth, a highlight reel full of PGA-level shots by William, and a much improved game by both Dan and me on the back nine. Dan shot a legitimate 39 on the back, while I shot a 46 with several mulligans that backed up pulled tee shots.

Our back nine scorecard was littered with “F’s” and “G’s”: Fairways hit and greens-in-regulation. I have always enjoyed the effect it has playing with someone who is a legitimately talented golfer. Whether it is because you don’t want to slow them down to throw them off their game, or whether some of their game somehow rubs off on yours’, it’s a real thing and fun to witness. But hitting greens somewhat consistently with long irons, hybrids and woods? That’s just crazy.

William once shot 64 in four consecutive rounds, and has played tournaments with the likes of Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, JB Holmes, Bo Van Pelt and others. After recently being forced to take a little time off, he is currently in the process of getting his swing back. I wish “Getting my swing back” looked more like this drawn uphill approach shot to eight feet:

Hole 11: Par 4 (440/411/389/351/319)

Or like this monstrous drive on the short par five eighteenth:

Hole 18: Par 5 (505/490/463/451/387)

I have been fortunate to have personal golfing experiences with a number of professional level golfers: Winning the “Putting with the Pros” contest at Torrey Pines with James Driscoll, then caddying for the pro/am group of my friend, Adam, playing alongside Ernie Els at last year’s Farmers Insurance Open. I got even more out of this experience. So did Dan, who Will re-taught his putting approach and then dropped just about everything on the back nine.

And, of course, we had to get one picture on the former Q-school winners’ stage following our round:

William, me and Dan on the World Woods winner’s stage

There is little more refreshing than seeing someone I know to be a humble, hard-working and good person succeed wildly, and I wish for all the best and look forward to following my new friend, William Robbins, on his path to greatness.

I will be writing separate reviews on both the Rolling Oaks and Pine Barrens courses at World Woods, but here are a few quick pictures of their practice holes and facilities:

Practice Hole 1: Par 5
Practice Hole 2: Par 4
Practice Hole 3: Par 3
Part of World Woods’ 2-acre, 36-hole practice putting facility
 
A glimpse of World Woods’ 23-acre circular driving range

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)

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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.

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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.

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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