These are listed in no particular order since picking ten is difficult enough. With that being said, here is my list of courses that I think every serious golfer should play. Some of these may be a little pricey, but it is hard to put a price tag on a once in a lifetime experience.
This seaside gem has hosted five U.S. Opens and millions of memories. There is not a more thrilling or spectacular stretch of holes anywhere than holes 7 through 10. Is there anything in golf that can compare with that final stroll up the par-5 18th as it curves to the left around Carmel Bay? Nicklaus’s 1-iron in ’72, Watson’s chip-in in ’82, everything Tiger did in 2000 – you have a chance to join them with just one swing.
After he waxed Jack Nicklaus in an exhibition at Bay Hill in 1965, Arnold Palmer liked the place so much he bought it. Mr. Palmer has held court here since 1976 and there’s nowhere else on earth that you’re more likely to run into him than in the grill room, the locker room or on the putting green. Honestly, that’s what makes this place great.
Still, not even the King has played the course quite so well as Tiger Woods, a seven-time winner at Bay Hill which includes a four-peat from 2000-2003. Perhaps the scariest second shot in golf is the over-the-lake approach to Bay Hill’s banana-shaped 18th green. Go long and a nightmare downhill chip from rough or sand awaits, with water beyond. The approach to such a slender target is so tough it even rattles Woods.
“You can’t really say ‘get up’ or ‘get down’ because you don’t really know,” says Woods.
To play Bay Hill, you must be a guest of the 70-room lodge, but it’s worth the splurge if only to bask in the aura of Tiger’s triumphs and potentially to shake hands with the King himself.
I had a chance to play it shortly after he bought it and hired a mutual friend to be his first golf professional.
From the moment you make your tee time, you’re only thinking about one golf shot – and you know which one I’m talking about. Pete Dye’s fiendishly exciting 17th is golf’s ultimate gut-check. No other par 3 demands such perfection with club selection and ball flight. Because the tee box isn’t elevated, the mildly rippled, apple-shaped island green (which is larger than it looks) isn’t framed particularly well, which only increases the feeling of dread. Persistent breezes and a pot bunker jabbed into the right-front of the green complicate matters further. By the time you slow your palpitations to execute a short iron that you know you can hit in your sleep, you’ll wake up to the most exciting shot in golf.
Whether you treat the Players Championship as “the 5th Major,” what’s undeniable is the special buzz that percolates around the event. Unquestionably, the course design itself has something to do with the vibe, thanks to the finest collection of risk/reward holes in golf. You owe it to yourself to sample each and every one – especially No. 17 – at least once in your life.
One final note: Just be glad you don’t have to play the original design and be sure and bring plenty of golf balls.
Growing up in junior golf tournaments at Pinehurst, I can promise you it is a worthwhile experience. It is the hardest golf course I’ve ever played inside 50 yards.
Pinehurts is one of the rare public-access courses in the U.S. to play host to multiple major championships. Donald Ross’ masterpiece is drenched in golf history. Like the Old Course at St. Andrews, the virtues of Pinehurst No. 2 doesn’t jump out at you at first glance, but with the subtlety comes a wallop.
Take the par-4 5th, for instance. Jabbed into the pine-studded sandhills, an hour and ten minutes south of Raleigh/Durham is the most harmless-looking scorecard wrecker you’ve ever played. There’s no water and no fairway bunkers. Instead, bewitching contours and a maddening green inevitably funnel approaches far from their intended line.
Recently restored to strategic perfection with exposed sand areas by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Pinehurst No. 2 remains the fiercest test of chipping in the country.
With admirers ranging from Ben Hogan to Tiger Woods, No. 2 easily earns a spot on my bucket list – and should be on yours as well.
As iconic golf landmarks go, few can compare with the candy cane-striped lighthouse that backdrops the 18th green at Harbour Town. With the Calibogue sound lurking to the left and OB looming right, Harbour Town’s closing hole is one of the sport’s most unforgettable.
Following the footsteps of past champions: Arnold Palmer, co-designer Jack Nicklaus, and Davis Love III is reason enough to make this a must-play. The rest of the course is just as captivating, including one of the greatest quartets of par 3s Pete Dye ever designed.
Ranked No. 12 in our latest Top 100 Courses You Can Play, Harbour Town dishes out narrow fairways and tiny greens hemmed in by lagoons and live oaks for 16 holes, until it gives way to the sea. Thanks to some recent tweaks by Mr. Dye that included adding bunkers at the 5th and building new back tees at the 12th, 15th, 16th and 17th, Harbour Town’s shot values appear intact for the next 40 years.
No one who follows golf will ever forget the 1991 Ryder Cup Match here, an event dubbed “the War by the Shore.” Although Bernard Langer cost Europe the win by agonizingly missing his 6-foot-putt at the last, many contend the real winner was the battlefield itself.
Pete Dye’s creation was so tough, that Ray Floyd speculated no one would break 80 if the format were stroke play. Twice in the past 20 years, Dye has softened the layout, but you’ll still be whipsawed by the prospect of tackling tidal marsh carries, scrub-topped coastal dunes and fiercely guarded, wildly contoured greens.
The first time I played, it was before the course was softened up and said that Dye had finally built a course nobody could play.
This was automatic. The birthplace of golf and home of the Royal & Ancient has to be the top bucket list destination for any avid golfer. Television doesn’t do it justice. Playing it with a local caddie is an experience I will never forget.
The Championship Course has hosted seven Open Championships, one Ladies Open,and one Seniors Open making it one of the very few to have done so in the UK. This is another must play to fully appreciate. A friend of mine said he was going to play it every day until he became a 36 handicap, then come home, and play member-guests until they stopped him.
Bandon Dunes, quite simply, is the spot for serious golfers in the United States. It started with the original David McLay Kidd design in 1999, followed by Tom Doak’s highly-touted Pacific Dunes. Now there are five courses total, including one of the best par 3s in America. This course is all walking with no homes and views of the Oregon coastline that rival anything offered in Ireland or Scotland.
There are two Pete Dye courses at Whistling Straits -– the Straits Course, a three-time host of the PGA Championship, and the Irish Course. Both were basically created out of nothing by moving an unfathomable amount of dirt, resulting in a spectacular wind-swept Irish links look right on Lake Michigan. As a bonus, there are two more excellent Pete Dye designs at the American Club as well. Among them is the River Course at Blackwolf Run, giving this historic resort three courses in America’s top 100.
Most of the write ups and comments for this list came from a combination of three sources: