Anytime lists of top golf courses are published, golfers scramble to see where their favorite courses rank and how they stack up to other courses they’ve experienced. There are always courses missing that you think should be on the list and always arguments to be made for — or against — priority placements of certain properties. That’s the beauty of opinionated freedom. With this list of my “Top 50 Courses You Can Play in America,” I’m just offering my thoughts and backing them up with my experience studying golf architecture and playing 410 courses worldwide in the past decade.
I’m a 10-12 handicap golfer who plays whatever set of tees is closest to 6,300 yards, putts out every putt (no gimmes) and seldom gets to play any course more than once or twice. My goal is always to shoot bogey golf or better — essentially to score 88 or lower. If you can relate to any of this, my rankings should make sense to you. If you can’t, then ignore them or make your own list for fun. After all, that’s what golf — and talking golf — are supposed to be all about: fun.
With that in mind, here’s a sneak peek at some of the high-profile courses I’ve played that didn’t make it into my “Top 50 Best Courses You Can Play in America” and where they rank on my overall list:
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52. Troon North – Monument Course (Ariz.)
53. Prairie Club – Dunes Course (Neb.)
54. Fallen Oak (Miss.)
55. Streamsong – Blue (Fla.)
56. Harbour Town Golf Links (S.C.)
64. The Dormie Club (N.C.)
67. Giants Ridge – Quarry Course (Minn.)
69. Blackwolf Run – River Course (Wis.)
89. The Classic at Madden’s (Minn.)
91. Spyglass Hill (Calif.)
Also, before you dive into the full top 50, it’s obvious I haven’t played ALL the courses in America. So here’s my personal top 12 bucket list of places I hope to experience soon. Hit us up on social media to make your case for which ones I should attempt to visit first — and to share the courses and destinations that top your golfing wish list.
- Kiawah Island Resort – Ocean (Kiawah Island, S.C.): I’ve covered most of America’s best family resorts for a number of magazines. One of the glaring omissions on my list is Kiawah Island, a place I’ve always wanted to visit but somehow never have had the chance.
- Shadow Creek (Las Vegas, Nev.): Money may not be able to buy you happiness, but if you have a lot of it you can at least play Shadow Creek. My ideal scenario would be to someday play it with Steph Curry, Justin Timberlake and Tom Brady, though I’d accept just playing it. I’m not that picky.
- Caledonia Golf and Fish Club (Myrtle Beach, S.C.): Play one Mike Strantz course and you’ll want to play them all. I’ve heard many say this is the best course in Myrtle Beach — another place I’ve never been to. Guess I need to spend a little more time in South Carolina.
- Kapalua, Plantation Course (Maui, Hawaii): Yes, part of this is me just wanting to go back to Hawaii — ideally sometime between December and February — but I’ve never been to Maui or Kauai, and The Grand Wailea on Maui is Top 5 on my “America’s Family Resorts That I Have Yet to Cover” list. The goal is to do Maui right in 2018 for my 20th wedding anniversary.
- Gamble Sands (Brewster, Wash.): Being the passionate David McLay Kidd fan that I am, I have no doubt this course is every bit as spectacular as I’ve heard. I also love that they have GolfBoards — wish so many more courses had them — and I’d love to just spend more time in Washington in general.
- Pinehurst, No. 2 (Pinehurst, N.C.): I know many course raters for Golfweek, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine and all of them insist that Pinehurst No. 2 would definitely be in my Top 20 now (after Coore and Crenshaw’s remodel). My goal is to visit Pinehurst when I can play every one of their courses in the same trip and cover them all comparatively.
- PGA West, Stadium Course (La Quinta, Calif.): Golf photographer Brian Oar has taken pictures of this place that I can’t even look at — they’re that alluring. I’ve been all over California but never visited Palm Springs, and there are a handful of other courses there I need to experience as well.
- Red Sky Ranch, Fazio and Norman Courses (Wolcott, Colo.): Colorado is my favorite state (we go there every other summer), and yet I’ve only played two courses there. That leaves a ton of golf that I’ve always wanted to experience — from Ballyneal to The Broadmoor, Lakota Canyon Ranch to Fossil Trace, Red Sky Ranch to Telluride to Redlands Mesa.
- Links at Spanish Bay (Pebble Beach, Calif.): Sticks Restaurant at the Spanish Bay remains one of my five favorite dining settings in America — sitting out on their patio next to the fire pits, listening to the bagpiper at sunset while taking in the sprawling Pacific panorama. And part of that view is The Links at Spanish Bay. Knowing how much I love that view for dinner, I’d imagine I’d appreciate the golf that much more.
- Primland, Highland Course (Meadows of Dan, Va.): The setting of this course has always fascinated me. The resort looks so impressive and the golf holes so spectacular. It’s a little bit out of the way from most of my travel paths, but I’d definitely go check it out if given the opportunity.
- Coeur D’Alene (Coeur D’Alene, Idaho): Idaho is one of two states I’ve yet to visit and one of 11 I’ve yet to golf in. Add that to Coeur D’Alene being in my Top 5 “American Family Resorts That I Have Yet to Cover” list, and it seems like a must-go.
- Moose Run, Creek Course (Ft. Richardson, Alaska): Alaska is the other of the two states I’ve yet to visit. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever get there, but I’d sure love to go. Plus, I love moose.
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About This List: In the past decade, Golf News Net Ratings Editor and award-winning travel journalist, Eric N. Hart (aka The Mobile Golfer) has played 368 courses in 39 states and another 42 courses internationally. With that broad experience and an extensive background in golf architecture, he has compiled his list of the 50 Best Public-Access Golf Courses in the United States and the Top 12 yet-to-play places on his American Golf Bucket List.
Follow The Mobile Golfer’s travels on Instagram @MobileGolfer.