Greatest Golf Courses

I’ve ranked what I believe to be the top-five greatest golf courses in existence. Put these on your “top-five courses I’d love to play” list.

Trap Five LogoRanking golf courses is a subjective exercise. Clearly, some courses are better than others, but narrowing down the very best is difficult. Like a fine bee…, er, wine, much of the decision is based on personal tastes.

Unfortunately, I’ve never played any of these courses but count it my solemn responsibility to go where only fools dare to tread. So all other ranking systems aside, here’s my choice for the greatest golf courses in the world.

Number Five: Pine Valley
Designer: George Crump and H.S. Colt

Pine Valley Golf ClubWidely regarded as one of the greatest courses in the world, Pine Valley is a unique gem. Its founder and primary designer George Crump consulted a wide variety of designers in its construction: Harry Colt, Hugh Wilson, George Thomas, William Flynn, Charles Blair Macdonald, Walter Travis, Robert Hunter, A.W. Tillinghast, Alister MacKenzie, Donald Ross, William Fownes, Charles Alison, and Perry Maxwell. Several of these men contributed to the design.

Pine Valley has never been used in a professional tournament as the course cannot accommodate large numbers of spectators.

Chosen first on many greatest course lists, Pine Valley is, by all accounts, one of the most challenging and diverse courses in the world. Each hole will challenge your mind and will often present classic and difficult risk/reward scenarios.

Number Four: Cypress Point Club
Designer: Alister MacKenzie and Robert Hunter

Cypress PointCypress Point is perhaps the most beautiful seaside course in the world, particularly for holes 15, 16, and 17. All three are all played along the Pacific Ocean and are considered among the very best golf holes.

The 230-yard par-three 16th is probably the most intimidating hole in the world. It has also been called the greatest hole in the world. Built in the era of hickory shafts, the 16th has a forced carry over water that would have tested your mettle with a driver in hand. I’d have to hit a miracle three-iron to reach the front of the green. Consider also that this hole is subject to the wind.

The beauty and consistent challenge of Cypress Point make it one of the very best.

Number Three: Pinehurst No. 2
Designer: Donald Ross

Pinehurst 18thRenowned for its turtleback greens and beautiful surroundings, No. 2 at Pinehurst is one of the best. No. 2 has played host to two U.S. Opens and will likely see a third in 2014. The first was won by Payne Stewart in 1999; the second by New Zealand’s Michael Campbell.

The Pinehurst complex was founded by business man James Walker Tufts, who purchased over 5,000 acres at approximately a dollar an acre. No. 2 was completed in 1907 by renowned architect Donald Ross. The course has hosted a variety of tournaments including the North and South Open (played yearly), The Tour Championship, the Ryder Cup, the Woman’s Championship (amateur), and the U.S. Open.

If you ever have a chance to play a Ross design, you’re in for a treat. Years and years of sanding the greens have made the turtleback greens higher and more difficult. They require a deft touch for an up and down. Pinehurst’s ongoing relationship with St. Andrews is a testament to its greatness.

Number Two: Augusta National
Designer: Bobby Jones and Alistar McKenzie

Augusta National 12thAugusta National is one of the most fabulously designed courses in the world. When you couple that with the meticulous and lavish care given to every square inch of the course you can understand why this course deserves a high place on anyone’s list.

Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones created a masterpiece. Originally designed with few bunkers, generous fairways, and a layout that demanded risk/reward decisions, Augusta National is a gem. While it no longer retains all of those qualities, it still stands out as a unique course.

Professional golfers gather here every year for the only major played in a static location. You’ll remember the regular features: The big oak tree on the golf-course side of the clubhouse, the Eisenhower Tree (made famous because Ike often hit it and lobbied to have it removed), Ike’s Pond, Rae’s Creek, and Amen Corner.

Number One: The Old Course at St. Andrews
Designer: Mother Nature

The birthplace of golf has stood the test of time. What a test it has been. Golf was first played here sometime during the middle of the 16th century. The Old Course was completed in its present form in 1863 by Old Tom Morris. He separated the first and 17th greens.

The Old Course at St. AndrewsAt one time during the Old Course’s development, 22 holes were played: 11 out and 11 in. Imagine how long a 22 hole round would take today!

The Old Course defined for the world how golf would be played. Its generous fairways allow for varying styles of play, its pot bunkers are penal, its seven conjoined greens are unique in the world, and it is the oldest surviving golf course.

What is remarkable about the Old Course is that hundreds of years after golf was first played, major championships can still be played on it.

Photo Credits: © Golf Club Atlas, Golf Club Atlas, About Golf, Unknown.

14 thoughts on “Greatest Golf Courses”

  1. I would have to argue how one can rank the greatest golf courses in existence without playing any one of them? Seems odd to me.

  2. Can a guy rank courses for influence, reputation, and sentimental reasons? Or do I have to visit every golf course in the world before I make that call? 😉 Maybe next time I’ll rate the top-five Washington goat tracks in order of importance.

    There’s plenty about me that’s odd, so you got that part right.

  3. I would have to argue how one can rank the greatest golf courses in existence without playing any one of them? Seems odd to me.

    To borrow a phrase I learned just today: “One need not have slept with Halle Berry to appreciate how beautiful she is.”

  4. I have played both Pinehurst No. 2 and The Old course. Both are undoubtedly great courses. Based on “influence, reputation and sentimental values” they indeed deserve high praise.

    Personally, no top five list for me would be complete without Ballybunion (Old). Based on all the courses of high rankings that I have actually played. It is certainly the course I would name if I could only play one course the rest of my life.

  5. Goat Tracks, Come on Jeff, we have some decent courses up here;

    Sahallee – NEC Invitational 2002
    TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge – Boeing Classic (Champions Tour)
    Gold Mountain – U.S. Public Links 2006

    Newcastle, Chambers Bay (coming soon), Desert Canyon, Apple Tree

    Those are the elite of the elite in Washington we have many more above avg. courses as you know Jeff.

  6. Nice list Jeff, it’s not all that often that you’ll see a top 5 without Pebble Beach listed, in fact not even mentioned. You know, I’m OK with that, it does have some appeal but in my mind it doesn’t stack up to Augusta National, Pinehurst, Bethpage Black among others.

    I would really like to play Pine Valley or at least see some of it. Augusta National is about as untouchable as Halle Berry but I feel like I know so much about the course because of the Masters coverage. Pine Valley on the other hand is perhaps either the best kept secret in the US or the most overstated track in the history of golf, I’ll likely never know. 😥

  7. how incredibly parochial of you to list 4 us courses in your top 5 given you have never played any of them. I would put Turnbery , Loch Lomond, Kingsbarns , valderamma, ballybunnion , old head right up there on any list and i have played them.

  8. Interesting list, I personally think Augusta has lost a lot of its luster. What about Sand Hills or Royal Dornach, but great list. Maybe we should have everyone vote on the worst dog tracks near them to see if we can compile a list top 100 worst courses in the country.

  9. mark till,

    I also have Turnberry and Loch Lomond as nothes on my golf bag. I agree that they are both great courses, however to put them in a top 5 I would have to put “total experience” into the equation. For Turnberry you have history (golf and WWII contribution), hotel ambiance (grand dining room, sitting in the bar drinking your beverage of choice while listening to the piper), and one fantastic club sandwich eaten overlooking the 18th. For Loch Lomond you have the luxurious accomodation (especially The Point), ice cold beer served in pewter goblets at The Spikes Bar, pounding pyramid stacked ProV1s down into the range, dinner at Rossdhu after drinks in the lounge.

    As I said, both courses are great, but I really think everything else that goes along with “being there” kicks both up a few notches. Only one, Loch Lomond, would seriously be in my own runnig for top 5 courses, but both would easily make my top 5 golf experiences. Although the caddies at Loch Lomond were a bit stiff by Scotish standards, but then the clientele probably requires that.

  10. A “Top 5” is soo hard to do…I think you’ve done a great job, but I’d almost have to insist on a David Letterman “Top 10” to due the great game of golf justice.

    It’s just too hard to have a list that doesn’t include Merion, Shinnecock, Ballybunion, Lahinch and the like…

  11. To borrow a phrase I learned just today: “One need not have slept with Halle Berry to appreciate how beautiful she is.”

    Point well taken.

    I wasn’t trying to be argumentative or imply that I didn’t like the article but was a little thrown off by the title and the disclaimer that he didn’t play the courses. My apologies, Jeff.

    However, I have to argue that Cypress doesn’t belong on this list over Pebble. 😆

  12. I wasn’t trying to be argumentative or imply that I didn’t like the article but was a little thrown off by the title and the disclaimer that he didn’t play the courses. My apologies, Jeff.

    No worries – we didn’t take it as argumentative. Plus, it gave me a chance to daydream about Halle Berry for a few moments. 😉

    Cypress or Pebble? Hmm, I’ll take Cypress, personally.

  13. I wasn’t trying to be argumentative or imply that I didn’t like the article but was a little thrown off by the title and the disclaimer that he didn’t play the courses. My apologies, Jeff.

    No worries Brandon… we’re always up for a good debate around here. Basically it would be far better if I could play them all to make sure I’m right. 😉

  14. Is this guy for real…a disgracefully blighted and dimwitted american view on the worlds greatest courses how can one rank if he has not played………….a joke
    my list(have played all)

    1.Pine valley-the most unique and testing course on the planet
    2.Royal co Down-a completely different hole at every turn and an idylic setting,the worlds best links
    3.Cypress point-the most awe inspiring location for a golf course and 17 top quality holes…the inland ones are as good if not better
    4.Augusta- need i say more
    5.Carnoustie-the best laid out golf course in the worls bar none a true and fair test of ones ball striking no tricks frills,just raw and pure golf

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