I realize when writing about the top 10 courses one has played, that it’s all relevant. There’s many different ways to look at a top 10. For instance, one could rank their top courses solely off the Golf Digest rankings, or one could rank courses based off personal preference.
As an example, Old Mac is my favorite course at Bandon Dunes. I love the layout, style, and simplicity that it offers. It makes me feel like I’m back playing golf in simpler times. I know that even though Old Mac is my personal favorite at the resort, it is not the best course there according to the rankings.
Therefore, my top 10 list will be a combination of both. A little bit of my own personal favoritism, to which the courses I think are best, and a mixture of courses that are ranked specifically. Getting a chance to play any of these places has been a privilege, and I enjoy the opportunity to share all the experiences with others.
1. The Riviera Country Club
Of course I am a little biased towards Riviera, but I truly believe that it is the best course I have played from top to bottom. When people ask me what makes Riv so special, I always tell them the architecture. Riv is so much more than the huge clubhouse and the glitz and glam of Hollywood. George C. Thomas created this masterpiece in 1926, and only small details have been corrected over time to the layout that still shows its teeth to the pros today. The smooth, gentle slopes that roll through the small canyon below the Santa Monica mountains play home to some of the most well crafted holes in golf, as well as some of the most finely manicured bunkers, and some of the trickiest greens in the game. With its rich history in golf, Riviera will remain a staple and icon in the game for years to come.
2. Pebble Beach
I have been fortunate enough to play Pebble Beach a couple times in my life and each time it still amazes me. Many have heard the comment, “If you want the golf, then go play Spyglass. If you want the views, then go play Pebble.” While the comment is true, Pebble does have some of the best views in golf, I believe Pebble to be an amazing golf course on top of that.
If you took the course of Pebble Beach off the coast, and placed it here in rural Indiana, then I still believe it would be best in the state. From the the elevation changes, to the shape, and the small greens, Pebble Beach is more than just views. It’s a challenging, precision filled golf course, that demands quality golf shots in order to score. Pebble may seem like a walk in the park, but the course is far from it.
3. Oakland Hills Country Club – South Course
After playing Oakland Hills, it was quickly added to my short list of favorite courses. I saw the difficulty, I saw the demand, but I saw the incredible detail Donald Ross left behind in his design. A design that will challenge you every step of the way, as well as taking your breath away with its shape and beauty. When I think championship golf, I think Oakland Hills. (Hole 6 is still my favorite hole in golf)
4. Los Angeles Country Club – North
There is a certain aura around LACC. An aura that you are some place important, and very special, as if you were a young kid in the 1920s entering the fanciest club in the city. The prestige of LACC precedes itself, and sitting in the middle of Beverly Hills, George C. Thomas was able to leave his mark on another LA specialty. LACC is all that and prepared to be one of the most challenging tests in US Open golf history in 2023. LACC is more than ready to shine its lights on the secret they have been keeping from the golf world for all these years.
5. California Golf Club of San Francisco
Cal Club is one of the most underrated golf courses that I have ever played. A course that seemingly few have heard of, outside of golf nuts, but is one of the best layouts I have seen. Many architects left their mark on helping design Cal Club, such at Arthur Macon, Willie Locke, Robert Hunter, and Alistair MacKenzie. Flowing through the hills of South San Francisco you’ll never get bored on this journey. Each hole involves a new view and something different to look at. The layout never gets monotonous, and keeps you interested from 1 through 18. A classic layout that is becoming rediscovered, and will be talked about in many golf circles for years to come.
6. Bethpage Black
When you see the Warning sign in front of the first tee, you get your picture and sort of just laugh it off. But really, it’s hard, really hard. I didn’t tip out Bethpage all the way back, because if I did I would have really been in trouble, but it is still a fair test from all angles. A course that demands accuracy and shot placement off the tee, as well as precision coming in on approach shots. Bethpage takes no prisoners and can beat you up if things start going side ways. Tight fairways with thick rough make this an all-around difficult track. Difficult, but a true test to golf, and a great reminder of just how good the pros are.
7. Pacific Dunes
Some of my favorite holes in golf are along the ocean at Pacific Dunes. But Pac Dunes is more than just the ocean holes. A Tom Doak designed layout that pays homage to the birthplace of the game. A walk that is not only rememberable for its views, but challenging in it own right. It will reward you for great shots and penalize you for bad ones. All the courses at Bandon are special, but Pacific Dunes stands tall above the others.
8. Olympic Club – Lake
You can feel all the rich history on the drive in to Olympic Club. It’s a special place. All of the games greats have played there, and many have won there. Some say Olympic isn’t that “great” and the layout is “boring”, or the “finishing stretch doesn’t match the rest of the course”, but I believe it is fantastic. It’s a course that will challenge you everyday no matter if it’s tournament condition or not. It is demanding to hit fairways, and if you miss greens, then good luck from those deep bunkers. A layout and test that is just as good as the burger dog at the turn.
9. Whistling Straits
I get asked a lot where my favorite place to PLAY is, and Whistling Straits is immediately always one of my first answers. One of Pete Dye’s best designs, and he keeps you on your toes from start to finish. I believe what makes Whistling Straits a fun place to play is the different looks you get hole by hole. You are seemingly met with a new look and challenge from every tee to green. But beware, don’t end up in the devil’s asshole.
10. San Francisco Golf Club
SFGC is great, and there is no getting around that. An original Tillinghast that boasts some all-time great golf history and architecture. The shape around SFGC is incredible, and how they were able to utilize the slope of the property is imaginative for its time. Great bunker complexes that surround each green and guard the fairways that are not only impeccable by shape, but intimidating by sight. A world class golf experience at SFGC.
1. Muirfield Village – Jack’s place. While this ranks very high, it just didn’t do it for me. I saw the prestige and the beauty, but not my favorite from start to finish. I will be interested to see Jack’s new layout in years to come here.
2. The Dunes Club – only a 9-hole track, but the best one at that. One of the most intriguing layouts from start to finish, with all the golf course desirables. With no tee markers, and a pro shop the size of a closet, The Dunes Club takes you back to the kind of simplicity this game can offer.
3. Hudson National – maybe one of the best manicured courses I have step foot on. A difficult layout that will be a test for all players, but one that will stick out in your mind. All the amenities of a great club to go with a top-notch course.
4. Victoria National – Indiana’s highest rated course, with plenty of challenge. Incredible shape for rural Southern Indiana, but also one of the most precisely demanding shotmaking courses you will meet from tee to green. Pack plenty of balls if you are headed here.
5. Bandon Dunes – There’s something about Bandon that makes it special. The ocean, the sand, the whispy grass, and anticipation of what’s next along the walk. A course where you will get everything you want out of the 18 holes, and some. A day spent here won’t ever be a bad one.
Others (In no particular order):
Butler National, Olympia Fields, Inverness, Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald, Pete Dye Golf Club, Crooked Stick, The Pete Dye Course, Valhalla, The Preserve, Mayacama, Arcadia Bluffs, Harbour Town, Bel-Air Country Club, Blackwolf Run, Erin Hills, Eastward HO!, Culver Academy Course, Cog Hill Dubsdread, Torrey Pines, PGA National, Lakeside Golf Club, Sycamore Hills, Kapalua – Plantation, Meadow Club, Innisbrook, TPC Harding Park, Caledonia, Moraine Country Club, Conway Farms, Dunes Golf and Beach Club, NCR.