I picked up a golf club for the first time when I was just 10 years old. I can still remember that day at the driving range with my Dad. While I learned how to play the game, my Dad would teach me to respect the greats of the game from Arnold Palmer to Jack Nicklaus. I remember sitting down on many Sunday afternoons to watch major championships with my Dad and just being in awe. The players were super human in my eyes and the courses were nothing short of holy cathedrals.
What golfer has not dreamed of stepping up to the 12th tee box at Augusta National and looking out on the stunning azaleas that protect the green. Feeling your knees shake and your palms sweat as you attempt to stick your ball on the green from 155 yards out. Then as you take a stroll over the famous “Hogan Bridge,” you take a moment to pray that you can walk away from the hole with at least a par. This is just one of the many golf experiences that players aspire to achieve.
I thought I’d share with you the golf courses from around the United States that I dream to play one day. Here is just my Top 5:
#5: BETHPAGE STATE PARK (BLACK) – Farmingdale, New York. Designed by Joseph H. Burbeck & A.W. Tillinghast in 1936. 7,366 yards, Par 71.
“The Black” as it is known to the locals was once a scruffy state park haunt which was ranked by Golf Digest as number 100 in the country. It was considered a very unpolished diamond in a very dismal rough. Rees Jones, the son of famed Robert Trent Jones, gave it a must needed face lift and turned the course into a must-play cult classic as well as the site of two recent U.S. Opens and a Barclays event on the PGA Tour. Jones’ renovations revived the course but made sure to not lose the original mystic by re-establishing deep pits and large expanses of sand. In an interesting twice, Jones did not touch the original greens, which are some of the roundest and flattest in championship golf. This makes them perfect for today’s swift green speeds. This course has a rough edge about it which perfectly encapsulates the attitude of Long Island, New York.
#4: CONGRESSIONAL C.C. (BLUE) – Bethesda, Maryland. Designed by Robert Trent Jones in 1962. 7,278 yards, Par 72.
This selection I’ll admit is a homer pick. I live less than 30 minutes from this course and it has been a dream of mine to one day play. Congressional is Rees Jones redo of a course that was substantially his father’s work. Rees didn’t “remodel” it to make it more of a challenge for the professionals but for membership play. He gave the course definition. When you stand on the tee, you can see the entire hole, all the hazards and hopefully all the ways to just make it through unpunished. The greens are gentle enough for an everyday member to play but can be still mowed down to 14 on a Stimpmeter for tournaments. The original design had a par-3 18th hole but Rees reversed its direction and made it into a long, very difficult par-3 10th. Looking down the barrel of number 18 is quite an intimidating experience. You deal with water all along the left-side with an ominous clubhouse which can only be described as “castle like” looking down upon the 18th green. This course was humbled at the 2011 U.S. Open when Rory McIlory destroyed the field at Congressional and finishing at 16-under par and an eight shot victory over Jason Day. Be rest assured that the next time the U.S. Open returns to Congressional, it won’t be so easy.
#3: WHISTLING STRAITS (STRAITS) – Haven, Wisconsin. Designed by Pete Dye in 1998. 7,790, Par 72.
I fell in love with the lay out of this course during the 2010 PGA Championship which we all remember the infamous Dustin Johnson “foot print” incident which cost him his first major victory. This is a relatively new course compared to the others but one of the most visually stunning courses, you’ll ever see. Pete Dye transformed a dead flat army air base overlooking Lake Michigan into an imitation Ballybunion. An assistant pro was seen addressing his ball, which rested in a visible footprint in one of the 967 (at last count) bunkers on the course. There are no rakes at Whistling Straits, in keeping with the notion that this is a transplanted Irish links. No, the pro didn’t ground his club. Instead, he stooped over, picked up the ball and placed it on a patch of level sand saying “that’s what we do here.” This whole course screams Pete Dye architecture because it forces the player to invent shots, or maybe even a local rule. Which makes us wonder how it will play at this year’s PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup.
#2: PEBBLE BEACH G. LINKS – Pebble Beach, California. Designed by Jack Neville & Douglas Grant in 1919. 6,828 yards, Par 72.
You can’t discuss the Top 5 golf courses in the Unites States without listing Pebble Beach. It’s like a rule. This course has got to be the greatest meeting of land and sea in American golf, but the most extensive one as well. Nine holes perched immediately above the crashing Pacific surf and the fourth through 10th plus the 17th and 18th. Pebble’s sixth through eighth are golf’s real Amen Corner, with a few Hail Marys thrown in over the ocean cove on eight from atop a 75-foot-high bluff. The best part of Pebble is that it is a public course and anyone willing to plunk down nearly 400 dollars can get a tee time. It is easily one of the most popular major championship venues of all time. It will host another U.S. Amateur in 2018, and the very next year it will host its sixth U.S Open.
#1: AUGUSTA NATIONAL G.C. – August, Georgia. Designed by Alister Mackenzie & Bobby Jones in 1933. 7,435 yards, Par 72.
What can I say about Augusta that hasn’t been said a million times? Every golfer young and old dreams of a day when they will get an extremely rare opportunity to play on those hallowed grounds. You have to win a lottery just for the right to buy a ticket to the Masters, so you can imagine how hard it is to get in 18. No golf course has tinkered with its layout as often or as effectively over the decades as has Augusta National Golf Club, mainly to keep it competitive for the annual Masters Tournament. All that tinkering has resulted in an amalgamation of design ideas, with a routing by Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones, some Perry Maxwell greens, some Trent Jones water hazards, some Jack Nicklaus mounds and swales and, most recently, extensive re-bunkering by Tom Fazio.