By Ron Whitten
Photos by Stephen Szurlej
America's Best New Courses of 2009 are all about old school.
All four Best New winners were designed by senior golfers with decades of grit, experience and wisdom under their fingernails, working the old-fashioned way: by hand, in the field, not a blueprint among the four winners.
All four are courses built for the purest of reasons, the sheer enjoyment of the game, to be played on foot, using landforms that encourage the old-style bounce-and-roll game, where you play to a spot and let a slope feed the ball to the target, and only fools fire directly at the flag.
Our winners overflow with crusty charm and character, blessedly absent of glitz. OK, one has a waterfall, but it was there for a thousand years, waiting to be discovered and incorporated into a golf hole. You can't get more old school than that.
The Best New Public Course of 2009 is The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort in southern Indiana, a stark, treeless, wind-swept concoction by octogenarian Pete Dye, the Gandalf wizard of course design. It prevailed over Palouse Ridge Golf Club at Washington State University in Pullman, a work of remarkably similar concept by John Harbottle, who got his start two decades ago working for Dye.
The Best New Private winner is tightly forested, lay-of-the-land Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown, W.Va., designed (in the tradition of old-school architecture) by a couple of amateur architects, John R. Raese and J. Robert Gwynne. That was something of an upset over early favorite Rock Creek Cattle Company in western Montana, a textbook of natural design by the headmaster of minimalism, Tom Doak.
The Best New Canadian winner is Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club north of Merritt, British Columbia, a collaboration by Canadian designer Rod Whitman (who learned under Dye), former PGA Tour rabbit Richard Zokol and former superintendent Armen Suny. In second place was the much more conventional Otter Creek Golf Club in Otterville, Ontario, a breakthrough by longtime course contractor Dick Kirkpatrick.
Our Best Remodel of 2009 goes to Charlotte Country Club in North Carolina, whose Donald Ross layout was reinvigorated by Ron Prichard, a veteran designer who has spent a quarter-century in relative anonymity, specializing in classic course reclamation. Behind it came the South Course at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois, which architect Steve Smyers refashioned into a worthy companion to the club's U.S. Open North Course.
As always, our survey was conducted using a panel of nearly 950 male and female golfers, who evaluated courses using five criteria:
• Shot Values.
• Design Variety.
• Resistance to Scoring.
To be eligible for 2009 Best New, a course must have officially opened between May 1, 2008, and April 30, 2009.