Golf Digest editors picks
60th Anniversary

Game Changers

As part of our 60th anniversary, Golf Digest lists the most important courses, decade by decade

November 2010

We've admired American golf courses for their breathtaking beauty, cunning strategy and dramatic challenge. We've celebrated courses as the toughest and the greatest and even some as the best bargains.

But until now, Golf Digest has never given much thought to golf courses as agents of change. Clearly, the evolution of golf in America has been influenced by its playing fields. The popularity of Van Cortlandt Park, America's first muny, led to the invention of tee times. Oakmont's greens led to the creation of the Stimpmeter. Desert Inn in Las Vegas proved you could fool Mother Nature in a desert, and two generations later, Shadow Creek in the same town proved you could fool her all of the time.

Some courses have been groundbreakers, others merely seismic shifts, but collectively they have contributed mightily to the development of every facet of the game. Golf courses inspired us to create new turfgrasses, new playing utensils, new clothing and refreshments. (Would the Arnold Palmer exist had not Arnie been particularly thirsty after a round?)

Our challenge was to identify those courses we believe have had the biggest impact upon the game. What follows is not a ranking but a roster of the most important courses of each decade of golf in America. In many cases, we've selected individual courses, but in some decades we recognized the importance of an entire complex. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, for example, was an audacious concept in the 1990s: 18 courses at seven sites, all built by the same design firm, all built at the same time. It has since mushroomed to even more locales within the state.

The impact of some courses -- Pinehurst and Augusta National, for instance -- is well known. But others have gone nearly unnoticed, an oversight we try to rectify here. Whitfield Country Club, a residential development in Sarasota, Fla., was built in the mid-1920s by Donald Ross, the country's premier course architect. To sell memberships and home sites, Whitfield's developers hired the great amateur player Bobby Jones as spokesman. And yet Whitfield failed within a year, a victim of Florida's real-estate bust that struck well in advance of the stock-market crash. Whitfield proved that even a marquee designer and a celebrity endorser don't guarantee success, a lesson with resonance even now. (Incidentally, Whitfield was revived in the late 1930s, and exists today as Sara Bay Country Club.)

We also list Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio, designed, built and operated by club pro Bill Powell in the late 1940s. Powell was a black man in what, in those days, was most definitely a white man's profession, catering to what, in those days, was mostly a white man's pastime, and it's only in retrospect that we can appreciate his perseverance and courage. Powell died last year, but his course remains, not a great design but a great symbol of achievement over adversity.

We've limited this list to American courses, not because America is the center of the golf universe, but because it offers a manageable perspective. Globally, the game is much older, and much younger, too, and it would be an interesting exercise to compile the most significant courses around the world, from the predecessors of St. Andrews to the latest extravaganzas being installed in China.

But for now, our focus is on American courses. There's not sufficient room to recite the reasons for all our selections; for that, as well as additional courses we believe have had an influence upon American golf, go to golfdigest.com/go/importantcourses.

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America's Most Important
Golf Courses By Decade

COURSES LISTED BY YEAR OF FOUNDING

1880s
Golf clubs existed briefly in the late 1700s, but rustic and rudimentary courses didn't appear until the mid-1880s.
1884: Oakhurst G. Links, WV
1886: Dorset Field Club, VT
1886: Sarasota G.C. , Sarasota, FL
1887: Foxburg C.C., PA
1888: Saint Andrew's G.C., NY

Newport Country Club

1894: NEWPORT COUNTRY CLUB: America's first championship venue, site of the inaugural U.S. Amateur and the first U.S. Open, in 1895.
Photo: Getty Images

1890s
True pioneer courses promoted golf. The Country Club hedged by routing its course through a horse-racing track.
1893: Chicago G.C.
1893: The Country Club, Brookline, MA
1894: Myopia Hunt Club, MA
1894: Newport C.C., RI
1894: Shinnecock H. G.C., NY
1895: Baltusrol G.C., NJ
1895: Van Cortlandt Park G. Cse., NY
1898: Garden City G.C., NY
1899: Ekwanok C.C., VT
1899: Pinehurst C.C., NC

1900s
Once men began designing rather than merely staking out holes, courses took on individual personalities.

National G. Links of America, NY

1909: NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA: The first melting pot of strategic concepts introduced Americans to the real links game long played in Great Britain.
Photo: Stephen Szurlej

1900: Flossmoor C.C., IL
1903: Inverness Club, OH
1903: Inwood C.C., NY
1904: Oakmont C.C., PA
1904: Wykagyl C.C., NY
1905: Atlanta Athletic Club
1905: Skokie C.C., IL
1908: Beverly C.C., IL
1908: Seattle G.C.
1909: National G. Links of America, NY

1910s
Given the inexperience of most designers, a decade of remarkable achievement. Most are now considered classics.

Merion Cricket Club, PA

1912: MERION CRICKET CLUB: Patterned after the Old Country, its "white faces" promoted a new idea: bunkers that stared back at golfers.
Photo: Stephen Szurlej

1911: Columbia C.C., MD
1912: Merion Cricket Club, PA
1914: Wannamoisett C.C., RI
1915: Lido G.C., NY
1916: Olympia Fields C.C., IL
1917: Engineers C.C., NY
1918: Oakland Hills C.C., MI
1918: Pebble Beach G. Links
1918: Pine Valley G.C., NJ
1918: San Francisco G.C.
1920s
In retrospect, this decade is the Golden Age of Golf Design, when Ross, Mackenzie and Tillinghast emerged as giants.

Seminole G.C., FL

1929: SEMINOLE GOLF CLUB: Alister Mackenzie showed artistry at Cypress Point; Donald Ross countered with majesty in South Florida sand dunes.
Photo: Stephen Szurlej

1921: Los Angeles C.C.
1923: Winged Foot, NY
1924: The Olympic Club, CA
1926: Oak Hill C.C., NY
1926: Whitfield C.C., FL
1926: Yale University G.C., CT
1927: Riviera C.C., CA
1928: Aronimink G.C., PA
1928: Cypress Point Club, CA
1929: Seminole G.C., FL

1930s
Course construction provided jobs in the Great Depression. Even private Southern Hills Country Club used relief workers.

Prairie Dunes C.C., KS

1937: PRAIRIE DUNES COUNTRY CLUB: For 20 years it was the grandest nine-hole course in the country. Its expansion to 18 was seamless.
Photo: Courtesy of Prairie Dunes

1930: U. of Michigan G. Cse.
1930: Stanford U. G. Cse., CA
1932: Pocantico Hills G. Cse., NY
1932: Ponte Vedra Club, FL
1933: Augusta Ntl. G.C., GA
1934: Bethpage St. Park, NY
1936: Colonial C.C., TX
1936: Southern Hills C.C., OK
1937: Prairie Dunes C.C., KS
1938: Ohio State U. G.C.

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