America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses/2009-10

Continued (page 2 of 4)

Pine Valley's slip to No. 2 should not be deemed a demotion. It remains the consummate test of shotmaking, relentless in its challenges: every fairway, every green a haven besieged by wastelands of sand, pine, bramble, brush and more sand. Its score of 73.03 was almost good enough to remain No. 1, and gave it a healthy lead over No. 3 Shinnecock Hills.

Pine Valley had been out of the top position only once before in the 25 years that we've numerically ranked the top 100. In 2001, it dropped behind Pebble Beach Golf Links before regaining the top spot two years later. Back then, we suggested Pebble Beach's upward move was because of a dramatic new par-3 fifth hole on the ocean and improved Conditioning for the memorable 2000 U.S. Open, but that was merely speculation. This year, Pebble Beach is No. 6 among America's 100 Greatest, and No. 1 among America's 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses, a position it has maintained since we introduced that ranking in 2003.

Pine Valley GC

2. PINE VALLEY G.C. / The New Jersey club led the 100 Greatest courses in three categories: Shot Values, Resistance to Scoring and Design Variety. Here, the second hole.
Photo: Stephen Szurlej

For the fourth consecutive survey, a different course has reached the top 10 for the first time. This year it's Fishers Island Club, a rollicking Seth Raynor-Charles Banks design that skirts the Long Island Sound shoreline on a tiny New York island. It's No. 9 on our list, a remarkable achievement for an ancient mariner that disappeared from America's 100 Greatest in 1975 and didn't return to the list until 2001. It features Raynor's usual assortment of hole replications with his usual geometrical splendor, but in surprising locations -- hilltop Eden and Biarritz greens, for example, and a Redan green on a par 4. It bumped Crystal Downs, the Alister Mackenzie-Perry Maxwell masterpiece in Michigan that went from No. 10 in 2007 to No. 16 this year.

In 2005, C.B. Macdonald's groundbreaking National Golf Links reached No. 9. It dropped to No. 13 in 2007 and to 15 this year. In 2003, Oak Hill's East Course climbed into the top 10 for its first and only time but dropped to 27th in 2005. This year, Oak Hill is nearly all the way back, at No. 11.

Not that there's anything wrong with being outside the top 10. Any spot on America's 100 Greatest is special. The competition is fierce, with at least 200 courses having a mathematical chance of making the list during this latest survey period. There are only eight newcomers, and two of them are former members returning to the list.

The highest ranked newcomer, No. 27 Club at Black Rock, overlooks Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene. A Jim Engh fantasy-turned-reality, it's perhaps the most unusual and controversial layout on the 100 Greatest, with features like bobsled-run fairways and sinister, squiggly bunkers blasted from tons of rock and embossed into the landscape. Powerful in appearance, Black Rock is thrilling to play, although with rock formations as stalwart stanchions, it has some abrasive rubs of the green.

No. 39 Sebonack Golf Club, less than a thousand yards from Shinnecock Hills and cheek to cheek with National Golf Links, is a stunning product of Tom Doak-Jack Nicklaus synergy. Pundits spin it as "Tom's bunkers, Jack's greens," but in truth it's just the opposite. Doak convinced Nicklaus to go with small greens of sweeping contours and little imperfections that Jack had never done on his own. Jack insisted that Tom tone down the proposed ragged, jagged bunker faces to make them palatable to high-handicappers. Tight, firm, beige turf (a mix of fescue and Colonial bent) showcases every knob and dip that was painstakingly crafted for specific strategies. Just three years old, Sebonack will be the site of the 2013 U.S. Women's Open.

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