Golf Digest editors picks
Golf Digest Woman

America's Top 50 Courses For Women

From the designs to the amenities, these layouts are fit for a queen

March 2010

There are nearly 16,000 golf facilities in the United States -- from all-male country clubs to run-down, good ol' boy munys. Finding a course that makes women feel welcome and comfortable can be like chopping your way through the jungle with a machete. But with GDW's inaugural ranking of America's Top 50 Courses for Women, we hope to bring you to a clearing.

We've searched nationwide for the public-access and resort courses that offer the most women-friendly designs, amenities, staff, programs and atmosphere. This list differs significantly from other Golf Digest rankings, such as America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses and America's Best New Courses, which are based on a mathematical formula that compiles the numerical votes of more than 900 Course Rating panelists. In compiling America's Top 50 Courses for Women, we considered nominations by our panel of more than 100 female raters, but ultimately it came down to how well each course met the women-friendly criteria established by our editors. For example, we looked for the best courses that offered at least one tee that plays to 5,300 yards or fewer (with bonus points for courses that have one tee that plays to fewer than 5,000 yards), at least two tees playing to fewer than 6,000 yards, and at least two tees with USGA Slope and Course Ratings for women. Other attributes we valued included a minimal number of forced carries from the forward tees, run-up areas to most or all of the greens, a more demanding challenge from the longer tees for better female players, and beautiful scenery.

Ultimately we found 50 gems -- some famous, some not -- that understand what women want. Our No. 1, Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., embodies women-friendliness in its design and atmosphere. The famous Pine Needles Golfari golf school for women, in its 46th year, is the model of women-specific instruction and is run by Pine Needles owner/LPGA charter member Peggy Kirk Bell. Women who attend Golfaris receive personalized instruction on and off the Pine Needles course, which was completely restored before the 2007 U.S. Women's Open, the third Open hosted by Pine Needles in a span of 11 years. The course is a favorite of LPGA Tour players and beginners, with a diverse layout that puts good players to the test and offers a fun, stress-free experience for shorter hitters. Ultimately, it's this diversity that makes it the most women-friendly course in the country.

On the following pages are other examples of creative ways courses are appealing to female golfers. The best news of all? Every course on our list is open to the public. So make it a point to play as many of them as you can.

MULTIPLE-TEE OPTIONS

Courses with five or even six tees tend to be the most women-friendly because they usually have a tee that plays to fewer than 5,300 yards, and they lack big gaps between tees, allowing women of different abilities to find a yardage that suits them. But what if there's not enough land to install that many tees? Course designer Jim Engh has adopted a great system for his most recent layouts, including two on our ranking, No. 16 Four Mile Ranch in Caņon City, Colo., and No. 19 Snowmass Club in Snowmass Village, Colo. He builds four tee boxes that are spaced far apart. In addition to those tees, he designates "combination tees" on the scorecard. For example, at Four Mile Ranch the red tees measure 4,652 yards and the white tees 5,373 yards. Between them on the scorecard is the White/Red measuring 4,937 yards, which uses nine red-tee holes and nine of the white. Overall, there are seven real and combination tees, all with a USGA Slope and Course Rating.

"You really have to have at least six sets of tees if you want to hit every ability of golfer," Engh says. "So we said let's cover the spectrum with four sets of tees, including one that goes way back and one that goes all the way up to 4,600 yards. And then we filled in the blanks in between." The combination tees suggest that players use the shorter set of tees on longer, uphill holes and the longer set on shorter holes. "It gives all players the ability to cover a variety of yardages," Engh says.

Engh says this concept could easily be adopted by all new courses, because the USGA has to give them a Slope and Course Rating anyway. "It doesn't take a lot of extra work or money -- it's really just more of a bookkeeping effort," he says. "I wish I could claim it as my idea, but it came from a client at Hawktree Golf Club in Bismarck, N.D. His name is Bill Fleck, so I call it the Fleck System. Everyone thinks I'm saying the Flex System." A suitable name, indeed.

GREAT AMENITIES

A women-friendly facility considers our wants and needs before and after the round, with clubhouse amenities and locker rooms that are more than an afterthought. At our No. 5, Sea Island in St. Simon's Island, Ga., the marble-floored women's locker room is 1,500 square feet and is designed to make female golfers feel pampered. The large sitting area has easy access to a co-ed exercise room equipped with treadmills, elliptical machines, free weights and basic strength machines. Just past the sitting room are 56 full-size and 72 half-size lockers, and a women's shoe room with an attendant, Dorsea Helton. In addition to shining shoes, Dorsea ensures that the four private bathrooms are equipped with slippers, robes, shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, toothbrushes, hair brushes and other toiletries. "You don't have to bring a single thing when you come here," Dorsea says. "We do everything for you, and our rain-shower showerheads will help you feel like a queen."

Any course with a spa automatically ranks higher in the eyes of most women, and few courses have a better spa than No. 2 on our list, the Boulders in Carefree, Ariz. The 33,000-square-foot Golden Door Spa offers a variety of treatments and fuses feng shui and Zen-like vibes with the natural American Indian elements intrinsic to the area.

Divided into two distinct areas, the spa has a west wing featuring a 2,000-square-foot fitness center and an east wing with 24 treatment rooms, an authentic tepee where a shaman teaches meditation, and a tranquility-inducing labyrinth walk. LPGA teaching pro Judith Roer, who has a degree in golf biomechanics, kinesiology and neuromuscular balance, leads a series of three golf-specific fitness classes. These off-course extras make women feel appreciated.

WOMEN IN CHARGE

Ever been to a golf facility where women call the shots? No. 15 SouthWood Golf Club in Tallahassee, Fla., is such a place. General manager Beth Murphy, director of sales Cara Dollinger and director of instruction Becky Sauers provide the leadership and vision that make SouthWood a stand-out experience for women. The course attracts its share of swagger, from long-hitting guys looking to test their skills from the Fred Couples-Gene Bates Signature Course's 7,172-yard black tees to former Governor Jeb Bush, who used to swing by with his entourage on Saturday mornings for a quick nine. But among the staff, there's little testosterone to be found. The golf shop staff comprises mainly women, and the dining room is bustling with female diners and staff.

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