March Madness

Where’s the best golf in the U.S.? Our scientific ranking of the top areas

It’s one of golf’s great debates: Where is the best golf in the United States? Like any great debate, there’s subjectivity involved. If you’re talking states, New York and California are the clear leaders. Twenty percent of the nation’s top-200 courses are from either state. What makes it interesting is when you break New York and California down into smaller regions. Isolate courses in Long Island and Westchester County, N.Y., for example, and pit them against courses in a metro area like Philadelphia or Chicago, and now the results get tight.

With March Madness upon us, all the bracket chatter made us want to formulate a definitive ranking of the nation’s best golf regions. Using the scores from our most recent 100 Greatest and Second 100 Greatest rankings, we have determined the Sweet 16 of golf regions.

Of course, there’s also some debate to be had over what constitutes a region. We figure a golfer must be able to reasonably travel to all the courses in a region on a trip. We then averaged the panelists’ scores of the 10 best courses in each region to create the ranking. (We’ve included the course listings of the top-three courses in each region.) A great golf region is more than just one or two highly ranked courses, and having impressive depth is rewarded on this list.

Scroll on to see the complete ranking and be sure to click to learn more about each course and read reviews from our course-ranking panelists and readers. Have you played one of these courses? We encourage you to leave your review and star rating as part of Places to Play, where we’re building a hub of courses content, complete with course reviews, experts’ opinions and star ratings.

1. Long Island

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Private
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Southampton, NY
5
170 Panelists
Generally considered to be the earliest links in America, heavily remodeled by C.B. Macdonald, then replaced (except for three holes) by William S. Flynn in the early 1930s, it’s so sublime that its architecture hasn’t really been altered for nearly 50 years. Most trees that once framed many holes have been removed, and in 2012, the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw did make a few changes, mostly green expansions and new mowing patterns, to prepare Shinnecock for the 2018 U.S. Open, won by Brooks Koepka. Shinnecock will again host the U.S. Open in 2026.
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National Golf Links of America
Private
National Golf Links of America
Southampton, NY
4.9
255 Panelists
This is where golf architect Seth Raynor got his start. A civil engineer by training, he surveyed holes for architect C.B. Macdonald, who scientifically designed National Golf Links as a fusion of his favorite features from grand old British golf holes. National Golf Links is a true links containing a marvelous collection of holes. As the 2013 Walker Cup reminded us, Macdonald’s versions are actually superior in strategy to the originals, which is why National’s design is still studied by golf architects today, its holes now replicated elsewhere. Hard to fathom that National Golf Links of America was not ranked in the 100 Greatest from 1969 until 1985.
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Friar's Head Golf Club
Private
Friar's Head Golf Club
Riverhead, NY
4.8
173 Panelists
The challenge for architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw at Friar’s Head was to design some holes in breathtaking sand dunes perched 200 feet above Long Island Sound, and other holes on an ordinary potato field to the south. Said Crenshaw, “Our job was to marry the two distinct elements. We didn’t want one nine up in the dunes and the other down on the flat.” The solution was to move the routing back and forth and to artfully reshape the farm fields into gentle linkslike land. They pulled it off so impressively that Friar’s Head has moved steadily up the rankings each survey period until this year, from No. 34 in its 2011 debut to No. 15 in 2023-2024.
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4. Sebonack G.C., Southampton

5. Bethpage State Park (Black), Farmingdale

6. Garden City G.C.

7. Maidstone Club (West), East Hampton

8. Piping Rock Club, Locust Valley

9. The Creek, Locust Valley

10. Atlantic G.C., Water Mill

2. New Jersey

Editor's note: Given Pine Valley's proximity to Philadelphia, we've included it in the "Greater Philadelphia" region on this list.

Baltusrol Golf Club: Lower
Private
Baltusrol Golf Club: Lower
Springfield, NJ
4.7
145 Panelists
Jack Nicklaus won two U.S. Opens on Baltusrol's Lower Course, setting a tournament record each time. Phil Mickelson and Jimmy Walker won PGAs on it. But the Lower’s most historic event was the ace by architect Robert Trent Jones in 1954 on the par-3 fourth, instantly squelching complaints of critical club members who felt Trent’s redesign made it too hard. Trent’s younger son, Rees, an avowed A.W. Tillinghast fan, lightly retouched the Lower’s design for the 2016 PGA Championship. But there has been another changing of the guard at Baltusrol, as architect Gil Hanse and his team took over as the club’s new consulting architects, and re-opened the restored Lower course—after carefully examining Tillie's old plans and reclaiming green size and rebuilding bunkers—in May 2021. The results, while praised, did not alter the course's standing in the 100 Greatest ranking--it remains at no. 45.
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Somerset Hills Country Club
Private
Somerset Hills Country Club
Bernardsville, NJ
4.8
185 Panelists
Somerset Hills is another marvelous A.W. Tillinghast design, one of the few that has remained virtually unchanged since it opened in 1918. So it may be the most authentic Tillinghast course on the 100 Greatest. It’s a charming, laid-back design that works through seemingly undisturbed rolling terrain, past rock outcroppings and around small-but-distinctive water hazards. Tilly designed this with a spoonful of whimsy, with “dolomite” mounds edging one green and startling knobs within another putting surface. Like Baltusrol Upper, Somerset Hills has a Tillinghast version of a Redan par 3.
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Baltusrol Golf Club: Upper
Private
Baltusrol Golf Club: Upper
Springfield, NJ
4.5
173 Panelists
It’s believed that when A.W. Tillinghast began constructing the Upper and Lower Courses at Baltusrol in 1919 (replacing Baltusrol’s existing 18 holes), it was the first contiguous 36 holes built at the same time in America. Because of the Lower’s tremendous major championship record, most consider the slightly shorter Upper to be a secondary course at the club. But between the two, it was the Upper, not the Lower, that hosted the first U.S. Open (and third in the club’s history) in 1936, won by Tony Manero. The Lower didn’t get its first Open until 1954, won by Ed Furgol. Baltusrol Mountain, just 200 feet high, looms above the right flank of the Upper, complicating drives and putts with a landscape that tilts more than appears to the eye. Gil Hanse will begin work on the Upper at the end of the 2023 season.
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4. Plainfield C.C., Edison

5. Galloway National G.C., Absecon

6. Ridgewood C.C., Paramus

7. Bayonne G.C.

8. Trump National G.C. Bedminster (Old)

9. The Ridge at Back Brook, Ringoes

10. Mountain Ridge C.C., West Caldwell

3. Greater Chicago

Chicago Golf Club
Private
Chicago Golf Club
Wheaton, IL
4.8
163 Panelists
Chicago Golf Club opened the country’s first 18-hole course in 1893, built by C.B. Macdonald, the preeminent golf expert in the U.S. at the time. Two years later Macdonald built the club a different course after the membership moved to a new location in Wheaton, Ill.: “a really first-class 18-hole course of 6,200 yards,” he wrote. Members played that course until 1923 when Seth Raynor, who began his architectural career as Macdonald’s surveyor and engineer, redesigned it using the “ideal hole” concepts his old boss had developed 15 years earlier (he kept Macdonald’s routing, which placed all the O.B. on the left—C.B. sliced the ball). For reasons of history and practicality, no major remodels have occurred since then, allowing the club to merely burnish the architecture by occasionally upgrading worn parts, adjusting grassing lines and, recently, reestablishing a number of lost bunkers that had been filled in over time.
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Butler National Golf Club
Private
Butler National Golf Club
Oak Brook, IL
4.3
222 Panelists
Butler National was former tour player George Fazio’s ideal of a championship course, with 10 forced-carries over water in 18 holes. Even before it opened, it was signed to eventually serve as permanent site of the Western Open. Problem was, when it opened, it was the last cool-weather venue on the PGA Tour to utilize bluegrass rather than bent-grass for its fairway, and several prominent golfers declined to play Butler National because of potential flyer-lies from those fairways. Eventually the turf was converted, but then the Shoal Creek scandal occurred. Rather than change its restricted men-only policy, the club relinquished its role of Western Open host after the 1990 event. So why include a club on America’s 100 Greatest that won’t allow female panelists a chance to evaluate it? Because we rank golf courses, not club policies.
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Shoreacres
Private
Shoreacres
Lake Bluff, IL
4.5
211 Panelists
Shoreacres possesses perhaps the most fascinating topography upon which Seth Raynor ever created a golf course, with his usual collection of suspects, including No. 3 (Leven), No. 6 (Biarritz), No. 7 (Double Plateau), No. 8 (Eden), No. 10 (Road) and No. 14 (Redan) all playing along plateaus and over ravines that feed into Lake Michigan. The stretch of 11, 12 and 13, playing across a ravine, down into it and back out of it, are as unique a stretch of holes as can be found anywhere on a 100 Greatest course.
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4. Medinah C.C. (No. 3)

5. Olympia Fields C.C. (North)

6. Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove

7. Old Elm Club, Highland Park

8. Skokie C.C., Glencoe

9. Olympia Fields C.C. (South)

10. Conway Farms G.C., Lake Forest

4. Monterey Peninsula

Cypress Point Club
Private
Cypress Point Club
Pebble Beach, CA
5
231 Panelists

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten: Cypress Point, the sublime Monterey Peninsula work of sandbox sculpture, whittled Cypress and chiseled coastline, has become Exhibit A in the argument that classic architecture has been rendered ineffectual by modern technology. I'm not buying that argument. Those who think teeny old Cypress Point is defenseless miss the point of Alister MacKenzie’s marvelous design. MacKenzie relished the idea that Cypress Point would offer all sorts of ways to play every hole. That philosophy still thrives, particularly in the past decade, after the faithful restoration of MacKenzie’s original bunkers by veteran course superintendent Jeff Markow. Certainly one way to play Cypress is the full-bore, take-dead-aim, grip-it-and-rip-it, bomb-and-gouge approach. But it’s also a course where finesse still matters, where course management is still rewarded. Yes, long bombers can go low at Cypress Point these days, but so can short-hitting, thoughtful players, who much like sailors in a storm tack their way around bunkers, trees, dunes and ocean coves. And when the winds come up, as they often do at Cypress, it’s the latter approach that’s likely to be more successful.

 

Read our architecture editor's complete review.

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Pebble Beach Golf Links
Public
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, CA
Not just the greatest meeting of land and sea in American golf, but the most extensive one, too, with nine holes perched immediately above the crashing Pacific surf—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 an ocean cove on the eighth from atop a 75-foot-high bluff. Pebble hosted a successful U.S. Amateur in 2018 and a sixth U.S. Open in 2019. Recent improvements include the redesign of the once-treacherous 14th green, and reshaping of the par-3 17th green, both planned by Arnold Palmer’s Design Company a few years back—and the current changes to the iconic eighth hole. Pebble Beach hosted the Women's U.S. Open for the first time in 2023.
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Spyglass Hill Golf Course
Public
Spyglass Hill Golf Course
Pebble Beach, CA
Given the task of designing a course just up the 17 Mile Drive from Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, Robert Trent Jones responded with a combination of Pine Valley and Augusta National. The five opening holes, in Pine Valley-like sand dunes, are an all-too-brief encounter with the Pacific seacoast. The remaining holes are a stern hike through hills covered with majestic Monterey pines (which, sad to say, may someday disappear to pitch canker, but are being replaced in some areas with cypress trees). Add several water hazards that hearken back to the 16th at Augusta (a hole which Trent Jones designed, by the way) and you have what some panelists consider to be Trent’s finest work. Others say it’s the best course never to have hosted a major event. After all, even Pine Valley and Cypress Point have hosted Walker Cups.
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4. Monterey Peninsula C.C.  (Shore), Pebble Beach

5. Monterey Peninsula C.C. (Dunes), Pebble Beach

6. The Preserve G.C., Carmel

7. The Links at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach

8. Poppy Hills G. Cse., Pebble Beach

9. Bayonet & Black Horse (Bayonet), Seaside

10. The Club at Pasadera, Monterey

5. Boston/Cape Cod

The Country Club: The Main Course
Private
The Country Club: The Main Course
Brookline, MA
The Country Club’s 18-hole course that was the scene of the 1963 and 1988 U.S. Opens is not the 18-hole course ranked by Golf Digest. Those events were played on a composite course, utilizing a few holes from the club’s third Primrose nine. We rank the combination of the Main Course, clearly good enough to be one of the top courses in the world. Gil Hanse performed some course restoration prior to the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club. The USGA used a new configuration of 18 holes for the 2022 U.S. Open, won by Matthew Fitzpatrick, eliminating the par-4 fourth and adding the tiny par 3 11th, the first time the hole was used since the 1913 Open won by Francis Ouimet.
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Old Sandwich Golf Club
Private
Old Sandwich Golf Club
Plymouth, MA
4.6
144 Panelists
Old Sandwich Golf Club may be the craftiest Coore-Crenshaw design yet built. Amidst its pines, scrub oaks, gnarly bunkers, chocolate drop mounds, wavy fescue and briar bushes are hints of Baltusrol, National Golf Links, Pine Valley, Pinehurst No 2 and Chicago Golf Club in its cross-bunkering, hazard placement and sandy waste areas. The greens are some of the most rolling of any Coore & Crenshaw design, seeded with a half-dozen bent varieties to give them an old-fashioned mottled appearance. Nobody does old-fashioned better than Coore & Crenshaw.
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Myopia Hunt Club
Private
Myopia Hunt Club
South Hamilton, MA
4.7
121 Panelists
Few realize Myopia Hunt Club, a funky, quirky lark where greens look like bathmats and bunkers look like bathtubs, hosted four U.S. Open championships by 1908 (two of them when the club had only nine holes). Although the Open hasn’t been back in over 110 years, Myopia has always retained a reputation of being a tough little rascal, with tiny greens, deep bunkers and several cross-hazards. Thanks to a Gil Hanse restoration, Myopia looks like it did in its U.S. Open heyday, but with much better turf conditions now.
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4. The Kittansett Club, Marion

5. Essex County Club, Manchester

6. Boston G.C., Hingham

7. Eastward Ho!, Chatham

8. Hyannisport Club

9. Salem C.C., Peabody

10. TPC Boston, Norton

6. Greater Philadelphia

Pine Valley Golf Club
Private
Pine Valley Golf Club
Pine Valley, NJ
5
267 Panelists
A genuine original, its unique character is forged from the sandy pine barrens of southwest Jersey. Founder George Crump had help from now-legendary architects H.S. Colt, A.W. Tillinghast, George C. Thomas Jr. and Walter Travis. Hugh Wilson (of Merion fame) and his brother Alan finished the job, and William Flynn and Perry Maxwell made revisions. Throughout the course, Pine Valley blends all three schools of golf design—penal, heroic and strategic—often times on a single hole. Recent tree removal at selected spots have revealed some gorgeous views of the sandy landscape upon which the course is routed, and bunker reconstruction by Tom Fazio has given the barrens a more intricate and ornate look.
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Merion Golf Club: East
Private
Merion Golf Club: East
Ardmore, PA
4.9
272 Panelists
Merion East has long been considered the best course on the tightest acreage in America, and when it hosted the U.S. Open in 2013, its first since 1981, the present generation of big hitters couldn’t conquer this clever little course. They couldn’t consistently hit its twisting fairways, which are edged by creeks, hodge-podge rough and OB stakes and couldn’t consistently hold its canted greens, edged by bunkers that stare back. Justin Rose won with a 72-hole total of one-over-par, two ahead of Jason Day and Phil Mickelson. With Gil Hanse's extensive two-year renovation making even more improvements at Merion's East Course, the design should be even more polished when the Open returns again in 2030.
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Aronimink Golf Club
Private
Aronimink Golf Club
Newtown Square, PA
4.5
168 Panelists
Aronimink is an object lesson in architectural evolution. After Donald Ross completed his design in 1928, he proclaimed, “I intended to make this my masterpiece.” That didn’t keep club members from bringing in William Gordon in the 1950s to eliminate out-of-play fairway bunkers and move other bunkers closer to greens. The course was later revamped by Dick Wilson, George Fazio and Robert Trent Jones. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, Ron Prichard, one of the profession’s original restoration specialists, began returning Aronimink back to Ross’s conception based on the architect’s drawings and field diagrams. But there was always a discrepancy between what Ross drew in plans and what was actually built in 1928. A more recent renovation by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, who live nearby, has put the course’s architecture more in line with what aerial photographs depict of the early design, particularly the bunkering that might have been imagined as larger in scale but built in smaller, more scatter-shot formations.
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4. The Philadelphia Cricket Club (Wissahickon), Flourtown

5. Stonewall (Old), Elverson

6. Wilmington C.C. (South), Del.

7. Applebrook G.C., Malvern

8. Philadelphia C.C. (Spring Mill), Gladwyne

9. Rolling Green G.C., Springfield

10. Lookaway G.C., Buckingham

7. Westchester County, N.Y.

Winged Foot Golf Club: West
Private
Winged Foot Golf Club: West
Mamaroneck, NY
4.8
201 Panelists
Gone are all the Norway Spruce that once squeezed every fairway of Winged Foot West. It’s now gloriously open and playable, at least until one reaches the putting surfaces, perhaps the finest set of green contours the versatile architect A.W. Tillinghast ever did, now restored to original parameters by architect Gil Hanse. The greens look like giant mushrooms, curled and slumped around the edges, proving that as a course architect, Tillinghast was not a fun guy. Winged Foot West was tamed by Bryson DeChambeau in winning the 2020 U.S. Open in September, but he was only competitor to finish under-par in his six-shot victory.
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Winged Foot Golf Club: East
Private
Winged Foot Golf Club: East
Mamaroneck, NY
4.5
207 Panelists
Winged Foot’s two-course complex is the product of A.W. Tillinghast’s fertile imagination. Every characteristic of the more famous West Course also exists on the Winged Foot East (which, incredibly, was used as a parking lot during recent U.S. Opens). A few years back, architect Gil Hanse re-established Tillinghast’s bunkering and reclaimed the original sizes and shapes of the greens, bringing “corner-pocket” hole locations back into play.
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Sleepy Hollow Country Club
Private
Sleepy Hollow Country Club
Scarborough, NY
4.8
240 Panelists
In the mid 2000s, the late George Bahto, who had extensively researched the works of legendary architect C.B. Macdonald, partnered with designer Gil Hanse to remodel Sleepy Hollow Country Club, which consisted of 11 Macdonald-designed holes and seven added in 1927 by A.W. Tillinghast. The pair persuaded the club to allow them to rebuilt the entire 18 in Macdonald’s style, reasoning that Tillinghast was well represented elsewhere in Westchester County (Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge and others) but Macdonald was not. The rebuild was done in stages, completed well after Bahto’s death in 2014. Thanks to Hanse, Sleepy Hollow now features some Macdonald “template holes,” Eden, Knoll, Leven and Road holes that weren’t even part of Macdonald’s original design. Sleepy Hollow will host the 2023 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
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4. Quaker Ridge G.C., Scarsdale

5. Hudson National G.C., Croton on Hudson

6. Wykagyl C.C., New Rochelle

7. Westchester C.C. (West), Rye

8. Fenway G.C. Scarsdale

9. Whippoorwill Club, Armonk

10. Century C.C., Purchase

8. Wisconsin

Whistling Straits: Straits Course
Public
Whistling Straits: Straits Course
Sheboygan, WI
Pete Dye transformed a dead flat abandoned army air base along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan into an imitation Ballybunion at Whistling Straits, peppering his rugged fairways and windswept greens with 1,012 (at last count) bunkers. There are no rakes at Whistling Straits, in keeping with the notion that this is a transplanted Irish links. It has too much rub-of-the-green for the comfort levels of many tour pros, which is what makes it a stern test for top events, such as three PGA Championships, the 2007 U.S. Senior Open and 2021 Ryder Cup.
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Erin Hills Golf Course
Public
Erin Hills Golf Course
Hartford, WI
Despite the rumor, Erin Hills wasn’t designed specifically to host a U.S. Open. Its original concept was to be a simple, affordable, lay-of-the-land layout, to prove Mother Nature is indeed the best golf architect. The concept changed—some greens moved, one blind par 3 eliminated—as the quest for a U.S. Open grew. That dream came true: after trial runs hosting the 2008 U.S. Women’s Public Links and the 2011 U.S. Amateur, Erin Hills hosted the U.S. Open in 2017, the first time the event had ever been in Wisconsin. Brooks Koepka won with a 72-hole score of 16-under, leading some to conclude Erin Hills was too wide and defenseless. In truth, what it lacked that week was the usual gusty winds that would have effectively narrowed the slanted, canted fairways. Had the par been adjusted to 70 instead of 72 as is usual for most Opens, the score would likely have been closer to 8-under.
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Milwaukee Country Club
Private
Milwaukee Country Club
River Hills, WI
4.5
182 Panelists
With much of the course hard against the Milwaukee River and several holes subject to flooding (the green of the 12th and the entire 13th are located across the river), one might think Milwaukee Country Club is a flat layout. But many of its holes are surprisingly hilly. Its classic design is still tree-lined, but one of the crucial improvements recently made by consulting architect Tom Doak and his associate Don Placek was to remove many trees to open up views of the river from upland holes.
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4. Blackwolf Run (River), Kohler 

5. Sand Valley, Nekoosa

6. Mammoth Dunes, Nekoosa

7. Whistling Straits (Irish), Haven

8. Sentryworld G. Cse., Stevens Point

9. Blue Mound G. & C.C., Wauwatosa

10. The G. Courses at Lawsonia (Links), Green Lake

9. Northern Michigan

Crystal Downs Country Club
Private
Crystal Downs Country Club
Frankfort, MI
4.7
138 Panelists
Perry Maxwell, the Midwest associate of architect Alister MacKenzie, lived on site while constructing the course to MacKenzie’s plans, but there’s evidence Maxwell exercised considerable artistic license on some holes. Whomever did it, Crystal Downs has fairways that zigzag and rumble over the glacial landscape and greens that have doglegs in them. One drawback is that the putting surfaces are so old-fashioned that they’re too steep for today’s green speeds. But that’s part of Crystal Downs appeal. It’s short but has considerable bite.
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Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club (Bluffs)
Can a 100 Greatest course be a sleeper? The Bluffs Course at Arcadia Bluffs has been overshadowed by No. 21 Pacific Dunes ever since it finished second to it in the Best New Upscale Public Course race of 2001. And likewise it’s been second-fiddle to No. 14 Crystal Downs, a northern Michigan neighbor that every visitor wants to play, even though it’s private and Arcadia is public. And even by No. 26 Whistling Straits, the imitation links on the opposite side of Lake Michigan that Arcadia Bluffs resembles, although the sand dunes at Arcadia are natural, not manmade. More recently, the Bluffs faces competition from within, the newly-opened sister layout, the South Course at Arcadia Bluffs, designed by Dana Fry in the style of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor.
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Kingsley Club
Private
Kingsley Club
Kingsley, MI
Expertly routed across glacial domes and over kettle holes, Kingsley Club opens with a split fairway, a high-right avenue separated from a low-left one by a cluster of sod-face bunkers. It’s an attention grabber than is repeated in various fashions throughout the round. For instance, the hilltop green on the short par-3 second seems tiny in comparison to the deep shaggy bunkers surrounding it. The long par-3 fifth plays over a valley with a tongue of fairway ready to repel any shot that comes up short. The par-4 sixth seems to slant in one direction, then cant in the other direction once past a lateral ridge that runs down the fairway. Every hole has its own character. With roughs of tall fescue and occasional white pines and hardwoods, Kingsley is all natural and all absorbing, a thoughtful design by Mike DeVries, who grew up in the area playing No. 14 Crystal Downs.
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4. Forest Dunes G.C., Roscommon

5. True North G.C., Harbor Springs

6. Arcadia Bluffs G.C. (South)

7. The Loop at Forest Dunes G.C. (Black), Roscommon

8. Bay Harbor G.C. (Links/Quarry)

9. Marquette G.C. (Greywalls)

10. Lochenheath G.C., Williamsburg

10. Jupiter/West Palm Beach

Seminole Golf Club
Private
Seminole Golf Club
Juno Beach, FL
4.8
211 Panelists
A majestic Donald Ross design with a clever routing on a rectangular site, each hole at Seminole encounters a new wind direction. The greens are no longer Ross, replaced 50 years ago in a regrassing effort that showed little appreciation for the original rolling contours. The bunkers aren’t Ross either. Dick Wilson replaced them in 1947, his own version meant to the imitate crests of waves on the adjacent Atlantic. A few years back, Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw redesigned the bunkers again, along with exposing some sandy expanses in the rough. Seminole has long been one of America’s most exclusive clubs, which is why it was thrilling to see it on TV for a first time during the TaylorMade Driving Relief match, and then again for the 2021 Walker Cup.
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Jupiter Hills Club: Hills
Private
Jupiter Hills Club: Hills
Tequesta, FL
As an old pro from Pine Valley who lost an Open at Merion, George Fazio blended features of both of those great courses into his design at Jupiter Hills, the high point of his second career as a golf course architect. Built from a distinct sand ridge that runs laterally along the Atlantic seacoast north of West Palm Beach, Jupiter Hills was inexpensive to construct. The terrain was so good, only 87,000 cubic yards of earth were moved. A decade after it opened, George Fazio retired near the property, and couldn’t resist constantly tinkering with it. He ultimately removed many of its most unique, Pine Valley-like aspects. Thirty years later, his nephew Tom Fazio, who had assisted on the original, re-established many of those early characteristics, emphasizing the prominent sand ridge on which George first routed the course.
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The Bear's Club
Private
The Bear's Club
Jupiter, FL

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten: It was a comfortable round with Jack, in part because The Bear's Club is impressively comfortable. It's not your typical condo-covered, lake-laden Florida course. It's old Florida, with lots of pines and palmettos, and slightly scruffy around the edges. There's a natural 12-foot-high sand ridge running across the site. Jack enhanced it and added a couple of others that look equally natural. He integrated the design into its environment by retaining native brush wherever possible, separated from playing areas by transition areas of sand and pine straw. I loved the bunkering. It was big, high-banked, sweeping stuff, a very un-Florida-like in look and feel, using an imported grade of sand from Ohio that won't wash out with every rain shower. The back sides of most bunkers are merged into native sand and pine straw, so they look like blowouts emerging from sand dunes.

 

Read our architecture editor's complete review.

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4. McArthur G.C., Hobe Sound

5. Trump International G.C. (Championship), West Palm Beach

6. Medalist G.C., Hobe Sound

7. Loblolly, Hobe Sound

8. Pine Tree G.C., Boynton Beach

9. Floridian National G.C., Palm City

10. Trump National Jupiter G.C.

11. Palm Springs

The Quarry at La Quinta
Private
The Quarry at La Quinta
La Quinta, CA
4.7
163 Panelists
The developers of The Quarry hired Tom Fazio in the early 1990s with instructions that he top his design of Shadow Creek (ranked No. 27 on this year’s list). Fazio was savvy enough to ignore those instructions, because he recognized The Quarry site was a much better piece of topography than what he’d been provided in Las Vegas. Thus The Quarry has more variety, starting and ending in a gravel quarry now lavishly landscaped. In between, holes play on high desert overlooking the Palm Springs Valley and in a valley, with four holes tucked in an isolated notch of the Santa Rosa Mountains. The course regularly receives some of the highest Conditioning scores in the ranking.
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The Madison Club
Private
The Madison Club
La Quinta, CA
When developer Michael Meldman first showed Tom Fazio the land for the proposed Madison Club, an arid, barren desert outside Palm Springs, he told Fazio, “Let’s do a modern-day Shadow Creek.” By “modern-day,” he meant one that would feature homesites along the holes. So Fazio did what he’d done in Las Vegas at No. 27 Shadow Creek. He had crews dig into the desert and pile up dirt to the sides. But this time, the cuts became channels wide enough for fairways, with pads for home sites perched above holes on surrounding ridgelines. After trucking in and planting mature trees and sodding everything, Fazio was satisfied The Madison Club looked nothing like a typical Palm Springs residential layout. Said Fazio, “If you’re given a free hand in the Coachella Valley, what do you do? You do everything. You move the earth, plant the trees and carve out the streams. You create the entire space. There’s so much here.”
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Stone Eagle Golf Club
Private
Stone Eagle Golf Club
Palm Desert, CA
Stone Eagle is the most remarkable course in the golf-heavy Palm Springs market. It sits atop a rocky plateau, a thousand feet above the Coachella Valley but still thousands of feet below the peaks of the adjacent Santa Rosa Mountains. When Tom Doak first walked the site, he said, “I thought this must be what the surface of Mars looks like: rocky, rugged and red.” Given the luxury of routing an 18 without any homesites, Doak did his lay-of-the-land best to create a faux links high above the desert floor by tucking fairways into creases of the land and positioning shots to play over low ridges into bold greens that mimic the rugged topography. At Stone Eagle, Doak used hillsides of rocks and boulders the way Old Country architects used sand dunes. The only difference: sand is soft, rock is not.
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4. Tradition G.C., La Quinta

5. Bighorn G.C. (Mountains), Palm Desert

6. The Vintage Club (Mountain), Indian Wells

7. Bighorn G.C. (Canyons), Palm Desert

8. PGA West (Stadium), La Quinta

9. Eldorado C.C., Indian Wells

10. Toscana C.C. (North), Indian Wells

12. Greater Los Angeles

Los Angeles Country Club: North
Private
Los Angeles Country Club: North
Los Angeles, CA
4.8
236 Panelists
It’s on the edge of Tinsel Town, but the architecture of the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club has been solid gold ever since its 2010 restoration by architect Gil Hanse, his associate Jim Wagner and their colleague Geoff Shackelford. It matters not that Hanse’s team didn’t replicate the bunkering style of original architect George C. Thomas, but rather the more visually exciting style of Thomas’ associate, William P. Bell. The first nine plays rustically up and down a shallow canyon with holes switching back and forth across a dry barranca, and the second nine loops across a more spacious upland section with one par 3 (the 11th) that can stretch to nearly 300 yards and another (the 15th) that often plays just 90 yards. The hole strategies reinstituted by Hanse will play sensationally when LACC's North course hosts the 2023 U.S. Open.
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Riviera Country Club
Private
Riviera Country Club
Pacific Palisades, CA
4.8
198 Panelists
A compact and shrewd design by George C. Thomas Jr. and associate William P. Bell, Riviera features everything from a long Redan par 3 to a bunker in the middle of a green to an alternate-fairway par 4. With its 18th green at the base of a natural amphitheater, and its primary rough consisting of club-grabbing Kikuyu, Riviera seems tailor-made as a tournament venue. It hosted a PGA Championship in 1995, a U.S. Senior Open in 1998 and a U.S. Amateur in 2017, but no U.S. Open since 1948. Riviera was recently awarded the 2031 U.S. Open, and it will also host the 2028 Olympics. But it’s the site of an annual PGA Tour event, which is even better exposure to the golf world.
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Bel-Air Country Club
Private
Bel-Air Country Club
Los Angeles, CA
Completing a George C. Thomas hat trick of designs (the others being No. 16 Los Angeles C.C. (North) and No. 18 Riviera) is Bel-Air C.C., a charming throwback design that winds through mansion-dotted canyons of Los Angeles, the topography so steep that golfers are guided from hole to hole via a tunnel, an elevator and the city’s most famous suspension bridge, which spans a gulch on the par-3 10th and serves as a dramatic backdrop for the 18th green. Bel-Air’s design had been altered over decades by, among others, Dick Wilson, George Fazio, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Tom Fazio. But in 2018 Tom Doak erased every bit of their work, removing most of the phony water hazards and faithfully recapturing Thomas’s splashy signature bunkering. To complete a round amidst these Hollywood hills, you’ll definitely encounter a Hollywood star. Her name is Bel-Air.
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4. Sherwood C.C., Thousand Oaks

5. Shady Canyon G.C., Irvine

6. Lakeside G.C., Burbank

7. Los Angeles C.C. (South)

8. Wilshire C.C., Los Angeles 

9. Pelican Hill G.C. (Ocean North), Newport Coast

10. Pelican Hill G.C. (Ocean South), Newport Coast

13. San Francisco Bay Area

The Olympic Club: Lake
Private
The Olympic Club: Lake
San Francisco, CA
4.8
243 Panelists
It seems fitting that, in a town where every house is a cliffhanger, every U.S. Open played at Olympic has been one, too. For decades, the Lake was a severe test of golf. Once it was a heavily forested course with canted fairways hampered by just a single fairway bunker. By 2009, the forest had been considerably cleared away, leaving only the occasional bowlegged cypress with knobby knees, the seventh and 18th greens were redesigned and a new par-3 eighth added. Despite those changes, the 2012 U.S. Open stuck to the usual script: a ball got stuck in a tree, slow-play warnings were given, a leader snap-hooked a drive on 16 in the final round, and a guy name Simpson won. If the past was predictable, the future of the Lake Course might be more mysterious after Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner completed a remodeling in 2023 in preparation for the 2028 PGA Championship.
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San Francisco Golf Club
Private
San Francisco Golf Club
San Francisco, CA
4.7
252 Panelists
San Francisco Golf Club’s original routing was done mostly by a trio of club members, who first staked out the course in 1918. A.W. Tillinghast remodeled the course in 1923, establishing its signature greens and bunkering. He also added the par-3 seventh, called the “Duel Hole” because its location marks the spot of the last legal duel in America. Three holes were replaced in 1950 in anticipation of a street widening project that never happened. In 2006, the original holes were re-established by Tom Doak and his then-associate, Jim Urbina.
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Pasatiempo Golf Club
Public
Pasatiempo Golf Club
Santa Cruz, CA
Pasatiempo is arguably Alister Mackenzie's favorite design. He lived along its sixth fairway during his last years. With its elaborate greens and spectacular bunkering fully restored by Tom Doak and now by Jim Urbina, it’s a prime example of Mackenzie's art. The five par 3s are daunting yet delightful, culminating with the 181-yard over-a-canyon 18th. The back nine is chock full of other great holes: 10, 11, 12 and 16 all play over barrancas. The storied course has hosted two USGA championships: the 1986 U.S. Women's Amateur and the 2004 U.S. Senior Women's Amateur. In 2014, Pasatiempo received a Golf Digest Green Star environmental award for its measures in dealing with drought. Today, water worries are in the past, in part because of a new storage tank that allows the club to capture and store recycled water.
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4. The California G.C. of San Francisco

5.  Meadow Club, Fairfax

6. The Olympic Club (Ocean), San Francisco

7. Menlo C.C., Redwood City

8. TPC Harding Park, San Francisco

9. Lake Merced G.C., Daly City

10. Stanford (Calif.) G. Cse.

14. Atlanta

Peachtree Golf Club
Private
Peachtree Golf Club
Atlanta, GA
4.9
194 Panelists
The design collaboration by amateur star Bobby Jones and golf architect Robert Trent Jones (no relation) was meant to recapture the magic that the Grand Slam winner had experienced when he teamed with Alister Mackenzie in the design of Augusta National. But Trent was an even more forceful personality than the flamboyant Mackenzie, so Peachtree reflects far more of Trent’s notions of golf than Bobby’s, particularly in designing for future equipment advances. When it opened, Peachtree measured in excess of 7,200 yards, extremely long for that era. It boasted the longest set of tees in America (to provide flexibility on holes) and the country’s most enormous greens (to spread out wear and tear). As it turns out, Trent was a visionary, and decades later other designers followed his lead to address advances in club and ball technology.
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East Lake Golf Club
Private
East Lake Golf Club
Atlanta, GA
Tom Bendelow actually laid out the original course at East Lake, back when it was known as Atlanta Athletic Club, and that was the layout upon which Stewart Maiden taught the game to the now-legendary Bobby Jones. Donald Ross basically built a new course on the same spot in 1915, which remained untouched until changes were made before the 1963 Ryder Cup. When Atlanta Athletic moved to the suburbs in the late 1960s, the intown East Lake location fell on hard financial times until being rescued in the 1990s by businessman Tom Cousins, who made it a sterling fusion of corporate and inner-city involvement. Rees Jones redesigned most holes beginning in the mid-90s, making the course more reflective of his views of championship golf. After the PGA Tour reversed the nines for the 2016 Tour Championship (flipping the unpopular par-3 finish into the ninth hole), the club made the new routing permanent for regular play. East Lake will undergo another major renovation following the 2023 Tour Championship, this time by Andrew Green, who will highlight the Donald Ross heritage.
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Atlanta Athletic Club: Highlands
Private
Atlanta Athletic Club: Highlands
Johns Creek, GA
No course on our rankings has highlighted the value of new turfgrasses better than the Highlands Course at Atlanta Athletic Club. It sets the standards for quality everyday conditions as well as for major championships at Southern venues. Its tees and fairways are newly-developed Zorro Zoysia, which can withstand Atlanta’s coldest winter days. Greens are state-of-the-art TifEagle Bermuda, smooth and pure. Approaches and surrounds of greens are TifGrand Bermuda, which allows them to be mowed very tight for additional bounce. The rough is Tifway 419 Bermuda, a great old standby. The club also recently upgraded its irrigation system. Because each turf has different water demands, a precise individual-head system was installed, each head controlled by the superintendent with a smart phone app, applying moisture only where needed and thus saving water and money. No longer will an errant shot at AAC land behind an irrigation box. There are none anymore.
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4. Atlanta Country Club, Marietta

5. Hawks Ridge G.C., Ball Ground

6. Ansley G.C. (Settindown Creek), Roswell

7. Atlanta Athletic Club (Riverside), Johns Creek

8. Capital City Club (Crabapple), Alpharetta

9. Cherokee Town & C.C. (North), Atlanta

10. G.C. of Georgia (Lakeside), Alpharetta

15. Phoenix/Scottsdale

The Estancia Club
Private
The Estancia Club
Scottsdale, AZ
4.7
151 Panelists
Estancia, our Best New Private Course of 1996, was Tom Fazio’s initial entry into the Scottsdale scene. Positioned beneath the north slopes of Pinnacle Peak and routed to provide a variety of uphill and downhill shots and a change of direction on almost every hole, Estancia is an easterner’s version of rock-and-cactus architecture, with wide turf corridors, few desert carries and greens wilder than most. Former Fazio design associate Kevin Sutherland (no relation to the PGA Tour player of the same name) has made slight design adjustments in recent years.
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Whisper Rock Golf Club: Upper Course
Private
Whisper Rock Golf Club: Upper Course
Scottsdale, AZ
Whisper Rock’s Upper Course was intended, as the club’s second 18, to specifically test its low-handicap and PGA Tour pro membership, but Tom Fazio couldn’t resist being a crowd-pleaser, so although he designed 18 holes with demanding angles to diagonal fairways from the back tees, his landing areas for average golfers are generous and most greens are cradled with ample chipping areas. All players enjoy the scenic beauty of this patch of Sonoran Desert, with the front nine holes framed by dry washes and a four-hole stretch on the back woven through astonishing towers of balanced granite boulders. “That’s a beautiful, beautiful stretch, going up into those boulders and back down towards Pinnacle Peak,” said Fazio at the grand opening. “But I’m proud of the entire course, as it’s got a whole bag of different looks.” Whisper Rock’s other 18, the older Lower Course, is ranked No. 174.
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Whisper Rock Golf Club: Lower Course
Private
Whisper Rock Golf Club: Lower Course
Scottsdale, AZ
Phil Mickelson wanted his course design debut to be something different than the typical Scottsdale desert layout, so he had some fairways recessed into the landscape to create elevation change, kept tee boxes flush with the ground and built mostly long, narrow greens edged by chipping hollows. Mickelson calls them “Pinehurst greens.” Bunkers are surprisingly shallow and fairways are uniformly wide, because he dislikes holes that bottleneck down for big hitters. There’s plenty of grass in which to play, and a surprising number of trees on the layout, including palo verde, juniper and mesquite. Phil considers his design to be a second-shot course, “and we don’t have the same second shot two times in a row,” he says. One second shot, on the par-5 third, must contend with a “ha ha wall,” a three-foot-high ledge of stacked rock that edges the putting surface. That’s definitely different than anything in Scottsdale.
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4. Desert Forest Golf Club, Scottsdale

5. Desert Highlands, Scottsdale

6. Desert Mountain Club (Renegade), Scottsdale

7. Desert Mountain Club (Chiricahua), Scottsdale

8. Desert Mountain Club (Geronimo), Scottsdale

9. Silverleaf Club, Scottsdale

10. Quintero G.C., Peoria

16. Pinehurst, NC

Pinehurst No. 2
Public
Pinehurst No. 2
Pinehurst, NC
In 2010, a team lead by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw killed and ripped out all the Bermudagrass rough on Pinehurst No. 2 that had been foolishly planted in the 1970s. Between fairways and tree lines, they established vast bands of native hardpan sand dotted with clumps of wiregrass and scattered pine needles. They reduced the irrigation to mere single rows in fairways to prevent grass from ever returning to the new sandy wastelands. Playing firm and fast, it was wildly successful as the site of the 2014 Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens, played on consecutive weeks. Because of its water reduction, the course was named a Green Star environmental award-winner by Golf Digest that year. In 2019, Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4 hosted another U.S. Amateur Championship, and the USGA announced Pinehurst No. 2—in addition to hosting the 2024 U.S. Open—will also have the 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047 U.S. Opens.
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Pinehurst No. 4
Public
Pinehurst No. 4
Pinehurst, NC
Like a football team searching for the right coach, the resort could never settle on the right identity for the No. 4 course despite a series of major alterations by different architects. It found its match when it hired Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner to carry out a full-scale blow-up and rebuild in 2018 that brought back the sweeping sand-and-pine character we identify with Pinehurst, while initiating a style of shaping in the greens and bunkers that’s confident and distinctly its own.
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Forest Creek Golf Club: North Course
Private
Forest Creek Golf Club: North Course
Pinehurst, NC
4.3
123 Panelists
Tom Fazio did the first 18 at Pinehurst’s ultra-private Forest Creek G.C., the South Course, in 1996, carving it from a rolling pine forest, with most tee shots playing downhill and most greens amenable to low, running shots. When he returned nearly a decade later to add the North Course, he and his team decided on a different approach, a more organic, lay-of-the-land 18. So the North has more uphill holes and semi-blind tee shots. The sandy base of the pine forest is exposed on many holes, incorporated not just to frame holes but also as carry hazards on certain shots. Formal bunkers are edged with clumps of bushy wiregrass or dwarf pampas. The only water hazard is encountered late in the round, on long lake around which the 15th, 16th and 17th play. This course wasn’t inspired by sand-scarred neighboring courses like Pinehurst No. 2, Mid-Pines and Dormie Club.
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4. Tobacco Road, Sanford

5. Dormie Club, West End

6. C.C. of North Carolina (Dogwood), Pinehurst

7. Forest Creek (South), Pinehurst

8. Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Southern Pines

9. Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort (No. 8)

10. Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club, Southern Pines