Courses

A closer look at the 15 newcomers on our latest course rankings

One of the joys of compiling and publishing the Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest and Second 100 Greatest Courses is seeing the debut of previously unranked courses. Sometimes they’re the hot new thing freshly bursting onto the scene, dazzling with irresistible charisma. This occurred with regularity during the golf boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. Other times—and perhaps more satisfyingly—they’re older courses that have been polished through renovation, or whose charms are just now being fully appreciated.

What causes some degree of sadness is knowing that as new courses come into the rankings, others fall off. Some of those departed courses might be shooting stars that flash quickly and then disappear, but more are like old friends we’ve known for years, if not decades, yet we must bid them farewell.

It's part of the life cycle of any course ranking endeavor: courses appear, slide up and down, and in all but a few cases, fade away. Just 16 courses in the U.S. have appeared in every iteration of Golf Digest’s rankings since 1966. Call these our “First Growths,” a term that originated in Bordeaux, France, to designate a 19th century assessment of the region’s top wine growing estates. Golf Digest’s First Growths are Augusta National, Baltusrol’s Lower Course, Congressional’s Blue Course, Cypress Point, Inverness, Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course, Medinah’s No. 3 Course, Merion, Peachtree, Pine Valley, Pinehurst No. 2, Riviera, Scioto, Seminole, Southern Hills and Winged Foot West.

For every other course in the land there are debuts and, later, in one form or another, exits.

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Jeffrey Bertch

Here are the newcomers to America’s 100 Greatest and Second 100 Greatest Course, as well as the, for now, dearly departed.

34. OHOOPEE MATCH CLUB

Private
Ohoopee Match Club
Cobbtown, GA, United States
4.8
84 Panelists

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:

I’ve been told Gil Hanse had first examined the site of Ohoopee Match Club as far back as 2006 considered it ideal for golf: gently rolling terrain with no severe elevation changes, and beautiful sandy soil deposited by the nearby Ohoopee River, perfect for drainage and firm, fast conditions.

The ground around tiny Cobbtown, Ga., is also perfect for growing onions—it’s just northeast of Vidalia, world-famous for the Vidalia onion. Indeed, Ohoopee’s logo is a freshly picked onion, although if you look closely, its roots are three writhing snakes.

Any symbolism pertaining to match play is uncertain; perhaps it simply suggests the sort of putts one will face. What’s the composition of a course meant for match play? One might think it would contain lots of penal hazards, because a triple bogey on any particular hole would not be fatal in match play.

Perhaps the targets would be smaller than normal, to level the playing field between big hitters and short-but-accurate golfers. That’s not the composition of the 7,325-yard championship course at Ohoopee. Hanse did produce dramatic visuals in this sandy locale that hark back to portions of Pinehurst and Pine Valley, from long expanses of sandy rough dotted with native plants to deep, foreboding pits of sand, but they’re mostly on the far perimeter of holes. 

Explore our complete review here—including bonus photography and ratings from our expert panelists.

 

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49. NANEA

Private
Nanea Golf Club
Kailua Kona, HI
4.7
62 Panelists
In the early 1960s, Robert Trent Jones built the first course on Hawaii’s Big Island for a very wealthy owner (Laurance Rockefeller), grinding up the site’s volcanic rock to use as “sand” on which to grow grass. 40 years later and just 22 miles away, architect David McLay Kidd also built a course on volcanic rock for very wealthy owners (Charles Schwab and George Roberts), but rather than transform the lava topography, he routed his holes among the black outcroppings and through the site’s meadows of native grasses. Located on a high, exposed plateau beneath Mt. Hualalai, the holes ramble and roll into topsy-turvy greens, each with a sterling view of the Pacific Ocean three and half miles in the distance.
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115. SHEEP RANCH

Public
Sheep Ranch
Bandon, OR, United States
Sheep Ranch began life as a different Sheep Ranch in the early 2000s, a rag-tag, cross-country, 13-hole course with no irrigation built by Tom Doak on a bluff just north of what would later become Old Macdonald. It was a little-used recreation that only insiders knew about. Mike Keiser tapped Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to convert it into Bandon Dunes’ fifth regulation 18-hole course and Coore and Crenshaw’s second. Spread across an open, windswept plateau, using many of the same greensites, Coore managed to triangulate the holes in such a way that nine now touch the cliff edge along the Pacific Ocean. Extremely wide fairways and large putting surfaces allow the exposed course to be playable in extreme winds, and with its fast arrival to the top 15 public courses alongside Bandon’s other courses, Sheep Ranch has accomplished the most difficult of feats for resort courses—distinction among equals.
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131. CLEAR CREEK TAHOE

Clear Creek Tahoe
Private
Clear Creek Tahoe
Carson City, NV, United States
One gets the feeling Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw looked long and hard at this mountain property on the east side of Lake Tahoe before agreeing to take the job. On one hand the site is gorgeous, an elevated evergreen forest with views of the surrounding Sierra Nevadas and distant valleys. One the other, it was far more rugged than they prefer and would prove challenging to link up 18 well-connected holes on such vast terrain. Ultimately, beauty won out and they were able to find enough calm ground—especially from holes ten through 15—to make the journey around it seem meditative and not a lurching, adrenaline-filled rush. The boulder-strewn site recalls parts of Rock Creek Cattle Company in western Montana, currently No. 56 in the ranking, and the off-site views and the way fairways and greens blend into the native grasses and conifers brings to mind Gozzer Ranch, ranked No. 37. Pretty good company.
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140. MANELE

Manele Golf Course
Public
Manele Golf Course
Lanai, HI
Manele, previously called The Challenge at Manele, unseated Kapalua’s Plantation course as the highest-ranked public course in Hawaii several years ago. Now the course, located on the southern coast of Lanai, has the votes to make it eligible for the 100 Greatest and Second 100 Greatest ranking as well, buoyed by an Aesthetics score that regularly ranks among the top 30 in the U.S. The Nicklaus design is worthy of high praise. It has three ocean-cove holes, including the par-3 12th and dogleg-right par-4 17th. You might argue Manele has been perpetually underranked, starting with its finish on Golf Digest’s ranking of Best New Resort Courses in 1994, well behind World Woods’ Pine Barrens course (now known as Cabot Barrens at Cabot Citrus Farms), which is currently 90th on our 100 Greatest Public. It’s hard to argue it’s under ranked now.
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142. THE DYE COURSE AT WHITE OAK

Private
The Dye Course at White Oak
Yulee, FL

The Dye Course at White Oak, our 2022 Best New Private Course winner, is one of the most exclusive golf courses to be built in recent memory. It’s located on the border of Florida and Georgia outside Jacksonville, in almost complete natural isolation. It has no members, no on-site clubhouse (or any other structures on or near the course), and hardly anyone has played it except for personal invitees of owner Mark Walter and several dozen Golf Digest panelists, who visited between October 2021 and September 2022. Walter engaged the late Pete Dye to design the course in 2013, but by the time construction began in 2017, Dye’s health had deteriorated, and he was no longer able to be active in building it. The job of finishing White Oak fell to longtime confidant and veteran course builder Allan MacCurrach, who interpreted Dye’s wishes based on extensive discussions from previous years and his own wealth of experience working with Dye on over 20 projects. Intensely private and almost entirely off the radar until now, this exclusive video tour captured by photographer Brian Oar offers the first public looks at The Dye Course at White Oak
 

Read our full review, including panelist comments, here.

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144. BLESSINGS

Private
Blessings Golf Club
Fayetteville, AR, United States
George Thomas conceived of the idea of a “course within a course” when designing Los Angeles Country Club in the early 1920s, creating various tees for different holes that changed the angles of play and even the par values on different days. That’s part of the concept of Blessings in northwest Arkansas, where Robert Trent Jones II built a multifaceted routing that can be played in a variety of different lengths and combinations intended to challenge the game’s best collegiate players (Blessings hosts a variety of NCAA tournaments and was the site of the 2019 National Championships), including one setup with a USGA course rating of 80.9 and a 155 slope. Several holes cross over each other in the manner of old links courses, though there’s nothing linksy about the rural, wooded and sloping property bisected by Clear Creek. When you build a course for an individual owner—in this case John Tyson of Tyson Foods—you get to break the rules. In 2018, architect Kyle Phillips remodeled Blessings to make it more walkable, creating a new first hole, relocating several greens, and shifitng and rebuilding bunkers to increase strategic diversity.
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153. SAGE VALLEY

Private
Sage Valley Golf Club
Graniteville, SC, United States
Built just down I-20 from Augusta National, there's no mistaking Sage Valley's resemblance to its neighbor. The pine straw, the perfect conditioning and symmetric mowing paterns, the perfect bunker sand—it's all an ode to Augusta, where Tom Fazio, the architect at Sage Valley, served as the consulting architect for many years. Sage Valley has plenty of room off the tee, similar to its counterpart, but less drastic green complexes, characteristic of Fazio's approach—giving higher-handicappers a chance to run balls up on the ground in some spots—actually similar to how Augusta was originally designed by Dr. Mackenzie. Sage Valley fell off our Second 100 Greatest rankings in 2019 due to a lack of ballots—but it returned in 2023-'24.
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164. OLD ELM

Private
Old Elm Club
Highland Park, IL, United States
Old Elm, a male-only club on Chicago’s north side, has one of the country’s most unique design pedigrees. British architect Harry S. Colt laid out the course in 1913 on one of his few visits to the U.S., collaborating on-site with Donald Ross, who to that point had designed courses in the Northeast and at Pinehurst but was not nationally known. After Colt departed, Ross, consulting Colt’s drawings and design notes, oversaw the construction of the holes. Over the last decade architect Drew Rogers has helped reclaim the property’s original spaciousness by removing hundreds of trees that had begun to clog the holes and expand fairways and greens. He also, with the help of designer/shaper Dave Zinkand, recreated the rough and rugged bunker edging that Colt was known for in his best U.K. designs. Their work has reestablished Old Elm as one of the top courses in the greater Chicago market.
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170. HOLLYWOOD

Private
Hollywood Golf Club
Deal, NJ, United States
Walter Travis was a man of many talents. As a player he won three U.S. Amateur titles and one British Amateur, and his 80-percent match win percentage ranks among the sport’s all-time best. He was a writer, editor and publisher of The American Golfer in addition to designing over two dozen golf courses. His greatest skill might have been bunkering courses. His work revamping no. 64 Garden City in the early 1900s—adding, moving and deepening the bunkers as well as rebuilding the greens—transformed that course into what it is today, but his most artistic work is at Hollywood. The elaborate bunker shapes and arrangements are nothing short of dazzling, especially as they’ve been sharpened and polished by Brian Schneider of Renaissance Golf, along with shaper Blake Conant. They lay out like arrangements of gemstones and the spots on a jungle cat, varying from the size of a mansion parlor to little more than a bread box. Anything like it attempted today would be considered garish, but Travis’s Beaux Art bunkering at Hollywood is a study in artistry.
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175. ATLANTIC

Atlantic Golf Club
Private
Atlantic Golf Club
Water Mill, NY, United States
Real-estate developer Lowell Schulman hired Rees Jones to create his dream golf club on rolling linksland in Bridgehampton, one of the richest zip codes in the country, a few decades after founding Brae Burn Country Club in Westchester County. Jones created a strategic marvel with mounds, moguls and fescue framing the holes that test golfers—along with the seemingly ever-present wind. Jones' creation debuted on Golf Digest's America's 100 Greatest ranking in 1997 at 65th and was ranked on four editions until falling off in 2006. It has now reappeared on our Second 100 Greatest in 2023-'24 for the first time since 2016.
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176. RESERVE AT MOONLIGHT BASIN

Private
The Reserve At Moonlight Basin
Big Sky, MT, United States
The Reserve at Moonlight Basin is just the third course from Montana to appear in the national rankings, joining Tom Doak’s Rock Creek Cattle Company (No. 56) and Robert Trent Jones’ Yellowstone C.C., which surfaced in the 1960s on the list of America’s “Toughest” courses. Located near Big Sky at an elevation of 7,500 feet above sea level, the Jack Nicklaus design is the highest (in altitude) in the rankings. Big sky is apt—the course was built on the site of an old ski mountain with 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding Rockies, and the impressively large holes race, slalom and dive across circuits of terrain that twist different directions through the wilderness. With numerous downhill shots through the thin air, the championship yardage of 8,000 yards doesn’t seem egregious, and scoring well actually requires a high degree control in judging where the ball will carry and settle. The epic vistas of holes like the par 4 first and par 5 17th (at over 700 yards) are sights to behold, for golfers and non-golfers alike.
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180. THE BEAR'S CLUB

Private
180. (NEW) The Bear's Club
Jupiter, FL


From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:


The Bear’s Club marked a transition point in Jack Nicklaus’ design outlook when it opened in 1999. His architecture had typically been analytical and, while still lovely, oriented toward factoring how players might break down the features tactically. That strategic backbone is present in The Bear’s Club, but the team approached the design more holistically than they had previously, factoring in aesthetics to an unprecedented degree. Instead of building holes on a golf site, Jack and his associates created a golf environment, expanding and enhancing a dune ridge running through the low pine and palmetto scrub and anchoring large, sensuous bunkers into the native vegetation.
 

The course is part of an upscale residential development near the Intracoastal Waterway, but it blends so well you wouldn’t know it. The change in perspective that Nicklaus Design developed at The Bear’s Club pushed the firm toward similar successes in the 2000s like Sebonack (with Tom Doak), The Concession and Mayacama.
 

Explore more about Bear's Club with our complete review here—including bonus photography and ratings from our expert panelists.

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181. MEDALIST

Private
Medalist Golf Club
Hobe Sound, FL, United States
Medalist is a long, demanding course that can stretch out to roughly 7,600 yards, a necessary requirement when the membership includes Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and many more of the world’s top professional players. They like The Medalist for the relaxed atmosphere and local convenience, but also because it’s a demanding driving course—the holes circle through an undeveloped sanctuary of wetlands and low scrub vegetation one parcel south of McArthur (no. 179) and are buffeted by the strong Atlantic crosswinds from every direction. Pete Dye designed Medalist with co-founder Greg Norman (this was one of Norman’s first U.S. designs) and the course features Dye’s S-shaped holes curling around sand buffers, slinky ground contour, and small, low-profile greens that bleed into short-grass surrounds. The course had undergone numerous modifications and formalizations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but Bobby Weed reclaimed much of original Dye character during a 2015 renovation.
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186. KARSTEN CREEK

Public
Karsten Creek Golf Club
Stillwater, OK
Karsten Creek opened in 1994, but it’s Tom Fazio’s newest addition to the national rankings. A former winner of Golf Digest's Best New Public Course title in 1994, the course was developed by Oklahoma State University and thus often appears toward the top of rankings of the best collegiate courses in America. The first nine holes run out and back through a tightly wooded valley with slender fairways and modestly sized greens that demand extreme accuracy. The topography opens slightly more on the second nine as the holes gradually work their way toward the edge of a reservoir, finishing with a par 5 that plays across the water before running along the shoreline toward the green. Though known as a course designed for high caliber players, there’s also admirable restraint in the architecture with less than 50 bunkers as Fazio allowed the site’s forests and tumbling ground contour handle the defense.
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196. SANKATY HEAD

Private
Sankaty Head Golf Club
Siasconset, MA
Some of America’s greatest golf courses were designed by first-time novices and non-architects: Merion, Oakmont, Pine Valley and Pebble Beach all fall into this category. Sankaty Head on the eastern edge of Nantucket Island does too. It was built by a local amateur player named Emerson Armstrong but judging by the circuitous routing and attractive bunkering (honed in recent years by Jim Urbina) that recalls some of Donald Ross’s best work, you’d be excused for assuming he’d done this dozens of times. The roomy holes unfurl across open fields of fescue, riding the site’s swales and ridges like an English links. True to the inspiration the greens are open in front to receive running shots played under the exacting Atlantic winds, and the collection of par 3s are about as tough and beautiful as it gets.
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197. THE HARVESTER CLUB

Private
The Harvester Club
Rhodes, IA, United States
Though barely two decades old, The Harvester Club has led an adventurous life. It came into the world at the end of the 1990s as course of its time: that is, an upscale daily-fee design 30 minutes northeast of Des Moines with snaking fairways and round, modern-looking bunkering. A bunker renovation in 2010 began to alter their character, roughing up the edges and giving the course a more rustic look. In 2017, the owners reversed course and took the club private, hiring original architect Keith Foster to remove trees to better highlight the site’s hills and prairie terrain, and to revamp the holes with new tees and wider, less snaking fairways. Foster also reimagined the course as a paean to early 20th century architecture, constructing more squared-off greens, shifting new flat-bottomed grass-faced bunkers to more interesting and impactful locations, and adding thematic riffs on a Road Hole green, a Tillinghast-inspired Hell’s Half Acre, a Short Hole and an Oakmont-like Church Pews bunker.
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