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.
America's Most Important
Golf Courses By Decade
COURSES LISTED BY YEAR OF FOUNDING
- Golf clubs existed briefly in the late 1700s, but rustic and rudimentary courses didn't appear until the mid-1880s. *
1884: Oakhurst G. Links
1886: Dorset Field Club
1886: Sarasota G.C.
, Sarasota, FL
1887: Foxburg C.C., PA
1888: Saint Andrew's G.C.
__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
- 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](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/22406/Myopia-Hunt-Club-Myopia-Hunt)
1894: Newport C.C.
1894: Shinnecock H. G.C.
1895: Baltusrol G.C.
1898: Garden City G.C.
1899: Ekwanok C.C., VT
1899: Pinehurst C.C.
- Once men began designing rather than merely staking out holes, courses took on individual personalities.*
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: Wykagyl C.C., NY 1905: Atlanta Athletic Club 1905: Skokie C.C., IL 1908: Beverly C.C., IL 1908: Seattle G.C.
- Given the inexperience of most designers, a decade of remarkable achievement. Most are now considered classics.*
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,](/golf/merion)
1914: Wannamoisett C.C., RI 1915: [Lido G.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/25704/Lido-Beach-Golf-Course-Lido-Beach)
1916: [Olympia Fields C.C.,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/21255/Olympia-Fields-Country-Club-North)
1917: Engineers C.C., NY 1918: [Oakland Hills C.C.,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/23175/Oakland-Hills-Country-Club-South)
1918: [Pebble Beach G. Links](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/33930/Pebble-Beach-Golf-Links-Pebble-Beach-Golf-Links)
1918: Pine Valley G.C.
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. *
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,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/25780/Winged-Foot-Golf-Club-West)
1924: [The Olympic Club,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/19120/The-Olympic-Club-Lake)
1926: Oak Hill C.C., NY
1926: Whitfield C.C., FL 1926: Yale University G.C., CT 1927: [Riviera C.C.,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/18998/Riviera-Country-Club-Riviera)
1928: [Aronimink G.C.,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/26667/Aronimink-Golf-Club-Aronimink)
1928: [Cypress Point Club,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/18653/Cypress-Point-Club-Cypress-Point)
1929: [Seminole G.C.,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/20108/Seminole-Golf-Club-Seminole)
- Course construction provided jobs in the Great Depression. Even private Southern Hills Country Club used relief workers. *
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
1933: [Augusta Ntl. G.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/20263/Augusta-National-Golf-Club-Augusta-National)
1934: Bethpage St. Park
1936: Colonial C.C., TX
1936: [Southern Hills C.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/26505/Southern-Hills-Country-Club-Front-Nine-Back-Nine)
1937: [Prairie Dunes C.C.,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/21907/Prairie-Dunes-Country-Club-Prairie-Dunes)
1938: Ohio State U. G.C.
Robert Trent Jones and Dick Wilson started a postwar revolution in golf design with long tees and lots of water.*
1949: DUNES GOLF AND BEACH CLUB: Its par-5 13th, a boomerang around a lake, encapsulates the Trent Jones brand of heroic, dramatic architecture.
Photo: Courtesy Of Dunes Golf & Beach Club
1941: Normandy Shores G.C., FL
1945: IBM C.C., Poughkeepsie, NY 1947: Lakewood G.C., AL
1947: West Palm Beach C.C.
1948: [Clearview G.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/25873/Clearview-Golf-Course-Clearview)
1948: Northwood Club, TX
1948: Peachtree G.C., GA 1948: Raleigh C.C., NC
1949: Rancho Park,
- The revolution becomes an arms race when Surprenant National (now the Pines Course at The International) debuts at more than 8,000 yards.*
1950: DuPont C.C., DE
1952: Desert Inn C.C., NV
1954: NCR C.C., OH 1955: Old Warson C.C., MO 1957: Champions G.C., TX 1957: [Torrey Pines G. Cse.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/19131/Torrey-Pines-Golf-Course-South)
1958: Point O' Woods G. & C.C., MI 1958: Surprenant National G.C., MA
1959: Firestone C.C. (South)
1959: Laurel Valley G.C.,
- Pete Dye goes from unknown to extremist, placing pot bunkers and railroad ties in front of tiny greens.*
1960: Bellerive C.C., MO
1961: [Doral C.C., FL](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/19707/Doral-Golf-Resort-And-Spa-Blue-Monster) 1962: [Hazeltine National G.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/23508/Hazeltine-National-Golf-Club-Hazeltine-National)
1962: Pine Tree G.C., FL
1963: The Concord, NY 1963: [Crooked Stick G.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/21495/Crooked-Stick-Golf-Club-Crooked-Stick)
1965: [Cog Hill G. & C.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/21001/Cog-Hill-Golf-And-Country-Club-4-Dubsdread)
1966: [Spyglass Hill G. Cse.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/19085/Spyglass-Hill-Golf-Course-Spyglass-Hill)
1967: [The Golf Club,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/26299/The-Golf-Club-Golf-Club)
1969: [Harbour Town G. Links](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/27329/Harbour-Town-Golf-Links-Harbour-Town)
- Marquee designers dominate: Dye, Jack Nicklaus, George Fazio and Trent Jones' sons Bobby and Rees, eager and willingly; Ben Hogan, not so much.*
1970: Disney World G.C.
1970: Jupiter Hills Club, FL 1970: Mission Hills C.C., CA 1972: [Princeville (Makai)](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/20503/Princeville-Resort-Makai-Golf-Course-Makai-18)
1973: Butler National G.C., IL 1974: [Muirfield Village G.C.](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/29654/Muirfield-Village-Golf-Club-Muirfield-Village)
1975: Trophy Club, TX
1976: Oak Tree G.C., OK 1979: Industry Hills G.C., CA
1979: Kemper Lakes G.C., IL
- With the advent of Slope Rating, everyone wants to own the nation's toughest course.*
1986: DESERT MOUNTAIN CLUB (RENEGADE): Five tee boxes and two flag locations per hole, and multiple avenues of play: Still the most versatile design in America.
Photo: J.D. Cuban
1980: TPC Sawgrass,
1980: [Wild Dunes G. Links, ](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/27452/Wild-Dunes-Resort-Links)
1981: [Castle Pines G.C., CO
[Desert Highlands G.C., AZ
1984: Grand Cypress G.C., FL
1986: Desert Mountain Club (Renegade), AZ
[PGA West (Stadium), CA
1987: Black Diamond, FL
[The Links at Spanish Bay, CA
[Shadow Creek, NV
- With money flowing from new sources (like pension funds), architects tackled previously hostile locales, and everyone played Can-You-Top-This?*
1997: OLD WORKS GOLF COURSE: It took a golf course to rectify the landscape that a mining operation had despoiled, a harbinger of golf's future role.
Photo: Stephen Szurlej
1990: The Ocean Cse.
1990: Troon North G.C.,
1993: World Woods G.C.,
1995: [Sand Hills G.C., NE](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/31734/Sand-Hills-Golf-Club-Sand-Hills) 1996: Royal New Kent, VA 1997: Old Works G. Cse., MT 1997: Sanctuary G.C., CO 1998: [Whistling Straits](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/32668/Whistling-Straits-Straits-Course)
1999: [Bandon Dunes](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/32883/Bandon-Dunes-Golf-Resort-Bandon-Dunes)
- Old School advocates bring the game back down to earth, with more playing options and firm, fast conditions.*
__2007: CHAMBERS BAY:__This dry, firm, windswept, nearly treeless man-made links hard against Puget Sound, is already the designated site for the 2015 U.S. Open, as well as the 2010.
Photo: Joey Terrill
2001: Kinloch G.C.,
2001: [Pacific Dunes,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/33643/Bandon-Dunes-Golf-Resort-Pacific-Dunes)
2002: Friar's Head G.C., NY 2002: Old Collier G.C., FL 2003: [The Quarry at Giants Ridge,](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/33816/Giants-Ridge-Golf-And-Ski-Resort-The-Quarry)
2006: Ballyneal G. & Hunt C., CO
2006: *Erin Hills
2006: Sebonack G.C., NY 2007: [Chambers Bay](http://courses.golfdigest.com/l/35208/Chambers-Bay-Golf-Course-Chambers)
2008: Pete Dye Cse.
at French Lick, IN
- Full disclosure: Co-designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten*