By Clay Giese
Last month during the British Open, we highlighted the best golf courses in Scotland, the “Home of Golf.” That story, golf’s sheer popularity, and an affection for golf around our office has inspired yet another golf grand tour. This time, we visit the best public courses in the U.S. Again, I’ve selected only public courses, so you’re able to actually play these beautiful courses, not just read about them. So, toss your clubs in the back seat of the Buick and get ready to hit the road, because our first stop is …
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif. No surprises here. Even the most novice golfers have heard of Pebble Beach, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful courses in the world, and ranked as the best public course in America (again) by Golf Digest. It’s been said that every golfer deserves to play “Pebble” at least once in his or her life. This course has hugged California’s coastline since 1919. You’ll want to soak in every inch of Pebble’s beauty, its cliffside fairways, sloping greens, and ocean vistas, and take lots of pictures. The course hosts the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am annually, while mixing in a U.S Open Championship every few years. Golf’s biggest legends have all played here, and you too have the opportunity to play these 18 holes of perfection … all for a modest $495 plus cart. Hey, perfection doesn’t come cheap.
Pinehurst Resort (No. 2), Pinehurst, N.C. Pinehurst is a historic golf resort featuring nine courses, but Pinehurst No. 2 is the main attraction. Designer David Ross believed in challenging golfers with strategic choices, and designed this course accordingly. For example, convex greens require very accurate iron play and put more importance on second and third shots (or fourth, fifth and sixth shots, depending on your skill level). Also, there is no true rough — only greens, fairways, and everything else. This is commonly referred to as “hardpan rough” or “distressed turf.” Basically, if you’re off the fairway, you’re in deeper grass than the rough on most courses. Despite these challenges, it’s a beautiful course which underwent a year-long restoration in 2011. The results: New cart paths, more plants, restored bunkers, and widened fairways that give golfers more strategic options. Lastly, every hole is completely lined with gorgeous trees, but a tree never comes into play. They simply provide shade and make each hole feel isolated from the rest of the course. Like all the courses on this list, Pinehurst No. 2 is an expensive day on the links – the average greens fee is in excess of $350 – but you’re buying an experience, and a chance to play a piece of history. Sure, you can put a price on that, but why would you want to?
Pacific Dunes, Bandon, Ore. A unique course that feels more like it was discovered than actually built, Pacific Dunes is reminiscent of Scotland’s links courses in both location and landscape. You begin your round in a pine forest before quickly emerging towards the sea. Pacific Dunes stretches along Oregon’s coastline and weaves around massive, sandy dunes that spill towards the ocean. It’s a challenging course with rippling fairways and lots of natural bunkers. Also, the course is perched 100 feet above the ocean, and the openness makes for a struggle against the wind. Thus, accurate approach shots are key in taking on this rugged course. Golf magazine compared Pacific Dunes’ difficulty to the Old Course at St. Andrews, saying, “Numbers are as irrelevant here as at The Old Course at St. Andrews. It’s just man against course – and weather. And golf really doesn’t get much purer than that.” With greens fees ranging from $100-$310, Pacific Dunes is also one of the more affordable courses on the list.
Whistling Straits (The Straits), Haven, Wis. The host of this week’s upcoming 2015 PGA Championship has two courses, The Straits and The Irish, but we’ll focus on The Straits, which is sometimes called the Pebble Beach of the Midwest. Whistling Straits opened in 1998. Designed by famous course architect Pete Dye, the Straits represents the transformation of a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan frontage into a beautiful, rugged links-style course. Predictably, the terrain is wide-open and windswept – and quite challenging. The course plays long, so get ready to drive it deep when teeing off. Also, you can forget the comfort of your golf cart, because The Straits are walking-only. (Still, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a good walk spoiled is preferable to a good low-speed ride spoiled.) This gives you more time to look around, take pictures, truly enjoy the beauty of the course, and talk to your caddie, since the Straits are caddie-only before Twilight pricing kicks in. This adds another $65 to the already ample $385 greens fee. Fortunately, the fairways and greens are immaculate and almost carpet-like – more proof that you get what you pay for.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C. Another example of Pete Dye’s brilliance is The Ocean Course, which Dye created in 1991. With 10 holes along the Atlantic Ocean, the Ocean Course has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere. Naturally, wind becomes a major challenge. Perhaps no other course in the world outside of the British Isles is affected more by wind. You can feel the wind instantly upon arriving on the island, almost foreshadowing the wind you’re about to encounter during your round. If you’re easily frustrated, play the Ocean Course on a day when you’re feeling extra-relaxed, because water comes into play with irritating frequency. Also, don’t forget to pack an extra sleeve of water balls. Having hosted Ryder Cups and PGA championships, the Ocean Course is undoubtedly difficult (It was actually named the toughest course in America in 2010 by Golf Digest), and not an everyday hack in the woods (greens fees of $338 and up) but worth it nonetheless. You simply can’t beat Kiawah Island’s views of the Atlantic.
Golfing any of the courses I’ve listed is a treat, and if you golf multiple ones, then you’re downright lucky. You don’t have to be a pro to golf on some of America’s best courses, so go for it the next time you’re on one of the coasts or up in Wisconsin. Here’s hoping you all golf well for the rest of the summer and beyond!
Clay Giese is part of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.
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