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Top 100 Golf Courses of the USA 2018

29 December, 2017

Top 100 Golf Courses of the USA 2018

According to the R&A report Golf around the World 2017 there are around fifteen thousand golf facilities in the United States of America and Top 100 Golf Courses features around 11% of them (1,660 courses to be exact) across our US state ranking charts. From these fifty state listings, we focus on what we consider to be the best one hundred courses across the country – representing the nation’s golfing crème de la crème – before publishing our updated table every two years.

And so, we now introduce the latest edition of our Top 100 for the USA, where 39 courses move up, 35 drop down, 13 stay in the same place and 13 drop out to make way for new entries. Three states loom large in the standings – New York (with 15 courses), California (11) and Massachusetts (8) – and this powerful trio accounts for a third of the positions in our hundred. Half the overall number of places available are taken up by courses from fourteen other states and the remaining slots are filled by 15 courses from 15 different states.

So much for the statistical overview, what about the highlights? Well, if you consider that no course has broken the glass ceiling into the Top 10 since we began ranking the US in 2006, then you won’t be surprised to find little movement at the very apex of the new chart. Quite a number of 18-hole layouts – many of them having completed recent renovation or restoration projects – make steady progress in the right direction within the hundred and there’s a healthy intake of newcomers to freshen things up. As for those falling down the chart, we leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Two years ago, when we last refreshed our American hundred, Alister MacKenzie’s masterpiece at Cypress Point ousted George Crump’s fabled Pine Valley course from the top spot and it retains the #1 position in our new listings. Only last month, a reviewer summed up his playing experience at Cypress Point as follows: “the course lived up to every expectation that I had, knowing it was regarded as the best course in the world… it was in pristine shape and every single hole was unique and fantastic in its own way.”

A little further down the running order, another couple of Californian tracks make impressive upward moves in the rankings: the North course at Los Angeles Country Club (recently restored by Gil Hanse) rises three places to number 18 and the California Golf Club of San Francisco’s course – where Kyle Phillips has just completed another well-received restoration project – leaps a mighty twelve positions to number 35.

A couple of iconic neighbouring courses on Long Island, New York, make admirable advances within the upper echelons on the new table: Shinnecock Hills, venue for next year’s US Open, finally occupies the runner-up spot in the chart, moving up one place to number 2, and National Golf Links of America, Charles Blair Macdonald’s monument to golf in the United States, eases up two positions to number 4.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have recently been fine tuning the Shinnecock Hills layout in preparation for next year’s Major tournament, widening fairways, expanding greensites and touching up little things here and there. The club has previously hosted four US Opens, the first back in 1896, but it was the last one in 2004 that caused most controversy with the way it was set up by the organising USGA championship committee – don’t expect to see a repetition of the “scorched earth” conditions that prevailed thirteen years ago when June comes around next summer.

Reviews this year for the National Golf Links of America course have been profuse in their praise for this 109-year-old layout: “it was as spectacular as I had built up in my mind… the National is a classic masterpiece… the green complexes, variety, character and setting all contribute to one of the finest courses I have played… this layout deserves more respect than all of us combined can offer… fun golf lies at the heart of the course… it is this clear embrace in maximizing “fun holes” that makes NGLA so endearing”. For sure, this is an historic layout where you hope the “six degrees of separation” theory holds true if you have aspirations of ever playing it.

Just outside the Top 10, another pair of New York state layouts feature prominently. The old Seth Raynor-designed course (where Gil Hanse advises) at Fishers Island Club, which is set out on the small island of the same name in the Block Island Sound, stands firm at number 12, whilst Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s new millennium design at Friar’s Head on Long Island, situated half an hour’s drive northwest of Shinnecock Hills and NGLA, races five places up the chart to number 13.

The state of Pennsylvania might only have five courses listed in the hundred but, as with many things of a golfing nature in the Keystone State, it’s quality, not quantity that counts here as two of its courses reside close to the summit.

The course at Oakmont Country Club (no move at number 5), which is located just outside Pittsburgh, has the reputation of being a tough track, hosting nine US Opens, three PGA Championships and five US Amateur Championships down the years. Laid out by the father and son design partnership of Henry and William Fownes in 1903, the course has undergone an astonishing transformation in the last thirty years or so, with a reputed 15,000 trees removed from the property since the 1983 Open took place here.

Three hundred miles due east, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, sits another golfing centurion, Merion Golf Club (up one to number 7). Founded in 1896, the club’s East course was fashioned by club member Hugh Wilson in 1912 and it too has a long tradition of hosting important national events, including five US Opens and six US Amateurs. Laid out on a tight parcel of land, the course has been receiving attention from Gil Hanse since the last big tournament (the 2013 US Open) was hosted by the club.

Other notable climbers in the top half of the new chart include two old layouts where Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design has been carrying out restorations for some time now. The first of these is Seth Raynor’s jewel at The Camargo Club in Cincinnati, Ohio (up nine places two years ago, up another six to 23 now) and the second one is at Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville, New Jersey (up four places in 2016, up another six to 31 this time around), which is a Tillinghast track that celebrates its centenary next year.

In a total reverse of fortunes, the 18-hole layout at Old Sandwich Golf Club, near Plymouth in Massachusetts, which fell six positions when we last re-ranked, rebounds back to the number 34 slot. It’s a preferred golfing port of call for our much-travelled International Correspondent David Davis, who termed it “my favorite Coore & Crenshaw (course) ahead of Sand Hills, Bandon Trails, Friar’s Head and Colorado” and David likes it so much, he thinks “it’s most certainly worth a trip to the Boston area just to play it”.

Also worthy of mention are double digit improvements in position for three courses in the top half of the table: Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration of Perry Maxwell’s Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (the highest new entry in our last chart revision) which is up thirteen to 36, Gil Hanse’s restoration of Tillinghast’s East course at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, which rises ten to 44, and Tom Doak’s ten-year-old design at Rock Creek Cattle Company, near Deer Lodge, Montana, where the course moves up twelve places to 49.

In the lower half of the standings, two courses which were new to the US hundred in 2014 head further up the listings and two courses which slipped down the rankings in 2016 make dramatic turnarounds.

The first two layouts are Coore & Crenshaw’s Red course at the burgeoning Streamsong Resort in Florida, which initially debuted at 77, made a modest rise to 70 two years ago, and now climbs a further fifteen places to number 55 and the old Donald Ross design at White Bear Yacht Club on White Bear Lake, Minnesota, where the course squeezed into the chart at 97 four years ago, rocketed up to 73 in 2016 and now advances a further ten spots up to 63.

The two courses to make pronounced changes in direction within the bottom half of the hundred are David McLay Kidd’s new millennium design at Nanea Golf Club in Hawaii and Seth Raynor’s 1920s layout at Yale University in Connecticut. The former plunged fourteen places to number 76 in the last revision but it’s now rocketed sixteen positions back up to number 60 and the latter, having fallen from 72 to 78 two years ago, has more than made up lost ground by soaring ten spots to number 68.

Eight of the thirteen courses to make way for new entries – Chambers Bay, Colonial, Congressional (Blue), Galloway National, Kinloch, Monterey Peninsula (Shore), Newport and Olympia Fields (North) – were long standing Top 100 occupants which had featured in at least five of the six previous chart editions so the decision to eliminate them was not taken lightly. However, we believe their replacements are well worth a place in the new listings, headed by two newcomers that make their debut slightly in front of the pack.

The highest new entry arrives at number 75 and it’s the course at Whippoorwill Club in Armonk, New York. A Charles Banks redesign of an original Donald Ross layout from the late 1920s, this course, which contains all the standard Macdonald/Raynor replica holes that you would expect to find, is one that our US Consultant Fergal O’Leary is really fond of, as this extract from his August 2017 review reveals: “Whippoorwill is one of the most underrated courses I’ve played in my life… one of America’s biggest hidden gems… stimulating, challenging and truly beautifully crafted holes are in abundance here… the course is an adventure, a test, a visual delight and incredibly exciting”.

Three positions behind, making its debut at number 78, the Coore & Crenshaw-designed Sand Valley course at the Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, is the first of several layouts destined to open at this Mike Keiser-owned golf facility. A recent reviewer commented: “the location is stunning, the use of sand is amazing and the conditioning top notch” while, earlier in the year, another person described the property in the following manner: “the site at Sand Valley is truly an eyeful. The land completely natural – free of all clutter and anything not native to the environment”.

There might be a raised eyebrow regarding one or two of the other eleven new entries. Nevertheless, we stand by what we’ve produced but, as ever, if you have a bone to pick with us about any of our selections then by all means let us know what you’re thinking. Have we missed an obvious contender or have we included a course that really shouldn’t be there? Maybe we’ve ranked a course too highly or allowed another to slip too far down the listings? Whatever your opinion might be, feel free to click the “Respond to this article” link at the top or bottom of this page to share it with us.


To view the complete detailed list of the Top 100 Golf Courses of the USA click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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