The top 20 courses in the U.S. you can play



Matt Ginella is back with a new update to his top 20 courses you can play in the U.S.

While Ginella has also posted articles on top value courses, hidden gems and buddies trip destinations, the courses on this list—according to Ginella—are the top standalone golf experiences in the country.

For 2014, his ranking has a first-timer in Streamsong Red and a brand new no. 1 in Pebble Beach. (You can view his 2013 list here).

Morning Drive: Ginella talks Top 20 courses in the U.S.

20. TPC Old White at The Greenbrier
Architect(s): C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, Lester George
White Sulpher Springs, W.V.
Green fee: $225

This course has been good enough for the greatest names in golf since 1914. Featuring some of C.B. Macdonald's template holes, the 18th, a par 3, is where Sam Snead made his last of 34 career aces.

19. Seaside at Sea Island Golf Club
Architect: Colt & Alison/Tom Fazio
Sea Island, Ga.
Green fee: $295

Seaside was built in 1929 by Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison. Undergoing an extensive renovation in 1999, Tom Fazio built what now hosts The RSM Classic. A modified version of links golf in America, Seaside is a charming southern stroll around creeks, dunes and along the St. Simons Sound.

18. Pinehurst No. 4
Architect: Tom Fazio
Pinehurst. N.C.
Green fee: $230

This course is so good, and fun, that some people like it better than No. 2. I don't go that far, but hard to imagine making a trip to Pinehurst and not playing No. 4. (The next best course at the resort is No. 8.)

17. Players Stadium at TPC Sawgrass
Architect: Pete Dye
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Green fee: $400

With one of the toughest and most famous finishing stretches in golf, the Stadium Course was built to host The Players, but wow the fans. Given the degree of difficulty off the tee and around the greens, it's no shock the best in the game have hoisted the trophy of what is commonly referred to as "The Fifth Major."

16. Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
Architect: Pete Dye
Kiawah Island, S.C.
Green fee: $370

From the fist hole, it's easy to see why the Ocean Course has been labeled the best match play course in the country. It seems every shot will require thought and offer various forms of strategic choices as you navigate lots of risk, very little reward. I like to say my favorite hole is the 19th, which overlooks the 18th green.

15. Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort
Architect: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw
Maui, Hawaii
Green fee: $278

One of Coore and Crenshaw's first designs, the back nine, and specifically the finish, get a lot of love, but I also love the front nine. There's no chance to walk this beast, and although the extreme undulations provide breathtaking views of the ocean, they can also play tricks on your perspective, lies and distance control. It's my highest ranked course in Hawaii because it's spectacular, fair and so much fun.

14. Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
Architect: Mike Strantz
Pawleys Plantation, S.C.
Green fee: $195

The highest ranked course on The Grand Strand looks like it has been there forever. Mike Strantz was an architect, but after playing Caledonia, you'd call him an artist. The approach to the 18th green—which is over water—gives the assembled gallery on the back deck plenty of entertainment. It will give you plenty of anxiety.

13. Pine Needles Golf Course
Architect: Donald Ross
Southern Pines, N.C.
Green fee: $235

Recently renovated and updated, Pine Needles has hosted multiple Women's U.S. Opens and is my second favorite course in an area loaded with great golf. Look out for Peggy Kirk Bell, and American treasure of golf, who owns and operates Pine Needles. The Donald Ross original will leave you wanting to go right back to the first tee.

12. Harbour Town at Sea Pines Resort
Architect(s): Pete Dye/Jack Niicklaus
Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Green fee: $272

This course catapulted the architectural careers of both Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus. Built in 1969, Dye was 44 and Nicklaus was 29 when they collaborated on Dye's first design to host a PGA Tour event. The original plans didn't finish along the Calibougie Sound, but after some convincing of local politicians, the avid amateur got one of the best finishing holes in golf.

11. Straits Course at Whistling Straits
Architect: Pete Dye
Sheboygan, Wisc.
Green fee: $370

Running along two miles of Lake Michigan's shoreline, Straits is walking only and has four memorable par 3s. My highest ranked public Dye design has hosted PGA Championships in 2004, '10 and will host another on in '15. Straits will also be the venue for the '20 Ryder Cup.

The Top 10

10. Forest Dunes Golf Club
Architect: Tom Weiskopf
Roscommon, Mich.
Green fee: $149

Ever since I played there, I've been looking for an excuse to go back. With an interesting mix of holes, featuring, as the name suggests, forest and dunes, Tom Weiskopf said it was his best design. Difficult to get there, but worth the trek and has a reputation for being in immaculate condition. I'm looking forward to a second course at Forest Dunes, which will be built by Tom Doak. It’s on the back burner for now, but when it happens, this will become another Streamsong, a secluded two-course destination where any buddies trip can hunker down and be more than happy for a long weekend of great golf and unlimited camaraderie.

9. Bandon Dunes
Architect: David McLay Kidd
Bandon, Ore.
Green fee: $250

The first course at what has become the No. 1 pure golf resort in the country, if not the world. It’s a perfect mix of links golf, strategy, setting, and if you tee off late in the day: a spectacular sunset. Behind the 16th green, tucked below the ridge and behind the 17th tee, is a small wooden bench. Take an extra minute or two, like they do at the 17th tee of Cypress Point, and soak up the moment. Life can be thick rough sometimes, but that spot at Bandon Dunes can instantly recharge your spiritual batteries.

8. Red Course at Streamsong Resort
Architect: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw
Streamsong, Fla.
Green fee: $165

As is the case with any good course, the more I play it, the more I like it. Every tee pulls me into the hole and makes me excited to hit the shot. Coore and Crenshaw are thoughtful in their approach to design, and with the canvas of purified sand, wild dunes and nothing but open space, they were showing off their architectural chops when they built Red. There are a lot of half-pars, starting with the first hole, which should leave you with some bogeys, but also some birdies. Relax, and enjoy the ride, which is what you'll say to your ball if you hit the front of the 16th green and you're playing to a pin on the back of the green. The natural Biarritz, with a deep swale running through the middle of the putting surface, was made famous by C.B. Macdonald's template holes and makes for some fun putts. The Blue Course at Streamsong isn't too shabby, but I compare the Red and the Blue with the Manning brothers. Eli, the Blue, has two Super Bowls, But Peyton, the Red, is by far the better quarterback. "Omaha!"

7. Bandon Trails
Architect: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
Bandon, Ore.
Green Fee: $250

I intentionally slot "Trails" just ahead of Streamsong Red, because this to me is the best public offering by the architectural team of Coore & Crenshaw. (That is, until they open Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia. And I haven't played Lost Farm in Tasmania.) Trails has some of my favorite par 3s at a resort full of memorable short holes. (See Bandon Preserve.) I feel sorry for the people who go to Bandon Dunes and skip Trails because they came to play near the Ocean. In fact, Trails, which winds through tall trees, is a welcome relief from the prevailing winds of the Oregon coastline. It's especially peaceful in the stretch of holes 8 thru 13. And although the 14th is polarizing for it's undulating landing area and small elevated green, if you play for a bogey, you will generally walk off with a par. It's when you play for a birdie that most people make double. With an improved and softened 16th and 18th, I can't see Trails leaving my top 10 anytime soon.

6. Spyglass Hill
Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Pebble Beach, Calif.
Green fee: $400

Typically one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour, I strongly suggest moving up a set of tees Spyglass Hill. After a short look at the most cherished coastline in America, you'll turn your back on the breeze and you best bear down for the test that lies ahead. Big sweeping par 4s with doglegs that will force you to be accurate with not only how straight you hit it, but also how far you hit it, are a big reason why playing to your handicap will be tough. Stay patient, positive and below the hole. Try to make birdies on the risk-reward par 5s. Big Brother, Pebble Beach, has an obvious edge with scenery and wins in the category of spectacular, especially those seven holes along the water, but Spyglass, from start to finish, is more consistent.


Watch Ginella talk his Top 5 golf courses on Morning Drive


5. Pasatiempo Golf Club
Architect: Alister MacKenzie
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Green fee: $250

One of the few Alister MacKenzie originals available for public play, the bones of this beauty were preserved by the 10-year restoration lead by Tom Doak and his team of architectural enthusiasts. I've recommended this course to thousands of avid amateurs making the trip to the Bay Area and/or the Monterey Peninsula. Not one has been disappointed. In fact, it's the opposite. I'm always flooded with thank-you notes and images of their favorite hole. (Usually No. 16, which was also MacKenzie's favorite.) It's not on the coast, but from the first tee, on a clear day, you can see the ocean. And although it's set in a neighborhood and surrounded by houses, it has never bothered me. In fact, that's MacKenzie's old house, to the left of the sixth fairway, marked by the plaque in the cart path. Try to secure an early tee time, because as soon as you're done, you'll want to go right back out.

4. Black at Bethpage State Park
Architect: A.W. Tillinghast/Joe Burbeck
Farmingdale, N.Y.
Green fee: $150

The Black was No. 1 only a year ago, but admittedly, now that I've moved from New York to Florida, I've moved it down the list. Out of sight, I suppose. And not unlike its new neighbor, Pasatiempo, the bones of this beast we're restored and refreshed and thus, properly appreciated for being one of the elite and purist tests of golf in America. From the first tee, and all the way back around to the 18th green, you'll be on a thrill ride of challenges in which you will use every club in your bag, not to mention every curse word in the book. But there will be just enough reward and satisfaction that as you climb the small slope to the clubhouse, you'll look back on what will be a sense of fun and accomplishment. That is precisely what the Black brought back to the Northeastern golf fan in 2002, when Tiger Woods' U.S. Open win helped wash away some of the pain of 9/11. Forever in my heart and always in my top 5, I also appreciate what Black means to the public golfer, and can't wait for what it will bring to the PGA Championship in 2019 and the Ryder Cup in 2024.

3. Pinehurst No. 2
Architect: Donald Ross
Pinehurst, N.C.
Green fee: $410

No. 2 might be the closest thing the United States has to the Old Course in St. Andrews. It's one of eight options at the resort and all are open to the public. It's also in a small town surrounded by golf-themed shops and artifacts. The clubhouse and town drips with history and an undertone of sophistication. Built by a Scotsman, No. 2 is commonly referred to as the crown jewel of the Donald Ross portfolio. And after decades of tweaks and changes, current ownership set out to peel back the original waste areas that line the fairways, and thus, restored the patches of wire grass and strategy from off the tees. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, both students of all that is architecture, were a perfect fit for this massive and significant undertaking and as a result, it will be a worthy test for two weeks in June when No. 2 will host the men's and women's U.S. Opens. Although Pete Dye told me Donald Ross would not approve of the severity of the greens, especially at modern Stimpmeter speeds, those domes and upside down bowls are there to stay. You can get away with misses off the tee, but if you're not accurate with your approach shots, you'll that to use the bump-and-run from off the tight lies that surround the greens. Holes four and five will be the indicator that you're playing one of the greats. It's yet another course in which I feel, the more I play it, the more I appreciate it for all that it means to "The Cradle of American Golf."

2. Pacific Dunes
Architect: Tom Doak
Bandon, Ore.
Green Fee: $250

There are so many reasons why Bandon Dunes has quickly become the no. 1 pure golf destination in America. Most of them are Spartan or subtle. But there's no doubt, it would never get the acclaim, respect and return guests without a course like Pacific Dunes. In the great debate about which course at Bandon is the best, and after years of contemplating the right answer, there's no doubt it's Pacific Dunes. Doak out-designed David McLay Kidd with his use of the holes along the coast. The fourth and 13th at Pacific are two of the best par 4s in the world. With the prevailing winds of winter coming off the ocean, on the par-3 11th tee, you might have to start your 9-iron on a line over the water and hope it blows it back to the green. Hole Nos. 6-8 are generally underrated and the par 5s are all big, open and mostly fun. (Two will play into the wind, the other two will play downwind.) The first hole at Pacific is my least favorite, but it's the gateway to the ultimate links course in the country.

1. Pebble Beach Golf Links
Architect: Jack Neville/Douglas Grant/Jack Nicklaus
Pebble Beach, Calif.
Green fee: $495

It's back where it belongs. Having played Pebble Beach a few years ago, when the first-tee experience felt like a factory, the greens had been punched, I had a bad caddie, and delivery trucks interrupted our shots to the 17th green, I had been left with a bad taste. You can never argue with seven of the greatest holes in golf, but I can't help but expect and demand more from the total experience that gets no. 1 on this list. Well, I played Pebble a few weeks ago and it was perfect, with the only exception being pace of play. But no one in my group was complaining about a five-and-a-half-hour round. Under clear skies, and in almost no wind, we savored every step, burned up the memory in our iPhones snapping pictures of postcard approach shots to the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 17th and 18th. That's nearly a baseball lineup of all stars. The term bucket list is overused, but in the case of Pebble Beach, it's always appropriate. For the avid and club-wielding warriors who find the time and money to make it to Monterey for that one round with their significant other, brother, father or offspring, this is special personified.

May 09, 2014



Join the conversation


Related Links


Matt Ginella

Special Contributor

Matt Ginella is Golf Channel's resident travel insider. He writes for GolfChannel.com and appears weekly on "Morning Drive." Before Golf Channel, Ginella was senior travel editor for Golf Digest and Golf World from 2007-2012 and covered courses, resorts and the avid amateur golfer's annual buddies trips to over 60 destinations around the country. Ginella graduated from St. Mary's College (Calif.) in 1995 and earned a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. Follow Matt on Twitter at @mattginellagc and on Instagram at @Matt_Ginella.