Many of America's best golf destinations have history on their side.
Where would Pinehurst be without Donald Ross or Pebble Beach Golf Links without Bing Crosby? As Pebble Beach gears up for its 100th anniversary in 2019, it's worth looking back to understand how special golf destinations like California's Monterey Peninsula came to be.
These destinations have been built across a timeline spanning decades, like a puzzle, one piece at a time. One golf course here. A golf resort there. More come later as developers jump on the craze. After all, one course or resort does not a golf destination make.
Often times, it wasn't the first course to be built in a region that foreshadowed a bright future as a golf destination. It was simply a matter of climate. Nine of the 10 historic destinations featured in this story - defined by me as American golf meccas with a number of key courses built prior to the early 1960s - reside in America's warmest states: Hawaii, California and Florida, etc.
Like the modern U.S. destinations I profiled in a recent piece, each one of them had a catalyst, that one course that sparked future growth. What's interesting is their timelines. Some catalysts are courses older than a century. A few are less than 25 years old. Perhaps that's what makes these destinations so special, the architectural variety spanning generations of architects and how they believed the game should be played. Here's a look:
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club
Oldest public course: Pine Lakes Country Club (1927).
Catalyst that spurred future growth: Dunes Golf & Beach Club (1949).
Timeline of key courses: King’s North at Myrtle Beach National (1973). Oyster Bay Golf Links (1983). Heritage Club (1986). Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club (1988). Tidewater Golf Club (1990). Three courses at Legends Resort (1990). Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (1994). TPC Myrtle Beach (1999). Four courses at Barefoot Resort & Golf (2000). Grande Dunes (2001).
Comment: The impact the Dunes Club had on the area’s growth wasn’t immediate, but it was unmistakable. In the two decades after The Dunes Club opened, 14 more courses were built as developers saw what the game could do for the area. Golf exploded in the mid-1980s, as courses like Oyster Bay on the north end and Heritage Club in Pawleys Island on the south side brought national acclaim. From there, Tidewater, Caledonia, Barefoot and Grande Dunes brought top 100 cache to the "Grand Strand", giving golfers more than 100 choices for any budget. A recent spat of closures has been a necessary correction.
The Sandhills of North Carolina
Pinehurst No. 2
Oldest: Pinehurst No. 1 (1898 routing redone by Donald Ross in 1913).
Catalyst: Pinehurst No. 2 (1907).
Timeline: No. 4 (1919 course that has undergone major redesigns in 2000 and 2018), No. 7 (1986) and No. 8 (1996) at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. Mid-Pines Golf Club (1921). Pine Needles (1928). Mid South Club (1993). Tobacco Road (1998). Talamore Golf Resort (2001). Dormie Club (2010).
Comment: Nobody remembers the names of Dr. Leroy Culver and John Dunn Tucker, the men who originally designed Pinehurst No. 1, but every golfer knows that Ross brought Pinehurst to prominence. The Scotsman lived in the village during his illustrious career, tinkering with his beloved No. 2 course until his death in 1948. America's self-proclaimed "Home of Golf" sports an impressive array of architecture representative across all spectrums, from the classic look of Ross (Pinehurst, Mid Pines, Pine Needles) to the eccentricities of Mike Strantz (Tobacco Road) and the modern excellence of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (Dormie Club).
Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Oldest: El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort & Club (1917).
Catalyst: Bay Hill Club & Lodge (1961).
Timeline: Palm and Magnolia courses (both 1971) at Walt Disney World. South/East/North nines (1986) and New Course (1988) at Grand Cypress Resort. Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando (1992 opening with a 2014 redesign). Panther Lake (1997) and Crooked Cat (1998) courses at Orange County National. Legends at Orange Lake Resort (1998). International and National courses (both 2000) at ChampionsGate Golf Club. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Grande Lakes (2003). Watson (2004), Palmer (2004), Nicklaus (2006) courses at Reunion Resort. Waldorf Astoria Golf Club (2009). Blue and Red courses (both 2012) at Streamsong Resort. Streamsong Black (2018).
Comment: Dick Wilson designed Bay Hill, but it took a King's touch - Arnold Palmer leased the course in 1970, bought it in 1975 and brought a PGA Tour event in 1979 - to elevate it to golf royalty. Disney deserves some credit for propping up Orlando's golf scene, too, hosting the Disney Golf Classic on its Magnolia and Palm courses from 1971-2012, and by attracting a critical mass of tourists, a percentage of whom are taking a break from the theme parks to play. Luxury golf became a thing this century when the Ritz Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, Omni and Four Seasons (with its 2014 redesign of Osprey Ridge) were constructed and added courses. Streamsong, located in the middle of nowhere 1 1/2-hours south of Orlando, has ushered in the latest craze, bringing walking-only, links-style golf with caddies to central Florida.
Doral's Blue Monster
Oldest: Ocean course at The Breakers Palm Beach (1896).
Catalyst: Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami (1961).
Timeline: The Biltmore Golf Course (1925). North Palm Beach Country Club (1950 but major redesign by Nicklaus in 2006). Melreese Golf Course at International Links (1961). Palm Beach Par-3 Golf Course (1961). Rees Jones course at The Breakers Palm Beach (1968 but major redesign by Rees Jones in 2004). Miller and Soffer courses (both 1971 but major redesigns in 2006-07) at Turnberry Isle Resort & Club. Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne (1972). Champion course at PGA National Golf Resort & Spa (1981). Wanamaker (1996) and Dye (2000) courses at PGA Golf Club.
Comment: No place exemplifies the past and future of south Florida's golf scene like the Breakers. Its Ocean course is the oldest in Florida, debuting in 1896. Contrast that with its second course, a course originally built seven decades later and eventually modernized into a premier layout by Rees Jones in 2004. The year 1961 was big with the debut of the Blue Monster at Doral; Melreese, a Miami city muni where LPGA veterans Cristie Kerr, Moira Dunn and Tracy Kerdyk learned the game and PGA Tour pro Erik Compton practices; and the Palm Beach short course right on the ocean, one of the best par 3 courses in America.
Oldest: Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club (1927).
Catalyst: Gold course at Tiburon Golf Club (1998).
Timeline: Hammock Bay Golf Course (1974 with a 2004 redesign by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy). Flamingo Island (1989) and Mustang (1996) courses at Lely Resort Golf & Country Club. The Rookery at Marco (1991). Naples Grande Golf Club (2000). The Black course at Tiburon Golf Club (2001). Raptor Bay Golf Club (2001). Old Corkscrew Golf Club (2007). TPC Treviso Bay (2008).
Comment: Most of the courses in southwest Florida are hidden behind the gates of private communities. The one that isn't - Naples Beach along the main drag, Highway 41 - has some unique history. It's where an 11-year-old named Jack Nicklaus first broke 40. The debut of the 36-hole Tiburon courses (1998 and 2001) by Greg Norman forced all the public/resort courses in town to up their games. It brought the PGA Tour to southwest Florida with the QBE Shootout moving to Naples in 2001.
Oldest: Tradition course at Breezy Point Resort (1924).
Catalyst: The Pines at Grand View Lodge (1993).
Timeline: Pine Beach East at Madden’s on Gull Lake (1926). White Birch Golf Course at Breezy Point Resort (1930). Pine Beach West at Madden’s on Gull Lake (1955). The Preserve at Grand View Lodge (1996). The Classic at Madden’s (1996). Dutch Legacy (1998) and Bobby’s Legacy (1999) at Cragun’s Resort. Deacon’s Lodge at Breezy Point Resort (1999).
Comment: The Pines was the first Brainerd course to land on Golf Magazine's Top 100 list. Although it's a very good course, I've often wondered how much of that was advertising mite as opposed to architectural merits. Nevertheless, it set a standard eventually surpassed by Brainerd's current Top 100-caliber duo, Deacon's Lodge and The Classic. Brainerd's topography is ideal for golf with towering pines, rolling hills and pristine lakes, even if its climate isn't. Summers can be short three hours north of the Twin Cities.
Monterey Peninsula, California
Oldest: Del Monte Golf Course (1897).
Catalyst: Pebble Beach Golf Links (1919).
Timeline: Pacific Grove Golf Links (1932/1966). Quail Lodge & Club (1963). Spyglass Hill Golf Course (1966). Carmel Valley Ranch (1981). Poppy Hills Golf Club (1986). The Links at Spanish Bay (1987). Bayonet (1954) and BlackHorse (1964) at Bayonet/BlackHorse (both redesigned in 2008).
Comment: Without the artistry and brilliance of Pebble Beach, maybe the Monterey Peninsula never becomes such a revered golf destination. It's an interesting thought to ponder. Two years stand out in the evolution of America's ultimate golf mecca - 1947, the first time entertainer Bing Crosby brought his celebrity "clam bake" to town; and 1972, the first of five historic U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach. These tournaments forever etched the jagged rocks of California's most famous coastline into our conscience. The resort will celebrate its 100th anniversary in style by hosting the 2019 U.S. Open. First comes the 2018 U.S. Amateur.
San Diego, California
Torrey Pines South
Oldest: Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course (1921).
Timeline: Coronado Golf Course (1957). Rancho Bernardo Inn (1962). Legends (1964) and Champions (1965) courses at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. Aviara Golf Club (1991). Riverwalk Golf Club (1998 redesign of old Starwood Country Club). The Grand Golf Club (1999). Maderas Golf Club (2000). Barona Creek Golf Club (2001). The Crossings at Carlsbad (2007).
Comment: The sunniest climate in California became a true destination for golfers in 1957 when a trio of famous municipal courses with views of the Pacific debuted: the North and South courses at Torrey Pines and Coronado. Further expansion in the 1960s (Rancho Bernardo and La Costa) and 1990s (Aviara and The Grand) brought to life the region's best resort courses. Unfortunately, the fallout from the 2009 recession and the ongoing drought has hit San Diego/southern California harder than any other U.S. market. Some really good courses have closed, but thankfully, the strong survive and adapt.
Coachella Valley, California
Mountain course at La Quinta
Oldest: Legend course at Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort (opening in 1960 as the Palm Springs Golf Course).
Timeline: Celebrity and Players courses (both 1986) at Indian Wells Golf Resort. Palms and Valley courses (both 1986) at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort. TPC Stadium course at PGA West (1987). Firecliff (1997) and Mountain View (1998) courses at Desert Willow Golf Resort. North (1998) and South (1999) courses at The Golf Club at Terra Lago. Norman course at PGA West (1999). Silverrock (2005). The Classic Club (2006).
Comment: Although golf in the desert dates to 1925, the private Thunderbird Ranch Country Club became the valley’s first 18-holer in 1951. It is also said to home of the very first "golf cart". That makes sense, considering how hard it is to walk and play without shade in sweltering desert heat. Private courses in gated communities still rule the region, but the synergy developed between the La Quinta Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, and PGA West in the 1980s brought high-end public golf to Coachella Valley. It wasn't just for Hollywood celebrities and the Rat Pack anymore.
Oldest: Ali Wai Golf Course (1931).
Catalyst: Mauna Kea Golf Course (1964).
Timeline: Royal Ka'anapali (1962). Princeville Makai Golf Club (1971). South (1981) and North (1988) courses at Mauna Lani Resort. The Ocean Course at Hokuala (1988). Ko Olina Golf Club (1990). The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort (1991). Poipu Bay Golf Course (1991). Arnold Palmer Course at at Turtle Bay Resort (1992). Ko’olau Golf Club (1992). Manele Golf Course (1993). Gold and Emerald courses (both 1994) at Wailea Golf Club.
Comment: Golfers come to Hawaii to see the ocean, and boy do they have a fine meet-and-greet on the third tee of Mauna Kea, the famous ocean-front par 3 where the Big Three - Gary Player, Nicklaus and Palmer - hit shots during the grand opening in 1964. Those swings signaled the birth of resort golf in the islands. Magical shoreline experiences sprouted up in each of the next three decades - Princeville Makai on Kauai in 1971, the North and South courses at Mauna Lani Resort on Hawaii island in 1981 and Kapalua on Maui in 1991 and Manele on Lanai in 1993. Everything since has been high-end private clubs like The Kohanaiki Club (2013) on Hawaii island and Kukui'ula Golf Course (2011) on Kauai.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, historic golf destinations centered around one major resort - great spots like French Lick in Indiana, The Greenbrier in West Virginia and Sea Island in Georgia - weren't included.