Are You Playing these Top Golf Courses in the Right Order?

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Last week, we gave you some general advice for scheduling your rounds in a logical order on a golf vacation.

We received some great feedback, and wanted to follow up this week with our specific recommendations for course orders at some of America's largest resorts (all members of this list have three or more courses).

Many people will play Bandon Dunes' "big courses" in chronological order, with Old Macdonald coming last. (Bandon Dunes Golf Resort/Wood Sabold)

Bandon Dunes (the "big courses) - Bandon, Ore.

  • Bandon Dunes
  • Pacific Dunes
  • Bandon Trails
  • Old Macdonald

Why this order? We like playing these amazing courses in the order in which they were built, but every Bandon Dunes devotee seems to have a slightly different preference. If there's one resort where the debate over playing order is most heated, it's at Bandon. If you've been here, we definitely want your thoughts on this.

PGA National - Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

  • The Palmer
  • The Squire
  • The Champion
  • The Fazio

Why this order? PGA National's Palmer and Squire courses both have their demanding stretches, but the Champion Course is one of those relentlessly challenging courses you'd better work your way up to. In case you do end up getting beat up a little, seek redemption on the friendlier but still engaging Fazio.

Pinehurst Resort

  • No. 8
  • No. 5
  • No. 9
  • No. 4
  • No. 2

No. 1 and No. 3 each make great add-on rounds, and No. 6 and No. 7 make for modern complements to Pinehurst's more classic layouts.

(Destination Kohler/The American Club)

Destination Kohler/The American Club

  • Meadow Valleys
  • Blackwolf Run
  • Irish Course
  • Whistling Straits

Why this order? We favor a site-by-site approach, since both two-course facilities sit about a dozen miles apart.

At Great Waters, Jack Nicklaus was given rare freedom to take full advantage of the shores of Lake Oconee. (Reynolds Lake Oconee)

Reynolds Lake Oconee - Greensboro, Ga.

  • The Preserve
  • The Oconee
  • The National
  • The Landing
  • Great Waters

Why this order? Great Waters and Oconee get much of the ink, but Reynolds' average course quality is higher than most big resorts, to the point where you might just place the Landing, Preserve or National layouts in equal esteem. We still give Great Waters the finale nod due to its higher number of holes on the lake.

Sea Island's Retreat Course is consistent with its name - more a pleasant diversion than a strenuous challenge. (Sea Island)

Sea Island - St. Simons Island, Ga.

  • Retreat
  • Plantation
  • Seaside

Why this order? Though the Rees Jones-designed Plantation has more scenic views than the Retreat, and it now serves as the secondary course for the PGA Tour's RSM Classic, we prefer the inland Davis Love III layout overall. Start on a higher note there before moving onto the two courses on the Lodge property. And keep an eye out for PGA Tour pros like Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Harris English honing their games.

Kiawah Island Resort - Kiawah Island, S.C.

  • Oak Point
  • Cougar Point
  • Osprey Point
  • The Ocean Course
  • Turtle Point

Why this order? This is a classic gradual buildup to a penultimate-round, tough-as-nails high note which, similar to the Champion at PGA National, might leave you wanting a chance to recover from a tough round while still playing a couple more holes' worth of oceanside golf (Turtle Point has three holes on the beach).

Atlantic Dunes, by Davis Love III, is Sea Pines' newest-renovated course. (Sea Pines Resort)

Sea Pines Resort - Hilton Head Island, S.C.

  • Atlantic Dunes
  • Heron Point
  • Harbour Town

Why this order? Harbour Town used to be the best course at Sea Pines by a mile and a half, but the resort's recent investment in first Heron Point and, last year, Atlantic Dunes, has elevated the stature of the resort's entire golf product considerably. Here, We'd encourage you to start with the more spacious corridors of Atlantic Dunes and gradually honing in on the tighter fairways of Harbour Town. This order also allows architecture buffs to see two courses from different periods in Pete Dye's storied design career back-to-back

La Quinta Resort & Club - La Quinta, Calif.

  • La Quinta - Mountain Course
  • Norman Course
  • La Quinta - Dunes Course
  • TPC Stadium Course
  • Nicklaus Tournament Course

Why this order? This is another example of a resort where the most famous course is also the toughest one. It's also a rare opportunity to play multiple PGA Tour courses at the same site, so we'd recommend you mimic the pros' preparation habits: play the rest before you visit the best.

The par-3 eighth at The Greenbrier's Old White TPC is a phenomenal example of the Redan template.

The Greenbrier - White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

  • Meadows Course
  • Greenbrier Course
  • Old White TPC

Why this order? Once all three golf courses have recovered fully from last year's flooding, the Greenbrier may challenge the Old White TPC for supremacy, but we expect the venerable C.B. Macdonald layout to continue to be the biggest draw.

Barefoot Resort - Myrtle Beach, S.C.

  • Love Course
  • Norman Course
  • Fazio Course
  • Dye Club

Why this order? The Love Course is our second-favorite Barefoot layout behind the Dye, but we recommend starting there because it has the widest fairways of the four courses onsite.

We recommend tackling The Broadmoor's East and West layouts before taking on the tougher Mountain Course. (The Broadmoor)

The Broadmoor - Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • West Course
  • East Course
  • Mountain Course

Why this order? We'd recommend getting your feet wet with The Broadmoor's two hotel-side, classic golf courses (including the East, which has hosted the most big-time tournament golf at the resort) before heading uphill to play the very challenging Nicklaus-designed Mountain Course.

The 18th at Trump National Doral's Blue Monster. (Trump National Doral)

Trump National Doral - Miami, Fla.

  • Red Tiger
  • Golden Palm
  • Blue Monster
  • Silver Fox

Why this order? Gil Hanse's renovations to the Red Tiger and Golden Palm courses have turned them from also-rans into excellent complements to the Blue Monster. The Silver Fox is a bit tighter off the tee, so make sure to play it once you're in a good groove with your driver.

What do you think about playing these courses in these orders? Anything you'd do differently? Let us know below in the comments!

Apr 04, 2017

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Tom H's avatar
Tom H wrote at 2017-04-07 12:49:31+00:00:

just got back from Reynolds, and Oconee is a far more interesting and challenging GOLF COURSE in all respects to Great Waters (although the back 9 is beautiful). The other layouts there are good tests though. And as far as Pinehurst, a more challenging course is #7, better than either #8 or #9.

Johnny O's avatar
Johnny O wrote at 2017-04-05 15:54:50+00:00:

There's not a bad course on the resort (including the Preserve). Assuming a 36 hole day, I would not recommend Trails and Old Mac on the same day... as they are the most difficult walks. As someone else mentioned, Trails is a better bet for the afternoon rounds as it is a little shielded from the wind. If you have enough time, I'd recommend playing one of the Ocean courses (Bandon or Pacific) once in the morning, and once in the afternoon to get the "true" links effect, wind and all. I got great advice and a description of each course from the caddie (too long to type, but it was awesome). The take away is that all the courses have their own features, there's no wrong order to play them, and DON'T skip the Preserve.

John Moore's avatar
John Moore wrote at 2017-04-05 11:55:15+00:00:

Bandon...I don't know, I played Old Macdonald first and the trip over the dunes on the 3rd hole was magical. I don't think the order matters. As someone above said, people are going to play 36 or more per day, so it's just kind of going to run together. They're all superior golf courses.

Pinehurst...I had to hesitate for a minute when I saw #9 on there, thinking maybe it was a typo or something, then I remembered that the Resort bought Pinehurst National not long ago. I'd only take #9 over #7 if 9 is included in the price while 7 is still at an add-on fee. Last time I was down there, I think 7 was an additional charge, something far more than it was worth. For me, 9 was just not very good. I'm no Rees Jones fan, but I'd take 7 over 9 any day. If you have to pay extra for 7 and 9, I'd play #1.

Richard's avatar
Richard wrote at 2017-04-05 06:52:17+00:00:

This a great article insight like this is priceless, I am coming over and visiting Pinehurst, Kiawah and Hilton Head. I have been to the latter before but was finding Pinehurst a bit of a muddle. I can now do some research and get it right. Thanks.

wrdag's avatar
wrdag wrote at 2017-04-05 00:02:07+00:00:

I'm shocked over the Bandon advice, could not be worse. Here is the bottom-line, its going to get more windy as the day goes on. In the summer think 25mph plus post noon. That means that Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes are am rounds. Bandon by far the best course on the property (because it can be played in high winds) is an option in the afternoon but its very exposed as is Pacific which is virtually unplayable in winds above 25 mph. Old Mac is wide open and can be played relatively well in the afternoon winds. Trails is the best afternoon course option, once you cross the road and get away from the ocean the course is still windy but 10 mph less which is huge. Caddies who play for free and play for money only play consider one course in the afternoon...Trails. The other courses are just so wind exposed that it becomes less about skill and more about luck. The par 3 course is a great track and perfect post lunch round for those who don't play 36. BTW: It costs nothing to play if you play 36 first and an easy fun walk late in the afternoon.

MikeD's avatar
MikeD wrote at 2017-04-04 22:45:19+00:00:

I would add one other Golf resort to this article. The Innisbrook Golf Resort. While many know of the Copperhead course home to the PGA's Valparaiso Open, the resort offers three other courses for the golf connoisseur. I suggest that the Island course might even surpass the famed Copperhead.

Tim Gavrich's avatar
Tim Gavrich wrote at 2017-04-04 21:02:18+00:00:

T.U.L.--<br/> GREAT point about trying to get cliffside for sunsets, and therefore playing PacDunes and BanDunes late in the day. I think your preferred order underscores the high quality of golf offered at Bandon - it's pretty much impossible to go wrong.<br/> Best,<br/> --Tim

Jon Kaull's avatar
Jon Kaull wrote at 2017-04-04 20:45:04+00:00:

Would suggest rotation at Bandon as follows:

Round 1: Bandon Dunes. The easiest of the 4, great ocean holes. Perfect start to a trip

Round 2: Old Mac. An afternoon round if playing 36, Old Mac plays best with big winds. Shadows and panoramic views if you play late enough are fantastic.

Round 3: Bandon Trails. An enjoyable walk in the morning, and generally not crowded. A tough walk if it's 2nd round of the day, and the most difficult course, nearly impossible in the afternoon winds.

Round 4: Pacific Dunes. Save the best for last once your links game and swing are in top form. Gorgeous afternoon walk. 2nd most difficult next to Trails but can score even in big winds.

Always stay a third night, becuase not playing the Preserve would be a shame. If a 3rd night allows you to get a 5th 18 hole round in I'd hit Bandon Dunes to wrap up the trip. Will be the chance for your best score of the week. BD can be had.

The Ultimate Loop's avatar
The Ultimate Loop wrote at 2017-04-04 20:44:10+00:00:

Love your website-great resource to me, so take my disagreement as that of a devoted fan.

As to Bandon, playing them in the order they were created seems arbitrary. There are so many non-arbitrary factors to consider. For example, I felt the sunsets over the Pacific should be enjoyed from the best courses on the property--Bandon and Pacific. So, given almost everyone plays 36 holes per day (at least), that would mean playing either Old Mac/Trails in the morning and then Bandon/Pacific in the afternoon. Then, on the second day, use the same formula, but switch courses. I also like the fact that Old Mac is fairly easy, so it can serve as a good warm up for a second round on a more difficult course. Another thing to consider is the fact that the resort is walking only and many people play 36 in a day. I suppose it is a personal preference as to whether you would prefer to walk the most arduous course (whichever that is) as your first or second round, but it is certainly something to consider.

Planning to head out there in June. Can't wait!

Joe M's avatar
Joe M wrote at 2017-04-04 20:06:07+00:00:

What about Pebble beach resorts?

ALAN P's avatar
ALAN P wrote at 2017-04-04 19:31:21+00:00:

When I played Bandon only the original two were open. Hoping to return to play Trails and Old MacDonald. Nothing can top Pacific Dunes, so save that for last. I agree with your order on Kohler....the Straits should be your final round. Next year include Streamsong in your list when the third cause will be open.

gary's avatar
gary wrote at 2017-04-04 18:51:06+00:00:

For Bandon resort: Skip Old MacDonald completely. It's a mess, poorly designed "links" course. And play Pacific Dunes 1st. Superior to Bandon Dunes.

Tim Gavrich

Senior Writer

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.