Travel expert Matt Ginella is counting down his Top 50 Courses You Can Play in the U.S. on Golf Channel's Morning Drive. The top 10 courses will be revealed on Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. EST.
The end. It's my favorite time of the year. It inspires reflections on lessons learned, moments worth remembering, and lists in need of tweaking.
On the subject of My Top 50 in the U.S. That You Can Play, a new Coore and Crenshaw design in Wisconsin takes the place of a Donald Ross original in North Carolina, that's not only off the list, it's no longer going to exist.
Sand Valley's first course, which debuts at No. 24, is yet another remote, playable and scenic, sand-based routing built by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw for Mike Keiser. It's not nearly as dramatic as Cabot Cliffs, which might be as high as No. 2 on this list if it included Canada. Sand Valley doesn't have as many memorable holes as Bandon Trails (No. 8). And it doesn't have the narrative build to a climactic finish like Streamsong Red (No. 11). Which are three of the last five Coore and Crenshaw public designs in the U.S. (Dormie Club and Bandon Preserve are the other two). But as the first course of a budding destination, Sand Valley does exactly what Keiser needs it to do: It leaves people wanting to come back for more.
Which is what they'll get: At least two more 18-hole courses and at least one short course is coming to Sand Valley very soon.
As for the biggest movers of courses already on the list, that goes to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass (from No. 21 to No. 13) and Mid Pines (from No. 24 to No. 18).
The host of The PLAYERS Championship has become more playable with bigger greens, better putting surfaces and a drivable par 4.
And Mid Pines, which underwent a restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 proportions, deserves more respect and recognition.
Pinehurst No. 2 not only maintains its place in my top 3, the 2011 restoration of center-line irrigation, natural collection areas and random lies in wire grass has caused a sand storm throughout the Sandhills. Kyle Franz's restoration work at Mid Pines has made it my second favorite course in the area, ahead of Pinehurst No. 8 (No. 20), Pine Needles (No. 22), Dormie Club (No. 34) and Tobacco Road (No. 38). It's worth noting, Franz is now working on restoring Pine Needles. And Keith Foster is restoring Greenbrier's Old White (No. 26).
Meanwhile, Pinehurst No. 4 (No. 23 in 2015) is off the list because in 2017, Gil Hanse will completely renovate what was most-recently a Tom Fazio design. And yet again, Hanse promises more of a natural look to everything surrounding the playing surface.
Yes, another year has gone by, and yet, golf in America continues a trend of turning back the clock to what makes the most sense: Thoughtful, fun, fast, natural and sustainable. As for affordable, that's a relative term and this is a list of The Best, which, in every industry, comes with A Cost.
Which brings me to a two-for-one: The Loop, Tom Doak's reversible routing in Roscommon, Mich., and Mossy Oak, Gil Hanse's new course in West Point, Miss. I didn't consider these three new courses for this year's list. I only walked Mossy Oak well before it was open. And although I played The Loop in both directions multiple times, in fairness, it was preview play and conditions in June were a bit too raw to get a sense of where they'd rank on any list. However, I maintain that what Doak pulled off — 18 greens that can be played in two directions — is impressive and could inspire yet another layer of alternative forms of golf architecture. Are those greens at The Loop too small with too many severe undulations given the demand of modern green speeds? Doak knows those dice and doesn't seem to be afraid to keep rolling 'em. (See: Streamsong Blue, No. 28.)
As for Streamsong Black, another Gil Hanse design, I'm looking forward to the fall opening of what will be the third course at Mosaic's Central Florida golf getaway.
And while My Top 10 stays the same, with consistency to conditions and ongoing enhancements, such as the 14th and 17th greens, Pebble Beach has only increased its lead as my favorite public course in the country.
Which brings us back to the end, and my list, yet again …
Ginella's Top 50 courses in the U.S. you can play
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Designer: Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Video: Golf and craft beer in Denver and the Broadmoor Resort
Designer: Jeff Brauer
Designer: Gene Bates
Video: Bayonet and Blackhorse two hidden gems of the Monterey Peninsula
Designer: Bob Cupp
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones
Lanai City, Hawaii
Designer: Jack Nicklaus
Designer: Rick Smith
41. True Blue
Video: Ginella on his Top 50 courses, Nos. 50-41
40. TPC Deere Run
Designer: Scott Hoffman
Designer: Mike Strantz
35. Erin Hills
34. Dormie Club
West End, N.C.
Designer: Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw
La Quinta, Calif.
Designer: Pete Dye
32. Gamble Sands
Designer: David McLay Kidd
Video: Ginella speaks with David McLay Kidd about Nos. 40-31
Green fees based on posted peak season rates and are subject to change.