I've spent a lot of hours looking at golf courses on Google Maps. Not only does it feed my lifelong interest in maps and geography, it's one of the main ways I've been able to familiarize myself with many courses that are otherwise pretty exclusively private. Even the most under-the-radar courses can't escape the sophisticated satellite's eye.
In recent years, the rise in popularity of drone photography and video has prompted golf courses - including some under-the-radar private clubs - to bring in drone pilots/photographers/videographers to shoot their courses.
This has been a boon for us lovers of golf course eye-candy. Several courses that very few golfers have gotten to know are now visible in whole new ways. All you need to do is keep an eye on YouTube and Vimeo.
Here are 5 fascinating course flyovers that should interest you:
Ellerston Golf Course - Ellerston, New South Wales, Australia
Ellerston, is one of the most exclusive golf courses on the planet. The private domain of late Australian media mogul Kerry Packer, this Greg Norman design is known, by the fortunate few who've played it, as one of the world's best golf courses. Even if you or I will never play Ellerston, we can revel in this gorgeous drone flyover of the course from three years ago, when some bunkers were being renovated.
Wianno Club - Osterville, Mass.
Stateside, Wianno is one of several quiet private clubs that tend to escape wider notoriety in golf-rich New England. A Donald Ross design that dates to 1920, with ongoing consultation from Gil Hanse, it looks like an ideal place to play: classic, sporty (6,000 yards, par 70) and, best of all, a breeze to walk. As you watch the flyover, note how close many tee boxes are to the previous green.
Long Cove Club - Holton Head Island, S.C.
Though Harbour Town tends to get the wider acclaim, many believe Long Cove to be the best course on Hilton Head. This Pete Dye gem is one of the best courses in the "Lowcountry" region of coastal South Carolina. Longtime Dye collaborator Bobby Weed has been helping the club preserve their course in recent years.
Whitemarsh Valley Country Club - Lafayette Hill, Penn.
George Thomas is most closely associated with California, on the strength of his famous designs at Riviera Country Club and Los Angeles Country Club. But he also turned in a gem outside Philadelphia at Whitemarsh Valley, where his recognizable ornate bunkering is on full display. Credit the Golf Association of Philadelphia for doing flyovers of the courses that hosted its main championships last year. Whitemarsh Valley was the site of the 2018 Philadelphia Amateur.
Tradition Golf Club - La Quinta, Calif.
The Palm Springs area is full of lush golfing oases, including some very quiet, private ones. Tradition flies under the radar by design - its membership is not known to seek favorable ratings in the major magazines. They know what they've got, and they enjoy it no matter what. This flyover uses some nice animated golf ball arcs to illustrate distances from the tees and into the greens on the holes.
It's not a full-course flyover, but here's a wonderful drone survey of one of the coolest stretches of golf on the planet: the quarry holes at Black Diamond Ranch (Quarry) in Lecanto, Florida. It kind of shortchanges the strong non-quarry holes, but this is a great look at the holes you've probably just seen a couple stock photos of in magazines:
Several of the world's most renowned courses - the ones that top all the magazine lists - have opened their doors - and airspace - in recent years, adding to their mystique by enabling golfers to salivate over moving pictures of them. Golf Digest has contributed to this effort with gorgeous hole-by-hole looks at the likes of Pine Valley and Sand Hills - the consensus best classic and modern American courses, respectively - as well as the much newer Tara Iti, an exclusive Tom Doak masterpiece in New Zealand.
No Laying Up put their own spin on Tara Iti during the first season of their "Tourist Sauce" series with a more general overview, still full of eye-popping drone footage:
TIP: Even though Sand Hills and Tara Iti are among the world's most exclusive clubs, both have been known to allow passionate students of the game to play their courses on a one-time basis following a hand-written letter of self-introduction and request to visit. No one's entitled to these opportunities, and the cost may be steep (read: more than a round at Pebble Beach, I've heard), but if you really want to play and have a genuine passion and respect for the game and these two venues, you might be able to experience two of the world's greatest courses yourself.