This might surprise you, but one of my favorite golf courses in the world is an Arnold Palmer design.
Not a Doak, a Nicklaus, a Coore-Crenshaw or a Ross. Not a Fazio, a Dye or a Jones (Sr., Jr. or Rees), either.
The King might have held court on the course, ushering in the modern era of the game, but he's not considered an iconic architect. His design firm -- spearheaded by colleague Ed Seay for many years before Seay passed away in 2007 -- has always churned out good courses, designing or renovating 230-plus courses around the world, but rarely reached greatness. Not a single Arnold Palmer-designed course was ranked in the latest Golf Digest or Golf Magazine World Top 100.
That's a disservice to Palmer's work at Tralee Golf Club, a magical links set upon majestic dunes in southwest Ireland. Tralee, dating to 1982, delivers both sensory overload and strategic brilliance. It's a place I dream of playing golf with my son when he gets older. It's by far my favorite of the 30 or so Palmer designs I've played.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge -- site of the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard -- wasn't considered for the story, simply because it's an original Dick Wilson design, although Palmer's firm has enhanced it over the years.
Here is the first installment of Deegan's Dozen, my favorite 12 Palmer-designed golf courses:
12. Aviara Golf Club, Carlsbad, Calif.
Is there a more quintessential resort course in America than Aviara Golf Club? Maybe I'm giving Palmer too much credit for all the flowers and landscaping. A solid routing accompanies all that flora and fauna.
11. Palmer course at La Cantera Resort, San Antonio, Texas
The Palmer course at La Cantera personifies the Texas Hill Country. There's lots of rolling hills and great scenery. The 18th hole, decorated by rock landscaping, is simply beautiful.
10. Coyote Preserve Golf Club, Fenton, Mich.
I've played some memorable matches at Coyote Preserve Golf Club against buddies over the years, but there's no personal bias in this rating. It's got maybe the best collection of par 3s in the state. All five are different, scenic and challenging. The last three holes have been nicknamed the "Coyote Trap" -- an epic par 5, par 3, par 5 stretch that promotes wild swings of momentum on the scorecard.
9. Hapuna Golf Course, Kohala Coast, Hawaii Island
Now that its owners have made a commitment to take better care of Hapuna Golf Course, it's becoming more playable and fun. The panoramic views of the ocean and interesting elevation changes are just as good as the resort courses of Los Cabos in Mexico.
8. Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort, Kahuku, Oahu, Hawaii
I firmly believe the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort -- a former Champions Tour and LPGA Tour host -- could be one of the best courses in all of Hawaii with a few more tweaks. How about pushing the 17th green closer to the ocean? Water hazards throughout the round spice up a mostly flat piece of land along the North Shore.
7. Prospector Course at Suncadia Resort, Cle Elum, Wash.
Two tee shots on the Prospector Course at Suncadia Resort will stick with you. On the fifth hole, wetlands pinch the landing zone of a do-or-die short par 4. Hitting off the elevated 10th tee, the ball soars against the evergreen backdrop of the Wenatchee Washington National Forest before falling to the fairway below.
6. The Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links, Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Arnold Palmer was just beginning his course-design career when he and Francis Duane teamed up to build this course in 1973. His second-ever design turned out to be pretty spectacular. The par-3 17th and famous par-3 18th hole overlook the Pacific Ocean. The difficult closing par 4 runs parallel to the cliffs, finishing in the shadow of the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.
5. The Classic Club, Palm Desert, Calif.
Too many golf courses in the Coachella Valley look alike. Palmer broke the mold with The Classic Club, a watery Troon Golf facility that was one of the host courses of the old Bob Hope Classic from 2006-08. A windy site ruffled the feathers of some pros.
4. The Legend at Shanty Creek, Bellaire, Mich.
There's tons of great resort golf in northern Michigan, and one of its first designs -- The Legend at Shanty Creek, which dates to 1986 -- still remains one of its best. The two risk-reward par 5s on the front side (no. 1 and no. 7) are highlights.
3. SilverRock Resort, La Quinta, Calif.
This water-logged municipal course shines next to the rocky foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains. SilverRock, which opened in 2005, hosted the former Bob Hope Classic from 2008-2011. Bubba Watson turned the 7,500-yard layout into a pitch-and-putt during the second round in 2010, shooting 62.
2. Deacon's Lodge, Breezy Point, Minn.
Deacon's Lodge Golf Club (named for Palmer's father) and the Classic at Madden's sit neck and neck to be considered the best of Brainerd, the lake-and-cottage community three hours north of the Twin Cities. Deacon's skirts the Shaffer, Lynch and Douglas lakes for an endless loop of wetland challenges.
1. Tralee Golf Club, Ireland
Some believe the back nine at Tralee Golf Club competes with the front nine at Royal County Down as the best nine-hole loop on the Emerald Isle. That doesn't even take into account the oceanfront cliffs on the second hole, the ruins of the castle behind the third green and the beautiful beach running parallel to the seventh fairway. It's all spectacular.