In a year that’s been full of dramatic professional golf, yesterday’s Open Championship conclusion, though delayed 24 hours, felt like a high point. It was an exhilarating day of golf.
I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t help but feel like a lot of the excitement came from the fact that the best golfers in the world were given the opportunity to make bunches of birdies, rather than grind out pars, which tends to be the major championship norm.
If you’ve been there, then you know that while St. Andrews’ Old Course is capable of holding a major championship, it is extremely playable and fun for the rest of us. Is there any wonder why Golfweek ranks it #2 among all courses in Great Britain & Ireland?
My dad carries a handicap of 10, and when we there in 2008, he managed to shoot a 78. Is that more memorable than playing another famous course and shooting 88?
Does this mean more punishing layouts – Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines – are not worth playing? Of course not. But if you want to play one of the world’s best and have a chance to snag some birdies along the way, here is where we recommend you go:
Pinehurst Resort (No. 2) – Pinehurst, N.C.
Highest Ranking: #5, “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” (Golf Digest)
Sure, Martin Kaymer was the only player who seemed to conquer this classic American beauty at last year’s U.S. Open, but thanks to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s restoration a few years ago, the course’s wide fairways and sandy waste areas give even middle- and high-handicappers the chance to hit some stellar approach shots rather than hack it out of penal grass all day. Our favorite thing about No. 2? Even if you do struggle, you’ll almost definitely be able to play the entire round with one golf ball.
North Berwick (West Links) - Berwick, Scotland
Highest Ranking: #16, “Golfweek’s Best: GB&I (Modern/Classic combined)”
At just over 6,500 yards from the tips and 6,100 from the tees most visitors play, this is perhaps the greatest golf course in the world where “quirk” plays a starring role. From the rock walls that come into play on multiple holes to the bumps and swales that abound on the putting surfaces, a smart golfer can nevertheless post a good score over the West Links, which makes the experience all the happier.
Bandon Dunes Resort (Old Macdonald) – Bandon, Ore.
Highest Ranking: #10, “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” (GOLF Magazine)
In truth, none of the courses at Bandon are particularly punishing in and of themselves (that said, all bets are off in heavy winds). But Old Macdonald, with many fairways that are 70-plus yards wide and numerous greens that are more than 10,000 square feet, you can spray the ball a bit and still find yourself with a chance to play under your handicap.
Gamble Sands – Brewster, Wash.
Highest Ranking: #1, “Best New Courses of 2014” (Golf Digest)
Golf courses with back-tee slope figures in the 120s tend to be fairly mundane affairs. This is not the case with this stunning David McLay Kidd effort, which is virtually a lock for future “Top-100” lists. Its rating/slope figures from the middle, 6,200-yard set of tees are 69.7 and 118. The course features beautiful scenery, firm and fast conditions and a wonderful, rustic look and is worth the journey into the heart of Washington to find it.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Pawleys Island, S.C.
Highest Ranking: #24, “Golfweek’s Best: Resort Courses”
The late Mike Strantz was known as a designer of artistic, often wild-looking golf courses. However, in many cases his layouts have more bark than bite, and that is true of Caledonia. In between centuries-old live oaks and stands of thousands of annual flowers, its fairways tend to be more generous than they appear from the tee box. Similarly, the spacious greens have many back- and side-slopes that can be used to funnel your ball close to the hole. And don’t forget – Caledonia is a par-70 course, so if breaking 80, 90 or 100 is your goal, you have a couple more strokes to play with than usual.
What other courses that don’t punish the player are particularly near and dear to you? As always, we’d love to hear your own nominations in the comments!