In the last year we have added several courses to our top 25 list thanks to trips to places like Hilton Head, Southern California and Orlando. So here is our new list of the top 25 courses we played all time which now includes Harbour Town, Bay Hill and Trump National Los Angeles
Since playing on Kiawah Island and also adding Harbour Town and Ballyowen to our list we thought we would post our updated Top 100 courses played all time. After some reflection we also had some courses move up the list like Mid Pines. Hope you enjoy
If this trip taught me one thing it is to be flexible with your plans and to watch the weather everyday leading up to your trip. With TS Bonnie closing in on the South Carolina coast and our plans set for five days of golf on and around Kiawah Island the scheduling of golf got a bit tricky. We were locked in for Cougar Point, Osprey Point and The Ocean Course for three of our first four days with a trip to Charleston sprinkled in for a round with a friend who lives there. We arrived in Charleston to dry weather on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend to start our trip and as always with this trip we went right to the golf course. This day being scheduled for Cougar Point, the newly redesigned Gary Player course on the island. As luck would have it, we got to Kiawah and the rain started at 12:15 with us, of course, having a 1:00pm tee time. We would not be deterred though, we grabbed food, hit about 20 range balls and we were off to the dismay of almost every employee of the course. The starter laughed more than we did as we drove to the first tee to start our journey of golf in a tropical storm. The course held up to the deluge of rain that we competed with over the next 3 1/2 hours of golf. Off and on rain but very little wind made the decision to keep going at the turn a bit easier for us to make. The trip, much like last October’s journey to Pinehurst, started off with weather that was not the best for a golf excursion but we kept it together through rain that made it tough to putt because it was dripping off the bill of my hat on to my ball while I was trying to focus on the putt. Kudos to Mr. Player and the Kiawah resort for this layout and the presumed decision to put in a fantastic drainage system. The course really plays well for the average to above average golfer with out of bounds on almost every hole but the trade off is the amazing views on holes 4-5-6 that run along the Kiawah marshlands and really make the trip and the $200 plus round well worth it. Opening with a short forgiving par four is the hallmark of a resort course to get folks up and running and Cougar Point is no different. If you play this course the way Player intended you to play it you will be fine just don’t try to bite off more than you can chew or you will end up in jail as bunkers, OB and water features abound. I would highly recommend the first course location wise when you come on to the island as part of your Kiawah itinerary.
So remember when I said you need to be flexible with your plans when it comes to golf trip because you never know what Mother Nature has in store for you? Well here is where it all changed for us, with the trip being Saturday to Wednesday along about the previous Thursday we started to realize that one or two days were going to be rain days and that was the case with day one and we thought the same about Sunday watching the weather so at that point we thought about driving elsewhere instead of staying on Kiawah and playing Osprey Point. We canceled our tee time and starting looking all over from Columbia and Aiken because we thought the storm was staying on the coast, to Hilton Head, Sea Island, GA and Florida because we thought the storm was going north after landfall to just leaving all together and heading to maybe Scotland or Hawaii. Our prediction was that the storm was going north so on Friday, before we left Boston, we chose Hilton Head and since last year’s golf trip was there and we didn’t get to play Harbour Town due to them ripping up the entire course, we figured this was the time for a make good. We ever got a summer, afternoon discount that was less than the cost of playing Osprey Point back on Kiawah. So we began the 2 1/2 hour drive north then west then south to HHi, yes there really is no easy way to get from Kiawah Island to Hilton Head and it was raining on and off the entire way but the rain lessened as we got close to the island and actually stopped by the time we got to Harbour Town. The course was fairly empty when we arrived, with the impending doom of the storm whipping back towards the south and possibly hitting the island. This is truly a fantastic experience on the PGA Tour stop course. Not only do you get to play a course that the pros play but they treat you like a member for a day as well, including entrance into the locker room and a relaxing area where we were able to have a private lunch before we teed off. After hitting 30 or 40 ProV1 range balls we were off with our fire caddie Chris, who I would highly recommend by the way. The course handle the earlier rain pretty well and there were really no wet spots throughout the course, that is until we got to the 16th hole but I’ll tell you about that later. The front side was interesting, very tree lined with a lot of out of bounds and small greens throughout. The highlight of the front nine was that I holed out from off the green on the ninth hole. We were there and off to the backside which is a totally different world and I can certainly see why so many PGA players ranked this course so highly. I was actually looking at a list of the players favorite courses and this course was ranked second only behind Augusta National. Right out of the gate you face a tough par four on the 10th hole with water all the way down the left side and a gator relaxing on the bank. A lot of the backside again as very small greens and your world changes once you get to the 14th hole. This whole is ranked the fourth toughest hole on the entire PGA tour and from where the tee box was on this par three I could see why. The small green with water on the right and small part bunker on the left and trouble directly behind it makes it a hole where you really have to drop your tea shop somewhere on or short left of the green. Of course I found the tiny pot bunker on the back left side of the green and having to stand outside the bunker to hit the ball it was a most uncomfortable view with the water just on the other side of the green. I was lucky to reach down and pull the shot off and get it on the green and I gladly two putted and walked away with a bogey. A lot of people think that the challenge here starts on 16 but it really does start on 14 because the challenging par 5 fifteen also needs to be put on the list of the toughest holes on the course. But in the end it’s 16,17 and 18 to make this course and it was really made for us because that’s when the rain and the wind of tropical storm Bonnie decided to whip onto the island. As we headed out to the water on the dogleg left Par four 16th we realize that we were in for it for the rest of the round. FYI when you’re playing 16 and you see the large waist area on the left side of the dogleg know that this is where the name came from as a friend a Pete Dye gave it the name after Dye literally used it to store waste. We then went on to the 17th hole, a par three directly into the wind and the rain, the wind was so strong the pain was bending over towards us. Had 154 yards out caddie Chris suggested that we step up to clubs which I did and got a pin high into a bunker. Then onto 18 in the view of the Harbour Town lighthouse. Even in wind and rain and fog it was still a magnificent view from the tee. I played my two shot almost over the water figuring it would blow back and attend right into the middle of the fairway by then for the third hole in a row hit my second shot into the greenside bunker, this being the one in front of the green when Matt Kutcher holed out front to win the Heritage. Needless to say I did not hole out but it was still a fantastic finish to an incredible round at Harbour Town.
Memorial Day Monday had us take a drive up to Charleston to play golf with a friend and visit family. We played Patriots Point in Charleston and all I can really say about that course is that the scenes were fantastic. The course itself was very pedestrian and the greens were in terrible condition but again we didn’t get to play with a friend and then visit family post round. Back to Kiawah Island for Tuesday’s round, and this was the big one, THE Ocean Course. We have played this course some 24 years ago, a year after the war by the shore Ryder Cup. In all those years and having played almost 300 courses in my life, this was still the best course I had ever set foot on. I can tell you after playing it again it hasn’t changed it hasn’t changed in as a matter fact with some subtle changes to the course it’s solidified itself as the best course I’ve ever played. From the clubhouse and the Ryder Cup bar to the practice area to the course itself this is top notch golf. Our caddies were fantastic and the course was an incredible condition even after two days of off and on downpours. The clubhouse location had been flipped since our first time playing there, 24 years ago the original clubhouse was right by the first tee now the new clubhouse is right behind the 18th green. Thankfully the wind gods were with us on this day and that allowed us to have a fantastic round. As with most Pete Dye courses the greens must be hit or else you will be in a ton of trouble. There are no “bunkers” on the golf course only waste area is everywhere including green side. He’s waste areas were full of hardpan which made it very difficult to hit any kind of finesse shot onto the green, especially by trying to slide your wedge underneath the ball. We learned quickly that when we were in these greenside bunker/waste areas we need to hit straight down on the ball to try to pop it up in the air and avoid bladed shots. Conversely these waste areas were great to hit out of the fairway from as a firm bunker makes a little easier to hit out of. The front side of the Ocean course is enjoyable but the back nine will blow you away. This is where you will get more of your scenic views of not only the course but the ocean as well. I can’t begin to tell you the amazing views from the tee boxes on 14, 16 and of course 18. When you’re done make sure you don’t get in the car and leave, stop into the pro shop for an amazing selection of items and be sure to sit down at the Ryder Cup bar and have a cocktail and if you’re hungry make sure you try the Bagger Burger.
When are final day of every trip we always try to find a course near whatever airport we’re flying home from. When we were in Pinehurst two different times we stopped at Tobacco Road and the course at Duke University on the way back to Raleigh. So this time, flying out of Charleston we stopped at the Links at Stono Ferry, A cool little golf course off the beaten path that had some historical significance during both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The staff was fantastic from the restaurant to the pro shop to the starter. The front nine was a little pedestrian though they were a couple of interesting holes but the backside will really get your attention. From tee shots out of chutes to par threes that are all carryover water you will really enjoy the final few holes at Stono Ferry.
This was another fantastic Memorial Day trip made extra interesting by the opportunity to play what are both numbers one and five on my all-time list of golf courses played. I would highly recommend obviously the Ocean course and Harbout Town and I’m sure on a dry day Cougar Point is a fantastic course to play. We already discussing next year with possible venues including Myrtle Beach, the Sawgrass area of Florida, Scottsdale Arizona or Wisconsin. Of course there’s still a lot of golf left to play in 2016 with plans to return to Bethpage Black and for the first time the chance to play Bay Hill in Orlando.
Thanks to Jason Scott Deegan from Golfadvisor.com for the idea and template for this post. Obviously with his job he had just a few better courses to choose from when giving out his golf awards but nonetheless I will give you my views on some of the “new to me” courses I played in 2015.
Best New Golf Course played: Bethpage Black, Farmington, NY
This was not as easy of a decision as you would think as 2015 really gave us the opportunity to play some great courses but in the end the history of the course won out over the others. Standing on the first tee at Bethpage Black is one of the most daunting tasks you can have as an amateur playing the game of golf. The starter, the next group up and a few people on the practice green behind the first tee certainly make it a less than comfortable tee shot. To play this course is an amazing experience, for a muni I can’t imagine there being anything better. We did this trip in one day from Boston, five hours in the car down to Long Island, walked 18 and five hours back and it was so worth the trip. Enjoy the moments standing on all of the tee boxes at the Black Course, including 18 as seen below.
Most scenic course: Tobacco Road, Sanford, NC
No matter if you love it or hate it, you have to admit Tobacco road is a visual marvel. Right off the bat you’re looking through a hilly chute to put yourself in position on the very first hole. From hills to water and sand features, Tobacco Road really is a true vision of golf. No matter what you’ve heard about this course from it being a true test of golf to being goofy golf you should play it at least once, though I’d recommend twice so you can learn the course the first time.
Best PGA Tour venue: PGA National, West Palm Beach, FL
There’s just something about playing a course as the bleachers are going up for the tour stop that is coming up. It really does change the way you play the course and it changes your club selection completely. Making our way around the Bear Trap, I played the par threes totally different than I would have if the space behind the greens were wide open. Club selection is vitally important when playing PGA National as some tee shots force you to keep the driver in the bag. From the clubhouse to the starters to the Bear Trap, this was a great experience on an tour stop course.
Most surprising course: New Course, Grand Cypress, Orlando, FL
Scottish golf has made its way to Florida. I was pleasantly surprised when I played the new course in 2015. The first hole makes you feel like you’re on a driving range it is so wide open but don’t let it fool you the course gets tougher as you go. This course takes you through the twists and turns of a true Scottish course with everything from the bunkers to the water features.
Best value course: Old South, Bluffton,SC
Though it is easy to pay a lot and play some of the top courses ON Hilton Head, there is no doubt that a short drive off island to Old South is worth the trip. The course, designed by local architect Clyde Johnson brings in all of the elements of low country golf. With several forced carries and views that go on for miles this was by far the best value we had during a week’s golf trip to HHi. Like we did, I would recommend playing it on your last day, that way you’re already on your way to either Rte 95 or the Savannah airport.
Best casino golf course: Kaluhyat Course, Turning Stone Resort, Verona, NY
Not only was the Kaluhyat course a great compliment to a casino stay in upstate New York, it turned out to be one of the top courses we played in 2015. This course was a true test of golf with several forced carries, tight fairways and thick rough, Kaluhyat was one of the toughest courses we played in 2015. With just a parking lot separating the clubhouse from the casino and hotel, it was an easy transition from the table to the tees. Turning Stone has two other courses to test your game as well so you can make this a long weekend trip that incorporates everything you need for a great buddy trip.
Best buddy trip: Hilton Head Island
After a ten year hiatus it was time to return to HHi. Sadly, we chose a year when they decided to rip up the entire course at Harbour Town but that did not deter us from having a great buddy trip. With courses like Heron Point, Old South and the Jones course at Palmetto Dunes on our itinerary it was a wonderful week of golf. As usual, we rented a home for our stay that was inside the gate and that made for a convenient ride to the clubhouse for both Heron Point and the Ocean Course. Though some of the courses and some of the clubhouses are a but dated, a trip to HHi will still make for a great buddy trip.
2016 promises to be another great year for golf as trips to Orlando and Kaiwah Island are already booked and a weekend in New Jersey for the PGA has gotten us off to a great start.
Having just returned from a five day buddies trip to Hilton Head, I thought I would write a few lines about this golf trip. This trip included a home rental that I would recommend to anyone heading to the island, a house inside the Sea Pines gates truly is the way to go. We have five rounds of golf booked but sadly the one course we wanted to play, Harbour Town, was closed for regrassing and work on the irrigation system. So we moved on five other courses, The other two courses at Sea Pines, the Ocean Course and Heron Point, as well as the Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes, Golden Bear @ Indigo Run and Old South. One recommendation I would make is that if you plan to play on the day you are flying/driving home make it a course off-island which is what we did with Old South. It brought us closer to the airport in Savannah and away from any potential traffic problems on the island.
We started off with a delay (Thanks JetBlue) on our layover in New York City but as always I built in time for issues like this. We arrived an hour late and instead of taking our time and going to the Sea Pines gate to get our pass to get in for the duration of our stay we had to go directly to the course. Day 1 was at Golden Bear at Indigo Run, a Nicklaus design that was billed as fairly wide open, always a good way to start a golf trip. Here’s the issue though, don’t bother using the course name on your gps as it will take you to the private member’s gate, we had to call the pro shop and get directions from where we were which cost us any time we would have had to hit range balls, grab lunch or even putt a few balls. We walked in, paid and ran to the first tee, not the best scenario for two guys from Boston who have played about five rounds to date in 2015. We hit awful tee balls but got off the first hole with no one in front or behind us, which allowed us to slow down, catch our breath and play on. The course had some scenic holes but the greens were not in the best of shape. With a Saturday round played in 3 hours and 20 minutes we were very pleased with our time at Golden Bear, just wish we had more time to enjoy the clubhouse and the Jack artifacts. All in all the course was average to slightly above average but with all of the courses to choose from on the island I would not put this on a must play list.
That list got an addition on the second day when we played Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort. First off the clubhouse, shared by Heron Point and the Ocean Course is one of the finest I have come across in a long time. The pro shop, the food, the view and the locker rooms are all fantastic. I would recommend, if you have an AM tee time, you go early and have breakfast. The practice facility was top notch as well with several bays on the range and a putting green near the first tee (on both courses). The layout, done by Pete Dye was very playable but included several hazards and forced carries. Sadly, because of the development around the course there was a lot of residential OB on the course so you need to be smart off the tee. 18, a fantastic par 4 with water down the left, is one of the most scenic finishing holes you will find in the state of South Carolina. We really enjoyed Heron Point and put it near the top of our list from this trip in several categories including layout, condition and staff.
Day three took us right back to the same clubhouse to take on the Ocean Course at Sea Pines. Same great breakfast and staff but this course lacked the character of Heron Point. It could be that it was the first course on the island and was a bit dated but with some tremendous holes including #10 with a forced carry off the tee to a dogleg right in the landing area and #’s 15 and 16 which take you to and from the ocean and Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s house, the views are stunning. Honestly, I would not put this on your must play list but you could do worse.
Days four and five brought us to two of the best courses we played on this trip. Palmetto Dunes Jones course on day four and we wrapped up the trip at Old Course which is off island on the way to i95. The Jones course has a bit of a dated clubhouse but the breakfast options were fantastic. The driving range was also marginal at best but the putting green was large, had some undulation to it and was convenient to the first tee. After several mixups with the starter we finally got off and really enjoyed the course. The back nine, which does not start at the clubhouse, begins a great stretch of four holes including #10 which ends with the ocean behind the green and 11, 12 and 13 that all bring water into play with great forced carries and scenery that can’t be beat. We really enjoyed the Jones course at Palmetto Dunes and put the course itself towards the top of our list on this trip.
Lastly, we got up early and headed to Old South on the last day of our trip. Luckily, with it being a Wednesday morning we had no trouble with traffic getting off the island and to the course. We were greeted by a great bag drop employee as well as the pro shop guys. Sadly, the starter, who is positioned by the driving range did not seem to be a happy camper that morning. We were also surprised that though we got there thirty minutes early we were shocked the that group before us and the two folks we were playing with all came within five minutes of the tee times and wanted to hit balls before heading out. This was not the best case scenario for the two of us who had everything timed out to make it to the Savannah airport with time to spare. Once we got off we were pleasantly surprised, #1 is a fantastic opening hole and unlike most courses Old South doesn’t give you a pass on the first hole to get you going. A challenging par 4 with trouble everywhere off the tee, it is a true test to start your round. From long sweeping par 5s with water guarding the holes on one side or the other to fantastic par 3s and 4s that will force you to use every club in your bag, Old South is a must play when you head to the Hilton Head area. In closing I highly recommend Old South, Heron Point and the Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes when you are building you HHi itinerary.
I was lucky enough to have played two of the best public courses in the state of Massachusetts during the last seven days. First, we played the Jack Nicklaus course at Pinehills in Plymouth Massachusetts, a course we have played once a year for the last three years. And then four days later, we made the trek out to Southwick, Massachusetts, off of the Mass Pike just west of Springfield to play The Ranch golf club for the first time. These two courses come up in the conversation for best public golf course in the state year after year so I thought I would take a look at the courses and the amenities and see where they both lie. First I figured we would look at the course layouts. Jack’s course at Pinehills meanders through the woods of Plymouth that Myles Standish once walk-through. There are not a ton of elevation changes but there are several forced carries the test your iron game. As for The Ranch, elevation changes are the name of the game and along with several blind shots this makes for a great test of golf, especially when you play it for the first time. So when it comes to course layout advantage The Ranch.
Next up is course conditions, Pinehills has some of the best greens that I’ve ever putted on in my life. The tee boxes are always in great condition and the fairways are impeccable. As for The Ranch, the fairways are in fantastic condition but the greens, while they do roll out, are very inconsistent at times. And sadly the bunkers at The Ranch are not up to championship course standards, some of them have so many rocks in them that it’s like playing a shot off of a beach in Maine. Advantage Pinehills.
Lastly, and I don’t usually do this, but let’s take a look at the amenities at both courses because there is a glaring difference. Playing The Ranch was like playing a local muni course, there was no backdrop and other than one woman working the desk when we arrived no one there really seemed to care, something that surprised me for a course that comes with such rave reviews. We also had a food fiasco as the cart prompted us to buy food while we were on the eighth tee box and then we were to pick it up at the turn. Well, we were playing as a two some and after we finished the ninth hole the group in front of us, a threesome, was waiting there and said “we will let you play through”. We told them we will going to run in, grab our food quickly, and then head to the 10th tee and thanked them. When we got inside no one there knew anything about our food order. The girl behind the bar finally found the order on their printer and brought it to the cook. We never saw her again and it took over 10 minutes to get two hotdogs, by that time the threesome had had enough and went back out to play the 10th hole. As for Pinehills, playing there makes you feel like you’re playing one of the great resorts i.e. Pinehurst or Kiawah Island. Bag service, smiling faces at the pro shop desk, even wait service at the outdoor tables after our round made for a truly great experience at Pinehills. Needless to say advantage Pinehills.
So, if you’re looking for a beautiful course to play with elevation changes and views that catch your eye constantly then no doubt you should play The Ranch. If you’re looking for the total package including layout, conditions and service then there aren’t many courses better than Pinehills in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Most people who don’t know the sport of golf would never understand how exciting it is to watch a practice round. Well, when that practice round is at Augusta National watching the players hit balls from every conceivable location isn’t the most important thing. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a group that got tickets for the Wednesday practice round of The Masters this past April. From the moment we walked through the gates I knew Augusta was different from any course I’ve ever seen anywhere. Not a blade of grass out of place not a twig on the ground, even squirrels were hard-to-find. The rough looks like the first cut, just longer, the first cut look like the fairway, just longer and the fairway look like a green, just longer. I remember many years ago going to the US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts and walking across the fairway and thinking it was the greatest piece of ground I ever walked on until now. Augusta truly is worthy of hosting a golf major every year as it has everything you could ask for. From the course itself to the clubhouse to Butler cabin and of course on Wednesday the par three course tthere is nothing like Augusta National.