There courses aren’t necessarily the world’s best or most famous, but ones we adore for other reasons, such as their ability to make us happy and remember why we love the game.
This article from LINKSdigital kicks off a series about courses we love, and we want to let you in on the fun. Send a Tweet or post on Instagram using the hashtag #linksloves, showing a photograph and explaining why you love it. Or post about the course you love on the LINKS Magazine Facebook page or just leave us a comment below. We’ll use some of your words and pictures in upcoming editions of LINKSdigital.
The Old Course St. Andrews, Scotland
Bobby Jones said it better than I ever could: “The more I studied the Old Course, the more I loved it, and the more I loved it, the more I studied it, so that I came to feel that it was for me the most favorable meeting ground possible.” Truth be told, the Old Lady is not particularly attractive—she doesn’t dazzle her suitors. But she charms and teases them nonetheless, while at the same time cautioning them to show her respect or suffer her righteous ridicule. I’ve been lucky enough to play this beguiling links more than 200 times, and I haven’t come close to solving her myriad mysteries. Invariably I walk off the 18th green wondering how, on that barren, dead-flat terrain with broad fairways and enormous greens, I could possibly have shot a score as high as I did. Surely, I tell myself, I’ll do better the next time— and that next time can never come fast enough. —George Peper, Editor, LINKS
Oak Hills Country Club San Antonio, Texas
Oak Hills CC in San Antonio is the one course I’d play if I had a week left to play golf. It’s an old Tillinghast course, refurbished by Weiskopf/Morrish in the early ’80s and I believe it’s being restored again to keep up with the ever-widening gap between what a course was meant to be and what it has become.
Too many courses lack the intrigue of the original designer or of the courses designed during the golden age of architecture when fun, aesthetic beauty, and strategy mattered most to the architect and to the player.
Oak Hills is a very good piece of property, played on top of, around the perimeter, and to the bottom of one very large hill, so every shot has some element of shape that must be met or the ball will drift into a very difficult spot. Every lie on every hole is inevitably different from round to round. And because every hole is just next to the green of the last, the course plays fast.
I’ve been lucky to play the finest courses in the world but no place has made me happier just to be alive, proving a great piece of land and a smart man or woman to lay holes upon that land is all that is required to grow this game. —Brandel Chamblee, Golf Channel
Gamble Sands Brewster, Washington
I have a cool story about Gamble Sands. Well, I think it’s cool, anyway. Three years ago, I flew to Nicaragua on Don Carlos Pellas’s Challenger 350 with four other golf writers to play David McLay Kidd’s course, Guacalito de la Isla. On the drive back to the airport, Kidd told us he was having trouble deciding on a name for the course he was building in Washington State and asked us to give it some thought. The following day, I sent him about 20 ideas, one of which was Gamble Sands. He soon emailed to say he and the owners, the Gebbers Family, had chosen it as their favorite option. But it’s not just that the course’s name was my idea. It’s also among the most beautiful courses in the world and, just as Kidd intended, unfailingly entertaining. —Tony Dear, Contributing Editor, LINKS
Tashua Knolls Trumbull, Connecticut
Over the years, I have liked many courses. What makes me love a course is the company I am with. And at the top of that list is my son, Patrick. We play most of our golf at our town course, Tashua Knolls, which is a little over 6,500 yards and on a piece of land that features some good-sized hills and water on the back. It has to be the best municipal track around, certainly for this father and son. —Tim Carr, Art Director, LINKS
Ekwanok Country Club Manchester, Vermont
Ekwanok symbolizes for me two of golf’s greatest attributes. First is the game’s dedication to tradition. It’s a classically charming course, built in 1899 by Walter Travis at a time when only shovels and horse-drawn carts could tame the land. The design remains as natural as the terrain, featuring clever bunkering and inventive greens because that was about all that man could do.
Second is how it exemplifies golf’s wondrous ability to bring people together. Years ago, I met a teaching professional at an event and we became friends. For about 10 years, she spent summers teaching at Ekwanok and was kind enough to invite me up once or twice a season. Our rounds were always great fun, much less about how we played than non-stop conversations, chatting and laughing, catching up and opening up, cementing a bond over 18 holes.
It didn’t have to be at Ekwanok but it was, so the course will always be special to me. It, too, is a cherished friend. —James A. Frank, Editor, LINKSdigital
Boone Golf Club Boone, North Carolina
I grew up in Asheville, often making the two-hour drive north to Boone with my father to work on our family’s old mountain cabin and maybe get in a round or two. As I got older and the cabin needed less attention, the work weekends turned into golf trips. Boone Golf Club was always on the itinerary.
Many of my seminal golf moments came at Boone. My first full set of irons—Ping Eye2s—came from the used-club bag in the pro shop. The 4-iron from that set hit my first hole-in-one, also at Boone. I was 14 years old, and that sub-80 round set a new personal best.
The course is an Ellis Maples design, and while it may not be the best golf course I’ve played, or the most beautiful, it will always be my favorite. —Graylyn Loomis, Associate Editor, LINKS
Don’t forget to tell us about the courses you love in the comments below. The best may end up being featured in a future issue of LINKSdigital!
What a year just past for TaylorMade. The M1 and M2 drivers, introduced early in 2016, were big hits with pros and consumers. In May, the company was put up for sale by parent Adidas. Endorser Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open, then the BMW Championship and nearly the FedExCup.
In August, the company began supplying clubs, mostly metalwoods, to players without an equipment sponsor after Nike announced it would no longer make clubs and balls: By year’s end, 15 of 18 former Nike players were using TaylorMade woods in Tour events, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
How to top that? Introduce new stuff. And not just a club or two, but an entire bag-full. Most of the following should start showing up in stores soon.
Promising more distance and forgiveness, the new M1 driver makes use of more of its six-layer carbon material, in the crown and now also in the sole, along with a lighter titanium. And the head shape has changed a bit, allowing the front-to-back weight track to be longer for added adjustability.
Like the M1, the new M2 has a sleeker look, a slightly different head shape, and a speed pocket in the sole. Like many of the new clubs, it also features “Geoacoustics,” TaylorMade’s name for using materials and design to produce a more agreeable sound at impact.
Some of the fairway woods and rescues in the M1 and M2 lines come with new adjustability options and speed pockets for forgiveness and distance.
The company has revised its M2 irons while introducing an all-new M1. Both have thinner faces and toplines, plus slots in the face to aid forgiveness, particularly on off-center impacts. Furthermore, both designs promise more distance, while the M1 has a more compact look and offers more workability, so it is likely to be favored by better players.
Each wedge in the new Milled Grind series has had its sole and leading edge individually machine-milled for consistency. Classically shaped, they’re available in three grinds.
And there’s more: Few details yet, but expect two forged irons to be introduced in a few months.
The six models in the TP Collection—blades and mallets—are made from new materials and milled for look and feel. The Tour-proven Spiders should be joined by new versions soon. All incorporate the company’s Pure Roll technology, which angles the grooves in the face insert to impart topspin that starts and keeps the ball online.
Despite notable victories, TaylorMade’s balls haven’t gotten much recognition. Look for a big push on the new TP5 and TP5x, both using five-layer construction to produce distance off woods and irons and high spin from shorter clubs.
An old expression says that travel is broadening. A recent trip to Mexico certainly opened my eyes.
First, I was introduced to a company called Vidanta, which has developed seven luxury-resort/time-share properties around the country. I stayed at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta, one of their developments near Puerto Vallarta, which offers a range of accommodations, dining, activities, and everything else anyone could possibly want in a spectacular oceanside setting. Having experienced one, I want to enjoy some of Vidanta’s other properties, which can be found in Los Cabos, Acapulco, Mazatlan, and other Mexican destinations. And most of them have golf.
Which brings me to the second revelation: Greg Norman is a better golf course architect than many people realize.
The principal reason for the Nuevo Vallarta visit was the unveiling of Vidanta’s new Norman Signature Course, which features very wide fairways, small bunkers, long waste areas, and fast greens with plenty of subtle breaks and surrounded by tricky collection areas. The course was great fun with the challenge increasing exponentially as the tees moved back: The longer tees offered better, more interesting angles into the spacious fairways but also demanded more forced carries and dealing with the ocean breezes that make tropical golf tricky, particularly in the afternoons.
According to Norman—who was on hand for the official opening and sat down with the media to chat—Nuevo Vallarta is his 101st completed course, there are another 20 or so in some stage of development, and he expects to soon start a bunch more. Most of his finished work is overseas and he’s presently very busy in South America, Asia, and Australia (plus looking for sites in Cuba). But he was confident that prospects would be picking up for him and others in the U.S.
I asked if it bothered him to not get more credit as a designer. Norman is always honest and thoughtful, and he was very diplomatic in answering. And while I didn’t hit a nerve exactly he’s obviously been asked that question before and it vexes him. He said that the volume of work alone would indicate that he’s well regarded, and he made the point that his firm only takes on quality projects and does not (yet) do redesign work other than touching up his own older courses. And while he has associates working on-site, Greg makes numerous visits to each job, sometimes dozens of them, offering more than just a little tweak here and there. The man is involved.
All of which got me thinking about other Norman designs I’ve seen or played. While only a few, certain traits are consistent, starting with those wide fairways and challenging green sites, and including an appreciation for the scenery on and around the course. When asked how he first appraises a piece of land, Norman said he looks closely for natural elements to incorporate—water, elevation changes, and especially specimen trees—then looks up at what’s in the longer view. At Nuevo Vallarta, for example, the Sierra Madre Mountains are visible for nearly 360 degrees around and he wants golfers to see and enjoy them.
I won’t go so far as to call Greg a “minimalist”: There are too many pushed-up greens (whether for design effect or water flow) and the collection areas can be severe (short is usually better than long, while trying to save part from the sides can be particularly tough). But other than some strangely placed tee boxes, which were partly the result of water issues, this course felt very natural. And the more I thought, so did the other Norman courses I’ve played. They can be hard, but they never feel contrived.
As for hard, Nuevo Vallarta will be much more so in a few months when five new holes replace five already there. The change is being made for a few reasons, including flooding issues with the nearby Ameca River and some ambitious plans Vidanta has for the property, notably a Cirque du Soleil entertainment park that is scheduled to open in 2018. The new holes—which should be in play by mid-February—include an island-green par three, carries over the river, and slightly tighter fairways. Plus, while we were driving the yet-to-grow-in holes, we spotted an alligator that the superintendent said was the biggest he’s seen on site, about four meters long.
There’s more golf at Nuevo Vallarta, as well. A very cool par-three course is presently being built among the high-rise accommodations; it will open this winter and will be lit for night-time play. The original course is a Jack Nicklaus design that will need to be changed to accommodate the Cirque du Soleil park. When it’s done, which should be by Spring 2018, the Nicklaus and Norman courses will offer a unique opportunity to see the two architects’ work side by side. Of course, it’s silly to judge them solely on just these two courses, particularly since Jack has three or four times as many designs around the world in a much longer career. Yet I’ll bet that Greg’s work will prove a welcome surprise to many as it was to me. And also like me, it will make them want to search out and play more of them.
Have you played golf in Mexico? If so, where did you play and what did you think of it? Tell us in the comments below!
This morning my regular golf game was cancelled because two of the guys backed out—the weather conditions were too brutal for them: 62 degrees and intermittent light showers. I live now in Florida. A decade ago, had those same conditions prevailed on a Saturday morning, all four players would have convened cheerily at the 1st tee, agreeing it was a lovely morning for a game. I lived then in Scotland.
I’d be quite happy to be living and playing there still. Even in winter. In fact, especially in winter. Indeed, if you’re up for a different kind of golf vacation, I can do you no greater favor than to suggest a winter trip to Scotland, ideally to St. Andrews. Here are five good reasons.
1) The Weather: Contrary to popular belief, winter conditions in Scotland, especially in St. Andrews and other areas of the east coast, are decidedly golfable. Yes, you’re on the same latitude as Moscow, but in contrast to Russia (and the northern tier of the U.S.,) the annual snowfall is an inch or two as opposed to a foot or five. As for rain, Edinburgh gets no more than Rome does. The average temperatures are in the 40s and 50s—chilly but not frigid. Of course, when the wind kicks up, things get a bit more challenging, but if you layer-up wisely—long silk underwear, turtleneck, V-neck (or two), wind jacket, wool cap, two all-weather gloves—you’ll be surprised how comfy you’ll be, and with minimal swing restriction. (To stay even looser, consider observing a local custom and pack your golf bag with a wee flask of Scotland’s other gift to the world.)
2) The Course Access: Scottish courses are open all year round, but in winter the only people playing them are the locals. That’s particularly good news at St. Andrews where a tee time on the Old Course (a 50–50 proposition from April through October) is pretty much a slam dunk at this time of year. See for yourself (https://www.standrews.com/ballot/results). The daily ballot invariably has a few open times. The only caveat: Since winter days in Scotland are short, so is the window of tee times—generally from about 8 a.m. until noon—so don’t plan on many 36-hole days. That said, another winter benefit is the pace of play. Since most of the play comes from the Scots, and everyone wants to get in before dark, there’s no mucking about. Three-and-a-half-hour rounds are the norm.
3) The Cost: Expect to pay half what you would in summer. Green fees on the Old are about $115 from November through March, exactly half the cost during peak season. Accommodations are even better deals. In mid-January, for instance, you can get a room at Rusacks Hotel overlooking the 18th hole of the Old Course for as little as $125, compared to $450 in mid-summer. Winter airfares tend to be a bit lower as well.
4) The Course Conditions: Incredibly, the greens at links courses are almost as good in winter as in summer. With almost no grass growth, they remain tight and smooth. As for the fairways, with a “wee bone in the ground” they play harder and faster than ever. You’ll get maximum distance off the tee, and if you can gauge the extra bounce and roll on the approaches, you may just shoot the round of your life. I’ve saved only one scorecard from the 300 or so rounds I played on the Old when I lived in St. Andrews. It shows five birdies and a score of 71—and the date on it is February 12.
5) The Camaraderie: Show up at any Scottish golf course in mid-winter, and you’ll be welcomed warmly for your hardiness, your golf passion, and your good sense. Head over on a buddy trip, and you and your pals will return closer friends than ever, having enjoyed a special esprit de corps (similar to the bond shared by Siberian mailmen). Yes, to walk a brisk 18 holes in winter with three good friends, the wind lashing your cheeks, the crusty linksland crunching beneath your feet, is to know a noble sort of joy.
What’s the worst weather you’re willing to endure for golf? Would you risk going to Scotland for a golf trip in the winter? Let us know in the comments below!
At the outset, I feared that having only five days in Melbourne wouldn’t be enough. And, in truth, it wasn’t, but I did get to play some of the country’s top courses. I will definitely be there longer next time, but a short week turned out to be a dream golf trip.
Choosing where to play was easy. South of Melbourne, the otherwise common red clay is replaced by the sandy soil that architects dream about. It naturally follows that the area—called the Sandbelt—is home to some of the best courses in the world, all of which allow access to international visitors willing to write in advance and pay sometimes sizeable guest fees.
Here’s how my trip went, but to really see the courses, watch the video!
Day 1: Metropolitan Golf Club
The dark horse of the trip, “Metro” is known for superior conditioning, plus fast greens and firm fairways that promote the ground game expected on the links-type turf. Metro is also known for unique green complexes, the putting surfaces mowed to the edges of the bunkers. The resulting greens are not only beautiful but require a very good short game to score well. If Metro was on a better piece of land, it would be considered one of the region’s best.
Day 2: Victoria Golf Club and St. Andrews Beach
Victoria is on a piece of gently rolling land surrounded by Melbourne suburbs. The bunkers sit further from the greens than at Metropolitan, but feature plenty of slope. The Sandbelt is known for great short par fours and 15 at Victoria is one of the best with a risk-reward element off the tee and a sloping, well-bunkered green.
Australian Michael Clayton, the club’s consulting designer, joined me for the morning round, then I played St. Andrews Beach, a course he built with Tom Doak about an hour south. Technically not on the Sandbelt, St. Andrews Beach is on the Mornington Peninsula, a scenic, rural area bordering the ocean. The course is large in every way, with huge green complexes, wide fairways, and expansive views.
Day 3: Royal Melbourne East & West
All 36 holes at Royal Melbourne should be on every golfer’s bucket list. It combines the best of the green complexes at Metropolitan with the best of the terrain at Victoria. Alister MacKenzie and Alex Russell shaped the West Course using only a horse-drawn plough and scoop, proof as to how little the property had to be shaped for outstanding golf.
Royal Melbourne is one of the country’s most historic and prominent clubs, having hosted many prestigious tournaments on its Composite Course, a compilation of the best holes from the two 18s that is only in play for members and guests a few days per year. I wasn’t there on one of those days but was more than happy to “have to” play both layouts.
Day 4: Kingston Heath
My final round was one of the trip’s highlights. “The Heath” is built on gently sloping sandy soil along both sides of a small ridge. The famous Sandbelt green complexes are on display again with bunkering that rivals anything in the United States. The course is extremely playable: It’s less than 7,000 yards and there are only two sets of tees—one for men, one for women. The par threes are world-class, including a 19th hole built by Michael Clayton that is put into the rotation on weekdays to give one of the other short holes on the course a rest. The layout peaks, both literally and figuratively, on the famous par-three 15th, which plays up the ridge that splits the course. The shape of the green and surrounding bunkers epitomize the best of Sandbelt golf.
Do you have dreams of going to Australia to play golf? If so, leave us a comment below about where you’d like to play!
How would you enjoy driving with these luxuries at your fingertips? Powerful electric motors, gas engines that get nearly 50 miles to the gallon, USB charging ports, built-in GPS, leather interiors, independent front and rear suspension, and 17 exterior-color choices. Sounds nice, right? But these aren’t options for your next SUV, coupe, or minivan: They’re choices for your next golf car.
These days, it’s smart to think of golf cars just the way you think about automobiles. The loud, clunky, uncomfortable club-carriers of the past are fading fast and being replaced by high-tech wonders. Gas golf cars no longer wake the neighborhood and they’re almost as efficient as a Prius. Electric golf cars feature algorithmic charging and regenerative braking systems that rival the latest wizardry from Tesla.
Here’s a sample of what the top brands in the industry are displaying on their
Yamaha’s new Drive2 line offers a choice of a powerful electric model or a gas motor that achieves 48 miles-per-gallon. The gas model employs QuieTech technology that makes it nearly as quiet as its electric counterpart while putting out more power. Add in ride-smoothing independent rear suspension and it blows gas golf car stereotypes out of the water.
Club Car’s new electric charging system uses an algorithm to optimize charging cycles—preserving both power and battery life—while a regenerative braking system feeds power back into the batteries when stopping. The result of this combination is savings on running costs and technology that rivals high-end electric automobiles.
E-Z-Go’s new 2Five electric “personal transportation vehicle” is a golf car designed to serve your needs off the course, as well. To be what states define as “road legal,” it comes equipped with seat belts, rear view mirrors, head and tail lights, and turn signals. You’ll want all of it since the 2Five reaches a top speed of 25 miles-per-hour and can easily serve as a daily driver for those working or living within communities that allow golf cars on public streets.
This article is from the November issue of LINKSdigital, the digital magazine from the LINKS team. To read this full issue, click here.
The editors of links are a very spoiled bunch since we get to play many of the best courses in the world. But we also are well aware just how lucky we are and so would like to turn our good fortune into yours with a list of those public-access courses (and private ones that allow some outside play) that we strongly suggest you get to sometime before you hang up your sticks.
Arcadia Bluffs, Arcadia, Mich.
Set high above Lake Michigan, the duney, links-like design features a variety of holes and elevations every bit as exhilarating as the views. TC
Bethpage State Park (Black), Farmingdale, N.Y.
The best muni in the country, this Tillinghast design with two U.S. Opens under its belt is worth sleeping in your car to get a tee time (which you may have to do). TC*/GL/JAF
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Pawleys Island, S.C.
The late Mike Strantz was known for designing artful courses, and this is one of his best as well as one of the best in Myrtle Beach. JAF*/GP
Dormie Club, West End, N.C.
A prime example of modern minimalist design courtesy of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. GL
The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Arguably Robert Trent Jones’s best course and worth the visit for the spectacular par-five 13th alone. GP
Erin Hills Golf Course, Erin, Wis.
So much controversy surrounds this massive soon-to-be U.S. Open site that it’s worth playing simply so you can join the conversation. JAF
Gamble Sands, Brewster, Wash.
As entertaining as golf gets, offering beautiful Cascade Mountain views, super-wide fairways, and fun for golfers of every ability. JAF
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Built 50 years ago, it marked the start of modern architecture with tight fairways and small, undulating greens that still challenge players—even Tour pros—today. GL
Kapalua (Plantation), Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Big fairways, big greens, big winds, a big-time fun course that is playable for all levels of skill. GP
The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, S.C.
One of Pete Dye’s best is rightfully famous for its difficulty but surprisingly playable from the right set of tees. GL*/GP
Old Macdonald (Bandon Dunes), Bandon, Ore.
C.B. would have been proud of this gem, for my money the most enjoyable course at Bandon. GP
Pacific Dunes (Bandon Dunes), Bandon, Ore.
The most dramatic course at Bandon plays spectacularly along the cliffs but is just as good on the inland holes. GL*/JAF
Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, Calif.
The rare chance for the public to see Alister Mackenzie’s ideas in play with strong hints of Augusta National. JAF
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.
The ocean, the wind, the history, the Crosby, the scenery… what more do you need to know? JAF*/GP/TC
Pinehurst (No. 2), Pinehurst, N.C.
Donald Ross spent years perfecting the layout, then Coore/Crenshaw reintroduced original natural areas making it as enjoyable and playable as ever. GL
Shadow Creek Golf Course, North Las Vegas, Nev.
This Tom Fazio design is only 15 minutes from the Vegas Strip but worlds away in every respect. TC
Streamsong (Red), Bowling Green, Fla.
Whether you choose Coore/Crenshaw’s Red course or Tom Doak’s Blue, you’ll get rugged authenticity in the surprisingly exciting topography of central Florida. TC*/JAF
TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The famous island green is only one of Pete Dye’s masterstrokes on this back-breaker that even the pros complain about. JAF*/GP
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (Saguaro), Fort McDaniel, Ariz.
This golf-mad state’s best public layout has wide-playing corridors that present plenty of strategic options off the tee and into the greens. TC
Great Britain & Ireland
Ballybunion Golf Club (Old), Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Don’t let the unforgettable dunes, constant wind (with more than occasional rain), and ocean views obscure the genius of the routing. JAF
Brora Golf Club, Brora, Scotland
You’ll play through cows and sheep on the links that five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson calls his favorite. GP
Carne Golf Links, Belmullet, Co. Mayo, Ireland
This may be the most underrated course in the world, a pure charmer beside the Atlantic in western Ireland. GP
Castle Stuart Golf Links, Inverness, Scotland
A breathtaking links beside the Moray Firth that grabs your attention on the 1st tee and doesn’t let go until you’ve holed out at 18. GP*/JAF
Cruden Bay Golf Club, Peterhead, Scotland
Blind shots, sunken greens, drivable holes, and jaw-dropping views make this perhaps the most fun you can have in Scotland. GL*/JAF/GP
Lahinch Golf Club, Lahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland
Famous for its blind holes, they’ll open your eyes to how enjoyable—and wonderfully Irish—the game can be. JAF
Muirfield, Gullane, Scotland
This fair and straightforward test has hosted 16 Open Championships and is, along with its clubhouse, a shrine to the game. JAF
Nefyn & District Golf Club, Morfa Nefyn, Pwllheli, Wales
Scary cliffs, holes atop a skinny peninsula, even a secluded inn on the beach below, there’s nothing else like it in the world. JAF*/GP
North Berwick Golf Club (West), North Berwick, Scotland
The quintessential Scottish links, featuring quirky holes, ancient stone walls, and stunning ocean views. GL*/JAF
Prestwick Golf Club, Prestwick, Scotland
It’s your maiden aunt, eccentric and unpredictable, with a twinkle in her eye, a confounding ability to find you out, and an absolute hoot to be around. GP
Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship), Newcastle, Northern Ireland
With heather-lined fairways nestled between 60-foot dunes and the Mountains of Mourne as a backdrop, there isn’t a more breathtaking links in the world. TC
Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Dornoch, Scotland
Famous as Donald Ross’s inspiration, the wild, isolated course by Old Tom Morris is links in its most natural form. TC*/GL
St. Andrews (Old), St. Andrews, Scotland
Because this is where it all began. JAF*/GP/GL/TC
Trump Turnberry, Ayrshire, Scotland
The Donald won big with his changes to holes 9–11, making Scotland’s most visually stunning links even more stunning. GP
Rest of the World
Cabo del Sol (Ocean), Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
This Jack Nicklaus design is like Scottsdale on the sea with almost half the holes hugging the Pacific coastline. TC
Cabot Cliffs, Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada
An Irish links crossbred with one of those fantasy courses you see on calendars, it’s big, bold, and frightfully dramatic. JAF
Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Not only does this links sit 450 feet above the Pacific, its emphasis is on the shotmaking rather than the scenery. JAF
Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog), La Romana, Dominican Republic
It was the first great course in the Caribbean and it remains in a class by itself. GP
Kauri Cliffs Golf Course, Matauri Bay, New Zealand
Just possibly the most dazzling setting for a golf course anywhere in the world. JAF*/GP
Pinnacle Point Beach and Golf Resort, Mossel Bay, South Africa
On a cliff above the Indian Ocean just east of Cape Town, it’s steroidal golf, packed with jaw-dropping views and vertigo-inducing tee shots. GP
Punta Espada Golf Club, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Who knew Jack Nicklaus could be so much fun? Eight holes along the water and some striking elevation change certainly help. JAF
Quivira Golf Club, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Given a magnificent site—mountains beside the sea—Nicklaus pulled off a rarity, a spectacular course that you’d be happy to play every day. GP
Royal Melbourne (West), Cheltenham, Victoria, Australia
The best of Melbourne’s Sandbelt with a great routing over firm, sandy soil and greens that stand alone. GP/GL*
What else should have made the list for Courses You Must Play? Let us know in the comments below!
Like almost every other golfer on the planet, I saw the course that Gil Hanse designed for the Summer Olympics and thought, “I’d really like to play there.” But also like the rest of you, I thought, “When am I going to Rio?” The answer: No time soon.
Luckily, Hanse recently unveiled another new course that’s also open to the public, also a wonderful example of “minimalist” design, and is easier to get to. Not a lot easier, but easier. Because it’s in West Point, Miss., which isn’t a short drive from anywhere (4–1/2 hours from Atlanta, and 2–1/2 hours from Memphis, the nearest “big” city), and is at least one puddle-jumper unless you’re already in the South.
And yet, it’s worth the trip.
Mossy Oak was built by the Bryan family, the same folks who constructed Old Waverly Golf Club, site of the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open, which is just across the street and offers stay-and-play packages as well as lovely little lodges to accommodate visitors. Adding Mossy Oak is the family’s attempt at making West Point a golf destination, and they deserve credit for trying to bring economic activity to this sleepy part of north-central Mississippi. It should help that one of their relatives owns a nearby hunting/fishing preserve, so it’s likely they’ll be offering opportunities to combine those outdoor pursuits with the two courses plus sporting events at Mississippi State University, which is only about 20 minutes away. It’ll be fun, I promise.
The course was built on an old dairy farm, 180 acres of rolling land punctuated by nine knobs that provide elevation changes of 40 to 50 feet. Owner George Bryan said that Hanse didn’t move much dirt—so little, in fact, that the course “could have been done with a mule and a plow”—but what he did move helped create the few ponds scattered around the property.
There weren’t many trees to begin with, and most of them were removed. But a dozen or so sturdy old oaks were left in place to provide the proper sense of grandeur as well as the occasional aiming point for golfers. Touring the course shortly before it opened this past Labor Day weekend, it felt timeless and natural. All that was missing were areas of native grasses that are being reintroduced. Or as Bryan put it, “Mossy Oak will look old in about three years.”
Hanse designed the course for walking, with greens feeding into the following tees and wide openings in front of those putting surfaces. And some of the greens are huge, 50 yards long and more, adding to the links-like feel. There’s also quite a bit of sand, 95 bunkers in all including a huge one to the left of the green on the par-five 17th hole that Bryan wanted to call “Grant’s Tomb” but instead seems to have acquired the moniker “George’s Bunker.”
On other holes, Hanse plays with the player’s depth perception and club selection, pushing up greens and siting them on hills, while also placing sand so it’s not as close to the green as it appears. (It’s a public course, but the kind that you’ll want to play a few times to figure out its idiosyncrasies and its cleverness.) As the long, wispy grass grows in it will help define the wide fairways yet be thin enough so off-line shots won’t be hard to find: Bryan said he’s hoping rounds will be under four hours and that groups will go off at 12-minute intervals so play keeps moving. There are five sets of tees, the course stretching to only 7,250 yards from the way back.
Among those who will be playing from the tips are the Mississippi State golf teams, men’s and women’s, for whom Mossy Oak is now the home course. They have their own building on site with locker rooms, fitness facilities, offices, and other necessities. Their main practice green is shaped like the state and almost as large.
While Bryan was showing me around, we drove to the 6th green—the highest point of the property, from which all 18 greens are visible—where he started talking about the region: It was where he was born 70 years ago and where he grew up, and, like almost everyone else associated with Mossy Oak and Old Waverly, he attended MSU. He talked proudly about how his alma mater, located in the heart of the Old South, now houses the Presidential Library and papers of Ulysses S. Grant, which explains why he wanted to name that bunker after the 18th president even though he was the commander of the Union Army.
Then he shifted gears, pointed off toward the horizon, and said, “Hernando DeSoto passed right by here on his way to discovering the Mississippi River.”
That was nearly 500 years ago. Mossy Oak doesn’t look that old, but this is certainly the right place for a course with an old soul.
What do you think of Mossy Oak? Where else in the South would you play on a trip to visit the course?
Appeared in 2016 Fall issue of LINKS Magazine
Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is a town with many stories to tell, from its origins as a mineral-spring spa town, to its Civil War-era flowering as a horse racing (and gambling) mecca, to its place today as a prosperous hub of education and high culture. It’s the kind of place a history buff would love, so it makes sense that a visitor would find David Normoyle very much at home at the Saratoga Golf & Polo Club, a supremely chilled-out nine-holer that dates to 1896. It’s a course that unfurls with deceptive simplicity across a series of ridges and valleys—an “uncomplicated golf experience,” as he puts it, that can be enjoyed on foot in an hour or so.
And that’s a good thing, because Normoyle is a busy guy. After spending most of the 2000s with the USGA, eventually becoming assistant director of its museum in Far Hills, N.J., his marriage—to former LPGA star and CBS commentator Dottie Pepper—necessitated a change of scenery, but not of career focus. In 2010, the couple moved to Pepper’s hometown of Saratoga Springs, where Normoyle quickly set up his own historical consultancy. Now 38, he is one of the most accomplished historians in the game, working with many of the best clubs in the country—Oakmont, Los Angeles Country Club, and Cherry Hills, to name a few—to define and present their legacies to the world.
Normoyle, a strong golfer who earned a Blue (the UK equivalent of a varsity letter) during his grad-school years at Cambridge, is a compelling advocate for history not just as an academic pursuit but for the real-world benefits it can offer: “Any time you have something that’s taught in school, some people are going to hate it. What’s undeniable, though, is that history is an asset.” Every golf club, he points out, has a portfolio of assets that are managed by professionals. The course and clubhouse are overseen by highly trained superintendents and general managers, while a PGA member, the head professional, is the face of the club. “And yet,” Normoyle says, “the aspect of the club’s identity often falls to a retired executive who was maybe a history major in college, and it’s something he does in his spare time.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but professional historians can provide a sharper focus on a club’s narrative, whether it be in the form of a history book, clubhouse display, or museum exhibit. They can also offer archival interpretation and context for a club’s master plan. In other words, historians aren’t just sneezing in attics over century-old minute books (though that happens, too); their work, at its best, helps establish credibility with those outside the club and fosters loyalty within the membership.
Normoyle’s art resides in a threefold process: the mission of why a history matters; which stories need to be told; and how to tell them. Curation, inventory, editorial. For a club like Oakmont, the first National Historic Landmark in American golf, there was no shortage of material. As Normoyle collaborated with club leaders to “spruce up” its interiors in advance of this year’s U.S. Open, a single front-entryway artifact—a portrait of founder Henry C. Fownes, set in an oak-stained walnut case, a brace of trophies to his left and right—was chosen, charging the space with intense power and demonstrating how such a narrative journey can begin.
But clubs aren’t embracing history just to be “retro”; rather, they are seeking renewed vitality in a time of rapid change, both within the golf industry and society at large. David Normoyle excels at distilling stories like this down to their essence, and his guiding question here is no exception: “How do you find your future in your past?”
Appeared in 2016 Fall issue of LINKS Magazine
Nepal is a land of wonderful extremes. Library-like quiet in its mountains and chaotic energy in Kathmandu, the capital. Spirituality is everywhere: Multicolored prayer flags flutter in the breeze and Buddhist lamas pass you on mountain trails. The beauty of the country is topped only by that of the Nepali spirit, all kindness and smiles.
Just as extreme is the golf, played on half-a-dozen courses, all of them set at about a mile above sea level. There are 31 million people in Nepal, and only 700 are golfers. But of those, one in 10 is a pro, giving Nepal the highest pro-per-golfer-capita in the world. Pros earn their cards at a high-pressure Q-school, held each year at Royal Nepal Golf Club, which is where any Nepali golf adventure should begin.
The country’s oldest club, Royal Nepal was founded in 1917 and granted royal status in 1965 by his late Majesty King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. A par-67, 5,410-yard design, RNGC is on the east side of Kathmandu, across the street from Tribhuvan International Airport, meaning it’s possible to walk out of the international arrivals terminal and be on the first tee in minutes. (For the record, playing golf in Nepal means playing in the future, since the local calendar differs from Western calendars and it’s currently 2073.)