I’ve been extremely fortunate to play some of the country’s finest public courses over my 30 years of life.
I got my first taste of Pinehurst playing No. 2 shortly after it’s restoration in 2011. In 2012, my dad and I took on Pebble Beach and for the first time I was able to enjoy a post-round adult beverage—an Anchor Steam in the resort’s famed 19th hole lounge, The Tap Room. And in 2019, a venture to the Hawaiian island of Maui allowed me to surf through rounds at Kapalua, Wailea, and Kaanapali.
As golf does, I’m still left wanting more. If I had to pick five public U.S. courses to check off my 2021 to-do list, here’s where I’d start:
Sweetens Cove – South Pittsburg, Tenn.
— SweetensCoveGolfClub (@SweetensCove) November 6, 2020
Rare are the golf destinations that live up to the hype. Bandon Dunes may have the only similar sort of vibe in the U.S. where such lofty expectations are continually met, if not exceeded. Sweetens Cove has been the darling of the golf world in the last few years, and though it is still under a decade old (opened in 2014) the nine-holer from King-Collins Golf Course Design has cast a spiritual lore that few public courses share. From its remote nature (30 minutes outside of Chattanooga, Tenn.), to its high acclaim in Top 100 lists and endless waves of social media posts, to its laid-back attitude (see the “On-Course Experience” on the club’s website), “the little golf course that could” is a place I need to visit as soon as possible. I think I can, I know I can…
Whistling Straits (Straits) – Kohler, Wis.
Same time next year… 👊 pic.twitter.com/8KWvfOy4XB
— Ryder Cup (@rydercup) September 25, 2020
From all accounts, Pete Dye’s Straits Course is the highest-ranked public course I have yet to check off my golf life list. Seemingly plucked from Ireland and plotted on the shores of Lake Michigan, the course is a three-time PGA Championship host (2004, 2010, 2015) and will be on display at the rescheduled 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup in September 2021—only adding to my sense of longing to play it. Add in the fact that Destination Kohler has three other Dye designs and will be adding a spectacular 10-hole par 3 course (“The Baths of Blackwolf Run”) and two-acre putting course in the next year, and my interest is piqued.
The Ocean Course – Kiawah Island, S.C.
— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) September 1, 2020
Perhaps the allure to play this course comes from hearing about it in the perpetual conversation about the country’s most difficult designs—and like Harbour Town, I want to see if my game is up to the challenge. Living in Hilton Head Island, there’s really no reason I shouldn’t be able to make the under-two-hour drive up the road. Also, there’s a plethora of great golf to be played on the Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s four other coastal layouts. My anticipation to play Dye’s Ocean Course will only ratchet up when the professionals head to Kiawah for the 2021 PGA Championship.
Gamble Sands – Brewster, Wash.
While we’re hitting public gems in the PNW, a hearty congrats to Gamble Sands and architect David McLay-Kidd – GS was recently ranked by Golf Magazine at No. 61 on its Top 100 US Courses list – a terrific achievement for a six year old public golf course. pic.twitter.com/W7ZPzGy1kM
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) November 23, 2020
After such enjoyable experiences playing Bandon Dunes and Mammoth Dunes, I can comfortably call David McLay-Kidd one of my favorite modern day golf course architects. High praise has been extended to his 2014 layout along the Columbia River in central Washington, which ranks among, if not topping, the state’s best. Like Bandon, Gamble Sands is a journey to get to (three-and-a-half hours from Seattle) but in 2021 the club will have more to offer than ever—its signature Sands course, the 100,000-sqaure-foot Cascade Putting Course, and an all-new 14-hole short course dubbed “QuickSands” that opens in the spring. Firm, fast, fun—and all fescue. The Pacific Northwest beckons me to return.
Tot Hill Farm – Asheboro, N.C.
Friday PM: Without question the most pleasant surprise from our 10-day, 12-round trip was Tot Hill Farm in NC. Didn’t have great light, but had a great time on a spectacularly wild Mike Strantz Course that I’ll now play on every single Carolina golf trip. 🔥🔥@GolfTripExperts pic.twitter.com/HJhe2hR6Jx
— Eric H. (@themobilegolfer) October 18, 2020
Playing Mike Strantz’s Tobacco Road Golf Club was a rite of passage in my golf architecture education, particularly as a native North Carolinian. Yet once I arrived and played the Sanford, N.C., sensation, I kept hearing people talk up another course in Asheboro—Tot Hill Farm. Opened two years after Tobacco Road’s 1998 debut, “The Hill” is another Strantz notch I need to add to my belt. Navigating through creeks and natural rock formations with hole names like “Fairway to Heaven,” “The Great Wall,” and “Country Road,” along with a southern-style version of the famed Road Hole, there is surely fun and uniqueness that awaits—and depending on the day, you can play 18 for just $40.
What’s on your must-play list in 2021?