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Whistling Straits Golf Club (Straits) Kohler, Wisc. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort Kiawah Island, S. TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium) Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The most memorable seaside tests are the par-4 fourth, the par-3 12th and the par-4 16th, each with eye-popping scenery and enjoyable risk/rewards. Mixing live oaks, lagoons, tiny greens, bunkers banked by railroad ties and a closing stretch along the Calibogue Sound, this Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus collaboration delights and terrorizes at every turn. Tall, odd-shaped sand piles, significant climbs and drops, firm, fast-running Bermuda fairways and lakes submerged in the sand spice the play on the Coore-Crenshaw-designed Red course. Women’s Open, when nine of its holes paired with Blackwolf Run’s original front nine (now the back nine of the Meadow Valleys course). (0-2) This clifftop, city-owned venue overlooking the Pacific Ocean in suburban San Diego stretches 7,600 yards, following a 2001 Rees Jones renovation that also moved greens closer to canyon edges. Strategic tests such as the double-fairway, par-4 10th and the drivable par-4 17th, framed with sand and fescues, are superb. Most remarkable was the 2012 event, when Tommy Gainey’s final-round 60 catapulted him over Davis Love, Jim Furyk and David Toms for the win. Designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, Erin Hills controversially was chosen to host the 2017 U. He also outfitted the layout with deep bunkers and closely mown green surrounds that place an emphasis on precise approaches. An antebellum clubhouse and 18th hole that border an old rice plantation and the Waccamaw River completes a pretty picture. Fallen Oak dishes out streams, orchards, lakes and wetlands, along with Fazio’s sprawling bunkers—plus an Acadian-style, Southern Mansion clubhouse. (5) Former Western Open/BMW Championship venue Cog Hill in the southwestern Chicago suburbs became Tiger Woods’ personal playground. Scattered blow-out bunkers, gigantic natural dunes, smartly contoured greens and Pacific panoramas are headliners. Some sniff at its artificiality, yet for shotmaking options and memorable individual holes that require a blend of power and finesse, TPC Sawgrass has few peers. Ocean views stun the senses, along with bluff-top sand dunes sprinkled with Scotch broom and gorse bushes, coastal pines, crashing surf, wind-whipped tall native grasses, and stacked sod bunkers. A place of subtle beauty, this is a shotmaker’s paradise where power takes a backseat to precision. (-5) Streamsong dishes out a unique palette for Florida golf. (-9) An inspired Tom Weiskopf design three hours northwest of Detroit rolls through man-made sand dunes and red pine forests, with ground game options aided by firm, fast, rumpled fairways and perfectly groomed greens. Marsh-tinged wetlands, bold bunkers and views of the Atlantic Ocean are highlights. (5-0) Thirty-five miles northwest of Milwaukee, Erin Hills occupies a massive, topsy-turvy spread of ridges, dunes and fescue grasses, lending an Ireland-in-the-Heartland ambiance -- but no Emerald Isle course stretches to 7,823 yards, as this one does. (5-0) Deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 20 miles north of the North Carolina border, English architect Donald Steel draped the Highland course across mountain peaks and into valleys that edge a River Dan gorge. (-9) Don’t let Caledonia’s miniscule 6,526 back tee yardage fool you: Stands of hardwoods, lakes, wetlands and imposing live oaks whose branches swat away stray shots like Tim Duncan make this 1994 Mike Strantz design a complete test of shotmaking. (0) Picture Shadow Creek drenched in Deep South aesthetics and you have another Tom Fazio-MGM masterpiece, 20 minutes inland from the coastal Beau Rivage. Unforgettable is the par-5 3rd, its fairway dominated by a giant boulder positioned dead-center of the landing area. The Harvester Golf Club Rhodes, Iowa (-9) Iowa hasn’t exactly produced a bumper crop of superior public courses, but this 16-year-old Keith Foster design 30 miles northeast of Des Moines is an exception. Creeks, wetlands, woods and tall fescues grasses will terrorize the wayward hitter. The lake comes into play on the back nine and must be carried on tee shots of both the 17th and 18th holes. (-9) Wetlands, bunkers and the Deschutes and Little Deschutes Rivers come into play early and often on this 1995 Bob Cupp/John Fought design. (5-0) One of the rare Donald Ross creations west of the Mississippi, Ross carved the Broadmoor from the foothills of the Cheyenne Mountain in 1918. Contrasting the brutish 503-yard, par-4 ninth with the 320-yard, drivable par-4 10th speaks to the diversity of the challenge. Strategic shot options, acres of salt marshes and handsome views of the Atlantic City skyline are all part of the package. This 2001 Arthur Hills design zigzags through wetlands, salt marshes and hardwoods—often on the same hole— and pauses here and there to dish out superb vistas of Assawoman Bay and the Ocean City skyline. However, these fairways feature firm, rumpled landing areas that will funnel side-spinning shots into dense native fescues or, worse, into some of the largest formalized bunkers ever created. Wetlands, rock ledges and rolling, forested terrain provide all the golf you could want. Engh’s unique “muscle” bunkers flex throughout the round, their narrow, squiggly shapes bracketed by biceps of grass. (-9) Situated 25 minutes south of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and recently retooled by original architect Brian Curley and original consultant Fred Couples, this still-muscular 7,546-yard design features sprawling bunkers, fescue-framed fairways, inspired green contouring and nary a weak hole, together with mountain vistas—and no homes to mar the views. The option-laden drivable par-4 fourth hole is one of the Lowcountry’s best risk/reward tests. While the final four holes along the Atlantic rightly earn acclaim as “the Bear Claw,” the best of the 18 might be the 437-yard, par-4 9th, with the ocean looming to the right. At their best, during their 1920s heyday, they blended design characteristics of both Donald Ross and Seth Raynor with the result here a rolling, mostly treeless layout (hence the “Links” misnomer), though one with a fabulous set of deep bunkers and elevated greens. Blind shots, mounds in incomprehensible places and greens that list like a ship in a storm explain how a 6,500-yard course can boast a slope of 150. Most memorable are the back-to-back oceanside par-3s at 12 and 13, the latter a two-green setup with the putting surfaces separated by an enormous sand feature. (0-0) It’s startling to imagine that until 1995, this tract housed the Glenview Naval Air Station—total elevation change: three feet. The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa Grand Junction, Colo. The Gold is currently closed for a Rees Jones renovation and will reopen in 2017. Mountain backdrops, insanely deep bunkers, such as the 19-foot pit that guards the 16th green and formidable carries over the desert are further takeaways. Forced carries over wetlands and 150 feet of elevation change are further highlights. In fact, there are two of them, both framed by lush desert vegetation and mountain vistas. Women’s Open on Ghost Creek’s private sister, Witch Hollow, but don’t weep for this walkable Bob Cupp design in suburban Portland, which boasts better finishing holes on each of its nines and which witnessed a marquee event of its own, in 1993, when David Duval captured the Nike Tour Championship. (5) Tom Fazio routed this immaculately groomed, naturally rolling course through a blackjack oak forest and around 110-acre Lake Louise, named for the wife of course benefactor Karsten Solheim. The tough closing stretch, known as “the Snake Pit,” has crowned recent winners such as Jordan Spieth and Charl Schwartzel. A collaborative effort from Nick Faldo and Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design, the Wilderness Club embraces skillfully sculpted rugged bunkers, open meadows, deep-blue glacial lakes and corridors of Ponderosa pines. The 119-year-old layout was most recently reworked by Tom Doak in 1999 and today’s version is a par-70, 6,577-yard layout that unfolds over flattish coastal terrain. (-9) Situated just west of the Intracoastal Waterway near Ocean City, Lighthouse Sound shines with endless scenery and strategic options to match. (0-0) Picture the widest fairways imaginable—then double it—and you have the driving zones at this six-year-old Tom Lehman/Chris Brands design carved into the heaving, wind-sculpted terrain of northwestern Nebraska. It’s well worth the short ride to sample holes that are handsomely framed by oaks and sycamores and that feature the Short Springs Branch, a limestone creek bed that adds beauty and menace. Rees Jones chiseled two formidable spreads from the rock-studded hills, the public-access North and the South. (-0) Jim Engh’s distinctive design style is on full display at this 14-year-old creation north of Grand Rapids that blends woods and wetlands in a striking package. Love’s Donald Ross-infused, inverted saucer greens, imaginative contouring and chipping areas and re-created plantation house ruins add up to pure fun. (-5) This seaside, linksy layout was the site of 13-year-old Michelle Wie’s triumph at the 2003 U. Women’s Public Links Championship and it’s easy to see why she was so inspired. (-) It’s likely only architecture buffs have heard of William Langford and Theodore Moreau, the gents that sculpted the Badger State’s best bargain, but no matter. Or, put another way, Tobacco Road at times resembles a Dali painting, so warped are some of the landforms and putting surfaces. (0-0) Dating to 1991, the elder of the Tom Fazio courses here features wide fairways, coastal breezes and landscaping and the usual artful Fazio shaping. Strategic options abound, with grassy slopes, slender streams and perfectly slotted traps all well-poised to snare the careless shot, proving the adage here that you reap what you sow. At Cascata, a Caesars Entertainment property, you get all that—and more. Franz put back hardpan sand dotted with wiregrass that frames the re-grassed fairways and greens, yanked out 400 trees and reinstituted Ross’ width, angles and strategies. Rough-covered sidehill lies and a fistful of volcano bunkers will drain any golfer—except perhaps Colin Montgomerie, who captured the 2015 Senior PGA Championship here. Two standouts: the par-4 16th, with stone-dappled cascades of water bisecting the fairway, and the massive par-4 18th, which demands a bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew drive over an inlet of the lake. Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club (Ghost Creek) North Plains, Ore. Much like Turnberry in Scotland, where fairways were once airplane runways, The Glen Club is a testament to an imaginative architect and his skillful shapers.
Thick desert flora frames every Talon fairway and mountain panoramas arrive early and often. Circling Raven Worley, Idaho (-) It may not sport a floating island green like its neighbor up the road, but this bird has everything else in its nest, including wetlands, grasslands and Ponderosa pines, plus unparalleled solitude disturbed only by the stray elk or moose.
Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club (Ghost Creek) North Plains, Ore.