There are over 15,000 golf courses in the U.S., from public, family-friendly greens to posh, exclusive country clubs. North America has golf courses that are little more than cow pastures, where generations of fathers take sons to learn the game without having to worry that an errant (Fore!) slice is going to shatter a clubhouse window. There are courses designed for the 1%, where even a membership in Skull and Bones can’t get you a tee time in the summer.
So what makes a golf course worthy of a top ten list? Is it the heritage and prestige of the course or the nostalgia that it invokes? Is it the rolling fairways, unique water hazards, and postcard perfect scenery? Or the fact that the clubhouse is famous for its 19th hole? It’s a combination of all these things and more. Chances are buddies looking for a weekend golf getaway have different criteria than the world-traveling editors of Golf Digest. Still, from the watery vistas of Florida to the Sun King courses of Arizona, no golfer will argue the merits of these top 10 golf courses.
- Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
- Architect: Pete Dye
Located in northeast Florida between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, TPC Sawgrass features two PGA Tour championship golf courses: the Players Stadium Course and Dye’s Valley Course. Local legend has it that Pete Dye’s design for TPC Sawgrass was drawn up on a cocktail napkin. Known as the “Island Green,” the par 3, 17th hole of the Stadium Course is one of the most photographed holes in golf.
The Golden Horseshoe Golf Club
- Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
- Architects: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Rees Jones
The Golden Horseshoe Golf Club features two stunning golf courses: the Gold Course and the Green Course. Each course is considered one of the best examples of traditional golf architecture in the world, with fluid, tree-lined terrain and “pure” real estate. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the par 71, 6,817-yard Gold Course, and Rees Jones, his son, created the par 72, 7,120-yard Green Course. The Golden Horseshoe Golf Club boasts two historic facts: It’s the only club in America whose revenues support a nonprofit educational organization, and the Gold and Green Courses are the first father and son Jones pairing in the country.
Pine Valley Golf Club
- Location: Pine Valley, New Jersey
- Architects: George Crump and H.S. Colt
Pine Valley Golf Club is one of the most exclusive golf courses in the world, a Garden of Eden tucked away in the sandy pine barrens of southwest New Jersey. The prestigious course is consistently ranked in the top three of Golf Digest’s list of Top 100 Courses in the U.S. Beautiful, brutal, and heroic, the par 70, 18-hole course hopscotches through a unique arrangement of trees, sand, and scrub. However, not many golfers get to see Pine Valley’s outstanding holes because membership at the club is invitation only.
The Boulders Resort & Spa
- Location: Carefree, Arizona
- Architect: Jay Morrish
Nestled in the Sonoran Desert, 1,250 ft. above Phoenix, Boulders Resort & Spa is the Sun King of luxury resorts in Arizona. It features two 18-hole, award-winning, Jay Morrish-designed golf courses. The 6,726-yard, par 71 South Course is comprised of a stunning array of vistas and dramatic rock outcroppings. Golfers wind their way through an intricate labyrinth of boulder formations, as the course was designed to maximize Arizona’s unique desert terrain. While not as visually dramatic, the par 72 North Course is the more demanding set of holes, a thinking man’s 18 with fast Bermuda greens.
- Location: Streamsong, Florida
- Architects: Tom Doak, Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw
Located 55 miles southwest of Tampa, Streamsong Resort is one of the Sunshine State’s premier golf destinations. The resort is the home of Tom Doak’s Blue Course and the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw designed Red Course, two of the best public golf courses in the U.S. Both courses feature a spectacular terrain of wild grass fairways, sand dunes, lakes, natural bunkers, and multiple elevation changes. With their rippling contours and interesting landforms, Red and Blue play like links courses without an ocean.
The Honors Course
- Location: Ooltewah, Tennessee
- Architect: Pete Dye
What makes The Honors Course a cream-of-the-crop piece of real estate – other than being a perfect example of Pete Dye’s “death or glory” style of architecture – is that it’s difficult to find. Established in 1983 and located on an unmarked road with no advertising, the Honors Course brings “hidden gem” to the next level. If you’re in the mood for a treasure hunt, the Honors Course has a rich payoff.
Pebble Beach Golf Links
- Location: Pebble Beach, California
- Architects: Jack Neville and Douglass Grant
Long considered one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, Pebble Beach features nine stunning holes perched over the crashing Pacific surf. While green fees are amongst the highest in the world, Pebble Beach is an 18-hole public golf course. The grand dame of California golf courses has hosted five U.S. Open Championships, and it’s also home of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. With its vast, soaring vistas and one-of-a-kind cliffside fairways, Pebble Beach Golf Links is a place every golfer should play at least once.
Merion Golf Club
- Location: Ardmore, Pennsylvania
- Architect: Hugh Wilson
Established in 1912, Merion Golf Club’s prestigious East and West Courses have hosted more USGA Championships than any other courses in the U.S. Similar to Augusta, golfers tee up at Merion because of its pedigree and long history of tradition. It’s America’s version of Scotland’s St. Andrews, or to borrow from another beloved sport, England’s Wimbledon Club. In fact, there’s a traditions committee at Merion that ensures all manners and etiquette are followed, so don’t wear a hat inside the clubhouse.
The Breakers: Ocean Course
- Location: Palm Beach, Florida
- Architects: Alexander H. Finlay/Brian Silva
Created by Alexander H. Finlay in 1896, the Ocean Course at The Breakers is Florida’s oldest golf course. The par 70, 6,167-yard beauty features 140 acres of fairways overlooking the Atlantic. The Ocean Course rewards brains over power, as golfers need to thread the ball low between sandy hazards; “bomb it like Bubba Watson” and the ball will end up in a watery grave. Brian Silva revamped the Ocean Course in 2000, making the design more compact with better tee elevations, surface slopes, and pin placement areas.
- Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
- Architect: Tom Fazio
A man-made oasis carved out of the desert, Shadow Creek is a mysterious, under the radar golf course. In fact, it’s so exclusive that it’s been called “the Area 51 of golf courses.” In typical Vegas fashion: what happens at Shadow Creek stays in the shadows. The golf course is public, but only open to visitors staying at an MGM Resorts International property, and it packs a greens fee that would make even a high-roller blush. Still, its towering waterfalls, lakes, gardens, and beautiful doglegs make it a must-play if you’re visiting the Strip.