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Best Courses We Can’t Play

America's Most Exclusive CoursesThe Mythical Six: Great Courses Remain a Mystery

Have you ever played Augusta National? Been to the Masters? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Most of us haven’t. But I bet you know that golf course better than you know your remote control, which – if you’re like me — you can operate with your toes. While drunk. And blind-folded.

Thanks to TV coverage of the Masters, golf fans are intimately familiar with Augusta’s every inch. Pebble Beach is an open book, too. (Heck, it’s even open to the public, if you’re willing and able to fork over $500.) Pinehurst No. 2, Oakmont, Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, Shinnecock Hills… All regular U.S. Open hosts we get to the pleasure of studying – if not playing – at least once per decade.

Then there’s a sub-group of courses that are both ultra-private and concealed from TV’s all-seeing eye. For various reasons, these clubs don’t host tour events or USGA championships. The average duffer has heard of them, probably seen a picture here and there, but really has no clue what makes them such revered classics.

While Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s top 100 courses features at least a couple dozen of these, a handful project an aura — a certain je ne sais quois — that makes an invite all the more coveted.

Have you had a chance to see Trump’s new course in Aberdeen, Scotland?

Let’s call them the Mythical Six, and explore what gives them such caché.

Pine Valley (Pine Valley, N.J.)

Golf Digest rank: 2

pine valley new jersey

Edged out by Augusta for Digest’s top spot, Pine Valley is still No. 1 in the hearts and minds of many architecture aficionados. H.S. Colt, best known for his work in the UK, assisted George Crump with the layout, set deep in Jersey’s sandy barrens. Pine Valley is legendary both for its shotmaking demands and overall fairness, not to mention colorfully named features like Hell’s Half-Acre and the Devil’s (Unprintable Slang Term for a Bodily Orifice.).

Sand Hills (Mullen, Neb.)

Golf Digest rank: 9

sand hills golf nebraska

Sand Hills did to artificial ’80s course design what Nirvana’s Nevermind did to hair metal – rendered it irrelevant and laughable. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s natural use of Nebraska’s massive dunes showed the folly of faux-Scottish mounding and other over-produced features. Now that’s punk.

National Golf Links (Southampton, N.Y.)

Golf Digest rank: 10

The National Golf Links New York

The original tribute course, if you will, conceived by the original star of American course architecture, Charles Blair Macdonald. National Golf Links, whose famous windmill you may have seen, borrows elements from St. Andrews, North Berwick and other seminal Scottish tracks. Macdonald’s talent – and Long Island’s made-for-golf terrain — ensured his creation could stand on its own merits.

Fishers Island (Fishers Island, N.Y.)

Golf Digest rank: 11

Fishers Island New York

Talk about inaccessible. Besides being insanely private, Fishers Island can only be reached by ferry. Macdonald protégé Seth Raynor did design honors, and the course is so sublime and beautiful some call it the East Coast version of Cypress Point. If there’s a holy grail for those seeking to bag the world’s great courses, Fishers Island may be it.

Seminole (Juno Beach, Fla.)

Golf Digest rank: 13

seminole golf juno beach, fl

Of all the great Golden Age architects, Donald Ross was the most prolific. You’ve likely crossed paths with one of his 300-plus designs somewhere along the line. Golf’s cognoscenti consider Seminole his grandest achievement, above even Pinehurst No. 2, and its location alongside the Atlantic Ocean doesn’t hurt. How good a test is Seminole? It’s where Ben Hogan warmed up for the Masters. Sadly for us schlubs, Seminole’s locked up tighter than Charles Manson.

Los Angeles Country Club, North Course

Golf Digest rank: 47

la country club (north) 11th hole

While Sand Hills (too remote) and Seminole (too hot) aren’t practical as U.S. Open sites, the USGA has reportedly begged LA Country Club to host its national championship. No dice. The members are apparently fine keeping the North Course to themselves, and who can blame them? George Thomas’ handiwork is a model for turning fantastic terrain into a world-class golf course.

So, what is the best course you have ever played? Daily Fee? Private? Semi?

Let us know!


  1. Just came across this article mentioning the 18 hole course on Fishers Island. For anyone looking for a rare opportunity to play this course, the Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools, Inc. is holding a charity tournament on Sept. 17, 2012 on Fishers Island to support the work of FOCUS. Single play is $800 and a non-sponsoring foursome is $3,000. Visit our site to learn more!

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