Any serious golfer needs to have a bucket list of courses to visit in a lifetime. These courses should represent the best aspects of the game that you hope to capture: the courses, the views, the locations, and the pleasure of playing.
We have 15 amazing golf courses you can add to your list. Whether you’re just creating your bucket list or adding to it, make sure these courses make the cut.
Experience the Traditions, History, and Breathtaking Views of U.S. Courses
While the game of golf was first formally introduced to the United States in South Carolina in 1787, it didn’t really start to catch on until the 1920s. After the Great Depression and WWII, golfing’s popularity exploded, and now there are over 15,000 courses in the United States.
Golf courses have now been built on some of the most impressive pieces of real estate and designed by the best course architects available. These courses incorporate the tradition of the game itself, but they also represent the newer traditions inherent to the area, the club, and the history of the land on which they are built. Courses are not built for purely utilitarian play, either; the view and the outdoor experience can be absolutely breathtaking, as well.
When we say that the following fifteen courses need to find a place on your golfer’s bucket list, we are looking at all aspects of the course that bring together the pleasure of play, the enjoyment of the elements, and the challenge of the layout. You won’t regret visiting any of these fantastic places.
Pebble Beach (Monterey, California)
Pebble Beach is one of the most familiar course names in golf, and for good reason. The links-style course is a proven favorite, and its reputation is only reinforced by being named the greatest public golf course in America. Numerous championships and tournaments have been played here, and even the legendary player Jack Nicklaus loves the place.
Pebble Beach is old by American golf standards. Built in 1919 and designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, the course is located along the rugged California coastline. Expect the pace of play to be on the slow side (around five hours), but with all the beautiful surroundings, you won’t want to rush anyway. The iconic 18th hole (535 yard par 5) is one of the most recognized holes in the world.
Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (Charleston, South Carolina)
The Ocean Course has already hosted two PGA Championships and is slated to be the home of the 2021 PGA Championships, which goes to show just how much respect this course has garnered. Nestled right up against the Atlantic Ocean, Ocean Course boasts 10 seaside holes (more than any other Northern Hemisphere course) and eight holes running parallel to the seaside holes. Designer Pete Dye located the course so that players get an unobstructed view of the island’s Atlantic coastline from every hole.
The big challenge at the Ocean Course is the wind. Both westerly and easterly winds whip over the island, and the course’s elevation for the views also means that players are exposed to the winds. Dye took that into account during the design phase and plotted out two courses in one, so you can choose how to play depending on the wind’s direction.
As for service, you won’t be disappointed. Visitors rave about the quality of the course and practice facilities, the professionalism of the caddies, as well as the elegance of the club and restaurant. From the beautiful drive to the course to the last, glorious seaside hole, you’ll be glad you made your way here at least once.
Pinehurst No. 2 (Pinehurst, North Carolina)
There are nine courses at the Pinehurst Resort, but No. 2 is the centerpiece. A granddaddy of American golf, the course was built in 1907 by prolific course designer Donald Ross, who then spent the next 50 years tweaking and improving it. Ross, a native Scotsman, was also an avid (and accomplished) player, who lived in a cottage behind the third green on Pinehurst No. 2, raising championship roses for relaxation.
Pinehurst No. 2 has since been restored to preserve Ross’s original intentions and course characteristics. Because changes were made with the average golfer in mind, players of any level will not only enjoy but rave about the course and its ultimate playability.
Bandon Dunes (Bandon, Oregon)
The next best thing to playing links-style golf in Scotland or Ireland is to play at one of Bandon Dune’s five phenomenal courses. The rugged land, hearty forest, and breathtaking ocean views here are unmarred by the encroachment of civilization. It is here where you will learn to master your ground game and become a thinking player as you creatively work with the ever-present winds that sweep these dunes.
The first of Bandon Dunes’s courses was completed in 1999, designed by Scotsman David McLay Kidd of DMK Golf Design. Kidd, now an Oregon resident, was hired in his 20s for the job, and he says the land looks (and feels) exactly like the west coast of Scotland. When asked why golf at Bandon Dunes is labeled as “Golf as It was Meant to Be,” Kidd replied, “Because it’s natural, unabashed, simple, honest, uncontrived, beautiful, adventurous and a thousand other things that man cannot dictate, design or affect.”
Kapalua Resort, Plantation Course (Island of Maui, Hawaii)
The Plantation Course is consistently ranked the #1 golf course in Hawaii. This ranking not only has to do with its location and views, but the joy of playing the course itself. Challenging for the pros—but also eminently playable for average golfers—the course’s 7,411 yard par 73 layout includes downhill tees (for the longest drives of your life), wide fairways, and large greens.
Come for the game but stay for the views. Snugged up against the West Maui Mountains, Plantation offers ocean views and dramatic elevation changes throughout. Plantation is also the home to the annual PGA TOUR Hyundai Tournament of Champions, held in January (the perfect time to visit Maui!).
Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wisconsin)
Pete Dye designed both the courses at Whistling Straits, which stretches along two miles of the Lake Michigan coastline in Kohler, Wisconsin. The Straits course backs up against the coastline and features rugged landscape and massive sand dune bunkers to match its Irish links influences. Inland, The Irish course is criss-crossed by four streams throughout its grassland and dunes. The stone clubhouse simply adds to the Old Country ambience.
Built on an abandoned airfield, Dye trucked in nearly 7,000 loads of dirt to provide some strategic variation and excitement to the once completely flat piece of land. Eight holes are directly on the water, but even those aren’t necessarily the most interesting holes on The Straits course. The Irish is a walking-only course, and it lives up to the Dye-esque challenge he is famous for incorporating into his designs. However, while it is a challenge for the pros, the courses are also phenomenal for average golfers looking for an exciting, invigorating game.
TPC Sawgrass THE PLAYERS Stadium Course (Vedra Beach, Florida)
THE PLAYERS Stadium course was designed and built specifically to be the permanent home of THE PLAYERS Championship from 1982 on. The course represents a collaboration between golf architect Pete Dye and PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane R. Bemen, and the duo’s goal was to create a truly balanced course that does not favor any particular style of play. What you’ll find is exactly what they intended, which means that playing at THE PLAYERS Stadium course is never the same two days in a row. In addition, the course was built with the fans in mind, so watching a championship or tournament is particularly enjoyable for those who come to cheer.
Bethpage Black Course (Farmingdale, New York)
Bring your golfing chops to the Black Course, because it wasn’t built for the faint of heart. One of the five Bethpage State Park Golf Courses, the Black Course has been ranked #6 of America’s 50 toughest courses by Golf Digest, and tough it is. But the course is also exhilarating. Just bring your wedge to deal with the deep and plentiful bunkers and get ready to work on your short game.
This course will make you carefully think through every hole, and your game will be better for it. This is a walk-only course, so give yourself plenty of time to consider each shot while enjoying the fresh air (and catch your breath).
Experience the Thrill of International Courses
Playing courses outside the U.S. allows you to experience golf and culture in new ways. Our international bucket list picks get you back to the origins of golf in England, Scotland, and Ireland, walking where golf-loving kings, queens, and common folk have walked for hundreds of years.
Royal County Down Golf Club (Newcastle, Northern Ireland)
The oldest golf club in Ireland, Royal County Down lies within the Murlough Nature Reserve, with the Mountains of Mourne creating a poetic backdrop. Each hole opens a new vista overlooking m Dundrum Bay, the mountains, and the purple heather and gorse on the dunes. On these links, you’ll test your bump and run game and be enchanted while doing it.
Royal County Down is known for its bearded bunkers and domed greens. This is one of the greatest of all links courses in the world.
Old Course, St. Andrews (St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland)
As the birthplace of golf, you can’t leave this one off your bucket list. Though it is the oldest golf course in the world (James Cheape bought the land in 1821 to save it from a future as a rabbit farm), people have been playing the game on this land since the early 15th century—both before and after King James of Scotland banned golf as being too much of a distraction from archery.
As you would expect, the Old Course has some famous characteristics and landmarks, from the double greens to the 700-year-old Swilcan Bridge between the 1st and 18th holes. Play is counter-clockwise, and the course is allowed to rest on Sundays, though townsfolk use the course as a place to picnic and play on weekends. Even if you find yourself wallowing in the sheer historicity of the place, the Old Course is still an incredibly fun way to play a modern round of golf.
Royal Troon (South Ayrshire, Scotland)
Location of the 2016 Open (the ninth time the championship will be held here), Royal Troon represents all that has made golfers the tough, determined lot that they are. Opened in 1878, the links south of the town of Troon were perfect for building a golf course, which is exactly what the earliest Troon Golf Club members did.
Royal Troon includes two courses: the Old Course and the Portland Course. The Old Course exemplifies the Scottish experience of golf, including challenging terrain, frequent wind, and deep rough where gorse and broom grow. The Portland Course is shorter and more sheltered from the wind than the Old Course, but those aspects do not detract at all from its playability.
Carnoustie Golf Links (Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland)
The residents of Angus were enthusiastically playing gowff at Carnoustie as far back as 1560, when parish records first mention the game. Chances are, the game was as popular here as it was elsewhere in Scotland during the early- to mid-1400s. Carnoustie officially became a golf club in 1839, featuring a 10-hole course designed by Allan Robertson, who is considered the first golf professional. The course has been changed significantly since that time. The courses are challenging but playable by golfers of many skill levels, and they are considered some of the finest in the United Kingdom.
There are three courses at Carnoustie: the Championship Course, which has hosted many tournaments and championships and will host the 2018 Open; the Burnside, which, though sometimes overlooked, offers players an excellent game; and the Buddon, the newest course.
Be sure to ask the locals how Carnoustie got its name.
Cape Kidnappers (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)
While Cape Kidnappers is our one international bucket list golf course not located in the United Kingdom, this gem holds its own amongst its companions. As you would expect a New Zealand golf course to be, the surroundings are spectacular. You’ll play on top of high cliffs that overlook the sea within a ridge-and-valley landscape that might have been a national park if it wasn’t a golf course.
Designed by legendary golf architect Tom Doake, Cape Kidnappers is a newer course built in 2004. It has all the modern amenities of a luxury club to go along with its remarkable location and supremely playable course for golfers of all skill levels.
Ballybunion Golf Club (Ballybunion, County Kerry, Ireland)
Quaint Irish name aside, playing Ballybunion’s 36 holes on two courses will make you question whether or not the Scots were actually the early masters of the game. Ballybunion puts golf on the Irish map, and its location is perfect for visiting nearby famous courses such as Lahinch, Waterville, Old Head, or Tralee.
The Old Course and the Cashen Course lie along a stretch of sand dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This is challenging and unique links-style golf that is rated tops in the world.
Royal St. George’s Golf Club (Sandwich, Kent, England)
If you are a James Bond fan, then this club is a must-visit. Royal St. George’s is where fictional characters James Bond and the villain Goldfinger played their famous match in the 1964 classic British spy film based on Ian Fleming’s 007. You’ll feel just like Sean Connery as you tee up to the first hole (but don’t cheat!).
Royal St. George’s has hosted The Open Championship 14 times along with numerous other championships and tournaments. The links course contains the traditional humps and swales, along with the dunes and roughs that present such a thrilling challenge to golfers of all skill levels. Check the dress code before arriving to make sure you are appropriately attired.
Whether you’re creating a new golfing bucket list or adding to an existing one, these 15 clubs and courses should have a place. Each of the courses listed represents something significant in golf history. Each is designed by a brilliant golf architect(s), and they present exciting challenges for golf players of all skill levels. These are the cream of the golfing crop.
The 15 courses include U.S. locations and international locations.
The U.S. courses:
- The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
- Pebble Beach
- Pinehurst No. 2
- Bandon Dunes
- Kapalua Resort, Plantation Course
- Whistling Straits
- THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass
- Bethpage Black Course
The International courses:
- Old Course, St. Andrews
- Royal Troon
- Carnoustie Golf Links
- Royal Country Down Golf Club
- Cape Kidnappers
- Royal St. George’s Golf Club
Ocean Course at Kiawah Island: https://www.kiawahresort.com/golf/the-ocean-course
Pebble Beach: http://www.pebblebeach.com
Pinehurst No. 2: http://www.pinehurst.com/golf/courses/no-2/
Bandon Dunes: http://www.bandondunesgolf.com
Kapalua Resort, Plantation Course: http://www.golfatkapalua.com/plantation-course.html
Whistling Straits: http://www.americanclubresort.com/golf/whistling-straits
THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass: http://www.tpc.com/sawgrass-the-players-stadium-course
Bethpage Black Course: https://www.bethpageproshop.com/black-course-page-8/chapter/2
Old Course St. Andrews: http://www.standrews.com/Play/Courses/Old-course
Royal Troon Golf Club: http://www.royaltroon.co.uk
Carnoustie Golf Links: http://www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk
Royal Country Down Golf Club: https://www.royalcountydown.org
Cape Kidnappers: http://www.capekidnappers.com/luxury-golf-course/course
Ballybunion Golf Club: http://www.ballybuniongolfclub.com
Royal St. George’s Golf Club: http://www.royalstgeorges.com