More than two centuries ago, early Americans looked (and headed) west in pursuit of a more prosperous life. These days, golfers can do the same—at least in a manner of speaking—as a number of “West” courses (in name, anyway) offer memorable playing experiences. Prosperity on these fairways and greens may be harder to come by, however, as at least a handful of the following courses provide a stern test of golf. Nevertheless, all are noteworthy, and some warrant being on your bucket list.
Without further ado, here we spotlight seven standout “West” courses—no matter where in the country they may be located.
Winged Foot Golf Club (West)—Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Although both of Winged Foot’s courses were designed by A.W. Tillinghast—and both have hosted major championships—the club’s West course is the headliner, having played host to six U.S. Opens. The course looks (and in some ways plays) much differently than it did in 1929 when Bobby Jones lifted the U.S. Open trophy or even in 2006 when Geoff Ogilvy eked out a one-stroke victory. That’s because Gil Hanse spearheaded a restoration in 2016 that removed all the Norway Spruce trees from the playing corridors. Predictably, the project opened up the course, making it more playable off the tee and into greens; however, Hanse’s restoration also resuscitated the contours and intricacies of Tillinghast’s original putting surfaces. Described by some golf scribes as “giant mushrooms, curled and slumped around the edges,” the West course’s green complexes preserve the layout’s difficulty. The most recent U.S. Open contested there, in 2020, provides the proof: Bryson DeChambeau posted a winning total of 6-under par, but no other player in the field finished in red figures.
Ridgewood Country Club (West)—Paramus, N.J.
In his own words, A.W. Tillinghast believed that it was a golf course architect’s obligation to “produce something which will provide a true test of the game, and then consider every way to make it as beautiful as possible.” The Golden Age architect accomplished that across all three nines at Ridgewood Country Club—East, Center, and West—which previously hosted a FedExCup playoff event for the PGA Tour (The Barclays, now known as the FedEx St. Jude Championship). In similar fashion to The Country Club in Brookline’s composite layout for the U.S. Open, the championship course which hosted that FedExCup playoff event featured the most challenging holes from all three nines.
On the West, players encounter the first of those championship holes when they step onto the tee box of the 416-yard par-four 5th, a hole that presents the toughest approach shot across all 27 holes at the club. After hitting drives to a wide fairway, golfers face a steeply elevated triple-tier green with an equally steep slope that runs from back to front and from left to right. (It’s not uncommon for putts struck from above the hole to roll off the front of the green and back into the fairway.) The 8th hole, by contrast, is a massive dogleg-left par five that stretches to almost 590 yards. Lined on either side by thick patches of trees or deep rough, the hole is made more difficult by a small green outfitted with a false front; pars here are certain to feel like birdies. The final hole of the West is no less intimidating. At 471 yards, this imposing dogleg-right par four is the only hole to favor a left-to-right curving tee shot, though dense rows of oaks on either side of the fairway offer little forgiveness for shots that miss the short grass. Approach shots require an equal amount of precision, as the fairway, which slopes sharply from right to left, can funnel promising-looking shots into a deep bunker that guards the front and left side of the green.
PGA West (Pete Dye Stadium)—La Quinta, Calif.
“Golf is not a fair game, so why build a course fair?” Pete Dye once asked, at least somewhat rhetorically. You could make the argument that a “fair course” is precisely what should be built, given that the game—as Dye astutely pointed out—is inherently unfair. But that’s not what you’ll get on Dye’s Stadium course at PGA West. Stretching to 7,300 yards from the back tees and with a stroke and slope rating of 76.1 and 150, the numbers serve as a clear warning.
PGA West’s most famous course features hole names that include Double Trouble, Black Hole, and Alcatraz; and golfers who are familiar with Pete Dye’s designs will know that those foreboding monikers aren’t mere hyperbole. There’s an element of truth in them. Take the 13th (Second Thoughts), a long par three with a water hazard on the left that tightly abuts the putting surface and the sliver of fairway. It’s a one-shotter where attention must be kept on the middle of the green… or even the bailout area to the right. Should your mind drift to thoughts of the looming hazard on the left—well, you know what’s likely to happen.
Westchester Country Club (West)—Rye, N.Y.
The thrill that comes from playing a course that has routinely hosted PGA Tour events and major championships is oftentimes juxtaposed by the frustration that can bubble up during a round given the course’s imposing design. Such is the case on the West course at Westchester Country Club, where four of its holes—the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 17th—regularly ranked among the most difficult played on the PGA Tour during the years when the course hosted a top-level professional event.
Described by the club as “hilly and heavily wooded,” this 6,718-yard layout was originally designed by Walter Travis in 1922, though it’s been renovated over the years by the likes of Rees Jones, Ken Dye, and most recently Tom Fazio. Those who are fortunate enough to play Westchester’s West course will long remember its undulating fairways and boldly contoured green complexes. While low scores may be difficult to come by, players are tested by a diverse collection of golf holes. This means you can expect holes that play uphill and down; dogleg to the left and to the right; and either tempt or intimidate you with their length.
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Gull Lake View (West)—Augusta, Mich.
Although not the resort’s flagship course (that honor belongs to the Stoatin Brae layout from Renaissance Golf Design, circa 2016), the West course at Gull Lake View Golf Resort is notable not only for being the property’s first, but for sparking a more-than-five-decades-long project to create one of the country’s largest golf resorts. The vision of Darl Scott (a former superintendent at a nearby country club), the West meanders through the woods, across open fields, and around ponds, creating a dynamic design that feels rooted in a natural landscape.
Tipping out at 6,343 yards and a par of 71, the West course isn’t the most imposing, but it does introduce several blind tee shots which render course knowledge a sizeable advantage. Moreover, first-time players should know that the back nine plays notably harder than the front, which is largely the byproduct of more significant elevation changes. Golfers will at least get through the course’s No. 1-handicap hole during their outgoing nine—the par-three 6th, which plays 192 yards from the back tees and features a small, well-guarded green. A three on the scorecard there is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Country Club of Birmingham (West)—Birmingham, Ala.
It’s not uncommon for golfers to curse the name of the architect responsible for a golf hole that produced their blow-up score. After frustrating three-putts, for example, indignities are frequently hurled at Donald Ross—a master of undulating greens. Unsuccessful escapes from diminutive pot-like bunkers, on the other hand, are often followed by insults berating Pete Dye. And when golfers watch their approach shots spill over the edge of an upturned saucer-like green, they’re likely to curse Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s name.
Uniquely, on the West course at the Country Club of Birmingham, golfers might accomplish all three of those things. Although the 7,226-yard layout was originally designed by Ross in 1925, the par-71 course was later renovated, first by Jones Sr. in the late 1950s and again by Dye during the mid 1980s. In fact, Dye firmly believed that the Country Club of Birmingham’s West course was the only course to feature the handiwork of those three architects (all of whom have been elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame). Over the years, the layout has hosted Alabama and Southern Amateur Championships, as well as national USGA championships, including the 2013 Mid-Amateur and the 2022 Amateur Four-Ball.
John’s Island Club (West)—Indian River Shores, Fla.
Set on a massive barrier island along Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway about 70 miles north of West Palm Beach, John’s Island Club is home to a trio of championship-caliber golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, and Tom Fazio. The latter of those layouts is the club’s Fazio-designed West course, an almost-7,000-yard-long masterpiece that covers 300 acres and trundles over and along a natural sand ridge that punctuates the course with distinctive changes in elevation. Although the West eases players into a round with a medium-length par four that offers a generously wide fairway and a mostly unguarded putting surface, don’t let that opening hole fool you. The sand ridge that runs through the property challenges players with a series of uphill and downhill shots. Beyond that, swaths of bunkers create narrow landing areas on some holes, while water hazards come into play more than a third of the time.
What other “West” courses in the U.S. should be on this list? Give us your thoughts in the comment section.