The Top Courses You Must Play

The editors of LINKS are a very spoiled bunch since we get to play many of the best courses in the world. But we also are well aware just how lucky we are and so would like to turn our good fortune into yours with a list of those public-access courses (and private ones that allow some outside play) that we strongly suggest you get to sometime before you hang up your sticks.

Courses You Must Play Key

United States

Arcadia Bluffs, Arcadia, Mich.
Set high above Lake Michigan, the duney, links-like design features a variety of holes and elevations every bit as exhilarating as the views. TC

Bethpage State Park (Black)Farmingdale, N.Y.
The best muni in the country, this Tillinghast design with two U.S. Opens under its belt is worth sleeping in your car to get a tee time (which you may have to do). TC*/GL/JAF

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club - Courses You Must Play

Caledonia Golf & Fish ClubPawleys Island, S.C.
The late Mike Strantz was known for designing artful courses, and this is one of his best as well as one of the best in Myrtle Beach. JAF*/GP

Dormie ClubWest End, N.C.
A prime example of modern minimalist design courtesy of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. GL

The Dunes Golf and Beach ClubMyrtle Beach, S.C.
Arguably Robert Trent Jones’s best course and worth the visit for the spectacular par-five 13th alone. GP

Erin Hills Golf CourseErin, Wis.
So much controversy surrounds this massive soon-to-be U.S. Open site that it’s worth playing simply so you can join the conversation. JAF

Gamble SandsBrewster, Wash.
As entertaining as golf gets, offering beautiful Cascade Mountain views, super-wide fairways, and fun for golfers of every ability. JAF

Harbour Town Golf Links

Harbour Town Golf LinksHilton Head Island, S.C.
Built 50 years ago, it marked the start of modern architecture with tight fairways and small, undulating greens that still challenge players—even Tour pros—today. GL

Kapalua (Plantation)Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Big fairways, big greens, big winds, a big-time fun course that is playable for all levels of skill. GP

The Ocean CourseKiawah Island, S.C.
One of Pete Dye’s best is rightfully famous for its difficulty but surprisingly playable from the right set of tees. GL*/GP

Old Macdonald (Bandon Dunes)Bandon, Ore.
C.B. would have been proud of this gem, for my money the most enjoyable course at Bandon. GP

Pacific Dunes (Bandon Dunes)Bandon, Ore.
The most dramatic course at Bandon plays spectacularly along the cliffs but is just as good on the inland holes. GL*/JAF

Pasatiempo Golf Club

Pasatiempo Golf ClubSanta Cruz, Calif.
The rare chance for the public to see Alister Mackenzie’s ideas in play with strong hints of Augusta National. JAF

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.
The ocean, the wind, the history, the Crosby, the scenery… what more do you need to know? JAF*/GP/TC

Pinehurst (No. 2)Pinehurst, N.C.
Donald Ross spent years perfecting the layout, then Coore/Crenshaw reintroduced original natural areas making it as enjoyable and playable as ever. GL

Shadow Creek Golf CourseNorth Las Vegas, Nev.
This Tom Fazio design is only 15 minutes from the Vegas Strip but worlds away in every respect. TC

Streamsong Red

Streamsong (Red)Bowling Green, Fla.
Whether you choose Coore/Crenshaw’s Red course or Tom Doak’s Blue, you’ll get rugged authenticity in the surprisingly exciting topography of central Florida. TC*/JAF

TPC SawgrassPonte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The famous island green is only one of Pete Dye’s masterstrokes on this back-breaker that even the pros complain about. JAF*/GP

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (Saguaro)Fort McDaniel, Ariz.
This golf-mad state’s best public layout has wide-playing corridors that present plenty of strategic options off the tee and into the greens. TC

Great Britain & Ireland

Ballybunion Golf Club (Old)Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Don’t let the unforgettable dunes, constant wind (with more than occasional rain), and ocean views obscure the genius of the routing. JAF

Brora Golf Club

Brora Golf Club, Brora, Scotland
You’ll play through cows and sheep on the links that five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson calls his favorite. GP

Carne Golf Links, Belmullet, Co. Mayo, Ireland
This may be the most underrated course in the world, a pure charmer beside the Atlantic in western Ireland. GP

Castle Stuart Golf Links, Inverness, Scotland
A breathtaking links beside the Moray Firth that grabs your attention on the 1st tee and doesn’t let go until you’ve holed out at 18. GP*/JAF

Cruden Bay Golf Club

Cruden Bay Golf Club, Peterhead, Scotland
Blind shots, sunken greens, drivable holes, and jaw-dropping views make this perhaps the most fun you can have in Scotland. GL*/JAF/GP

Lahinch Golf ClubLahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland
Famous for its blind holes, they’ll open your eyes to how enjoyable—and wonderfully Irish—the game can be. JAF

MuirfieldGullane, Scotland
This fair and straightforward test has hosted 16 Open Championships and is, along with its clubhouse, a shrine to the game. JAF

Nefyn & District Golf ClubMorfa Nefyn, Pwllheli, Wales
Scary cliffs, holes atop a skinny peninsula, even a secluded inn on the beach below, there’s nothing else like it in the world. JAF*/GP

North Berwick Golf Club (West)North Berwick, Scotland
The quintessential Scottish links, featuring quirky holes, ancient stone walls, and stunning ocean views. GL*/JAF

Prestwick Golf ClubPrestwick, Scotland
It’s your maiden aunt, eccentric and unpredictable, with a twinkle in her eye, a confounding ability to find you out, and an absolute hoot to be around. GP

Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship)Newcastle, Northern Ireland
With heather-lined fairways nestled between 60-foot dunes and the Mountains of Mourne as a backdrop, there isn’t a more breathtaking links in the world. TC

Royal Dornoch Golf ClubDornoch, Scotland
Famous as Donald Ross’s inspiration, the wild, isolated course by Old Tom Morris is links in its most natural form. TC*/GL

St. Andrews (Old)St. Andrews, Scotland
Because this is where it all began. JAF*/GP/GL/TC

Trump TurnberryAyrshire, Scotland
The Donald won big with his changes to holes 9–11, making Scotland’s most visually stunning links even more stunning. GP

Rest of the World

Cabo del Sol (Ocean)Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
This Jack Nicklaus design is like Scottsdale on the sea with almost half the holes hugging the Pacific coastline. TC

Cabot CliffsInverness, Nova Scotia, Canada
An Irish links crossbred with one of those fantasy courses you see on calendars, it’s big, bold, and frightfully dramatic. JAF

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Not only does this links sit 450 feet above the Pacific, its emphasis is on the shotmaking rather than the scenery. JAF

Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog)La Romana, Dominican Republic
It was the first great course in the Caribbean and it remains in a class by itself. GP

Kauri Cliffs Golf CourseMatauri Bay, New Zealand
Just possibly the most dazzling setting for a golf course anywhere in the world. JAF*/GP

Pinnacle Point Beach and Golf Resort

Pinnacle Point Beach and Golf Resort, Mossel Bay, South Africa
On a cliff above the Indian Ocean just east of Cape Town, it’s steroidal golf, packed with jaw-dropping views and vertigo-inducing tee shots. GP

Punta Espada Golf Club

Punta Espada Golf ClubPunta Cana, Dominican Republic
Who knew Jack Nicklaus could be so much fun? Eight holes along the water and some striking elevation change certainly help. JAF

Quivira Golf ClubCabo San Lucas, Mexico
Given a magnificent site—mountains beside the sea—Nicklaus pulled off a rarity, a spectacular course that you’d be happy to play every day. GP

Royal Melbourne (West)Cheltenham, Victoria, Australia
The best of Melbourne’s Sandbelt with a great routing over firm, sandy soil and greens that stand alone. GP/GL*


What else should have made the list for Courses You Must Play? Let us know in the comments below!