Top 10 “Red” Courses You Can Play

Seeing red—being overcome with anger—isn’t much fun, but playing red can be a blast. Dozens of stellar courses worldwide identify as “Red,” with the spectrum’s boldest color an integral part the course name. In other cases, Red is the actual course name. We’re speaking to such renowned international layouts as England’s The Berkshire (Red), designed by Herbert Fowler and Argentina’s Jockey Club (Red), an Alister MacKenzie creation. The United States is loaded with prime private Reds, from Tom Doak’s Dismal River (Red) in Nebraska to Jack Nicklaus’s Red Ledges in Utah to King-Collins’s new Red Feather in Texas.

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Streamsong Red (photo by Kevin Murray)

Fortunately, public-access Reds are plentiful as well. Here are the top 10 American “Red” courses you can play.

10. Red Tail Golf Club—Devens, Mass.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Red Tail is named for the local hawks that patrol the skies, because this site was formerly Fort Devens, where General George S. Patton once taught warfare tank maneuvers before heading off to Europe to fight World War II. A 2002 Brian Silva design, Red Tail tumbles over wooded hills and across streams and ponds in its 7,006-yard journey. Most memorable is the 406-yard par-four 17th, known as “Bunkers,” which dishes out both a signature waste bunker area on the inside elbow of the dogleg right, and features actual ammunition bunkers left over from its troop-training days. A truly great layout, only a lack of consistently good conditioning keeps this from occupying a higher rung.

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Red Tail Golf Club

9. Red Hawk Golf Club—Las Cruces, N.M.

Ken Dye—unrelated to the more famous Dye family of architects—has raised the bar time and again for design excellence in the Southwest desert, from Piñon Hills and Paako Ridge in New Mexico to Painted Dunes 60 miles to the south in El Paso, Texas. Perhaps his most under-the-radar triumph in the region is Red Hawk, a 7,523-yard wind-whipped spread that opened in 2011. Now ranked No. 2 among New Mexico public courses by one leading industry publication, this Red Hawk soars with its variety of outstanding par fours, from the 347-yard 6th, home to a minefield of bunkers and water along the right side, to the into-the-wind, 474-yard 9th. Red Hawk concludes with two excellent closing holes, the 472-yard 17th with desert edging the right side and the 457-yard 18th, where bunkers, a lake, and an arroyo all influence play.

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Red Hawk Golf Club

8. Red Hawk Ridge Golf Course—Castle Rock, Colo.

Fans of the Jim Engh style will warm to this city-owned effort 45 minutes south of Denver that features all the visual hallmarks in the architect’s arsenal, including the dramatic downhill par fives that bookend the round, the squiggly greens, and the muscle bunkers. Still, the contouring on this 1999 design is softened somewhat from Engh’s later creations, with flatter greens, lower profile mounds, and more visible sand. Most memorable are two superb par threes—the 181-yard 6th and the 195-yard 14th—the latter a downhiller to a cliff-edge green perched above a ravine. At 6,400 feet, the 6,830-yard course plays on the short side, but with all the hills and thrills throughout the round, Red Hawk Ridge offers a complete golf experience.

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Red Hawk Ridge Golf Course

7. The Golf Club at Red Rock—Rapid City, S.D.

A half-hour drive northeast of Mount Rushmore, Red Rock is a rollicking, 6,969-yard par-72 romp through the pine-studded Black Hills. The course serves up a diet of eye-candy holes that can play as hard as the granite carved faces of Rapid City’s legendary landmark. Designed by Ron Farris, the 21-year-old Red Rock layout teases with an opening hole of just 340 yards that tumbles 10 stories from tee to green. Avoid the trio of well-spaced bunkers and start with an easy birdie. From there, hold on. Even the White tees, at just 6,232 yards, sport a beefy slope of 142. A relentless array of funky lies and stances amid the undulating fairways—which lead to equally undulating greens—and appropriately harsh penalties for poor shots means there’s no letup… but there are no weak links, either.

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The Golf Club at Red Rock

6. The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa—Grand Junction, Colo.

Situated in Colorado’s northwest corner, this 2001 Jim Engh design dishes out one visually arresting hole after the next. Most memorable is the collection of par threes, with holes 8, 12, and 17 offering vertigo-inducing plunges. A horseshoe-shaped rock wall frames the 164-yard 8th, while the 151-yard 12th is backdropped by the pink and red face of the Colorado National Monument. Take the time to ascend to the back tee at the 218-yard 17th and be greeted by a drop shot to a green tucked into an amphitheater or rocks, and backdropped by buttes, mesas, and mountains.

The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa

5. Bethpage State Park (Red)—Farmingdale, N.Y.

As with its brawnier, adjacent, U.S. Open- and Ryder Cup-hosting sibling, the Black, the Red sits 35 miles from New York City and boasts an A.W. Tillinghast design pedigree. At 7,092 yards and par-70, it’s plenty tough on its own, starting with the monstrous 471-yard par-four first hole, which plays even longer thanks to an elevated green. The Red may lack the drama that the Black provides, but with its plethora of bruising par fours and a distinctive closer, it’s a worthy Plan B.

4. Red Sky Golf Club (Norman)—Wolcott, Colo.

It’s a coin flip as to which Red Sky course is better and/or more popular—the Fazio or the longer, tougher track crafted by Greg Norman. If you’re a member or guest, that’s a good problem to have. The Norman holes soar higher in the hills than those on the Fazio, amid mountain peaks and ski runs, with dry gulches, scrub oaks, and clusters of Alister MacKenzie-style bunkers along for the 7,580-yard ride. The thrilling elevated tee shot at the 563-yard par-five 4th will linger long in memory. Paired on opening day in 2003 with John Elway, Dan Marino, and coach Mike Shanahan, Norman lipped out his second shot at the 4th for what would have been an albatross.

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Red Sky Golf Club

3. Red Sky Golf Club (Fazio)—Wolcott, Colo.

Situated 15 miles west of Vail, Red Sky’s Fazio and Norman courses are technically both private, but each is open to resort guests every other day. Tom Fazio merged playability and beauty in spectacular fashion on his namesake layout, which measures 7,116 yards in its spacious journey through sagebrush and aspen forests. The 502-yard par-four 16th yields handsome vistas of Castle Rock and the Flat Tops mountain range, while the 168-yard 17th plays downhill to a two-tier green accented by a lake, bunkers, and mountain backdrops.

Red Sky Golf Club

2. The Loop at Forest Dunes (Red)—Roscommon, Mich.

Opened in 2016, The Loop at Forest Dunes is a novel reversible routing from Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf Design. Roomy fairways, a paucity of bunkers, short grass around the greens, and distinctive tilts on the greens allow for clockwise play (Black Course) one day and counterclockwise (Red Course) the next.  Doak noted that while both courses play similarly, the 6,805-yard par-70 Red starts off more conventionally and somewhat easier than the slightly shorter Black, but offers a more demanding finish. A pair of strong par threes—the 187-yard Redan 4th and the 222-yard 11th with its two-tiered green—would be standouts anywhere, but it’s the drivable 312-yard 12th that’s the most fun to tackle.

The Loop (photo by Evan Schiller)

1. Streamsong (Red)—Bowling Green, Fla.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s 2012 design in the Sunshine State tops our list of Reds. Hewn from gigantic sand sprawls that evolved from a previous existence as a phosphate strip mine in rural central Florida, near Lakeland, the Red sports tall, odd-shaped sand piles; significant climbs and drops; firm, fast-running Bermuda fairways; and lakes submerged in the sand. The 447-yard first hole perfectly illuminates the Red’s virtues, with its drive over water and scrub, uphill approach, and a massive white dune to the left of the fairway. Unforgettable is the 208-yard par-three 16th, which features a forced carry over a lake to a Biarritz green bisected by a huge swale. The 7,110-yard par-72 layout might sound like a stern test, but its relatively modest 137 slope from those back Green tees indicate that the Red is a fun walk in the park.

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Streamsong Red 16th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

Have you played any of these “Red” courses? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.