The 11 toughest tee times in America

fishers island in new york

It's hard enough to get to Fishers Island. It's almost impossible to play it.

LC Lambrecht

The courses on our latest U.S. Top 100 vary widely in their difficulty, and we don’t mean the shots it takes to get around them. We’re referring to ease of access — clubs that are elusive because they’re so exclusive. With that in mind — and with our newest Top 100 as an excuse to revisit this list — here’s a ranking within a ranking, spotlighting 11 courses where the toughest part is getting on.

Augusta National, Augusta, Ga.

Hello, friends. Please enjoy our broadcast with minimal commercial interruption. Marvel at the blushing colors of magnolia and dogwoods as you bask in the soothing trill of birdsong. By Sunday evening, you’ll swear that you’re familiar with every hill and hollow of Alister MacKenzie’s most famous course, which is nice, because unless your Peyton Manning fandom has led to a friendship, playing it yourself isn’t likely in the cards. (Ranked 7th on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Ill.

One of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association, which was formed in 1894, Chicago Golf Club has been around long enough to attract a ton of members. It only has a couple hundred. And one must be with you when you play. (Ranked 13th on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Crystal Downs Country Club, Frankfort, Mich.

When architecture buffs start geeking out about the State-side masterworks of Alister MacKenzie, they’re sure to come around to this northern Michigan treasure, which lacks the coastal splendor of Cypress Point and the institutionalized renown of Augusta National, but is, in many eyes, every bit as good as either of those two. (Ranked 20th on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort, Mich.
Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort, Mich. Patrick Koenig

Cypress Point Golf Club, Monterey, Calif.

“One year they had a big membership drive at Cypress,” Bob Hope once quipped of the club where he belonged. “They drove out 40 members.” What remains today is a roster of some 250 who have ready access to coastal grounds that could pass for a National Park. (Ranked 2nd on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Garden City Golf Club, Garden City, N.Y.

What’s in a name? Home to a sublime Devereux Emmet design, the hush-hush club was originally known as the Garden City Men’s Club, a name that excluded roughly half the human population. These days, women get very limited access. The same applies to the rest of us. (Ranked 28th on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Garden City Golf Club in Garden City, N.Y.
Garden City Golf Club in Garden City, N.Y. Patrick Koenig

Fishers Island Club, Fishers Island, N.Y.

An island in the literal and metaphoric sense, this Seth Raynor design sits in the Atlantic, just off the eastern tip of Long Island, accessible only by boat or private aircraft and well beyond the reach of average blokes. The money here is old and quiet. In 1979, when GOLF included Fishers Island in its inaugural ranking of the world’s greatest course, a club representative wrote a letter to the editor: thanks for the kudos, it read. Now, please remove us from your list. (Ranked 9th on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Nanea Golf Club, The Big Island, Hawaii

Nanea is not Hawaiian for “nunya business.” But it might as well be. Founded by Charles Schwab and supermarket magnate George Roberts, this luxe club has been described as a tropical Augusta, a reference to the way it shuns publicity while serving as a palm-fringed oasis for the wealthy and their fortunate friends. (Ranked 91st on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Nanea Golf Club in Hawaii
Nanea Golf Club in Hawaii. Karl Mackie

Ohoopee Match Club, Cobbtown, Ga.

At this rural hideaway, designed by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner for the tech investor Michael Walrath, par means so little that it isn’t even listed on the scorecard. All that matters is how you fare against your opponent. Okay, it also matters that you know a member. There are fewer than 100, and Ohoopee does not allow unaccompanied play. (Ranked 39th on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Pine Valley Golf Club, Pine Valley, N.J.

Since everyone is into data nowadays, let’s run some numbers. Pine Valley is the top-ranked course in the world, so pretty much everyone wants to play it. Too bad most of its members don’t live in the area, and unaccompanied guests are not allowed. Add to that the fact the club doesn’t stage regular fundraisers or corporate outings (a common way to access other premiere private courses), and the math is hard against you. (Ranked 1st on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Pine valley in new jersey
Pine Valley Golf Club in Pine Valley, N.J. LC Lambrecht

Seminole Golf Club, Juno Beach, Fla.

To get a sense of life at Seminole, picture your standard gated Florida golf community, with an ostentatious clubhouse, gaudy-money members and geezers riding carts everywhere you turn. Now envision the opposite. “If I were a young man going on the pro tour, I’d try to make arrangements to get on Seminole,” Ben Hogan once said of this Donald Ross design. Sound advice. Then again, Hogan offered lots of tips that were easier said than done. (Ranked 21st on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)

Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Neb.

Drive deep into the cornfields of Nebraska, then drive a little farther, and a little farther, until the terrain transforms into a heaving dunescape. When you arrive on the grounds of this intensely private club, home to a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw stunner that this year rose ahead of Augusta National in the rankings, you’ll realize your mistake: everybody else arrived by private jet. (Ranked 6th on GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.)


Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.