Our love affair with golf is like a teenage romance: It’s all the more alluring when the game plays hard to get. No wonder we have pangs for the courses on this list. By virtue of their policies, or their out-of-the-way locations, they sure don’t make it easy. In fact, they represent 50 of the-toughest-to-score tee times in the land, one elusive layout for each state in the union. Google them. Ogle them. Bucket-list them. Just don’t blame us if they break your heart.
Shoal Creek, Birmingham
Once a monochrome reminder of golf’s image problem, Shoal Creek is not the club that it was in 1990, when a firestorm broke out over its all-white membership. Its culture has evolved, and its ranks are more diverse, relatively speaking. But we still don’t have a relative who can get us on.
North Star Golf Club, Fairbanks
North Star is a public track, so getting on it is not the issue. Getting to it—now that’s the trick. The northern-most course in the United States, it’s located in a frosty region where the golf season passes in an eye-blink. Start packing now. It’s a long way from anywhere in the lower 48.
Whisper Rock Golf Club, Scottsdale
On any given day, the driving range at this sweet 36-hole facility looks like the practice grounds at a PGA Tour event. Geoff Ogilvy belongs. So do Billy Mayfair, Chez Reavie and dozens of others who play golf for a living. Would you like a tee time? Join the club. For that, you’ll need referrals from six members. And then they’ll stick you on the waiting list.
The Alotian Club, Roland
Maybe he was trying to outdo his dad. Or maybe he was just paying homage to him. Whatever the case, Warren Stephens (below), the son of former Augusta National chairman Jack Stephens, created a venue that bears a vivid kinship to a certain Georgia club. By that, we mean it’s pretty, impeccably conditioned and blessed with a collection of great risk-reward par-fives. Oh, and did we mention? It’s very private, too.
The Institute, Morgan Hill
It’s not the most prestigious, and it’s nowhere near the best. But for pure impenetrability, nothing in the Golden State tops this obscure layout, an hour south of San Francisco, which was built by Frys founder John Fry and avails itself to few but its owner’s hand-picked guests. Aside from exclusivity, the club is also known for its highbrow mystique: it doubles as an actual math institute. Waiting for an invite? You’d have better luck searching for a pattern in Pi.
Eagle Springs Golf Club, Walcott
Nestled in the heart of the Vail Valley, Eagle Springs is not the highest-elevation course in Colorado. But with just 300 members, and unaccompanied guests forbidden on its Jay Moorish-Tom Weiskopf layout, it sits in air as rarefied as any in the state.
Round Hill Club, Greenwich
Long before George H.W. Bush was elected to the White House, his father, Prescott, held the post of president. President, that is, of this stiff-lipped club. If you’re going by the wealth and influence around them, it’s pretty much a toss-up as to which position conferred more power.
Bidermann Golf Club, Wilmington
Not a whole lot has been written about Bidermann, and nobody at Bidermann appears to mind. Originally built on the home estate of Henry Francis Du Pont, the club began with just one member: Du Pont himself. In the years since, its ranks have expanded, but only so much. A few years back, in fact, when word got out that Vice President Joe Biden had joined Wilmington Country Club, we couldn’t help wondering: had Bidermann turned Biden down?
Seminole Golf Club, Juno Beach
To get a sense of life at Seminole, imagine your standard gated Florida golf community, with an ostentatious clubhouse and gaudy-money members. Now envision its polar 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 the Donald Ross design. Sound counsel, for sure, but it ain’t so simple. This is a club that is said to have turned down Jack Nicklaus for membership.
Augusta National, Augusta
Hello, friends. Please enjoy our broadcast with minimal commercial interruption. Soak up the sylvan images. Enjoy the soothing sound of birdsong. By Sunday evening, you’ll feel as if you know every fold and swale of this iconic golf course, which is nice, because playing it yourself is not likely in the cards.
Nanea Golf Club, The Big Island
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. It sure functions like one, shunning publicity while serving as a palm-shaded playground for the super-rich and their lucky friends.
Gozzer Ranch Golf & Lake Club, Harrison
Reason number 547 to be jealous of Wayne Gretzky: the Great One owns a home at this exclusive retreat, where a Tom Fazio course spreads across a bluff with commanding views of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The vistas here will take your breath away. So will the price of the real estate.
Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton
One of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association in 1894, and the site of the country’s first 18-hole golf course, Chicago Golf sure acts its age. If courses were codgers, this C.B. MacDonald track would be standing on the stoop of its own clubhouse, yelling at the world to get off its grounds.
Wolf Run Golf Club, Zionsville
The late Dr. Jack Leer was a local dentist and low-index golfer who aimed to build a men’s club for serious sticks. With help from the architect Seth Smyers, Leer’s vision came to life in the early 1980s, and it’s a challenge all right. You’d rather have a root canal than find yourself in some of the green-side bunkers. And just getting a tee time is like pulling teeth.
Wakonda Country Club, Des Moines
On the Caddyshack spectrum, the vibe at Wakonda is less stodgy than backslapping, more cigar-chomping Al Czervik than tut-tutting Judge Smails. Yet a membership here remains a sign of social status, as it was when the club opened in the early 1920s, and a tee time still requires a fair amount of pull.
Prairie Dunes Country Club, Hutchinson
What’s the matter with Kansas? Nothing. Not if you can make your way into the prairie for a round at this esteemed Perry Maxwell design, which has staged a slew of USGA championships, including the U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Senior Open. Club rules require you to play with a member, but—fingers crossed— we’ve heard stories of the pro shop being receptive to formal letters of introduction from other private clubs of high repute.
Idle Hour Country Club, Lexington
Idle Hour. The very name suggests a life of leisure, undistracted by the worries of the working stiff. Not that the members here don’t have their struggles. Their highly exclusive layout was designed by Donald Ross, whose hump-backed greens often make it difficult to get up and down.
Country Club of Louisiana, Baton Rouge
Down in the bayou, they’re usually laid-back. But they’ll batten down the hatches if you bang at the gate of this Baton Rouge redoubt, looking to get out on their Jack Nicklaus layout. A better way in might be ringing former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. He’s got access, but not through the state house. He owns a home alongside the club.
Portland Country Club, Falmouth
Members of this private club enjoy ready access to an 1895 Donald Ross design, with ocean views along a postcard-worthy coastline, in a setting so pristine that it’s been designated as a nature sanctuary. Guess what else the members enjoy? Keeping the place to themselves.
Burning Tree Club, Bethesda
When does a Beltway insider feel like an outsider? When she aims for access to this all-male club. Never mind a tee time. Women aren’t even permitted on the grounds. And don’t think that being a guy gives you much hope either, unless you’re a guy with political clout. Former House speaker John Boehner, among others whom you’ve likely heard on the campaign trail, claiming that they can relate to the common man.
The Country Club, Brookline
One of the oldest country clubs in the United States, it has welcomed multiple U.S. Opens and a very memorable Ryder Cup. But it doesn’t swing its gates back to just anyone. For confirmation, ask Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen, who own a home near the club and are reportedly eager to become members. He’s a New England sports hero and she’s a super-model, but no matter. Their celebrity is said to be working against them. As one local businessman told The Boston Globe: “The Country Club believes your name should appear in the newspaper just two times: When you’re born and when you die.”
Crystal Downs Country Club, Frankfort
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 glossy fame of Augusta National but which is, in many eyes, nearly every bit as good as either of those two.
Interlachen Country Club, Edina
Even in the land of Minnesota-nice, they don’t allow just anyone to play their private courses. Not when you’re looking at the likes of Interlachen, a venerable club whose Donald Ross design has staged a lengthy list of cachet-rich events, including the men’s and women’s U.S. Open, the Walker Cup and the Solheim Cup. Should you run across a member, perhaps you could appeal to the kindly reputation of Minnesotans. Maybe then you’ll land an invite. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
Old Waverly, West Point
On the slim chance you get invited to this genteel club, which was founded by the business magnate George Bryan and a few dozen of his fellow muckety-mucks, pay attention as you pass through the main gate. Mature trees shade the sleepy entrance, which gives way to a stately clubhouse, flanked by floral gardens of eye-popping color. There’s a quiet Southern grandeur to this place, which appealed, at its birth, to a small national membership and whose address, it’s worth noting, is One Magnolia Drive. Magnolia, eh? Coincidence? We think not.
St. Louis County Club, Ladue
Built in 1892 by the pioneering architect C.B. Macdonald, this artful layout is relatively short by modern standards, but given the culture of the club around it, your odds of getting on it are relatively long.
Stock Farm Club, Hamilton
In some parts of Montana, some people wear their money with such dungaree-ease, you’d swear they were homesteaders from another era — homesteaders in an enclave with equestrian trails, private trout fishing, a Tom Fazio layout and homesites that fetch more than a million bucks.
Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen
Drive deep into the cornfields of Nebraska, then drive a little farther, and then a little farther, until the terrain transforms into a heaving dune-scape. When you arrive on the grounds of this intensely private, out-of-the-way club, home to a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw designed stunner that’s ranked 13th on GOLF list of Top 100 Courses in the World, you’ll realize your mistake: everybody else arrived by private jet.
Shadow Creek Golf Club, Las Vegas
True story: A golf industry bigwig was en route to Shadow Creek when a call came from the pro shop to say his round was cancelled: they were closing down the course for a single VIP. That’s how they roll at this high-roller’s Shangri-la, which sits just 15 minutes from the Strip but looks and feels like a world removed. Designed by Tom Fazio, in a feat of engineering, the course commanded tens of millions of dollars in construction, which was chump change for the man behind it at the time, the casino magnate Steve Wynn. If you’ve got Wynn’s kind of money, the $500 greens fee won’t be much of a burden (you’ve also got to book a room at an MGM-owned property). Just hope you’re not upstaged by a visiting VIP.
Bald Peak Colony Club, Moltonborough
This from the website of the Granite State’s most exclusive golf club, which was founded in 1921. “The eccentric Thomas Gustave Plant built his dream estate on the picturesque slopes of the Ossipee Mountains, near the Bald Peak. As he looked down at Lake Winnipesaukee, he envisioned an idyllic country club where his friends could gather.” One of those friends, the website notes, was Teddy Roosevelt. Another of those friends was not anyone on your family tree.
Pine Valley Golf Club
Let’s run through some basic facts and figures. Pine Valley is the number-one ranked course in the world, so nearly everybody wants to play it. But the club only has some 900 members, many of them scattered around the world, and unaccompanied guests are not allowed. It doesn’t take a trained economist to understand the problem. It’s a pretty simple matter of supply and demand.
The Club at Las Campanas, Santa Fe
Sunrise. Sunset. Sounds like a show tune about time’s passage. In fact, those are the names of the two Nicklaus courses at this very posh and very private club that we’ve singled out at the most exclusive in the state.
Fishers Island Club, Fishers Island
An island in the literal and metaphoric sense, this Seth Raynor-designed classic sits in the Atlantic, just off the eastern tip of Long Island, accessible only by boat or private plane and well beyond the reach of average blokes. You wanna talk old money? The dough here is so ancient, it calls for carbon-dating. But it doesn’t call attention to itself. In 1979, when GOLF included Fishers Island on its inaugural ranking of world’s greatest courses, a club representative wrote a letter to the editor: thanks for the compliment, it read, now please remove us from your list.
Wade Hampton Golf Club, Cashiers
This Tom Fazio layout is located in the scenic western reaches of the state, where the Great Smokey and Blue Ridge mountains etch the horizon. It is named for a former Confederate general who fought in the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg and the First Battle of Bull Run, and whose likeness beams from a painting in the pro shop. Or so we’re told. We’re still waiting for a chance to inspect the place.
Fargo Country Club, Fargo
In this golf-egalitarian state, the most exclusive club is also the oldest, its origins dating to 1898. The first club in North Dakota to ever host a USGA championship (the 1995 United States Boy Junior Championship), Fargo CC lays claim to this quirky bit of history: two-time PGA Championship winner Paul Runyan served as caddiemaster here in the 1920s. We bet you didn’t know that about this place. We also bet you haven’t seen it yet.
The Camargo Club, Cincinnati
Home to an esteemed Seth Raynor layout, Camargo isn’t quite as crusty as some East Coast clubs (this is the Midwest, after all). But with its willfully low-key culture and walled-off membership, it does its best to act like one.
Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa
The official state bird of Oklahoma is the scissor-tailed flycatcher. The official state tree is the Eastern redbud. As for the state’s most elusive tee time, this is unofficial, but we’ll go with a club that has welcomed seven majors, most recently the 2007 PGA Championship, won by Tiger Woods.
Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch, Bandon
You won’t see many sheep out on the Sheep Ranch. But you won’t see many golfers either. A rough-hewn 13-holer, whose 13 holes aren’t numbered but lettered A-thru-M, the course sits alongside Bandon Dunes Resort, but it isn’t run by its well-known neighbor. Often times it looks as if it isn’t run at all.
Closed in the summer to save on maintenance costs, and cloaked in curiosity the whole year round, the Sheep Ranch has no clubhouse, no pro shop, no phone lines. Tee times aren’t booked in a straightforward manner. To get onto its scraggly grounds, you call Bandon Supply Shop, a local golf retailer, and ask for Greg Harless, the caretaker of the course, and see if he can meet you to let you through the gate. Once you’re on, you can play all day. It’s weirdly beautiful, and there’s never any wait.
Gulph Mills Golf Club, King of Prussia
In 1916, when the founders of Gulph Mills tapped Donald Ross to design their layout, the Scottish-born architect responded with a pledge to build “one of the best inland courses in this country,” one that would be “a much superior course to any around Philadelphia.” Superior to Merion? We’re not so sure. But if he’d said “more exclusive,” we’d buy that.
Newport Country Club, Newport
Among other things, this historic club is known for having hosted the first U.S. Open and the first U.S. Amateur Championship, both of them in 1895, when most golf was still played with the gutty percha. In the century-plus since, the membership has moved on to the modern golf ball, but it’s difficult to tell what else has changed. The bloodlines, anyway, remain about as blue.
Cherokee Plantation, Yemassee
South Carolina is home to Myrtle Beach, an easy-going destination that throws its arms wide open to the average golfer. But the state is also home to this luxurious sporting club, which has a 7,100-yard Donald Steel-designed layout and reportedly costs $1 million to join, thereby making up for all that other public stuff.
Sutton Bay Club, Agar
To your list of must-play courses in remote places (Bandon Dunes, Sand Hills, Barnbougle Dunes, and on) add this links-like layout, set on sandy land and overlooking Lake Oahe. While you’re at it, ask everyone you know if they know anyone who knows anyone who can get you on.
Belle Meade Country Club, Nashville
Located in the tiny, tony city with which it shares a name, Belle Meade is a Southern bell of the old-fashioned sort, a green-eyed beauty of high-breeding, with a Donald Ross design and a colonial-style clubhouse that have served the well-to-do since the early 1900s. Do some cyber-stalking; it’s not hard to find a number. Trouble is, you’re bound to get rejected, just like you did that time you asked that debutante out on a date.
Wolf Point Club, Port Lavaca
In a lonely stretch of nowhere, roughly two hours southwest of Houston, spreads a lovely layout with no members other than the guy who paid to have architect Mike Nuzzo design it. If you’ve never heard of it, well, that’s just what he had in mind.
Glenwild Golf Club, Park City
At some clubs, it’s all about your bloodlines. Others look more closely at your bankroll. Glenwild leans toward the latter. Located in high-altitude, high-tax bracket Park City, its Tom Fazio design ornaments a gated golf community where home prices range into the multi-millions. His Airness, Michael Jordan, is said to be a member. But his net worth is also said to be more than a $1 billion, so he can probably afford it with less strain than you.
Ekwanok Country Club, Manchester
The state that gave us U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders isn’t overflowing with exclusive courses. But it is home to this historic club, which was built by Walter Travis in 1899. Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert, served as club president in the early 1900s, and Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Amateur here in 1914. All these years later, it remains a place of quiet prestige. And if Sanders wanted in, he’d need much more than your $5 donation to cover the initiation fees.
Kinloch Golf Club, Manikin-Sabot
Two of the founders of this very pretty and very private club were the amateur golf great Vinny Giles III and the steel-industry executive C.B. Robertson III. The lesson here being that in golf, as in life, it doesn’t hurt to have a roman numeral on your name.
Pikewood National Golf Club, Morgantown
Designed by a pair of avid amateur golfers, Pikewood bills itself as a place for purists. At very least, you better hit it pure. With just two sets of tees, the course tips out at 7,588 yards and has a slope rating of 155. Membership is by invite-only, and initiation fees have been reported at $30,000. Here in mining country, that qualifies as digging deep.
Aldarrra Golf Club
Tom Fazio’s first design in the Pacific Northwest, the course sits on the original site of the Boeing family farm. But it’s not the sort of club for economy flyers. Pristine and posh, it’s open to new members by invitation only, and they tend to be the first-class cabin crowd.
Blue Mound Golf and Country Club, Wauwatosa
In 1926, when Blue Mound opened, the club stood in the middle of farm country. Today it’s ringed by suburban sprawl. But when you cross onto the grounds of the Seth Raynor course where Gene Sarazen won the 1933 PGA Championship, you feel as if you’ve stepped into a time-capsule. The more some things change, the more some others remain the same.
Old Baldy Club, Saratoga
Old Baldy. Ha! Insert your punch line here. These guys must all be members of the Hair Club for Men. Turns out the place is named for a nearby mountain, and it takes it cultural cues from throwback golf and fishing clubs. So when the time rolls around for you to try to play here, you’re apt to discover that the joke’s on you.