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Course Rater Confidential: What are the best golf course lighthouses?

April 19, 2020
The iconic 18th hole at Harbour Town at Sea Pines.

GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this GOLF.com series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how to understand and appreciate golf course architecture. You can see GOLF’s latest Top 100 Courses in the World ranking here, and meet all of our Top 100 panelists here.

In a normal calendar year, this week would have been the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links, a course best known to fans for the lighthouse in the backdrop of the 18th hole. Along with the lighthouse at Turnberry, Harbour Town’s red-and-white striped landmark has to be the most noteworthy beacon in the game, right? Wrong? Please, um, enlighten us by describing another of your favorite golf course lighthouses.

Josh Sens (Panelist since 2013; has played 68 of the World Top 100): In the chronology of American golf, nine-hole Highland Links, in Truro, Mass., is a throwback. Built in 1892 and largely unchanged since, it’s said to be the oldest course on Cape Cod and it plays that way, wind-blown along the Atlantic, with bouncy, unirrigated fairways and all the quirks you could hope for in a links. What stands out most, though, is the Highland Light, which dates to 1797 (Thoreau once overnighted in the keeper’s quarters) and watches over portions of the course, nowhere more closely than on the par-3 9th hole. The setting is part Scotland, part lobster-boat New England, and if you aren’t completely charmed by it, I encourage you to rush to your cardiologist to make sure you still have a heart.

Michael Pelliccione (Panelist since 2020; has played 60 of the World Top 100): Situated on the eastern shores of Nantucket Island in the small town of Siasconset lies Sankaty Golf Club. Designed in 1921 by E. Emerson Armstrong, it’s one of the true links courses you’ll find outside the UK. A walk around this American classic and you’ll get a sense you’re at Shinnecock Hills out on Long Island. What makes Sankaty so special, aside from the course and its commitment to the caddie camp, is its famed lighthouse situated just off the 5th hole. The golf tees pay homage to the lighthouse, so be sure to snag a few extra in the pro shop for bragging rights back at your local club. It’s hard to find a more special spot in golf than walking Sankaty’s fairways on a late afternoon with the golden brown fescue waving from the endless summer breeze at your back.

The famous lighthouse at Sankaty Golf Club.
The famous lighthouse at Sankaty Golf Club.
Courtesy Photo

Gary Lisbon (Panelist since 2007; has played 81 of the World Top 100): The Old Head of Kinsale is located not quite at the southernmost point of Ireland, but I would argue that it does sit on one of the thinnest strips of land in this part of the world. From the time you arrive and drive through the imposing front gates you see the course laid out before you and, in the distance, you first spot the distinctive black-and-white hooped lighthouse. It sits almost on its own promontory watching over the 4th, 17th and 18th holes, yet it’s visible from many other parts of the course. Often used as a direction marker, the lighthouse is never really in play but striking nonetheless — and great for a photographic backdrop!

Luke Reese (Panelist since 2019; has played 85 of the World Top 100): Cape Wickham and Turnberry jump out. Both lighthouses dominate the views on several holes, and both courses are world-class. But for some reason, I feel as if the lighthouse at Turnberry is the focal point more often. When I close my eyes and think of Cape Wickham, I imagine the crashing ocean on a driveable par-4. When I think of Turnberry, the lighthouse and Ailsa Craig are on my mind.

Trump Turnberry has hosted four Open Championships.
Trump Turnberry has hosted four Open Championships.
Getty Images

Mike Clayton (Panelist since 2015; has played 57 of the World Top 100): Famed for its beef and cheese, King Island (population 1,500) is in the middle of Bass Straight, the rough and dangerous strip of ocean between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. Mike DeVries built Cape Wickham (No. 60 in the World) on the very edge of the island. It’s a remarkable course with the par-5 15th hole playing straight toward the lighthouse. Given Cape Wickham is only 5 years old, the lighthouse isn’t so well known as a golf landmark, but it’s a link to the island’s past and testament to its dangerous coastline — but one perfect for the making of some of the most spectacular golf in the world.

Tim Gallant (Panelist since 2019; has played 62 of the World Top 100): The lighthouses at Harbor Town and Turnberry are iconic, but for me, I loved the charming little Point Pinos Lighthouse at Pacific Grove Golf Links in Monterey. After playing the front nine among housing developments, you cross Asilomar Avenue and are suddenly transported into another world among the sand dunes and sea. The lighthouse oozes charm, and starting at the 11th, players feel the fresh breeze on their faces, and the golf starts to reach dizzying heights. It’s likely the only lighthouse I’ve looked at and thought: I’d love to live in that building.

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