The Great 8: Our favorite courses we played in 2018

December 20, 2018

One of the many perks of covering this great game: you get around. That means not only covering big events but also playing some fabulous courses, as well as plenty other gems that fly under the radar. Here are the GOLF staff’s eight favorite rounds from 2018…

Turning Stone Resort
Verona, N.Y.

As the leaves turned brown last fall in New York, I ambitiously (and perhaps foolishly) booked a golf trip upstate at Turning Stone, the venerable golf resort/casino, in hopes of taking my then-9-month old son out on a course for the first time in his life. Unfortunately the weather failed to cooperate, and each of the property’s 54 holes were shuttered. No matter. My wife and I dined in several of the resorts excellent restaurants and took in a spa treatment. For the golf backup plan, we hit the resort’s indoor, 17,000-square-foot short game area, complete with three greens, two faux bunkers and best of all, climate control. My son crawled around and had a ball (which he also enjoyed chewing on). His introduction to golf is complete. Next year we’ll take it outside. —Jeff Ritter

Turning Stone Resort
Inside or out, golf is always a good time.

The South Course at Corica Park
Alameda, Calif.

Bucket lists are all well and good. But the reality is that the vast majority of golf that we play is affordable and local. We all need a good muni in our midst. In the exorbitantly-priced Bay Area, where I live, we got a great one this year with the renovation of the South Course at Corica Park. What used to be a flat, soggy slog of a layout has been remade into a firm, fast, rumpled and endlessly fun track, designed in the style of an Australian sandbelt course. No, you won’t confuse it for Royal Melbourne. But that one’s for your bucket list. If you’re looking for high quality everyday golf that will never bore you or break your bank, Corica is everything you could ask for, and more. It’s what golf should be. And I consider myself bucket-list lucky to have it my own backyard. —Josh Sens

Corica Park South
The 6th hole at the newly-renovated Corica Park South Course

Golf de Morfontaine
Mortefontaine, France

This game is all about the Total Experience, right? Well nothing was better for me than Golf de Morfontaine (north of Paris) during Ryder Cup week. I had never understood what “hushed tones” really meant until Morfontaine, aptly dubbed the Augusta of France. It was the quietest round of golf I’ve ever played. There were maybe 30 other players there, and the gracious member who joined us coerced us into playing holes 19-27 (the original nine). I made an eagle, Dylan Dethier came one inch from an ace and we capped off the round with a pint on the back porch. As the sun faded over the tall pines, it was one of those rare moments where, despite having already spent eight hours there, I truly did not want to be anywhere else. —Sean Zak

Golf de Mortefontaine, located just north of Paris, opened in 1927.

Troon North
Scottsdale, Ariz.

My vote for Favorite Course(s) of the Year goes to Troon North, which just a 25-minute drive from my new Phoenix home. I’ve teed it up at Troon three times this year — twice at the Monument course, and once at the recently-revamped Pinnacle course — and each time, the service and course conditioning have been first-rate. Everything about Troon is welcoming, from its beautiful golf shop to its excellent range, putting green and short-game area. The staff members are friendly, and the Dynamite Grill in the clubhouse actually lives up to its name. Troon has been a staple on top Arizona course lists for a long time, and now I finally know why. —Jessica Marksbury

Troon North is located in a golf-friendly area in Scottsdale, which is just outside Phoenix.

Teeth of the Dog
La Romana, Dominican Republic

Riding along the Dominican Republic coastline sits Teeth of the Dog – my favorite course of the year. This Pete Dye design keeps you on your toes for each and every shot, with your clubs and your camera. As if the course wasn’t challenging enough, it’s hard to keep focus with some of the most stunning visuals you will ever come across on a golf course. When you finish up the 16th hole, grab your 125-yard club (and a ball you can part with) and take a whack at hole 16 b, a coral rock island with a flagstick slammed in the middle. —Tim Reilly

Coastal golf is as good as it gets at Teeth of the Dog.

Augusta National Golf Club
Augusta, Ga.

In some wild twist of fate that would have perplexed and thrilled my 12-year-old self, I played Augusta National the day after the Masters. I’m definitely no Augusta worshipper, and I’m extremely wary of what it represents for the game at large. But there’s no denying just how fun it was walking the same fairways, hitting to the same pins, and putting on the same lines that Spieth, Rickie, Reed and the rest had just a day earlier. I even splashed one in Rae’s Creek for good measure! I wrote much more about it here. But looking back, this was an all-time surreal experience. And one that earned me, media lottery winner in my first year covering Augusta, plenty of hatred from the rest of the media center. —Dylan Dethier

It was a storybook day for one of us who got to play Augusta after the Masters.

Pacific Dunes
Bandon, Ore.

I have long heard the fawning over Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, but this year I finally got the chance to play its five courses myself. My review? Yeah, it’s good. This photo is the par-3 11th hole at Pacific Dunes, dubbed by this site as one of the best public courses in the country. While all of Bandon’s courses pack a punch, Pacific Dunes was my favorite. I could play that back nine over and over again for the rest of my life and be satisfied. What a fun collection of holes put together by Tom Doak. Until we meet again, Pacific Dunes. Save some birdies for me. —Josh Berhow

Bandon Dunes is a must-play for golfers in the Pacific Northwest.

Plainfield West Nine (putting green!)
Edison, N.J.

My boys (ages 12, 9 and 6) aren’t what you’d call golfers. Not yet, anyway. And my daughter (19 months) is probably still a touch too young for the Leadbetter Academy. Which is why I rejoiced when my little men warmed to my suggestion, on a muggy August evening, that we grab a few putters and hit the practice green at our local muni. To be clear, they didn’t exactly cartwheel to the car, but I didn’t need to drag them down the driveway, either. With dusk creeping in, we sped over to the course and found — nooooo! — a shackled gate. Closed. Fortunately, there was one other option: the Plainfield West Nine, a no-frills nine-holer about two miles down the road.

The West Nine sits across the street from a much more famous Plainfield: Plainfield Country Club, home to a highly acclaimed layout that Donald Ross carved out of rolling farmland about 100 years ago. The PW9 is a public-access facility with a First Tee program and, because the Plainfield CC grounds crew tends to the greens there, it has country-club caliber putting surfaces. Best of all, on that summer evening, it was still open. Or at least not obviously closed. We rolled up into the parking lot, unloaded from the car and descended on to the exposed green, which sits hard against the intersection of Woodland Avenue and Old Raritan Road. The next hour or so was great fun. With a cool dollar bill on the line, the boys played a cut-throat putting game. (Needless to say nothing was conceded.) As visibility deteriorated, an enlightened idea: We flipped on the headlights of my car, which was parked about 50 yards away but pointed directly at the green. Voila: night golf.

The PW9 was not the “best” course I played this year. In fact, I didn’t even play the course. But that practice-green session ranks high among my fondest golf memories of 2018. We’ll definitely return next year. Might even bring a full set or two. —Alan Bastable

A putting contest under the stars.
A putting contest under the stars.

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