The top 10 courses I’ve ever played: I’m a sucker for sublime links gems

December 29, 2019

GOLF recently unveiled its Top 100 Courses in the World, which included all the well-known iconic gems like Augusta National, Cypress Point, St. Andrews and, well, you get the picture. But there’s more than one way to make a list, so here’s ours! Over the next month, GOLF staffers will take their turn creating their own ranking, but not of the best courses in the world — the best courses they’ve played. Enjoy, and if you haven’t made the time to create your own list to dissect and look back on, now’s the time to get started.

My top 10: Josh Berhow

I spent an agonizing amount of time on this list — specifically trying to finalize Nos. 8-12 — so let’s just get right to it before I change my mind… again.

10. Formby (Formby, England)

I played Formby, on the west coast of England, the week before the 2017 Open kicked off at nearby Royal Birkdale. I walked 18 tranquil holes as a single and soaked in every shot. It was the perfect mix of woodland and links golf holes with just the right amount of quirk. The train that cruises by and the iconic clubhouse are also nice touches.

Formby's 18th green and iconic clubhouse.
Formby's 18th green and iconic clubhouse.

9. Cabot Links (Inverness, Nova Scotia)

If only we had more golf holes like the short par-3 14th to the infinity green in front of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s like the 7th at Pebble Beach just, well, in Canada. This place is also a show-stopper while playing at sunset, as you can see from the below photo of the par-4 16th hole looking from the green back toward the fairway.

A look at the rolling fairways at Cabot Links.
A look at the rolling fairways at Cabot Links.
Josh Berhow

8. Portmarnock Golf Club (Dublin, Ireland)

A post-British Open stop at historic Portmarnock just outside of Dublin was one of the best decisions I ever made. I played it just how you’re supposed to — in howling winds — and that made it even more memorable.

Portmarnock is one of the world's classic links courses.
Portmarnock is one of the world's classic links courses.

7. Oakmont (Oakmont, Pa.)

This would be higher on the list if it wasn’t so crazy difficult. But still, even as it was kicking me in the teeth, I was able to appreciate its history, design and allure. I also hope I never have to see that 17th hole — and its bunkers — again in my life.

Oakmont is no walk in the park, but it's still a memorable day.
Oakmont is no walk in the park, but it's still a memorable day.

6. Bandon Dunes (Bandon, Ore.)

This was the first course I played at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort so it brings out the romantic in me. But it’s just an amazing collection of fun golf holes. From the first glimpse of the water at the 4th to the Instagram-worthy par-4 16th, they are all a blast. Bandon (as you can see from my ranking) always lives up to the hype.

The 5th hole at Bandon Dunes.
The 5th hole at Bandon Dunes.

5. Whistling Straits (Sheboygan, Wis.)

The best collection of par-3s I’ve ever encountered on a golf course (with Pacific Dunes a close second). The Straits Course is fun yet challenging and loaded with memorable golf holes, especially the terrifying par-3 17th that leads to the brutal par-4 closing hole. The Straits also gets bonus points for a fantastic 19th-hole experience, which includes upscale pub grub and drinks on the patio looking over the massive 18th green.

All of Whistling Straits' par-3s come with gorgeous water views.
All of Whistling Straits' par-3s come with gorgeous water views.

4. Bandon Trails (Bandon, Ore.)

I struggled to properly rank the Trails on this list, mainly because when I played it it was the worst I’d hit the ball in years (and that wasn’t the course’s fault). But I can look past that rough day and remember the rolling terrain and plethora of shot values. Plus, when making this list my main criteria is this: If I could play any course — regardless of pedigree or price, etc. — I would simply play where I could have the most fun, and the Trails is just so, so good.

A look at the par-3 5th hole at Bandon Trails in Bandon, Ore.
A look at the par-3 5th hole at Bandon Trails in Bandon, Ore.

3. Cabot Cliffs (Inverness, Nova Scotia)

Big fairways, massive greens, ocean views for miles and the best closing stretch I’ve ever played. The 15th is a par-5 with a downhill finish, the par-3 16th is one of the most picturesque holes in the world, the 17th is a short par-4 you’ll want to play over and over again and the 18th is a daunting par-5 finisher along the water. The fun-factor is off the charts.

Teeing off on the par-3 16th at Cabot Cliffs.
Teeing off on the par-3 16th at Cabot Cliffs.

2. Pacific Dunes (Bandon, Ore.)

Aside from the back nine of the top course on this ranking, the back nine at Pacific Dunes might be the most fun stretch of nines holes I’ve ever played. It starts unconventionally with back-to-back par-3s and is amazing every step of the way.

A look at the par-3 10th and 11th holes at Pacific Dunes.
A look at the par-3 10th and 11th holes at Pacific Dunes.

1. Augusta National (Augusta, Ga.)

I won the Masters media lottery in 2016 and played the most memorable round of my life on April 11, 2016. I went the entire day without holing a significant putt, but it still remains the only round in which I can recall every single shot. A dream come true.

Teeing off on the par-4 14th at Augusta National a day after Danny Willett's Masters win.
Teeing off on the par-4 14th at Augusta National a day after Danny Willett's Masters win.