Located at the home of the PGA TOUR, in Palm Beach Gardens, the immaculately sculpted Champion Course has a sultry, South Florida charm. It also showcases some very sharp teeth. The back nine "Bear Trap" was named for Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned the course in 1990. But don't worry. The abundant water hazards will probably sink you well before you're punished by Nicklaus' fiendish three-hole stretch.
Ponte Vedra's claim to fame is the lush and challenging TPC Sawgrass course, home to THE PLAYERS Championship. A young Adam Scott (the 2013 Masters champion) became its youngest champion back in 2004, when he recovered from a 3-iron shot into the water by chipping close to the hole, then sinking the winning putt under pressure. Couples, Mickelson and Tiger have also left crowds gaping in disbelief with unbelievable shots at TPC Sawgrass.
Photo courtesy of Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Whistling Straits at The American Club resort
The pride of Wisconsin, the Straits Course is a British Isles-style seaside links set along the shores of Lake Michigan. Annually ranked as one of the best public courses in the U.S., it's also a tough test: immensely long from the tips, with huge pot bunkers, grassy dunes, and undulating greens. Beware of the 17th hole. Evocatively titled "Pinched Nerve," the long par 3 requires some tricky negotiations.
Kiawah's storied Ocean Course not only hosted the "War by the Shore," the fiercely contested 1991 Ryder Cup in which the U.S. narrowly defeated Europe, it was also featured in the cinematic golf epic, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Spectacular island views of the Atlantic Ocean are offset by challenging conditions, with extensive bunkering and shifting winds that make club selection a tricky proposition. Kiawah lies just 45 minutes from Charleston.
Bethpage Black has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world's most difficult courses, but it's also one of the most beautiful. Located in Long Island's verdant, heavily-wooded Bethpage State Park, the A.W. Tillinghast designed Black course has hosted two of the last twelve U.S. Opens, and is a mecca for destination golfers.
Pebble Beach is the gold standard of golf. Set on rugged coastline overlooking California's Carmel Bay, the course has hosted some of golf's most memorable events, including the 1982 U.S. Open, when Tom Watson's improbable chip shot on 17 carried him to victory over Jack Nicklaus. The 7th hole is justifiable famous, a short par 3 that carries from an elevated tee box to a green seemingly surrounded by pounding surf.
Bounded by mountains, nature preserves, and the Pacific Ocean, it's hard to imagine a more picturesque place to play golf than Kapalua's Plantation Course. Perhaps that's why the Maui-based resort course, built on a site formerly occupied by a pineapple plantation, was chosen to host the PGA TOUR's season opening event, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Named for Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure classic, Treasure Island, Spyglass Hill is one of the golfing jewels of the scenic Monterrey Peninsula, and part of the annual rotation for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Spyglass' dramatic layout features a spectacular 5-hole stretch along the California coastline, followed by a sylvan journey through the Del Monte Forest.
From its stately pines and palmetto trees to its gorgeous seaside vistas, Harbour Town has all the beautiful scenery you'd expect from a links-style course located in the Sea Pines Resort on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, and all the shotmaking challenges you'd expect from renowned course designers Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus. Savannah, Georgia offers the nearest large airport.
Other courses may have more magnificent settings, but perhaps only Augusta National rivals Pinehurst No. 2 in terms of the reverence it inspires in visiting golfers. Tommy Armour said it best: "The man that doesn't feel emotionally stirred when he golfs at Pinehurst beneath those clear blue skies and with the pine fragrance in his nostrils is one who should be ruled out of golf for life."
The setting for Tiger Woods' stirring victory over Rocco Mediate in the 2008 U.S. Open, Torrey Pines South is one of the country's most beautiful municipal golf courses. Skirting coastal cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean, and home to the rare, evocatively wind-swept torrey pines, the La Jolla layout is famed for its striking scenery and world-class golf. La Jolla lies just 15 miles north of San Diego.