If you're a golf fan, you're familiar with what's called the "rota." It's the list of courses that churn out major championships like the University of Miami churns out NFL prospects.
You can probably name several of the staple courses in the rota off the top of your head: Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Winged Foot, St. Andrews, Medinah, Southern Hills, Pinehurst... and the list goes on. A major championship is played at these courses about once every 10 years.
But, there are so many other courses which deserve to host one of golf's grandest events. Yet, they never have, and probably never will. Here are the top 10 courses that should host a major championship:
Shadow Creek Golf Course-- Las Vegas, NV
Not only is Shadow Creek downright cool, featuring a par-3 situated on a waterfall and several holes winding around clear blue lakes, but its location just outside downtown Las Vegas couldn't be better. The tournament would attract plenty of tourists looking to mix in a little golf with their gambling and intoxication, plus the local golf scene in Vegas is quite strong.
The bad news: Shadow Creek isn't really built to accommodate spectators. It was designed more as a haven for degenerate gamblers to get their mind off of blackjack strategies for a while, so it features lots of expensive landscaping and unnecessary bodies of water (a calming sight after you've lost $25,000 at a baccarat table, I'd imagine).
By the way, I have a nagging curiosity: if John Daly were exempt to a major played at Shadow Creek, is there any chance he'd make his tee time? Or, would he skip the tournament for a few extra hours drinking at the Palms? Perhaps long John would be motivated to play after spending 15 hours at the $500 slots. Wouldn't it be fun to find out?
Peachtree Golf Club-- Atlanta, GA
While Jim Nantz brings us all to the point of tears with his soft lucid poems about the beauty of Augusta National, another Bobby Jones masterpiece sits just a few miles away in Atlanta. Peachtree features a Southern plantation-type design just like Augusta National, and is every bit as gorgeous.
However, there is already a major championship played in Georgia (it's called the Masters in case you haven't heard of it). And, with the Tour Championship being held at East Lake in Georgia (another Bobby Jones design), I doubt that Georgians would be granted a third marquee event.
Sand Hills Golf Club-- Mullen, NE
It’s hard for a newer course to earn a major championship, especially one guarded by its members. Sand Hills, a Crenshaw design, is consistently ranked #1 on lists of the best new courses in America. Yet, it’s a course that the casual golfer probably has never even heard of.
For a course to reach “classic” status, it has to host major events. And, it would be nice to highlight new, unplayed courses like Sand Hills instead of old relics all the time. Remember the amazing success that Whistling Straits had for the 2004 PGA Championship? Remember how Bethpage Black went from just a good municipal course to a world-class venue overnight due to the 2002 US Open?
Plus, Nebraskans need something to do besides grow corn and watch the Huskers. Why not volunteer for the PGA Championship?
Tobacco Road Golf Club-- Sanford, NC
I groaned when I heard that the USGA had scheduled another US Open at the mediocre snore-fest of Pinehurst No. 2 (Can you describe one hole at Pinehurst in detail? Yeah, didn't think so.)
If only the powers-that-be would take a short drive and consider the beauty that is Tobacco Road. To put it short, Tobacco Road is the most unorthodox championship-caliber course in America. Everywhere you look, there is trouble.
Since a major will never be played at Pine Valley(read below), this is the next closest challenge. Sand pits and packed trees line the course. God forbid the USGA ever got a hold of this gem and tricked it up with fast greens and tight fairways. 8 over par for a winning score, anyone?
The International-- Bolton, MA
Before we describe The International, just think about how astounded golfers are at major championship courses that top 7,500 or 7,600 yards, with par-5’s pushing 500 yards or more.
Now, consider The International: Par 73-- 8,325 from the tips (no typo: eight-thousand three hundred and twenty five).
There are three par-4’s over 500 yards: respectively standing at 530 yards, 535 yards, and a paltry 565 yards. It’s a USGA dream.
Used to pulling out your 6-iron for par-3’s? At The International, even the best PGA pros will be glad to hit the green with their driver. There are two mammoth par-3’s: one 250 yards and one 270 yards.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget the par-6 (again, not a typo: par six): it’s only 715 yards.
The International sure seems like a major championship venue. So, what’s keeping a championship from arriving in Bolton? Probably the fact that the tournament committee would need some serious flack to protect themselves. Imagine the onslaught of complaints from short-hitting players (forget a Rocco Mediate or Kenny Perry win) and whiny traditionalist golf pundits who will cry foul for eliminating 75% of the field from contention with the course’s sheer length.
But come on, wouldn’t it be a blast to see how the pros could handle this mammoth?
Spyglass Hill Golf Course-- Pebble Beach, CA
Pebble Beach, California might be the world capital of golf. While the USGA has a steamy love affair with Pebble Beach Golf Links, and golf enthusiasts wax poetic about the natural beauty of Cypress Point, the area's true gem might be that other unheralded course sitting in the mecca of Pebble Beach.
Spyglass Hill is one of the three courses currently used for the Bing Crosby Pro-Am (now the AT&T National Pro-Am after the corporate takeover of sports), but it’s never shown on TV. So, chances are you’ve never seen the raw beauty of the Glass and its many challenging holes.
Spyglass has a unique feeling of unpredictability, since the front and back nine are almost two completely different courses. But what courses they are. Most of the front nine rolls along the ocean, and architect Robert Trent Jones used a little course called Pine Valley as his inspiration. Ice plant and white sand dunes line the fairways.
While the front nine is wide open and left to the wrath of Mother Nature, the back nine is tightly lined with trees, and manicured into immaculate shape. Jones used another little course called Augusta National as his inspiration for the inward half. Indeed, Spyglass’ par-3 12th looks suspiciously like Augusta’s famous Golden Bell 12th hole.
There is no reason why Spyglass shouldn’t hold a major championship. However, the locale of Pebble Beach will only get a major every so often, and whenever the town is granted the privilege, the powers-that-be will probably want to show off their overrated showpiece Pebble Beach, instead of the uncharted beauty at Spyglass Hill.
Seminole Golf Club-- North Palm Beach, FL
Consistently ranked as one of the top five courses in America, very little is known about Seminole Golf Club among the general public, except that using the term “private club” to describe it is a vast, vast understatement.
Ben Hogan would practice for the Masters by playing at Seminole every day for about a month. It is lined with tall palms, sits gorgeously along the ocean, and by all accounts is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Indeed, Seminole would be a fantastic championship venue. The problem: the members would probably turn down a major even if they were offered one. Such is the case with ultra-private clubs. Millionaire members don’t want to turn control of their course over to the USGA or PGA for five years.
It’s a shame. But, we can always hope.
Royal County Down Golf Club-- Newcastle, N. Ireland
Very rarely does the British Open add new courses to its rota. Instead, we get fed a series of cookie-cutter courses which try to duplicate the glorified pasture field that is St. Andrews.
Yes, St. Andrews is the birthplace of the game and it’s how golf should truly be played and all that garbage. But it’s a downright boring course. Its twins like Royal Troon and Muirfield give us a major championship consistently void of personality.
Seriously, describe me any hole from the British Open rota besides the postage stamp at Royal Troon or the road hole at St. Andrews? Right, you can’t. There is nothing to separate the courses from one another.
But, on the other hand, Royal County Down in Northern Ireland is a course filled with character. Rolling hills, risk-reward opportunities, challenging fairways, strategically placed bunkers, and beautiful terrain are all to be found. I’m not a fan of links golf, but Royal County Down is one course I’d love to someday make a trip across the pond for.
However, the R&A continually ignores Golf Digest’s #1 course outside of America. While Royal County Down isn’t technically “British”, the R&A seems to want to call their tournament “The Open Championship” and drop the whole British aspect altogether, so why not take a chance and try an Irish course for once?
Cypress Point Golf Club-- Pebble Beach, CA
You’ve seen the famous par-3 16th over water to an isolated cliff at Cypress Point. But that’s not even the tip of the iceberg for this amazing masterpiece.
I’ve never played there myself, but from hearing and reading testimonials from those who have played it, one can’t help leaving the course without thinking, “Alister MacKenzie (course architect) is God.”
Cypress used to be one of the courses for the Crosby Pro-Am. However, like Seminole, it too is an increasingly private golf club. Unfortunately, it seems that its doors are shut for a major championship.
Still, I can’t help but think that were Cypress to get some mainstream exposure like a major championship on national TV, it would definitely pass its overrated brother Pebble Beach on the rankings list, and possibly even overtake Pine Valley as #1.
Something to think about, Cypress members.
Pine Valley Golf Club-- Pine Valley, NJ
Let’s get this straight from the get go: Pine Valley will never host a major championship. It is right in the middle of a dense forest. The course is basically stuffed inside a sardine can. To fit even 5,000 spectators inside the gates would be a miracle. The only possible way to host a major and cram in 40,000 spectators would be remove thousands and thousands of trees (Greenpeace would love that, wouldn’t they?).
Plus, the course is ultra-private like Seminole and Cypress, and giving control over to the USGA or PGA for several years would be a testy prospect.
However, Pine Valley has literally been the world’s #1 course since course rankings were created. And I’m sure golfers would want to know something, just something, about the mystery that is Pine Valley.
The only exposure the course has ever gotten was an early 1960’s Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match, while the world’s #2 course (Augusta National) is shown on television every year and even casual golf fans can describe the course in vivid detail. Can any golfer name even one fact about Pine Valley besides the fact that it’s a total secret?
And think about this: if I granted you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play any course in the world, how many of you would pick Pine Valley? Would you turn down the chance to play the course you watch every year on the Masters for the crapshoot of Pine Valley? Would you really rather tee it up on Pine Valley’s 18th than hit your tee shot across the pond at Augusta’s 16th (maybe even drop a few balls and try to sink the Tiger chip)?
I think the course needs, if not a major, some type of exposure to validate its credibility as #1. A course shouldn’t hold the #1 spot and be sung the praises of glory when 99.9% of the golfing population have no clue about it. You can’t defend greatness by using trade secrets.
So, I wish beyond belief that the course will one day do some practical tree removal, lobby for lower admittance, and finally show off the damn near perfect course that is Pine Valley to the world for once.
Or, if a major isn’t available, even try to stage a Battle of the Bridges-like event between just Tiger and Phil.
But, for right now, Augusta National should be #1.
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