What are the best golf courses in the USA? The Golf World Top 100 panel ranks and rates the best courses in America where you can actually play in our inaugural list.
Welcome to our inaugural Top 100 Courses in the United States – with every entry playable by everyone.
The US is the most popular destination for British golfers after the big names of continental Europe, so it was high time we tried to play a part in helping you make the best decisions about where to play on the other side of the pond.
My knowledge of US courses amounts to fewer than 25 of this list and, as I always say, the ability to compare is essentially everything when it comes to compiling ranking lists. And I don’t like guessing about what’s good and what’s not.
So I took a backseat for this ranking as a specialist US panel took control, led by Englishman-in-America Tony Dear and supported by various other well-travelled golfers including Jim Hartsell, Jimmie James, Kirk Baert and Malcolm Baker.
They assessed the best courses that you can play in America in the usual categories of Design, Setting, Playability, Memorability, Consistency and Presentation.
I hope you enjoy the list and find it as fascinating as I did; Pasatiempo and Lawsonia (Links) are now very high on my wish list.
And, once you’ve enjoyed this ranking, please do take a look at some of our others – from the best courses in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, to GB&I’s best links, the most fun courses to play and the finest courses and resorts Portugal has to offer, we’ve got it covered.
Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 Editor
Can I join the Golf World Top 100 panel?
Yes! If you have knowledge of lots of resorts and courses, we’d love to hear from you. Whether you’re male, female, young, old, low handicap, high handicap, if you’re well-travelled then get in touch with us, here.
100. Black Mesa
Española, New Mexico
Opened in 2003 to great acclaim, Baxter Spann’s rollicking high-desert layout, 25 miles north of Santa Fe, fell on hard times around 2012/13, caused by a major disagreement between the Santa Clara Pueblo, which owns the course, and the company that leased it.
Once the situation had been resolved and a new superintendent found, however, Black Mesa began rising rapidly in the rankings again and is now back to something like its best.
99. Bay Hill
Architect Dick Wilson built the original course over rough ground north-west of the small town of Orlando in 1961, but after Arnold Palmer fell in love with its location after first visiting in 1965, it wasn’t long before changes started to happen. Palmer took out a five-year lease with the option to buy in 1970, and eventually assumed ownership in 1975.
The course had hosted its first Florida Citrus Open in 1966, the event evolving into what is now the Arnold Palmer Invitational (via the Bay Hill Classic, Bay Hill Invitational and numerous other names). The course has grown in size and stature over the years and benefited from a major, Palmer-led refit in 2009.
98. Black Jack’s Crossing
There are plenty of remote courses on our list, but this 2012 Lanny Wadkins design might be the most isolated of all as El Paso, the nearest city, is 315 miles distant.
Just a hundred yards or so from the Rio Grande and Mexican border, Black Jack’s Crossing is a rocky, desert course where you can almost hear Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly whistle floating over the fairways.
97. Wilderness at Fortune Bay
A year after Jeff Brauer’s astonishing Quarry Course opened at the Giants Ridge resort, the Texas architect’s follow-up, Wilderness at Fortune Bay, opened to similar fanfare.
Big bunkers, lakes, exposed rock and fairways lined (but not closely) by White Pine Trees characterise this scenic challenge in the far north-east of the state known as the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’.
96. Old Toccoa Farm
Mineral Bluff, Georgia
As we’ve seen numerous times above, Bunker Hill’s Dan Proctor and Dave Axland, along with their lead shaper Jack Dredla, have a knack for building natural, rough-hewn courses in arresting places that fit the land so beautifully while offering all the golf you can handle.
Opened in 2015, Old Toccoa Farm is situated on a beautiful 125-acre property between the Cherokee and Chattahoochee National Forests, and epitomises everything Bunker Hill is about.
95. Southern Pines
Southern Pines, North Carolina
As we also see at Mid Pines (No. 36) and Pine Needles (No. 51), Kyle Franz does a pretty mean renovation of Donald Ross-designed Carolina Sandhill courses, and he excelled himself here, too, repeating the successful formula of removing trees, adding width to fairways, rebuilding bunkers and exposed sandy areas, and expanding the greens while adding lost contours and fine details.
Even though the newly-renovated course reopened as recently as September 2021, word of its return is getting out fast and it certainly deserves its place here.
San Martin, California
The area immediately east and south of the San Francisco Bay area is characterised by undulating hills covered in wispy, Sisyrinchium californicum, or ‘Yellow-Eyed Grass’, which turns the slopes an attractive golden colour during late spring, summer and early autumn.
Numerous highly-acclaimed courses take advantage of the attractive topography and vegetation, with Robert Trent Jones Jnr’s CordeValle among the very best of them. Private when it first opened in 1999, it is now part of an upscale resort.
93. Arcadia Bluffs (South)
Dana Fry, a former shaper for Tom Fazio, long-time design partner of Michael Hurdzan and now in business with Jason Straka has been a fan of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s storied Chicago GC for as long as he can remember. So when asked to design Arcadia Bluffs’ second course on an expansive, exposed site a five-minute drive from the Bluffs Course, he went full ‘MacRaynor’, building a course with an entertaining assortment of geometrically-shaped greens and bunkers that opened in 2018.
The South isn’t just about distinctive-looking bunkers, though; there is real strategy here which, coupled with some fairly strong winds, makes it a mental and physical challenge.
92. Mauna Kea
A lot of people are familiar with the ocean-carry par 3 3rd at Mauna Kea, designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr and opened in 1965, but not much else. The rest of the course can’t touch the 3rd for excitement or memorability, but there are plenty of good holes – like the downhill par 3 11th with the deep, blue Pacific as its backdrop.
91. Diamond Springs
A year after his sensational Kingsley Club opened, Michigan’s Mike DeVries got another chance to design a course in his home state, two and a half hours to the south, outside the city of Grand Rapids.
Though Diamond Springs has never climbed Kingsley’s heights, it is another exceptional design that uses the natural ground superbly well. The property’s main feature is a ravine that DeVries uses to give better players a chance to shine without forgetting higher handicappers who have plenty of space to steer clear of trouble.
Humble, out of the way Diamond Springs will never have the pull or glamour of many courses listed here, but its contoured greens and superb routing make it the sort of course you’d like to call home.
90. Prairie Club (Pines)
Graham Marsh’s Pines Course at the Prairie Club, opened in 2010, doesn’t have its sister course’s (No. 32) sweeping prairie views as half of it is tree-lined, giving the Sand Hills resort a nice variety of courses. A deep canyon formed by the Snake River frequently comes into play and only adds to the interest.
89. The Broadmoor (East)
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Your first trip around the East Course can be a little jarring as it features two very distinct design styles, so unlike each other you wonder for a moment if you’ve jumped courses by mistake.
The original Donald Ross design at the Broadmoor opened in 1918, but Robert Trent Jones Snr arrived in 1948 to design nine more holes which eventually became the 7th to the 15th of the East Course (the nine remaining Ross holes were added to nine more Trent Jones holes to form the West Course in 1964).
As you might expect, the Ross holes have a little more nuance, romance and quirk while the Jones holes are in your face and typically challenging.
In 2005/6, Ron Forse worked on restoring Ross’s features while adding Ross touches to the Jones holes. He did a terrific job and the course certainly became more harmonious than it had been, but even the least architecturally-aware golfer will be able to distinguish between the two architects’ work.
88. We-Ko-Pa (Cholla)
Fort McDowell, Arizona
Coore and Crenshaw’s Saguaro Course gets most of the attention at this Sonoran Desert resort, 30 miles north-east of Phoenix, which isn’t surprising given the near celebrity-status of its designers. But it’s a mistake to disregard Scott Miller’s original Cholla Course. It has a very different look to its close neighbour but, some say, even more outstanding holes.
87. Indiana University (Pfau)
Steve Smyers has been designing golf courses in the USA and around the world for more than 40 years, and the wealth of experience he stored up in that time was put to good use in designing Indiana University’s Pfau Course, which opened in 2020.
Named after a major benefactor and IU alumnus, the course replaced an outdated layout from the 1950s and accommodates public play as well as high-calibre college tournaments.
86. Reynolds on Lake Oconee (Great Waters)
Great Waters ranks among Jack Nicklaus’ best resort courses – visually appealing and plenty challenging with 11 holes affected by the narrow, spiny Oconee, while offering the more modest golfer generous bailout areas. One of six courses at the 12,000-acre Reynolds resort community, Great Waters opened in 1992.
85. Firestone (South)
The first course at Firestone CC, built for employees of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, was designed by Bert Way and opened in 1929. Thirty years later, Robert Trent Jones Snr made significant changes, while retaining the original routing, ahead of the 1960 US PGA Championship.
It became the South when the club added another Trent Jones-designed course (the North) in 1969, and has hosted two more USPGA Championships – in 1966 and ’75. The long-time host of the NEC World Series of Golf and WGC Bridgestone Invitational, Firestone South was always popular with PGA Tour pros who liked its straightforward, ‘what you see is what you get’ layout. The club now offers stay/play packages.
84. Rams Hill
Borrego Springs, California
Rams Hill has had a fairly turbulent history. The original Ted Robinson design opened in 1983 in the Anza Borrego Desert and was very popular. By 2007, however, it was in need of a revamp and Tom Fazio was hired to redesign the course, which also changed its name to Montesoro Golf and Social Club.
With sensitive desert water rights rearing their very ugly and expensive head, the effects of the economic downturn and the harsh desert climate in general, Montesoro lasted just three years and returned to seed. Three years later, however, the property was bought by a real estate investor who ploughed millions into the course’s revival.
It reopened in November 2014 and has been attracting five-star ratings ever since.
83. Links at Spanish Bay
Pebble Beach, California
Sand from this part of the Monterey Peninsula had been used in the construction of Pebble Beach Golf Links and by the time the Pebble Beach Company began considering a fourth course (after Del Monte, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill), the sand here had more or less been mined out.
Some small dunes remained though and more sand was bought in, but the design was limited quite severely by environmental considerations. Those and the fact the original fescue was replaced by ryegrass not long after the course had opened in 1987, meant Trent Jones Jr, Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum’s design was never quite what it could have been, but Spanish Bay is still a thrill to play.
82. Torrey Pines (North)
San Diego, California
Torrey’s North Course was originally designed by William F. Bell and, like its more famous sibling to the south, opened in 1957. Fifty-nine years later, former Open champion Tom Weiskopf completed a renovation so extreme it is probably better labelled a redesign.
Weiskopf took 18 bunkers out, reducing the total number from 60 to 42, expanded the greens significantly, removed trees, rebuilt a few greens and redesigned the 7th hole, turning it into the sort of short par 4 he is so keen on. He also reversed the nines, moving the more dramatic holes to later in the round.
81. Wolf Creek
When you shut your eyes and think of the most spectacular golf course you can imagine, with lakes, streams, lush green fairways and light, sandy rock formations framing the strips of green, you’re probably picturing the incredible Wolf Creek GC on the Nevada/Arizona border about 80 miles north-east of Las Vegas.
Wolf Creek opened in 2000 and probably isn’t for minimalist or Golden Age enthusiasts and may be a course you play only once. But what an experience it is, and what an amazing accomplishment by first-time architect Dennis Rider.
80. French Lick (Ross)
French Lick, Indiana
Seven years after Donald Ross completed the design of his rolling, exposed layout at the French Lick Springs resort, it hosted the 1924 USPGA Championship won by Walter Hagen, who beat English native Jim Barnes 2&1 in the final.
A much-needed renovation was completed in 2006 by Lee Schmidt, working alongside the Donald Ross Society. The project focused primarily on bunker renewal and tee-restoration as Ross’s greens were still largely intact.
A beautiful, if tough, high-desert course with firm, sandy turf located just outside David McLay-Kidd’s adopted hometown of Bend. Tetherow opened in 2008, nine years after the Scotsman had burst onto the scene at Bandon Dunes, 250 miles to the west.
More excellent but very remote Nebraska Sand Hills golf and more restrained, unpretentious Axland/Proctor design that wisely uses what undulations, ridges and other features were already here to create interesting holes.
Bayside opened in 2001 with views over Lake McConaughy from almost every hole. The nearest good-sized town is Denver, 220 miles away.
77. Old Waverly
West Point, Mississippi
Site of the 1999 (the year after it opened) US Women’s Open, won by Juli Inkster, the Bob Cupp and Jerry Pate-designed Old Waverly is a gracious parkland course where creeks and lakes affect play on 11 holes.
Boulder City, Nevada
We’re tempted to say Cascata is the poor man’s Shadow Creek, but, depending on what time of day you play, you may still need to part with $550 to play this striking 2000 Rees Jones design. It lies 25 miles south-east of the Las Vegas Strip.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Bertram is the Golf World Top 100 Editor.
He was born and brought up in Dumfriesshire and has been a sports journalist since 1996, initially as a junior writer with National Club Golfer magazine.
Chris then spent four years writing about football and rugby union for the Press Association but returned to be Editor and then Publisher of NCG before joining Golf World and Today’s Golfer as Senior Production Editor.
He has been freelance since 2010 and when he is not playing and writing about the world’s finest golf courses, he works for BBC Sport.
A keen all-round sportsman, Chris plays off 11 – which could be a little better if it wasn’t for hilariously poor lag putting which has to be seen to be believed.