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.
We’re into the top 75 of our inaugural Top 100 Courses in the United States – with every entry playable by everyone.
Our 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 of America in the usual categories of Design, Setting, Playability, Memorability, Consistency and Presentation.
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.
How should I book my golf breaks?
There are plenty of excellent golf tour operators out there, but we are big fans of Golf Holidays Direct, which is the UK’s largest golf holiday company.
75. Wilderness Club
Just eight miles south of the Canadian border, Wilderness was designed by Nick Faldo with Brian Curley and opened in 2009 – a bad time for a big-money, 550-acre residential development to open, hence its move from private club to public access.
With three mountain ranges in view, lakes, streams, pines and sandy expanses, the course is a delight – if a little tough to get to.
Another university-owned course, Taconic is the home of Williams College golf and was designed by Warren Stiles and John Van Kleek. It opened in 1928 on charming parkland in the far north-west of the Bay State and was renovated by Gil Hanse in 2009.
73. Warren Course at Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
Named after, and financed by, a University of Notre Dame alumnus, the Coore/Crenshaw-designed Warren Course opened in 2000 on fairly flat ground half a mile north of the university campus – about 100 miles east of Chicago.
72. Bay Harbor (Links/Quarry)
Bay Harbor, Michigan
Arthur Hills’s Bay Harbor opened in 1998 with 27 holes. Any of the three combinations is a fun 18, but the best of them is probably the Links 9, which plays on higher ground overlooking Lake Michigan, and Quarry 9, which uses a stone quarry near the Lake to great effect.
71. Wild Horse
A largely wild and barren course built on the Nebraska Sand Hills with a minimalist philosophy, Wild Horse was designed by former Coore/Crenshaw associates Dan Proctor and Dave Axland, who formed their own design company – Bunker Hill – in 1989 with the intention of honouring the strategic and artistic courses of the Golden Age (Axland is now part of the firm Whitman, Axland & Cutten).
It opened 22 years ago but still boasts a peak-rate green fee of just $62. Paying the equivalent of £47 for a course this good is almost unheard of in this day and age.
70. Cog Hill (No.4)
Palos Park, Illinois
The fourth course at Joe Jemsek’s famed golf facility, 30 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, was built by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee and opened in 1965.
It was designed to be Cog Hill’s championship layout, capable of challenging the best golfers in the world, and Wilson’s narrow fairways and heavily-bunkered greens certainly fit the bill. The course hosted the PGA Tour’s Western Open from 1991 to 2006 and the BMW Championship in 2007 and 2009-2011, as well as the 1997 US Amateur Championship.
Rees Jones made some tweaks in 2008, adding length but pushing the fairway bunkers out a little to simultaneously increase the challenge for Tour players but make it a little friendlier for green fee payers.
69. Links of North Dakota
Ray, North Dakota
Stephen Kay, like Jeff Brauer, Ron Forse, Mike Strantz, etc, is largely unknown in the UK, but widely respected in the USA where he has practised since 1983, working on 300+ courses both as the original architect and expert restorer/renovator.
His best-known design is undoubtedly the Links of North Dakota, which opened in 1995 on a barren, exposed, remote spot overlooking the Missouri River. So remote is it, in fact, its official address puts it in the tiny town of Ray, which is actually 16 miles away.
Much of the Peace Garden State sits on clay-based soil, but here Kay got to work on a rare seam of sandy soil and moved only 7,000 cubic yards of earth in creating a pure, organic course where imaginative use of the ground pays dividends.
68. Mystic Creek
El Dorado, Arkansas
Not well-known to golfers in the UK, or even the USA outside of ‘The Natural State’, Mystic Creek is a big, brawny test (7,529 yards from the back) among the cathedral pines of southern Arkansas, designed by Ken Dye and opened in 2013.
67. Cape Arundel
This exquisite Walter Travis gem on the Kennebunk River opened in 1920, replacing nine holes designed by Scottish immigrant Alex Findlay. Though private, the club welcomes public play – meaning everyone can see how adept the three-time US Amateur champion and 1904 Amateur Championship winner was at creating strategic holes with mesmerising greens.
Long hitters will assume the sub-6,000-yard, par 69 layout is a pushover – before falling foul of its ticklish demands.
66. Whistling Straits (Irish)
Two years after Pete Dye’s incredible three-time Major championship and one-time Ryder Cup-hosting Straits Course (No. 4) opened, the Irish Course joined the Whistling Straits GC line-up.
Built on similarly artificial, Dye-made dunes a little further inland from Lake Michigan than its older brother, the Irish Course shares its rugged, linksy look but features Bentgrass surfaces instead of fescue and allows buggies, unlike the walking-only Straits. So it’s a smaller, more resort-golfer-friendly version of the Straits Course, but still wildly enjoyable for every type of golfer.
65. World Woods (Pine Barrens)
Just 20 miles south of his acclaimed Quarry Course at Black Diamond Ranch (No. 64), Tom Fazio’s sandy, heathland Pine Barrens course at World Woods GC opened in 1993, with Fazio himself calling it his “best work”.
It has long been a mainstay of Public Top 100 lists and is frequently described as a mix of Pine Valley and Augusta National. That might just be the marketing people talking, though the seemingly outlandish claim actually isn’t unreasonable.
64. Black Diamond Ranch (Quarry)
In 1987, when Tom Fazio’s Quarry Course opened at Black Diamond Ranch, 75 miles north of Tampa, fancy signature holes that clearly cost a lot to build were all the rage. The 371-yard 15th hole, with water all down the left and canyon walls behind the green, was splashed over every golf publication of note.
The course ranked very highly and, though it has slipped a little over the last 34 years, it deserves its top 100 spot because, as it turns out, the rest of the course is pretty good too. Long a private club, Black Diamond Ranch now offers stay/play packages at houses in the community, hence its place here.
63. We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro)
Fort McDowell, Arizona
Thirty miles east of the golf club after which it is named stands Four Peaks, a prominent landmark in the Mazatzal Mountains (‘We-Ko-Pa’ is the Yavapai pronunciation of ‘Four Peaks’). At just over 7,500ft, it is visible from virtually every one of We-Ko-Pa’s 36 holes, the first 18 of which (see Cholla Course at No. 88) debuted in December 2001.
Coore and Crenshaw’s third course in the Arizona desert (their two courses at Talking Stick on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community land, 20 miles west towards Phoenix, opened in 1998) was named after the statuesque cactus that appears throughout the course and which can grow to be 150 years old.
No single hole on the Saguaro Course stands out in particular because, in a sense, they all do. This is desert golf at its very best with beautiful vegetation, superbly-conditioned surfaces and holes wide enough to give every golfer a chance, but angled, shaped and positioned to reward careful placement.
We-Ko-Pa Offer: From £1,645pp ENQUIRE NOW
62. Bedford Springs
Another course with an amazing cast of design characters, Bedford Springs opened with a Spencer Oldham-designed 6,000-yard layout in 1895.
Oldham’s original was lost, but A.W. Tillinghast salvaged and redesigned nine holes in 1912. Eleven years later, Donald Ross was hired to expand the course to 18 holes and in 2006/7, as part of a $120m resort renovation, golf course restoration expert Ron Forse, who has worked on more than 50 Ross designs, completed an acclaimed renovation that sought to incorporate Oldham, Tillinghast and Ross features.
61. Princeville Makai
The original course at Kauai’s luxurious Princeville Resort, the Makai Course opened in 1971 and was Robert Trent Jones Jnr’s first solo project. There were three nines until 2009 when Trent Jones Jnr returned to combine the Links and Ocean nines into one spectacular course which possesses a couple of thrilling clifftop holes, and awesome views of Hanalei Bay and Makana Mountain.
60. Atlantic City
Northfield, New Jersey
There aren’t many courses with Atlantic City Country Club’s design pedigree (well, none other than ACCC to be precise). Nine holes were built at Northfield, 10 miles west of the coastal destination city in 1897 to attract wealthy resort guests who would travel to and from the course by tram. The second nine was added shortly after and, in 1915, Willie Park Jnr was invited to make upgrades.
Ten years later, William Flynn created a routing and 18 holes that remained untouched for 70-plus years, until the owners hired Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf team to update it. Doak built up marsh-front fairways to mitigate the threat of flooding, rerouted the back-nine and reshaped the flatter fairways.
59. PGA West (Stadium)
La Quinta, California
There are times at the Stadium Course when you walk on to the next tee, take a look at what now confronts you and think, “Again?” Pete Dye’s infamous 1986 caricature of a golf course never lets up and while it may have proven too much for many over the years (including PGA Tour pros who originally lobbied the Tour to remove it from the schedule), the general consensus nowadays is that it is a thrilling examination.
Tough? Yes. Wearing? Yes. Exhausting? Yes. But also highly entertaining and strangely satisfying. Dye did soften the course occasionally, but perhaps it was just waiting for 460cc titanium drivers and urethane-covered balls all along.
58. Giants Ridge (Quarry)
Jeff Brauer has been a respected course architect for a long time, but his most productive period was 2000-2005 when he created a couple of northern Minnesota gems both ranked in America’s Top 100 Public Courses (see Wilderness at Fortune Bay, No. 97).
The Quarry at year-round destination (winter and summer sports) Giants Ridge opened in 2003 just south of the Embarrass River, named by French explorers whose passage was constantly thwarted by fallen trees (‘Embarrass’ in French originally meant ‘blockage’ or ‘obstruction’). Built on a former sand, gravel and iron ore mining site, the course mixes a little woodland with heathland, a little Pine Valley with Sand Valley – a very appealing combination.
57. May River (Palmetto Bluff)
Bluffton, South Carolina
Another Lowcountry favourite, this Jack Nicklaus beauty opened in 2004 in the May River Forest, 20 miles west of Hilton Head Island and 25 miles north-east of Savannah, Georgia. Centuries-old oaks line fairways also bordered by the river, marshy areas, wetlands, large sandy waste bunkers and native grasses. It’s a heady combination that creates a tough but beautiful test.
56. The Dunes
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
When Robert Trent Jones Snr arrived at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club, north along the coast from the small settlement of Myrtle Beach, first incorporated as a town in 1938, the site was open and sandy with a few oaks and the odd lagoon dotted about.
The area developed rapidly in the second half of the last century, so the course is now surrounded by suburbia on two sides with the ocean to the south and Buck Island Swamp to the east.
Though the Dunes came early in a career spanning 60-plus years, it would remain one of Trent Jones’s best courses, and the 13th – a 590-yard par 5 named ‘Boomerang’ that sweeps right around Dunes Lake – perhaps his most famous hole.
55. Paako Ridge
Sandia Park, New Mexico
A 27-hole Ken Dye design from 2000, Paako Ridge sits at 6,500ft above sea level in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, north-west of Albuquerque. A recent renovation by Minnesota-based architect Kevin Norby was part of a major improvement project the property’s owners initiated in 2018 – improvements that could soon see a fourth nine added.
54. Silvies Valley Ranch (Hankins/Craddock)
Reversible courses enjoyed something of a brief renaissance a few years ago with the opening of Tom Doak’s The Loop (No. 34) in Michigan and Dan Hixson’s Silvies Valley Ranch in far eastern Oregon.
While The Loop (2016) opened before Silvies (2017), Hixson had started work on his course(s) long before Doak, but years of staggered, seasonal work, a small construction crew and the fact the 140,000-acre ranch was a three-hour drive from the nearest good-sized town meant holes appeared slowly.
The fascinating 36-hole/27-green/16-fairway layout that eventually emerged from the desolate high desert was well worth the wait, however.
53. Pronghorn (Nicklaus)
A 45-minute drive north-east of Crosswater (No. 50), and about 1,000ft lower in elevation, Pronghorn Resort is home to Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio-designed courses that opened in 2004 and 2006 respectively.
While the Fazio Championship Course remains largely private, the Nicklaus Signature Course is open for public play and definitely ranks among the Golden Bear’s finest designs. The twisty, turny, uphill par-5 15th is the pick of a particularly strong stretch of holes on the back-nine.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Mike Strantz’s first solo project, in 1994, Caledonia features the sort of quirks, oddities and extravagances the architect became famous for. Yes, it’s idiosyncratic in so many ways, but Caledonia is also undeniably beautiful, and the combination of Lowcountry nature and Strantz immoderation is intoxicating.
51. Pine Needles
Southern Pines, North Carolina
Southern Pines doesn’t get nearly the same recognition as Pinehurst, six miles to the west. Like its neighbour, however, it possesses a ridiculous amount of good golf for a town of its size.
As well as Mid Pines (No. 36) and Southern Pines (No. 95), it also has three-time US Women’s Open venue (a fourth coming in 2022) Pine Needles, which got the Kyle Franz treatment in 2018 when Donald Ross’s 1928 original returned to its glorious best.