This story originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
Get into the swing of things with our list of the top golf courses in the world. These historic, pristine courses are closely guarded by incredibly exclusive membership rules, so even the most accomplished and high-profile businessmen and golfers struggle to tee off.
National Golf Links of America SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK, USA
Named the National Golf Links of America because the 67 founding members all lived in different areas of the US, the course is more commonly known as National. Designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1908, the course is laid out over 250 acres of Long Island scenery and is a blend of original holes and others inspired by famous courses in Britain — the third hole, Alps, is a par four that requires a blind approach shot to the green, similar to the 17th hole at Prestwick, and the 13th hole, Eden, is a par three that imitates the 11th hole at St Andrews. There’s a windmill between the second and 16th holes, apparently placed there at the suggestion of a member — Macdonald purchased a windmill when he was in Europe and sent the member the bill. Membership is invitation only, and fees can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps the reason it’s known as “America’s Snootiest Golf Course.”
Par 73 Tournaments hosted Walker Cup Notable members Roger Waters
Augusta National Golf Club AUGUSTA, GEORGIA, USA
Considered the most famous golf club in the world, the Augusta National Golf Club is home to the annual Masters Tournament, where golfers compete for the coveted green jacket. Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts founded the course on the grounds of a former plant nursery in 1933. The first Masters was played here in 1934, then known as the Augusta National Invitational Tournament. In tribute to its former life, each hole was initially named after a tree or shrub, but several have since been renamed, with the famous stretch of holes (numbers 11, 12 and 13) nicknamed Amen Corner. This site has seen key moments in Masters history and is often instrumental in deciding the Masters winner.
Par 72 Tournaments hosted Masters, PGA Seniors’ Championship Notable members Warren Buffett, Bill Gates (who struggled to get in after publicly stating he wanted to join), Pete Coors, Jack Nicklaus, T Boone Pickens, Jr.
Oakmont OAKMONT, PENNSYLVANIA, USA
Opened in 1903, Oakmont is one of the oldest top-ranked courses in the US, and one of the hardest — even without any water hazards.With 175 deep bunkers, fast, undulating greens and sloping fairways, the course is certainly challenging. As Arnold Palmer said, “You can hit 72 greens [in regulation] in the Open at Oakmont and not come close to winning.” Perhaps the most well-known hazard is the Church Pews bunker at the third and fourth holes, named after the grass-covered ridges that look like rows of benches. It’s the only course in the world designed by Henry Fownes, and since 2007 has virtually no trees, making for incredible views and allowing you to see the entire course in all its intimidating glory.
Par 71 (70 for men’s majors) Tournaments hosted US Open, PGA Championships, US Women’s Open
Cypress Point PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA, USA
Designed by Alister Mackenzie in 1928, Cypress Point is consistently rated as of one the top three golf courses by major golf publications (no 2 in Golf 2011). Mackenzie let the natural environment shape this stunning course — positioned at the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, it winds through jagged coastline and sand dunes, then heads into the Del Monte forest during the front nine. It remerges along the coastline for the finishing holes, notably the signature hole, number 16, which requires a 231-yard tee shot over the Pacific to a mid-sized green guarded by strategically placed bunkers. Membership is incredibly exclusive — it’s rumored that even JFK was once refused entry to the restaurant.
Par 72 Tournaments hosted AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Walker Cup Notable members Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, Charles Schwab
Muirfield EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND, UK
Home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield is one of the oldest clubs in golf and actually holds the accolade of being the oldest verifiable organized golf club in the world (even though the game itself is centuries older). Traditionally, Links courses run along the coast before turning players back in the opposite direction, so they will have the same wind conditions for nine holes in a row. Muirfield, however, was one of the first courses to shake things up with its design of two loops, the first clockwise, the second roughly counterclockwise. This creates a diverse round of golf with no more than three consecutive holes following the same direction. The Open Championship was first held here in 1892 (back then, the winner’s share was around $40; in 2013 it was $1.3m), and Muirfield has hosted the championship 16 times since. In March 2017 the club made headlines as it voted to admit female members for the first time in its history.
Par 71 Tournaments hosted The Open Championship, Ryder Cup, The Amateur Championship, Senior British Open
Pebble Beach Golf Links MONTEREY COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, USA
Next year, Pebble Beach Golf Links will be hosting the US Open Championship — the sixth time the course has hosted the tournament, more than any other course in the past 50 years. The event coincides with the club’s 100th anniversary, and many historical moments have happened here: Jack Nicklaus secured a US Open Victory in 1972 when he executed one of the most famous shots in golf history, hitting a dead-perfect 1-iron that bounced and struck the flagship before resting next to the cup for a tap-in birdie. The course is considered one of the most beautiful in the world — the rugged coastline and expansive views of Carmel Bay and the Pacific Ocean are a perfect backdrop to the narrow fairways. There’s a particularly spectacular view at the 18th hole.
Par 72 Tournaments hosted US Open, PGA Championship, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-AM, Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach
Royal County Down NEWCASTLE, NORTHERN IRELAND, UK
Situated beneath the imposing Mountains of Mourne, stretching along the rugged shores of Dundrum Bay next to the Irish Sea, Royal County Down is beautifully dramatic. It’s been ranked as the number one course in the world by Golf Digest (2016) and is Rory McIlroy’s favorite course. Measuring an astounding 7,204 yards from the back tees, the course has some of the most photographed holes in the world, notably the ninth hole, a 486-yard par four that’s played from one side of a vast mound down to a fairway 60ft below and 260 yards from the tee. It’s one of the oldest golf courses in Ireland and dates back to 1889, when Old Tom Morris was paid the princely sum of four guineas (around $7) to build it.
Par Championship Links 71; Annesley Links 66 Tournaments hosted Senior British Open,Walker Cup, Irish Open, Curtis Cup, The Amateur Championship
Pine Valley Golf Club CAMDEN COUNTY, NEW JERSEY, USA
Pine Valley has been topping world’s best lists since 1985, thanks to the impeccable design allowing for a consistent level of challenge and conditioning at each hole. Johnny Miller summed this up by saying, “There are no weak holes, every single one is a masterpiece.” Membership to Pine Valley is extremely exclusive—there’s thought to be only around 900 members, and the male-only membership is strictly by invitation from the board of directors. Rumor has it that even Tom Watson, an eight-time majors champion, was turned away, as he didn’t have a tee time. Despite being a firm favorite course, Pine Valley has hosted very few tournaments. The club has stated that they have no intention to remove trees or alter the layout of the course in order to host a major tournament, but on the last Sunday of each September, The Crump Cup is played here. An invitational golf tournament for amateurs, the cup, named after founder and course architect George Arthur Crump, offers the public a chance to tour the famed course and view tournament play—the only time of year this is possible.
Par 70 Tournaments hosted Walker Cup, The Crump Cup Notable members George HWBush, Bob Hope, Tom Fazio, Sean Connery, Jay Sigel
St Andrews Links FIFE, SCOTLAND, UK
As one of the oldest golf courses in the world, St Andrews is known as the “home of golf”—hardly surprising considering the game has been played here since the 15th century. There are currently seven public golf courses at St Andrews Links, with the Old Course dating back more than 600 years. Bobby Jones remarked that if he could play one last golf course before he died, it would be the links at St Andrews, and the Old Course was where Jack Nicklaus chose to play his final round of professional golf, in the 14th Open Championship. The moment was immortalized on a limited-edition Bank of Scotland £5 note, which has become a sought-after collector’s item.
Par Old Course 72; The Castle Course 71; New Course 71; Jubilee Course 72; Eden Course 70; Strathtyrum Course 69; Balgrove Course 30 Tournaments hosted The Open Championship, PGA Tour
Royal Melbourne Golf Club VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA
Founded 127 years ago, the exclusive (so exclusive even Elite Traveler couldn’t get access) Royal Melbourne Golf Club is widely acknowledged as the best course in Australia. There are two 18-hole courses, East and West, and for tournaments and members’ events, the club combines 12 holes from the West and six from the East to form the Composite Course. Alister MacKenzie designed the West course, and the club strives to uphold his design principles with wide, open fairways and fast and firm conditions. The World Atlas of Golf described the course as a “kaleidoscope experience of obstacles and emotions.”
Par West Course 72; East Course 71 Tournaments hosted Australian Open, Presidents Cup, Women’s Australian Open