So many golf courses, so little time. And so many opinions as to which are the best.To simplify matters, we assembled an expert panel of players, commentators, architects and critics and asked them to name their favorite public-access layouts at home and abroad. Check out their selections and start planning. Tee times are available, but there’s no time to waste.
Nine-time major champion, golf-course architect and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, Calif.
“You can’t have a list like this and not include Pebble,” Player says of this fabled five-time host of the U.S. Open, which cuts along the bluffs of the Monterey Peninsula on land that serves as nature’s gift to golf. “Given the combination of history, scenery and shot-making demands,” Player says, “it’s hard to do much better than this.”
Green fees: $495 (includes cart for resort guests), additional $35 for a cart for nonresort guests, (800) 654-9300,
The Links at Fancourt
George, South Africa
Granted, Player’s biased; he designed this golf course. But you understand his feelings the second you lay eyes on these lovely links, which tilt and roll through an unscathed landscape that could almost pass for Scotland, just with a warmer climate. “But, of course, you’ve got those mountains,” Player says. By which he means the golden slopes of the Outeniqua range, beautiful reminders of where you really are. Green fees: $226, 011-27-44-804-0030, www.fancourt.co.za
Two-time major champion, golf-course architect and lead golf analyst for NBC Sports
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Kiawah Island, S.C.
This famously challenging Pete Dye design metes out punishment of the most pleasurable kind, etched as it is through a wind-swept oceanside dunescape. “It’s just a very beautiful, demanding test of golf,” Miller says. The PGA Championship, the fourth and final major of the tour season, will be staged here in 2012. Green fees: $237 to $338, (800) 654-2924, Visit Website
Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club
Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
The only course in Ireland to host a British Open, this brawny layout turns especially bearish when stiff winds swirl in from the sea. If you can’t enjoy golf in these rough and raw conditions, odds are you can’t enjoy it anywhere. “I love everything about it,” Miller says. “The way it plays, its rugged wind-swept look. This is what links golf is all about.” Green fees: $221 to $246, 011-44-28-7082-2311, Visit Website
U.S. Open champion, former lead golf analyst, CBS Sports
Pasatiempo Golf Club
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Artful, alabaster bunkers. Buckled, multitiered greens. This emerald gem in the Santa Cruz Mountains bears the unmistakable imprint of Alister MacKenzie, the man behind Augusta National and Cypress Point. The difference is it’s open to the public. “That’s one of the things I love about it,” Venturi says. “It’s a great MacKenzie course that anyone can play.” Green fees: $220 to $250, (831) 459-9155, Visit Website
Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club*
Lahinch, County Clare, Ireland
“I’m an honorary member at Lahinch, and I just love it,” says Venturi, who appreciates the quirks of traditional links golf. Here you get them all: blind shots, crisscrossing fairways and mounds that carom shots in all directions — some cruel, some kind. It’s a natural fun house by the sea. Green fees: $135 to $170, 011-353-65-7081003, Visit Website
(*Advance booking recommended)
Architecture and course-rankings editor, Golf Magazine
The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort
Televised images of this course, which hosts the first event on tour each season, beam across the ocean like electronic postcards from Hawaii. But get this: The site is even prettier than it looks on TV. “It’s a course with amazing contours, ocean backdrops and jungle edging the fairways,” Passov says. “And it all adds up to a wide, wild and windy ride.”
Green fees: $158 to $268, (877) 527-2582, Visit Website
The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Resort
Banff, Alberta, Canada
“The setting here just staggers you,” Passov says of this Rocky Mountains jewel, which sits in the shadows of snowcapped peaks with the bubbling Bow River running along its flanks. Nature did its job, as did the great Canadian architect Stanley Thompson, whose artfully placed bunkers shine against a golfing backdrop that is unlike any other in the world.
Green fees: $155 to $225, (403) 762-6801, Visit Website
Former U.S. Amateur champion, current PGA Tour star
Spyglass Hill Golf Course
Pebble Beach, Calif.
One of the host venues for the heralded AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, this stout layout plays like two courses in one, starting out in a coastal dunescape before plunging through a forest of Monterey pines — and there’s no letting up along the way. “I like challenging courses that make you think your way around from start to finish,” Barnes says. “Spyglass is exactly that.” Green fees: $360, (800) 654-9300, Visit Website
Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club
One of the regular venues on the British Open rota, this seaside course is as rich in variety as it is in vistas, with holes ranging from a famous, 123-yard postage-stamp-size par-3 to a par-5 that stretches nearly six football fields. “It’s just a great, tough links course,” Barnes says. Green fees: $185 to $249, 011-44-1292-311-555, Visit Website