When it comes to course design, it’s the ultimate badge of honor: a spot on GOLF’s biennial rank of the best courses in America. This year, we welcome a record 17 new entries — and beauty you won’t find anywhere else.
Best Golf Courses US United States 2021
Course descriptions below by Ran Morrissett, Josh Sens and Hayes Jackson. Image above, of Pebble Beach’s 7th hole, by Channing Benjamin.
It’s here! GOLF’s 2021 ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S.
- Pine Valley – Best Golf Courses US 2021
- Cypress Point – Best Golf Courses US 2021
- Shinnecock Hills – Best Golf Courses US 2021
- National Golf Links of America – Best Golf Courses US 2021
- Oakmont – Best Golf Courses US United States 2021
- Augusta National – Best Golf Courses US United States 2021
- Sand Hills – Best Golf Courses US United States 2021
- Merion (East) – Best Golf Courses US United States 2021
- Fishers Island – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Pebble Beach – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Pinehurst (No. 2) – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Los Angeles (North) – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Friar’s Head – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Chicago GC – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Winged Foot (West) – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Crystal Downs – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Riviera – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Prairie Dunes – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Pacific Dunes – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
- Seminole – Best Golf Courses United States 2021
Best Golf Courses US United States 2021
1. Pine Valley
Pine Valley, NJ – ARCHITECT – George Crump / Harry S. Colt – YEAR BUILT – 1918
To state perhaps the obvious, one simple but effective way to judge a design is by the quality of the course’s property, its hazards and greens. Pine Valley excels at all three, with many contending it has the most formidable hazards and sophisticated green complexes in golf.
Throw in a wonderful routing that hopscotches from one island of turf to the next across the rolling, sandy landscape and you have a course that hasn’t budged from the No. 1 spot for decades. Remember when Tiger Woods was once voted the most underrated player on tour when he won three majors in a year? Same applies here, with Pine Valley’s only benchmark being itself.
2. Cypress Point
Pebble Beach, CA – ARCHITECT Alister MacKenzie – YEAR BUILT 1928
As Alister MacKenzie must have felt about his 1928 design, it’s almost inconceivable that land this stunning was made available for golf. For the lucky few who get to play here, they enjoy one of the best walks in the sport as MacKenzie effortlessly transports the player around the diverse property.
The iconic par-3 16th, which extends into the churning Pacific, is perhaps the most dramatic and photographed hole in the game, but there are endless other highlights — from heaving dunes to jagged coastline — that golfers won’t soon forget. How did MacKenzie get the best from the land? In part, by breaking the “rules” and having back-to-back par-5s on the front and back-to-back par-3s on the back. The drivable ½-par 9th is another design standout with its angled green toward play. (Photo: Gary Lisbon)
3. Shinnecock Hills
Southampton, NY – ARCHITECT William Flynn – YEAR BUILT – 1931
Venue for five U.S. Opens since 1986, most recently in 2018, this is William Flynn’s undisputed design masterpiece. Apart from being handed a magnificent piece of land upon which to work, Flynn was given something else nearly as valuable: time. Work commenced in 1928 and the course didn’t open until 1931. True, the Great Depression commenced during construction but the grace with which the holes flow across the property is a tribute to the hands-on, slow-build process. (Photo: Joann Dost)
4. National Golf Links of America
Southampton, NY – ARCHITECT C.B. Macdonald – YEAR BUILT 1911
NGLA, or “National,” as it’s known, brought Seth Raynor and C.B. Macdonald together for the first time and what they created still stands as a marvel of strategic design. Some of its template holes, including the Alps 3rd, the Redan 4th, the Short 6th and the Leven 17th, are arguably superior to their namesake holes in the United Kingdom that Macdonald copied.
Legendary golf writer Bernard Darwin summed it up nicely when he opined, “The National Links is a truly great course; even as I write I feel my allegiance to Westward Ho!, to Hoylake, to St. Andrews tottering to its fall.” (Photo: William Tyler Smith).
Oakmont, PA – ARCHITECT Henry Fownes – YEAR BUILT 1903
No course thrives more on looking mean and playing vicious. The beauty of Oakmont is how it doesn’t doll itself up, and yet to a purist the view from the crest of the hill on 15 is as breathtaking as any in the country.
The barren landscape possesses virtually no trees or water, just drainage ditches that traverse the land. There are few daunting carries and the greens are huge, so what’s the big deal? The question is answered at the 1st, with a green that follows the natural contours and slopes away from the player.
Let the beating commence! For a course famed for its difficulty, what gets lost in the shuffle is the brilliance of its short par-4s. (Photo: Gary Lisbon)
6. Augusta National
Augusta, GA – ARCHITECT Alister MacKenzie/Bobby Jones – YEAR BUILT 1933
Augusta National is the vision of Bobby Jones and his chosen architect, Alister MacKenzie. Both intended for Augusta National to reflect the spirit and strategic options of the Old Course at St.
Andrews, the course that they admired most. Nearly every hole at St. Andrews and Augusta National provides a safe route to the green and also a riskier one. Recent tree-planting and narrowing of corridors stands in contrast to that shared vision and is at odds with what has transpired at other Golden Age cornerstone designs this century, proving what a tough position ANGC finds itself in continuing to test the world’s best players in golf’s most anticipated event. Regardless, the course’s staggering beauty and Masters tradition remain unlike any other. (Photo: Joann Dost)
7. Sand Hills
Mullen, NE – ARCHITECT Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw – YEAR BUILT 1995
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw moved only teaspoons of dirt to construct the most natural, hew-to-the-land layout built since World War II. Rolling, sandy terrain, rippled fairways that were spared from a bulldozer, ever-present winds, wavy prairie grasses and gigantic blow-out bunkers create the sensation of being seaside in the middle of landlocked Nebraska.
The design was immediately embraced, and the minimalist movement started in earnest, with this course arguably kicking off the second Golden Age. (Photo: Larry Lambrecht)
8. Merion (East)
Ardmore, PA – ARCHITECT Hugh Wilson – YEAR BUILT 1912
What makes Merion so distinctive is its remarkable variety. Some par-4s are short, others are monsters. One par-3 is tiny, at 115 yards; the others measure 236, 246 and 256 yards. The famous par-4 11th, where Bobby Jones clinched the 1930 Grand Slam, is slashed by a creek, while the par-4 16th demands a shot over an abandoned stone quarry.
In short, Merion has everything, including newly installed sub-air and irrigation systems that lend more control over the firmness and speed of the playing surfaces. The recently expanded greens have created a plethora of new hole locations around the greens’ perimeters, and the player’s chess match with the clever design is more intense than ever. (Photo: Larry Lambrecht)
9. Fishers Island
Fishers Island, NY – ARCHITECT Seth Raynor – YEAR BUILT 1926
Accessible by ferry or air, this exclusive retreat off the Connecticut coast is populated by the oldest of the Old Money crowd, many of whom still enjoy hoofing it. Why wouldn’t they, given the classic Seth Raynor design that tracks along the island’s northeast edge, the delightful tumbling terrain and the spectacular views of Long Island Sound. Are the 3rd, 4th and 5th holes as intoxicating as any three consecutive holes on this list? It’s a question worth considering. (Photo: Larry Lambrecht)
10. Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach, CA – ARCHITECT Jack Neville/Douglas Grant – YEAR BUILT 1919
The first great American public oceanside course, Pebble benefits from an ingenious routing that brings the player right to the ocean’s edge, then away into the woods, then back again. Even today, no more thrilling, spectacular stretch exists than holes 4 through 10. Does anything in golf compare with that final stroll up the par-5 18th as it curves left around Carmel Bay? Hard for a course this well known to exceed first time expectations — but it does, which is a true feat. (Photo: Evan Schiller)
11. Pinehurst (No. 2)
Pinehurst, NC – ARCHITECT Donald Ross – YEAR BUILT 1907
Donald Ross’s chef d’oeuvre rolls spaciously through tall longleaf pines in the Carolina Sandhills with holes culminating with legendary inverted-saucer greens. For the 2014 U.S. Open, a Coore-Crenshaw restoration brought back the tawny-edged fairways and native areas last seen in the 1940s.
Even with no rough, the runner-up could muster only one under par over four rounds. After the Women’s U.S. Open was played the following week, a powerful message had been broadcast around the world from the home of American golf about the virtues of width, short grass and great greens.
This is one of a handful of courses that presents resort guests with a fun test on which they won’t lose a single ball, and a week later, can be ready to host a U.S. Open. That’s the flexibility of short grass — and Ross’s design genius. (Photo: Joann Dost)
12. Los Angeles (North)
Los Angeles, CA – ARCHITECT George C. Thomas Jr. – YEAR BUILT 1927
Gil Hanse’s team restored George Thomas’s classic to perfection in 2010. Bunkers were reshaped and relocated, fairways were widened and re-shaped and a natural barranca was brought back into play as a strategic hazard. Arguably America’s premier urban design, LACC North hosted the 2017 Walker Cup and design afficionados can’t wait for the highly anticipated 2023 U.S. Open. To quote Hanse, “The course enjoys a perfect sense of place and balance.” (Photo: Larry Lambrecht)
13. Friar’s Head
Baiting Hollow, NY – ARCHITECT Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw – YEAR BUILT 2003
Tree-dotted dunes, open meadows and bluff-top views of Long Island Sound highlight play at this 2003 Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design. Phil Mickelson opined that it is his favorite modern course. Holes such as the par-5 14th call to mind an East Coast version of Cypress Point. Constant refinements, no matter how small, have helped this course continually power up the rankings. From a presentation perspective, few courses are as dialed-in. (Photo: Channing Benjamin)
14. Chicago GC
Wheaton, IL – ARCHITECT C.B. Macdonald, 1895/Seth Raynor, 1923 – YEAR BUILT 1895
One of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association in 1894, Chicago Golf was the site of the nation’s first 18-hole course; it also was the first course outside of the Northeast to play host to the U.S. Open. Seth Raynor retooled his mentor C.B.
Macdonald’s course in 1923 and not much has changed since as its slew of exemplary template holes make it just as relevant today as it was in the age of hickory golf. Holes 1 through 3, which include a Road and Biarritz template, represent one of the game’s great starts. (Photo: Andy Johnson/The Fried Egg)
15. Winged Foot (West)
Mamaroneck, NY – ARCHITECT A.W. Tillinghast – YEAR BUILT 1923
Hale Irwin survived the 1974 “Massacre at Winged Foot” U.S. Open to win at seven over par. Geoff Ogilvy didn’t fare much better in 2006, when his five-over total took home the trophy. Mark Brooks, 1996 PGA champion, summed up this Golden Age A.W. Tillinghast design this way: “There are probably six hard holes, six really hard holes and six impossible holes.” Frighteningly contoured, pear-shaped greens, cavernous bunkers and a procession of rugged par-4s define the trouble here.
On a “difficulty” scale of 1 to 10, Jack Nicklaus once rated the West course a 12. That said, Gil Hanse’s recent, stunning expansion of all the green pads has brought back an element of creativity with which few parkland courses can contend, all of which was on display at the 2020 U.S. Open won by Bryson DeChambeau. (Photo: Christian Hafer)
16. Crystal Downs
Frankfort, MI – ARCHITECT Alister MacKenzie/Perry Maxwell – YEAR BUILT 1932
Because of its remote location, Crystal Downs was once overlooked but that changed when Tom Doak introduced the course to Ben Crenshaw in the 1980s. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive length of 6,518 yards from the tips. A combination of strong breezes, thick fescue roughs, undulating terrain and fiendishly contoured greens make this one of the harder courses relative to its tight par of 70 in the Top 100. (Photo: Gary Kellner/Dimpled Rock)
Pacific Palisades, CA – ARCHITECT George Thomas Jr./Billy Bell Sr. – YEAR BUILT 1927
The value of a good architect is highlighted here in technicolor. Built in a narrow canyon, there was no reason to hold high hopes for this course. Yet what emerged, courtesy of George Thomas and Billy Bell, is one of the game’s strategic design marvels.
Together, they took bunker configuration and angled greens to new heights in the 1920s. As proof of their magical skills, look no further than Riv’s 311-yard, par-4 10th. Thanks to the inspired positioning of the bunkers and the angled green, options abound on how to card a big number on this tiny hole. Thomas’s famous quote — “Strategy is the soul of the game” — manifests itself at Riv. (Photo: Patrick Koenig)
18. Prairie Dunes
Hutchinson, KS – ARCHITECT Perry Maxwell, 1937/Press Maxwell, 1957 – YEAR BUILT 1937
After weeks of tromping around the yucca-choked sand hills of Hutchinson, architect Perry Maxwell proclaimed, “There are 118 good golf holes here. All I have to do is eliminate 100 of them.” All that’s missing is an ocean at this linksy-looking layout that played host to the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open (Juli Inkster) and 2006 U.S. Senior Open (Allen Doyle). What a delight that the Maxwells got to work with this special site as their soft touch on the land is a must-study for any architect. (Photo: Andy Johnson/The Fried Egg).
19. Pacific Dunes
Bandon, OR – ARCHITECT Tom Doak – YEAR BUILT – 2001
This unconventional Doak delight catapulted him into the spotlight. A slew of par-4s on the first nine gives way to a peculiar 3-3-5-4-3-5 start to the second nine. Only Mike Keiser would have approved of such an unusual sequence and this course helped modern architecture break free from some certain design shackles that had constrained designers over the past five decades. Scattered blow-out bunkers, gigantic natural dunes, smartly contoured greens and Pacific panoramas complete Doak’s first masterpiece. (Photo: Evan Schiller).
Juno Beach, FL – ARCHITECT Donald Ross – YEAR BUILT 1929
What a good thing the club did by hosting a televised event to raise money to fight Covid in May 2020. Few golfers get to experience this posh coastal retreat and they were rewarded with first-time views of what is arguably the finest site on which Donald Ross ever worked. The course plays along and between two main dune lines, and Ross made the most of the opportunity with holes continually tacking in different directions.
The club prides itself on its firm playing surfaces and when the coastal breezes kick in, watch out. Some grouse that the course’s reputation is built on the club’s exclusivity, which is unfair given that standout holes abound, including the 4th, 6th, 13th and one of the great trio of finishing holes in the sport. So impressed was Ben Hogan with Seminole’s virtues that he would play and practice here for 30 straight days each year leading up to the Masters. (Photo: Patrick Koenig)