Recently, I was scanning Golf Digest‘s rankings of the top 100 courses in the U.S., both private and public, as well as our nation’s top 100 public courses. Though I’ve played hundreds of golf courses in my 32 years, I realized that, sadly, I have played only 4 courses in both of those lists combined.

Of the top 100 overall, I’ve been fortunate to play Ocean Forest G.C. and East Lake C.C. in Georgia. And of the public courses, I’ve managed to play Cuscowilla and Great Waters–both in Georgia, as well. Kinda sad.

Though I’d love to play Oakmont or Augusta, it’s probably not going to happen–unless I’m just at the right place at the right time. But with a little planning and efficient money management, I could possibly play a few dozen of Golf Digest‘s top 100 public courses.

So, to get things started, I made a list of the five public courses I must, and shall, play before I move on to heaven’s eighteen. For kicks and giggles, I added two courses in Scotland I must, and shall, play as well.

These are in no particular order.

Bethpage Black:

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Bethpage Black laughs at your 2 handicap. Be happy to shoot 85 on this behomoth. (Image: erova/flickr)

You’ve got to love any course with a warning sign to frighten high handicappers. I fell in love with the idea of playing this course after reading John Feinstein’s book, The Open, which I reviewed a few months ago. The Black Course is the site of next year’s U.S. Open, but was first thrust into the limelight after the USGA renovated the course for the 2002 Open. The best thing about the Black? It’s cheap. Since the Bethpage Courses are within the confines of a state park, you only pay about $100 for a round…compared with up to $500 for some of the other courses on this list. I’d be happy to break 90 on this beast.

Pebble Beach:

This one is just a no-brainer. Really, any golfer worth his salt sets a goal to play Pebble Beach. In fact, if you are ever within a 200 mile radius of Pebble and you don’t play this legendary course, then consider yourself banished from the list of cool golfers. This would be the equivalent of calling yourself a hardcore baseball fan without ever visiting Wrigley Field. If you’re a true golfer, you gotta play Pebble. I guess I’m not a true golfer…yet.

Bandon Dunes:

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The 12th green at Bandon Dunes. Now that's pretty. (Image: shlinklincoln/Flickr)

As good as it gets for links golf in the U.S. What a beautiful, beautiful golf course. Since Bandon Dunes is part of a resort with three other courses (Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trail), I could perhaps convince the wife to, one day, venture with me to this beautiful track of land in Oregon. Beautiful golf course with a world-class spa and fabulous restaurants…what’s not to like?

Pinehurst #2:

Some might say Pinehurst is the mecca of golf. When I think about Pinehurst #2, one image comes to mind: Payne Stewart’s clutch putt on the 18th hole to win the 1999 U.S. Open. That image alone makes me want to visit this course and reflect on the victory of one of my all-time favorite golfers. Much like Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst is a resort with all types of non-golf amenities, so maybe this is another trip I could talk the wife into taking with me. Call me an optimist.

Wolf Creek:

The photos of Wolf Creek make me drool like a ravaged animal. I was about to list TPC Sawgrass here. But after playing this course in the new Tiger Woods game, I checked it out online. And, wow, Wolf Creek is an absolutely stunning course. Can’t tell you much about the layout, the design…it could be tricked up and Mickey Mouse for all I know. But the photos of this course just blow me away. At #25 on Golf Digest’s list, the only drawback to Wolf Creek? It’s in Nevada. Ugh.

St. Andrews:

Do I need to explain? If I’m playing St. Andrews, then I’m also probably visiting Carnoustie, Turnberry, and all the rest. But if I have to pick one course in Scotland to play, then it’s where this lovely game started. I have this dream that Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, once visited the grounds of St. Andrews long before the golf course existed. As a member of the Scottish Bruce clan, walking on the hallowed grounds of St. Andrews would be enough for this Bruce. But to play the course that Old Tom Morris once maintained? Count me in. This one will happen soon…hopefully within the next five years.

Prestwick:

Prestwick's first tee.

Prestwick's first tee. (Image: englishpointers/Flickr)

Until recently, I wasn’t much of a golf historian. But I’m currently reading Kevin Cook’s book, Tommy’s Honor, about Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom–who was literally the Tiger Woods of the nineteenth century (Expect a book review soon). The first British Open was held at Prestwick in 1860–twelve professional golfers (or “cracks” as they were known) participating. The course is also Old Tom’s first solo design. To this day, it’s a legendary track, and a sanctuary of golf.

Have you played any of the above courses? Some not worth visiting? Or should I place others on the list? Let me know your thoughts.

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