A new top 100: The best public golf courses of the PGA Tour's Champions circuit -- part 1

The guys on the PGA Tour's Champions circuit might be old, but the history of their tour hasn't even hit middle age yet.

The senior tour turned 36 years old in 2016. Its first official event, the 1980 Atlantic City Senior Invitational, took place at the Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey where the golf term "birdie" was coined. Don January won.

Pros past their prime playing for money wasn't a new concept at the time. Organizing a full schedule was. The first PGA Seniors' Championship debuted at Augusta National Golf Club in 1937. It wasn't until the success of an exhibition called the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 1978 and 1979 that an official senior tour began to take shape.

The age and marketing mite of golf's "Big Three" -- Jack Nicklaus (age 40 in 1980), Gary Player (45) and Arnold Palmer (51) -- fit nicely into the PGA Tour's budding plans to create tournaments for legends older than age 50. More than 1,000 events later, the recently renamed and rebranded PGA Tour Champions still hosts between 35 to 40 events annually.

During the past three and a half decades, this senior circuit has competed on many of the world's greatest courses. Many of these venues have doubled as PGA Tour hosts. Others -- while maybe not long enough for the young guns or located in the smaller markets -- are still great venues for you and I to "play where the pros play."

For that reason, I dug through the record books to find every public course to host a senior tour event. I've created a new "Top 100" list (with a few extras) that's a great guide of where they've played over the years. I ranked each course based on three criteria: The prestige of the tournament, the merits of the course and the current course reviews on Golf Advisor. Courses that held popular silly season events such as the Senior Skins Game and the Father-Son Challenge are included.

Essentially, these are the places to play if you want to follow in the footsteps of greatness ... i.e. champions and legends. And you don't have to be older than 50 to enjoy them.

The story is divided into three parts -- part 1 covering courses ranked no. 112-78, part 2 covering courses no. 77-39, and part 3 featuring the top 38. Not all of these venues are household names in golf, although most fans will recognize the majority of them:

112. The Highlands Golf Course, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Tournaments: 1986-1990 Greater Grand Rapids Open. 1991-1993 First of America Classic.

Comment: This Donald Ross course dating to 1908 was originally named the Elks Country Club. Most recent reviews on Golf Advisor to start 2016 cite conditioning issues, although it is early in the season.

111. Club Med Sandpiper Bay Golf Club, Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Tournaments: Co-host of the 1963 and 1974 PGA Seniors' Championship.

Comment: The old Sinners Course, designed by prolific south Florida architect Mark Mahannah, was later renamed and then revamped in 2011 with the first hole changing from a par 5 to a par 4 and No. 10 a par 3 instead of a par 4. Golf Advisor reviews tend to hover in the lower star ranges. The Club Med, however, is one of my favorite family golf resorts in America.

Tournaments: Co-host of the 1963 and 1974 PGA Seniors' Championship.

Comment: This city muni course, once owned by Club Med, earns mostly four stars on Golf Advisor.

109. Randolph North Golf Course, Tucson, Ariz.

Tournament: 1984-1986 Seiko-Tucson Senior Match Play Championship (Champions in order: Gene Littler, Harold Henning, January).

Comment: This historic city muni dating to 1925, which also hosted the Ping/Welch's LPGA Championship, gets mostly three to five stars on Golf Advisor.

108. Bobby Jones Golf Club, Sarasota, Fla.

Tournaments: Co-host of 1940-41 PGA Seniors' Championship.

Comment: The tournaments were played on the current back nines of the American and British courses, which were part of the original Donald Ross course Jones christened in 1927, three years before he won golf's only Grand Slam in 1930. The club has grown to 45 holes of municipal golf.

107. Marlborough Country Club, Marlborough, Mass.

Tournament: 1981-93 Marlboro Classic (Bob Goalby, Palmer, January).

Comment: This private club offers public play on Monday and Tuesday.

106. Hillcrest Golf Club, Sun City West, Ariz.

Tournament: 1984-1988 Del E. Webb/Senior PGA Tour Roundup (Billy Casper, January, Charles Owens, Casper, Al Geiberger).

Comment: Hillcrest, part of a massive Del Webb retirement community with four regulation and three executive courses, is praised as a good value for a three- to four-star course on Golf Advisor.

105. North Course at The Club at Pelican Bay, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Tournaments: 1983-84 Greater Daytona Senior Classic (Littler, Orville Moody).

Comment: Many users on Golf Advisor want better conditions, especially on the greens. Water lines virtually every hole on the course just minutes from the famous Daytona International Speedway and Daytona Beach International Airport.

104. Wildcreek Golf Course, Sparks, Nev.

Tournament: 1983-84 Gatlin Brothers Seniors Golf Classic (Don January, Dan Sikes) and 1985 The Champions Classic (Peter Thomson).

Comment: Local reports have indicated that the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority might close the course and sell off the land. Nothing has been decided as of April 2016. The majority of Golf Advisor reviews are four star.

Tournaments: 1990-2001 Kroger Senior Classic.

Comment: Renovations have significantly altered the Nicklaus/Desmond Muirhead design near Cincinnati that hosted the PGA Tour, LGPA Tour and Senior Tour from 1973-2001 when the course was affiliated with Kings Island, the Midwest's largest amusement/water park. Most Golf Advisor reviews average out to four stars.

102. Planter's Row at Port Royal Golf Club, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Tournament: 1985 Hilton Head Seniors International (Mike Fetchick).

Comment: Willard C. Byrd's design, built in 1983, features water on 10 holes and narrow, tree-lined fairways leading to small greens.

101. Red Course at Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, N.Y.

Tournaments: 2003-2008 Commerce Bank Long Island Classic.

Comment: Prominent local architect Devereux Emmet designed the Red in 1914 as part of the old Salisbury Golf Club. Nassau County took over in the 1940s and turned some of the club's five courses into parkland. The Red lives on as a heavily bunkered test of golf void of water.

Tournaments: 1987-2000 Vantage Championship, 2002 RJR Championship.

Comment: The Robert Trent Jones Sr. course near the Yadkin River hosted the 1974 PGA Championship won by Trevino as well. The 2001 Champions Tour event was cancelled after 9/11.

Tournaments: 1988-91 GTE Suncoast Seniors Classic (Dale Douglass, Bob Charles, Mike Hill, Charles).

Comment: This is a rare Clubcorp private club that offers public access through a 25-room boutique hotel on site.

98. Shipyard Golf Club, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Tournament: 1982-84 Hilton Head Seniors International (Co-winners Miller Barber and Dan Sikes, Barber, Elder)

Comment: The 27-hole facility recently laid down new Diamond zoysia grass on the greens, creating some of the best putting surfaces on the island.

97. Augusta Pines Golf Club, Spring, Texas

Tournaments: 2004-07 Administaff Small Business Classic (Larry Nelson, Mark McNulty, Jay Haas, Bernhard Langer).

Comment: The 100,000-square-foot clubhouse gives off a good first impression. The par-3 17th and par-5 18th holes both finish at island greens.

96. Del Monte Golf Course, Monterey, Calif.

Tournaments: 2005-13 co-host of the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.

Comment: The oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River is owned by Pebble Beach Resorts, even though it's adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa.

Hangin' at #PebbleBeachResorts. Morning round at #DelMonte, afternoon at #SpanishBay.

A photo posted by Jason Scott Deegan (@jasondeegangolfadvisor) on

95. Golf Club of Dallas, Dallas

Tournaments: 1994-95 Dallas Reunion Pro-Am (Larry Gilbert, Tom Wargo).

Comment: The old Oak Cliff Country Club was the last design of Perry Maxwell before his death in late 1952 and was finished by his son Press Maxwell in 1953. The elder Maxwell is famous for creating Southern Hills, Colonial Country Club, Prairie Dunes Country Club and for working at Augusta National, Maidstone and Pine Valley.

94. Plum Creek Golf Club, Castle Rock, Colo.

Tournaments: 1984-86 July Denver Post Champions of Golf (Barber, Elder, Player). 1987 The Denver Champions of Golf (Bruce Crampton).

Comment: The Dye design opened in the spring of 1984 as a TPC course. Its hilly routing climaxes during the back-nine par 3s, where the 12th hole is guarded by 10,000 of Dye's signature railroad ties and the 17th hole engulfed by water.

93. Rancho Park Golf Course, Los Angeles

Tournaments: 1990-94 Senior Classic with various sponsors.

Comment: Designed by William Johnson and William P. Bell. Rancho Park opened with the 1949 USGA Public Links Championship and has been host to 18 Los Angeles Opens as well as numerous LPGA Tour events.

92. Gaylord Springs Golf Links, Nashville, Tenn.

Tournaments: 1994-2002 BellSouth Senior Classic at Opryland, 2003 Music City Championship at Gaylord Opryland (Jim Ahern).

Comment: The old Springhouse Golf Club, once a part of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Conference Center, meanders along the banks of the Cumberland River bordered by limestone bluffs and wetlands.

91. Tournament Club of Iowa, Polk City, Iowa

Tournament: 2005 Allianz Championship (Tom Jenkins).

Comment: Almost all of the handful of Golf Advisor reviews for this Palmer design are five stars.

90. Bunker Hills Golf Club, Coon Rapids, Minn.

Tournaments: 1993-2000 Burnet Senior Classic.

Comment: The original course, home to countless state tournaments, dates to 1968, but everything else is newer -- the executive course in 1974, the third nine in 1989 and, most important, the rustic clubhouse in 2011.

89. Kearney Hill Golf Links, Lexington, Ky.

Tournaments: 1990-97 Bank One Classic.

Comment: Golfweek ranks this rolling city muni designed by Pete Dye fourth among the top public golf courses in Kentucky for 2016.

Tournaments: 1999-2000 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf (Gil Morgan/Hubert Green, Jim Colbert/Andy North).

Comment: Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen collaborated on a course that consistently gets four and five star reviews at Golf Advisor for its conditioning and overall experience.

Tournament: 1989 MONY Arizona Classic (Crampton).

Comment: Four and five-star reviews dominate Lookout Mountain's profile on Golf Advisor.

86. Magnolia Course at Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Tournaments: 1975-79 PGA Seniors' Championship.

Comment: The long-time host of a PGA Tour event hosted a solid run with the old guys before the Senior Tour became a real thing.

85. Quicksilver Golf Club, Midway, Pa.

Tournaments: 1993-95 Quicksilver Classic (Charles, Dave Eichelberger, Dave Stockton). 1996-97 Pittsburgh Senior Classic (Tom Weiskopf, Hugh Baiocchi).

Comments: Golf Advisor users have given out more five-star reviews than all other ratings combined, consistently calling it one of Pittsburgh's or western Pennsylvania's best.

84. Golf Club at Amelia Island, Amelia Island, Fla.

Tournament: 1998 Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf.

Comment: This pleasant and well-conditioned private club is accessible with a stay and play at the glamorous beachfront Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island.

Tournament: 2002 SBC Senior Open (Bob Gilder).

Comment: This faux links by Dick Nugent gets mostly positive four and five star reviews on Golf Advisor. Its final three holes finish on Lake Calumet. President Bill Clinton aced the sixth hole in 2001.

Tournaments: 2003-08 Del Webb Father-Son Challenge

Comment: Both the International and National Course at ChampionsGate are preparing to close for renovations to get new grass on the greens and renovated greenside bunkers. The International will close this June and reopen next June when the other course closes.

Tournaments: 1987-2004 events under various names/sponsors.

Comment: Donald Trump showed interest in buying and improving this tropical muni that showcases nice scenery of the Miami skyline.

80. Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, Calif.

Tournaments: 1989-1994 GTE West Classic, 1995-96 FHP Health Care Classic.

Comment: The peaceful surroundings of the Ojai Valley generate tons of five-star reviews at Golf Advisor. The layout packs a punch for only playing 6,200 yards from the tips.

Tournaments: 2006-07 The Boeing Championship at Sandestin (Bobby Wadkins, Loren Roberts).

Comment: Burnt Pine is the signature track at Sandestin, but this Jones II design compares favorably with loads of five-star reviews on Golf Advisor.

Tournament: 2015-present Tucson Conquistadores Classic (Marco Dawson).

Comment: There are so few reviews under four stars at Golf Advisor -- out of a large sample size of nearly 250 reviews -- that playing the Catalina course is almost a sure bet to be an enjoyable day. Golfers probably like the change of pace of a parkland course home to eight lakes instead of the usual target golf in the Arizona desert.

Read part 2 here.

Read part 3 here.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,100 courses and written about golf destinations in 25 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Default User Avatar

The note on Crandon Park is soooooo misleading Trump proposed running it and jacking up the fees, Miami politely declined.

Now Reading
A new top 100: The best public golf courses of the PGA Tour's Champions circuit -- part 1