There is something special about being first off the tee in the morning. It's also deeply satisfying to know you've sunk the day's last putt on a golf course in the fading light.
Doing both in the same day is sublime.
Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty.
Playing 36 holes in a single day can be arduous, especially if you walk. Just as marathoners will speak of the "runner's high" that kicks in after several miles, golfers may not be moving nearly that fast, but they know that endorphin flood that begins somewhere around the turn of the day's fourth nine. It usually sticks around after the last putt is holed, often lingering through dinner, a heavenly shower and translating into a lead weight's night's sleep. Call it a hacker's high.
I have been tremendously fortunate to feel that particular euphoria dozens of times in my life, including several times in recent years, exploring the world of golf in order to learn where you should spend your precious time and resources playing. When I go on a trip, I'm dead-set on maximizing the number of rounds and courses I see. Who knows when I'll be back that way again?
In 2019, I played 11 rounds on 10 southwestern Michigan courses in the space of seven days. Not a world-record pace but considering I put more than 500 miles on my rental car and stopped by half a dozen other courses that I didn't have time to play, it felt like a good whirlwind.
Last summer, I played 36 three days in a row during a scouting trip to Wisconsin ahead of the Ryder Cup. The Badger State is built for golf road-tripping with its long summer days. It's ideal for all-out golf splurges. It and Michigan are the states most like Scotland, which beckons golfers across the Atlantic Ocean with the prospect of playing double-digit rounds of golf in less than the time it takes for a banana to ripen.
Ah, Scotland. The typically cool breezy summer weather and wedded-to-the-sea links terrain helps golfers fit 36 or more holes into a day without the dog-tired feeling that typical American summer heat brings. It's where I had two of my 10 all-time favorite 36-hole days, and where I hope to fit in at least a couple more in due time.
My personal top 10 36-hole golf days
Glen Golf Club/North Berwick Golf Club
My first visit to East Lothian in 2019 stands out as one of the finest stretches of golf days I have ever had, and it was anchored by this double-feature. Sure, Muirfield/North Berwick would be a higher-ranked two-fer, but the Glen Golf Club, the town's East Links, is a low-key gem that, while not pure linksland, is a wonderful seaside walk on firm turf in a constant breeze. It welcomed me warmly - I holed a knockdown six-iron for eagle on the second hole. But the ancient West Links was the headliner; I was fortunate to play with a member, who nearly aced the par-3 6th hole. I birdied the Redan par-3 15th and we putted out on 18 with the lights from the clubhouse helping us see our lines. It was magical, anchored by a sublime lobster lunch in town.
Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society/Royal Burgess Golfing Society
Most golfers would scoff at the idea of playing any parkland golf in Scotland as a waste of time, but I loved teeing it up at these neighboring courses whose governing clubs date to 1761 and 1735, respectively. So entwined are they that every few years, they open the gate in the fence separating them and play a club-versus-club "Grand Match." Dozens of members of each society face off for bragging rights.
Straits at Whistling Straits/Meadow Valleys at Blackwolf Run
Golfers flood Kohler with ambitions of playing 36 holes most days, and while the traditional wisdom is to play both courses at a single site - either River and Meadow Valleys at Blackwolf Run or Straits and Irish at Whistling Straits - I like the variety of playing one course from each. Last summer, I got beat up pretty good by the Straits and then had a much more relaxing jaunt around the friendliest of Pete Dye's four big courses at the resort.
The Club at Lac La Belle/Washington County Golf Course
The long summer daylight hours in Wisconsin make for perfect all-out golf-binge conditions. Just 36 hours after my Kohler double, I dragged my friend Mike, a relatively new golfer, out for a walk around Craig Haltom's splendid renovation of one of the Badger State's oldest clubs, then a cart-and-beers 18 at Washington County, a laid-back Arthur Hills muni just north and west of Milwaukee. It was a great day.
Sand Valley Golf Club/Lawsonia (Links)
Did I mention that Wisconsin is great for 36-hole golf days? This one brings me back to 2016, when I was lucky to be one of the first people to play all 18 holes of the brand-new (in some places still growing in) Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw gem at the nascent Sand Valley Golf Resort in the west-central region of the state. I then pressed my luck, driving an hour and 15 minutes east to the Golf Courses of Lawsonia in the town of Green Lake, to play the circa-1930 Links Course, a William Langford/Theodore Moreau masterpiece that I think is one of the best public courses I have ever played.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club/True Blue Golf Club
I called Pawleys Island, South Carolina home for a few years after having spent many summers there with my family while growing up. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of crossing King's River Road between rounds at these two Mike Strantz designs that have helped open traveling golfers' eyes to more adventurous types of golf courses since they opened in 1994 and 1998, respectively. My personal recommendation for making a 36-hole day out of these courses is to play the more spacious True Blue in the morning, enjoy lunch at Caledonia and time your round so that you'll be coming up the 18th hole as the sun is setting over the Waccamaw River in the distance.
TPC Myrtle Beach/Heritage Club
These courses are a little more of an odd couple than Caledonia and True Blue, but they anchored a memorable 36-hole day for me in 2016. I enjoy TPC Myrtle Beach, but what stuck out most about my morning round was the company: three best friends from Somerville, Mass. Think "Good Will Hunting" for the accents and sense of humor. They were dreadful golfers but they played fast and had just about as much fun as I've seen anyone have on the course. It was a reminder of golf's capacity to deepen friendships. The peace of my afternoon solo loop around Heritage, which I hold as equal in excellence to Caledonia and True Blue (Mike Strantz worked on Heritage while building Caledonia), was special in a completely different way.
If Wisconsin is great for 36-hole golf days, Michigan might be even better, especially since its location at the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone means late sunset times in the summer. My first visit to southwestern Michigan, in 2019, included multiple multi-course days, my favorite among them being this Grand Rapids duo of Mike DeVries gems. Pilgrim's Run's deep-forest setting contrasts nicely with Mines' heaving terrain and minimal bunkering.
Streamsong Red/Streamsong Blue
The routings of these two golf courses intertwine like a pair of wrestling snakes, making a round on either feel like a meandering hike of the property. Playing both of them in the same day, then, feels like a thorough exploration of a landscape that is unlike anything a Florida-bound golfer expects to experience. If you can resist the urge to scan the landscape long enough to concentrate on the individual golf holes, you will find 18 excellent ones by Coore & Crenshaw (Red) and Tom Doak (Blue), respectively.
LuLu Country Club/Jeffersonville Golf Course
What's better than playing a Donald Ross-designed golf course? Playing two of them back-to-back. When I played it in 2019, LuLu, one of Ross' earliest courses (where he reconfigured an existing layout in 1912), was taking some public play. That's no longer the case, but nearby Jeffersonville, a Ross design restored over the last 20 years by Ron Prichard, is town-owned and open to all (and a member of our Top 100 Under $100). Similar to my North Berwick day at the top of this list, this fantastic Philadelphia golf excursion pivoted on a great meal: in this case, a cheesesteak at Tony G's, just around the corner from Jeffersonville.
36-hole golf days: a bucket list
I have been extremely lucky in my time on the road to play dozens of special golf courses. Here are six 36-hole golf days I dream of enjoying in the future.
Bandon Dunes/Pacific Dunes
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort remains the most glaring gap in my golf resume. Not for too much longer, I hope.
Bandon Trails/Old Macdonald
The greens at Pasatiempo are legendary for their eccentricity. Is it a sign of hopeless golf obsession that I'm equally eager to see them as I am to hit golf shots along the cliffs at Pebble Beach? I do know enough that walking up 18 with the sun setting and the waves crashing would be an all-time moment.
Royal St. George's/Royal Cinque Ports
Everything I have seen of St. George's makes me think it would be far and away my favorite Open Championship venue in England, and everything I've read of Royal Cinque Ports, a.k.a. Deal, makes me think it's my kind of club. I might even walk the beach to get from one to the other.
Swinley Forest Golf Club/New Zealand Golf Club
These are two of more than a dozen English heathland golf courses I vow to play before too long. Having played Sunningdale Old and St. George's Hill, Harry Colt's "least bad golf course" at Swinley Forest and Tom Simpson's quiet marvel at New Zealand are at the top of my wish list.
Royal Melbourne East and West
Australia is the country I would most love to play golf where I've yet to visit. Why not aim for the visitor-friendly stars and Alister MacKenzie's Southern Hemisphere masterpiece?