Punch Shots: Our favorite golf courses that let the big dog eat

These exciting courses off the tee will make you feel like a long-drive champion.
Fred Couples hits from the second tee box of Punta Espada Golf Club in Cap Cana, Dominican Republic.

For most of us, the driver is our most expensive club in the bag and only the putter is used more often during a round.

So the golf courses that afford the chance to swing for the fences are often among the most satisfying to play. Elevated tee shots, risk-reward strategy, beautiful scenery and firm, fast conditions are all elements of what makes a course great to play off the tee.

Or more simply, it can be as easy as a course setting up well to one's eye.

In honor of the Volvik World Long Drive World Championship airing on Golf Channel September 4-5, our staff is recalling our favorite rounds we've played specifically based on how it set up from the tee box. What makes a golf course awesome off the tee for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Matt Ginella, Editor-at-Large: Mammoth Dunes

Nekoosa, Wisconsin

It had me at "Mammoth." Which is to say, 85 acres of fairway, almost twice the amount of fairway acreage in a typical routing. In some cases, you have 100 yards of width in the desired landing area. From 6,500 yards, the tees I’d generally play from, the longest par 4 is 424 yards, there’s one listed at 423 yards, and the rest are 402 yards or less. The sixth (308) and fourteenth (297) are considered drivable. And the tenth (323) is reachable, but the risk for most far outweighs the reward. Of the five par 5s, there’s nothing over 524 yards, and the third hole is 468 yards. According to architect David McLay Kidd, the idea that this course would be a favorite driving course was literally by design.

“What I wanted to do at Gamble Sands and at Mammoth, and all that we’re doing going forward, is that I think golf is more enjoyable as a second shot golf course,” said Kidd. “In order to dot that, I need to get you off the tee. We want you to swing freely and then have to think about what you’re doing with your second shot. That’s where I want you to decide if you’re on offense or defense. Are you trying to score or save par?”

Meanwhile, I’m trying to book a flight back so I can play it again.

Big fairways await at the new Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley Resort.

Brandon Tucker, Sr. Managing Editor: Punta Espada

Dominican Republic

I thought I'd pick a course like Michigan's Treetops or Bend's Brasada Canyons - mountainous places with lots of elevation change. But I keep coming back to last year's trip to the Dominican Republic. One of my favorite rounds I've had in quite some time was at Punta Espada and a big reason had to do with how the course looked and played off the tee. This flashy Nicklaus design has it all: elevated tees (none better than the par-5 2nd), short par 4s, lots of big fairways and plenty of risk-reward to consider. The cape-style 17th hole's tee box is so close to crashing waves it sounds like you're going to get wet in your backswing. The Tiger tee of the par-3 13th is all carry about 250 yards - a big dog for most, especially on a breezy day. It helps my memories of the place that I had a kick-in eagle putt on the par-5 15th after a big drive. Cap Cana's Punta Espada is such an unbelievably gorgeous setting that it's tough not to feel adrenaline the whole way.

And get here early. The driving range here is one of the prettiest around, so be sure to bang plenty of big dogs prior to teeing off.

Bradley S. Klein, Sr. Writer: Sugarloaf Golf Club

Kingfield, Maine

I’m big into setting and background, which is why my choice for my favorite place to smash the ball off the tee is in the mountains of western Maine. When you tee it up at Sugarloaf Golf Club, you’re set in the valley of Sugarloaf Ski Resort in the Bigelow Mountains. With the clubhouse set at 1,700 feet above sea level, you’re guaranteed spectacular backgrounds, thanks to Sugarloaf Mtn. at 4,237 feet on the southeast and Crocker Mtn. to the southwest at 4,229 ft. That’s quite the theatrical backdrop for a golf ball, never with more drama than on the launch pad, platform tee of the south-facing 334-yard, par-4 10th. Even when you flip directions and play north for holes 11-15 along the banks of the South Branch of the Carrabassett River, the white rocks along the stream bank provide a dramatic edge. And then there all of those white birch trees lining every fairway – like a uniformed audience witnessing to your golf. I’ll never forget the sense of freedom and excitement as my golf ball launched high over all of that land. The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course has relatively narrow, contour wavy fairways. In terms of scoring, a driver isn’t always the best choice. But it produces the most majestic ball flight. Who cares about proper strategy when you can create dramatic trajectory?

The spectacular 10th hole at Sugarloaf in Maine.

Jason Deegan, Sr. Writer: The Loop at Forest Dunes

Roscommon, Michigan

Being a short, low-ball hitter is my cross to bear in the modern game. So much is about carry distance these days. That's why I loved teeing it up on The Loop at Forest Dunes in northern Michigan this summer. Tom Doak's unique reversible layout - I prefer the Red to the Black - plays clockwise one day and counter-clockwise the next. No matter what direction, tee balls on the firm and fast turf run out like a crusty summer links overseas, rolling upwards of 20 to 30 yards more than expected. All day I felt like a Tour pro for the first time, with wedges and 9 irons in my hand. I even drove a short par 4 with a 275-yard poke. Most of the wide open fairways, while lined with scrub brush and pines, feature few, if any, bunkers. The strategy and challenge comes from hitting the proper side of the fairway for the best angle in, which is actually more critical here since the green complexes are so severe.

Tim Gavrich, Sr. Writer: The Ranch Golf Club

Southwick, Massachusetts

One of a few factors that make The Ranch a top public golf option in New England is the chance to hit a couple truly memorable tee shots. If you’ve played the course before, or if you’ve just heard about it, you’ll probably spend your entire warmup thinking about two par fives, the ninth and the 16th, where a good swing can mean the biggest drive of your life. Nine plunges downhill about 120 feet from the back tee to the end of the fairway some 465 yards on. The run-out is actually in play for long hitters. The 16th, appropriately nicknamed “Ski Hill,” drops more than 160 feet, its fairway stair-stepping as it plunges. If you catch the course on a relatively dry day, a good tee shot can tumble out more than 430 yards. The hole is 618 yards from the tips; I once hit driver-pitching wedge. The rest of the course is solid, but those two par fives are worth the green fee alone.

“A good drive at the 16th hole at The Ranch can tumble downhill and roll out more than 400 yards from the tee.”

Mike Bailey, Sr. Writer: The New Course at Grand Cypress Resort

Orlando, Florida

While many folks consider Jack Nicklaus designed courses to be overly difficult, they typically provide plenty of room off the tee. After all, Nicklaus hit the driver better than anyone in his day, so maybe he wanted you to be able to pull the driver with confidence on most holes (where his courses typically get difficult is on approaches and on the greens). No course, perhaps, is as driver-friendly as the New Course at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Fla. He designed it as a tribute to the great links courses of Scotland, and there's probably not a wider fairway in golf than what you get on the first tee of the New Course. Like the Old Course at St. Andrews, the first and 18th holes share the same fairway, so if you aim it down the left side of the first hole, you have about 50 yards on each side to miss it. And there's basically no rough on the entire golf course. So as long as you can keep it out of the bunkers and the burns (if you hit it over 300 yards, you might not want to hit driver on the first hole because the burn crosses in front of the green) you can hit it almost anywhere. I've hit some pretty wayward tee shots there and still made par, so it's my kind of course. Hit it as hard you can, find it, and hit it again.

Up Next

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Great tee shots at Punta Espada

Where are your favorite courses to play that let you rip the driver? Let us know in the comments below.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
Matt Ginella is Golf Advisor's Editor-at-Large and host of Golf Advisor Round Trip travel series on Golf Channel. Matt serves as resident buddy trip expert and captains a collection of VIP trips called Golf Advisor Getaways.
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 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.
Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
Veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist, Bradley S. Klein has written more than 1,500 feature articles on course architecture, resort travel, golf course development, golf history and the media for such other publications as Golfweek, Golf Digest, Financial Times, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He has published seven books on golf architecture and history, including Discovering Donald Ross, winner of the USGA 2001 International Book Award. In 2015, Klein won the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Follow Brad on Twitter
Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Two come to mind locally: Streamsong Black, Grand Cypress New. I'd love to get out to Mammoth soon!

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Punch Shots: Our favorite golf courses that let the big dog eat