Pursuing America's classic 'bucket list' golf courses

Every man dies, not every man really lives," so said William Wallace in "Braveheart" (perhaps the greatest movie ever made. Check that -- Rodney Dangerfield's "Back to School" was the greatest, but I digress.).

So, when are you going to decide to really start to live?

Recently, I perused a list of the top 100 courses in the United States and decided to craft my own "bucket list" of the top 10 American courses I'd like to see before I've played my final round.

My personal criteria was simple enough: The course must be new to me; no prior visits whatsoever. So, here is my top 10 bucket list for the U.S.

10. Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan.

You wouldn't think a course in Hutchinson, Kan. would remind you of golf in the British Isles, but so say the experts! Prairie Dunes' construction was commissioned by the Carey family in 1935 and was based upon Emerson Carey, the patriarch's vision of golf he had played in Scotland. Perry Maxwell was entrusted with the task of whittling down to just 18 on a tract of land he claimed had 118 holes. "All I have to do is eliminate 100." Those 18 open in 1937 and in 1957, nine more were added, designed by Perry's son, Press. Prairie Dunes has hosted multiple events of stature, the most recent being the 2014 Men's NCAA Golf Championship.

9. Winged Foot West Course in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Some courses pull at your heart strings because of the history they have hosted, others because they are such an exceptional golfing experience. Winged Foot West is both. Three-time major champion Tommy Armour called Winged Foot home and 1948 Masters champion Claude Harmon was the head professional here (he was the last club pro to win a major championship) after two-time major champion Craig Wood held the post. Both the 2006 U.S. Open, won by Geoff Ogilvy, and the 1974 U.S. Open -- known as the "Massacre at Winged Foot," won (or survived) by Hale Irwin -- are looked upon as two of the most difficult in the history of the most difficult major of them all. Perusing just a list of national champions, in addition to those noted, from events at Winged Foot says all that need be said as to its competitive merits: Bobby Jones, Betsy Rawls, Billy Casper, Roberto De Vicenzo and Davis Love III (remember the rainbow?).

8. Fishers Island Club in Fishers Island, N.Y.

While much of modern golf is about brawn, the book on Fishers Island is that it is a thinking man's golf course. This Seth Raynor gem is cut hard on the rocky shores, very much in keeping with the island that hosts it off the coasts of Long Island and Connecticut (officially, one side of the island actually borders Rhode Island as well). Raynor generally raised the green complexes, adding to the complexity of how and where to run your ball onto the green if (more like when) the winds make the answer to such a riddle most elusive.

7. Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Ore.

Bandon Dunes was the course that got it all started at Bandon back in 1999. David McLay Kidd, from Scotland, was the brush that painted this very natural coastline with a course that would spawn a movement. Replete with gorse (real gorse, mind you), Bandon Dunes is said to take you to another time and place, but my only excuse for not having been there is due to the time it takes to get to this place. I'll do it, and I can't wait.

6. (tie) Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails in Bandon, Ore.

Okay, accuse me of double-dipping, but since I put Bandon on my top 10 bucket list anyway, why not add the Tom Doak and Coore/Crenshaw courses to my agenda? Like Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes utilizes the rugged Oregon coast to underscore its beauty and challenge, as Bandon Trails turns inward to the natural typography and routes through a variety of stunning landscapes away from the water.

5. Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada

Alright, alright, sound the alarms, here I said I was crafting a list of my top 10 bucket list courses in the U.S. and I go ahead and put another Keiser empire beauty on my list, and this one is in Canada! Well, sorry, Cabot Links is destined to be good enough to defy borders. Billed as Canada's only "true links," it certainly seems to have all of the elements that great links courses possess in order to awe and inspire. Nova Scotia's already an incredibly beautiful place and when you build a course in a beautiful place -- well, you get the picture.

4. Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Donald Ross seemed to have the ability to bring a little bit of his native Scotland to every course he designed. Despite being in south Florida, Seminole Golf Club's relatively treeless and sweeping terrain gets buffeted by persistent Atlantic breezes. As one of the most exclusive and respected courses in America, about all you need to know is that Ben Hogan used to spend a month practicing at Seminole to prepare for the Masters. That's good enough for me.

3. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, N.Y.

Shinnecock Hills' history of "firsts" is enough to make it appealing; oldest organized golf club in the U.S. (1891), membership that has always been open to women, and the oldest clubhouse (1892). Designed by the combined efforts of Flynn, Macdonald, Dunn and Davis, which is not a law firm, but the names of the men who shaped this links-style course from 1891 to 1937. Having hosted four U.S. Opens (a fifth is scheduled for 2018) already places Shinnecock Hills in rare company, but the golf experience is one to covet too.

2. National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y.

I didn't originally plan to have these two Long Island greats listed one after the other on my bucket list, but it should not come as a surprise that this links style course is so desirable. The iconic, if irascible, C.B. Macdonald -- a man who, through force of will and ego, helped define the game in the U.S. -- designed the National Golf Links of America. He incorporated design elements that he learned while schooling and traveling in the U.K. for a golf experience that may otherwise only be available across the pond.

1. Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach, Calif.

As one of the most exclusive and revered clubs in America, comedian Bob Hope once described a Cypress Point membership drive that succeeded in "driving out 40 members!" Crafted by Alister MacKenzie, the course features ethereal beauty that snakes its way through dunes, forest and the rocky coast. I've never met a golfer who doesn't want to play Cypress Point's famous par-3 16th hole, which stretches 231 yards to a well protected green framed by the oceanfront. MacKenzie brilliantly utilized the natural contours of the land so one can only imagine how the experience must be one of the game's most enlightened.

Those are mine. What's on your bucket list?

Matt Adams is a New York Times best selling author, award-winning host on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and golf industry executive. Adams' broadcasting talents have been featured on the BBC, ESPN, Golf Channel, PGA Tour Entertainment, and European Tour Productions, among others. Click here to read his golf blog, and follow him on Twitter at @MattAdamsFoL.
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Every time a course says no to me coming for a comp I say, "That's OK, I played Cypress Point and Pebble Beach on consecutive days, then drove up and played Riviera and spent the night in the Clubhouse's Ben Hogan Suite. 

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DrNorthcraft:  Realistic bucket lists are no fun, and require minimal effort.  I'm with Matt--dream big.

Having just come back from a trip to the West Coast (Pasatiempo is amazing, better than Pebble) and Australia (played each of the top 10 courses in the country), and having already taken trips to England, Wales, and Scotland, I, too, have turned my attention to the domestic offerings.  

My list (as with Matt's, includes only courses I've never played--if we're including courses I've played, Yale would be my No. 1):

10.  Bandon 9.  Friar's Head8.  San Francisco GC7.  Cypress6.  Pinehurst5.  Oakmont4.  Pine Valley3.  Shinnecock2.  Augusta1.  NGLA

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You're right about Braveheart. Also, I have Shinnecock in my top 10 twice.

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Seminole?  Winged Foot?  Cypress Point?  In what parallel universe is it possible for your average Joe golfer to get on any of those courses?  How about a more realistic bucket list:  Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass, Bethpage Black, Whistling Straits, The Ocean Course at Kiawah.  Courses that anyone has the opportunity (if not the checkbook!) to get on.  Which of course means a couple of Bandon Dunes courses definitely belong on any serious golfer bucket list (because if you are going to make the pilgrimmage you might as well play two)...but then it's not a real bucket list if it doesn't also include Ballybunion (Ireland) and the Old Course (Scotland).

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