Strolling down memory lane: The best public courses from Shell's Wonderful World of Golf

When it was first reported that a match between Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler was coming to Detroit in June, I got all excited for what seemed like the return of made-for-TV exhibitions.

Shell's Wonderful World of Golf started the concept in the 1960s and was resurrected by Golf Channel in the mid-1990s. The Tiger Woods era brought fans the highly publicized "Battle at Bighorn" and other shootouts.

Turns out, the Fowler-McIlroy event was just a pipe dream. It is reportedly off, killed by the lack of sponsors. Now I'm stuck with only those old reruns. Shell's WWOG went to places I could only dream of seeing. The first eight matches in 1961 and 1962 were contested in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Hong Kong, China; Paris, France; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Melbourne, Australia; Rome, Italy; Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey, and Kawagoe, Japan. Imagine what it would have been like to be on that TV production crew. Exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

Looking at the list of venues on Wikipedia got me thinking: What were the best public courses to ever host? It's a dream collection of places to play. I've been lucky enough to tee it up on 23 of the 37. Let's stroll down memory lane, reminiscing about all those great players on all those great courses:

37. King & Bear Course at the World Golf Village, St. Augustine, Fla.

Matches: 1998 (Gary Player vs. Lee Trevino) and 2001 (Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer)
Comment: It made perfect sense to have Palmer and Nicklaus battle in 2001 on the King & Bear Course, which they co-designed for the World Golf Hall of Fame.

36. Tierra Del Sol Golf Course, Aruba

Match: 1998 (Payne Stewart vs. Nick Price)
Comment: Tierra Del Sol, the island's only course, was designed by Robert Trent Jones II.

35. Palm Course at Palmas del Mar, Humacao, Puerto Rico

Match: 1995 (Chi Chi Rodriguez vs. Trevino)
Comment: Chi Chi had home soil advantage being from Puerto Rico. The club's Flamboyan Course is even more highly respected than the Palms Course, designed by Player.

34. El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Match: 1969 (Palmer vs. Gay Brewer vs. Rodriguez)
Comment: El Conquistador -- home to a hilly Arthur Hills design -- sits on the island's eastern shores, a getaway that's great for golfers with families. There's an outdoor water park, tons of restaurants, a free ferry boat ride to a private island with an amazing beach and late-night kayak excursions to one of the world's rarest wonders, a bioluminescent bay where water lights up with every splash.

33. Wolf Course at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, Las Vegas

Match: 2001 (Karrie Webb vs. Annika Sorenstam)
Comment: Paiute's Wolf Course reigns as the best track at this 54-hole desert oasis a half-hour from the Strip. Webb's 64 bested Sorenstam's 65.

32. Grand Bear Golf Course, Saucier, Miss.

Match: 2000 (Paul Azinger vs. Jesper Parnevik)
Comment: The Nicklaus-designed Grand Bear Golf Course is an amenity of the Harrah's Gulf Coast Casino, Hotel and Spa.

31. Royal Kaanapali Golf Course, Maui, Hawaii

Match: 1964 (Dave Ragan vs. Bob Charles)
Comment: Royal Kaanapali, home to a Senior Tour event from 1987-2000 and the Senior Skins Game from 2007-2011, doesn't offer the ocean views that Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course or Wailea Golf Club's Emerald Course and Gold Course do, but it's definitely a stout test of golf.

30. Crosswater Club at Sunriver Resort, Bend, Ore.

Match: 1999 (Fred Couples vs. John Daly)
Comment: Crosswater is the premier course at a fine 63-hole resort in central Oregon.

29. Virtues Golf Club, Longaberger, Ohio

Match: 1999 (Dottie Pepper vs. Webb)
Comment: Virtues Golf Club (once known as Longaberger Golf Club) east of Columbus ranks as Ohio's best public track.

28. Mahony's Point at the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, Killarney, Ireland

Match: 1964 (amateur Joe Carr vs. Al Geiberger)
Comment: The club credits this match at Mahony's Point for its growth and popularity that attracted Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to visit. Eventually, the club expanded to build the impressive Killeen Course, host of the European Tour's Irish Open in 1991-92 and 2010-11.

27. East Course at Dorado Beach Resort, Dorado, Puerto Rico

Match: 1964 (Doug Sanders vs. Rodriguez)
Comment: Jones II renovated his father's Caribbean masterpiece in 2012. The clearing of trees brought the ocean back into view on several holes on Dorado's East Course.

26. Royal Westmoreland, Barbados

Match: 1997 (Tom Lehman vs. Nick Faldo)
Comment: Royal Westmoreland, a Jones II design, competes with the Green Monkey Course by Tom Fazio as this Caribbean island's best course.

25. Nicklaus North Golf Course, Whistler, Canada

Match: 1998 (Couples vs. Ernie Els)
Comment: Nicklaus North is flat but loaded with water.

24. Bay Harbor Golf Club, Petoskey, Mich.

Match: 1998 (Lehman vs. Phil Mickelson)
Comment: Of the 27 holes along Lake Michigan designed by Hills, the Quarry nine plays the toughest and the Links nine is the most scenic.

23. Blue Monster Course at Trump National Doral Miami

Match: 1968 (Billy Casper vs. Gay Brewer)
Comment: Gil Hanse's remodel job in 2013-14 under Donald Trump's ownership sharpened the teeth of the Blue Monster, adding more water and more risk-reward.

22. Pine Barrens at World Woods Golf Club, Brooksville, Fla.

Match: 2002 (Mickelson vs. David Toms)
Comment: Fazio touts having the pair of Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks as like having Pine Valley and Augusta National -- plus a world-class practice facility -- in the same remote location north of Tampa.

21. Kings Course at Gleneagles Resort, Scotland

Match: 1963 (Gene Littler vs. Eric Brown)
Comment: Many golf fans would have loved to see the 2014 Ryder Cup played on the historic Kings Course, a James Braid classic from 1919, instead of the newer PGA Centenary Course by Nicklaus.

20. Mount Juliet Golf Club, County Kilkenny, Ireland

Match: 1997 (Couples vs. Tom Watson)
Comment: Mount Juliet, a Nicklaus design that opened in 1991, held two of the biggest tournaments in the history of Irish golf with the 2002 and 2004 World Golf Championship-American Express Golfing Championship, along with three Irish Opens from 1993-95.

19. Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand

Match: 1963 (Bob Goalby vs. Bob Charles)
Comment: Despite hosting the New Zealand Open a record 12 times, Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club sometimes gets lost in the shuffle on the North Island because of Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers.

18. Highland Links Golf Course, Ingonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Match: 1965 (George Knudson vs. Al Balding)
Comment: Many modern golf fans might not know who these guys are. The legend of Highland Links, however, has withstood the test of time as one of Canada's -- and Stanley Thompson's -- greatest triumphs.

17. The Tryall Club, Jamaica

Match: 1963 (Dow Finsterwald vs. Peter Alliss)
Comment: The Tryall Club might be the most decorated tournament course in the Caribbean. A unique competition pairing Senior Tour and LPGA Tour players ran from 1985-87 before the LPGA Tour took over from 1989-91. A beautiful par 3 on the water was added in 1992 to test pros in the Johnnie Walker World Championship from 1991-95.

16. White Witch Golf Course, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Match: 2000 (Notah Begay III vs Hal Sutton)
Comment: White Witch, a jungle thrill ride, starts with one of the scariest opening holes in golf, which also happens to be one of the most beautiful.

15. Leopard Creek Country Club, Malelane, South Africa

Match: 1999 (Price vs. Ernie Els)
Comment: Golfers must stay at one of 15 affiliated safari lodges to gain access to Leopard Creek C.C., which feels like the Augusta National of South Africa and hosts the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Championship.

14. Mauna Kea Golf Course, Hawaii island

Match: 1969 (Dan Sikes vs. Geiberger vs. Alliss)
Comment: The threesome who competed at the Shell's would have been no match for the "Big Three" who opened Mauna Kea Golf Course in 1964: Nicklaus, Palmer and Player.

13. Portmarnock Golf Club, Dublin, Ireland

Match: 1963 (Casper vs. Harry Bradshaw)
Comment: Portmarnock Golf Club, a historic links outside of Dublin, has hosted 13 Irish Opens in the modern era. Critics say the dunes are too flat.

12. Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C.

Match: 1994 (Palmer vs. Nicklaus)
Comment: In true showman style, Nicklaus rolled in a 70-foot birdie putt on the 18th for a 67 to beat the King by seven shots. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw's 2011 restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 has revived this gem by Donald Ross.

11. The Mid Ocean Club, Tucker's Town, Bermuda

Match: 1967 (Alliss vs. Tony Lema)
Comment: The Mid Ocean Club, a C.B. Macdonald design dating to 1921, is private but accepts public play on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It's worth risking life and limb traveling through the Bermuda Triangle to play.

10. Manele Golf Course, Lanai, Hawaii

Match: 1996 (Palmer vs. Player)
Comment: Only guests of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai can play the Manele Golf Course a Nicklaus design traversing dramatic cliffs above the Pacific Ocean.

9. Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic

Match: 1994 (Raymond Floyd vs. Couples)
Comment: With seven holes directly on the Caribbean Sea, Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog Course is hailed as Pete Dye's ultimate design.

8. Banff Springs Golf Course, Banff, Canada

Match: 1962 (Jack Burke, Jr. vs. Stan Leonard)
Comment: Banff Springs -- an iconic Thompson course and Canada's most expensive round of golf -- sits in the shadow of Mount Rundle and the castle-like Fairmont hotel, following the Bow River.

7. Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.

Match: 1996 (Sorenstam vs. Pepper)
Comment: Five years after the 1991 Ryder Cup's infamous War by the Shore, the Ocean Course at Kiawah -- Dye's oceanfront torture chamber -- hosted Sorenstam's first appearance on the Shell's telecast.

6. Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Match: 1968 (Don January vs. Christy O'Connor)
Comment: Blind shots, aiming posts and towering dunes make Royal County Down one of the most feared links in the world. The Mountains of Mourne make it one of the most stunningly beautiful.

5. Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry Resort, Ayrshire, Scotland

Match: 1966 (George Will vs. Dave Marr)
Comment: Donald Trump has spent millions to modernize the Ailsa Course, host of four Open Championships. It will reopen in June with three new coastal holes near the lighthouse, which is being transformed into a halfway house for golfers and a luxury suite for overnight guests.

4. Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Match: 1996 (Nicklaus vs. Trevino)
Comment: Seven oceanfront holes by Nicklaus place Cabo del Sol among the most scenic places in the world to play.

3. Kauri Cliffs, Matauri Bay, New Zealand

Match: 2003 (Couples vs. Michael Campbell)
Comment: If there was ever a course destined for TV, Kauri Cliffs is it. The rocky north shore of the North Island of New Zealand provides eye candy galore. It gave the final Shell match a proper sendoff.

2. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey Peninsula, Calif.

Matches: 1963 (Nicklaus vs. Sam Snead) and 1995 (Nicklaus vs. Watson)
Comment: There's so much history at Pebble Beach Golf Links, and so many visual distractions along the rocky cliffs of Stillwater Cove.

1. Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland

Matches: 1962 (Gene Sarazen vs. Henry Cotton), 1968 (Phil Rodgers vs. Dave Thomas) and 1995 (Paul Azinger vs. Seve Ballesteros)
Comment: It's appropriate that the Old Course at St. Andrews -- the ultimate links at the Home of Golf, and site of 29 Opens -- has also hosted the most Shell's matches.

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.

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Strolling down memory lane: The best public courses from Shell's Wonderful World of Golf