Giving a five-star rating to a golf course on GolfPass has always been a bit of a conundrum for reviewers.
A five-star golf experience to one golfer might not be to another. For a golfer who's never played a course costing more than $50, a $100 course might be the pinnacle of his or her career and warrant a glowing review no matter what. For me, I only give a five-star rating for the best courses I've ever played among more than 1,000 in my career. I may nitpick a course because of one hole or if I perceive that it costs too much for what golfers should pay. A five-star course for 95 percent of golfers might merit four stars to me. Even so, I still might give a muni or some other "regular" course five stars after a great round that surprises me by checking all the boxes: good pace, fun layout, strong conditioning, excellent service and a nice setting.
Given all those scenarios, I find it remarkable that more than 50 courses have never been given anything except five-star ratings since we launched GolfPass, which originated as Golf Advisor in 2013. That's almost a decade of perfect scores. There's actually more than that, but I didn't want courses with only 1 or 2 five-star reviews to be included among the best of the best. All of the following courses boast at least six five-star reviews. It's an incredibly diverse collection of bucket-list places to play with a fair share of surprises, too. Take a look:
10 five-star heavyweights anybody can play
Some courses are so good that I'd be shocked if they ever get anything less than a five-star review. It happens, though: Pebble Beach Golf Links (two four-stars and one three-star review) and Shadow Creek (one four star) didn't make the cut for this story. Who gives these epic rounds less than five stars? Shameful.
These are the 10 best publicly accessible courses (in my opinion) that have earned only five-star reviews. They're not in any order, other than the number of reviews. Maybe the fact that Pacific Dunes is the only Bandon course to qualify will finally end the debate about the best course at the resort. The other four - Bandon Dunes, Old MacDonald, Sheep Ranch, Bandon Trails - combine for 68 five-star and 16 four-star reviews and four "others". If you study the full list, it's easy to see what captures every golfer's fancy: 9 of the 10 are in foreign countries, and all 10 are on the water. A scenic course on a golf vacation triggers the feels every time.
1. Pacific Dunes (32) at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon, Ore.
"I loved the layout a mixture of by the ocean and a little bit in the trees. The infinity greens at the ocean are breath taking every time you see them." - dahlryan
2. Old Course at St. Andrews (23), St. Andrews, Scotland
"Hallowed Ground. Standing on the 1st tee, the R&A behind me, the valley of sin to my left, and that very wide fairway in front of me. I can't find the words. If you have the means, you must stand there." - IPlayGolfUSA
3. North Berwick Golf Club (21), East Lothian, Scotland
"It is a "Bucket-List" golf experience. Every hole plays alongside the sea, and the course navigates over and around, dunes, valleys, and even ancient stone walls. Holes 12-18 are the best stretch of holes I have ever played." - dward28
4. Lahinch Golf Club – Old Course (12), Lahinch, Ireland
"The course is wild, windy, quirky, and insanely fun. Our caddy was great and the course was extremely fair; bad shots brutally punished, great shots rewarded, and marginal shots almost always still findable and playable." - JDNJTX
5. Royal Dornoch Golf Club - Championship Links (11), Dornoch, Scotland
"My round at Royal Dornoch will always go down for me as an all time golf experience. The condition of the course is top notch. The coastal environment lends itself to very lush conditions." - Dan8275330
6. Old Head Golf Links (9), Kinsale, Ireland
"There aren't enough superlatives available to describe this course. It doesn't matter where you stand, you run the risk of sustaining a whiplash injury as you try to take in all the views that this location provides." - David168485
7. Castle Stuart (7), Inverness, Scotland
"No question, the best course in Scotland, if not the UK." - cbkfoto
8. The Ocean Club (7), Paradise Island, Bahamas
"This is a dream ocean course. I’m a 5 handicap and my brother is a 15 handicap and we both absolutely loved playing this course. The views were stunning. The course was in great shape, and the staff at Ocean Club was amazing." - GolferMarcoM
9. Mid Ocean Club (6), Tuckers Town, Bermuda
"Outstanding in all respects! The setting, the views, the property, the excellent strategy and variety of holes are all excellent. The course is right on the ocean with beautiful views, and plays through valleys and elevations wonderfully." - LICC
10. Yas Links (6), Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
"Yas has the feel of a good Scottish links with shot values and green undulations to match." - DUDE
Five-star Private Clubs
Yes, there's a few noticeable omissions from this list. Augusta National has five five-star reviews, one short of our cutoff. Anybody want to call up Augusta and give us a review? Yeah right. Still, some other great ones made the list, including a prominent major championship venue, the host of the TOUR Championship and one of the most exclusive clubs in the world.
1. The Olympic Club's Lake Course (9), San Francisco, Calif.
2. Mountain Lake (7), Lake Wales, Fla.
3. East Lake Golf Club (6), Atlanta, Ga.
4. Prairie Dunes Country Club (6), Hutchinson, Kan.
5. Seminole (6), North Palm Beach, Fla.
The Five-star Nine-holers
Three nine-holers made the cut, which is unique. The Ballindalloch Castle Golf Course in Scotland was designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, who took advantage of a nice site along the Avon River. Steel was the R&A's go-to guy for more than a decade to tweak and tinker Open venues, making our list of architects who have most impacted the majors. "A lovely but tricky 9-hole course," reads a review from 2017. "The tees were totally different the second half making it more like 18-hole course. I would recommend this course."
Bay Creek Resort & Club's Nicklaus Course (7) in Cape Charles, Va., was once one of the state's best before nine holes were closed for redevelopment. It's still a scenic test. "The views of the bay are sublime," wrote 'hornedwoodchuck' in a 2021 review. "The layout is tremendous and it has wonderful Nicklaus greens. Prior to the elimination of 9 holes, it was in my top ten of Virginia courses. Still worth a visit to see the bay holes."
The Diadema Golf Club (6) in North Anson, Maine, is only 40 minutes from Sugarloaf (another 5-star-only course), so it is definitely worth finding on Route 16. Golfer 'Trying4Par' calls it a "hidden gem". "The course is just plain beautiful!" he wrote. "Extremely well groomed. Plenty of challenging holes with water and traps in abundance. Everything about this course is superb. From the tee boxes to the fairways to the greens, there is not a finer nine-hole course in Maine."
Five-star Short Courses
I'm a big proponent of giving a strong short-course five stars. Good, strategic executive layouts are tough to create and sometimes even tougher to maintain at a high level. The Big Easy Ranch (18) in Columbus, Texas; The Mountain Top Course (6) at Big Cedar Lodge in Hollister, Mo.; and the Par 3 Course (10) at the Atkinson Resort & Country Club in Atkinson, N.H., have solved that puzzle. I actually like Mountain Top better than Top of the Rock, the Big Cedar Lodge's more celebrated short course that has hosted the PGA Tour Champions.
Review the courses you've played by clicking the links provided in the story. Will their five-star streaks continue?