Playing the top 100 golf courses in the world has become a thing.
There's a YouTube video of Fergal O'Leary, a manager at Ernst & Young in Boston, playing Durban Country Club in South Africa in 2015, the culmination of his eight-year journey to chase down every single one.
There are other maniacs who have done the same. Tom Doak, the globe-trotting architect and author, estimates only 40 or 50 golfers have played all the world's top 100 courses as deemed by Golf Digest and/or Golf Magazine. Doak could easily join the exclusive club, but he's not interested.
"I've played (more than) 90 myself but am not too motivated about checking off the list," he wrote in an e-mail. "There are a few that just don't interest me much, and lots of other places I'd rather go. I feel there are a few (top 100) panelists who rate courses partly based on tokenism instead of strictly on the merits."
I've played 41 of the world's top 100 courses, according to the 2016-2017 list from Golf Digest and the 2015 list by Golf Magazine, but I'm not interested in seeing them all, either. I'd advise against such a monstrous task. Think about the long airplane rides and money spent and family birthdays missed.
But, if this is your life's dream, I can get you started with this: A checklist of the 10 foreign countries with the most public-accessible top 100 courses.
Obviously, the U.S. has the most top 100 courses with 52. Only 10 of them are open for public play, though: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Pinehurst No. 2, the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, Shadow Creek, Harbour Town Golf Links, Bethpage Black and the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
You're better off going international, where top 100 clubs are more accessible. Here's where:
10. New Zealand
Top 100: Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs
Comment: Playing this North island duo is one of the greatest trips in golf. Both of billionaire Julian Robertson's courses and five-star boutique hotels sit on inspiring rocky coastlines. It's almost impossible to drive between them, so plan on using a few Air New Zealand regional flights. Editor's Note: Doak's new private course, Tara Iti, has cracked every Top 100 list since its debut in 2015. It's within driving distance of Kauri Cliffs, but very exclusive and hard to access.
9. Dominican Republic
Top 100: Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo, Punta Espada
Comment: These jewels of the Caribbean are separated by an hour's car ride. Pete Dye's seven coastal holes on the Teeth of the Dog were equaled, if not surpassed, when Jack Nicklaus built eight mesmerizing seaside holes at Punta Espada, host of the Champions Tour's Cap Cana Championship from 2008-10.
Top 100: Dunes Course at Diamante, The Cove Club at Cabo del Sol, Querencia
Comment: These three in Los Cabos at the tip of the Baja Peninsula are all incredibly special. Diamante started out private, but the opening of two resort hotels by Hard Rock and Nobu has opened up some public access. The back nine of the Dunes by Davis Love III climaxes with the par-3 17th on the beach. I was lucky to sneak onto Querencia, a private club sitting higher in the hills. It's a fun Tom Fazio course with fancy comfort stations stocked with free food and drink that are all the rage in Cabo. The old Ocean course at Cabo del Sol has lost two of its best ocean holes (17 and 18) to development and was rebranded The Cove Club this fall. Public access will eventually be scaled back, so play it while you can.
Top 100: Cabot Cliffs, Cabot Links, St. George's Golf and Country Club, National Golf Club of Canada, Memphremagog Golf Club
Comment: The first full season of golf at Cabot Cliffs in 2016 put the tiny town of Inverness on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island on the map, if Cabot Links' opening in 2012 hadn't already. Architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw crafted an interesting routing of six par 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s to maximize the scenery of the shoreline. Unfortunately, the other Canadian top 100 entries are private.
6. United Arab Emirates
Top 100: Yas Links, Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club, Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates
Comment: Oil money brought golf to the desert in 1988 when Majlis opened as the first all-grass championship course in the Middle East. It annually hosts the Dubai Desert Classic of the European Tour. Greg Norman's nearby Earth Course hosts the Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship, the conclusion of the Race to Dubai. Yas Links, designed by Kyle Phillips of Kingsbarns fame about an hour from Dubai, is marketed as the first links course in the Middle East.
5. South Africa
Top 100: Links at Fancourt, Leopard Creek Golf Club, Gary Player Golf Course at Sun City Resort, Durban Country Club
Comment: I tracked down three top 100 courses on a 2015 trip to South Africa, but it took at least three domestic flights on South African Airways to get it done. If the European Tour's Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City wasn't happening the weekend I arrived, I could have theoretically landed in Johannesburg after the long flight from New York and driven the two-plus hours to play the Gary Player Golf Course, a walker's-only delight. Instead, we flew from Joburg to Nelspruit to stay at the Jock Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park. Staying at one of 15 safari lodges is required to book a tee time at Leopard Creek on the edge of the park. Leopard Creek, host of the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Championship since 2011, is manicured like Augusta National but wild like the bush, with sightings of monkeys, cobras, hippos and crocs common. A couple days later, the Oyster Box Hotel and the historic Durban Country Club, past host of 17 South African Opens, turned out to be my favorite stay-and-play of the trip. The country club opens with five narrow holes through the jungle, overlooking the Indian Ocean, and closes with two fun holes through rolling dunes of grass in the shadow of a World Cup soccer stadium. The final flight from Durban's King Shaka International Airport to George brought the luxuries of the 54-hole resort called Fancourt. The Links of Fancourt, a walking-only Player design, hosted the memorable 2003 Presidents Cup, when Tiger Woods and Ernie Els dueled to a tie in the fading light. No destination in this story is more affordable. With the current exchange rate (14.67 Rand to one dollar as of December 2019), you can play Sun City for $44 (650 Rand), Leopard Creek for $187 (2,750 Rand), Fancourt for $136 (2,000 Rand) and Durban Country Club for $38 (565 Rand). Wow.
Top 100: Australia -- East Course and West Course at Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Ellerston, New South Wales, Old Course at National Golf Club. Tasmania -- Cape Wickham, Barnbougle Dunes, Lost Farm
Comments: The famous private clubs of Australia's Sandbelt such as Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and National require a letter from your home club and are only open to visitors on weekdays. It gets harder from there. Good luck getting on Ellerston. New South Wales is a long flight away near Sydney. Before golfers leave Melbourne, they must fly to Tasmania. The celebrated Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm duo in Tasmania is so difficult to get to that Doak says golfers tend to complete their top 100 journey there. Cape Wickham, a new course on King Island, a small island near Tasmania, cracked Golf Digest's top 100 (no. 24) in January. It boasts one of the best lighthouses in golf.
3. Ireland/Northern Ireland
Top 100: Ireland -- Portmarnock Golf Club, Old Course at Lahinch, The European Club, Waterville, Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club. Northern Ireland -- Royal County Down, Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush
Comments: Flying into tiny Shannon Airport makes the famous loop of Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville in southwest Ireland easily attainable. On a second trip, fly into Dublin and stay several nights to play Portmarnock and The European Club before driving into Northern Ireland for Royal Portrush, host of the 2019 Open Championship, and Royal County Down, the new world no. 1 by Golf Digest. Don't forget to bring British pounds to pay for pints on the last leg in Northern Ireland.
Top 100: England -- New Course and Old Course at Sunningdale, Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Swinley Forest, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Rye Golf Club, Old Course at Walton Heath, Royal Liverpool, Ganton, Hotchin Course at Woodhall Spa. Wales -- Royal Porthcawl
Comment: Rye, a private club in southwest England, is a tough get. Sunningdale (accessible Monday through Thursday for visitors) and Swinley Forest (no Web site) are exclusive but potentially doable private clubs around London. I've ridden a speed train from London to Sandwich to play Royal St. George's. Royal Porthcawl, three hours from London in Wales, is also within reach. More isolated in northwest England is Ganton. The three Royal links on "England's Golf Coast" three hours north of London have all hosted Open Championships.
Top 100: Royal Dornoch, Old Course at St. Andrews, Muirfield, Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry, Carnoustie, North Berwick, Trump International Golf Links, Kingsbarns, Machrihanish Golf Club, Cruden Bay, Castle Stuart, Old Course at Royal Troon
Comments: Nobody should be surprised that the Home of Golf is no. 1. I have crossed off 10 Scottish links so far in three separate trips. Don't try them all at once. I combined a visit to Ayrshire, home of Troon and Turnberry, with a ferry ride to the Kintyre Peninsula for the memorable first tee shot at Machrihanish in 2013. Touring the Scottish Highlands in June 2015 was spectacular, highlighted by Royal Dornoch with stops at Cruden Bay, Trump International and Castle Stuart. East Lothian, just around the bay from St. Andrews, offers the quirky but cool North Berwick and the exclusive Muirfield, which only allows outsiders on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Old Course and Carnoustie and more time exploring St. Andrews remain on my bucket list.
Editor's Note: Ten other countries have only one top-100 pick that is public: Japan (out of four total), China (out of three), Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Italy, Vietnam and Singapore. Three others -- South Korea, Thailand and France -- have a top 100 course that is private.