Some golfers have all the luck.
I thought I was pretty cool getting a recent invite to one of the Bay Area's top private clubs, the Peninsula Golf & Country Club in San Mateo, Calif. Turns out, one of my playing partners was the man. He played Cypress Point the day before and would tee up The Institute, one of the most exclusive courses in the world, the next day. I've never played either, and probably never will.
His magical three-day journey got me thinking: If access and cash were no issue, what's the best 5- to 7-day golf itinerary in the world? Where can I find the best week-long golf trip money can buy?
For the sake of this dream golf trip, I've turned to the most recent course rankings of the best courses on the planet for guidance - Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World (which are numbered in parenthesis next to the course in the rankings below). I then cross-referenced it with Golf Digest's Best In State Rankings for 2021 to find other places to play to fill in any gaps (marked with the state ranking and an asterisk next to each course in parenthesis below).
I'm specifically focusing on destinations with clusters of premier courses that don't require you to drive very far between them. I've taken once-in-a-lifetime golf trips to New Zealand, South Africa and Scotland to check off 8-10 bucket-list courses at a time, but they've all required wild schedules that I wouldn't recommend for even the most avid golf traveler.
Ranked below are the places where you can play somewhere between 5-10 coveted courses in the span of 7 days and proclaim yourself the king or queen of the golf world for one week. Let's look at the contenders:
Long Island, New York
Courses: Shinnecock Hills (4), National Golf Links of America (5), Fishers Island (16), Friar's Head (21), Garden City (45), Bethpage Black (52), Maidstone (56), Sebonack (7*), Atlantic Golf Club (17*), Piping Rock Club (15*), The Creek (16*), Meadow Brook Club (20*), The Bridge (21*), Westhampton Country Club (23*), Glen Oaks Club (24*), Deepdale (25*), East Hampton (31*).
Welcome to the private club capital of the world, and arguably the greatest collection of golf courses anywhere. The sandy soil of Long Island and money of New York City combine resources to create a golf pilgrimage unlike any other. Long Island boasts seven World Top 100 courses alone. If I were only allowed only five picks, I'd work overtime for invites to NGLA, Friar's Head, Fishers Island, Maidstone and Garden City. Just off the island closer to NYC are Winged Foot East and West (68 and *25), Sleepy Hollow (71), Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point (*35) and a few other premier tracks. So many choices, so little time.
If you had only one week to splurge on a dream golf trip, which destination and courses would you choose? Tell us in the comments below.
Courses: Cypress Point Club (2), Pebble Beach Golf Links (14), San Francisco Golf Club (34), Cal Club (48), The Olympic Club Lake (96), The Institute, Spyglass Hill (7*), Monterey Peninsula Country Club Shore and Dunes (8* and 10*), Pasatiempo (12*), Preserve Golf Club (14*), CordeValle (28*), Links at Spanish Bay (29*).
There's so much incredible golf, we could have considered the Bay Area and the Monterey Peninsula as two separate choices in our top 10. Getting on CPC, SFGC and The Institute are three of the 6 toughest tee times in America. Of all the NoCal courses I've played in 7 years living here, the bouncy and linksy Cal Club is my favorite so far. Pebble Beach and the Olympic Club are on the short list for hosting majors and epic events. How deep is the roster? I haven't even mentioned TPC Harding Park, which has held a President's Cup and the 2020 PGA Championship, or the spectacular Meadow Club, MacKenzie's first U.S. design just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
St. Andrews/East Lothian, Scotland
History comes alive along this much coveted stretch of Scottish coastline. Although Ayrshire in the west and Highlands to the north are equally compelling, most Americans gravitate toward the Home of Golf for their first links golf adventure overseas. And why not? You've got the charm of a college town on the sea, plus links golf in its purest form. Both the Old Course and Muirfield, which only allows access certain days of the week, are hard nuts to crack without a tour operator. Just across the Firth of Forth from the Kingdom of Fife sits East Lothian, a golf destination of more than a dozen good links. You'll never have more fun than playing over the stone walls at North Berwick. The stunning beauty and modern architecture of Kingsbarn couldn't be more of a contrast than the stark brutality of Carnoustie. Splendid, indeed.
Melbourne's Sandbelt is the stuff of legend for American golfers. If Dr. Alister MacKenzie could make the trip by boat a century ago, shouldn't it be a breeze by plane today for you? This is another destination accessible to all. Tour operators can unlock these celebrated private clubs as long as you have a valid handicap. There are plenty of other courses to add to this fab five, but don't forget to save some time to tour the city and its sights. The longer you stay, the better. Remember, it's winter back home.
Greater London, England
This is another region that requires lots of driving. One minute, golfers will be navigating London traffic to chase down classic heathland golf at its finest at Swinley Forest and Sunningdale. Days later, they'll be driving two hours to the southwest to experience Open Championship links in Kent, both past (RCP) and present (RSG). With six World Top 100 courses and endless tourist traps, you could easily argue that London should move up our rankings.
Courses: Pine Valley (1), Merion East (13), Somerset Hills (43), Baltusrol Lower and Upper (57 and 4* in New Jersey), Plainfield Country Club (5* in NJ), Galloway National (6* in NJ), Aronimink (3* in Pennsylvania), Philadelphia Cricket Club (4* in Pa.).
If we're being honest, this is probably the least touristy destination to make the cut. Sure, there's the Liberty Bell in the city of Brotherly Love and the Jersey Shore, but this is very much urban sprawl leading to green pastures that happen to be home to 3 major championship sites (Baltusrol, Merion and Aronimink) and, arguably the top course in the world (Pine Valley).
Courses: Royal County Down (6), Royal Portrush Dunluce (15), Portmarnock Old (53), The Island Golf Club; St. Patrick's Links (55), Old Tom Morris Links and Sandy Hills Links at Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort.
Okay, I admit I cheated a bit here. This trip will require the most driving. It's about 3 1/2 hours from the Dublin airport to reach Rosapenna in northwest Ireland. But I'd argue this is time well spent (especially if you hire a driver) to reach the newest entry to Golf Magazine's World list, St. Patrick's Links by Tom Doak. Even if you skip Rosapenna (don't!), the legendary Royals of Northern Ireland (Portrush and RCD) pair well with a few Dublin area links two hours away. Freshly poured Guinness and Irish craic in the pubs are the perfect salve for blisters, bogeys and soaking wet rain suits.
Courses: Chicago Golf Club (19), Shoreacres (49), Butler National (3*), Medinah No. 3 and No. 1 (4* and 15*), Olympia Fields North and South (6* and 11*), Rich Harvest Farms (7*), Old Elm Club (8*), Skokie (9*), Conway Farms (10*), Beverly Country Club (11*), Black Sheep Golf Club (14*).
You'll need some serious connections to pull off playing any of these 13 private courses, but wow, what a summer or fall week it would be. These exclusive clubs have hosted a Ryder Cup (Medinah), U.S. Open (Olympia Fields) and Solheim Cup (Rich Harvest Farms). I'm one of the many people who believe Chicago is America's greatest big city. It's got all the bars, restaurants, attractions and major sports of New York without the grit and attitude. The Lake Michigan shoreline pushes it over the top.
Palm trees. Sunshine. Two U.S. Open hosts (L.A. North and Torrey Pines) as well as the Olympics (Riviera in 2028). The ocean. The laid-back surfer vibe. Who wouldn't want to glam it up for a week of premier golf in SoCal? The traffic between LA and San Diego won't always be friendly. Nothing about the experience - the hotels, the food, the gas, etc. - will be cheap, either. These are but minor annoyances for the chance to live like a Hollywood golf celebrity. And if you want to make the two-hour trek into California's Coachella Valley, you will unlock another 5-6 exclusive, highly ranked private clubs.
Bandon Dunes, Oregon
Courses: Pacific Dunes (28), Bandon Dunes (80), Bandon Trails (91), Old MacDonald (3*), Sheep Ranch, Bandon Preserve.
Even though this remote slice of heaven on the Oregon coast is hard to reach, this is the easiest of our 10 destinations for any golfer to conquer. It is the people's golf mecca. Anyone can play. There are no hurdles trying to secure invites to private clubs. Once you get there, you don't need a car. Just hunker down at the resort and enjoy the walk on links by Tom Doak, David McLay Kidd and Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw.