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10 American Beauties

All golf clubs claim prestige, but these are the 10 american beauties. The clubhouses ooze tradition and the courses challenge anyone lucky enough to play them
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

(continued from page 1)

Seminole is for golfers who deeply understand the shot values and character values of the game. It may have the best playing membership in the United States. Taken as a whole, it is the perfect club. Jimmy Dunne, a Seminole member, is a New York investment banker and an avid golfer (and avid cigar smoker) who has played all the best courses all over the world. His assessment: "It's the greatest golf club in the world. Period."    

NO. 2 AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB, AUGUSTA, GEORGIA  

For one week in April every year, Augusta National Golf Club is the most visible club in the world. For the other 51 weeks it is a Pinkerton-guarded sanctuary shut off from the outside world and held exclusively for its very exclusive membership.  

As the host of the Masters golf tournament, one of the world's four majors, Augusta National is ingrained in the national consciousness. For the 40,000 or so spectators (Masters officials call them patrons) who get to walk the course during the week, and for the millions at home watching on television, Augusta is nothing less than a cathedral to the game. Indeed, when you walk down the 10th hole with the large pine trees flanking the fairway, it can seem nothing less than Notre Dame cathedral itself.  

Avid followers of tournament golf in America can tell you the length and par of each of the holes on the back nine, can recount the triumphs and disasters that have befallen the greats who have played in the Masters. Most people can tell you that the club was founded by Bobby Jones and designed by Jones and Alister MacKenzie. Many can tell you that Jack Nicklaus won six Masters, that Arnold Palmer won four and that Gene Sarazen's double eagle 2 on the par-5 15th hole in 1935 was the shot that established the Masters as a major tournament.  

That's the public Augusta National. The private Augusta National is one of the most relaxing places on earth, with an exquisitely manicured course and a par-3 short course that may have no rival for sheer beauty anywhere. It is a club whose membership is rife with some of America's top corporate leaders (IBM's Gerstner is a member here, too), but the atmosphere is neither snooty nor stifling. Members and their guests may stay in the private cottages on the grounds. To be sure, decorum is maintained and no one walks around in cutoffs and a T-shirt. But there is a very casual, friendly air. If you meet a member, you had better remember his name, because he will remember yours.  

The name to remember for membership in Augusta National is Hootie Johnson, a South Carolina banker who is the Masters tournament chairman. He is ruler of the club and arbiter of all things that happen there, including an invitation for membership. If you get a letter from Hootie Johnson on Augusta National stationery, you have been blessed.    

NO. 3 PINE VALLEY GOLF CLUB, PINE VALLEY, NEW JERSEY  

For decades Pine Valley was generally considered the most difficult golf course in the United States, maybe the world. In the early 1900s Philadelphia businessman and sportsman George Crump went looking for land near Philadelphia that could accommodate an absolutely first-class golf course. In southern New Jersey, he found that land, a rolling plot of scrub forest sitting atop deep layers of sand.  

From this land, Crump, with the advice of such architects as A. W. Tillinghast, H. S. Colt and William Flynn, fashioned a marvelous and treacherous test of golf that became a challenge to all the best players. Its vast waste areas of deep sand bunkers and undulating greens still stand the test of time, even if modern golf equipment and maintenance procedures have softened the course a bit.  


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