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The World's Best Public Courses

Cigar Aficionado expert panel picks the best places you can play, plus names the top private clubs on the planet
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006

(continued from page 1)

Multiple-Course Resort, Abroad
Turnberry, Scotland
One of Scotland's two 800-pound gorillas when it comes to true, full-service resorts, Turnberry wins on the strength of its phenomenal Ailsa course, which our experts picked as the second best international layout and the finest stop on the British Open rota other than St Andrews. The fabled links meets the sea on a cliff top at the third tee, kicking off perhaps the grandest 10-hole stretch in golf, entirely along the coast, through dunes, with the ruins of a castle thrown in for good measure. The hotel is perched on a hill overlooking its two grand links courses and the ocean beyond, and when you are not distracted by the view, you can explore the resort, which has a modern spa, several fine restaurants and a recently added activities center for shooting, fishing and off-road driving.

As Robert Pedrero, former publisher of The Golf Insider travel newsletter, said, "This is as good as it gets: if you reach the 12th hole at Turnberry and are not completely moved by the experience, you should give up golf." Arthur Hills, a designer who has built more than 300 courses around the world and is a former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, was blown away: "Wow, what a stunning setting. Truly a remarkable destination."

Honorable Mention: Gleneagles, Scotland's other powerhouse golf resort, came in second in the voting, not surprising since it lacks the seaside setting and British Open links course of its rival. What was surprising were the votes cast away from the British Isles, something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. China's Mission Hills, the world's largest resort with ten 18-hole courses; South Africa's Fancourt, which hosted the Presidents Cup in 2003; and Sandy Lane in Barbados, home to the incomparable Green Monkey course, all had supporters.

Single-Course Resort, U.S.
Shadow Creek, NV
The only course to crack our Top 10 that is not part of a multicourse complex, Shadow Creek is unique in many ways. It commands the nation's highest greens fees at $500, and guests cannot even play on weekends. Yet many of our experts had undertaken the sometimes difficult process of getting on the course and found it more than worth the trouble. Not only is it unlike anything else in Nevada, an engineering marvel and highlight of superstar designer Tom Fazio's career, but the greens fees also include round-trip limo transport from one of its hotels, including such swank options as Skylofts, The Mansion at MGM or THEhotel at Mandalay Bay.

Pedrero noted, "It combines all the excitement and glamour of the best of Las Vegas with world-class golf, and the tee times are so spacious you feel like it is your own private course." Journalist Jeff Wallach got to the heart of the matter: "Las Vegas. Has it all and none of it's illegal."

Honorable Mention: Many of our voters chose under-the-radar luxury boutique hotels that have a great course connected to them. CordeValle, in California's Silicon Valley, and the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, in Bluffton, South Carolina, are both private courses with access just for overnight guests of over-the-top accommodations run by Rosewood Hotels and Napa Valley's renowned Auberge Resorts, respectively, and both got multiple votes in this category. Equally popular was Palm Coast, Florida's Ocean Hammock, which combines an oceanfront Nicklaus design with upscale, old-school lodging right in the clubhouse for an escapist golf experience like few others.

Single-Course Resort, Abroad
Kauri Cliffs, New Zealand
There are roughly 15,000 golf courses outside the United States, on every continent except Antarctica, but this newcomer crushed the competition in three categories (it also was named the Best Non-Golf Facility: Single-Course Resort, Abroad, and Best Single-Course, Resort Golf, Abroad). Just the fact that so many panelists had made the long trip is noteworthy, but once you get to Kauri Cliffs you understand why. The perennially empty golf course vies mainly with its sibling, the even newer Cape Kidnappers, for the most dramatic setting in golf. The lodgings are pure luxury in a Relais & Chateaux property with impeccable cuisine and service, and the non-golf facilities at this 6,000-acre estate rival those of Gleneagles and the Greenbrier in West Virginia —for just 22 guest rooms. How many other resorts offer on-site boar hunting alongside tennis?

Cigar Aficionado golf columnist Jeff Williams described Kauri Cliffs as "a majestic seaside course coupled with some of the best hotel rooms ever conceived." Bill Hogan, an extensive golf traveler and president of acclaimed tour operator Wide World of Golf, went further: "Kauri Cliffs is the finest small lodge hotel and golf course combination in the world. The setting, service and overall quality are simply unmatched."

Honorable Mention: Kauri Cliffs may have stolen the international spotlight from the British Isles, but runner-up The Grove makes an argument for England. Just three years old, The Grove is a funky, fashionable luxury hotel half an hour outside London, making it very accessible from all corners of the globe, with a golf course by Kyle Phillips of Kingsbarns fame. It is the site of this year's World Golf Championships —American Express Championship, where Tiger Woods will defend his title.

Quality of golf only

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