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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

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Bill Hogan described the golf course as "the best between The Olympic Club and Cypress Point," and the facilities as "five-star plus." Robert Pedrero, who lives nearby, said, "At CordeValle you revel in the best of both worlds: the finest in private club ambiance, with all the service and facilities of a first-class boutique resort."
Honorable Mention: Inn at Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina. Similar to CordeValle, with overnight guests in luxury cottages getting access to the otherwise private Nicklaus-designed May River course, plus a huge array of water sports, spa facilities and standout cuisine.
Single-Course Resort, Abroad
Kauri Cliffs
See write-up on page 80.
Honorable Mention: Once again, The Grove, outside of London, rounds out this decadent duo of 18-hole luxury escapes.
United States
Bethpage Black, NY
So completely did this course dominate the category that no other layout got more than one vote. Yes, it was extensively renovated for the 2002 U.S. Open, but long before that, loyal fans famously slept overnight in their cars in the parking lot for a shot at a tee time on this AW Tillinghast classic. Golf writer Jeff Wallach asked, "Where else can you play a U.S. Open course for under 50 bucks and also have access to four other lovely parkland layouts that don't dent your wallet?"
Architects Hills and Fought once again agreed in picking Bethpage.
Honorable Mention: Though no one came close to Bethpage, the category produced some interesting insights: Evan Rothman claimed that "the Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg, Nebraska, is a true links gem, worth a pilgrimage just as much as any more famous course," and Pedrero came out in defense of San Francisco's renovated municipal course, Harding Park, the Bay Area's answer to Bethpage. Women's golf expert Nancy Berkley chose Jim Engh's eye-candy Colorado design, Redlands Mesa, and Michael Patrick Shiels wanted to let golfers know about Michigan's newest shining star, Red Hawk.
Kingsbarns, Scotland
Almost all the great links of the British Isles have no associated lodging, but the panelists gave Kingsbarns a lot of credit for being a truly public daily fee course with no members, even though private clubs in Britain are generally accessible. While it dominated other categories, the Old Course got just a single vote for this one, into which it neatly fits.
That does not detract from the awe-inspiring Kingsbarns, which made our experts' Top 10. The course was accurately described by golf journalist and author Ed Schmidt Jr. as "Scotland's modern-day answer to Pebble Beach —a wonderful combination of adroitly designed holes in a phenomenal seaside setting." Bill Hogan added, "Who would think that the year 2000 would have given birth to a classic old links? You would think it's been there 200 years."
Honorable Mention: Few categories inspired the passion of our respondents as much as this one, and second place fell to the majestic Royal County Down, often described as the greatest test of shot making in golf, but equally known for its incredible palette of purple heather, green grass and yellow gorse, all superimposed against crashing coastal waves with sweeping views of the mountains of Mourne. More than one panelist claimed the Northern Ireland course as his favorite, and Evan Rothman insisted that "Royal County Down is the prettiest and best course I've ever played —by far."
City or region
United States
Pinehurst, NC
"The Home of Golf in America" lives up to its nickname and swept our voters off their feet, easily outdistancing other golf epicenters. Why? Besides being the St Andrews of the States, the birthplace of public golf in this country with a history steeped in U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup competitions, the area offers an enormous amount of very good golf. It boasts the nation's largest golf resort, and its fabled Number Two cracked our top three, while several other courses in the complex, including Four, Seven and Eight, are standouts, too. But panelists also voted for the two other Donald Ross resorts in town, Pine Needles and Mid Pines, and architect John Fought mentioned The Pit, a well-regarded daily fee course nearby. Pedrero even put Tobacco Road, a visually stunning Mike Strantz design outside of town, on his Top 10 list. Throw in other modern courses by Jack Nicklaus and company, and one layout with llamas for caddies, and you really can have it all in Pinehurst.
Honorable Mention: The Monterrey Peninsula and Bandon, Oregon, came in a distant second and third, respectively, despite holding the first and second spots in our Top 10 courses.
St. Andrews, Scotland
This was the one category we probably did not need any experts for. The birthplace of the game, St Andrews is golf's Holy Grail, the place to which every avid golfer wants to make a pilgrimage. Our experts agreed, and the town got far more votes than every runner-up combined. Sam Baker called St Andrews "a no brainer! The golf includes two British Open courses (Old & Carnoustie) plus Kingsbarns as well as another dozen good courses. No place has more golf history and tradition. The accommodations range from five-star luxury to delightful former coaching inns. You can dine on fine cuisine, devour good pub grub and drink with the caddies." Besides the Links Trust courses (Old, New, Jubilee and Eden), there are three awesome destination-worthy courses here: Kingsbarns, the Devlin and the Torrance, plus several other notables, including the just-renovated Dukes and the 36 at Crail. If you expand the town to take in the multiple courses at nearby Carnoustie, you have two weeks' worth of epic golf.
Honorable Mention: Northern Ireland was noted for its concentration of world-class links along one coastline, including Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, both in our top five, plus other jewels such as Portstewart and Ardglass.
In this section, only resorts that did not win other categories are described in detail.
United States
Turning Stone, Verona, NY
Fueled by proceeds from its casino, the local Oneida Indian Nation is undertaking a golf boom unprecedented in the region, and according to Evan Rothman, "Turning Stone is gradually turning into the Pinehurst of the Northeast." Jeff Williams added, "With top-flight courses by Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rick Smith, Turning Stone ought to be on every serious golfer's radar screen." The resort also has a fabulous 98-room boutique hotel, bringing true luxury to sleepy upstate New York. You won't be served liquor on the course or in the hotels or casino, however, prompting Robert Pedrero to couch his vote with the caveat, "Turning Stone, yes, but the no booze is a bummer."
Pinehurst, NC
See writeup on this page.
Honorable Mention: Both Sea Island and Kiawah got kudos for their respective new luxury hotels, The Lodge and The Sanctuary, and Kiawah's Ryder Cup venue, the Ocean Course, cracked our Top 10.
Destination Kohler, WI
See write-up on page 87.
Pebble Beach, CA
See write-up on page 79.
Bandon Dunes, OR
See write-up on page 84.
Kapalua, Maui
  Hawaii has as many high-quality golf resorts as any state, and the competition was heated, with panelists splitting their votes between several islands and the resorts of Kapalua, Mauna Kea, Princeville, Hualalai and Lanai. The nod went to Kapalua probably because its Plantation Course, home of the PGA Tour's season-opening Mercedes Championship, is the state's best. The course is also one of the most amateur-friendly of all Tour venues —if you do not play from the tips. Honorable Mention: Lanai, with its two fine hotels and two excellent but very different courses, the brash coastal Nicklaus Challenge at Manele and the lush inland Ted Robinson/Greg Norman Experience at Koele, makes for a wonderful escapist experience and came in second in our voting.
British Isles
Scotland —Best Resort
Turnberry, Ayrshire
See write-up on page 79.
Scotland —Best Course
Old Course, St Andrews
See write-up on page 92.
Honorable Mention: Kingsbarns fared surprisingly well against its centuries-old neighbor, while both the Ailsa course and Royal Dornoch had several vocal supporters.
Ireland —Best Resort
Kildare Resort
"Fortune Favors the Brave" is the motto at this resort that includes the Ryder Cup venue K-Club, a 36-hole Arnold Palmer —designed layout, and it is a motto golfers can live by on the courses. Yet it was the decadent food and lodging, not the golf, that won over voters, along with its proximity to Dublin.
Honorable Mention: Adare Manor is another Kildare-like luxury resort that resonated with the experts, but Pedrero made a unique case for the little-known Rosapenna Hotel. "All the truly great golf lodging in Ireland —Adare, Kildare, Carton House and others —come with American-style parkland courses that are, frankly, boring. If you are going all the way to Ireland, you don't want Robert Trent Jones or Palmer: try the 36 true links holes at Rosapenna, carved through immense dunes: it's the only resort in the Emerald Isle with two such layouts."
Ireland —Best Course
Ballybunion Old
The concentration of great courses in Ireland was almost too much for our panelists, with emotional favorites in Royal County Down, Royal Portrush and Waterville, among others, but when the votes were tallied, Ballybunion Old won easily, marrying rich history with towering dunes.
Honorable Mention: Royal County Down stirs a fever in golf fans, and those who favor the course, like Evan Rothman, usually have extremely strong feelings. "Royal County Down is the best and best-looking course anywhere in the world. Period, end of discussion," he said.
England and Wales —Best Resort
The Grove
The combination of a modern luxury hotel built on a historic estate plus a whimsical parkland routing by Kyle Philips, all just outside of London, swayed our voters.
Honorable Mention: Bovey Castle has lodging to rival any of the luxury castle hotels of Ireland, and grounds to rival Gleneagles, and while little known, this latest offering from Peter de Savary, developer of Skibo Castle and the Abaco Club, wowed visitors. The castle and its historic course sit smack in the middle of Dartmoor National Park, England's largest.
England and Wales —Best Course
Royal Birkdale
Designer John Fought called the course "friendly and fun," while Bill Hogan went so far as to say it has "probably the most consistent presentation of classic links holes in golf."
Honorable Mention: Sunningdale Old, just outside of London, is one of the parkland gems that made Harry Colt famous as the greatest designer of the genre.
Other Regions
Whistler, British Columbia
  With several great courses, an array of hotels —including a Four Seasons, Pan Pacific, Fairmont and Westin —and a high-end pedestrian resort village bursting at the seams with bars, restaurants and shops, Whistler has a lot going for it as a golf destination.
Honorable Mention: Banff Springs, known as the Castle in the Rockies, is one of the most unforgettable hotels with one of the most unforgettable settings in golf. Its Stanley Thompson course is a roller-coaster ride that includes the par-3 Devil's Cauldron, one of the greatest holes on earth.
Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
Pete Dye's Teeth of the Dog has been the Caribbean's top-rated course for as long as there have been ratings, and his new Dye Fore layout here might be even better. Throw in a huge range of facilities, including the largest public shooting grounds in the western hemisphere, and you have a bona fide full-service resort. Teeth of the Dog reopened in December after an extensive face-lift, and is better than ever. Honorable Mention: Sandy Lane, Barbados. Since its Green Monkey course just opened, not many golfers have been there to see it, but this pricey luxury hotel with the Caribbean's only two Tom Fazio designs is quickly moving up in the golf world.
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