Course innovation persists despite down market
Despite the down market in golf course construction recently, there has been plenty of turnover and interesting new developments on our Golfweek’s Best lists of the top 100 Residential Courses, the top 100 Resort Courses and the top 50 Courses of the Caribbean & Mexico.
The newcomers start with the country’s premier real estate property, Rock Creek Cattle Company in Deer Lodge, Mont., where innovative traditionalist – no, that’s not an oxymoron – Tom Doak has honed a down-to-earth design out of scrub land and turned it into desirable ground for folks looking to get away to the American West.
Retreat and escape into the vast open spaces of the Western frontier is a recurring theme on this list, in fact, with the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw having utilized this in their design of Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo., No. 2 on our list, on the south-facing outslope below Denver. And for those interested in experiencing a rugged recreational environment within the cocoon of indulgent service and luxury, there’s another top 10 newcomer, Gozzer Ranch (No. 6) in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Here Tom Fazio has combined infinity-edge looks into Lake Coeur d’Alene with the distinctive architectural culture of a lodge-style frontier setting.
With 24 courses on the real estate list, Fazio not only has more than any other designer, but also shows enormous thematic range. His Mountaintop Golf & Lake Club in Cashiers, N.C., new to the list at No. 7, was crafted – or hacked – out of severely sloped ground and molded into an enjoyable test. His Frederica Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga. has a much softer feel, one derived from the coastal, marsh-like setting.
The diversity of the U.S. real estate market is well represented on our list – a testament to the willingness of our 500 raters to scour the country with an open mind about quality courses. Jack Nicklaus’ Creighton Farms (No. 72) in Aldie, Va., makes use of wetlands and rolling farmland on the outskirts of suburban Northern Virginia. At Reynolds Plantation, The Creek Club (No. 78) in Greensboro, Ga., embodies architect Jim Engh’s predilection for iconic forms and punchbowl greens and surrounds – in sharp contrast to the native terrain. And the Rees Jones-designed Daniel Island (Ralston Creek-No. 99) in Charleston, S.C., winds its way through Intracoastal wetlands and a clustered, town-style real estate community that feels like a real town.
On the resort side, there are plenty of innovations evident on the list, some of them with new casino courses, others in the form of restored classics. The most dramatic emergence is found in French Lick, Ind., where the casino resort now incorporates two courses on our list. The newly opened Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort (No. 24) is stunningly crafted out of the mountains just to the north of the resort’s West Baden Springs Hotel. And French Lick Resort’s Donald Ross Course (No. 71) has been treated to a magnificent restoration that brings back all of the glory of the Donald Ross-designed layout on whose treacherous greens Walter Hagen won the 1924 PGA Championship.
Ross restorations are conspicuous among the newcomers to the resort list, including Mount Washington Resort’s Mount Washington Course (No. 79) in Bretton Woods, N.H., and Bedford Springs Golf Course (No. 45) in Bedford, Pa., which actually is a Ross layout that had been amended by A.W. Tillinghast before it was recently dusted off and polished.
What started as a golf course rating project confined to the U.S. a decade ago has grown to include international destinations. We’re now in the third year of assessing courses in the Caribbean Basin, including all of Mexico, Central America and the South Atlantic islands. Here our No. 1-rated course is the spectacular Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada at Cap Cana along the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic. The course, with its beachfront fairways along the crystalline blue shore, is home to the Champions Tour’s Cap Cana Championship.
It’s a measure of the growth of Caribbean golf that other courses on our list are also featured as PGA Tour venues: The Greg Norman-designed Mayakoba El Camaleón course (No. 7) in Riviera Maya, Mexico, is home to the Mayakoba Golf Classic. And the Championship Course at Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico (No. 26) hosts the Puerto Rico Open.
The point here is that throughout the U.S. and Caribbean, golf courses keep getting better. Old ones are being restored. New ones are being developed – albeit at a slower pace than a decade ago. And inventive designers are plying their trade across a broader range of landscapes. The result is that travelers, resort guests and potential homebuyers have a wider range of interesting places to go than ever before.