By John Steinbreder
Now that our expert raters have cast their votes for the country’s finest golf courses, I offer my own selections of what I believe are the best of America’s Best. These choices are distilled from weeks of rigorous samplings of as many of these retreats as time would allow.
4Best Entrance: Cypress Point Club. Off of scenic 17-Mile Drive and shaded by glorious hardwoods, this ingress leads to one of the best – and most exclusive – layouts in the world. No guardhouse, no traffic and only a modest sign. So heavenly is the sense of arrival that you half expect St. Peter to wave you in.
4Best Range: The gold standard in this realm is Pine Valley Golf Club, where the practice area seems as big as Delaware and often has been the place where sleek corporate helicopters alight, coolly discharging their golfing passengers before lifting off into the sky. But my favorite is the one at Fisher’s Island, because there really isn’t one. What players looking to limber up must do instead is bang their shag balls off a craggy ledge near the putting green into Barley Field Cove.
4Best Locker Room (Other than Seminole): The one at Bill Jones’ Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga., is modeled after the facilities’ at that venerable Florida retreat, right down to the Big Game trophies adorning the walls. It’s as cozy as your grandfather’s den, and as well appointed as a suite at the Ritz. Plus, the guys who serve drinks and shine shoes have a marvelous habit of remembering names even if months go by between visits.
4Best Porch Drink: Southsides at Shinnecock, or rum floats at Fairfield. They can make even the lousiest round feel as good as a day at the beach.
4Best Logo: Among our Classic course rankings, I opt for the fox head at Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Mass., or the jagged island of Fisher’s Island. (I love the fact that neither has any names or lettering around it.) As for the Moderns, I have to go with the puffin of Bandon Dunes and the seals of its sister course, Pacific Dunes. Fun, colorful and simple.
4Best Logo That Looks Like The Guy Who Built The Course: Whistling Straits, whose image of a wild and windswept gnome bears a striking resemblance to Herb Kohler, the visionary who is the money and inspiration behind the excellent track on Lake Michigan.
4Best Outlaw Loop: The first five holes at Spyglass, played twice. I did that with one of the pros there late one afternoon, and it was a gas, for those are the seaside holes with the Pacific Ocean views and my favorites by far. We both looked at each other after finishing No. 5, and quickly decided that instead of heading into the Del Monte Forest on the sixth, we would return and play the opening quintet again. Sheer joy, and if the sun had not been going down, we would have done it a third time. Golf’s version of Groundhog Day, and a happy one at that.
4Best Wait Staff: The Bear’s Club in North Palm Beach, Fla. I teed it up there shortly after it had opened a few years ago, when lunch was served in the halfway house while the clubhouse was being built. I heard a high-pitched voice as I got ready to dig into my chicken salad and looked up to find Jack Nicklaus serving my iced tea. And no, he did not spill a drop.
4Best Wine Cellar: Mayacama Golf Club in the Napa/Sonoma wine country roughly 60 miles north of
San Francisco wins the prize for the superlative stash it holds in its 37,000-square-foot, Tuscan-style clubhouse. There are 400 individual wine lockers that can handle as much as two cases each, and the club has secured 25 special vintner memberships for those active in the wine business, with the understanding that they will provide, at cost, a barrel – or the case equivalent – of their best wine each year to the club. Runner-up is Augusta National, which has a brilliantly stocked and moderately priced collection that boasts approximately 30,000 bottles, all neatly arrayed in a space below the Trophy Room.
4Best Restaurant Near a Club: The Reef Grill in Juno Beach, Fla., just down the road from the Seminole Golf Club. Incomparable seafood. Pleasing wine list. Enticing ambiance. And don’t be surprised if you see a number of club members, as well as some of Seminole’s golf professionals, dining there. Another winner is Casanova’s in the center of Carmel, Calif. Just a short hop down 17-Mile Drive from Pebble Beach or Cypress, it is a fabulous place to retire for a glass of wine and a bite to eat after golf.
4Best Statue: This selection is offered under the theory that no self-respecting golf course should ever have a statue. But the one of Charles Blair Macdonald outside the pro shop at Chicago Golf Club is a reasonable exception. After all, he was the founder and designer of the layout, which was the first 18-hole course built in the United States and an original member of the U.S. Golf Association. Plus, he won the 1895 U.S. Amateur and went on to create some of the finest tracks in the land. It also doesn’t hurt that he was one of the game’s great characters.
4Best Putting Green: The one at Congressional Country Club outside Washington is laid out on a sumptuous piece of turf that sits in the middle of the driveway circle in front of the majestic clubhouse. And though the place has everything from tennis courts to bowling lanes, the presence of that modest practice facility in such a prominent spot tells all comers that more than anything else, Congressional is about golf.
4Best Parking Lot: Cypress Point gets the nod here, in part because it is so ridiculously close to the first tee, and often ridiculously empty. Tom Fazio once suggested that the club move part of it back, but members firmly rejected the idea. Equally as good is the gravel lot at Seminole, where Jimmy the attendant arranges Bentleys and BMWs in perfect order, their shiny grills pointing out at an angle from the pink-walled clubhouse, each one with an Indian head license plate.
4Best Clubhouse: The two-story, 40,000-square-foot, Tudor-style structure at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, where developer Tom Cousins has restored a museum-quality shrine to Bobby Jones at what was his home club, and at the same time showed golf that the game really can be used to make a difference in people’s lives.