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Ranking the Best Golf Tournaments That Aren't Major Championships

Mike DudurichContributor IFebruary 25, 2014

Ranking the Best Golf Tournaments That Aren't Major Championships

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    Rory McIlroy (in blue) won the Wells Fargo Championship in 2010. Rickie Fowler (in orange) won there in 2012.
    Rory McIlroy (in blue) won the Wells Fargo Championship in 2010. Rickie Fowler (in orange) won there in 2012.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Talk about trying to choose the prettiest girl in the beauty pageant.

    The best golf tournaments on the PGA Tour is a daunting list.

    The tour has long had rules, regulations and standards that individual tournaments must follow and achieve, but those became virtually irrelevant when those tournaments started making upgrades to their operations, their courses, their player services and just about everything else related to the event.

    Why did they do that? To attract better and better fields and keep ahead of the competition in a very keen battle to get golf's greatest players in their events.

    What that means is that there are some outstanding golf tournaments on tour right now.

    Here's my take on how they rank.

     

10. Travelers Championship TPC

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    Veteran Ken Duke was a very popular winner last year.
    Veteran Ken Duke was a very popular winner last year.Fred Beckham/Associated Press

    Since 2007, the Travelers Championship at the TPC River Highlands has been played the week after the U.S. Open so the quality of fields has varied from year-to-year.

    The golf course is an interesting one, especially on the back nine. There's a drivable par four (15th), a par three over water (16), a par four that runs along the side of a lake (17) and a closing par that plays into a valley that creates quite a spectator viewing area.

    Its unpredictable nature is what makes this one fun to watch, regardless of who's playing in it. And this course is one that favors long hitters and, with the event being among the most-attended tournaments each year, that adds to the excitement factor.

9. Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard

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    Few have played Bay Hill Country Club as well as Tiger Woods.
    Few have played Bay Hill Country Club as well as Tiger Woods.Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

    It's Arnie's tournament, how could that not be on a favorite's list?

    Golf's legendary King has nurtured the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla. and the golf tournament to its current premier status as one of the jewels not only of the Florida swing but of the entire PGA Tour calendar.

    The course has been re-done and upgraded over the years and has become another of Tiger Woods' personal playgrounds, as he's won seven times there.

    As you can imagine, players get the royal treatment at Bay Hill and those who are invited not only enjoy playing there but also the opportunity of paying homage to Palmer.

     

8. Crowne Plaza Invitational

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    Colonial CC made another kind of history in 2003 when LPGA superstar Annika Sorenstam became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since 1946.
    Colonial CC made another kind of history in 2003 when LPGA superstar Annika Sorenstam became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since 1946.DAVID J. PHILLIP/Associated Press

    The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial Country Club is cool in its own way. There's not a lot of flashiness at this Fort Worth, Texas, private club.

    There's history in this tournament. It's been held, with two exceptions, every year since 1946. Flooding in the Trinity River prevented the event's playing in 1949 and the course hosted the Tournament Players Championship in 1975.

    But that's just the beginning of the history. One of the greatest players to ever play the game, Ben Hogan, won this tournament five times and is why Colonial's nickname is Hogan's Alley. There have been many of great "name" winners here: Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson among those.

    The players appreciate the historic aspect of the event, but they also enjoy playing a great course that puts a value on shot-making.

    And that's why it's so much fun to watch every year.

7. The Players Championship

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    The island green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is always fun-filled.
    The island green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is always fun-filled.John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Players Championship began in 1988 at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

    The Stadium Course was designed by Pete Dye and was a devilishly difficult layout that rewarded precision and accuracy more than length.

    It took a long time for players to appreciate what Dye had done, and there are still players who don't like to play a course like the Stadium with a $9.8 million purse on the line.

    But it is definitely a big-time event, set on what was once 415 acres of Florida swampland, the Players Championship is the fifth-biggest tournament in professional golf behind the four majors.

    And it certainly is enjoyable watching the players try to get around the course while mumbling curses about Pete Dye.

     

6. RBC Heritage

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    One of the great tee shots on the PGA Tour, the 18th at Harbour Town Golf Links.
    One of the great tee shots on the PGA Tour, the 18th at Harbour Town Golf Links.MARY ANN CHASTAIN/Associated Press

    The RBC Heritage has annually followed the Masters on the PGA Tour calendar. A portion of the players who played in the year's first major won't play the next week, but those who do make the relatively short journey from Augusta, Ga., to the Sea Pines Resort in Harbour Town are rewarded with a great experience.

    First and foremost they are the recipients of a full helping of the lowcountry hospitality that the Hilton Head, S.C. is known for.

    Secondly, the course is a classic. It's not a bomber's course at 7,101 yards, it's more like a shot-maker's paradise.

    And last, but certainly not least, how can a golf course that borders a body of water named the Calibogue Sound, not be something special?

5. Farmers Insurance Open

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    It's not all golf at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
    It's not all golf at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    While the competition between the ropes is as intense as it is anywhere else on the PGA Tour, there's something about Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., that gives off a peaceful and mind-soothing vibe. If you've been there, you know what the feeling is. And if you haven't, you can feel it through the television.

    The tournament is played at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, a facility that includes the North and South Courses. The South is the championship course and hosted the U.S. Open in 2008.

    Over the years, the competition has often been for second place, since Tiger Woods has won this event seven times, as well as the 2008 Open.

    The courses run along cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean providing golfers and fans spectacular views on the course.

     

4. AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

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    It can get a little windy at Pebble Beach, but with this kind of scenery, it's not a big issue.
    It can get a little windy at Pebble Beach, but with this kind of scenery, it's not a big issue.Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am has been criticized over the years because of how long it takes to complete rounds, the condition of the putting surfaces and the weather.

    Even with that, it is one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour because of the history of the event and because of some of the most spectacular golf course scenery anywhere.

    The tournament is played on three courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course. The field is filled with celebrities and athletes from other sports and they all play for three rounds. The best of the professional-amateur partnerships play in Sunday's final round.

    The courses are all near the coastline and are affected by the weather, making it even more intriguing to watch.

    There's a deep sense of history involved with this event because of Pebble Beach's long affiliation with professional golf.

3. World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational

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    One of the challenging holes at Firestone CC is the long, downhill 16th.
    One of the challenging holes at Firestone CC is the long, downhill 16th.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Because Firestone Country Club annually hosts the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, players look forward to coming to Akron, Ohio, to see how their game holds up on one of the long and strong layouts on the PGA Tour.

    The South Course is big-boy golf at its finest, playing to 7,400 yards and featuring a stunning collection of long, tree-lined par fours and difficult long par threes. It has hosted this event since 2006 and is under contract through 2018.

    The tournament has built its reputation on the difficulty of the course, with a devilish collection of hard, fast putting greens.

    But that's what has made this WGC event a must-see event every year.

2. The Memorial Tournament Presented by Nationwide Insurance

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    Not only is Muirfield Village a great test, it's visually stunning.
    Not only is Muirfield Village a great test, it's visually stunning.Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

    This is the one that Jack built.

    Muirfield Village Golf Club is located in Dublin, Ohio, an affluent suburb of Columbus. It is a spectacular golf course that, despite weather issues almost every year, presents a beautiful challenge to one of the year's best fields.

    Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village and has taken great care and effort over the years to present it in the best possible way. His admiration for the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club are evident throughout the course.

    The players love coming there not only because of the golf course and the chance to win and be greeted at the 18th green by Nicklaus on Sunday afternoon, but also because of the reputation the recently redesigned clubhouse has for the best milk shakes on the PGA Tour.

1. Wells Fargo Championship

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    Michael Jordan plays in the pro-am at the Wells Fargo Championship.
    Michael Jordan plays in the pro-am at the Wells Fargo Championship.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    The Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., has become a model for other golf tournaments on the PGA Tour, so much so that the event was awarded consecutive "Best in Class" awards in 2009 and 2010 by the PGA Tour.

    A top-flight golf course, Quail Hollow plays to 7,442 yards and draws raves every year for its conditioning and difficulty.

    The final three holes are as good as any, featuring the 17th, a par three over water. They are so good, the holes are called the Green Mile. In 2004, that stretch was the second-hardest closing holes on the PGA Tour, behind only East Lake in Atlanta.

    Those holes seem to always create excitement on Sunday afternoon when everything is on the line.

    It's played the week before the Players Championship and serves as a great warmup for that event.

     

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