10 Coolest Courses on the PGA Tour

Mike LynchContributor IIIJanuary 19, 2012

10 Coolest Courses on the PGA Tour

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    In choosing the 10 coolest courses on the PGA Tour, I looked for outstanding strategic architecture, beautiful scenery and the course having a unique identity.  

    All three courses of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am made the list.  The Monterey Peninsula is just an outstanding landscape for a course.

    The Greenbrier and Riviera are examples of terrific architecture.  Pin placement can change the strategy of an entire hole.  

    What I specifically avoided were courses that seemingly presented the same challenge over and over again.

     An example of that would be Atlanta Athletic Club, hazards on both sides of the fairway for tee shots, hazards surrounding every green.  This type of layout makes the holes seemingly blend together and lacks any sort of strategic options on how to play them.

    I limited the selection to courses that currently appear on an annual basis.    

10. Dove Mountain

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    Dove Mountain is the host course of the WGC World Match Play Championship.  Located in Marana, Ariz., the Jack Nicklaus-designed course stretches over 7,800 yards.

    Each hole is essentially a series of islands surrounded by thick desert wilderness.  Most of the fairways are quite wide and the severe undulations of the greens make for interesting choices on most holes.  The greens are sloped so severely that they play very slow by PGA tour standards.  

    No other PGA Tour venue captures an environment like this.  It is a much different backdrop than any other course.  You are in a desert mountain wilderness and made aware of it at all times.  

    Yes, there are better layouts on tour, but the environment is so unique that it makes up the difference.

9. TPC Sawgrass

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    TPC Sawgrass hosts the PGA Tour's flagship Player's Championship each May.  The Pete Dye design is best known for the island 17th green.  It is a par 72 that measures just over 7,200 yards, not long by today's standards.

    The course is great for professional tournaments.  It constantly offers the temptation to play a risky shot with reachable par 5's and several par 4's under 400 yards.  The design is too penal for an average golfer, with water in play on every hole.

    Dye's signature bold bunkering designs are what save this course.  Many holes are conceptually similar with a fairway that cuts off, sharply shifts to the right or left and continues again.  This occurs on seven holes at Sawgrass.  

    Yet the holes manage to maintain an identity thanks to the bunkers, mounds and green structures.

    Though Dye has built much better courses in my opinion, Sawgrass does manage to leave quite the impression.

8. Spyglass Hill

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    Spyglass Hill is one of the courses used in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament.  Built by Robert Trent Jones, it measures 6,858 yards.

    The first five holes at Spyglass Hill rival any course in the world.  Playing on the steep ocean dunes, they will take your breath away.

    The fourth hole, with its narrow, peninsula-shaped green surrounded by ice plant, is the most famous of the group.  The elevation changes, along with wind, ensure the holes will always remain a challenge. No course on the tour schedule can come close to matching this opening stretch.

    The rest of the course can be described as difficult and intimidating, very much in the Robert Trent Jones style.

7. Greenbrier Old White

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    The Old White Course at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia was built in 1914 by C.B. MacDonald and Seth Raynor.  MacDonald is considered the father of golf architecture in the United States.  

    The Greenbrier closely resembles its original design, thanks to Lester George's 2000 restoration.  It is perhaps the most historically significant design on tour.

    The Greenbrier is the only example of the MacDonald and Raynor design template on the PGA Tour. The influence of links golf is evident, despite the course being in the West Virginia hills.  

    The par-3 third hole features a 60-yard long green with a deep depression cutting through the center. The 18th features a huge ridge cutting the green in half.  Features like these allow for great variety in the daily set up.

6. Monterey Peninsula Shore Course

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    The Shore Course is overshadowed by both Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill.  However, following a redesign, that should not be the case.  The ocean is in view from the fifth hole to the 18th.  

    The course now provides more of a links golf challenge.  This is appropriate given its location and natural features.    Hopefully, more coverage from this wonderful layout will be featured during the AT&T pro-am.

5. Plantation Course at Kapalua

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    The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is played on a layout like no other.  It is routed along the base of a volcanic mountain with the ocean always in view.  

    The dramatic elevation changes regularly allow for drives to exceed 400 yards.  The 18th hole, which is 663 yards, is reachable in two.

    The course features gigantic greens that are severely sloped.  Three putts are very likely if the wrong portion of the green is hit.  It is also unique that it plays as a par 73, very rare for a course in general. 

    The course is as memorable as any on tour; there is no confusing this place with any other venue.

4. Harbour Town

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    Host of the RBC Heritage, the course is proof that length is not needed to present a challenge.  With tight fairways and small greens, it demands precision on all shots.  

    Overhanging limbs draped with Spanish moss tighten the course even further.  The control of trajectory and ball flight make it perhaps the best shotmakers' course on tour.  Harbour Town provides the alternative to the bomb and gouge courses that dominate the tour.

    The final three holes which play near the Calibougie Sound are both a challenging and beautiful way to end.  The playoff duel between Brandt Snedeker and Luke Donald in 2011 is a testament to that.  

    The 18th hole, with the candy-stripe lighthouse behind the green is among the most famous closing holes in the sport.

3. Augusta National

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    Augusta is probably the most famous course in the United States.  It has the best collection of par 5's and par 3's seen on tour.

    While much of the course has been changed to battle technology, the challenge of the greens remains.  Hit the wrong level and you are looking at a three-putt.

    The beautiful scenery of the course is notable, as it does not play alongside an ocean or body of water.  It is accomplished with a large variety of tree bushes and shrubs along with a lovely routing.

    The genius of this course is that every hole is potentially a birdie hole, but also can be a bogey hole. No lead is ever really safe, as Rory McIlroy, Greg Norman and many others have shown.

    I leave it at No. 3 because despite all the history associated with it, it is a very different course from what was envisioned by Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie.

2. Riviera

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    The host course of the Northern Trust Open has the best layout on tour in my opinion.  Any type of player is capable of winning.  Changing a pin location can dramatically change the strategy of any hole.  The design is timeless and still provides a challenge.  

    Two very unique greens exist at Riviera.  The first hole, a par-5, features a boomerang-shaped green, and the sixth hole features a bunker within the green.  

    Ben Hogan said of the fourth hole: "It's the greatest par-3 in America."  Jack Nicklaus said of the drive-able 10th hole: "I love option holes and this one has more than any short par-4 I know."  

    With wide fairways and no water, the course is enjoyable for any golfer, and a challenge for any golfer at the same time.  No other course on the PGA Tour comes close to providing this dynamic.  

1. Pebble Beach

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    The combination of the scenery, the history and the great layout puts Pebble Beach in the top spot.  It is a layout that will never fall victim to technology. 

    The seventh hole is a 100 yard par-3, but it plays straight into the ocean breeze.  The eighth hole is the most dramatic second shot in the game, over the ocean to a small green.

    The 14th hole is the toughest par-5 on tour by a significant margin.  It is reachable, but the severe sloping green and front bunker.  The non ocean holes all have a risk reward nature to them.

    It is also not a course that overwhelms you with length.  Pebble would be a great course without the ocean backdrop, but this scenery makes it the coolest course on tour.

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