10 Places Every Golfer Should Visit in Their Lifetime

Justin RunionContributor IIIOctober 16, 2011

10 Places Every Golfer Should Visit in Their Lifetime

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    From the artifacts of the USGA Museum, to the course that has seen every change the game has had, there are thousands of golf destinations that enthusiasts visit every year.

    But there is a small group that sits atop every fan's wish list.

    You may be the well-hardened traveler who looks upon this list with a sense of accomplishment, or you may, like me, look upon this list with unbridled envy and desire.

    Regardless of which category you fall into, these 10 places/events have shaped the game to the perfection that we now know it to be.

    Most will tell themselves that attending these places is unattainable and financially improbable.

    However, if you do your research and plan properly, over a period of time all 10 can be visited.

No. 10: The USGA Museum

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    Nowhere else in the United States are you going to find a building as dedicated to sharing the history of the game as you will in Far Hills, New Jersey at the USGA Museum.

    It is home to the world's premier collection of golf artifacts and memorabilia.

    Some things that you will see if you visit are:

    The Hall of Champions: The signature architectural space, the Hall of Champions celebrates every USGA Champion and Championship to date. The oval rotunda, illuminated by a clerestory, houses all 13 USGA national championship trophies, while the names of every USGA champion are engraved on bronze panels that circle the room.

    The Spirit of Championship Golf: A six minute introductory video featuring interviews from two of the games greatest golfers, Annika Sorenstam and Arnold Palmer.

    Special rooms dedicated to Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones.

    The Pynes Putting Course: a 16,000-square-foot, nine-hole facility that allows visitors to putt with equipment and balls from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But you better come in the summer months, because the course is closed November to March.

No. 9: The Prestwick Club

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    Prestwick has as much history relevant to the growth of golf as any other club in the world.

    Golf had been played over the links at Prestwick for many years before the club was formally organized in 1851. Old Tom Morris designed the original 12-hole course, and when the club was formed he served as the club's Keeper of the Green, Ball and Club Maker until 1864.

    The first Open Championship was sponsored by Prestwick and held at the club in 1860, with three rounds being played over one day in a 36-hole tournament. The winner was presented with a red Morocco belt with silver clasps purchased by the members at a cost of £25. The club held all Opens up until 1870, and again in 1872.

    Cash prizes were also awarded to leading finishers. Young Tom Morris, son of Old Tom, learned his golf during his boyhood at Prestwick, and captured four straight Opens held there from 1868-72 (there was no Open in 1871).

    By winning the belt three straight times, Young Tom was entitled under the conditions of the competition to keep it, so there was no prize to play for in 1871, and therefore, no Open.

No. 8: Bandon Dunes Resort

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    Although Bandon has yet to make it's place in golf history, it is a must visit during your lifetime.

    Nowhere else in the United States will you find caddies with as much course knowledge as you will at Bandon Dunes.

    Everyone deserves to be treated like a professional player at least once in his or her lifetime, and at Bandon you are treated like the No. 1 player in the world. This service does not come cheap, though, as caddies average anywhere from $85-$120 a bag.

    Bandon has four courses: Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald, and are adding another soon.

    Pacific Dunes is ranked as the second best modern golf course in America, and Bandon Dunes is ranked the fourth best.

No. 7: The Open Championship

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    The Open Championship is over 150 years old, and is the oldest golf tournament played today.

    The inaugural championship was held in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club, and was won by Willie Park.

    It takes place every year during the summer months on one of nine links courses located in Great Britain that make up the rotation, and it is played each year after the U.S. Open.

    Harry Vardon still holds the record for most championships won with six, with four others, including Tom Watson, trailing him by one with five.

    The Claret Jug has been awarded to the winner every year since 1873, with the prior winners receiving a Moroccan belt. Every year since 1949 the top amateur in the field has received a silver medal.

    If you get the opportunity to visit, pray for traditional Open weather so that you can take in the full experience of what the golfers in almost 150 different championships have had to endure.

    The 2012 Open Championship is to be held at Royal Lytham and St Anne's. Ticket information is to be released very soon.

No.6: The Ryder Cup

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    The Ryder Cup was first played unofficially at Gleneagles Golf Course in 1921 as a tournament that would pit the top professionals of Great Britain against the top professionals of the United States.

    In that first meeting, the United States was trounced by Great Britain 9-3 in what was one of the most lopsided victories in Ryder Cup history.

    In 1979, players from European nations were allowed to join because the talent of the United States was so superior to the talent of the British Isles.

    Since then, Europe leads 9-7.

    Nowhere else are you going to see the world's top golfers expel as much energy and emotion as you will at the Ryder cup.

    I had the enormous pleasure of attending the 2008 Championship at Valhalla, and I have never been so pumped up on a golf course. Not even when I was playing competitively.

    If you are lucky enough to get selected for tickets, they are priced at around $500 for the entire event.

    The Ryder Cup takes place in 2012 on Course No. 3 at Medinah Country Club.

No. 5: Pebble Beach

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    Forget golf, there may not be a more beautiful location in the entire world.

    I was taken here by my grandfather when we made a trip to San Francisco just a little while after my 11th birthday.

    I kept whining about being bored on the ride from San Francisco down to Monterey, and all he kept saying is "You will be glad we came."

    Boy was I.

    We didn't play, as two rounds would have been near $1,000, but we walked down onto the beach and entered the course on the fifth hole. I just couldn't believe how beautiful it was because I had never seen a course even remotely comparable to it.

    Our final destination was No. 7.

    When we came over the little hill, I let out such an audible gasp that my grandfather still retells the story to this day.

    I won't even begin to describe the beauty of how the hole met the ocean because it is something that you need to see to appreciate.

No. 4: The U.S. Open

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    The holy grail of American golf, the U.S. Open was founded in 1895, and for over 100 years it has been played on the most beautiful and prestigious golf courses in America.

    Although I have never attended, a few of my friends went to the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and they said there was no other tournament comparable in the United States.

    13-14 hours of non-stop golf action on Thursday and Friday, as some of game's top amateurs try to prove their merit against the hardened PGA Tour veterans.

    Then, when the cut is made, you have a better chance at watching the game's elite. You better get into the gallery of the player that you most want to see early because if you don't, you may not get but a glimpse of him all day.

    The 2012 U.S. Open is to be played at the Olympic Club, and tickets are on sale now.

No. 3: The Country Club

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    Most people will think that I am crazy for ranking this so high. However, some of you will see my reasoning.

    The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts is one of the very first courses ever built in the United States. It played host to the most historic U.S. Open since the tournament was first established—the 1913 U.S. Open.

    Every golfer should know the story of how former club caddy and amateur golfer, Francis Ouimet, squared off with Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a classic David vs. Goliath scenario. Keeping true to the scenario, Ouimet held off Vardon, and sealed the tournament on the 89th hole of play.

    The club was also the site of one of the most remarkable Ryder Cup finishes in the tournaments history in 1999. The European's were leading 10-6 going into the final day, and the U.S. surged back to win 14.5 to 13.5.

    Before you go, read "The Greatest Game Ever Played" by Mark Frost, which recounts the 1913 U.S. Open and the events leading up to it, so that you will be familiar with the course.

    When you get there, find a member, show him the book and explain to him your goal, and he will be more than happy to take you along.

    While you are walking down the fairway, bask in the nostalgia, and think about 12-year-old Francis Ouimet sneaking out onto the course at night to find lost golf balls so that he could practice because his family was too poor to buy him the proper equipment.

    Then you say a quick thanks to the father of American golf for all he did over his career as a golfer, businessman and administrator for getting the game to where it is today.

No. 2: The Masters

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    Upon Bobby Jones' retirement from the game, he wanted to build a golf course that would pay respect to the home of golf, St. Andrews. He sought a man named Clifford Roberts, who later became chairman of the club, to help him find the perfect tract of land to build a golf course on.

    They discovered a piece of land in Augusta, Georgia that led Jones to say, "Perfect! And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to come along and lay a golf course upon it."

    Alister Mackenzie—one of the most famous architects of the time—was soon after hired to build what was to be called Augusta National.

    The course opened in 1933, but Mackenzie died of heart failure before the first Master's Tournament could be played.

    Almost 80 years later, Jones' vision of creating a course that would gain prestige over time has been fulfilled. The Masters is the most watched golf tournament in the United States, and the hardest to get tickets to.

    If you ever get the chance to visit the grounds, take in every moment and every shot from the time you venture down Magnolia Lane until they force you off the grounds.

    Spend some time around Amen Corner, hang out outside the Champions' locker room, and try to imagine Jones and Roberts walking those very grounds 80 years ago when it was just trees and grass.

    And I beg of you, if ever get the chance to go, don't just treat it like any other golf tournament because it is far from it.

No. 1: The Old Course at St. Andrews

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    The Old Course is the oldest surviving golf course in the world.

    In 1552, on the proviso that Archbishop of St Andrews, John Hamilton was able to retain possession of the rabbits on the course—the town’s right to play golf on the links was officially established.

    200 years later, the course was shortened from 22 holes to 18, which set the standard for the modern round of golf.

    If you can only visit one place on this list, then the Old Course is the clear choice.

    For every single change the game has ever had, St Andrews has been around to see it.

    Golf historian Keith Mackey wrote in his book "Golf at St Andrews":

    “This sandy soil has felt the tread of every great champion; it has flinched as millions of golfers down the centuries have hammered and hacked, swiped and swooshed at balls of wood, leather, gutter percha and balata; it has felt the caress of hand-crafted clubs of hickory and blackthorn and suffered the sharp assault of today’s flashing blades of steel and titanium.”

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    St. Andrews truly is the home of golf.