GOLF’s Top 100 Course Panelists are some of the most respected and traveled course raters in the game. They’re eager to share their opinions, too. In this GOLF.com series, we’ll reveal their unvarnished views on all matters related to courses. Discover the latest from GOLF Top 100 courses in the United States, The 100 best golf courses in the world, Top 100 courses you can play, Best Municipal Courses in USAand 100 Best Short Courses. Meet all our Top 100 panelists here.
GOLF recently unveiled its new ranking, the Top 100 courses in the United States What, if anything, jumps out at you about the new roster? Trends it indicates? Big surprises?
Jon Cavalier (panellist since 2020; played 97 of the Top 100): The trend of high quality restorations jumps out at me. Merion, Los Angeles Country Club North, Winged Foot West, Oakland Hills, The Country Club, Southern Hills, Congressional, Inverness, Sleepy Hollow, Oak Hill East, Old Town Club, The Creek, Bel Air, Scioto, Ridgewood and Aronimink have all have had significant work carried out to recover, rebuild or restore their character.
Chick Wagner (panelist since 2008; played 81 of the Top 100): The most influential trend of architects and their renovation/restoration projects has been their willingness to search through old photos and archives and realize that the original plans of architects of yore were wonderful. They kept it simple and didn’t move a lot of dirt, allowing mother nature to provide the natural drainage these properties already had.
Thomas Brown (panellist since 2015; played 95 of the Top 100): Wins for variety, natural sites and topography. Falling stray bullets, sidewalk. Fescue comes and goes. Some top courses on the list have given up the fight against overgrown grass, but the new Top 100 addition CapRock Ranch is a good example of successfully keeping bouncy fescue in the fairways. At the top of the Top 100 list, the debate over underground bunker liners continues, at least among those of us who are deep in the weeds. Do you like fast greens? Maybe not. I find mixed results in some of the historic golf course renovations, whose greens were not designed with modern speeds in mind. Three top golf courses are set to change ahead of the next Top 100 release. Personal tastes will vary based on design aesthetics, but advancements in turf science compete with the variety of green complexes and the number of hole locations available for the game.
Will Davenport (panellist since 2021; played 45 of the Top 100): I think restoration is already fully covered, but it’s an exciting change in the world of golf, from overhaul and refurbishment etc to restoration. The allegiance to the original vision, photos and lesson plans is a wonderful acknowledgment of the timeless works of ages past. However, that’s not to say that new builds can’t quickly make it into the great courses, as evidenced by the meteoric rise of Sand Hills. On a related note, are we seeing golf in the Midwest starting to take off? Sand Hills, Prairie, Southern Hills, CapRock and others seem to be growing in importance.
Among the golf courses you saw for the first time this year, which marked you the most and why?
Rider: The restored Congress made the greatest impression. I admit I never really enjoyed the Congress blue course, but after seeing Andrew Green’s renovation, I think it’s great and a lot of fun to play.
Brown: Valentine, Neb. The properties of CapRock Ranch (#59) and The Prairie Club, Dunes (#94) are only a few miles apart in the Snake River Canyon. Different styles in design and routing choices, but the lands found in this part of northwestern Nebraska are exceptional. Dick Youngscap started the Sand Hills trend nearly 30 years ago. We have three selections from Nebraska in the Top 100 and we will definitely see more in the future.
Are there any courses you think deserved to be in the Top 100 that weren’t?
Rider: The Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon course is both a hometown favorite and a place that I think deserves recognition in the Top 100. Keith Foster’s restoration is exceptional.
Brown: Whispering Pines, Forest Highlands (Canyon) and The Loop at Forest Dunes are the ones I would put in the glaring omissions category, but your mileage may vary. Chambers Bay is another golf course that I think is worth including, but the bouncing in the fairways was missing from their summer championship. It will be interesting to see where Yale lands after the Hanse/Wagner restoration completes with its expanded maintenance budget. It should also be noted that the new golf courses that opened at the end of the summer have exceeded our evaluation deadline.
Sofa: I would say in line with the above that Wissahickon and Chambers are at the top of my list which I miss sorely. However, a few other notables would include the charming duo Mid-Pines & Pine Needles, as well as the Philly Flynn twins of Lancaster & Rolling Green. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mountain Lake, Florida’s idyllic Raynor, and Colorado Golf Club, a modern gem that isn’t recognized enough, in my humble opinion.
What new course or renovation are you most looking forward to seeing in the coming year?
Rider: CapRock Ranch is at the top of my list for 2023. It’s one of the few courses on this year’s list that I haven’t seen yet, and the idea of a Hanse design in the dunes of Nebraska which runs along the caprock cliffs of the Snake River is tremendously exciting. In the photos, the course looks dramatic and thrilling, and the feedback I’ve heard from those who have ventured to play it has been rave reviews.
wagner: Indian Creek Renovation by Andrew Green. I am finally looking forward to my trip to Cabot Links and Highland Links now that all Covid travel restrictions are lifted for Canada. The trip to visit Sand Valley and the new Lido should be the most anticipated trip for any golf lover.
Brown: Point Hardy Golf Club in Cabot Saint Lucia. From the Life Ain’t Fair department, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw continue to have their pick of the select few spots in golf. Ben Cowan-Dewar’s growing empire is heading south into the Caribbean, and Dream Golf’s Mike Keizer is already listing the superlatives of his visit there. Early images of the clifftop par-3 holes 16 and 17 look set to compete with California’s well-known par-3 holes in the top category.
Sofa: Without a doubt (although I’m biased), working at Yale is the most exciting. The course has long suffered from neglect due to a paltry budget and lack of staff, so even if only for a few seasons hopefully the Yale course will return to its former glory, with some of the most more spectacular and on a large scale. greens in the world. Of secondary interest, McArthur’s new course promises to scare the Top 100 when finished, and I expect it to be magnificent.