They're too new to rank among this year's GOLF MAGAZINE Top 100 Courses in the U.S. and the World, but look for some, or maybe all, of these layouts to get their due the next time around
Quality over quantity. That's what best describes the state of new course construction, as well as the delicious nature of the two-year task presented GOLF MAGAZINE's more than 100 Course Ranking Panelists. Many of the top new designs are sprinkled in far-flung locations—Bulgaria, China and Nova Scotia—but these tough-to-find tracks have not escaped the watchful eyes of GOLF's august panel (see survey opposite page), which foresees a bumper crop of candidates for the Top 100s of 2013. Here's a preview of the leaders.
Joe Passov, chairman of the Top 100 Courses, is GOLF MAGAZINE's senior editor for travel and course rankings.
Designer: David McLay Kidd
Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. might have an advantage in 18 holes of match play against our sitting chief executive: Huntsman can hone his skills on his family's remarkable new private course on the Idaho-Wyoming border. Founded by his billionaire father, Jon Sr. (a chemical magnate and anticancer crusader who created the container that keeps McDonald's Big Macs warm), and run by his brother David, Huntsman Springs sits in the shadow of the Grand Tetons—but it's what's on the ground that is equally compelling. Kidd moved mountains of soil—more than four million cubic yards—to turn a vapid high desert tract into a visual treat. Rumpled terrain, 153 fescue-fringed bunkers, ball-swallowing wetlands and massive putting surfaces form the bulk of the challenge, along with a championship yardage of 7,331.
Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada
Designer: Rod Whitman
Turn loose Bandon Dunes' Mike Keiser on any coastal property and the result is likely to be successful. Whitman, an Albertan who prepped under Pete Dye and Bill Coore, built Canada's first authentic links for Keiser and codeveloper Ben Cowan-Dewar on a rolling plot that starts at an elevated bluff and descends to the beach. Every hole offers views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but the most dazzling postcard is the tiny par-3 14th, a downhill pitch of 102 yards that overlooks the sea and is a dead ringer for the 7th at Pebble Beach. Ten holes opened in July, with the others to follow next spring.
Mission Hills Resort Haikou (Blackstone)
Haikou, Hainan Island, China
Designer: Brian Curley
One of Asia's foremost tournament tracks is the centerpiece of the new Mission Hills complex in southern China that has 10 courses and counting. Amid the surplus of new layouts, there's no chance of this beautiful brute getting lost in the crowd. Following a host of celebrity designers who were enlisted to help out at the first mammoth Mission Hills site, located in Shenzhen on the mainland, Chinese golf patriarch Dr. David Chu let Curley go it alone on Hainan, and he went on to carve out a relentless lineup of heavily bunkered holes draped on black volcanic rock, a striking if unplayable hazard that frames many fairways. At 7,808 yards and par-73, the aptly named Blackstone should prove a worthy venue when the Molinari brothers defend their 2009 title at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in November.
Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort
Cape Kaliakra, Bulgaria
Designer: Gary Player
Big-time golf in Bulgaria? Believe it. Player is the first to make inroads in this former Communist-bloc stronghold with a pair of designs along the western coast of the Black Sea. Most compelling is Thracian Cliffs, codeveloped by Krassimir Guergov, a media mogul, founder of the Bulgarian Golf Association and an associate member of the R&A. Bulgaria attracted 8.9 million visitors in 2008, predominantly Germans, Greeks and Romanians, and championship golf is now among the enticements. Said Player of Thracian Cliffs at its June opening, "I've seen a lot and can say that there is no course like Thracian Cliffs anywhere in the world." The rocky coastline indeed forms a stunning backdrop for golf, notably at the par-3 6th, the tee of which is perched 44 yards above the green with a full frontal panorama of the Black Sea beyond.
Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Designer: Kyle Phillips
The boom-and-bust economy of the Middle East obliterated Tiger Woods's first (and never completed) design in Dubai, but in Yas Links the region finally produced a game-changer. Says course spokesman Graeme McDowell, "Phillips created a genuine links course in the desert. Sometimes you close your eyes and think you're on Kingsbarns [another Phillips design] the way the greens roll, the way they're shaped... . You can run balls in; they have lots of great run-offs. You can hit lots of different shots in and around the greens. I think Kyle has created something pretty cool here." The operative word is create. Phillips literally created the coastline that edges the course, dredging 2.3 million cubic yards from the sea for the fill necessary to build the 7,414-yard layout. Yas Links is carpeted in platinum paspalum, perfect for tight, linksy lies, and peppered with 109 bunkers.
Isabela, Puerto Rico
Designer: David Pfaff
Charlie Pasarell used to be known primarily for dueling Pancho Gonzales in the longest match in Wimbledon history, but Pasarell's new course in his native Puerto Rico might soon eclipse any of his tennis achievements. Together with brother Stanley and Pfaff, Charlie has smacked a service ace when it comes to Royal Isabela. Strung on rugged cliffs in northwest Puerto Rico, 75 miles west of San Juan, this ferocious 7,538-yard, par-72 tropical test winds through junglelike flora on the hilly front nine, but it's the linksy back nine that will linger in memory, thanks to the cliff-top double green shared by the 12th and 14th holes as well as the 200-yard, par-3 17th, an all-or-nothing thriller perched high above the Atlantic. Up to this point, Puerto Rico has trotted out a series of amiable resort courses meant for holiday fun. Royal Isabela raises the bar considerably.
Stoneforest International Country Club (Leaders' Peak)
Kunming, Yunnan, China
Designer: Brian Curley
Doing a perfect Gary Player impersonation, Curley said of his course in the mountains of southwestern China, "This is one of the most unique sites ever made available for golf." Stoneforest is more spectacular than any other new inland course in the world. The best and newest of a three-course complex situated at 6,500 feet, this fantasy-calendar design zigzags through ancient karst limestone rock formations adjacent to a national park designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. The course technically opened in June, but with the Chinese government playing Ping-Pong on whether to enforce its 2004 moratorium on mainland course construction and operations, it's anyone's guess as to whether enough ranking panelists will have access by the '13 vote. If they do, it will be hard to keep a course this memorable out of the Top 100.
GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 100 Courses in the U.S. and the World@
July 26 New U.S. and World Top 100 Courses • Aug. 2 Complete U.S. and World Top 100 Courses
10 QUESTIONS FOR THE PANEL
To get a sense of the 100-plus men and women who make up the GOLF MAGAZINE Top 100 Course Ranking Panel, SI asked them these questions
1. Did you grow up playing a public or a private course?
2. Do you favor experiments such as forward tees, 12-hole rounds and bigger cups?
3. Which working designer do you expect to most influence the Top 100 in coming years?
Bill Coore--Ben Crenshaw 50%
Tom Doak 30%
Gil Hanse 9%
David McLay Kidd 5%
Also receiving votes: Tom Fazio, Kyle Phillips
4. Best links courses: Ireland or Scotland?
5. Will Tiger Woods ever design a Top 100 course?
6. Is 6,846-yard Merion long enough to host the 2013 U.S. Open?
7. Who is the greatest designer of all time?
Alister MacKenzie 55%
Donald Ross 11%
H.S. Colt 8%
C.B. Macdonald 8%
Pete Dye 6%
Old Tom Morris 6%
Also receiving votes: Wiiliam S. Flynn, Seth Raynor, Michael Stranz, A.W. Tillinghast
8. What is the best golf destination in the U.S.?
Bandon Dunes 31%
Long Island 28%
Monterey Peninsula 22%
Also receiving votes: Arizona, Chicago, Florida, Kohler, Palm Springs, Pinehurst, South Carolina
9. You have one U.S. Top 100 course to play. Which one is it?
Cypress Point (above) 54%
National Golf Links 8%
Augusta National 7%
Pine Valley 7%
Shinnecock Hills 7%
Also receiving votes: Crystal Downs, Fishers Island, Merion, Oakmont, Pacific Dunes, Prairie Dunes, San Francisco, Seminole
10. Same question for the World Top 100.
Cypress Point 28%
Old Course 22%
Royal County Down 9%
Augusta National 7%
Also receiving votes: Cape Kidnappers, Merion, Muirfield, National Golf Links, Nine Bridges, North Berwick, Oakmont, Pine Valley, Prairie Dunes, Royal Dornoch, Royal Melbourne, Royal Portrush, Shinnecock Hills, Turnberry, Waterville
TETONS TREAT Kidd literally had to move mountains to make Huntsman Springs come to life.
ST. LAWRENCE SEEWAY Canada's Cabot Links has been successfully infused with Bandon Dunes' DNA.
TOUGH CUSTOMER At 7,808 yards, Blackstone will test the best during November's Mission Hills World Cup.
COURTESY OF THRACIAN CLIFFS
CLIFFHANGER Spectacular Thracian Cliffs on the Black Sea is sure to put Bulgarian golf on the map.
MANMADE The coastline that edges Yas Links was made by dredging 2.3 million cubic yards from the sea.
BAR RAISER Rugged Royal Isabela in northwest Puerto Rico is light years better than the country's typical resort courses.
MIKE EHRMANN/METLIFE BLIMP