Many of us have careers where we can travel and play golf either annually or regularly, while others are retired and take their golf clubs around the country looking for new golf courses to play. I’m always on the lookout for great courses, adding new ones to my bucket list every year.
The ones that top my bucket list, though, aren’t your typical Pebble Beaches or Bethpage Blacks, but rather the ones that no one knows about. There are so many good courses out there that go under the radar that nobody knows about. You can step on the first teetomorrow if you want unlike Pebble Beach where you have to call about six months in advance just to get a tee time.
Here is a list of courses that you should try out sometime, whether you’re in the South, the Midwest, or out West. They’re new to the golfing world and quickly gaining respect as elite courses for the public:
1. Streamsong Golf Resort
Location: Bowling Green, Fla.
Streamsong Golf Resort opened its gates in January 2013 and has quickly risen in ranks to become one of the best public golf courses in the U.S. The Streamsong Red Course is ranked No. 19 on America’s Top 100 Golf Courses to Play, according to Golf Digest, while the Blue and Black Courses are not far behind and rank in the top-35. Streamsong is located roughly 50 miles to the east-southeast of Tampa and just south of Lakeland.
The first thing you’ll notice before how difficult a group of courses they are is the scenery that you will encompass. The “dunes feel” you take in as you make your way around the course gives you the feeling that you’re playing along the shores of Ireland or on the famous Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. While most Florida courses are known for its trees and lakes, Streamsong’s main attraction, the Red Course, has plenty of sand combined with dunes and hills, making it more of a seaside links kind of course with water mixed in along the way.
Four legendary architects of the game designed these three courses: Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore, Gil Hanse, and Tom Doak. If you know anything about design, you know that these four are the most respected in the game when it comes to course setup. From the tips, the Red Course can play at 7,148 yards, a par 72. Eventually, the PGA Tour will likely pay a visit to Streamsong with the consideration of adding it to their Florida rota in some way, shape, or form later down the road. In the meantime, if you’re looking to travel and want to play a course that is challenging and a sight to behold, give Streamsong a try.
2. Sand Valley Golf Resort
Location: Nekoosa, Wis.
Wisconsin has become a nesting egg for links-style golf courses in recent decades. Whistling Straits started the run and has since hosted three PGA Championships and will host the 2021 Ryder Cup. Then came by Erin Hills which hosted the 2017 U.S. Open. Sand Valley is the next course in Wisconsin to soon be on the world stage. Having opened in 2017, the course constructed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw lies along the rolling sand hills of Nekoosa, about an hour to the northwest of Milwaukee.
Sand Valley has the identity of providing a stiff challenge to golfers, with dual fairways and deep sand pits all over the course. It has perched greens and a punchbowl putting surface giving it a spectacular look. That being said, if putting is not one of the strengths of your game, you may have a tough time. The greens can get quite quick over the summertime and provide several feet of break while the fairways are firm and fast, allowing your golf ball to roll a long way down some of the hills.
Sand Valley was ranked as the “Best New Golf Course” in 2017 and is No. 18 on Golf Digest’s list of Top 100 Public Golf Courses. Mammoth Dunes, right next to Sand Valley, is another treasure to play, a similar course that was awarded the “Best New Golf Course” in 2018. From the tips, it can play up to 7,000 yards, with one par-5 under 500 yards that can play to a par-4 for professionals.
3. Gamble Sands Golf Course
Location: Brewster, Wash.
You’ve probably heard of Chambers Bay, another great public course to play if you’re ever in the Northwest. But not many have heard of Gamble Sands Golf Course, located in north-central Washington and about 100 miles east of Seattle. It debuted in 2014 and immediately won Golf Digest’s award for “Best New Golf Course.” It currently ranks No. 37 on Golf Digest’s Top 100 Public Courses to play. It beat out Chambers Bay in Golf Week’s 2019 and 2020 awards for best courses to play in Washington.
Designed by David McLay Kidd, the course is perched atop a high plateau overlooking the Columbia River Valley and gives you the most incredible sights any golf course in America can provide. At 7,169 yards, it’s a challenge, especially given the dunes and rolling fairways and undulating greens. There are no trees nor water, only rolling dunes, big hills, and sand throughout the course.
The Sands Course is the main attraction and features four par-5s, one being the finishing hole, and four par-3s. It prides itself on being a true links course with wide fairways and fescue greens. It plays its finest in the summertime when the weather is warm and the greens are at their quickest.
When playing different types of courses you may need to update or adjust your equipment such as golf heads, golf shafts or even grips in order to adjust to new courses.