Legendary Golf Courses in America
Before we, er, tee this up: a disclaimer.
The Internet is full of lists of the “Best Golf Courses.” Many of these lists have been drawn up over months, in consultation with dozens of industry experts, using highly rigorous and objective methods.
This is not what we’re employing here. Heck, we’re just a clothing brand.
The list that follows is highly subjective. How did we decide which golf destinations made the cut and which didn’t? We considered things like course design, history, hospitality, location, reputation, clubhouse design, and a certain je ne sais quoi. If a course or club had something new and interesting going on, we took that into account. If there was a J. McLaughlin store nearby—well, to be perfectly honest, that didn’t hurt.
In short, we considered a cocktail of factors. Maybe the sort of cocktail you mix after you’ve had five or six already.
We’ve given a bye to Augusta National and many of the other uber-famous American courses that usually dominate lists like this—places like Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, and Shinnecock Hills. We’ve done this for the simple reason that we thought it would make things more interesting. Which is something we sometimes do on the golf course, too.
The Ryder Cup (1999), also known as the “Battle of Brookline” after the U.S. fought back from 10-6 down to win the trophy over The Europeans.
We start with the original. Founded in 1882 by the Boston merchant and railroad magnate John Murray Forbes, “The Brookline” is often called America’s oldest country club. The clubhouse (we’re told) is pure old-money austerity, complete with ancient furniture and creaking floorboards, and the exclusivity factor is through the roof; even Tom Brady and Gisele reportedly had to wait two years to be accepted. The club is letting down its guard a little this year, with cameras prowling the grounds as it hosts the 2022 U.S. Open. Millions of golf fans will be given a rare view of its 27 holes, including its racing loop, a relic of the place’s original function as an equestrian and social club. That’s right—The Brookline is so old that America hadn’t even really discovered golf yet when it opened.
Boca Grande, Florida
Gasparilla Golf Club dates to 1913 when guests played on a nine-hole golf course on a nearby U.S. military reserve.
Occupying an island of its own just off of Gasparilla Island, this sprawling par-72 ocean course is easily one of Florida’s finest. It’s beautifully designed by Pete Dye and carpeted in native biscuit grass, and most of the water hazards are in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ll be honest: the attached resort that it’s attached to is also a huge part of the draw. That would be the Gasparilla Inn, with its pitch-perfect Old Florida charm. Though it’s now a 164-room hotel, the inn’s civilized and chummy air make it feel like a country club, and an especially appealing one at that. The original columned manor house dates to 1913, and the villas, cottages, and other impeccably redecorated accommodations and public spaces are perfect for relaxing in after a round on the links.
Chicago Golf Club
The Chicago Golf Club became one of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association (USGA) in 1894.
Built by C.B. Macdonald, America’s original A-list course designer, this fabulous throwback course in the leafy Chicago suburb of Wheaton has barely been altered since Macdonald’s protégé, Seth Raynor, redid it in 1921—though it has been attentively tweaked and buffed ever since its 2006 hosting of the Walker Cup. Walking this turn-of-the-century gem is like taking a stroll through history. Many will tell you that its wide fairways, squared-off greens, and abundance of landing areas are the ne plus ultra of traditional course design, and the 1913 clubhouse (distinctive for its red-tile roof and octagonal clock tower) is courtesy of famed Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt. If you can swing an invite from a member, do whatever calendar rearranging it takes to experience this ultra-exclusive private course.
Baltusrol Upper Course has hosted the 1936 U.S. Open and the 1985 U.S. Women's Open. Photo by Chris Faytok.
The 36-hole course here is notable as the first in America to have been designed and built contiguously—by the legendary A.W. Tillinghast, no less. It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year in a period of transition; the lower course just underwent a thorough restoration, with the more challenging upper course expected to emerge from its own makeover soon. The real star at Baltusrol, though, is its glorious Tudor Revival clubhouse. Designed in 1909 by a non-celebrity architect (and club member) named Chester Kirk, it’s an absolutely stunning behemoth of brick, stone, and stucco-and-half-timber accents.
The Hotchkiss Golf Course, designed in 1924 by Seth Raynor, circles the Hotchkiss campus and offers views of Lake Wononscopomuc as well as the surrounding Berkshire-Taconic mountains.
In-the-know Northeastern golfers come to play hooky at this elite Connecticut boarding school—assuming the Hotchkiss team hasn’t reserved the course. The historic nine-holer here dates to 1897 but was heavily redesigned during the interwar years by two of the biggest names in the business, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. The course itself, which has shrunk over the years to accommodate campus expansions, is probably as big a draw as the pastoral environs. This is one of the prettiest parts of New England, and you tee off against a backdrop of low Berkshire peaks and discreet brick and modern architecture. It’s the only public option on this list, and probably the most accessible and low-key Raynor course out there. If there’s no staff around when you show up, just slip the $20 course fee into the honor box.
Los Angeles, CA
Professional golfer Ben Hogan won the first of his four U.S. Open Titles at the Riviera Country Club in 1948, prompting the course to be nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley,” as it was his third win at the Riviera in 18 months.
Some seriously high-profile golf will be played here during the LA-hosted 2028 Summer Games, but high-profile appearances are part of this tony club’s DNA. Built in 1927, its early celebrity members included Walt Disney, Dean Martin, and the silent-film star Mary Pickford. Bogie hit bogeys here (har, har); less comically, his Casablanca co-star Conrad Veidt died of a heart attack in 1943 while preparing to play the eighth hole. Tiger Woods, who grew up in neighboring Orange County, played his first PGA Tour event here as a high-school sophomore in 1992. Designed by George Thomas and William Bell, the Riviera is situated in the Santa Monica Canyon, in Pacific Palisades, with a natural layout that accentuates the difficulty factor, and not just for Hollywood hackers, either. Those Olympians are sure to be challenged, too, not only by the course’s devilish design but its famously spongy, ball-grabbing kikuyu grass.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw created the Friar’s Head Golf Course in 2002. It is ranked 16th on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2021-2022. Photo courtesy of LinksGems Golf Photos.
This 19-year-old, 350-acre coastal course has some imposingly well-established neighbors: Southampton’s Shinnecock Hills is a half-hour drive away, and a skilled sailor can basically tack across the Long Island Sound to the legendary Fishers Island Club. Where those blue-chip courses radiate classical beauty, Friar’s Head designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (creators of Nebraska’s Sand Hills, often called the best modern course in America) have hewn a minimalist masterpiece out of wooded dunes and old potato fields. Oversized greens and bunkers occupy a rugged terrain of and dramatic elevation changes, and the creative routing is a miracle of low-impact course design. Note: As intentionally untamed as the course can feel, the club’s policies regarding dress and phone use are a sobering reminder that civility is expected. This is (basically) the Hamptons, after all.