What helps make my list of best golf courses? An unbeatable setting

GOLF recently unveiled its Top 100 Courses in the World, which included all the well-known iconic gems like Augusta National, Cypress Point, St. Andrews and, well, you get the picture. But there’s more than one way to make a list, so here’s ours! Over the next month, GOLF staffers will take their turn creating their own ranking, but not of the best courses in the world — the best courses they’ve played. Enjoy, and if you haven’t made the time to create your own list to dissect and look back on, now’s the time to get started.

My top 10: Sean Zak

Everyone loves a list! That is until you have to create one on your own. That’s when things get tough. Are the Streamsong courses some of the 10 best I’ve ever played? How about that gorgeous day on the quirky Claremont Country Club? Is that one of my 10 best?

This ranking stuff is more difficult than it appears, so kudos to our Top 100 Raters. They’re the brains behind this beautiful ranking. As for me, I rated my own list of courses on three very subjective criteria:

1. How you are treated there
2. The golf setting/vibe
3. The brilliance of the design

Can you beat the golf setting that is the Old Course? No chance. But does Pine Valley have a better collection of golf holes? Yes, undoubtedly. The composite of those three things is tucked away somewhere in my mind, the results of which can be seen generically below. My regards to Sleepy Hollow, Streamsong, Torrey Pines and Erin Hills, who all just missed the cut.

1. Pine Valley

I’m convinced there is no better group of 18 holes, from the first tee to the 18th green. Shocker! This is one of those things you only understand after playing. The 8th hole is so damn simple and yet so damn difficult. Same with the 10th. And the 3rd. And the 12th. You get the point. Everything is a challenge, and if you handle that challenge, you’ll have accomplished something that felt so simple in form. I haven’t seen a golf course like it.

2. St. Andrews Old Course

T2. Pinehurst No. 2

This is more of a compliment for Pinehurst than an appreciation for St. Andrews. (I just couldn’t bring myself to rank the Old Course no. 3. Couldn’t do it.) Simply put, Pinehurst employs some of the best caddies in the world, most of which make you feel like your 2:15 p.m. tee time is just as important as Martin Kaymer’s during the 2014 U.S. Open. That vibe, coupled with the porch overlooking 18, matches the similarly brilliant finish at St. Andrews. Usually the 18th hole feels like a reprieve — no more bogeys! — but all I wanted to do at St. Andrews and Pinehurst was grab a beer and pull a chair up to the green and watch others finish.

4. Morfontaine

The setting at Morfontaine is as quaint and quiet as can be. On a Monday in September, there may have been 20 golfers on the property. For “the Augusta National of France,” as it’s commonly hailed, that might make sense. Where I might normally dislike that exclusivity, the silence was magnificent.

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