It wasn’t long ago that America’s leading golf architects proclaimed an overseas building boom. Given the game’s growth in rapidly developing places like China and Dubai—and the availability of amazing parcels of land unencumbered by environmental red tape in remote locales such as New Zealand and Tasmania—the greatest courses, they argued, were increasingly being built in far-flung corners of the globe. What a difference a few years makes. If the roster of the best new courses to open in 2006 proves anything, it’s that—Ryder Cup futility notwithstanding—America has hardly become barren ground for golf. Eight of the ten courses on our list were laid out on U.S. soil in areas as diverse as the craggy sandhills of Colorado, the rolling farmland of Wisconsin and, believe it or not, the industrial waterfront of New Jersey. In varying ways, each course pays homage to classic design principles and at the same time sets exciting new standards for the craft.
BAYONNE GOLF CLUB
Bayonne, New Jersey (private)
A round at Bayonne can seem like Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole. The location—only four miles across the Hudson River from Wall Street—is unreal. Who would have thought that these 150 flat acres sandwiched between waterfront industrial parcels could have been transformed into such a fun rendition of an Irish links?Developer and architect Eric Bergstol actually got paid to accept millions of cubic yards of sludge and construction debris, and then he fashioned the landfill into a collection of golf-smart holes that twist and tumble through man-made dunes. Some holes are so compelling they overpower the competing vistas of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Nearby Liberty National, also new last year, may have more teeth, but Bayonne wins on personality.
ARCHITECT: Eric Bergstol. YARDAGE: 7,106. PAR: 71. MEMBERSHIP INQUIRIES: 201-823-4800, bayonnegolfclub.com.
COLORADO GOLF CLUB
Parker, Colorado (private)
Three of the state’s tallest mountains dominate the western views from Colorado Golf Club and the fairways themselves are roller coasters, but this Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw masterpiece is designed to be walked. Spread across seventeen hundred acres of a former Arabian horse ranch twenty-five miles southeast of Denver, the course canters through foothills, stands of ponderosa pines and Gambel oaks, lush meadows and dramatic washes. From the first hole—a downhill 653-yard par five with an undulating fairway and a small multitiered green—you can sense the architects’ reverence for the land. Bunkers and waste areas mimic the funky natural forms all around, while slick and sloping greens can prompt wild sprints to mark your ball before it trickles off a shoulder.
ARCHITECTS: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. YARDAGE: 7,604. PAR: 72. MEMBERSHIP INQUIRIES: 303-840-5400.
ERIN HILLS GOLF COURSE
Hartford, Wisconsin (public)
Like a preschooler being groomed for Harvard, this authentic links on the agrarian outskirts of Milwaukee is the bearer of huge expectations. Even before the first shot was struck off its firm native-fescue fairways, Erin Hills had been selected by the USGA to host a national championship (albeit a rather minor one). Such buildup might make it easy to dismiss the course as overhyped—that is, if Erin Hills weren’t an absolute thrill to play. The design approach here may have been minimalist—the architects did little reshaping of the massive drumlins and hollows created ages ago by melting glaciers—but the finished product is far from it. The Herculean tenth hole, a 652-yard par five, calls for a commanding drive over a valley to a plateau fairway, followed by two more blistering shots to a Biarritz green that’s seventy-eight paces deep. As with all of the world’s great links, subtler challenges also abound.
ARCHITECTS: Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten. YARDAGE: 7,824. PAR: 72. GREENS FEE: $150. TEE TIMES: 866-724-8822, erinhills.com.