Don’t you wish there was a list of the 100 best shorter golf courses in America? And don’t you wish that list covered at least one in your state — a course you could go play tomorrow if you wanted to? Don’t you wish the short courses you love in your neck of the woods got more national attention? We’ve wished all of those things with you and decided to do something about it. We started with Alabama to Georgia, then Hawaii to Maryland and Massachusetts to New Jersey, and now we’re covering ...
Part 4: New Mexico
to South Carolina
This is the fourth 10-state collection in our six-part series covering the 100 Best Short Courses (anything under 4,444 yards) in the United States, followed by 20 internationally in Part 6. We collected facts and opinions from personal experiences, reliable sources, passionate locals and industry professionals to compile this list, and now we’ve ranked the Top 100 Short Courses in America in one easy-to-read list (for people who simply must know). Let us know if we missed a course you love in your state, and maybe it will make the list next year.
Part 1: Alabama to Georgia
Part 2: Hawaii to Maryland
Part 3: Massachusetts to New Jersey
Part 4: New Mexico to South Carolina
Part 5: South Dakota to Wyoming
L’il Rock at Rockwind Community Links: Owned and operated by the city of Hobbs, in the southeast corner of the state, PGA Tour star Fred Couples says of Rockwind, “You’re not going to see many public facilities like this in the country — it’s phenomenal!” And the nine-hole L’il Rock course complements the championship course with a collection of 60- to 185-yard 3-pars with “open tees” allowing players to play to the next green from pretty much anywhere.
The Saratoga Golf and Polo Club: Anthony Pioppi says of the private, nine-hole, Victorian-era, course in Saratoga Springs: “In the fall of 2018, architect-shaper Kye Goalby restored features and lines of play to the layout that had been lost over the years. The original design dates to 1896. Appropriate to the name, the conditions are maintained firm so the ground game is in play. If you do play it, leave your pony at home. There is no polo there and never has been. (It's a long story.)”
Hay Harbor out on Fishers Island: The championship course at Fishers Island remains firmly entrenched atop my golf bucket list, and photographer Jon Cavalier says I must add the private local short course to my itinerary should I ever be given the opportunity to visit: “Hay Harbor is super old-school, with lots of random bumps, humps, hillocks and berms and a par-4 2nd that plays uphill along a cliff looking out over the Sound.” With two holes on the water and a great 92-yard par 3, this first course on Fishers Island, while little, is big on views and fun.
The Cradle at Pinehurst Resort: Pinehurst got into the “little game” big time in 2017 with Gil Hanse’s nine-hole Cradle course, a nod to the resort’s 120-year development as America’s “Cradle of Golf.” Golf Channel has gone so far as to call the 789-yard course (near the 18-hole Thistle Dhu Putting Course) the “Most Fun 10 Acres in Golf.” Golf Trip Experts Managing Editor Darin Bunch agrees that it’s the perfect amenity for a resort that never stops evolving: “If you’re looking to extend the golf day with some fun, low-key wedge play and a few beverages (or more) from the very-cool custom Pinecone cart, Pinehurst has built a playground just for you.” For more about Pinehurst Resort’s growing footprint, check out Episode 118 of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast.
El Camino at Tobacco Road: Golf Trip Experts’ resident historian Mitch Laurance says of El Camino, “The 994-yard course is such a brilliant use of existing greens with new shots and angles.” In other words, designer Mike Strantz didn’t specifically route El Camino to be its own course, but his spirit is very much at play among these nine “miniaturized” holes that can be played as a par-3 course in the late afternoon. Mitch’s “Talking GolfGetaways” co-host (and fellow lover of all things Strantzian) Darin Bunch knew El Camino would be a hit among golfers who rank Tobacco Road among their favorite courses. “Tobacco Road’s creative greens are the soul of Mike’s design, so it only makes sense to give players who want more golf another chance to experience them from different tee boxes, turning each green into an unforgettable one-shot hole. I play El Camino at sunset every chance I get when visiting North Carolina — and love that owner Mark Stewart and the family embraced this unique way to see Strantz’ work from a different perspective.”
Square Butte Creek: I wish I could be the retail manager for this course north of Bismarck, or at the very least get a T-shirt with the course name on it. This semi-private nine-holer has a couple of water hazards and plenty of hills with some wild slopes on the greens and a few awkward blind shots. The first tee shot is rather unique, dropping off 100 feet to a grassy cheek of green 145 yards away next to the curvaceous Square Butte Creek. There is no dress code at this course, though I’m assuming they would prefer you be dressed.
Wyoming Golf Club: This course in Cinnci … Cinchona … (man, I can NOT spell that city’s name) is certainly worthy of its designation as one of the Top 4,600 nine-hole courses in the country, ranked No. 12 in Golf World Magazine’s 2010 list of the “25 Best Nine-Hole Courses in America.” When asked to elaborate on the allure of the course, University of Texas alum Mark Murdock rattled off a lengthy one-word reply: “Special.” Sometimes less is more, I guess. (Am I right short courses?) Actually, Mark had plenty of praise for the old school, architect-unknown design, and was especially fond of the panoramic Mill Creek Valley view off the eighth tee.
Cobblestone Creek: There are two Cobblestone Creek golf courses in Oklahoma. This nine-hole par-3 course south of Oklahoma City in Norman is prettier than the other, with several stunning water holes and some brilliantly built green complexes tucked among the beautiful trees and rolling hills. It also affords you the opportunity to play nine with your hands and nine with your feet, as the 1,530 yard layout doubles as an exceptionally wild Foot Golf course.
The Preserve at Bandon Dunes: Arguably the greatest short course ever built, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw made so much golf out of so little land. This 13-hole par-3 course is cut and shaped to where it can be played entirely with just the putter (speaking from experience — shot a 49), and my favorite holes are the first 13. It says a lot when people would consider the course just as great without the stunning Pacific Ocean views. Fortunately for the golfer, that’s not a consideration you need to make. The Pacific is in view literally everywhere here. And if, unlike me, you’ve played the rest of the course with irons and wedges, don’t forget to take part in the Preserve “tradition” of hitting putter off the tee on the downhill closing hole — you’ll be amazed at how close you might get to watching your “putt” roll in for an ace. To hear more about Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, listen to our roundtable Episode 55 of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast with Mitch Laurance, Darin Bunch, photographer extraordinaire (drink) Brian Oar and special guest GolfAdvisor Jason Deegan.
McVeigh’s Gauntlet at Silvies Valley Ranch: This seven-hole collection of 3-pars and 4-pars (well, actually seven and a half holes if you count the “Par 2” putting strip under the Beer Tree) is named for pioneer Myles McVeigh and traverses rugged terrain too challenging for some people to climb. Accordingly, golfers can employ goats as caddies trained to carry your clubs in leather bags and can even tote your drinks. Certainly, goat caddies are a little on the wild side of golf, but so is McVeigh’s Gauntlet, with steep, daunting shots and sloped greens, peaking at the top of the No. 4 hole with the Strawberry Mountains in view. It’s not for everyone, but those who embrace the challenge are rewarded with a rare, unforgettable “Survival of the Golf-iest” experience.
BTW, McVeigh’s Gauntlet isn’t the only short course at this resort now known as The Retreat, Links & Spa at Silvies Valley Ranch. And it’s not the only place you can employ goat caddies either. The celebrity pack animals (thanks to Seamus Golf and a video by Erik Anders Lang) are now available on the Chief Egan short course, another spot where designer Dan Hixson’s creativity is on full display. Built on walkable flat land near the entrance to the course, the Chief Egan is a true nine-hole par-3 course worthy of your warmup time with interesting greens, bunkers and water to maneuver as you get ready to play the reversible 18-hole “big course” from either direction.
Heritage Creek: Rolling hills, large mounds, wetlands and bridges provide the core of the character for this nine-hole, par-34 Kelly Blake Moran course, but the novelty is on the large greens with tons of movement and two daily pin positions. Plenty of nine-hole courses offer multiple tee boxes to create 18-hole routings but few make it a point to give you two different pins every day. Kudos to the staff here.
Midville Golf Club: This classic nine-hole course has a little bit of everything — elevated tees, elevated greens, steep dropoffs, water carries, random brick walls, pretty ponds, boulders, tall fescue, flat and sideways lies … you name it. It’s a course that will test every element of your game and fill your social media account with cool pictures of the course’s character and views beyond. It’s a course locals say they could play every day and never tire of (and many of them do). “The Best Nine-Hole Golf Course in New England,” they claim.
Arrowhead Country Club: “One of the most memorable nines you will ever play.” That’s what they tell you in the clubhouse (and on the website). The problem is, they have three nine-hole courses at Arrowhead. So which is the best? Depends on who you ask. Local resident Jeffrey Minter claims he’s played every single one of the 1,800-plus golf holes in Myrtle Beach and “Cypress is easily Arrow’s best.” Why? “It’s unique,” he says, “weaving through the wetlands and with two of the coolest crossover holes.” Holes No. 2 and No. 4 cross you over the water, and then No. 4 makes you cross back over the water to reach the green. Sounds fun to me.
• • •
Part 4 Summary: 10 more states in this section (40 states covered so far), 13 courses (80 total to this point), 2 nods to Goat Caddies everywhere.
Thank you to the many writers, photographers, architects, course shapers and golf-travel enthusiasts who answered my inquiries and generously contributed to this project.