From Augusta National to St. Andrews, it’s time to hit the links.
Carl Spackler had his dream of playing Augusta National Golf Club, but the Cinderella story of the Caddyshack greens keeper winning the Masters isn’t as farfetched in our imaginations. Now, we’re not thinking about going down the stretch to play Bubba Watson on the back nine on the final Sunday at The Masters, but a lot of us have a bucket list of championship courses we’d love to play across the globe. Whether it’s the Pacific Ocean crashing in the background, as we get a feel for the one-iron shot Jack Nicklaus faced on the par 3 17th hole at Pebble Beach to win the 1972 US Open or if we prefer to walk at the very roots of where golf began at St. Andrews in Scotland, a dream is only a dream if you don’t make it happen. Where to begin? We suggest these five iconic courses…
Augusta National Golf Club
(Pictured above) This is No.1 on virtually everyone’s list because it’s where The Masters is contested, and since it’s private, the most difficult to get a chance to play. Built on a former plant nursery, just walking the ground and viewing the blooming of azaleas in the springtime and the large pines that line the fairways would be enough.
Reliving the shots of golfing greats Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson can’t be matched on any course in the world. It’s the only major to be played on the same course every year, adding to the lore of this Georgia-based masterpiece.
All of us would love a crack at the famed “Amen Corner” of the 11th, 12th holes and drive on the 13th hole where the tournament is often decided. Could we hit the green at the most famous par 3 in the world, the 12th at Augusta National or do what many of those who have fallen short at the Masters do—get caught by the swirling winds and have our ball roll back down the hill in Rae’s Creek – a shot that would end Carl Spackler’s (and so many others’) dream?
Pebble Beach Golf Club
No major championship course has the views of Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula in Northern California, but’s it’s the one that’s most realistic for us Americans to play. It’s a public course and all we have to do is pony up $500 for the greens fees.But that’s worth it for a bucket list course rated the No.1 course in the US by Golf Digest. The spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean—let alone the whales and the sea lions frolicking—would distract anyone from their shots.
Although it’s hosted five US Opens, the course is famous for being part of the annual rotation with two other courses for what was once known as the “Crosby Clambake” hosted by the late Bing Crosby. It’s now called the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and features comedians, actors and sports stars that play with a professional partner.
So not only can you take on a shot attempted by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, but also one tried by Ray Romano or Carl Spackler himself, Bill Murray.
Royal Melbourne Golf Club
No golf bucket list is complete without going abroad and other than a must-trip to Europe, Australia should be the preferred destination. The trip is worth it to Royal Melbourne simply because of its connections with famed golf architect Alister MacKenzie, the designer of Augusta National.
Anyone who watched the Presidents Cup competition in 2011 between the US and an international squad saw the challenges that golfers face. This course is all about the slope on the greens and speed at which the ball runs on them.
Hit the ball close to the hole but above it on the green, and the putt could roll by and off the green. It’s like Augusta National on steroids and quite the colossal challenge.
Old Course St Andrews
No bucket list is complete without going to the birthplace of golf in Scotland and a visit to the Old Course at St. Andrews. Golf was first played on the links in the early 1400s and it’s not shaped by golf course architects but by Mother Nature herself.
The course inspired modern golf and set the standard with 18 holes. It’s the home of championship golfers Old Tom Morris and his son Young Tom Morris and has hosted a remarkable 28 majors.
The plus about playing St. Andrews in the summer is its northern latitude where you get nearly 18 hours of sunlight. Like Pebble Beach, it’s a public course and easily accessible and costs $270 in the summer months.
Any course that frustrated Bobby Jones to the point where he walked off it after failing get out of a bunker and then fell in love with it and had it inspire Augusta National is tantalizing.
What score you shoot any day depends on the strength and direction of the wind from the North Sea. That and the pot bunkers are the course’s defense.
The anticipation of the round only grows knowing that the famed par 4 17th hole known as “The Road Hole” is ahead. You have to aim over the corner Old Course Hotel if you play from the back tees. The Road Hole Bunker whose depth and small size makes it difficult to escape defends the approach shot to the green in the front.
If we hit our approach too long we could end up on a narrow roadway adjacent to a stone wall, all of which are in play. Where else can you hit a shot off the pavement, against a stone wall and have it roll backwards onto the green.
Just hope it doesn’t end up in the “Road Hole Bunker.” If it does, exhale, try to smile and just enjoy the experience.
Isn’t that what scratching something off your bucket list all about?
Bethpage Black Course
Now that we’ve featured golf courses in the South and West Coast we head over to Long Island’s legendary Bethpage Black Course as a great way to round out our bucket list. Bethpage Black Course will be quite the challenge with its length, and it lets you know it with a sign warning of its difficulty, sounding as if your life were at risk.
Designed by famed golf architect A.W. Tillinghast, the course opened in 1936. It has hosted two US Opens, including one won by Tiger Woods and is now part of the rotation for the Fed Ex Cup playoffs. It will also host the Ryder Cup in 2024.
The demand is staggering as golfers can only reserve a tee time once a month. But that doesn’t stop people. Bethpage sets aside the first hour of tee times–six foursomes–for walk-ups and accommodates one walk-up group every hour.
So to get the full Bethpage Black Course experience, you may want to join golfers waiting for a tee time in the middle of the night hilariously depicted by Ray Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond.
Greens fees for out-of-state residents are $150 on weekends and $75 for New York residents.