GOLF’s latest list of Top 100 Courses in the US offers a snapshot of the game’s best playing grounds. But the landscape of golf is constantly evolving, and it’s destined to look different the next time our rankings roll around, with new courses built and old ones updated. In the spirit of anticipation, here are 6 courses we’re excited to see in the year ahead.
1. Lake Merced Golf Club, San Francisco, Calif.
San Francisco is fertile ground for golf, especially along the city’s outer flank, which is home to a constellation of marquee courses that rivals any metropolitan-area cluster in the United States. Here, the Olympic Club (No. 60 on GOLF’s US Top 100) and Harding Park (host site of the 2020 PGA Championship) sit side by side, just around the corner from San Francisco Golf Club (No. 23) and a short skip up the freeway from the California Golf Club of San Francisco (No. 27).
In these competitive surroundings, Lake Merced Golf Club has earned its share of headlines as an LPGA Tour stop (among other big-time tournaments) but it is now primed for a star turn untied to any competitive event.
Just last month, too late for GOLF’s Top 100 voting but not too late to earn year-end raves, Lake Merced completed a Restoration of its Golden Age design. Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner handled the redo, sifting through the layered history of a course that was originally routed by Willie Locke in the early 1920s but extensively reworked less than five years later by Alister MacKenzie, who removed more than 100 bunkers, remodeled all the green surrounds and built a new hole — then the 17th — that aficionados rate among his Greatest par-3s. In the early 1960s, when the construction of a freeway encroached on the course, Robert Muir Grave made substantial changes to accommodate the club’s shifting property lines. Rees Jones followed with tweaks in 1996. Over time, MacKenzie’s imprint had grown so faint that many Lake Merced members were unaware that he’d ever touched the property.
The Hanse-Wagner refresh has been rightly described as a “hybrid” restoration, with Portions of the course re-routed, new holes added, sight lines shaped, Bunkers shifted, greens reshaped and practice grounds relocated — all in the service of reclaiming what Wagner calls “the MacKenzie vibe.” MacKenzie’s famous par-3 has been brought back as well, playing as the 13th in the new routing.
Throughout its history, Lake Merced has been known for having the most diverse and welcoming membership of any private club in San Francisco. In its revived artistry, it seems every bit the equal of its neighbors, too.
2. The Brambles, Middletown, Calif.
Golf’s version of a Samuel Beckett play, this Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design, just north of the Napa Valley, has kept architecture buffs waiting, and waiting. But all the holes now shaped and seeded, this year, really, we can bank on its arrival, on a scrub-oak dotted site, with an elegant out-and-back routing that gives way to distant views of Mt. St. Helena.
3. The Lido Golf Club, Nekoosa, Wis.
Don’t call it an homage. This course is a clone. A faithful replica of the Lido, CB MacDonald’s long-lost Long Island masterpiece, reproduced in central Wisconsin, just across the road from Sand Valley. Tom Doak is handling the work on behalf of the Keiser brothers, Michael and Chris, who will operate the Lido as a semi-private club, with a Tranche of tee times set aside for Sand Valley guests. Nine holes opened this fall for preview play, but the whole shebang will be ready in 2023.
4. Lost Rail Golf Club, Omaha, Neb.
Nebraska is a bustling frontier of American golf, but many of its courses, including the Prairie Club, Sand Hills, Dismal River and CapRock, are remote. Lost Rail is 30 minutes from downtown, on a landscape that ranges from rolling pasture to craggy, ravine-spliced terrain. Opened to its members this past fall, the club wasn’t ready for GOLF’s US Top 100 ballot, but a few of our Spies saw it and came away impressed.
5. Omni PGA Frisco Resort, Frisco, Tex.
Go small or go home, said no one ever. Situated on a sprawling complex that also houses the PGA of America’s resplendent new headquarters, this Omni resort will have two 18-hole courses, the Fields Ranch West Course and the Fields Ranch East Course, expansive layouts built with big ambitions. The former, by Beau Welling, rolls over gently rolling former ranch land while the latter, by Gil Hanse, was conceived as a tournament test and has already been tapped to host both men’s and women’s majors. Both courses are slated to open this spring.
6. The Tree Farm, Batesburg, SC
Remember when Zac Blair was hellbent on building the Buck Club, in Utah? He’ll return to that someday. For now, though, the PGA Tour journeyman-cum-architecture Geek is preparing to cut the ribbon on the Tree Farm, on a parcel he acquired some 40 minutes Northeast of Augusta National. Blair, 31, at first considered handling the design himself. But he soon wised up, enlisting Tom Doak to do the routing, and hiring Kye Goalby for the day-to-day work, on rumpled, character-rich land once carpeted in pines.