A few weeks back, I covered the 25 courses that I’ve played that are my favorites. (This is the last post in that series, which sums it all up.) I’ve been lucky and played some gems, but of course, there are many out there that remain on my “Golf Bucket List.” And of course, that’s not a quick story either. But I will be detailing which courses out there are the ones I’m the most eager to cross off my bucket list.
This is not that article.
In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. Why? Because these are courses that I’m NOT that eager to play, despite their pedigree. Which got me wondering, what’s the opposite of a bucket? A sieve? A colander? A bottomless cylinder? Really, a “Colander List” doesn’t sing. So, we’re going to call this my “Anti-Bucket List.”
I’ll detail why for each one, but it’s good to know it’s not JUST a worry about getting my ass kicked. I worried about Carnoustie, but you’ll note I was very happy to be wrong. Hard is one thing, but the nice thing about “Carnasty” is that anyone can play it – yes, there is some water (in the form of a burn that runs throughout the course) but you don’t need massive distance, the fairways are reasonably wide on almost every hole and while you’ll get beat up, you won’t spend the day thinking that you don’t belong on the course. On the flip side, when I played PGA West Stadium, a course that requires distance off the tee and accuracy, the realization that my dispersion of 240-yard shot off the fairway will get me into even more trouble is VERY depressing. I want to walk off a course jazzed up about the experience, even when it hurts. I loved the damage Carnoustie inflicted on me, and I want to go back. I have no desire to do the same at PGA West Stadium. All of this is personal, and your mileage undoubtedly varies.
One more very important caveat and request: PROVE ME WRONG. I’m more than happy to play any and all of these, but from what I know of them, I’m less than eager to go out of my way (and in some cases, that’s the only possible way to play these).
So, without further ado, here are the five courses that folks rave about that I’m less than eager to cross off my list.
The Teeth of the Dog, Dominican Republic.
Course Architect: Pete Dye
I recently re-watched “Big Break: Dominican Republic” (and before you judge me, remember THERE ARE NO LIVE SPORTS ON) and this is where it was based. And it was a main reason I wanted to see it – despite my wife being fairly sure it was to ogle at Blair O’Neal, Sara Brown and Elena Robles. Listen, they’re lovely (and all can play) but I really wanted to see the course.
I’m serious! “The Teeth of the Dog” is – by ANY measurement – a bad-ass name. It might be the coolest name of any golf course in the world, and I’m happy to hear any other suggestions. I’d heard of it for years, I knew it was on the water … what’s not to like?
Well, it IS on the water, but with respect to Mr. Dye, every hole they featured (and in fairness, that wasn’t nearly all 18 holes, a major shortcoming of the Big Break series, which probably deserves it’s own breakdown elsewhere) just made me think, “Oh, that doesn’t look like fun at ALL.”
So many of the holes on the coast required a long carry over the water, fairways thinner than Kate Moss, and I think I’d need to bring an actual box of balls to play 18 there.
Again, if you want to fly me down to the DR and prove me wrong, happy to try it out. But in the meantime, I’ll stick to courses that allow for all sorts of abilities and ways to play the holes.
Bethpage Black, New York, NY
Course Designer: Joseph Burbeck, A.W. Tillinghast (consultant)
This one was hard because for years I’d dreamed of playing “the Black,” especially after its first appearance in a major. I have many friends who have – it’s a muni course after all, open to anyone – and even the famous sign didn’t deter me:
Suffice it to say I am not a “Highly Skilled Golfer.” But still, I wanted to play it. And then … I watched the U.S. Open, and last year the PGA. And … I thought otherwise. Listen, I know there are all sorts of different tees to play from, but any course that requires a huge carry and accuracy (otherwise you’re in rough that’s essentially a one-stroke penalty)…you can have it.
Add in the factor of the lengths one needs to go to in order to get a tee time on the Black makes it even less desirable. The good news for you? I’m one less person competing for that slot.
Course Designer: Old Tom Morris
As my list of favorite courses suggests, I took a life-changing trip to Scotland in 2018 and we tried to play the name-brand courses. While we made it to The Old Course, Carnoustie, Troon, Turnberry and Royal Dornoch, among others. One course we tried to add to our itinerary but effectively couldn’t was Muirfield. And that’s because despite being “open for public play,” Muirfield makes it quite clear that they don’t really love it when non-members are there. It’s only open two days a week for public play (which is fine), discourage individual stroke play in favor of foursomes (umm…that’s less cool) and they relish kicking people off the course or refusing to let them play, even some of the greatest ones to ever play. (Yeah, I’m out.) It’s also, of course, a club that only let women into the club (checks notes) less than a year ago in 2019. And – and this last part falls on me – unlike the courses we did play, I really don’t have an image of Muirfield that relates to the course. What’s the Road Hole, or the Postage Stamp? What bunkers have great names that I’ve heard about all my life? I’m just not in with the attitude, entitlement and not feeling welcome – that’s something I can get at most country clubs here in the states. Scotland is supposed to be different.
Even moreso, when I ask folks about the best courses to play in East Lothian (the area Muirfield is in), I hear a lot more about North Berwick, Gullane and Dunbar, as well as the new Tom Doak Renaissance Club (which I also feel sort of meh about) than I do about Muirfield. Muirfield clearly likes it this way, so I’m happy to keep things that way.
Kiawah (Ocean Course), South Carolina
Course Designer: Pete Dye
Kiawah’s place on this list surprised me the most after I thought about it. It’s home to one of the most famous Ryder Cups (“The War on the Shore”), and I see the logo on a lot of shirts from folks I play golf with. It’s a namebrand course, and it’s consistently rated as one of the top-10 courses in the country. And it’s open to everyone! What’s not to like?
Well, for one, it’s SO exposed to the wind as to be unplayable for those not hitting perfect shots a lot of the time. It’s brutal, and it’s just an ass-kicking waiting to happen. I honestly don’t know anyone who has really had FUN playing the course, and that includes the No Laying Up crew when they played there recently. It’s also close to $400/round which doesn’t include the gratuity you need to pay the caddie you almost certainly need to hire. For $500, there’s a lot of other things I can justify doing with my time.
Pine Valley, New Jersey
Course Designers: George Arthur Crump, Harry Colt, Charles Hugh Alison, A. W. Tillinghast, Perry Maxwell
Yes, that’s right. The #1 golf course in the country, one of the very best in the world, and a course that the few people I know who have played it have truly raved about. So why don’t I dream about playing it? For one, it’s pridefully exclusive, and I don’t love that. But I wouldn’t hold it against playing Augusta, so I won’t pretend that’s the reason. It’s that it looks SOOOO hard. Forced carries off of almost EVERY tee box. Yikes. Tight, tight fairways – which if you miss, you’re probably chipping out sideways to get onto the short grass. Greens that are laughably hard to hit, let alone stay on. It’s absolutely a true test of golf, but knowing that I’ll fail such a test isn’t that compelling.
But what’s crazy to me is I can’t ever really get a straight story about WHY it’s so great from those who have visited, and that’s the main reason it’s on this list. While I’m sure it will beat me up, for some of the reasons cited above (and that photo makes me queasy), I just want to know WHY it’s so great in addition to being hard. When I ask, I get responses like, “Oh…man. You just have to play it.” Given how unlikely that is to happen, playing it would require a lot of legwork that I’d rather use trying to get onto … well, some of the private courses on my bucket list! (That’s what we call a tease for a future post, folks.)