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Top five courses on the 2003 European Tour

By Shawn Nicholls,

DUBLIN, ireland - Imagine spending a couple of weeks in South Africa, before heading off to Singapore for five days, followed by three more weeks in Australia, all the while playing majestic golf courses that make your Saturday golfing buddies back in the United States drool. The kind of stuff dreams are made of, right?

For members of the European Tour, that's just the first month of a season that spans the globe, touching down each week in another country to play the best course it has to offer, before jettisoning off to somewhere else.

Sure, the European Tour doesn't have the glitz and glamour that its American counterpart does, and unless Tiger Woods is in the field, the only stateside people that actually watch any of the Euro Tour's events are insomniacs suffering through another night in front of the Golf Channel. But what the tour does have going for it is a schedule jam packed with courses that come in all different shapes and sizes.

Here's a collection of five of the best on the 2003 European circuit.

Royal Melbourne Golf Club
Melbourne, Australia
Heineken Classic, January 30 - February 2

A magical track tucked into the historic Sand Belt Region in the Victoria region of Australia, the Royal Melbourne hosted the recently completed Heineken Classic, won by Ernie Els. Allister Mackenzie, one of the world's most notable architects, designed both the East and West courses at the club in the early 1900s. Each of the tracks arguably can lay claim to tops on the continent.

Each of the courses sits at right around 6,600 yards for the common folks, with common characteristics including wide fairways and mammoth greens. In addition to hosting the Heineken Classic, the World Cup and the President's Cup have both been played on its historic fairways.

Wentworth Club
Surrey, England
Volvo PGA Championship, May 22 - May 25
World Match Play Championships, October 16 - October 19

This gem in quaint Surrey is another course that is no stranger to professional players. It has hosted the original World Match Play Championships for decades, annually is the site of the Energis Senior Masters, and has been the host course for the Volvo PGA Championship.

Topping Royal Melbourne by one, the Wentworth Club is home to three championship courses, the East and the West, both of which were designed in the 1920s by Harry Colt, as well as a newer 18 holes named after Prince Phillip.

The pros hit the West Course during the tour events and with back-to-back par-5s to close out the par-73, there is never a shortage of excitement. In 2002, Angel Cabrera capped his third round with two straight eagles, jolting the Argentina native into contention.

The K Club
Dublin, Ireland
Smurfit European Open, July 3 - July 6

Although the K Club's event may fly under the radar a bit, the course does not. The host of the 2005 Ryder Cup is one of the baby courses on tour, having just opened in 1991. The highlight of the track's rookie season came when it hosted the Irish PGA Championship.

Arnold Palmer designed the course, which is an immaculate collection of 18 lush green fairways and smooth greens. The 18th is destined to be a memorable hole. The 520-yard par-5 can propel just as many people to victory with an impressive eagle as it will doom those unlucky enough to leave with just a par.

Old Course St. Andrews
St. Andrews, Scotland
Dunhill Links Championship, September 25 - September 28

The birthplace of golf, the course that really needs know introduction, continues to amaze and befuddle professionals on a yearly basis, even when it's not hosting the Open Championship.

Paul Lawrie won the Dunhill Links Championship in 2001 and Padraig Harrington out dueled Eduardo Romero in 2002.

The Old Course is a typical links-style course, with long, windy fairways and more than enough bunkers, many of which are the frustratingly deep. The Road Hole also makes the finish an interesting one. Add in the unpredictable weather and the deep rough, and you have a formidable challenge even in the course's old age.

Sotogrande, Spain
Volvo Masters Andalucia, October 30 - November 2

St. Andrews aside, this is probably the second most recognizable course to appear on the European Tour. Golf World consistently has ranked the course as one of the best on mainland Europe. In 1997, it hosted the Ryder Cup, won in thrilling fashion by the European Squad. And for two short years, it hosted the WGC American Express Championship, won by Tiger Woods and Mike Weir.

The Volvo Masters event was played consistently at Valderrama in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before moving to Monetcastillo, Jerez. But it returned last year, and with good reason, as the risk-reward course sets up perfectly for the tour's exciting batch of players.

Located in the quaint southern tip of Spain, the course was designed by Robert Trent Jones in 1974 and continued to be redesigned and tinkered with by both Jones and Jaime Ortiz-Patino, before settling into its current form.

By far, the highlight hole on the par-71 is the 17th. The par-5 starts innocently enough with a tee shot to a narrow but not overly challenging fairway. An amateur's second shot heads towards the bottom of a small hill, with out of bounds to the left and a precariously placed lake guarding the green. That's when the fun begins. The front of the green is sharply slanted back down towards the water. More professionals than not have had their shots land on the green before backing up into the drink.

Woods, it turns out, has been one of the hole's most popular victims. During the 1999 American Express Championship, Woods launched a beauty to the green, clearing the water and setting himself up for an eagle putt. He discarded his club and began his walk to the green oblivious for the moment that his ball, which had come to rest, was making its back down into the water. Although he eventually captured the crown that weekend, shots in the water on Thursday and more significantly Sunday, the following year let the title fall from his grasp.

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