Dream a little dream: Top courses around the globe

By Andrew Penner,

CALGARY, Canada (Dec. 5, 2002) -- Slender greens perched on rocky clefts 10 stories above the thundering spray of the Irish Sea. Lush fingers of fairway gliding through sand dunes along Lake Michigan. Emerald tee boxes dropped haphazardly among the blackness of ancient Hawaiian lava flows. Checkerboard fairways soaring through mountain seams in the rugged alpine of the Canadian Rockies. It's hard to believe the lovers of the game are fortunate enough to play incredible courses in places so stirring, so scenic, so perfect.

If you've been stung with a passion for the game of golf, then you've no doubt dreamed of playing the perfect round of golf on the perfect course. While it's unlikely, unless your birth certificate is stamped with Eldrick Tiger Woods, that you'll ever realize a perfect round of golf from a scoring perspective, experiencing a round of golf in a heavenly setting on a perfect course is much more within the realm of possibilities - especially if you're packing a thick wallet and are willing to do a little globe-trotting. Consider these Dream Courses.

Course No. 1 - Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin

Hard on the shores of Lake Michigan, Whistling Straits, a triumphant Pete Dye design, has catapulted its way onto the world golf scene in a relatively short period of time. With a glorious links-like atmosphere and the luxurious American Club nearby, Whistling Straits managed to secure the 2004 PGA Championship - not bad for a course that just opened in 1998. A masterful blend of links golf with 14 epic holes that front the wind-battered shoreline, Whistling Strait's high acclaim (from publications such as Golfweek and Golf Magazine) has included everything from Best New Resort Course, to a top 100 world-ranking in its first year of eligibility.

Course No. 2 - Old Head Golf Links, Co. Cork, Ireland

With nine astonishing holes that cling to the cliffs on one of the most scenic promontories in the world, Old Head Golf Links is the type of course that will leave you begging for more. The most expensive green fee in Ireland (at last word, just shy of $350 US to play), Old Head is also positioned as one of Ireland's most opulent golf destinations. Here postage stamp greens are squeezed between rock outcroppings on the starboard side and fall dangerously to the mist, thundering surf, and a hundred shipwrecks on the port side. Fittingly, signs along the cliffs read, Warning! Do not attempt to retrieve your golf ball. Serious injury or death may result. A gut-check and a few rolls of film are required before setting out to play.

Course No. 3 - Greywolf Golf Course, Invermere, British Columbia, Canada

With holes named Cliffhanger, Heli-High, Notch, and Descent, it's not uncommon for golfers playing Greywolf to feel that they should also be packing along crampons, rope, and a climbing helmet. But ironically, for an up and down golf course located among towering granite massifs at 4,500 feet, Greywolf is about as silky-smooth a play as you'll find anywhere in the mountains. The fairways are generous and the greens, even though some of them are perched on clifftops, are quite hittable and provide some options. The course, designed by Canadian Doug Carrick, was voted the Best New Canadian Course by Golf Digest 1999.

With a number of hair-raising holes that tumble along Hopeful Creek and exalted views of some of the most impressive peaks in the Rocky Mountains, Greywolf is easily one of the most visually impressive courses on our globe.

Course No. 4 - Kingsbarns, Fife, Scotland

Located just six miles from the Old Course in St. Andrews, Kingsbarns is the best links course to be built in Scotland since Turnberry was remodeled after World War ll. With astonishing sea views on every hole, exceptional routing, and attention to every minute detail (they moved 400,000 cubic yards of earth here), Kingsbarns is truly symphonic - a triumph that will be remembered for a lifetime. Everyone that comes back from Kingsbarns seems blown away by the power and beauty of this magnificent course. Opened in 1998, Kingsbarns might be last of the great links courses sculpted in Scotland. A debut at No. 46 on Golf Magazine's World Rankings is likely the lowest position this course will ever have.

Course No. 5 - The Challenge At Manele, Lanai City, Hawaii

With the pounding Pacific as the water hazard, woven through lava outcroppings and leaping over rugged ravines, the Challenge At Manele is about as riveting an experience as you'll have on a golf course. The par-3 12th, one of 18 signature holes, is exceptional. From a tee high above the surf, golfers must find the wherewithal to launch a ball over a rocky inlet to a green perched on a lava bed on the other side -- bring extra batteries for your pacemaker.

Also, the Challenge At Manele, which many say is Jack Nicklaus' best work, has a sister course called the Experience At Koele. This Greg Norman design, located a few miles inland, would be the trump card at any other resort if it wasn't for Jack's heroics.

Course No. 6 - Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog), La Romana, Dominican Republic


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This is Pete Dye's masterpiece in the Caribbean. This impeccably groomed course plays like a roller-coaster ride that comes to a stop only after four exhilarating hours. Pete and his wife Alice spent two years on site transforming the land into Dye's most treasured course. Golf Magazine ranks Casa de Campo in the top 30 in the world and if you play it, you'll rank it first. The green sites are spectacular and views are heart-stopping. If the par-3 7th hole, ranked one of the world's best, doesn't melt your butter, then wait for the slamming surf on the par-4 17th to bring you to your knees.

Course No. 7 - Shadow Creek, Las Vegas, Nev.

Like a mirage in the desert, the Shadow Creek golf club has long been shrouded in mystique and intrigue. It used to be that almost no one would play this Tom Fazio masterpiece in the Nevada desert. Now, thanks to casino and course owner Steve Wynn opening his arms to his hotel guests, more feet are treading on its hallowed grounds.

While a busy day for Shadow Creek is a mere 40 golfers - and all for the we-need-another-mortgage price of $500 per greens fee - those eyes that are fortunate enough to have seen this place all seem to agree that it's spectacular. Basically, Fazio took a barren, no-good piece of desert and transformed it - thanks to an unlimited budget from Wynn - into a golf oasis like no other. Unfortunately, at least for those who don't belong in the self-insured category, the price is like no other as well.

Whether you're a golfing globetrotter or a stay-at-home links-lover, chances are you've dreamed of finding the ultimate course. Maybe you've already found your secret golfing hideaway, your utopia. If not, perhaps the silky runways of one of our Seven Dream Courses is worthy of an in-depth inspection. Chances are, it'll be a place where your eyes are pulled off the flickering flags and drawn to the backdrops filled with granite peaks, piercing blue sky or the azure blue of an ocean melting into the horizon.

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