Continuing our ‘My Top Ten’ series, we asked Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design to list his favourite golf courses. His selections are below, in no particular order.
Cypress Point, California. An easy and obvious pick. You need to understand that I grew up about a par four away as well as caddying and working there as a kid. I also snuck on the course all the time – it is in my DNA and is the mother all my golf course architectural preferences, ambitions and desires.
Pine Valley, New Jersey. An easy pick. The thing about Pine Valley is that it is, without a doubt, the most impressive and important golf course from an architecture point of view. It is certainly demanding and not very forgiving to wayward play but is surprisingly wide and playable if you bring a decent game. Pine Valley is an architectural masterpiece with a huge variety of elements. Any golf architect who has not played here is like a doctor who somehow managed to miss the first year of med school.
West Sussex, England. I love this place for many reasons, and I believe it is great because it is a par 68, not in spite of it. When you combine a super cool clubhouse, classic heathland course on a wonderful and varied property, and then toss in the quick round aspect of a two-ball, you get a superb experience. When you add in the ability to walk your dog alongside your golf trolley/pull-cart, it is sublime. A par 68 course should be a sought-after scorecard and I am doing my best to push for more of these layouts.
Pebble Beach, California. Another easy pick like Pine Valley, but c’mon man, tell me that the stretch of holes from four through ten isn’t arguably the best and most scenic in all of golf. Toss in the history, the stellar eighteenth, and the fact that it is playable, in good condition and has a mild climate 365 days a year. If Pebble Beach was a private club with a handful of players per day rather than the typical six-hour commitment, it would be the most sought after and elusive round in golf.
Los Angeles Country Club (North), California. Show me a better middle-of-a-major-metropolis option than this. It is a fantastic property that gives you the feeling of being out in the wilderness once you get to the second tee box. There is great variety, a rugged and natural site, epic holes, and it is both tough as nails and has plenty of width. Also, you can take it on 365 days a year, unlike many courses at the top of most lists like these.
Sunningdale (Old), England. Beginning with a fantastic clubhouse that screams ‘old world’, you venture into a wonderful heathland landscape that creatively weaves through some fantastic terrain, all the while pushing the limits of the proper blend of scrub and manicure. Once again, well-behaved dogs dot the landscape and make for the ultimate example of multi-tasking chores and sport.
Sand Hills, Nebraska. It is not only a great course and experience but is easily one of the most innovative and influential layouts of the last couple of decades. I have a tough time referring to it as minimalist (a reference to the little work done in its creation) as you would be hard pressed to find a more visually stunning landscape of sensory overload in all of golf with its massive sand blowouts and expanses of dunes and native grasses. No course on the planet makes you feel so dwarfed by its scale.
North Berwick (West Links), Scotland. Odd and quirky, this course gets the most out of a small footprint than any course I know. Starting and finishing at the edge of a charming town, the course brings a vast display of influential green designs, including the Redan fifteenth and the crazy, over-the-top double-plateaued sixteenth. This course features one of my favourite holes, the thirteenth (Pit), which straddles an ancient stone wall.
Augusta National, Georgia. I must admit I had lost some admiration over the years as the design pendulum swung to natural influences, but this course honours a fantastic playbook of width and strategy weaved through a stunning landscape of Georgia pines with some of the most iconic holes in golf. Throw in epic conditioning and a tournament history that is repeated on an annual basis to millions of viewers and you have one of the most influential designs in golf.
San Francisco Golf Club, California. A Tillinghast masterpiece that is challenging but playable and offers a substantial example of wonderful bunkering and striking contrasts of colours, from white sand to verdant green turf and dark pines. The course is not only walkable but provides a strange combination of oddly firm conditions (given the environment) and a very soft surface underfoot. The result is as enjoyable a golf experience as you will find that does not beat you up, leaving you with plenty of stamina after your round to enjoy the fantastic club environment.