You’re spending a day in one of America’s great big cities and you have time for one round, where do you play?

Let’s first address and discuss America’s great big cities. I can’t ever see changing my top 5, but there’s certainly room for debate once you get to 6 thru 10. Although I’m coming off yet another year of at least 200 days on the road, regretfully, I still haven’t spent a lot of time in Nashville or Charleston, but I’m told (often) that they are contenders. As for the golf near cities on my list, I offer a mix of courses you have to play regardless of the price (Shadow Creek in Vegas), and in some cases, I offer a course that’s simply insane value (Coronado in San Diego). Either way, I hope this list helps with future quick trips.

Bethpage Red
1. New York City – Bethpage – Black

For me, NYC is the Secretariat of cities in America. The runaway and undisputed champ. It’s the leader in culture, live entertainment, food, logistics, nightlife and breakfast spots. In terms of golf, and if you’re truly an avid golfer, you’re going to want to check Bethpage Black off the bucket list. About 45 minutes from the city, it’s an easier get from either one of the airports (JFK and LaGuardia). There are a few ways of getting tee times and there are several articles on how to do it. In the end, it’s going to be worth it. Might I suggest showing up early on a shoulder-season weekday and be willing to wait it out as a walk up. Chances are, you won’t wait long. If, for some reason, you can’t get on Black, the Red Course is an exceptional and convenient plan B.

2. San Francisco – TPC Harding Park

What might be the greatest municipal in a major city, Harding Park has it all: Location, history, aesthetics, accessibility and a short course. My plan B would be Lincoln Park, if, for no other reason, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the 17th tee.

Goat Hill Park
3. San Diego – Coronado Golf Course

Always on my list for best value golf in America, I send everyone in need of a great golf experience in San Diego to Coronado. At $35, it’s insane bang for the buck. It’s full of locals who are passionate about their golf and their course and I’ve always found them willing to share both. If I had time and a National Rental Car, I’d head north on Interstate 5 and stop in at Goat Hill Park where John Ashworth and the city of Oceanside is delivering on one of the coolest vibes and one of the most quirky and testy courses in the country. And I can’t say enough good things about the Loma Club, a 9-hole par-3 course that’s super close to the airport and is on my list of best short courses in the country.

4. Chicago – Cantigny Golf Club

I’m always so pleasantly surprised by the trips I take to Chicago: A Cubs game, Pearl Jam concert, restaurants, hockey, and basketball. Heck, even the bean is worth a quick visit. And although it sounds like the Tiger/Rolfing/Obama project is on hold for now, there’s plenty of good public golf to pick from. You can’t go wrong at Cantigny, which has 27 holes, a caddie program and just the right vibe you want from a quick round of golf. Same could be said for The Glen Club, which is a little more expensive but a super user-friendly Tom Fazio design.

5. Boston – George Wright Golf Course

Having spent some time in Boston this summer, I was reminded how little I know about the country’s history. Having now done The Freedom Trail, not to mention a tour through Harvard’s campus and a trip to Fenway Park, we left better educated on the how and why Boston is such a great city. If I were to play one round of golf, you can’t go wrong at George Wright, the blue-collar muni that was designed by Donald Ross and can be played by a non-resident for less than $50. If you’re willing to get out of the city a bit, Red Tail Golf Club always gets great reviews.

6. Austin – Lions Municipal Golf Course
Lions Municipal

One of the more compelling and ongoing stories in golf is Lions Municipal’s fight for life. On the outskirts of Austin proper, the fate of Lions Muny is in the hands of the University of Texas. And although Ben Crenshaw is a loyal Longhorn, he grew up playing at “Muny,” so Gentle Ben is dug in against his alma mater and he’s determined to save his roots. As the first golf course to desegregate in the south (1951), there’s a much deeper and more historical layer to all that’s at stake here, but for the purpose of this article, if and when you’re in Austin, go play Muny, talk to some locals and show your support. Golf, green space and this community can’t afford to lose this critical match. My Plan B in Austin would probably be Wolfdancer Golf Club at Hyatt Lost Pines.

7. Denver – Commonground Golf Course

Home of the Colorado Golf Association and incredibly close to the city, Commonground is a Tom Doak design for less than $50 and it offers the Solich Caddie and Leadership Academy. In other words, when setting up your tee time, reserve a caddie and help shape the future of a deserving kid. My plan B in the Big D is Arrowhead Golf Club, which is a spectacular routing in and around the base of the Rocky Mountains.

8. Los Angeles – Rustic Canyon Golf Club

To be from Northern California it has always been hard to love Los Angeles, but regardless of the bias, there are too many good things about LA not to have it in my top 10. Beaches, music, scenery, seafood and movie mystique, just to name a few. Given the traffic anywhere and on any given day and time, there’s no such thing as a quick round golf, but I’d play Rancho Park for the overall experience and I’d make the drive to Rustic Canyon for an upgrade on golf and to cash in on what is serious value.

9. Miami – Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne

I like Miami, Vegas and New Orleans for the same amount of time and generally for the same social opportunities. I’m in and out in two days and never sleep at night. Hard to beat Miami’s beach scene, diverse culture, food, art, music festivals and boat shows. I’ve always loved the golf and tranquility of Cranden Park on Key Biscayne, which also serves as sweet relief from trials and tribulations of South Beach. For good value, an unexpected and impressive history, you might want to consider the Country Club of Miami. I prefer the West Course.

10. Las Vegas – Shadow Creek Golf Course

Unfortunately, there are too many courses in America that are charging north of $200 and not delivering on a memorable experience. Chances are, those courses are suffering a slow death, or they’ve been sold and they’re reworking their focus, their courses and their business models. I will say, that although Shadow Creek is barely accessible (must be staying at an MGM property and even then, tee times are only available at limited times two days a week), if you were to get one of those times, and if you’re looking for a high roller experience in the form of golf, Shadow Creek actually delivers. The service, conditioning and feeling as though you’ve flown to Florida, is a little like what you’d get at Bali Hai, but Shadow Creek is infinitely better. And I like the overall Shadow Creek experience to Cascata. I send buddies trips to Paiute, and no one has ever complained. TPC Vegas is a good option, but if I wanted to keep it simple, quick and close to The Strip, I’d take a cab to TopGolf.

There are individuals who know more about golf on Maui than Rick Castillo, but it would be a short list. Currently the head professional at the uniquely named King Kamehameha Golf Club, Castillo has been gainfully employed in the golf business on Maui since 1979, including nearly twenty years as the head professional at Wailea Golf Club.

“There are three major golf resorts on Maui,” begins Castillo. There’s the three courses at Wailea, which are known as the Blue, the Gold and the Emerald. In addition, there’s Kaanapali, with two courses, and Kapalua, which also features a pair of courses.”

The Blue opened in 1972, its younger siblings in the middle ’90s. Castillo, the son of a golf professional himself, explains that the trade winds blowing in off the ocean make for challenging golf. “However we need them, because otherwise the temperatures would be too hot for most people.”

Wailea Gold

The Gold is the bellwether course at Wailea, the longest of the trio, and like the Emerald Course, a pure golf experience, unsullied by condos and roadways. The Gold played host to the Senior Skins Game for nearly a decade, and unlike other golf areas on the island, some of the wind-related challenges are mitigated by the buffering presence of Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano that stretches to nearly 10,000 feet in elevation.

“Kapalua is probably our best-known resort,” continues Castillo, whose four siblings are also longtime members of the golf profession. “The Plantation Course is famous as the home of the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions every January. It’s a massive course, par 73, with huge greens and tilting fairways. The Bay Course is also hilly, with uneven lies, plenty of wind, and some gorgeous ocean views.”

Kaanapali is the third resort offering, and while the Royal Course is known as a terrific test of golf, beginning at sea level and climbing up into the West Maui mountain foothills, there are some roadway and highway views that detract just a bit from the ‘walk in the park’ sensibility that many golfers, particularly those on vacation, seek out. The Kaanapali Kai course is a bit shorter, and more forgiving.

“Golf on Maui offers great conditioning, consistently good courses, and strikes a wonderful balance,” concludes Castillo. “Some people find Oahu too busy, and Honolulu a very hectic city. others love Kauai, but some consider it a bit too sedate. Maui is somewhere in between.”

Hotel Wailea

There are nearly as many fine resort hotels on Maui as there are beach umbrellas stuck in the sand, but few, if any, would be superior to the exceptional Hotel Wailea. It’s the only hotel in Hawaii with the coveted Relais & Chateaux designation, not to mention being designated at the #1 hotel in Maui by Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” awards.

To put it delicately, this is a place to make the babies, not bring the babies. The hotel features seventy-two single-bedroom suites tucked amid fifteen secluded acres, just a three-minute shuttle ride to the beach, and is blissful, tranquil and a marvelous getaway. Among numerous on-site amenities, their delightful restaurant might top the list. Gorgeous ocean views, attentive service, and an emphasis on locally grown food (and amazing, fresh fish) are hallmarks of this ‘special occasion’ eatery. (And if you’re on Maui, every day is a special occasion!)

Speaking of special occasions, Mama’s Fish House, about forty minutes from Wailea in the funky, shop-lined, surfer-centric town of Paia, is one of the most memorable restaurants you will ever have the privilege to visit. Most eateries are attractive for one, or maybe two of four reasons: The food (of course) the location, the service and the ambience. Mama’s checks all the boxes. First, it’s located just steps from the crashing surf. (Some of Maui’s biggest waves are just a mile down the beach.) Second, the food is magnificent. They even credit the local fishermen, bringing in the catch or catches of the day, by name on the menu. (And the apps, entrees, meats, cocktails, desserts, etc, are equally impressive.) The service is impeccable, and the various dining rooms, (the canoe room, the deck, the lounge, etc,) are eclectic and filled with cool memorabilia from the owner’s extensive travels in the South Seas. Mama’s Fish House is expensive, understandably so, but three words suffice: Don’t miss it.

The best way to work off all that seafood might be to swim with the fish themselves. Try Maui Kayak Adventures for an exhilarating early-morning kayak-and-snorkel escapade. (And early means just that–you convene with your guide at 7 am, to be off the water by late morning before the trade winds start to blow.) The day begins with a brisk kayak excursion, maybe thirty or forty minutes, along the coast. Then participants don snorkels and fins, floating, swimming and diving near reefs and coves, observing large sea turtles, and all manner of ocean life. Once back in the kayak, it’s another forty-odd minutes back from whence you began. In its own nautical way, this is as much fun as any golf course you might care to visit–even on the magical island of Maui.

“I warmed up for The Uncle Tony by spending the holiday weekend camping in Santa Cruz. I drank until 2am, woke up at 7am. Then I did it again the next day. And again the next day.”

That’s a recent email from my college roommate, who’s in training for our annual buddies trip to Bandon Dunes.

File Jul 10, 9 09 21 AMI’ve been training for this trip and building this group for life. Which is what makes it so special.

Forget about where we go, I judge a buddies trip by who I go with. And on this trip, I’ve assembled family, best friends and some of their best friends.

File Jul 10, 9 04 32 AMIt’s called the Uncle Tony Invitational in honor of my uncle, who helped teach and cultivate my love of golf. From the grip to the grind of never giving up, my mom’s only sibling has always been there to breakdown the swing or reflect on memorable moments covering such things as major championships. We talk three or four times a week and we always talk golf.

File Jul 10, 6 15 53 AMUncle Tony Kielhofer, 75, is still grinding it out on and off the course at Bandon. He might have to take a cart and he goes to bed a little earlier than the rest, but he’s always up first, leading the weary walk to the breakfast buffet.

And to dine out on the details of another man’s buddies trip is common practice amongst avid amateurs. Where do you go? Haw many? How much do you spend?

We all share because we all care. We want the next group to have as much fun as we did.

And so, having covered over 60 buddies trips having been on more than 60 of my own, I offer the details of the Uncle Tony Invitational. (Yes, the UTI. No, not the urinary tract infection.)

At the end of select sections, I’ve also included some of your responses to a recent Instagram post in which I solicited your feedback on your buddies trips to Bandon Dunes (@matt_ginella). As always, appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

Why do I go to Bandon?

A version of this trip started as an extension of another buddies trip that I’ve been taking since I was 18. Every year I’d meet Uncle Tony and friends at Baywood Golf & Country Club in Arcata, CA., which is four hours south of Bandon, OR.

About ten years ago, after the Baywood Pro-Am, which always ends on a Tuesday, a few of us drove up to play at Bandon through the weekend.

Random_2A concept that caught on. Over time, more friends started just making the Bandon portion of the trip. Now it’s as if Bandon devoured Baywood. The torturous short course amongst the redwoods has lost out to the greatest pure golf destination in America. From eight guys, we grew to 12, and then 20. This year there will be 24, which will be the max. And the only way we can consider that group size is due to the ease of the logistics at a stay-and-play destination like Bandon Dunes.

Yes, the resort itself is not easy to get to, but unlike any trip to Scotland or Ireland, once you’re at Bandon, you’ll never need a rental car. You’re walking or shuttling to four championship courses, two short courses, a massive driving range, a two-acre putting course, multiple dining options, massage rooms and fire pits. Not to mention a solid wine menu and service with a smile.

I take personal trips to several other destinations in any given year, but the UTI, as we like to refer to it, is a major. And for this group, Bandon is the perfect fit.

Why do you go to Bandon Dunes?

@fisherjemail: “Bandon is a special place because it’s as close to going to Scotland/Ireland as you will get in the U.S. You have four championship courses that every player in your group will pick a different one as their favorite.”

@andrewpienovi: “Because it’s Disneyland for grown men. We go in January every year for the least amount of wind, best weather and best pricing.”

@cliff_robbins: “Best golf destination in the U.S. Don’t ever have to leave the property. We go end of January for best rates and weather has been spectacular three years in a row.”

@meireisj: “One of the best things about Bandon is the people who work there. You see the same people year after year and somehow they remember you every time you come back.”

How many days and how many rounds do we play?

The UTI is a five- or six-day event. Some of us arrive on Tuesday, but the official start to the tournament is on Wednesday evening. Everyone reports to the first tee of Bandon Preserve, the 13-hole par-3 course, at 5 o’clock pm. The tournament ends on Saturday night, but everyone is asked to stay until Sunday afternoon. We watch the conclusion of The Open on Sunday morning while having breakfast and bloody marys at the Tufted Puffin, the bar and grill in the main Bandon clubhouse.

Punchbowl_3If you arrive on Tuesday afternoon, which I do, the first round is late-afternoon on Bandon Dunes. We time the round so that we catch the sunset on the 16th tee. We’ll also play Wednesday morning before the first official round at Preserve later that day. We play another two rounds on Thursday. One round in the morning on Friday, and then a competitive event at the Punchbowl putting green on Friday evening. We finish with two more rounds on Saturday, which makes seven rounds on the big courses, one round on Preserve and at least one session at Punchbowl.

How many rounds do you play?

@a1excohen: “Just celebrated dad’s retirement last month…8 guys, 6 rounds in 5 days. Couldn’t ask for a better experience.”

@pechorin3: “I went to med school – very small budget. Drove from Klamath and played four rounds in one day because they get exceptionally cheaper the more you play. Last round was free but I could barely walk.”

A closer look at our itinerary

Tuesday PM: Bandon Dunes (practice round)

Wednesday AM: Pacific Dunes (practice round)

Wednesday PM: Bandon Preserve (4-man scramble teams, we play as three eightsomes).

Wednesday night: Opening ceremony, introductions and dinner in a private room.

Wednesday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.

Thursday AM: Bandon Dunes

Thursday PM: Old Mac (optional and not included in any sidebets).

Thursday night: Upstairs at McKee’s Pub

Thursday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.

Friday AM: Pacific Dunes

Friday PM: Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic

Friday dinner: Tufted Puffin

Friday late night: Dice tournament at the Bunker Bar.

Saturday AM: Bandon Dunes

Saturday PM: Bandon Trails

Saturday night: Trails for food and trophy ceremony.

Saturday late night: Fire pit.

Sunday AM: Tufted Puffin for bloodies and final round of The Open.

Sunday late morning: A reflective walk to the labyrinth.


Every man owes Uncle Bill (the treasurer) $350 (“cash only!”) when they get to the first tee at Bandon Preserve, which covers all the day bets and the big bet:

  • $20 for scramble game at Preserve.
  • $50 for first competitive round at Bandon Dunes.
  • $50 for second competitive round at Pacific Dunes.
  • $20 for Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic.
  • $50 for third competitive round at Bandon Dunes.
  • $50 for fourth competitive round at Bandon Trails.
  • $100 for overall bet of four competitive rounds.
  • $10 for trophy costs.

A few years ago, as the UTI became bigger, more organized and a lot more competitive, I started treating this buddies trip as a member-guest. I’ve designated 11 of the core group as members, but I refer to them as “franchise owners.” Each owner gets one invite and that’s his partner for the week. After I invite my partner, and they invite their partners, we are 24 strong.

The UTI is four rounds of best ball of the twosome, full handicaps. As you can see above, the opening scramble at Preserve is competitive, but it’s not part of the official tournament. It serves as a warm up and a group ice-breaker. The Thursday afternoon round is set, but optional. (I usually sub out the round at Old Mac for an extra round at Trails, especially on a windy summer afternoon, when you benefit from being amongst the trees.) On Friday afternoon, we leave a long break between rounds for naps or massages (or both). And then we reconvene at Pacific Dunes for the Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic. Uncle Bill Salmina is Uncle Tony’s brother-in-law. (They married twins.) And on Friday at 5:00, we all meet as Uncle Bill hosts another side competition at the putting course. Based on handicaps, we divide the group into 12 A-players and 12 B-players. The A players pick their putting partners out of a hat. We putt 18 holes, best ball of the twosome, which often results in a wild and ridiculous playoff. And on Saturday, there are two more competitive rounds. The final round is at Bandon Trails where the 18th green provides an insular setting for a raucous finish. From there, and assuming we have a winner, we roll right into the restaurant at Trails for a championship dinner and more debauchery.

What formats do you play?

@roderix_ig: “Tournament services at Bandon make any format or event very special with scorecards, timing and daily match updates.”

@moosestache35: “We’re going Ryder Cup format this year (6 on 6) where the team draw will be Sunday of this year’s actual Ryder Cup.”

@mulcahben: “Started with four, now bringing 48. Ryder Cup based on daily adjusted quota. Tournament services is fantastic and the only way you can pull off a group this size.”


Preserve’s 4-man scramble (pay two teams)

$400 to winning 4-man team

$80 to second place team

All four competitive rounds (pay four teams per round)

$500 to winning 2-man team of the day

$350 to second best score of the day

$250 to third best score of the day

$100 to fourth best score of the day

Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic (pay two teams)

$400 for winning 2-man team

$80 to second place team

Overall payouts

$1,000 to winning 2-man team

$500 to second place

$400 to third place

$300 to fourth place

$200 for fifth place

The Group

My franchise owners run the gamut. From the uncles to best friends to business associates, it’s the perfect cross section of lasting intersections of life.


We try to get at least one group in a Grove Cottage, which we use as a central staging area for some of the social activities. (Cards, dice or watching golf.)

We also utilize the Chrome Lake rooms and lofts. (The Lily Pond rooms are the more affordable option.)

The Bunker Bar and the fire pits outside of the Grove is where we do a bulk of our evening activities.


Most UTIers take caddies for the competitive rounds and either push or carry for the short course and optional rounds.

There are so many good caddies at Bandon, but I always ask for Bro Puckett. He’s the perfect mix of expertise and quiet energy. I usually give him between $125 and $150 per round.

Your favorite caddies

@mikebrady22: “John the Baptist is our favorite caddy!”

@jfishmna61: “Baptist McAllister, Jake Muldowney, Neil Leeser and Jason Castles are all solid guys.”

@cliff_robbins: “Joey Russell has been our looper for years and he is the best!”

@jamiewalkerartist: “I highly recommend the Clayton brothers for caddies. Danny has been there since 2006, full tie, and his brother, Andy, started in 2011.”

@jpgreen3uga: “Best caddie is Michael Green!”

@oaktownsilverbullet: “I pity the fool who decides not to take a caddie. It’s an important part of the experience. The resort can help you find a caddie based on your golf style.”


Full disclosure, I get media rates for golf and lodging, which is essentially Bandon’s winter rates. I pay for food, drinks and caddies. I’ve never paid more than $2,000 for the week, which doesn’t include airfare. Most non-golf media on the trip budget $550 per day for golf, food, lodging and drinks. Utilizing the Punchbowl and Preserve helps keep costs down. So does a push cart over caddies and lodging in the Lily Pond.

Your budget

@esqcbo: “July for the wind (nae wind, nae golf); 4 golfers. Minimum $1,000 per day per golfer. 36 a day for 6.5 days (walked 85 miles last trip).”

@kielbasasausage: “Around $2,000 with all expenses accounted for. Play all five courses.”

@btews22: “I enjoy the challenge of links golf. It’s surprisingly affordable in the winter months. I would love to play in the summer but pricing (understandably so) keeps me away for now.


File Jul 10, 9 07 23 AMUncle Tony has always been called “Tone Dog,” or, “The Dog.” And thus, the logo on the trophy, which gets updated and remains at Bandon Dunes throughout the year. (Each individual winner also takes home their own slab of glass which is engraved with the year and logo.)

Uncle Bill will soon unveil the trophy for this year’s Punchbowl Classic. It has been his side project and I expect great things.

In addition to decent money, winners also get bottles from Trecini and Kosta Browne wineries.

Tee prizes

Franchise owners and guests are encouraged to bring small gifts for the group, but it’s not mandatory. From headcovers, mugs and Linksoul gift cards, group gifts have also run the gamut.

Past Champions

2014: Damon Hack/Shane Bacon

2015: Josh Lesnik/Tom Pashley

(We didn’t make it official and start calling it the Uncle Tony Invitational until 2014.)

Handicaps and sandbagging

Pics_4We play full handicaps and the committee of me and the uncles frown upon sandbaggers. That being said, in the spirit of this group, and given the emphasis on camaraderie over competition, it’s not something we’ve had to worry about. And if there are any clear sandbaggers in the future, they won’t be asked back. A good buddies trip isn’t afraid to cut someone for any form of grave misconduct.

Special Traditions
  • At the opening dinner/ceremony, I remind the group of why we’re all together: To honor the uncles, play great golf courses and to enjoy each other’s company. Then I introduce each franchise owner, who then introduces their partner. Although it’s “my” buddies trip, I will be meeting four new friends this year. I find the member-guest format keeps the trip fresh, especially if the new friend has never seen Bandon Dunes. It’s like meeting someone who hasn’t seen Braveheart—Can I watch you watch it?
  • The opening dinner is followed by a video of clips and pictures from the previous year(s) of the UTI.
  • For the first competitive round at Bandon Dunes the group gathers around the first tee for rules clarifications, scorecards and ceremonial tee shots by Uncle Tony and Uncle Bill. Three years ago, Uncle Tony shocked the crowd—and especially Bandon’s first-tee webcam—by dropping his drawers before taking his inaugural hack.
  • We’re all north of our 40s now, so leaving the time gap on Friday between the competitive round and the putting tournament at the Punchowl has been wildly popular.
  • The uncles are aging. Tony and Bill can only play the Preserve, the Punchbowl and one competitive round each. This year they’ve called in Uncle Lew to play the other two competitive rounds. The uncles always partner with either Jeff Simonds, Bandon’s Head Pro, or Mike Chupka, Bandon’s Director of Communications.
  • Every meal check is divided by total number of people at the table. No exceptions. Most charges go to each person’s room, which keeps things simple.
  • “If you don’t like it, start your own trip.” Complaints about anything are heard, but mostly ignored. The best buddies trips have a benevolent dictator and this trip has three.
  • Sunday morning watching the final round The Open is still developing. Last year’s weather delays at St. Andrews didn’t help the cause.
  • Lab_2That being said, the Sunday late-morning reflective walk to the Labyrinth is well-received by those who are still around. Down the trail, over the bridge, up the hill and into the spiritual little clearing in the tall trees. It’s the spot to appreciate great friends, lasting memories, and it’s where we officially start planning for next year.
Your best-kept secrets about Bandon Dunes

@meireisj: “The labyrinth is a great place to take a walk, even at night if the moon is out (take a flashlight).”

@psuphi90: “Talk to one of the older caddies and find the treasure chest to experience a unique treat.”

@albysure74: “Best secret: Night golf! But you have to special request it.”

@joemirocha: “Play Sheep Ranch. Course is yours for the day and you make your own shots/rules.”

@kosmic_ray: “Next to Trails 18th there is a private patio that you can reserve for a nice dinner as the sun is setting.”





Duke University Golf Club
Duke University Golf Club 9th Hole

The NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing, which means just one sure thing: There are no sure things. Tiny colleges upend massive universities, top seeds topple, underdogs prevail, and the general unpredictability of the entire event make it ‘must see’ for untold millions nationwide.

However there are some ‘sure things’ when it comes to some of the finest collegiate golf courses around the country. Duke, Purdue and Yale all took their rightful place in this year’s ‘March Madness’ jamboree. And despite their ultimate finish in the current three-week basketball extravaganza, they will remain on the list of the nation’s best college courses in perpetuity.

Duke’s fine course has been restored to its original grandeur, and this parkland beauty is once again one of the premiere golf venues in the south. Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, the redo was executed by his son Rees, who first visited the course as a member of the Yale golf team in the ‘60s. “When my dad built the course a few years prior, there wasn’t money available for fairway bunkering or grading,” recalls Jones. “When we came in to do the restoration work in the early ‘90s, we added fairway bunkers, graded the fairways, lengthened the course, re-contoured the greens and re-bunkered the entire facility.”

It’s tree-lined but not tree-choked, with elevated greens, yawning greenside bunkers and a palpable sense of remove. Several par-5s are bisected by streams, requiring careful decision making. Many of the par-4s feature both length and bend of fairway. It’s not quite as prestigious as the nearby university, but it’s close.

Duke 12
Image via Duke University Golf Club

Individual highlights are numerous on the course. But Duke’s version of “Amen Corner,” including the downhill, stream-crossing par-5 11th, daring a power player to reach in two blows, which is followed by the back-across-the-water-in-the-other-direction par-3 12th, and then the pond-on-the-periphery-of-the-landing area par-4 13th, are likely the three best successive holes.

Washington Duke Inn
Image via Washington Duke Inn

To make matters even better, the course is just steps away from the Washington Duke Inn, one of the area’s premiere accommodations. The combination of course and lodging practically on site make it a one-of-a-kind university experience.

Purdue University’s Kampen Course in Indiana was formerly little more than a ‘farmer’s course,’ before acclaimed architect Pete Dye decided to lend his considerable skills to a comprehensive facelift. His architectural career took off after a series of agronomy courses he took at the school while learning the trade, so the longtime Indianapolis resident was happy to give back when the school was in need.

Purdue Golf
Image via Purdue Golf

Much of this heavily bunkered, fescue-laden course is routed around a natural marsh known as the celery bog, to the right of the brutally long par-5 sixth hole. The greenish bog is home to all sorts of birdlife, and thanks to the sophisticated filtration and recycling system Dye devised, the course’s water runoff goes through several stages of cleaning before entering the bog.

The place is a living, green grass laboratory. Just off the 8th tee, a tough par-4 with waste bunkering down the entire right-hand side, is a sign for the Turfgrass Research and Diagnostic Center, which is housed in a building just a long iron from the hole itself.

The course concludes in wicked fashion. The 17th is a daunting par-3 over water, 200 yards of terror, often into the wind. The last is an exhausting par-4, a driver and then a 3-wood, which most players just hope to reach in regulation.

Last but not least, Yale Golf Course offers those willing to meet its many challenges a rugged adventure, and is one of the nation’s best examples of early American golf architecture.

Yale 7
Image via The Course at Yale

Now ninety years old (designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1926) this Grande Dame has lost none of its bite, nor allure. Large greens, most deeply bunkered, and constricted, heaving fairways reveal Yale’s penalizing character. There are a spate of memorable holes, none more than the unforgettable ninth. This downhill par-3 Biarritz green is bisected by a head-high trench. Woe to the player who’s tee shot lands on the wrong side of the green. The approach putt is nothing more than a guessing game; it will roll down and then back up a chasm that’s as deep as nearly any feature on any putting surface most players have ever encountered. Just one of the unique quirks that makes Yale such a standout in the collegiate golf world.