We’re hearing it a lot lately: “Grow the game.” Meanwhile, we rarely reflect on how the game has grown. And specifically, our options for great golf.
For example, “The Cradle of American Golf” added Pinehurst No. 8 in 1996, acquired No. 9 in 2014 and have plans for No. 10. And it should be noted, No. 2 has undergone a historic restoration and has hosted four major championships since 1999.
As for one of Pinehurst’s direct competitors, Kiawah built the Ocean Course (one of five courses on property) in 1991 and has hosted a Ryder Cup (1991) and a PGA Championship (2012).
And there is so much more.
The first of 11 multi-course hubs of golf—The Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama—started in 1992. American Club in Kohler, Wisc., added Whistling Straits and the Irish courses in 1998 and in a 22-year clip, what has become “Destination Kohler,” will host at least six major championships and one Ryder Cup. Arcadia Bluffs in Northern Michigan was built in 1999, while competitor Forest Dunes will open The Loop in 2017, which is a Tom Doak course that can be played in two directions.
There have also been significant golf developments in places such as Central Oregon, Nebraska, Scottsdale, Austin and San Antonio. While new courses such as Erin Hills (2006) and Chambers Bay (2007) have landed majors, and with that, major attention.
Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand added a premier two-course punch in Caledonia (1994) and True Blue (1998). Iconic destinations such as Greenbrier, Sea Island and Doral are under new and incredibly wealthy ownership, which have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into renovations and restorations, with all three now hosting PGA Tour events.
Since 1999, Mike Keiser has built, or is building, 11 courses, with at least another six in the planning or permitting process. He built five at Bandon Dunes in 15 years. And in a remote slice of Oregon’s southwestern coastline, which is already considered one of the best pure golf destinations in the world, Keiser is still trying to figure out how to add a sixth (big) course by Gil Hanse and a seventh (short) course. Best guess on designer would be Tom Doak.
Which leads us to the two competing properties vying for the coveted label of “Bandon East.” Streamsong and Cabot Links both opened in 2012 to rave reviews. Both now have two courses. Cabot has the coastline, but Streamsong has purified sand and a lot more land (16,000 acres to be exact). Cabot started with limited lodging and has added some four-room cottages. Streamsong offers a 216-room hotel and are adding a third course by Gil Hanse, making them the only destination in America with courses by Coore & Crenshaw, Doak and Hanse—The Big 3 of modern minimalist architectural firms. Cabot offers more culture and off-course options than Streamsong, which includes the first whiskey distillery in North America, and the Cabot Trail, which is considered the “World’s Most Beautiful Drive.” Streamsong has the benefit of being in the middle of nowhere. Within a 90-minute drive of both Tampa and Orlando, the vistas and surroundings sights of sweeping dunes are anything but Floridian. Cabot has Keiser and his partner, Ben Cowan-Dewar. Streamsong has Rich Mack and the financial muscle of Mosaic, an incredibly successful and powerful fertilizer company.
In Golf Digest’s most recent reveal of the Top 100 Courses in the World, Cabot Links was ranked No. 93 and Cabot Cliffs was No. 19. Although neither course at Streamsong made that ranking, I recently revealed my top 50 public courses in the U.S., and Streamsong Red is No. 11, while Blue is No. 28. Having walked what will be Streamsong’s Black course with Hanse, early indications are that it too will be must-see.
Links land is limited in and around Inverness, but I don’t think Keiser and Cowan-Dewar will stop at two courses at Cabot. In addition to Black, Streamsong is also likely to add at least another big course, a short course and more lodging or cottages conducive to their clientele, which is often the eight to 24-man buddies trip.
So, what’s the score between the two budding eastern destinations? Cabot is 1-up at the turn, but Streamsong has a short putt on 10 (the Black Course), which would even the match.
Meanwhile, the avid amateur/golf enthusiast continues to sit back and benefit from all that is developing talent, both on the course (Spieth, McIlroy, Day, Fowler and DeChambeau), and in the development of great courses (Cabot Links, Cliffs, Streamsong Red, Blue and Black).
Grow the game, you say? I say, don’t forget to celebrate the growth of the game. Especially the growth of our options for great golf.