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The Golf Crusade's Best of 2023

Updated: Jun 12

We were yet again shined on by the Golf Gods - adding nearly thirty more courses to the Crusade, while revisiting another baker's dozen, many of which had some exciting updates. The golf industry continues to add speed to its upswing, and we're just fine with that!

pete dye, colleton river, hilton head golf
Started the year with a bang at the glorious Pete Dye creation at Colleton River Club

Of the thirty-six different clubs we visited this year (if you're checking the arithmetic, consider some clubs had more than one course!), a third of them have had major renovations in the past three years. That is the highest percentage we've seen since we formally began The Golf Crusade (2018). Of course, some of those are replays that we intentionally sought out to play because of said upgrades, but that's the point, isn't it? We feel like we've heard something like that in a movie before...

"People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."

While we've not played any 'new new' courses lately, playing a course that has invested in itself to make the experience better for its guests automatically goes to the top of our to-do list, especially when its close to home. In all honesty, we saw so many great places this year across the board that it's made our fake end of year awards choices extremely difficult.

It also happens that the course that is probably most responsible for The Golf Crusade becoming what it has, received new life - and that we were in a position to help re-release it into the wild via our Iron Maverick event - made it all the more special.

Tot Hill Farm, Mike Strantz, sunrise, golf course
A new day has dawned at Mike Strantz's Tot Hill Farm in Asheboro, NC

PSA: If you're new here, we are big Mike Strantz guys. If you need a primer on who that is and what kind of courses he created, please check out our Strantz page after you're done with this story. Even if you're not new here, go check out the Ciriculum Vitae project we posted this year - which includes every course 'The Maverick' ever worked on!

When we found out Tot Hill Farm was for sale a few years ago, we hoped it would fall into the hands of someone that would steward the course back into incredible place it was when we first discovered it back in the very early 2000s. We told anyone that would listen how great it COULD be. Sadly, most anyone that had played it in the past 10+ years never got to see what the place SHOULD have looked like.

Thankfully, we no longer have to live in the 'should-a/could-a' world. Gratefully, the course fell into the hands of just the right people.

Thanks to the efforts of new ownership, Strantz's mountain masterpiece in Asheboro, NC is back and we're happy to report, it's BETTER than its ever been! We've already writen up (in granular detail) all the work they've completed to date, so head over to the Iron Maverick III Recap for more tasty pics and tidbits on the restoration at Tot Hill Farm. , Dy

With that primer behind us, let's get into our traditional year-end fake awards show! Per usual, we have our featured categories as well as a superlative round which lists the best of the year that was in a number of different ways (keep reading, you'll see).

Best New Public Course

Best New Private Course

Best Alternative Golf Facility

Macho Man 180 Award Best Replay Rapid Fire Round

The two 'Best New' & the 'Best Alternative Golf Facility' (catch-all for executive, range, mini, indoor, par 3, short, etc) categories are only open to the courses we played in 2023 that were 'New to Us'. We typically add a category to fit the theme of the year - this year being about the amount of reinvestment in courses. We thought a "Most Improved" would fit the bill, but a couple courses did a complete 180. You'll see why the Macho Man gets involved below. Best Replay speaks for itself we hope.

When it comes to the Rapid Fire Round, we open that up to any course we played this year, not just new courses. Some of those superlatives get one winner, some we each pick one, some we list a bunch if so many were worthy.

After all, the whole point of this is to share the best - even if there was a lot of it to go around!

Lastly, a photo viewing note: you may click on any photo for a full screen view. It will also scroll through them all from there. While any one of our stories can be viewed on a phone, it's best consumed on a larger screen!

So, in the words of the late, great & honorable Mills Lane... "Let's get it on!"

Best New Public Course

George Wright | Sequoyah National | Dye Course at Barefoot Resort

A very rare triple-header here, and it's warranted because the courses are as different in their nature as they are high in quality of design. When we say nature, we mean it.

George Wright Golf Course is the famed (and rightfully celebrated) Donald Ross municipal course in Boston. The terrain is so extreme, Ross famously said you'd need "either a million dollars or an earthquake" to build a golf course on it. Thankfully, enough dynamite and a little over a cool million bucks were available to eventually build this treasure of a golf course. Boston residents are one lucky bunch to get a course like this!

On even more extreme topography - deep in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, lies Sequoyah National. Why this RTJ2 course is an amenity of Harrah's Cherokee Casino, you don't need luck to hit the jackpot here. This course is the best truly public offering between North Central Georgia and the Pinehurst area. Bring. A. Camera.

Lastly, the master of moving dirt, Pete Dye, took a flat(ish) piece of property near the beach and created one of Myrtle Beach's best layouts. Boasts four full 18-hole loops, The Dye Course at Barefoot Resort is arguably the most celebrated of thelot. While the conditions weren't all that should be expected for the green fee tag, the layout is too good to ignore.

other nominees: Canaan Valley, Olde Homeplace

Best New Private Course

Nicklaus Course at Colleton River | Haig Point (Calibogue Course)

HOT TAKE: While we expected the Dye Course at Colleton River to steal the show - after all, along with the Ocean Course at Kiawah - it's kind of the star of the movie in The Legend of Bagger Vance. Turns out - and its possible the weather we played in (warm, but cloudy) tamped down the high expectations. Day two took us on a journey (by ferry!) over to Daufuskie Island for an all-time great day at Haig Point (gallery below). After that was followed up on getaway day with the Nicklaus Course at Colleton River (shown in gallery above), we all looked at each other and decided the 'rank' would be the reverse order of play. Never thought we'd rank a Nicklaus or a Rees Jones track ahead of a Dye, but we did.

A quick look through these photos and maybe you'd agree too!?

other nominees: The International, Colleton River (Dye), The Dunes Golf & Beach Club

Macho Man 180 Award

Waynesville Inn & Golf Club | Tot Hill Farm

other nominees: Johnson City CC, Holston Hills (VA)

In honor of the greatest wrestling promo/interview of all-time, we've named the 'Most Improved Course/Club' nod after the Macho Man Randy Savage. If you've not seen this cocaine/steroid induced rollercoaster, click here before continuing!

Holston Hills (Marion, VA) and Johnson City CC (TN) deserve mention here. JCCC has been an annual improver the past 2-3 years as it continues its throwback to its 1919 Tillinghast course roots. Meanwhile, Holston Hills underwent a bunker reno that made it feel and play like new.

Sometimes its the simple things that delight - and both of these courses would be winners in any other year.

However, this was not any other year when it came to reclamation projects. Waynesville Inn & Golf Club was on its last breath of life support when Raines Co. stepped up in 2021 and unveiled plans for a COMPLETE overhaul of course, club, resort and real estate. The results that Raines Co. turned in on the resort - combined with the artistic flair of Bobby Weed's resto/reno of the golf course - resulted in a must-play and must-stay experience. We profiled this property in great detail a couple months ago - discover it now while you can!

And as you'd expect, we've got three words for ya... Tot. Hill. Farm. In nine months, the entire place has turned around a full 180 degrees (AND THEN ANOTHER 360 for those that have seen the full interview from which the GIF of Macho Man & Mean Gene comes)! To view some of the mid-reno photos and throwbacks to the early 2000s on our Iron Maverick III release story, but also just go see both of these places as soon as possible!

Best New Alternative Golf Facility

Stone Meadow Golf | The Iron Maverick Course at Tot Hill Farm

In what has become one of our favorite pleasures, we love to look for short courses, high-end par-3 tracks and otherwise overlooked alternatives to the traditional 18-hole round. It also helps in the course collection department, as these 'golf snacks' can be consumed in much less than four hours!

Our first winner is Stone Meadow Golf - home to a character-filled, stand alone 9-hole short course in the greater Boston area. It was a delight to pop off the interstate during rush hour and spend that time here versus the bumper-2-bumper crowd on the evening commute. It's got an expansive range with it to work on the full game, but this shorty steals the show!

The other winner was one we had been pining to uncover for the past five years.

After playing the El Camino routing at Tobacco Road in 2018, we immediately began planning a similar, yet far more unconventional routing for the other NC Strantz course. Over the years, we figured it'd only be a dream, but thanks to the incredible restoration (see above), we were able to piece together 21 holes of mostly half-par holes (see scorecard in Rapid Fire Round below) for our third installment of The Iron Maverick. We went through many ideas for names for this routing, but decided to name it after the event that was created to celebrate the man who made it all possible.