#GolfCrusade Best Of 2018
Updated: Jun 1, 2019
The courses have been played. The votes have been cast. We're pleased to announce our first annual Golf Crusade Best of 2018 Lists. We say lists because we're not really awarding anything to anyone... However, if any of the courses mentioned would like a certificate to hang in their pro shop, please let us know and we'll happily oblige!
NOTE: If you are here to see the latest category release & have read the other categories already, scroll all the down to bottom of article then scroll up to first line break.
We played 24 new courses to go along with another half dozen or so replays, giving us about 30 courses from which to choose. One of us had to have played it in the 2018 calendar year for the course to be eligible. We have settled on the following categories to recap 2018. We will each pick winners in each of the following categories with one lone course being the choice for our 'Course of the Year'.
Best New Public
Best New Private
Biggest Surprise (a diamond in the rough or a course that exceeds the hype)
Best Replay (course we've played previously but got another spin this year)
Course of the Year (joint pick for our best we played in 2018)
So without further a do, let's get to the courses!
Best New Public
1. The Cradle | Pinehurst, NC
2. Lake Jovita (North Course) | Dade City, FL
3. Dormie Club | West End, NC
Dormie - This course had the most hype of any I played this year and although those high expectations may be why it's not my top pick, it is still an incredible experience. Few courses play as BIG as Dormie and the interesting design, seemingly cut out of the hills in NC, really make for a fun round.
Jovita North - I'll just come out and say this first, I LOVE Jovita...North and South. The North was new to me and I was totally blown away by its tough play and incredible elevation changes. That's right, I said elevation changes. This is not the prototypical 'Florida' course your aunt plays every Wednesday with her cronies. This is a course befitting of significantly more praise than the almost zero I've found. Play this course. In any other year, this would have been my first choice but then I got the chance to play...
The Cradle - The BEST experience I've had on a golf course to date. I was literally giddy running around this little track - which may have been due to the impending thunderstorm we were dodging, but - a smile never left my face the entire time. I have been trying to figure out ways to invite myself back ever since. I would play these nine holes for the entire day. $50 is not cheap for nine but the fact you can play all day for that price has me itching to go sun up to sun down out there. Other golf destinations should learn from and do everything they can to emulate this magnetic course.
1. The Cradle | Pinehurst, NC
2. Dormie Club | West End, NC
3. Verdict Ridge | Denver, NC
It's a clean sweep for the Tar Heel State! That was a little surprising to me, but when 75% of the new public courses I played were in North Carolina (9 of 12), I guess it really shouldn't be.
Verdict Ridge (above) gets the nod for 3rd place over Gatlinburg (TN), Raven Rock (KY) & the rest of the courses we played on the Pinehurst trip due to its unique design features, memorability & great conditions for late October. The course was a one-off design by a local judge (hence the cool name). I guess we both envy the armchair architect who actually gets to design their own course!
While coming in at the runner-up position, Dormie Club is my top traditional layout in the New Public category. The team of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (NC's only C&C design) certainly drew up a spectacular course on an amazing property while Zach Peed and his Dormie Network of courses continue to improve conditions. It's going private in the next couple of years, so you still have time - and should make time - to go play it!
As much fun as Dormie was, The Cradle Short Course at Pinehurst Resort takes the top spot in my Best New Public list.
The Cradle isn't just fun, it is the future.
I'm not sure how many of these luxurious short courses will pop-up, simply because this one cost about $2MM to build. However, you can build something perhaps a little simpler (without all the Pinehurst Resort-level bells and whistles) and still make it just as fun. After all, the entire course fits on 10 acres, only 7 of it being grass, so that's not a lot of annual operating cost. Every city over 250,000 people should have (at least) one of these!!
Yes, it does seem on the surface like the $50 green fee seems a little steep for the sub-800 yard loop, but that $50 gets you on the course all day. The Golf Crusade has even thought about inquiring as to find out what the record is for holes played in a single day in order to make a run at the mark sometime in 2019. The only thing we feel this course lacks is lights to play deep into the night!
Best New Private
BMAC's Pick The Ridge Club - Sandwich, Massachusetts
This course is well run (ClubCorp) and well maintained, the greens especially. They can be so fast and undulating that being in the wrong position will have you putting off the front a la Shinnecock at the Open...but I like that level of penalty on a green. I had the privilege to play in a Member/Guest this summer and enjoyed every minute of it.
One unique thing you'll find here are random trees in the fairway. Normally that'd be a bad thing, but here they were all manicured in a way that they weren't in positions to grab a lot of shots unless your previous shot was off-line. In this fantastic hole, the tree adds an attractive contrasting element to the multi-level fairway. The preferred line is the low side anyway, so you shouldn't be cussing at the tree if you have to play around it.
The course was designed by Robert von Hagge, who designed the French course for The Ryder Cup, and really shows similar elements to his other fine works around the world. Totally worth the effort to get yourself invited out there if you get the chance.
Runner-up: Atlanta National - Milton, Georgia. This course is a P.B. & Pete Dye collaboration that is also part of the ClubCorp network. The closing four or five holes here hold up against anything you'll ever play. it was early in the year and bitterly cold when we played, but we try to look past those barriers and view the course for what it is. Click the course name just above this to learn more about our visit.
1. Grandfather Golf & Country Club (Championship)- Linville, North Carolina 2 (tie). Tennessee National - Loudon, Tennessee & Blowing Rock Country Club - Blowing Rock, North Carolina
I'll start by saying this was my hardest pick. If not for the quality of the courses (there was a lot of it), then definitely by the quantity of courses (there were a lot of them). Normally I'd play only a couple, maybe three, private courses each year. Since we've both played up most of the public inventory in the places we've lived, it's hard to find new courses outside of a golf trip or three/four hour round-trip in the car (on top of 4-5 hours on a course), except of course for the private courses.
That all said, good things come to those who wait. Blowing Rock Country Club was my last round of the year... and boy was it awesome.
For decades, the club has been considered a Donald Ross design, but since a clubhouse fire destroyed all the records back in the 70's, no one said otherwise. It wasn't until the past couple of years that management uncovered evidence that showed Seth Raynor actually designed and built the original nine holes, giving BRCC the only Raynor course in the state.
Ross more than likely laid out the back nine, with Raynor protege Charles 'Steam Shovel' Banks renovating some of the Ross holes years later to bring them more in line with the Raynor flavor. Regardless of which holes belong to whom, that's three giants of the architecture game that have left their stamp on this property.
The other course in my tie for runner-up for Best New Private Course is Tennessee National. When we won a foursome in the 'Rounds for Research' auction, I thought we probably paid about what it would be worth if you played a really nice public course ($110 per, $440 foursome). After we stepped on the first tee however, I knew we got a steal!
There is just a lot of WOW to this Troon Golf managed, Greg Norman signature design. We took about a billion photos, the best of which we whittled down and condensed them into a little photo essay about the course. If you've got a minute - it's worth it. If not right now, then hopefully here's a reason that will make you come back...
In any other year, either of those two, or a place like Cobblestone Creek in Victor, NY that didn't even get mentioned, would be a runaway winner for Best New Private honor. That said, this year it goes to the Championship Course at Grandfather Golf & Country Club.
This course has been on the bucket list for at least 15 years. The NC Golf Panel ranks it their second best course in the state (behind only #2).
Now, with all the rain the NC Mountains received due to the rogue Hurricane that rolled through, it wasn't in top form according to the staff. However, the layout that Ellis Maples carved into the slopes of North Carolina's highest peak is considered one of the finest mountain courses anywhere in the world. We can (finally) attest to that.
Golf Digest currently has the course ranked at No. 121 in their America's Second 100 Greatest Courses, but has been as high as No. 65 this century. While those rankings fluctuate based on a number of things, our opinions of the course won't. This is a bucket list course worth finding an invitation to if you can! No struggle is too great; no drive too far to make.
Dooner's Pick: Tobacco Road - Sanford, North Carolina
If my Best New Private winner, Grandfather G&CC had been on my bucket list for 15 years, Tobacco Road was on it about five years before that. Thankfully, I had crossed it off the list about the time Grandfather went on it. I played it at a time I had played a few nice places, but no real big brand name courses that can psyche you out before you even tee off.
I remembered little about my first round at Tobacco Road outside of a few very early digital photographs and putting four tee shots in the drink on the par-3 14th hole (see below). Needless to say, I did not play well the first time, but I still held the course (and its architect) in high regard.
So when we decided to put this little site together earlier this year with our course count nearing 400, we planned a trip to Pinehurst to play the milestone number together. I'd played a handful of the public courses in the area, but only one name was worthy of a replay.
I wanted another shot at the Road. I'd played well over 100 courses since the last visit, so I felt much better equipped to handle the psychology game Mike Strantz throws at you sand dune after sand dune, hole after hole. I played better for sure, but the surprise was how much I LOVED THIS COURSE the second time around. I get giddy on courses like this. I almost don't care what I shoot on the scorecard if I shoot "under par" behind the lens of my camera.
Throw in the new par 3 routing for the front nine called El Camino (click link for our story on it) and it's now a brilliant two-for-one for course collectors, garnering even a replay on the O.G. worth it if not just for the opportunity to collect a new scorecard for El C.
BMAC's Pick: Lake Jovita North - Dade City, FL
February golf trips sound like an oxymoron in most parts of the country but Florida is a different world unto itself. Heading back to Lake Jovita this past winter, north of Tampa, I was excited because I feel the South Course is worthy of a Monogamy Award (happy to play it and only it for the rest of your life).
Playing the North was just an added bonus, really an afterthought as it had been around for over a decade and I had yet to see the first tee box. In predictable fashion, I was blown away by the North Course for its huge design and presence, 7200+ yards, as well as its use of elevation throughout.
Elevation is never really used to describe Florida courses so its inclusion here is truly unique because downhill par 3's and uphill tee shots don’t exist in the typical ‘Florida course’.
The feeling I left with, having played both that day, was just plain confusion. For years I was certain the South was my hidden Florida love but now the North has stolen my heart. Either way I see it, I cannot wait to get back to Lake Jovita.
Dooner's Pick: Tobacco Road - Sanford, NC
Since I may have gone a little overboard on my Tobacco Road "Course Crush", you can re-read that because there's not much more to say that hasn't already been said about The Road. Hey, that sounds like a good opportunity for a photo essay in the next couple weeks?
To fill the space, I wanted to highlight two local courses that impressed this year.
Honorable Mentions: Johnson City CC - Johnson City, Tenn. Cattails at Meadowview - Kingsport, Tenn.
Some courses just grow on you. Johnson City Country Club fits that phrase to a tee (pun intended). The first few times I play it seven years ago I thought it was a good, local private club. The best thing going for it were great conditions and the fact it was a 1913 design by A.W. Tillinghast of all people. It's very walk-able in that the tees and greens are very close to each other and not overly lengthy (while keeping in mind this is still East Tennessee).
However, since the property is smaller, some of the holes feel cramped or pigeonholed in there next to one another.
I've since changed my opinion of those features and now only appreciate them more as old world golf design charm and character. After all, the course was designed with horse and plow! Driving your tee ball on #8 over the 7th green used to seem out of place, now it's part of why I play most of my local rounds here.
The best part of the course remain its signature Tilly, deep bunkering. You'll especially find this true at the 15th (pictured above) and 18th holes. The finishing 3-hole stretch is as good a variety of finish you'll find that adds scoring opportunity as well as challenge to a competitive match!
Rounding out my list was is the Cattails Course at Meadowview Resort in Kingsport, Tennessee. A Dennis Griffiths design with a tremendous back nine and meh front nine, I played the full course (scramble tourney) for the first time in many years. I came away very impressed and even a little disappointed in myself that I hadn't remembered the course actually being that good.
I love it when I make that mistake and can correct it! I'd often walk the front side here somewhat regularly because it is dead pan flat and one of the few in our area that you can consider walker-friendly. They have a great staff, stocked pro shop and while you pay a little more per round here than most in the area, it'll pay off for you if you're just passing through.
The course also served as host for the World Long Drive Championships in August. The grid was hot, as was the crowd around the traditional first tee box. Even the TV commentators (lead by The Coach himself, Johnathan Coachman), ended the broadcast by saying it was the best crowd they had ever had on tour! Turns out that WLD thought so too as it appears they are coming back the next couple years (at least)!
BMAC's Pick: Lake Jovita South - Dade City, FL
This is my Graceland.
No, I'm not talking about Ray Finkle's house from Ace Ventura (though that was also in Florida). I may be overstating, but I really do hold this course firmly in my top 10. I love tough courses, I love long courses, I love unique courses and I love Live Oak trees - Quercus virginiana. The South has it all.
It’s unique feature is elevation. In fact, the 11th hole features a drop of 94 feet from tee to green on the 559 yd par five, the most you’ll find on a single hole in all of Florida. I find little fault while playing out there, aside from my game. It had been about 12 years since I last played but it held up well against my memory (better than Dooner's on Tobacco Road at least!).
I would also consider this course an excellent value. It’s nice to be able to play a favorite for less than $60. All in all, I’d challenge you to go there and play because it is that good. Throw in the North Course and maybe the World Woods twins less than an hour away and you’d have a golf trip to rival any other.
And if you need a fourth for you trip... fill in the form on the About page and I'll clear my schedule. I wasn't really on the golf photo train yet when I played this year, so that also gives me another excuse to return - and soon!
Honorable Mention: Rogers Park Golf Course - Tampa, FL
My home course in college. It may be rough around the edges but I still consider it my home course even though I’m nearing 40 and live in Charleston, SC. It’s a great add-on when in Tampa because it’s usually less than $40, but keep in mind the condition may not rival Augusta National.
It’s a fun track with lots of water on the back and on clear days you can hear screaming from the roller coasters at Busch Gardens across the Hillsborough river. I’ve seen several tour pros and have witnessed THREE deuces on the par four 7th, so you never know what a round will bring out at Rogers Park.
Course of the Year: The Cradle
If you’ve read this far you know that we have gushed enough about The Cradle, and frankly this column went a little long - but we encourage all of you on your next/first trip to Pinehurst, get that tee time (just not on a day we go please!). enjoy a few more lasting images from our round this past July ahead of a very serious thunderstorm hit as we were running off nine green.
Thank you for being a part of our crusade in 2018! As we turn our focus to what's ahead in 2019, we’d invite your to add us to your favorites, share with friends or introduce someone new to the game.
May your drives be long, your irons true and putts be few.
-Dooner & BMAC