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Best of the Best 2008: Golf Courses

Mike Nolan, Scott Gummer, Bruce Wallin, Dale Leatherman, Katie Rychecky and Shaun Tolson

Canadian designer Doug Carrick took both the high road and the low road when building the Carrick at Cameron House (+44.1389.755.565, www.devere.co.uk), which plays along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond in Scotland. The front nine of the 7,086-yard course follows the lake’s level shoreline and incorporates several links-style features, such as sod-walled fairway bunkers and tightly mowed aprons designed to encourage bump-and-run shots. At hole number 10, however, the course heads into the craggy highland terrain, where golfers must hit narrow landing areas or risk a range of undesirable fates. The par-3 14th hole affords views of the nearby peak of Ben Lomond and features a lakeside green set 60 feet below the tee. At the conclusion of a round, you can relax at the restaurant, bar, or spa at the Carrick’s extravagant clubhouse. The course and facilities are part of the newly renovated Cameron House resort, which shuttles guests to and from the Carrick in a 1930s-era launch that crosses the loch. —Mike Nolan

The Stonebrae Country Club (510. 728.7878, www.stonebrae.com) may be the last great golf course ever built near the San Francisco Bay. Finding land with panoramic vistas of the city and water is difficult enough; obtaining approvals to build is all but impossible. (Stonebrae was decades in the making.) Selecting an architect who could make a new course appear perfectly natural in this setting was the easy part: David McLay Kidd has a track record of building low-impact, gimmick-free courses, and Stonebrae is no exception. "It is golf as it should be," rel="nofollow" says Kidd. The course, located outside San Francisco in Hayward, is marked by peaks and valleys—both physical and emotional. Elevation changes abound, and a straight drive might conceal a hazard, while a visually intimidating bunker may prove harmless. Five sets of tees provide fair tests for all levels of golfers at Stonebrae, which offers both resident and nonresident memberships (pricing on request). —Scott Gummer

Robert Trent Jones Jr. refers to his work at Puerto Rico’s Bahía Beach Golf Course (787.957.5800, www.bahiabeachpuertorico.com) as a "blow-up job." rel="nofollow" Presented with the task of redesigning a flat, public course, the veteran architect transformed the site into an undulating layout that promises to become the island’s most exclusive club. The new course, which opened in November, features swales, bumps, and clusters of bunkers, though its most persistent obstacles—trees and water—are remnants of the past. Before it was a golf course, the Bahía site housed a coconut plantation, and more than 50,000 palm trees remain on the property. The plantation also included a network of man-made, saltwater lagoons, which Jones took full advantage of in his design. Fifteen of the 18 holes border some form of water, as the course takes a circuitous route around the lagoons before emerging onto the Atlantic coast for the final three holes. Set along a two-mile stretch on Puerto Rico’s northeast coast, Bahía is part of a new 483-acre resort community that eventually will include a 150-room St. Regis hotel. —Bruce Wallin

Originally designed by Spencer Oldham, the Bedford Springs Old Course (814.623.8100, www.bedfordspringsresort.com) in Pennsylvania opened in 1895 as one of the first golf courses in the United States. A.W. Tillinghast reconfigured the layout in 1912, and Donald Ross completed a second renovation 11 years later. Now, after more than eight decades, Bedford Springs has been reinvented once again, this time by architect Ron Forse. Part of the 200-year-old Bedford Springs Resort (which also underwent an extensive refurbishment), the Old Course retains the design imprints of Forse’s predecessors. Ross’ trademark touches—short, uphill par 4s and subtly contoured greens with false fronts—are apparent throughout the layout, and Forse restored Tillinghast’s "Tiny Tim" 14th hole, which drops over water to a tiered green flanked by mounds that the original designer called "alps." rel="nofollow" A round on the Old Course is akin to a walk through golf history, with all the challenges and amenities one would expect from a premier modern club. —Dale Leatherman

Arizona’s rechristened Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale (480.585.4334, www.tpc.com/scottsdale) is to the old Desert Course as a butterfly is to a caterpillar: Following architect Randy Heckenkemper’s $12 million redesign, the new course bears almost no resemblance to the layout that previously occupied the site. The Champions also represents a quantum leap out of the shadow of its sister course at TPC Scottsdale, which is home to the PGA Tour’s FBR Open. Golfers once played the Desert only if they could not arrange a tee time at the TPC Stadium Course. But the Champions promises to lure players away from the Stadium, thanks in part to Heckenkemper’s addition of some 700 yards. The beauty of his transformation is most evident on the demanding, four-hole home stretch, which culminates with a 460-yard par 4. —S.G.

Set amid 20,000 acres of federally protected land, the new Tom Fazio Course at Pronghorn (541.312.9424, www.pronghornclub.com) offers a scenic adventure through the high desert of central Oregon. Juniper trees line every fairway on the course, while the Cascade Mountains rise in the distance. Fazio’s intimidating design proves more forgiving than it first appears, with fairways that funnel shots into safety zones leading to large greens. The visual trickery—and beauty—reaches its height on the 187-yard, par-3 eighth hole, where golfers must hit their tee shots over a lava cave to ?reach the green. The Fazio course, as well as Pronghorn’s Jack Nicklaus–designed layout, is open only to homeowners ?at the club, where sites, houses, and estates range from $495,000 to $3.5 million. —Katie Rychecky

Though large bunkers protect the multitiered greens at the Ronald Fream–designed Terme di Saturnia Golf Club (+39.0564.600.111, www.termedisaturnia.it/golf), players will not mistake this Tuscan layout for an American resort course. Olive trees—the massive trunks and gnarled limbs of two ancient specimens complicate tee and approach shots on the 425-yard 13th hole—and cone-shaped cypresses frame the rolling fairways of the club, which opened to guests of the Terme di Saturnia resort in February. Looming high above are the Tuscan Apennines, with the villages of Saturnia, Montemerano, and Poggio Murella perched on cliffs like golf balls stopped short at the edge of a cup. Fields of wheat and sunflowers dominate the immediate surroundings, which bear a strong resemblance to the course itself—proof that Fream did little to alter the terrain in building Terme di Saturnia. The designer’s generous landing areas help counter the challenges presented by three streams that cross several fairways. Should you fail to clear the gullies, water may be the least of your worries: Tuscan wild boars, which can grow to 700 pounds, use the ravines as pathways through the valley. The Terme di Saturnia resort, known for its thermal springs and spa, offers a golf wellness program that should help cool you down after any hot encounters. —M.N.

Working on a cattle farm is sure to strain your muscles and put sweat on your brow. The challenge of getting your ball out of the fescue that lines most of the fairways at Tobiano (250.373.2218, www.tobianogolf.com), a new golf course set on a former cattle farm in British Columbia, will likely produce similar results. Built along the edge of Kamloops Lake, the Thomas McBroom–designed track is devoid of trees, save for the occasional ponderosa pine. The barren landscape allows for pristine views of the 22-mile-long lake and the Cascade Mountains rising steeply on the far shore. However, golfers would be wise to keep their eyes on their tee shots; the wispy golden fields beyond the first cut of rough have a tendency to swallow balls. "On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder, ’til I see the mountains rise," crooned Bing Crosby in "Don’t Fence Me In," rel="nofollow" which might have made an appropriate jingle for the cattle farm. But at the Tobiano golf course, you will do well to stick to the straight and narrow. —Shaun Tolson

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