Backswing RoundUp

Private golf courses to add to your bucket list

Private golf courses to add to your bucket list
There are some amazing private golf courses in the country, yet few of us ever get to play them. We asked our golf professionals which private clubs they like the most so you can add them to your bucket list.

I was fortunate to play two of the very best courses in the US on the same day...

I love this question. One of the wonderful benefits of being a PGA Professional is the opportunity to play some of the best courses in the country. I was fortunate to play two of the very best courses in the US on the same day and then play another 36 on one of them the following day, so it was a trip of a lifetime. I was invited to play Pine Valley and Merion and because they are only 45 minutes to an hour apart we played both the first day and then played the East and West course at Merion the next day.

It is really hard to choose between the two, but because I am passionate about golf history I have to give the nod to Merion. Not to diminish the round at Pine Valley which was memorable, but the total experience at Merion was truly unforgettable. It starts with the first tee shot which is nerve-wracking because the veranda of the clubhouse is literally 10 paces from the tee box. You are just praying to get the ball airborne. Somehow I split the fairway with a 3 wood and once you get to the ball the caddy announces, “sir you have 136 to the wicker.” Meaning Merion is famous for not having flags on top of the stick they have red wicker baskets. The course just oozes tradition and history and it really hit me on the walk between the 10th green and 11th tee. I was only 1 over walking to the 11th tee and then you walk past a plaque that reads, Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam on the 11th hole on Sept 27, 1930. Immediately I got caught up in the history and promptly doubled the 11th.

As memorable and challenging as every hole is at Merion you look forward all day to playing the 18th hole where Hogan hit his famous 1 iron in the US Open in 1950. If you are a first time guest your caddy will go right to the spot where Hogan stood and drop a ball and say, “have at it.” This was back in the 80s and I carried a Ping 1 iron. Just to show how different the equipment was even in the 80s I screamed the 1 iron 30 yards over the green. It was July when I played so it was hot and humid, probably in the mid 90s. My host suggested I go take a shower. While I was showering a waiter taps me on the shoulder and asked if I would like a drink. I said, “that would be great, I would love a beer,” and I mentioned the name of my host so he could deliver it to our table. He said, no sir, I will serve it to you right here in the shower. That was such a fitting end to a golf trip I shall never forget.

Tim Terwilliger

PGA Head Golf Professional

Brookside Golf Club, Pasadena, CA

The Waterfall Club in Clayton, Georgia

I have played some gems (Including Seminole), but the best private club I have ever played is the Waterfall Club in Clayton, Georgia. Some of the most scenic views in the world. Not to mention the course conditions are awesome!

Kevin Dorsch

PGA Golf Professional

Gateway Golf & Country Club

NBC Golf Channel Academy w/ David Impastato, Ft. Myers, FL

The Stock Farms in Hamilton, Montana

I have been fortunate to play golf all over North America so it will probably surprise most that my favorite private course is located in Hamilton, Montana. The Stock Farms is an amazing place that Marcus Daly, an old Copper Baron envisioned . A Tom Fazio design set-up in the foothills of Hamilton, MT. Conditions are beyond immaculate & the layout is fantastic. Because it is so remote & very closed doors, you have this eerie feeling you may be the only golfers on the course. Lunch following in the beautiful log clubhouse is a must. If the opportunity arises, do not pass it up! It is an amazing experience in a very beautiful setting in the Bitterroot Mountains.

#1) The Stock Farms (Hamilton)

#2) Forest Highlands (Flagstaff)

#3) Burnt Pine (San Destin)

#4) Desert Mountain (Scottsdale)

#5) Shadow Creek (Las Vegas)- it’s not private, but may as well be

#6) The Farms (Rancho Santa Fe)

Coyote Springs Golf Club

Karl Larcom

PGA Golf Professional

Director of Golf

Coyote Springs Golf Club, Coyote Springs, NV

The Kittanssette Club in Marion Massachussettes, and the Valley Club of Montecito, California.

I have a tie for the top spot, coming in at 100 points each out of a possible 100.

The Kittanssette Club in Marion Massachussettes, and the Valley Club of Montecito, California.

The Kittanssette Club is a wonderful Donald Ross design, built on a peninsula on Buzzards Bay. Every shot has to be thought through. It features beautiful scenery, deceptive bunkers and seagrass mounding that play with your depth perception and make it difficult to fully commit to your shot. You are hitting short to middle irons into perfect greens that appear to be only 120 out, but are actually 20 to 50 yards further. A great mental test. My first round was during my fifth year as a Pro. My brother Ken, a great player, invited me to his home course, and bet me $100 I would not break 80. Easy right!
He set up a tee time so the onshore/offshore switch of the wind had us play 18 straight holes into the teeth of a September Cape Cod wind.
I shot 80.

The Valley Club is an amazing experience, with immaculate conditions, and a tradition of excellence. I grew up sneaking onto public New England courses with really rough conditions. I apologized and felt bad every time I took a divot at the Valley Club. It is also a great challenge. (Hogan Said the fourth hole was the best par four he ever played!)
The Valley Club is a great experience with PURE playing conditions and first-class hospitality. A real privilege to play.

Olde School Golf School

Bob Kotowski

PGA Golf Professional

Director of Instruction

Olde School Golf School, Buellton, CA

Cypress point and Mayacama! Both are amazing.

Cypress point and Mayacama! Both are amazing. Cypress for the views and ocean, Mayacama for the layabout and clubhouse, locker room and exclusivity. They can’t be beat. Pacific Dunes is my favorite public course.

Empire Ranch Golf Club

Morgan Malone

PGA Golf Professional

Empire Ranch Golf Club, Folsom, CA

I really have never met a course I didn’t like!

A couple come to mind:

Seminole – FL

Cherry Hills – CO

Shadow Creek – NV

Country Club of North Carolina – NC

All courses were very nice and they have their own niche.  I really have never met a course I didn’t like!  If I’m playing golf all is good in the world.

Sun City West Golf

Patrick O'Hara

Golf Operations Manager

Sun City West Golf, Sun City West, AZ

Oakmont CC

I was fortunate to work as an Assistant Professional at Oakmont CC during the mid-90’s and it is without question from tee to green the most complete golf course without any flaws.

The golf course demands accuracy off the tee with thick rough and over 180 bunkers. Second shots must be exact, while the greens are large in nature, they play small due to the undulations. Day in and day out the speeds of the greens are the best in the country with respect to their smoothness and as we all know their speed.

If given the chance, I would recommend playing Oakmont, it will test your entire game.

Bull's Bridge Golf Club

Paul Ramee

Director of Golf

Bull's Bridge Golf Club, South Kent, CT

I have a tie because I can’t choose.

That’s a tough choice. I have a tie because I can’t choose. In alphabetical order:

  • Augusta National
  • Cypress Point
  • Los Angeles Country Club
  • Olympic Club
  • Pine Valley
  • San Francisco Country Club
  • Winged Foot

They are all very different and all very impressive.

DragonRidge Country Club

Mike Davis

Director of Instruction

DragonRidge Country Club, Henderson, NV

Merion Golf Club ; Aronomink Golf Club; Philadelphia Cricket Club

I feel lucky being in the Philadelphia Section. We have a lot of great private courses in our area and I have been fortunate enough to play some of them.

1) Merion Golf Club
2) Aronomink Golf Club
3) Philadelphia Cricket Club

These are just a few of the great Private Clubs in the Philadelphia Section that I have had the opportunity to play.

Flagler Golf Academy

Rick Flagler

PGA Certified Professional

Five Ponds Golf Club | Flagler Golf Academy, Warminster, PA

“Camp Creek” in Destin, FL.

Best private course I have ever played was “Camp Creek” in Destin, FL. Absolutely gorgeous course, well kept, and fun memories!

Country Club of Missouri

Laura Kraft

Assistant Golf Professional

Country Club of Missouri, Columbia, MO

Medinah #3 in the same layout Tiger won the PGA Championship.

Medinah #3 in the same layout Tiger won the PGA Championship. That is a very strong and fair test of golf. My favorites have been Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Prairie Dunes in Kansas and Kansas City CC. I love them because they are not long but really good!

Arsenal Island Golf Course

Todd Fowler

PGA Member

2015 Iowa PGA Professional of the Year. 2004 Iowa Golf Association Professional of the Year

Golf Galaxy, Davenport, Iowa

Augusta National

As with many golf professionals I have been lucky to play some wonderful courses. If I had to state my favorite it would be hard not to say Augusta National wasn’t number one. It was truly a day in golf heaven from visiting Butler Cabin , having lunch and drinks after the round and seeing the late Clifford Roberts private quarters. A very special day ! Although I’ve played Shinnecock, Baltusrol , Marion and Winged Foot I really enjoyed Congressional. I could remember every hole after the round and there were a lot of good ones. To be very honest, I appreciate all the days at those historic courses !

Rhett Myers

PGA Professional

Vassar Golf Course,

Pine Valley is the best private course I have ever played.

I have been a PGA Member for over 35 years and have been blessed to play many of the greatest courses in the world, but that answer is an easy one for me. Pine Valley is the best private course I have ever played. I have only played there once and that was 33 years ago but I have a vivid memory of every hole and shot that our foursome played that day. From my view Pine Valley has great hole sequencing, and is a fantastic design. The course is difficult but fair in every way.

I have played many courses with nicer clubhouses and locker rooms but no other design is as memorable. If you ever get the opportunity, this is the one must play in Golf!

Mattawang Golf Club

Mahlon Dow

PGA Golf Professional

Mattawang Golf Club, Belle Mead, NJ

Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, CA, Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver, WA or Hillcrest Country Club in Boise, ID.

This is a good question! I would say one these three either Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, CA, Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver, WA or Hillcrest Country Club in Boise, ID.

All three are great courses and it’s hard to pick just one.

Apple Tree Golf Course

Kevin Anderson

Head Golf Professional

Apple Tree Golf Course, Yakima, WA

The Golf Club in New Albany, Ohio

The best private course that I have ever played was The Golf Club in New Albany, Ohio, designed by Pete Dye. The Golf Club is currently ranked #39 on the Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Golf Course list.

Park Ridge Golf Course

Chip Inks

PGA Head Golf Professional

Director of Instruction

Park Ridge Golf Course, Lake Worth, FL

It would be a tie...

That’s a very difficult and broad question. It would be a tie amongst Pine Valley, Cyprus Point, Shinnecock Hills, Sleepy Hollow, and Merion.

Sleepy Hollow Country Club

Kevin Sprecher

Director of Instruction

Sleepy Hollow Country Club,

Pine Valley for the experience

Pine Valley for the experience. It is second to none from the drive in to the club past the Ferris wheel to finish up on 18. The Pine Valley experience is something very special!

Peter Clarke

Assistant Golf Professional

Manufacturers' Golf & Country Club, Ft Washington, PA

I have to go with Troon Country Club in Scottsdale AZ.

Wow! This is a tough one but I think I have to go with Troon Country Club in Scottsdale AZ. I LOVE when Morrish and WeisKopf get together and design courses. Best course in all of Scottsdale.

Robyn Bradford

Head Golf Professional

The Golf Courses at Incline Village - Mountain Course, Incline Village, NV

Riviera Country Club

Riviera Country Club is the best private golf course that I have ever played. Riviera combines a storied history with a tremendous test of golf that is always in impeccable condition. Every hole is terrific test of skill and strategy and the kikuyu grass presents a host of challenges for the player. Along with Riviera’s great layout, the weather and proximity to the beach make for a terrific day at the course!

El Caballero Country Club

Tasha Bohlig

PGA Golf Professional

Director of Instruction

El Caballero Country Club, Tarzana, CA

Upper Montclair Country Club

Being that I am in the Tri-State area I am partial to Upper Montclair Country Club where I am currently the Lead Assistant Golf Professional. We have hosted every major tour and the everyday playability is spectacular. Other than Upper Montclair I would have to say Shinnecock. Obviously this goes without saying, but it was a thrill to play a place that has hosted U.S. Opens. If the chance ever becomes available, please make sure you take advantage.

Ricky Mosel

Assistant Golf Professional

Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton, NJ

Victoria Golf Club, Oak Bay, British Columbia

Tough call. But I’m going with Victoria Golf Club, Oak Bay, British Columbia.

Moses Lake Golf Club

Owen McClain

PGA Golf Professional

Teaching Professional

Moses Lake Golf Club, Moses Lake, WA

Pine Valley

Pine Valley stands out above Augusta and Cypress Point. The key reason is every hole at Pine Valley is unique unto itself. You have to hit so many good shots to not be punished. The walk is incredible. The service and the people there know you are in golf heaven. The food is incredible as well.

Shawn Cox

Director of Golf

The Fairmont Grand Golf Club, San Diego, CA

Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, NY

That is such a hard question to answer because I have been fortunate to play so many great clubs both for fun and in tournament competition. I think I would have to say Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, NY. It is very difficult for the expert player to shoot a low score but it is very fair and enjoyable for the higher handicap player. It allows the player to see nearly every shot land. It has a very unique routing that is a pleasure to walk. There are absolutely no weak holes. It is simply a Tillinghast masterpiece!

Rockville Links Club

Philip Cardwell

Teaching Professional

Rockville Links Club,

New Albany Country Club

Tough question to answer as I have had the pleasure of playing many great private courses around the country. If you are looking for the best condition Private Club that would be New Albany CC. Spectacular from just getting on the property to how well the differentiation of fairway to rough was defined. This golf club had it all from great holes to a wonderful clubhouse.

Rob Elliott Golf Academy

Rob Elliott

PGA Golf Professional


Rob Elliott Golf Academy, Pewaukee, WI

Cal Club in San Francisco

This is one of the easier questions for me to answer. Cal Club in San Francisco is hands down the best private club I have ever played. The entire property is centered around the golf course. The golf course itself is all world, and is some of the most fun I’ve ever had while playing. Even though the course is located in a populated area of South San Francisco you feel completely removed from the rest of the world.

Tyler Olson

PGA Golf Professional

Crystal Springs Golf Course, Burlingame, CA

Cypress Point or Royal County Down

The best private club I have played has to be Cypress Point or Royal County Down. The course combined with the overall experience is second to none. Pine Valley and National Golf Links a close second.

South Fork Country Club

Tim Garvin

Head Golf Professional

South Fork Country Club,

The National Golf Club of Canada

The National Golf Club of Canada in Woodbridge, Ontario Canada.

The Quarry Golf Club

Ryan Zylstra

Assistant Golf Professional

The Quarry Golf Club, Naples, FL

Whispering Pines in Trinity Texas.

Whispering Pines in Trinity Texas. The par three course is a great kicker to an awesome experience.

The Golf Center at the Highlands

Mark Maness

PGA Director of Instruction

The Highlands Performance Golf Center , Carrollton, TX

Glen Oak Country Club in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Glen Oak Country Club in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Outstanding customer service from a very professional staff!
The course was pristine, greens gunfighter fast and true to roll. If and when I get the chance to play it again, I’ll jump at it.

PGA Golf Professional

Ron Ferry

Head Teaching Professional

Oakwood Golf Club, Sun Lakes, AZ

I would put Firestone CC up there, Cherokee Ridge CC in Alabama, and Lake Nona in Florida.

I have played many, from Michigan to Georgia, Florida, Utah, Indiana, Ohio and more. I would put Firestone CC up there, Cherokee Ridge CC in Alabama, and Lake Nona in Florida. There are so many great courses out there, I do not have one particular favorite!

Brookshire Golf Club

Rich Waite

Head Teaching Professional

Brookshire Golf Club, Carmel, IN

Cypress Point Club

The greatest private course I have played was Cypress Point Club. Every hole is fantastic, the design and routing are amazing. It was easy to walk with plenty of awesome views. What made it most special was playing with my father, a good friend and his dad.

Butterfield Country Club

Mike Carbray

PGA Director of Instruction

Butterfield Country Club,

Pikewood National Golf Club

Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown WV

Steve Bosdosh Golf Academy

Steve Bosdosh

GOLF Magazine TOP 100 Teacher

Steve Bosdosh Golf Academy,

Muirfield Village Golf Club

Muirfield Village Golf Club

The Woodlands Country Club - Palmer Course

Troy Schleicher

PGA Professional

The Woodlands Country Club - Palmer Course, The Woodlands, TX

Cypress Point

Cypress Point

Mitchell Moncrief

PGA Golf Professional

College Golf Center, Palm Desert, CA

The Cypress Point Club

Cypress Point Club

Kay Cornelius

LPGA Class ‘A’ Teaching Professional

The Olde Collier Golf Club

The Olde Collier Golf Club, Naples, FL

LaPlaya Golf Club

Nicolas Ellis

PGA Golf Professional

LaPlaya Golf Club, Naples, FL

The Golf Club of Oklahoma

The Golf Club of Oklahoma

Precision Golf Academy

Tim Krumnow


Master Clubmaker, Master Club Repair Technician and Master Club Fitter

Precision Golf Academy, Houston, TX

Cypress Point

Cypress Point

- University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Kendall Murphy

Assistant Director & Program Coordinator

PGA Golf Management Program

University of Nevada, Las Vegas , Las Vegas, NV

Pine Valley

Many years ago Pine Valley. Difficult ,for me, but a great fair test.

Ken Gemmell

PGA Golf Professional

Grassy Hill Country Club, Orange, CT