Course Rater Confidential: Breaking down GOLF’s 2022-23 Top 100 Courses in the U.S. ranking
GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this GOLF.com series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. Check out GOLF’s latest Top 100 Courses in the U.S., Top 100 Courses in the World, Top 100 Courses You Can Play, Best Municipal Courses in the U.S., and 100 Best Short Courses. Meet all of our Top 100 panelists here.
GOLF recently unveiled its newest ranking, the Top 100 Courses in the U.S. What, if anything, jumps out at you about the new list? Any trends it indicates? Any big surprises?
Jon Cavalier (panelist since 2020; has played 97 of the Top 100): The trend of high-quality restorations jumps out at me. Merion, Los Angeles Country Club North, Winged Foot West, Oakland Hills, The Country Club, Southern Hills, Congressional, Inverness, Sleepy Hollow, Oak Hill East, Old Town Club, The Creek, Bel Air, Scioto, Ridgewood and Aronimink have all had significant work done to reclaim, rebuild or restore their character.
Chick Wagner (panelist since 2008; has played 81 of the Top 100): The most influential trend by architects and their renovation/restoration projects has been their willingness to search through old photos and archives and realizing that the original plans by the old-time architects were wonderful. They kept it simple and didn’t move a lot of dirt, thus allowing mother nature to provide the natural drainage that these properties already possessed.
Thomas Brown (panelist since 2015; has played 95 of the Top 100): Wins for variety, natural sites and topography. Declines in lost balls, pavement. Fescue grass comes and goes. Some prominent courses on the list have given up the fight against invasive grass, but new Top 100 addition CapRock Ranch is a good example of successfully maintaining bouncy fescue in the fairways. At the top of the Top 100 list, the debate on subsurface bunker liners continues, at least among those of us deepest in the weeds. Love fast greens? Maybe not. I find mixed results in some of the historic golf course renovations, whose greens weren’t designed with modern speeds in mind. Three prominent golf courses will change before the next Top 100 publication. Personal tastes will vary on design aesthetics, but advances in turfgrass science are competing against green complex variety and the number of hole locations available for play.
Will Davenport (panelist since 2021; has played 45 of the Top 100): I think the resto take is already covered thoroughly, but it is an exciting shift in the golf world from redesign and renovation, etc., to restoration. Allegiance to the original vision, photos and plans for courses is a wonderful acknowledgment of the timeless works of ages past. However, that is not to say that new builds cannot quite quickly be among the great courses — as evidenced by Sand Hills’ meteoric rise. On a related note, are we seeing Midwestern golf start to take off? Sand Hills, Prairie, Southern Hills, CapRock and others seem to be increasing in prominence.
Of the courses you saw for the first time this year, which one made the biggest impression and why?
Cavalier: The restored Congressional made the biggest impression. I confess that I never really enjoyed Congressional’s Blue course, but having now seen Andrew Green’s renovation, I think it’s terrific, and a lot of fun to play.
Brown: Valentine, Neb. The properties at CapRock Ranch (No. 59) and The Prairie Club, Dunes (No. 94) are separated only by a few miles down the Snake River canyon. Different styles in design and routing choices, but the land found in this part of northwest Nebraska is exceptional. Dick Youngscap started the trend at Sand Hills nearly 30 years ago. We have three selections from Nebraska in the Top 100 and will certainly see more in the future.
Any courses that you think deserved to be on the Top 100 that weren’t?
Cavalier: Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course is both a hometown favorite and a place that I think deserves Top 100 recognition. Keith Foster’s restoration is outstanding.
Brown: Whispering Pines, Forest Highlands (Canyon), and The Loop at Forest Dunes are ones that I’d put in the glaring omission category, but your mileage may vary. Chambers Bay is another golf course which I think merits inclusion, but the bounce in the fairways was absent from their championship summer. It will be interesting to see where Yale lands after the Hanse/Wagner restoration with its expanded maintenance budget is complete. It should also be noted that new golf courses which opened at the end of summer missed our evaluation deadline.
Davenport: I would say in line with the above that Wissahickon and Chambers are the top of my sorely missed list. However, a few other notables would include the charming Mid-Pines & Pine Needles duo, as well as the Philly Flynn twins of Lancaster & Rolling Green. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mountain Lake, Florida’s idyllic Raynor, as well as Colorado Golf Club, a modern gem that does not garner adequate acknowledgment, in my humble opinion.
What new course or renovation are you most looking forward to seeing in the year ahead?
Cavalier: CapRock Ranch is top of my list for 2023. It’s one of the few courses on this year’s list that I have yet to see, and the idea of a Hanse design in the Nebraska sandhills that runs along the caprock cliffs of the snake river is tremendously exciting. In photos, the course looks dramatic and thrilling, and the comments I’ve heard from those who have ventured out to play it have been glowing.
Wagner: Indian Creek’s renovation by Andrew Green. I’m finally looking forward to my trip to Cabot Links and Highland Links now that all Covid travel restrictions are lifted for Canada. The trip to visit Sand Valley and the new Lido should be the most anticipated trip for any golf enthusiast.
Brown: Point Hardy Golf Club at Cabot Saint Lucia. From the life isn’t fair department, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw continue to get the pick among the few select locations in golf. Ben Cowan-Dewar’s growing empire heads south into the Caribbean, and Dream Golf’s Mike Keiser is already listing the superlatives from his site visit. Early pictures from clifftop par-3 holes 16 and 17 look suited to compete against well-known California par-3 holes in the best-of category.
Davenport: Without a doubt (though I am biased), the work at Yale is the most exciting. The course has long suffered neglect at the hands of a paltry budget and understaffing, so even if only for a passing few seasons, let’s hope the Course at Yale is returned to its former glory, with some of the most dramatic and large-scale template greens in the world. Of a secondary interest, the new course at McArthur promises to scare the Top 100 list once completed, and I expect it will be magnificent.