5 Bucket-List Golf Courses Designed by Legendary Golfers

In the world of golf, players have been enhancing the game by lending their experience to course development since the 1870s when Old Tom Morris became the first prominent player to design golf courses. 

The trend continued with Bobby Jones creating a handful of courses in the 1930s — including Augusta National with Alister MacKenize — but really gained momentum when Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus started design companies in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Legendary golfers of the era including Gary Player and Lee Trevino followed suit, which gave a green light to pros from the ’80s and ’90s such as Ben Crenshaw, Davis Love III, and now Tiger Woods.

These five world-class properties have been designed or co-designed by four legendary professionals who’ve masterfully blended playing skill with design acumen to create some of the most breathtaking courses in the country. 

Payne’s Valley at Big Cedar Golf – Ridgedale, Missouri

Big Cedar golf
Photo by Andrew Gegg

The first course on our list is designed by the man who once again captured the world’s attention by not only competing but contending at this year’s Masters. The legend of this generation’s greatest player, Tiger Woods, needs no amplification, but designing Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course in America for 2021 doesn’t hurt. 

Just south of the Live Entertainment Capital of the World, Branson, Missouri, resides Payne’s Valley, a 7,370-yard tribute to Payne Stewart and the first public design by the 82-time PGA Tour winner. Tiger’s commitment to making the course player friendly while at the same time difficult for the low-handicapper has generated a course destined to stand the test of time.

Big Cedar golf
Photo by Matt Suess

Payne’s Valley is a partnership between Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops and Woods. 

“I couldn’t be prouder to partner with Johnny Morris to debut my first public-access course at Big Cedar Lodge,” Tiger said when the course was announced. “Johnny’s incredible passion for connecting people of all ages and walks of life to nature is truly inspiring. Together we’re tremendously excited to create a publicly accessible world-class golf experience in the center of America.” 

Big Cedar John-Tiger Tour
Tiger Woods and Johnny Morris at Payne’s Valley at Big Cedar Golf

Tiger made it a point to design a course intended to connect more people to nature through the sport of golf. The walkable course features large bail-out areas, graduated rough, spectacular green-scapes, and a bevy of water features that come into play on multiple holes. 

Payne’s Valley is also home to the nation’s coolest 19th hole, a bet-settling par-3 that features an island green surrounded by streams and waterfalls flowing down to exposed rock walls. This 112-yard par-3 is so famous, it’s already been dubbed “The 19th Wonder of the World.” Once golfers complete the 19th Hole, an exciting cart ride in, around, and through natural rock formations awaits, and offers the ideal way to conclude a truly memorable golf experience.

Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale – Scottsdale, Arizona

TPC Scottsdale golf
Photos courtesy of TPC Scottsdale

Jack Nicklaus called Tom Weiskopf “one of the finest strikers of the golf ball to ever live.” By amassing 28 professional wins including the 1973 Open Championship, the Ohio native had the game to contend whenever he teed it up. Weiskopf is also known for finishing runner-up four times at The Masters and amazingly loving it. Tom was quoted, “I am absolutely delighted to come (in) second. Who cares about winning when you can come in second? I love being runner-up.”  

But Weiskopf will never be runner-up in this category: Which course designed by a former PGA professional plays host to the most fans each year? The answer of course is TPC Scottsdale, which he co-designed with Jay Morish and debuted in 1986. The seven-day Waste Management Phoenix Open, which always culminates on NFL Championship Sunday, was attended by 719,000+ rabid fans in 2018, to set the all-time-record.  

TPC Scottsdale golf
Photos courtesy of TPC Scottsdale

Even the most casual of golf fan can visualize the chaos when I mention the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. This simplistic, 163-yard par-3 is transformed into the PGA Tour’s ultimate party on grass, buoyed by over 200,000 fans on this grandstand-filled amphitheater. And when an ace is made at No.16, like Sam Ryder and Carlos Ortiz did this year, a 10-minute wait ensues as beverages, cups, and fan’s possessions of all shapes and sizes cascade down from the stands onto the putting surface.  

But TPC Scottsdale is so much more than a stunning risk/reward track that always seems to produce a thrilling tournament finish. The 7,261-yard, par-71 layout, which is highlighted by water features on seven holes, offers a bevy of thrilling challenges for players of all levels to enjoy. “My courses do not intimidate,” said Weiskopf. “Instead, they encourage the player to play well and become more open to all aspects of the game.”

Harbor Shores Golf Club at Harbor Shores Resort – Benton Harbor, Michigan

Harbor Shores golf

Golf’s greatest major champion, Jack Nicklaus, also sits atop the Mount Rushmore of professionals turned golf course architects. With over 300 designs to his credit, The Golden Bear has amazingly built courses in 40 states and 45 countries in five-plus decades. 

But one of Nicklaus’ projects, Harbor Shores Resort in Benton Harbor, Michigan, is so much more than just a championship golf course. “With Harbor Shores, we set out really to change a community,” Nicklaus said. “This wasn’t just about designing and creating a golf course. This was a non-profit project that many believed strongly could be a catalyst for change, and it has been. That’s the truly important part of it.”

Harbor Shores golf Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus

Rewind to the 1980s when 6,000 manufacturing jobs were lost over an 18-month period on the site that is now Harbor Shores. For decades those buildings sat empty, leaving roughly three million square feet of industrial materials and contaminated soil – enough to fill a football field 65-feet tall. That is until local business titan, Whirlpool Company, and Mr. Nicklaus joined forces. 

“The course was designed and built on land once scarred by landfills, toxic waste and abandoned factories,” explained Nicklaus. “In fact, when we started, we had a factory sitting where the first tee is. During the process, they removed well over 100,000 tons of trash, solid waste and concrete from the site, including 20,000 tons of contaminated soils. It’s incredible how much toxic waste and abandoned buildings were removed. But in the end, the whole course looks beautiful, has great variety throughout, and we hope is enjoyable to play.”

Harbor Shores golf

The gorgeous Paw Paw River comes into play on five of Harbor Shore’s 500+ acre golf estate. Nicklaus contemplated over 20 routings before choosing one that winds and weaves over marshes, wetlands and even features prodigious views of Lake Michigan when playing holes 7 and 8. A four-and-half hour experience at Harbor Shores is akin to walking through a nature preserve. In line with the nature theme, each hole features a flower inspired sign that commemorates one of Jack Nicklaus’ career highlights.

The design acumen of a legend, the commitment of a community, and the relentless pursuit of hospitality perfection have merged together on Michigan’s Southwest coast to form one the Midwest’s most significant resorts built in the past decade.

Trappers Turn Golf Course – Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

If you watched ESPN’s coverage of the The Masters this year, you are probably familiar with Andy North. But before a successful broadcast career, the Wisconsin-native won two U.S. Opens and began a design career primarily with Roger Packard. One of North’s top tracks resides in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin at Trappers Turn Golf Club.

When Trappers Turn opened to the public in 1991, it was comprised of 18 championship holes divided into two nines, The Lake and The Canyon. The Arbor Nine completed the 27-hole layout 10 years later. The Canyon Nine was filled with design challenges, but the finished product elicits multiple shock and awe reactions per round thanks to the series of stunning rock formations throughout. You know a hole is famous when it has a name, and the jaw-dropping par-3 7th dubbed “The Canyon Hole” is no exception.

“The great thing about the Canyon Nine is there were holes that jumped out at you thanks to how the land was laid,” began North. “And when we got to the now 7th hole and said, man, this would be really cool if we could put a par-3 down in here. When we originally did that hole, we had cleaned off the cliffs and there wasn’t anything growing up so all you saw was rock. It was a spectacular hole from the moment we laid it out, and even today I get a lot of comments on The Canyon Hole,” stated North.

Trying to fit a par-3 into a narrow rock formation is challenging enough, but try designing 27 holes on three distinctive pieces of land while at the same time making them appear connected. As the titles of the nines indicate, Trappers Turn is buoyed by lakes, canyons, pine forests, and nearly every natural wonder that glacial movement left behind. For North and Packard, that inherent challenge made the project even more satisfying.

“That aspect of Trappers Turn was so much fun because you had totally different types of typography on the property and were able to mix and match some ideas. I think at the end of the day all we can ask of a golf course is that it’s really fun for people to play. And that’s the most important thing,” discussed North.

In 2021, North and Craig Haltom of Oliphant Golf Management completed 12North, a 12-hole par-3 course featuring holes between 54 to114 yards with audacious green complexes ripe for aces, near aces, and spectacular memories. At the end of the day, 12North is all about one word according to North. “The biggest thing we tried to do was make it fun,” continued North. “I wanted to create a place where I could take my 11-year-old granddaughter and have a blast for two hours. I guarantee 12North will be the home of many emergency 12-hole rounds and carryover bets that will be settled. Thanks to numerous teeing areas that will present different angles, this short course will test every skill level,” concluded North.

Bandon Trails at Bandon Dunes Resort – Bandon, Oregon

Bandon Trails golf

How successful has Ben Crenshaw been at designing golf courses? If you are in your 30s you might only know the affable Texan for stunners such as Sand Valley, Sand Hills, and We-Ko-Pa  and not that he won Green Jackets in 1984 and 1995. 

Bandon Dunes founder and owner Mike Keiser threw patrons a curveball when he hired Ben Crenshaw and his design partner Bill Coore to create Bandon Trails in 2005, Bandon Dunes’ only pure inland property. Dunes, meadows, and forest land unite to create the best course on the property. 

Bandon Trails golf

Bandon Trails’ flagship hole has to be the unbelievably downhill 325-yard, par-4 14th hole. After inspecting the putting surface that measures nine paces from side to side at the front entrance, Keiser said to Crenshaw, “This hole is too difficult.” Crenshaw’s reply, “Golf’s supposed to be difficult.” “It’s a remarkable hole that holds its head up very well regardless of what year you played it in,” Crenshaw said. “There are great short par-4s like the 10th at Rivera, and I’ll add in the 8th at Pine Valley to that mix, as well as the 10th at Merion. Holes of that nature are timeless. I was thinking of holes like that when I saw the land – it’s a tough little par-4 just over 300 yards.”

How to Help:

Charity golf tournaments are a great way to play a great course and support a wonderful cause. Check out two of the Chicago area’s biggest charity tournaments this summer, the Annual Golf Classic benefitting Ronald McDonald House and the Chicago Select Golf Invitational benefitting the American Cancer Society.

More From Better:

Glen Turk

Glen Turk is a Wisconsin native who has been the Senior Writer/Editor of Midwest Golfing Magazine since 2005. Glen’s ultimate golf goal is to play in all 50 states and currently he is more than two-thirds the way there. Glen and his wife have a rescue German Shepherd dog and are passionate supporters of their local humane society. Glen also enjoys participating in charity golf tournaments such as those benefitting Special Olympics. You can read all of Glen’s previous works at midwestgolfingmagazine.com by clicking on the “Past Issues” tab within the main menu.

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