December 3, 2019 By: Ron Whitten — So, what goes into determining Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s Best New Golf Courses? In 2019, over 1,600 Golf Digest panelists across the U.S. and Canada played and evaluated Best New candidate courses, scoring each in eight evaluation categories: Shot Options, Layout Variety, Challenge, Distinctiveness, Aesthetics, Conditioning, Character and Fun. The average scores of five of the seven categories were totaled, with the average for Shot Options doubled, to determine the final score for each course. Because all were new or totally remodeled courses, and thus still growing in, Conditioning scores were not included. Likewise, because of their immaturity, Character was not considered in the formula to determine the winning courses. We were tempted to include the Fun category scores, but decided its inclusion should wait for another survey in some future year.
Best New Private: No. 1: Ohoopee Match Club
Cobbtown, Ga.; 7,325 yards, par 72;
Gil Hanse, designer
Gil Hanse first looked at this piece of land back in 2005, when it was known as the Beaver Creek Hunting Plantation. When digital media expert Michael Walrath wanted to build his own course, Hanse showed him the land and suggested it was as good as any available. Walrath bought the plantation and Hanse started constructing the course in 2016. It was completed two years later as a match-play layout, thus allowing Hanse and team to design more bold, heroic holes you might not find on stroke-play layouts.
PANELISTS COMMENTS: “Ohoopee offered one of the most unique and refreshing golf experiences I’ve ever had…Course is located in a very remote onion farm area in southeastern Georgia, chosen for its sand-based soil, ideal for creating firm and fast conditioning…An amazing piece of property with four extra holes and two different routings. I especially liked the emphasis on match play and the half-par concept. No specific tees…The winner of the previous hole picks the next tee…Every hole was unique and they all seemed to fit seamlessly together…Terrific piece of property and a great new design by Hanse that flows naturally with the terrain. I played with a tour pro, who found it to be a nice challenge requiring a variety of shot-making, and a double-digit handicapper, who found it playable…The four alternate holes in the Whiskey routing are beautifully paced as well and include two outstanding architectural features: the massive punchbowl green on the A hole and the boomerang green with a fronting grass swale on the D hole…Coolest design feature was probably the elastic 13th on the original routing that can play as a drivable par-4 or as a long par-3. There’s a fronting mini-Biarritz that dictates so much on the hole. It really makes the player think and execute. I should also mention that the par 3s were very well done. Each one felt like a completely different setting and the flexibility in yardages offers lots of variety…Overwhelming Aesthetics. At times, it felt like the South Africa Serengeti. At other times, it was like Yeamans Hall, Pine Valley, Tobacco Road, and the Australian sandbelt”
Best New Public, No. 2: Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort & Country Club (No. 4 Course)
7,227 yards, par 72;
Gil Hanse, designer
The No. 4 Course at Pinehurst dates to the early 1950s, when it was laid out by then-owner Richard Tufts. Several architects have since remodeled it, including Tom Fazio in the 1990s. Five years ago, Pinehurst hired Gil Hanse to remodel No. 4 to serve as a championship companion for famed Pinehurst No. 2 in the 2019 U.S. Amateur. Hanse completed the task in 2018, after first creating a nine-hole pitch-and-putt layout called The Cradle, on land right outside the clubhouse.
PANELISTS COMMENTS: “Gil Hanse did a superb job in redesigning this course…Some of the routing has stayed the same, but the end result is much more natural and pleasing. The course seems to meld itself into the landscape. There are times where you see Course No. 2 next door; the two look like they belong together…Routing changes in the Hanse redesign give the course a nice balance of length and flow…A considerable improvement from the previous Fazio design. Much more compatible with the natural aesthetics of the Pinehurst sandhills…I have had the opportunity to play the old No. 4 and now the Hanse redesign. Hanse had great bones to work with and a large property with sandy soil to improve an already strong course. He delivered and built a really strong compliment to Pinehurst No. 2… What a change! This went from boring pot-bunker wannabe-Augusta to a super-cool mix of sandy wasteland and sandbelt-type stuff…An awesome experience…Loved the redo. Really put some bite into No. 4. Visually, much more stunning. This greatly improved the Aesthetics for me…Much the way No. 2 has the pine-to-fairway scruffy-and-scratched-out look, Hanse replicates this with a twist. There are quite a few more bunkers, specifically around the landing areas. As a theme and design concept, I wasn’t 100% in favor with some of the fairway bunkering. The complex on No. 8 seemed overly contrived in comparison with the rest of the course. The faux ‘Hells Half Acre’ on the reachable par-5 9th hole seemed to fit the theme of the course better…New, wider fairways really highlight and utilize undulations that are not as prominent on the other Pinehurst courses. The cross-bunker on No. 9 really highlights the strategy and decision-making that is now required throughout…Prior to playing it, I was most interested to see how the pond would be incorporated into the new design. Those holes now stick out in my mind as very challenging and aesthetically pleasing…The only weak revision is the new par-3 fourth. While the interesting green complex makes a bunker on the left more forgiving than the dreaded downslope to the right, it still lacks the drama and excitement of the previous design…The elevation changes and the exceptional use of sandy, wooded, and lakefront property into each hole design set apart Pinehurst No. 4…No. 4 is much more undulating than famed No. 2. Wonderful green complexes that, at times, feel like they’re perched on top of mountains…Kudos to Pinehurst for experimenting with complimentary push carts on No. 4.”