Which golf course architect is most worth traveling for

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In this edition of Travel Punch Shots, TravelGolf.com senior writers Mike Bailey and Brandon Tucker debate which living golf course architect is most worth traveling for.

By MIKE BAILEY

When I was given this topic, I tried to think of a golf course architect whose courses have never disappointed, that I've never found overrated. Only one living architect's name came to mind: Tom Doak.

Anybody who has played Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Ore., can relate. The thing about Pacific Dunes is that it would have been easy and expected for Doak and his design group, Renaissance Golf, to never live that down. Perennially ranked among the top two or three public golf courses in America, what could he do to top it? And for that matter, was that even possible?

With Cape Kidnappers along the coastal cliffs of northeast New Zealand, Doak sure as hell tried. His dramatic creation not only rivals Pacific Dunes, it solidified Doak as one of this era's most revered minimalist golf course architects.

The defining element of Doak's skill is his knack for knowing when and where to leave the land alone and where to place the elements. In fact, I'm not sure anyone has a better eye for it than Doak. And he also has a real appreciation for classic architecture, as evidenced by his restoration of the wonderful Pasatiempo Golf Club on the northern California coastline.

I've only played a fraction of Doak's golf courses, but every one of them left me wanting more – like the Rawls Course at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, for example. Working with a completely flat piece of land, Doak crafted a rolling, links-like course that might have you thinking you're in Scotland, instead of the Texas Panhandle. With cart paths hidden and tees and greens close together, it's one of the few courses I've ever played where I would choose to walk every time, no matter the conditions.

The Rawls Course might a little under the radar. Most of his other creations are not. Courses such as the Black Forest at Wilderness Valley in Michigan, The Sheep Ranch in Bandon, Ore., and the new CommonGround Golf Course in Denver, are just a few examples of his works that have won critical acclaim. And from what I am told, the exclusive Ballyneal Golf Club in Colorado might even be better than Pacific Dunes. I haven't played it, but if I ever get the invitation, I won't pass it up.

By BRANDON TUCKER

I went back and forth between Tom Fazio and Pete Dye on this one. I ended up going with Fazio.

Dye has made a career of becoming the go-to-guy for difficult, PGA Tour and major championship-worthy golf. But when I'm on a golf trip, I'm not looking to put my vulnerable swing through the wood chipper. I want to stand a chance. After all, I've probably only got the cash to play this destination course once.

That's what makes Tom Fazio designs a golf traveler's best friend. He delivers the best blend of scenery, playability (who doesn't love his often bowled fairways?) and challenge. His earth sculpting is always bold and artistic, from mighty bunkers to swelled greens, fairways hugging canyons or worse. It means you'll take major satisfaction when you actually slay one of his holes.

His sites always tend to be the best in town, too. When golf course developers get hold of a fantastic piece of land, they often entrust Fazio with making that site pop. Very rarely do you hear of a Fazio design that's down on its luck or in bad shape. Developers love Fazio, whether it's for resort or private clubs, because his designs retain their value over time more than most.

His signature holes are always remarkable, and anyone who likes golf course photography will agree Fazio's holes are always a postcard in waiting.

Unlike some player-turned-architect guys like Gary Player, Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, all of whom went through several design styles or lead associates, Fazio's arc is more consistent. Play one of his courses from the 1980s and then one of his from the 2000s, and they don't seem that much different.

Some of my favorite public-access Fazio courses in the golf travel world are Pinehurst No. 4, Fallen Oak in Mississippi, Ventana Canyon's Mountain Course in Tucson and the Treetops Resort Premier Course in northern Michigan.

And of course, there's the track he worked on with his uncle George, Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. Not only is it as pretty an inland course as there is in the world, practically every single hole is a dogleg right. What more proof is needed that the Fazios know resort golfers?!