Punch Shots: Top three Jack Nicklaus Signature courses
Nicklaus Design has 365 courses in 34 countries, including 289 designed by the Golden Bear himself, so it's easy to stumble upon one of them during your golf travels. Our experts weigh in on the top three Nicklaus designs they've played.
Of the 18 Nicklaus Signature I've played, I tend to favor his firm's stuff from the last decade far more than his work from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.
My favorite of the bunch is the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn Golf Club in Bend, which recently became public and stay-and-play accessible. Armed with a beautiful, high desert setting and prime playing conditions, the hole variety (especially on the back nine) makes for a most exciting round thanks to two potentially drivable par 4s and back-to-back par 5s. Sunny and dry Bend is a five-hour drive from Bandon Dunes, and absolutely worth the detour if you have a few extra days.
A close second is Kauai Lagoons Golf Club in Hawaii (pictured above). While it's been in a state of transition for a few years, the new back nine stretch beside the ocean is reopened, re-turfed and better than ever. But as show-stopping as the mile-long stretch of oceanfront at Kauai Lagoons can be, I also love the inland, junglier holes on the front.
Lastly, though unfortunately private and apparently doing well enough to shield off public play, Cordillera Ranch Golf Course, north of San Antonio, is the best course I've seen in the Texas Hill Country yet. Primo conditions to go with some of Nicklaus' most fun green complexes that allow for a lot of ways to attack pins -- plus a show-stopping par 3 over waterfalls -- will please both shot-makers.
Some of my favorite rounds have been on Nicklaus courses. Before Tom Doak came along, Nicklaus was “the guy” getting the best coastal sites to design courses. He didn’t disappoint, either, mixing eye candy with strategy for some world-class golf.
First off, the Punta Espada Golf Course at Cap Cana, found in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, spoils visitors with a Caribbean golf course so visual and interactive with the ocean, it’s almost not fair. Eight holes play directly along – or over – the salt water. Two of the most dramatic tee shots you’ll ever hit come at the par-3 13th hole and the par-4 17th hole. Your spirits will soar as the waves crash around you.
For the second, it’s been more than a decade since I’ve played Great Waters at Reynolds Plantation in Lake Oconee, Ga., but the visions of the nine lakeside holes continue to dance in my head. I visited long before the Ritz-Carlton opened and still came away mesmerized by the resort. A greens and bunker renovation in 2009 has kept Great Waters on any must-play list, even as the club sorts out its highly publicized financial issues.
Thirdly, when I put up a photo of the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol on Facebook, my wall came alive with comments and likes. The scenery of the course's seven ocean holes is profound, even on a computer screen.
Located in scenic Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, the club recently tinkered with its back-to-back par 3s at No. 6 and No. 7 to move them even closer to the shore. Nicklaus calls ocean holes No. 16-18 the “best three finishing holes in all of golf.” I’m not one to disagree with the greatest golfer in the history of the universe.
Hands down, my favorite Jack Nicklaus Course is the one the pros love: Muirfield Village Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio, home of the Memorial. I had the chance to play this private club a few years ago, and it's the closest thing to Augusta National I've ever experienced. That's no surprise as Nicklaus paid homage to the Masters site in many respects with Muirfield Village. And like Augusta, Muirfield keeps getting tweaked pretty much every year.
Runner-up is the Pacifico Course at Punta Mita Club just north of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, which is simply on one of the most beautiful settings in the world, with eight ocean holes. Pacifico actually has 19 holes with a 3A and 3B -- the latter of which is the world's only natural island green -- dubbed "Tail of the Whale." (Most people choose to play both holes for fun.)
My third favorite may be somewhat surprising; the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, just outside of Tucson, Ariz., is fascinating. It's where the PGA Tour plays the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and to me, that's what makes this course so cool. Nicklaus designed it specifically for match play, which is exactly how we should play it.
The best example is the 15th, a short par 4 that the pros often try to drive. With desert left of the green, pulling the big stick has its risks, and even if you hit the green -- if you get on the wrong side of the hole -- avoiding a three-putt is nearly impossible, even for the best players in the world.
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