Golf Digest shakes up its 2015-16 list of America's top 100 courses

Augusta National, No. 12
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The beauty and treachery of its 12th hole helps make Augusta National a consistent presence at the top of Golf Digest's list of America's best courses.
By John Holmes
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Tuesday, January 06, 2015 | 4:36 p.m.
As long as most of us have played golf, Golf Digest's course rankings have served as something of a bucket list. When the new rankings come out every two years, we peruse the collection of top 100 courses – wistfully wishing we could somehow get on some of those elite layouts and also feeling a bit of satisfaction after finally putting a tee in the hallowed ground of some of the courses to make the list.
 
Digest is celebrating what it's calling the "Golden Anniversary" of its biennial course rankings (the nation's oldest course ranking system, it debuted in 1966) this week by revealing its newest edition of what is now called "America's Greatest 100 Courses." There are a number of changes to the 2015-2016 ranking, which no doubt will prompt much debate in clubhouses and grillrooms nationwide over the next few months.
 
The biggest change is right at the top, where Augusta National reclaimed the No. 1 spot from longtime top choice Pine Valley, which now slots in as No. 2. Another change in the top 10 sees the East Course at Merion move up from sixth to fifth, switching places with Oakmont.
 
There are many more moves up and down, and off and on, the top 100 – and even more throughout the second 100. The rankings have seen continual change over the years, Golf Digest Architecture Editor Ron Whitten writes in an expansive introduction to the list. That, he explains, is in part because 51 of the current top 100 courses weren't even around when the inaugural list was issued.
 
In fact, Whitten reveals, only 24 courses have appeared on every one of the lists – and, he notes, several well-known courses haven't always been ranked. Among them are Shinnecock Hills, which is now all the way up to No. 4; National Golf Links of America, now No. 8; and Chicago Golf Club, now No. 14.
 
 
Here's another tidbit I found quite interesting – seven courses joined the top 100 this year, but only two of those were built in the past 30 years: Wisconsin's No. 42 Erin Hills, which opened in 2006, and Florida's No. 100 Streamsong Red, which opened in 2012. What took the other five so long to be recognized? 
 
Whitten doesn't explore these specific courses in his intro, but likely it's a combination of maturity and improvements; slippage among some of the courses that fell down, or off, the list; changes to the ratings tastes and criteria; and changes to the roster of raters – he notes that there were 125 raters when the list began, and 10 times that many now.
 
Another interesting fact: Course architect Seth Raynor had three courses join the new top 100 list – and he's been dead for 89 years. How'd that happen? All three – No. 53 Camargo Club, No. 64 Yeamans Hall and No. 99 Shoreacres – have been recently renovated by Tom Doak. As Whitten says, they're all classic designs that have been fully retrofitted for the modern game.
 
The new top 100 list appears in the February issue, but you can see it online right here. Take a look, and let us know what you think.