Golf Digest has just published its annual list of "America's 100 Greatest" golf courses a week after we received this year's Zagat's survey of "America's Top Golf Courses." There are two fundamental differences between the ratings: Golf Digest includes private, as well as public, courses; and the magazine rates the courses based on the opinions of a panel of 800 low handicappers, whereas Zagat relies on anyone willing to submit courses, ratings and a few words of support for their assessments. A comparison indicates that, for the most part, Joe Golfer knows his golf courses.
The two courses that receive perfect ratings of 30 in the Zagat survey, Pacific Dunes in Coos Bay, OR, and Whistling Straits in Kohler, WI, rank # 2 and #4 respectively on the Golf Digest list. Pebble Beach (#1 in the magazine) ranks a near perfect 29 in Zagat. The two lists concur on a number of other top courses, with the Zagat list of 29s being matched by the magazine's top courses, including Bethpage Black (#5), Steve Wynn's for-high-rollers-only Shadow Creek in Las Vegas (#6), Bandon Dunes, OR (#7), the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, SC (#8), and Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, MI (#10).
A few surprises: Pinehurst #2, ranked third in Golf Digest, rates "only" a 28 on the Zagat list; and The Prince Course in Princeville, Kauai, Hawaii, rates a top 10 at #9 in the magazine and just a 27 in Zagat's. Those who rated it for Zagat called The Prince a "treacherous test" and advised bringing "aspirin," "a lot of golf balls," "your sense of humor," and money for the $175 greens fees.
There are just a handful of community golf courses on the Golf Digest list, including Cuscowilla, in Eatontown, GA, which we have reviewed here, rated 58th on the Digest public course list. On the overall list of the best 100, including public and private courses, Wade Hampton, in Cashiers, NC, at #15, is the highest-rated course within a neighborhood. The house-free Pine Valley in New Jersey is #1 once again.