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US East North Central Division Best in State Rankings 2020

08 November, 2020

US East North Central Division Best in State Rankings 2020

This is the sixth of nine Best in State revisions that we’re currently conducting for the United States so we’re now two thirds of the way through our biennial re-ranking process, having re-appraised thirty-three of the fifty states. In this reworking of the East North Central Division, we take a closer look at the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Part of the Great Lakes region, these five states cover an area of approximately 300,000 square miles, with a population of around 47 million people. Much of the best golf is concentrated around the cities of Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis and Milwaukee but travel away from these major centres and you’ll come across the likes of Crystal Downs and Sand Valley which are among the finest golfing grounds in the entire country.

A total of nineteen courses in this review are listed at the moment in our US Top 100, with eight of these layouts also occupying a position within our World Top 100 chart so this is clearly a geographic area with an exceptional number of great golf courses. In recognition of this, we’ve increased the coverage in these five states by more than 25% so there are now a total of 295 courses listed below.

Without further ado then, let’s take a look at how the new numbers stack up, starting in the Prairie State of Illinois, where we’ve added another ten courses to produce a Top 70 chart.


The course at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, recognized as the first 18-hole layout in America, is still No. 1 in our Illinois listings. Originally designed by C.B. Macdonald then enhanced soon after by Seth Raynor in the 1920s, this layout is a timeless classic that played an important part in the evolution of championship golf in America, hosting early editions of the US Amateur, the US Open and the Ryder Cup.

Chicago Golf Club

Our correspondent Marc Bender recently commented as follows: “No matter how you analyze your round at Chicago Golf Club, you’d be hard pressed to find a single negative take away from your experience and the course. You’ve undoubtedly just played one of the best courses in the world that has everything to offer and checks every single box for a pure gem; regardless of what boxes you may have on your list of criteria for a great course.”

At #21, soaring seventeen places up the chart, the course at Glen View Club is another early tournament venue, hosting the very first Western Open in 1899 before staging both the US Amateur and US Open inside the following five years. Those championships took place on the course that Herbert Tweedie set out for the members, but William Flynn then revised and extended that layout in 1922 to fashion the fairways that are still in play today.

Glen View Club

The course at Ruth Lake Country Club in Hinsdale is the highest of our new entries, arriving ahead of the others at #35. Founded almost a century ago in 1923, the club engaged William Langford to carve eighteen holes through 160 acres of woodland adjacent to Ruth Lake and its sparkling waters emerge on the back nine. Several architects have modified the layout down the years, with Arthur Hills numbered among them. One of his former design partners, J. Drew Rodgers, completed a bunker renovation program last year, in addition to redesigning the home green of the par three closing hole.

Ruth Lake Country Club


Click the link to see full details of our latest Illinois Best in State rankings


The top three positions in our Indiana standings are unaltered, so the course at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh retains the No. 1 spot. Designed by Tom Fazio for founder Terry Friedman on the site of an old coal mine, this 18-hole layout first opened for play in the late 1990s, hosting the US Senior Amateur championship in 2006.

Victoria National Golf Club

Three 5-ball rated reviews in the last twelve months have provided comments such as: “what I admire the most about the course is the uniqueness of each hole. I never got the sense I was playing the same hole… Victoria National is clearly a course one can never forget and clearly belongs in the upper echelons of layouts that Tom Fazio has created… this is a super track, if you can get on you gotta go.”

A couple of collegiate courses make a big impact on our revised Indianan rankings, which might surprise a few people who’re unaware of the quality to be found in educational establishments around the country.

The highest newcomer at #6 in the updated chart is the Pfau Course at Indiana University in Bloomington, where architect Steve Smyers collaborated with Fuzzy Zoeller, a Hoosier State native and two-time Major winner, to manufacture a new course on a 265-acre tract that previously housed the 18-hole Championship course, a par three layout and a cross country circuit. The $12 million project, which took 2½ years to complete, has resulted in a new course which is far better suited to modern requirements and is capable of hosting top-flight competitions. And, what’s even better, it’s available for public play at reasonable rates.

Pfau Course at Indiana University

Rising five places to #11, the Pete Dye-designed Kampen course at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex in West Lafayette regains all the ground it lost last time around when it fell five spots during our 2018 re-ranking exercise. Described by a reviewer last year as “a fantastic challenge with plenty of width for the high handicapper, yet an extremely difficult test for tournaments” the Kampen course, along with the recently refurbished Ackerman-Allen course, can definitely lay claim to the title “best 36-hole university golf complex” in the whole country. As does Indiana University, the Birck Boilermaker facility also welcomes pay-and-play golfers.

Birck Boilermaker Kampen course

Rank/ Course Move
1 Victoria National No change
2 Crooked Stick No change
3 French Lick (Donald Ross) No change
4 French Lick (Pete Dye) Up 1
5 Culver Academies Up 2
6 Pfau Course at Indiana University New entry
7 Warren Down 3
8 The Fort Down 2
9 Broadmoor Up 2
10 Country Club of Indianapolis Up 3
11 Birck Boilermaker (Kampen) Up 5
12 Harrison Hills Down 2
13 Brickyard Crossing Down 5
14 Prairie View Down 5
15 The Trophy Club Down 3
16 Sycamore Hills Down 1
17 Elcona Up 1
18 Rock Hollow Up 1
19 Sultan's Run Up 3
20 South Bend Down 6
21 Sagamore Down 4
22 Woodland Down 2
23 Bridgewater (Championship) Up 2
24 Otter Creek (North & West) No change
25 Blackthorn Up 1
26 Chariot Run Down 3
27 Sand Creek (Creek & Lake) No change
28 Covered Bridge New entry
29 Battle Ground New entry
30 Purgatory Down 9
31 Chatham Hills Down 2
32 Birck Boilermaker (Ackerman-Allen). New entry
33 Bear Slide New entry
34 Belterra Down 6
35 Meridian Hills New entry
36 Swan Lake (Black) Down 6
37 Harbor Links at Sagamore New entry
38 The Links at Heartland Crossing New entry
39 The Hawthorns New entry
40 Tippecanoe New entry

Click the link to see full details of our latest Indiana Best in State rankings


The top four rungs of the Michigan ladder have been occupied by the same four courses since 2016, so the celebrated Alister MacKenzie/Perry Maxwell layout at Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort maintains its No.1 status in the Wolverine State. Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design firm has made numerous little improvements in recent years, ensuring this Golden Age layout stays as relevant now in the modern era as it was nearly a hundred years ago.

Crystal Downs Country Club

Regular contributor Peter Wood posted these comments a couple of months back: “Crystal Downs CC is a classic MacKenzie course in a beautiful remote setting. The club will rarely host tournaments or be televised. It will likely remain relatively unknown by the masses – but the true believers will know all about it and seek it out. They won’t be disappointed!”

The most significant upward move in the new chart is made by the course at Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, rising seven places to #5. Andy Staples carried out a renovation of this layout to mark the club’s centenary just a couple of years ago, preserving the original Willie Park Junior holes that were first laid out back in 1916 and removing hundreds of trees to improve vistas and assist with on-site agronomy. The results of this work are spectacular, paving the way for a well-deserved leg up in the state listings.

Meadowbrook Country Club

We included the Black circuit of The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club when we re-ranked Michigan two years ago. Now it’s time to introduce the reversible Red course of The Loop as our highest new entry at #15 in an expanded Top 70 state chart. Our US correspondent Fergal O’Leary was here last year and he endorsed our stance of treating the Black and Red as distinct courses by stating: “we have two totally separate, unique courses and they should be treated and rated separately.” He also ended his review by writing: “there’s no doubt visitors will come back here multiple times as the golf and hospitality is as good as you can ever ask for. With time and maturity, the golf course will be a superstar.”

Forest Dunes The Loop Red

Rank/ Course Move
1 Crystal Downs No change
2 Oakland Hills (South) No change
3 Kingsley Club No change
4 Dunes Club No change
5 Meadowbrook Up 7
6 Forest Dunes (The Loop - Black) No change
7 Forest Dunes (Weiskopf) Up 1
8 Franklin Hills Down 3
9 Indianwood (Old) Down 2
10 Marquette (Greywalls) Down 1
11 Point O'Woods Up 3
12 Arcadia Bluffs (Bluffs) Up 1
13 Lost Dunes Down 3
14 Orchard Lake Down 3
15 Forest Dunes (The Loop - Red) New entry
16 Barton Hills No change
17 True North Down 2
18 Arcadia Bluffs (South) New entry
19 Country Club of Detroit Down 2
20 Gull Lake View (Stoatin Brae) Down 2
21 Battle Creek No change
22 Oakland Hills (North) Up 2
23 Belvedere Down 3
24 University of Michigan Down 5
25 Bloomfield Hills Down 3
26 Birmingham CC Down 3
27 Wuskowhan Players Down 1
28 Forest Lake New entry
29 Muskegon Down 4
30 Boyne Highlands (Heather) Up 5
31 Eagle Eye Down 4
32 Pilgrim's Run Down 4
33 Treetops (Premier) Up 5
34 Radrick Farms Down 5
35 LochenHeath Up 4
36 Bay Harbor (Links & Quarry) Up 5
37 Grosse Ile Down 7
38 Tullymore Down 6
39 Warwick Hills Down 8
40 Detroit (South) Down 6
41 Detroit (North) Down 4
42 Indianwood (New) Down 2
43 Wawashkamo Up 7
44 Red Run Down 1
45 Dunmaglas New entry
46 Plum Hollow Down 1
47 Flint GC No change
48 Oakland University (R & S Sharf) New entry
49 Black Lake Down 16
50 Treetops (Masterpiece) Down 8
51 Boyne Highlands (Arthur Hills) Up 8
52 The Mines Down 1
53 Western G&CC Down 1
54 Shanty Creek (The Legend) Up 2
55 Treetops (Signature) Down 19
56 Boyne Highlands (Donald Ross Memorial). Down 8
57 TimberStone at Pine Mountain Down 13
58 Sweetgrass Down 3
59 Shanty Creek (Cedar River) Down 10
60 Diamond Springs New entry
61 Lakewood Shores (Gailes) Down 15
62 Country Club of Lansing Down 5
63 Lochmoor New entry
64 Boyne Mountain (Alpine) New entry
65 Grand Traverse (The Bear) Down 11
66 Sage Run New entry
67 Angels Crossing Down 14
68 The Orchards New entry
69 Shepherd's Hollow (10-27) Down 11
70 Coyote Preserve Down 10

Click the link to see full details of our latest Michigan Best in State rankings


There’s very little movement at the top of our state listings for Ohio. In fact, for the top eight positions, there’s absolutely no chart activity whatsoever. These eight courses stay exactly where they ended up when re-ranked two years ago, meaning Seth Raynor’s mid-1920s design at The Camargo Club in Cincinnati holds onto its No. 1 billing.

The Camargo Club

Only the other day, another of our frequent contributors, Colin Braithwaite, posted the following: “Camargo is a throwback and a real treat to play. A Raynor design that he never got to see the final product as he passed away before completion. Huge greens and fairways, with no water hazards, not long by today’s standards, but keep in mind it is a par 70… This is a fantastic course. Hard to beat the par 3s.”

We’ve added another 25 courses to what used to be a Top 50 for the Buckeye State and the highest of these new entries is the Kendale course at Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati, making an impressive first appearance at #28. Dating back to the early 1930s when Bill Diddel designed two 18-hole layouts on 500 acres for the club, the Kendale course has just undergone a substantial renovation by Jason Straka, with irrigation lines replaced, bunkers refurbished, fairways widened, trees removed and greens reconstructed.

Kenwood Country Club - Kendale course

Another course to benefit from an extensive renovation involving the removal of many trees and the replacement of all the bunkers is the Championship layout at Columbus Country Club, climbing nine places to #37. The original 9-hole course at the club was created by Tom Bendelow, with Donald Ross adding another nine in 1914. A number of leading architects then carried out modifications down the years and the latest in that long line to make his mark is Kentucky-based Kevin Hargrave, who’s a long-time close associate of Keith Foster.

Columbus Country Club Championship course

Rank/ Course Move
1 Camargo No change
2 Muirfield Village No change
3 The Golf Club No change
4 Scioto No change
5 Inverness Club No change
6 Moraine No change
7 The Country Club No change
8 Kirtland No change
9 Pepper Pike Club Up 4
10 Canterbury Down 1
11 Brookside CC Down 1
12 Double Eagle No change
13 NCR (South) Down 2
14 Springfield CC Up 3
15 Firestone (South) Up 1
16 Fowler's Mill (Lake & River) Down 2
17 Hyde Park Up 5
18 Firestone (North) No change
19 Mayfield Sand Ridge (Mayfield) Up 2
20 Ohio State University (Scarlet) No change
21 Elyria Down 2
22 Coldstream Up 3
23 Mayfield Sand Ridge (Sand Ridge) Up 1
24 The Virtues Down 9
25 TPC River's Bend Up 3
26 Manakiki Up 1
27 Westwood CC Down 4
28 Kenwood (Kendale) New entry
29 Sleepy Hollow Down 3
30 Westbrook Up 5
31 Portage Down 2
32 Sylvania Down 1
33 Youngstown New entry
34 Stonelick Hills Up 2
35 Kenwood (Kenview) New entry
36 Maketewah Up 2
37 Columbus (Championship) Up 9
38 Chagrin Valley Up 2
39 Shaker Heights Down 7
40 Brookside G & CC Down 7
41 Avalon Lakes New entry
42 EagleSticks Down 8
43 Wedgewood Down 1
44 Barrington New entry
45 Pinnacle Down 1
46 NCR (North) Up 2
47 New Albany (West & North) New entry
48 Cooks Creek Up 1
49 Country Club of the North New entry
50 Lakewood CC New entry
51 Apple Valley New entry
52 Piqua New entry
53 Little Mountain Down 23
54 Ivy Hills New entry
55 Quarry GC Down 18
56 The Sharon New entry
57 Congress Lake Down 18
58 Tartan Fields New entry
59 Denison at Granville Down 16
60 Firestone (West) New entry
61 Mohawk Down 16
62 Shaker Run (Woodlands & Lakeside). Down 21
63 Boulder Creek Down 16
64 Sugar Bush Down 14
65 Yankee Trace (Heritage & Legend) New entry
66 Kennsington New entry
67 Country Club at Muirfield Village New entry
68 Coppertop New entry
69 Miami Valley New entry
70 Clovernook New entry
71 Black Diamond New entry
72 Stone Ridge New entry
73 Ohio State University (Gray) New entry
74 Zanesville New entry
75 Catawba Island Club New entry

Click the link to see full details of our latest Ohio Best in State rankings


The Straits course at Whistling Straits in Kohler is Wisconsin’s No.1, a position it’s held since we started our Best in State standings. Set out on the western edge of Lake Michigan by Pete Dye in the late 1990s, this track has already hosted three PGA Championships and a US Senior Open. It was also due to stage the latest edition of the Ryder Cup matches a couple of months ago before the current COVID-19 pandemic caused a postponement until next year.

Whistling Straits - Straits course

Peter Wood sent us another review for this course the week the Ryder Cup was meant to be played here: “Pete Dye took a pancake flat piece of land and imported enough sand and soil to fill an ocean. His aim was to create a championship links course reminiscent of the famous courses on the west coast of Ireland. The finished product is a topsy turvy journey through an endless dunescape littered with bunkers, from deep pot bunkers to wider waste bunkers, some are groomed, some are left to the vagaries of the ever-present wind.”

Advancing four spots to #16, the Brute course at the Grand Geneva Resort on Lake Geneva is our biggest climber, returning to where it was positioned after our 2016 chart reappraisals. The other 18-hole layout at the resort – originally called The Briar Patch and now known as The Highlands – is a Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus co-design that has been much-altered over the last fifty years but the Brute remains largely as it was first laid out by Robert Bruce Harris back in 1968, featuring elevation changes on nearly every hole.

Grand Geneva Resort - Brute course

The highest of our ten new entries for Wisconsin is The Club at Lac La Belle at #28. Founded in 1896, the club’s first three professionals – Alex Smith, Robert Simpson and Willie Anderson – won a combined total of eight US Open and Western Open titles between 1901 and 1911, so the club is steeped in the early history of the game in the United States. Thirty acres were recently acquired, allowing Craig Haltom to design four new holes and revamp the rest of the course, constructing new greens and clearing thousands of trees during a significant course upgrade.

The Club at Lac La Belle

We’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of the tentatively titled “Sedge Valley,” Tom Doak’s sub-par 70, 6,000-yard 18-hole course at the Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa. Both Gil Hanse and Mike DeVries submitted proposals for a new course but it was the Doak design that found approval with owner Mike Keiser, with fairways to be routed close to the existing Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes layouts. Some are hoping this new course will drive another nail into the coffin of the “distance+difficulty=good” golfing era. Let’s hope so.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Whistling Straits (Straits) No change
2 Milwaukee No change
3 Sand Valley No change
4 Lawsonia (Links) Up 3
5 Erin Hills No change
6 Mammoth Dunes Down 2
7 Blue Mound Up 1
8 Blackwolf Run (River) Down 2
9 Whistling Straits (Irish) Up 1
10 SentryWorld Down 1
11 Troy Burne No change
12 Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys) No change
13 Pine Hills CC No change
14 University Ridge No change
15 West Bend Up 2
16 Grand Geneva (Brute) Up 4
17 Bull at Pinehurst Farms Down 2
18 Green Bay Up 3
19 Oneida G&CC Down 1
20 Wild Rock at the Wilderness Down 1
21 Strawberry Creek Down 5
22 Minocqua Up 1
23 North Hills Up 1
24 Horseshoe Bay Down 2
25 Ozaukee No change
26 Geneva National (Arnold Palmer). Up 3
27 The Bog No change
28 Lac La Belle New entry
29 Lawsonia (Woodlands) New entry
30 Westmoor New entry
31 La Crosse New entry
32 Hawks View (Como Crossings) New entry
33 Geneva National (Gary Player) Down 7
34 Kenosha Down 6
35 Big Fish New entry
36 Tuckaway New entry
37 Bishops Bay New entry
38 Trappers Turn (Lake & Canyon) Down 8
39 Eagle Springs New entry
40 House on the Rock (Springs) New entry

Click the link to see full details of our latest Wisconsin Best in State rankings

Next up: the South Atlantic Division states of Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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