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  • ​US East South Central Division Best in State Rankings 2018

​US East South Central Division Best in State Rankings 2018

16 May, 2018

US East South Central Division Best in State Rankings 2018

We published our first Best in State rankings for the United States of America in 2012 so this year’s biennial update is the fourth revision of those inaugural listings. As happened two years ago, we’re splitting the reappraisal process into nine distinct divisions and this particular review, the fourth in our 2018 series, looks at the East South Central States of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

We’ve also added another five courses to Alabama to create a Top 25, while the other three states all feature a Top 20. It seems just a short while ago since we started out with only a Top 10 for these states but our coverage of golf courses in this geographical area has now more than doubled in the last six years.


The Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Shoal Creek – venue for the 73rd US Women’s Open at the start of next month – has been replaced at the top of the Cotton State listings by the West course at The Country Club of Birmingham. The club has been in existence since 1898 but its two 18-hole layouts are mid-1920s Donald Ross designs, with the West course undergoing a couple of significant renovations in the modern era at the hands of Robert Trent Jones Snr (in the 1950s) and Pete Dye (in the 1980s).

Last year, a reviewer posted this comment about his playing experience on the West course: “I had heard many wonderful reports about this old Donald Ross layout at The Country Club of Birmingham but the real experience is better than the already high expectations… it was a true test of golf and an immense privilege to play here. Credit to Donald Ross for a wonderful routing and flow as you constantly change direction across this large property. .. the resulting product that we play today is truly fabulous.”

Racing five places up the state chart from number 12 to 7, the links-style Kiva Dunes Golf Course lies on the long, sandy peninsula of Mobile Point in Baldwin County, where Jerry Pate set out the 18-layout in the mid-1990s. Our Canadian correspondent Dave Finn was there last year and was really impressed with the results of a 4-month renovation involving the replacement of all the greens, the removal of trees from around the perimeter of the property and the elimination of some bunkers. Dave said: “Kiva Dunes Golf resort is the only golf and beach resort in Alabama offering an array of 2-4 bedroom well-appointed condos and 45 top-notch houses that you can rent. This is my kind of place to stay when I’m on a group golf trip.”

The highest newcomer in our newly expanded state listings arrives at number 13 and it’s one of the celebrated 18-hole courses on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the Ridge course at Oxmoor Valley in Birmingham. It’s one of three 18-hole layouts at a 54-hole golf complex now stretching out across reclaimed industrial land that was once used in steel manufacturing. The tree-lined Ridge course is routed over a spectacular new landscape and it’s said to have some of the best par five holes on a stellar golf Trail extending to twenty-six courses across eleven different sites.


Click this link to see full details of our 2018 Alabama Best in State courses


The Bluegrass State of Kentucky also has a new number 1, with another Jack Nicklaus design, the PGA-owned course at Valhalla Golf Club, overtaken at the top of the standings by yet another Donald Ross track at Idle Hour Country Club in Lexington, which was first brought into play in the mid-1920s. It’s the only course Ross ever laid out in Kentucky and it’s been upgraded in recent years by architect Ron Pritchard, who added a little length to the layout, installed new water hazards and reworked the bunkers, bringing a fine old Golden Age course up to new millennium speed.

The highest ranked of two new entries in the updated state standings appears at number 8 and it’s the early 1980s Rees Jones course at Griffin Gate, located to the north of Lexington, which was one of the architect’s first solo designs. Jones returned twenty-five years later with associate Bryce Swanson to carry out a bunker renovation, using a modern bunker liner technique to improve drainage in the sand traps. The bunker upgrade also helped enhance the club’s eco credentials through reducing the overall size of the bunkers by 40%.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Idle Hour Up 2
2 Valhalla Down 1
3 Olde Stone Down 1
4 Big Spring Up 1
5 Keene Trace (Champion Trace) Up 1
6 Hurstbourne (Championship) Up 1
7 Persimmon Ridge Up 1
8 Griffin Gate New entry
9 Triple Crown No change
10 Heritage Hill Up 4
11 Louisville Up 1
12 Lassing Pointe Down 2
13 University of Louisville New entry
14 Wasioto Winds at Pine Mountain Up 4
15 Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park Down 2
16 General Burnside Island Up 4
17 Kearney Hill Down 6
18 Cherry Blossom Down 2
19 Traditions Down 4
20 Eagle Ridge at Yatesville Lake Down 3

Click this link to see full details of our 2018 Kentucky Best in State courses


Yet another long standing state number one takes a tumble from the top spot as Tom Fazio’s Fallen Oak drops one place to the runner-up position, replaced at the summit by a new entry, Gil Hanse’s recent design at Mossy Oak Golf Club in West Point. Our US Consultant Fergal O’Leary visited the course last year and he’d this to say about the new 18-hole layout: “Hanse took a relatively flat piece of land and developed wonderful holes in every direction. He has intertwined fairways, green-sites on elevated pieces of land littered with traps, treacherously enticing driveable par fours and hugely strategic doglegs. He really brought this parcel of land to life.”

The second newcomer to the revised Magnolia State listings enters the chart at number 13 and it’s the renovated Dogwood and Azalea nines at the Country Club of Jackson, which architect John Faught upgraded in 2008. Six years after the course refurbishments were carried out, the PGA Tour rolled into town for the Sanderson Farms Championship and this alternate event on the professional circuit has since been played late in the calendar year, opposite the reduced-field WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Mossy Oak New entry
2 Fallen Oak Down 1
3 Annandale Down 1
4 Laurel CC No change
5 Old Waverly Down 2
6 Grand Bear No change
7 Dancing Rabbit (Azaleas) Down 2
8 The Preserve GC No change
9 Dancing Rabbit (Oaks) No change
10 Reunion Down 3
11 Shell Landing Down 1
12 Beau Pré No change
13 CC of Jackson (Dogwood & Azalea) New entry
14 Dogwoods Down 3
15 Bridges at Hollywood Casino No change
16 The Oaks Golf Club Up 1
17 Windance Down 1
18 Canebrake Down 4
19 Hattiesburg Down 6
20 Timberton Down 2

Click this link to see full details of our 2018 Mississippi Best in State courses


The Honors Course in Chattanooga retains its status as the number 1 course in the Volunteer State. Jack Lupton, the club’s founder, established the club as a test for elite amateur players and a number of top events – including the 1991 US Amateur, the 1994 Curtis Cup and 2016 US Junior Amateur – have been held here since the course was first unveiled in 1983. The course isn’t without a few quirky features, but many consider it be one of Pete Dye’s best works, mainly because it’s one of the architect’s more traditional-looking layouts.

The highest new entry in our 2016 listings for Tennessee was Sweetens Cove at number 11 and it’s propelled another eight places up to the number 3 slot in this edition of the Tennessee Top 20. Rob Collins and Tad King rebuilt the 9-hole layout on the site of the old Sequatchie Valley course and it’s since garnered plaudits from quite a number of commentators who think it’s a great example of how to develop a modern day golf facility on a sensible budget.

Paul Rudovsky, one of our well-travelled correspondents, was full of praise for the course following a visit last year: “Prior to this afternoon, I had played 1001 golf courses, including every one of the 318 still existing courses that has ever been listed on a World Top 100. This afternoon, I had so much FUN… the only courses I can think of that are comparable in terms of fun include Askernish, Royal Worlington & Newmarket, Royal Dornoch, The Old Course, Brora, Sand Hills and a few others… Simply brilliant and brilliantly simple.”

The highest of three new entries in our state chart is the Greg Norman-designed 18-hole layout at The Grove, situated a half an hour’s drive south of downtown Nashville in Williamson County. It’s the golfing centrepiece of a private residential development which is spread out over 1,100 acres and it has hosted a number of prestigious golf tournaments, such as the Web.com Future Stars Shootout and qualifying for the USGA Senior Amateur. The club also organizes fundraising and charity events, including competitions for collegiate golfers in pursuit of a professional career.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Honors Course No change
2 Holston Hills No change
3 Sweetens Cove Up 8
4 Golf Club of Tennessee No change
5 Spring Creek Ranch Down 2
6 Memphis Down 1
7 Chattanooga No change
8 Black Creek Up 2
9 TPC Southwind No change
10 Tennessee National Up 3
11 Mirimichi (Championship) Down 5
12 The Course at Sewanee Up 6
13 Cherokee Up 3
14 The Grove New entry
15 Hermitage (President's Reserve) Down 7
16 Council Fire New entry
17 Belle Meade Down 5
18 Bear Trace at Harrison Bay New entry
19 Gaylord Springs Down 4
20 Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain Down 1

Click this link to see full details of our 2018 Tennessee Best in State courses

We love to receive feedback when we update our US Best in State charts so by all means let us know what you think of these four listings. Is there a course that should have made the cut or maybe there’s another that really has no place on the chart? Whatever you’re thinking, please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top or at the bottom of this page to share your opinion.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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