World Top 100 or Bust!
On November 30th 2018 I completed an incredible journey and bucket list goal of playing the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World according to our rankings here at Top100GolfCourses.com.
A few others have accomplished this unique feat. In fact, around 43 people have gone before me over the years, completing various types of World Top 100 lists as published by a number of leading golf magazines.
Non-golfers often ask, why would you want to do that anyway? Actually, that’s a really good question. Among those that have played the World hundred, reasons are varied. Some are simply list chasers, and while there may be an element of that involved, my reasoning was twofold.
Firstly, to follow my passion for Golf Course Architecture and see as many courses as I could that are considered great, to study them and try to understand why people actually liked them so much.
Secondly, it was from the perspective of directing vacation travel with a given purpose, and in doing so I’d get to see parts of the world that I would otherwise most likely not visit.
What people have to realize is that an endeavor like this will take you all over the world. It will absorb an extensive amount of time and require serious commitment to follow it through.
I’ve been asked a few questions over and over again and I thought it might be of interest to share the questions and also the answers. I’m of course more than happy to respond to any specific questions you may have as well.
Simply click the “Respond to this article” link at either the top or the bottom of this story if there’s anything you’d like to ask.
How hard was it to achieve?
On an honest scale of 1 to 10, I’d say 11. There are several reasons for this. It all starts with being a complete golf nut of course. Just saying you love the sport is one thing, however, completing the list takes a superhuman commitment to something that most likely, if at all possible, will take many years to complete. If you have the will to do it, you then have to start building up the network and meeting the people to get it done. In terms of accessing courses, for example, about half of our World Top 20 courses are what I’d call accessible, public or semi public. However, these basically require serious traveling and significant financial commitment just to visit.
How long did it take?
From my first ever Top 100 course visit in 2006 it took 12 years. To be fair I wasn’t thinking about trying to accomplish this feat during about the first six or so years. I was well over half way through the list before I decided to seriously consider it.
How did you manage to get invited to play those very private courses?
Each case is different and accessing the very private courses is a challenge for almost everyone. The best way is to develop an extensive golf network.
I received more help than I can even begin to explain, but also had a unique situation to work from which helped tremendously. I’m from the US and have been living overseas in The Netherlands for about 25 years now. The Netherlands is extremely golf rich for a small country and until recently these riches were mostly hidden.
Residing in an interesting and off the beaten track place and wanting to share the great golf here with people interested in unique experiences helped me more than any other single factor.
I became the “go to” guy for American golf enthusiasts wanting to visit my country and experience these unique clubs. I simply started helping as many people as I could and taking the time to guide them around, arrange their trips in many cases and share these wonderful Dutch courses with them.
The golf community is definitely one of the most helpful that exists. I have so many friends that have opened up their homes to me, sometimes to welcoming a complete stranger to stay with them.
Often these occasions started with crazy reactions from their wives, such as; “let me get this straight, you have never met this guy, only you share a passion for golf course architecture, this is your ‘first date’ and you are inviting him to stay in your home and meet your family?”
Yes, that just about sums it up. I’ve gone through the same discussion with my wife more than fifty times at least and every single time she thought I was crazy. However, on each and every occasion I ended up hosting a wonderful person and she was left flabbergasted as to how we all found each other.
What advice would you give to those that are trying to play the World Top 100?
Network, network, network and give back as much as you possibly can. If you can put yourself in a position to be able to reciprocate in a meaningful way then this will help you more than anything else.
Pace yourself. For 95% of the people who have accomplished this feat it’s been a lifelong journey and a marathon, not a sprint.
For places you’d like to visit where you don’t know anyone, consider looking for charity auctions or even contacting the lead person responsible for club charity events and mention you’d like to make a donation to play the course but you were unable, or too late, to join the charity tournament.
Additionally you could apply to join one of the many clubs such as Outpost Club, Centurion Club, Eden Club, or any one of many others that arrange games for their members at private clubs in their network.
One other important point is that you have to be really flexible in your commitment. If a one off, last-minute opportunity presents itself you need to be able to drop everything and jump at the chance.
I would place several courses in this category, not just Cypress Point, Augusta, Pine Valley etc. Courses like Chicago Golf Club, Seminole and San Francisco Golf Club, just to name a few, along with most of the top courses out on Long Island are all rather elusive, so any chance to play needs to be taken.
Did does your personal World Top 100 differ from the one currently published at Top100GolfCourses.com?
My personal Top 100 has about 12-15 courses in it that are not in our current World Top 100 and slightly more courses that are not listed in other World Top 100 rankings published by the magazines. Keep in mind I’ve played many hundreds of wonderful candidate courses in my life.
What’s your perspective on the various magazine World Top 100 rankings?
While it’s tough to offer too much criticism to each of the various rankings, there are only a couple that I take remotely seriously.
The Top100GolfCourses.com list is the closest to my own and doesn’t have any commercial bias to it and it’s also not US centric. Most other lists published in the US are by default US centric, which makes sense as that’s where they’re based and where most of their panelists live and play. It’s also where 99.9% of their subscribers live and where they do their business.
That being said, the world Top 50 is usually pretty much the same across the various lists. The second half of the hundred, however, is often quite different and I’ve heard it said many times there could be 150 - 200 World Top 100 courses.
Looking at the great variation in the courses ranked 50-100 in the various lists makes it pretty clear to me how subjective they are. Additionally, given that hardly anyone has played them all (likely not one person since the last biennial list was published), nobody is really in a position to make a thorough judgement, even a subjective one.
Can you share one of your most memorable experiences?
There are so many wonderful experiences and so many great people you meet along the way. However, to highlight one of the most outrageous experiences, I need only go back to my visit to Shanqin Bay.
Showing up there alone at a club with about 200 staff members, all seemingly very excited for my visit, was truly surreal. They hadn’t had a visitor in weeks prior to my attendance and they were all out in full force to welcome me upon arrival.
The result was a standing ovation at the driving range and then another round of applause when I got back to the clubhouse. They even wrote “WELCOME DAVID” by lining up golf balls at the driving range.
Golf there was played with six people, multiple caddies in some form and the General Manager, wearing a three-piece suit, walked every round with me while I played.
Did you ever travel somewhere and end up missing a round or having a rainout?
While not an interesting story, I only ever missed one round, which was at Oakland Hills Country Club. I made a special trip to Detroit and while in the hotel the night before at 11:30 pm received a call that the member had neglected to look at the club schedule and there was a major charity event taking place and no way could we play.
Given Detroit is an 8-hour flight from Amsterdam that was rather disappointing. Luckily I was on my way to visit family in Oregon.
However, the most exciting near miss took place during the summer of 2017. I was staying at my parent’s house and leaving on a 5:20 am flight the next morning to play Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I had set my alarm for 2:00 am given the 1-hour drive to the airport in Portland, Oregon. Imagine my shock when I woke up at 4:03 am. It took me about 1 minute to realize what had happened and to decide whether or not to even bother trying to make the flight.
Logistically it was impossible. I didn’t waste a second and was out of the house on the road at 4:10 am. What then ensued was an ultra high-speed drive – luckily it was early morning.
I turned an hour into 40 minutes, which included dropping off the rental car. As I ran across the skybridge into the terminal to catch my United flight, it was inevitable that there would be a major line of people waiting for general check-in.
This is where years of travel and thinking on your feet came into play. I quickly surveyed all visible United employees and my eye caught a very sympathetic looking older lady behind the counter.
I made a beeline for her and asked the lady if there was anyway she could help me. I explained I was late and had to make this flight that was about to stop boarding. In what must have been intervention from a higher power she said she would try and proceeded to call the gate.
They were just closing but I said I could run for it. She then called express baggage and in a minute there was a man taking my bags to the plane while I ran with my boarding card to security… only to find another huge line!
I went first to TSA Pre (which I didn’t have at the time) and they weren’t buying it. So back to the huge line and I somehow managed to talk my way past about 250 people in less than a couple minutes.
I was amazed by how friendly everyone was at this early hour. The security agent was laughing by the time I arrived and said he had watched how quickly I’d made my way through the line in the politest of fashion.
He was truly impressed, saying, “let’s get you on this flight partner!” and before I knew it I was running through the terminal to the gate. About 100 feet from the gate a lady was yelling my name: ”Are you David?” she said, “Let’s go, honey ,we're waiting on you!”
When I sat down in my aisle seat it was 5:20 am. I couldn’t believe I had actually made it, I looked out the window and watched my suitcase arrive and be put on the plane, no golf bag in sight however. Then I saw the baggage attendant answer his radiophone and then the same man return in the buggy with my golf bag. I was off, and somehow with all my bags.
I had a great time at Southern Hills and, in retrospect, I’m extremely happy that I didn’t have to find a way to make the trip back to Oklahoma from Amsterdam at a later date as it’s not the easiest destination to get to.
In the end, what’s left is a lifetime of amazing experiences, great friends and wonderful stories to tell. Is it worth the money and time involved? Absolutely. I’d do it all over again if I had the chance.
Top 100 Golf Courses
All photos by David. Follow David on Instagram: @top100golftraveler