Back in the 1960s, an Ohio kid checked in on the construction of what would become the highest-ranked course in the state. The design was The Golf Club, and the kid was Jack Nicklaus—a curious observer to the work being done by Pete Dye. Nicklaus, who by 1966 was a Grand Slam winner, would sign up with Dye as his player consultant, starting a partnership that included Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, site of an annual tour stop since 1969. The host venue to this week’s Memorial Tournament for more than 35 years, Jack’s Muirfield Village Golf Club actually sits on land that Nicklaus and Dye prospected back in the late 1960s, although that project didn’t come to fruition. By the time Muirfield Village came to be in 1974, Nicklaus and Dye had split. Fast-forward almost 35 years, and Nicklaus’ design company has eight offices in six countries, with Jack designing more than 300 courses and growing his business into one of the most successful design firms of his generation.
Here’s a look at Jack’s best courses—ranked in the order our Golf Digest course-ranking panelists scored them based on our most recent America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses ranking and Golf Digest’s Complete 200 Greatest International Golf Courses ranking.
Ranked as high as 14th on Golf Digest’s 1983 100 Greatest ranking, Shoal Creek slipped into our Second 100 Greatest in our past two rankings (currently No. 106). But the club underwent a significant renovation over the past couple years, earning runner-up for the Best Renovation award in 2017. Shoal Creek was designed with hosting major championships in mind, and the club continues that tradition this week with the U.S. Women’s Open, joining the 1984 and 1990 PGA Championships, as well as the 1986 U.S. Amateur.
Ranked fourth on our Best in Mexico ranking from 2016, this Cabo course isn’t short on views. As our Ron Kaspriske put it, “The quirky, fun design is like playing golf inside a Salvador Dali painting.”
Dramatic, elevated tees within the Sonoma foothills make for some incredible vistas at Mayacama, currently No. 99 on our latest 100 Greatest. Mayacama has been ranked inside the 100 Greatest since 2005 (highest ranking was No. 66) for all but one year, when it fell to No. 101 in our 2015 ranking.
The PGA of America purchased the course in 2000, and it has hosted many of its championships at this former floodplain site that opened in 1986. Valhalla is expected to receive the 2024 PGA Championship, which would be its fourth major, having hosted the 1996, 2000 and 2014 PGAs, as well as the 2008 Ryder Cup.
For years the marquee course in Los Cabos was Cabo Del Sol’s Ocean course, though it has been edged out by Diamante (Dunes) in our most recent Best in Mexico rankings. Nicklaus called 16, 17 and 18 here “the finest finishing stretch in golf” when the Ocean course opened in 1994, with its greens perched on top of rock right on the water. The course, No. 70 on our most recent World 100 rankings, also features back-to-back par 3s (six and seven).
Host of the 2015 Presidents Cup, Nicklaus transformed this once-flat layout into rolling terrain that has views of Songdo International Business District.
Sitting in the 46-square-mile Cap Cana community that is a short drive from the airport—the largest privately held airport in the world—Punta Espada opened in 2006 and has incredible views with eight of its greens perched right on the Caribbean shore.
Castle Pines is currently ranked 42nd on our latest 100 Greatest, with its highest rank being 28th in 2009. Our panelists give Castle Pines particular credit for being one of Jack’s most playable, top-ranked courses. The course hosted the PGA Tour’s event, The International, for 21 years, up until 2006, when it was removed from the schedule not being able to secure a sponsor.
This neighborhood of Long Island already had two of the world’s best courses, National Golf Links of America and Shinnecock Hills, but the addition of Sebonack, sitting on 300 acres on the Peconic Bay, with clear views of National and Shinnecock, clinched this stretch of golf as one of the best in the world. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak collaborated on their 2006 design, as Ron Whitten put it, they were “on the same team, but not necessarily on the same page.” Nonetheless, the end result is a great addition to the eastern edge of Long Island, forever a golf mecca.
Always being worked on and tweaked by Jack Nicklaus and his team, Muirfield Village is a dream realized for Jack, who wanted to bring a great club to his hometown of Columbus. The club has been a worthy venue to the Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour since 1976 and also hosted the 1987 Ryder Cup and 2013 Presidents Cup. Muirfield Village ranks 15th on our latest 100 Greatest, making it as high as eighth in 1985.
Other notable Jack Nicklaus golf courses:
—Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island
Long considered one of the best designs in the country, ranking inside the top 50 from its debut on our 100 Greatest in 1971 through 1991, Harbour Town continues to fall on our rankings. Its 127th spot on our latest Second 100 Greatest is the course’s lowest-ever spot. But the history at this Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus design are undeniable. Site of a PGA Tour event since 1969, Harbour Town remains a great test for its use of angles and emphasis on rewarding quality ball-striking. Also the home to the first waste bunker in the U.S.
—Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: The club’s name was derived from the 1939 Academy Award winning film: The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, where some of the scenes were shot on and near the present day course. Ranked as high as 79th on our 1993 100 Greatest, Sherwood just underwent an extensive renovation. It was last ranked 143rd on our Second 100 Greatest.
—Punta Mita Resort (Pacifico), Riviera Nayarit, Mexico: Perhaps one of the more interesting greensites in the world is the optional green at Pacifico’s par-3 third hole—with a green built out of an island outcropping 180 yards from the Pacific shore.
—The Concession Golf Club, Bradenton, Fla.: Ranked No. 133 on our Second 100 Greatest rankings, this Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin collaboration is an ode to the famous Ryder Cup gesture in 1969 at Birkdale, where both sides agreed to tie the matches. This is one of the rare Jack Nicklaus design that isn’t surrounded by homesites.
—Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Fort Wayne, Ind.: This Nicklaus design debuted as high as 40th on our 1993 100 Greatest. The Fort Wayne, Ind., design is currently ranked 139th on our Second 100 Greatest.
—Spring Creek Ranch Golf Club, Collierville, Tenn.: About 40 minutes from downtown Memphis, this Nicklaus design sits at No. 164 on our Second 100 Greatest.
—Pronghorn Club (Nicklaus), Bend, Ore.: Ranked 36th on Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Public ranking, and 171st on our Second 100 Greatest, the Nicklaus course at Pronghorn is a nice high desert course with beautiful scenery.
—May River Golf Club at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C.: Within walking distance from a Golf Digest Editors’ Choice resort winner, The Inn at Palmetto Bluff. Currently ranked 39th on our 100 Greatest Public, 10th best in South Carolina and 179th on our Second 100 Greatest.
—Desert Highlands, Scottsdale: Once as high as 25th on our 100 Greatest (in 1987, after the course’s debut), Desert Highlands is ranked 182nd on our most recent Second 100 Greatest.
—The Loxahatchee Club, Jupiter: Ranked inside America’s 100 Greatest in 1989 and awarded Golf Digest’s Best New Private Course of 1985.
—Colleton River Plantation G.C. (Nicklaus), Bluffton, S.C.: Winner of Golf Digest’s Best New Private Course in 1993. Ranked 160th on our 2013 Second 100 Greatest and currently 15th on our Best in State.
—Great Waters, Reynolds Plantation, Ga.: Sits 88th on our most recent 100 Greatest Public ranking, Great Waters has been a member of that ranking for 10 years. It was second among Golf Digest’s Best New Resort Course of 1993.
—Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, Bronx, N.Y. (with John Sanford and Jim Lipe): Made its debut on our 100 Greatest Public ranking at No. 95, Ferry Point was once intended to be a private course. With its terrific views of the Whitestone Bridge, this city-owned course is one of the best public options in and around golf-rich New York.
—Old Works G.C., Anaconda, Mont.: Ranked second as Golf Digest’s Best New Affordable Public Course of 1998. Sits at seventh on our Best in State and was a member of America’s 100 Greatest Public from 2003-2009.
—Grand Cypress (New), Orlando: Jack’s homage to the Old Course at St. Andrews is one of the best options in Orlando, ranking 33rd on our 2015 ranking of best public golf in Florida.
—Nicklaus North G.C., Whistler, B.C.: Set in a valley surrounded by tall mountains, the internal aesthetics are strong with good use of native trees and water. And perhaps appropriately, there are frequently black-bear sightings on this scenic track.