When that first nervous drive is struck in the early morning hours of Sept. 24, the Ryder Cup will commence on one of the most dramatic layouts ever to host the event, the Straits course at Whistling Straits.
For eye-candy visuals and risk-reward thrills, Whistling Straits has few peers. Perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan — or what the local caddies call “the Sea of Wisconsin” — this 1998 Pete Dye faux-links creation already boasts an enviable legacy, having played host to three PGA Championships (2004, 2010 and 2015), and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open.
Unquestionably, Whistling Straits is a great golf course. Course rankings say so, its major tournaments have produced outstanding leaderboards and player comments over twenty years have been consistently favorable. How does it compare with the other 36 courses that have served as Ryder Cup venues? We shall see.
For now, we’ve ranked every past Ryder Cup course, grouping them in no particular order, into three categories — Birdie, Par or Bogey — based on design merit, character and tournament pedigree.
BIRDIE (11 Worthy Ryder Cup Courses)
OAKLAND HILLS COUNTRY CLUB (South) | Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
2004 – Europe 18 ½, United States 9 ½
Invariably ranked among the top 25 courses in the U.S. and among the top 75 in the world, the fortunes of Oakland Hills South could soon soar even higher. A recent Gil Hanse restoration has brought back many of the Donald Ross features from a century ago, and bid adieu to the Robert Trent Jones Sr. design characteristics that deemed Ben Hogan to call the course “a monster” when he captured the 1951 U.S. Open there. Even in 2004, the fairway tilts, strategic bunkering and wickedly, but brilliantly, contoured greens inspired the best from the best.
THE OCEAN COURSE | Kiawah Island, S.C.
1991 – United States 14 ½, Europe 13 ½
The “War by the Shore” took place over a brand new Pete Dye course that played so tough, Ryder Cuppers Raymond Floyd and Nick Faldo wondered aloud that had it been stroke play, they might not break 80 — or even finish the round. Currently ranked 24th in the U.S. by Golf Digest, the seaside Ocean Course may not play like a textbook links, thanks to its sticky paspalum grass, but it dished out a thrilling match-play test that windy week, when Bernhard Langer’s missed 6-footer returned the Cup to the U.S. The course’s harder edges have been softened twice since then, but it has still produced two outstanding PGA Championship winners — Rory McIlroy in 2012 and Phil Mickelson in 2021.
MUIRFIELD GULLANE | Scotland
1973 – United States 19, Great Britain 13
Officially known as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield is the highest ranked and perhaps most storied course ever to host a Ryder Cup match. Redesigned by Harry Colt in 1929, it has played host to 16 British Opens, most recently in 2013 when Phil Mickelson triumphed. Muirfield is the rare links with maximum variety, its front nine holes running clockwise and back nine unfolding counter-clockwise, so a different wind could influence every hole. Penal rough demands accurate driving, yet Muirfield presents many options and superb greensites, making for a fair, daunting, stimulating test.
MUIRFIELD VILLAGE GOLF CLUB | Dublin, Ohio
1987 – Europe 15, United States 13
Jack Nicklaus’ homage to Augusta National currently ranks 15th in the United States by Golf Digest and has been a favorite of PGA Tour players since the Memorial Tournament started in 1976. Beautiful, fair and balanced, if devoid of any quirk, it presents compelling drama via risk/reward par-5s and a terrific short par 4 at the 14th, while also being a strong test from start to finish.
THE COUNTRY CLUB | Brookline, Mass.
1999 – United States 14 ½, Europe 13 ½
Home to the history-making U.S. Open of 1913, when neighborhood kid Francis Ouimet stunned British titans Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the course known informally as Brookline provided even more drama in its Ryder Cup debut, thanks to Justin Leonard’s heroic 45-foot bomb at the 17th. It also focused additional attention on Rees Jones’ game-changing restoration, one of history’s best, which shined so brightly at the 1988 U.S. Open, when Curtis Strange downed Nick Faldo in a playoff. Small greens, rock outcroppings and wonderful variety place The Country Club among the world’s best courses. Those traits will be on display in 2022 when it again hosts the U.S. Open.
PINEHURST (No. 2 Course) | Pinehurst, N.C.
1951 – United States 9 ½, Great Britain 2 ½
Nowhere does the design genius of Donald Ross burn more brightly than on his No. 2 course at Pinehurst. Host venue to three U.S. Opens, with many more on the way, plus a PGA Championship, and dozens of PGA Tour events, No. 2 rolls gently and spaciously through tall Longleaf pines. Holes culminate in “inverted saucer” greens that have confounded the game’s best since they were first grassed in 1935. A 2011 Coore-Crenshaw restoration brought back the tawny-edged fairways, native roughs and shot values last seen around the time of the 1951 Ryder Cup.
WALTON HEATH GOLF CLUB (Old) | Surrey, England
1981 – United States 18 ½, Europe 9 ½
Ranked in the top 100 in the world by every major golf magazine, Walton Heath’s Old Course dates to a 1904 design by Herbert Fowler. Its bleak, heathland setting won’t set anyone aglow but as a test of character and shotmaking, Walton Heath has few peers. A superb, strategic delight, it is stern but fair, with heather, gorse, rough and bunkers that must be avoided at all costs. Yet, the chalk beneath the sandy subsoil allows for firm fairways that yield plenty of links-like run.
RIDGEWOOD COUNTRY CLUB | Paramus, N.J.
1935 – United States 9, Great Britain 3
The classic argument at Ridgewood centers on which of the three A.W. Tillinghast-designed nines is best — the East, West or Center. Holes from each have been used at tournaments such as the 1974 U.S. Amateur, won by Jerry Pate; the 1990 U.S. Senior Open, when Lee Trevino slipped by Jack Nicklaus; and the 2001 Senior PGA, when Tom Watson closed the deal. Vijay Singh, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Bryson DeChambeau have won Barclays PGA Tour events here. Ridgewood earned the Ryder Cup by virtue of its longtime head professional, George Jacobus, who also happened to be president of the PGA of America from 1933-1939. In the Ryder Cup year, Jacobus hired a young assistant pro named Byron Nelson. Combine the great golf with a superior Clifford Wendehack clubhouse — he designed Winged Foot’s as well —and Ridgewood wins the prize as best Ryder Cup venue of the 1930s.
ROYAL BIRKDALE | Southport, England
1965 – United States 19 ½, Great Britain 12 ½; 1969 – United States 16 Great Britain 16
Many of the game’s elite consider Birkdale to be the finest of all Open rota layouts. Ranked among the world’s top 40 courses by every major golf publication, Birkdale boasts towering sandhills and no blind shots. Host to 10 British Opens since 1954, it’s a stern test of driving, but permits heroic recoveries, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s efforts when he triumphed in 2017. Birkdale is best known in Ryder Cup lore for “the Concession,” when Jack Nicklaus conceded Tony Jacklin’s short putt on the final green to preserve a 16-16 tie in 1969. Nicklaus' gesture is considered one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship in golf, maybe even sports, history.
ROYAL LYTHAM AND ST. ANNES | St. Annes, Lancashire, England
1961 – United States 14 ½, Great Britain 9 ½; 1977 – United States 12 ½, Great Britain 7 ½
Any course that has played host to 11 British Opens has earned its Birdie status. Still, some question its bland, strange par-3 to open the round, its 18th green uncomfortably close to the clubhouse, and the lack of drama and visual interest, because the sea isn’t visible from a single hole. It’s hemmed in and pockmarked with more than 200 bunkers. Nevertheless, the back nine mostly plays into the wind or cross-wind, forcing competitors to take on risks and hit superb shots when it matters most.
SCIOTO COUNTRY CLUB | Columbus, Ohio
1931 – United States 9, Great Britain 3
Golf’s version of royalty where playing grounds are concerned, Scioto features a wonderfully varied 1916 Donald Ross routing and is one of the rare clubs that has hosted a U.S. Open (where Bobby Jones won in 1926), a Ryder Cup, a PGA Championship, a U.S. Amateur and two U.S. Senior Opens. Oh, by the way, it’s also where Jack Nicklaus played growing up and where he shaped his design instincts as well.
PAR (16 OK Ryder Cup Courses)
CHAMPIONS GOLF CLUB (Cypress Creek) | Houston, Texas
1967 – United States 23 ½, Great Britain 8 ½
Jumbo-sized, flat fairways that pair perfectly with similarly scaled, if more undulating, greens are accented by benign bunkers, a smattering of low-key creeks and ponds and vice-like Bermuda rough, which hardly makes for a memorable design palette. Credit it, though, for being an outstanding club, thanks to co-founders Jack Burke Jr. and Jimmy Demaret, and for hosting big-time events such as the 1969 U.S. Open, 2020 U.S. Women’s Open and five Tour Championships.
GANTON GOLF CLUB | Scarborough, England
1949 – United States 7, Great Britain 5
Located almost off the grid in northeast England, Ganton is a clear Birdie contender for this ranking because of its challenge and superb par 4s. It’s often listed among the top 100 courses in the world and is renowned for its stern, strategic bunkering and for its bursts of yellow gorse bushes. Unfortunately, there aren’t many interesting risk/reward holes to elevate the excitement factor — despite a tight Ryder Cup score — which knocks it down to this level as a Ryder Cup course.
THE GREENBRIER (Greenbrier), White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
1979 – United States 17, Europe 11
While the legendary resort’s Old White TPC course grabbed most of the recent attention by hosting the PGA Tour for a decade beginning in 2010, it’s the resort’s Greenbrier course that played host to the Ryder Cup, as well as to the Solheim Cup in 1994. This 1977 Jack Nicklaus redesign of a 1924 Seth Raynor creation wasn’t scorecard long, at 6,675 yards, par 72, but its tight, forested fairways rolled through an Allegheny Mountain valley lined with maples, oaks and pines and featured forced carries into elevated greens. A devastating flood destroyed nearly half of the course in 2016; some of the holes are again playable, but its future remains uncertain. However, it earned its Par rating at 1979 Ryder Cup time.
HAZELTINE NATIONAL GOLF CLUB | Chaska, Minn.
2016 – United States 17, Europe 11
Purists were aghast that setup man Kerry Haigh and the PGA of America completely reconfigured a frequent major championship course for the Ryder Cup. To increase space for gallery flow down the stretch, they took the second half of each nine and swapped them, so that the 14th through 18th holes became 5 through 9 and vice versa. Hazeltine put on such a good show, it nearly climbed to Birdie status. The lake-guarded 7th hole, that became the 16th, was a can’t-avert-your-eyes par-5, with pivotal results emerging from seemingly every group. Only a vapid set of greens, with a minimum of interesting contours, keeps Hazeltine from rising from its current rating.
LAUREL VALLEY GOLF CLUB | Ligonier, Pa.
1975 – United States 21, Great Britain 11
Arnold Palmer enjoyed a long affiliation with this low-key club of corporate executives not far from his western Pennsylvania home of Latrobe. So it made perfect sense to bring the Ryder Cup here in the King’s final Ryder Cup experience, this time as captain. A 1960 design from Dick Wilson, who also sculpted Palmer's beloved Bay Hill, it played host to the 1965 PGA Championship, two senior majors and a 2001 PGA Tour event. Moderately elevated greens well defended by bunkers form the primary challenge.
LE GOLF NATIONAL (Albatross) | Guyancourt, France
2018 – Europe 17 ½, United States 10 ½
Built in 1990 with the express purpose of holding France’s biggest golf events, Le Golf National proved an admirable Ryder Cup venue. It resembles TPC Sawgrass at times, with some holes serving up massive amphitheater-like hillsides and a trio of nasty, water-menaced holes among the final four, including the par-4 15th and the brutal par-4 18th that share a double green. Annual home for the French Open, where single-digit scores under par often win, its only flaw in 2018 was the setup, which narrowed the fairways and framed them with dense rough. This U.S. Open-style setup blunted the Americans’ power advantage and also forced conservative plays, at the expense of the risk-taking that makes match play so much fun.
MEDINAH COUNTRY CLUB (No. 3) | Medinah, Ill.
2012 – Europe 14 ½, United States 13 ½
Three U.S. Opens, a pair of Tiger Woods triumphs in PGAs and a thrilling 2012 Ryder Cup amid 7,561 densely wooded yards undeniably confer “major” status on Chicago’s big brute, but its benign terrain, minimal memorability (clubhouse excepted) and three signature par-3s that look and play almost exactly alike — each demanding a carry over Lake Kadijah — make many wonder how this qualifies as elite design.
MOORTOWN GOLF CLUB | Leeds, England
1929 – Great Britain 7, United States 5
Notable as Alister MacKenzie’s first solo design, in 1909, its flattish terrain and lack of interesting natural features kept the course off the top rung of English courses. It did earn rapid fame for the first hole he built there, the Redan-style par-3 10th, “Gibraltar,” with an elevated green.
OAK HILL COUNTRY CLUB (East) | Rochester, N.Y.
1995 – Europe 14 ½, United States 13 ½
It’s agonizing to call Oak Hill East a Par Ryder Cup venue, but in 1995, that’s where the course at the time. Yes, it could boast of a fabulous Donald Ross design, three U.S. Opens, with Cary Middlecoff winning in 1956, Lee Trevino winning in 1968, and Curtis Strange in 1989, as well as the runaway 1980 PGA Championship victory from Jack Nicklaus. After the Ryder Cup, it would host two more PGAs and two Senior PGAs. But in 1995, the course was 16 years into a Tom Fazio makeover that had decimated much of the Ross character and several of his original holes. Add to that a steady diet of long, hard par 4s to start and finish and you had a course much more suited to major championship stroke play and much less to Ryder Cup match play risk/reward excitement.
OLD WARSON COUNTRY CLUB | Ladue, Mo.
1971 – United States 18 ½, Great Britain 13 ½
Robert Trent Jones Sr. crafted Old Warson in suburban St. Louis at the height of his formidable powers in 1955 and the Ryder Cup layout reflected his signature features: runway tee boxes, sprawling, strategically deployed bunkers, and multiple doglegs. Undulating and tree-lined with elevated greens, it’s rugged and honest, if not quite in vogue architecturally today.
PGA NATIONAL (Champion) | Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
1983 – United States 14 ½, Europe 13 ½
At the time of the 1983 Ryder Cup, this 2-year-old Tom Fazio creation was nothing better than an upper-tier Florida real estate course, drenched with water and lined with homes. However, it was situated at the headquarters for the PGA of America, hence the successful Ryder Cup bid, as well as a hosting gig for the 1987 PGA Championship. Jack Nicklaus arrived in 1990 to create the infamous “Bear Trap,” holes 15, 16 and 17, which bedevils Honda Classic competitors year after year.
PORTLAND GOLF CLUB | Portland, Ore.
1947 – United States 11, Great Britain 1
Only barely rising to Par because it played host to Ben Hogan’s first major win at the 1946 PGA Championship, Portland gained the Ryder Cup because benefactor Robert Hudson was a member there and also a member of the PGA of America’s Advisory Board. Money and supplies were still tight after World War II and he agreed to foot the bill for both teams, provided the match was played at Portland. The design was unmemorable, albeit with splendid arboreal framing, but the course was a sodden mess due to summer-long rains, plus a full inch the night before the event began.
VALDERRAMA GOLF CLUB | Sotogrande, Spain
1997 – Europe 14 ½, United States 13 ½
At one time, Valderrama was so well-conditioned, its challenge so well regarded that it was known as the Augusta National of Europe. However, this 1985 Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, attractively set into rolling fairways framed by cork trees, with his usual artfully sculpted bunkers, wasn’t quite all that. It didn’t help when, for the 1997 Ryder Cup, European Captain Seve Ballesteros redesigned the gambler’s par-5 17th to something far more punitive, with a steep, shaved bank leading to a pond. As David Feherty put it, “The hole, like most of the rest of the golf course, was pretty average before the changes, and much worse afterward.”
VALHALLA GOLF CLUB | Louisville, Ky.
2008 – United States 16 ½, Europe 11 ½
Not everyone is enamored with this 1986 Jack Nicklaus design, with too many course features seemingly forced, manufactured or gimmicky. Yet, there’s no denying that Valhalla, which hosted the 2008 Ryder Cup, also possesses some sensational match play holes, such as a set of reachable par-5s, and the drivable par-4 13th, its green an island atop a stacked rock pile. By virtue of holding three historic PGA Championships, including Tiger Woods’ win in 2000 and Rory McIlroy hoisting the trophy in 2014, Valhalla borders on the elite level, but not quite.
WENTWORTH GOLF CLUB (West) | Surrey, England
1953 – United States 6 ½, Great Britain 5 ½
This suburban London layout has been considered England’s premier inland championship course practically since H.S. Colt designed it in 1926. A Hall of Fame cast has competed and won here. Yet, its appeal was always tied more to its relentless challenge than it was for its charm or memorable holes. Its ranking has plummeted, both before and after two Ernie Els makeovers.
WORCESTER COUNTRY CLUB | Worcester, Mass.
1927 – United States 9 ½, Great Britain 2 ½
One of Donald Ross’ earliest efforts, dating to 1913, Worcester was a big-time Golden Age stage, also playing host to the 1925 U.S. Open. Shortish, but with pleasing elevation changes, Worcester also played host to the 1960 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Betsy Rawls.
BOGEY (9 Meh Ryder Cup Courses)
CELTIC MANOR (Twenty Ten) | Newport, Wales
2010 – Europe 14 ½, United States 13 ½
Bought and paid for by tycoon Sir Terry Matthews, the Ryder Cup made its way to his five-star resort in 2010, which explains why the redesigned host course goes by that name. Half of the current layout was a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design known as Wentwood Hills. The European Tour decided it wanted to take the Ryder Cup to Wales, but didn’t want spectators and players dealing with nine of the hillier holes, so its in-house design team created nine new holes, 1 through 5, 14 and 16 through 18. The RTJ Jr. holes that remain are 6 through 13 and No. 15. American parkland in style, this brawny, lake-studded track in the handsome Usk Valley offers risk/reward opportunities throughout, but too many of the holes look like they were airlifted from Florida.
THE BELFRY (Brabazon) | Sutton Coldfield, England
1985 – Europe 16 ½, United States 11 ½; 1989 – Europe 14, United States 14; 1993 – United States 15, Europe 13; 2002 – Europe 15 ½, United States 12 ½
Home to the British PGA and to a plush resort, it’s not hard to figure out why this property just north of Birmingham was gifted a quartet of Ryder Cups – 1985. 1989, 1993 and 2002. To be fair, the Belfry managed to produce serious drama over the years, thanks to an exciting risk/reward par-4 10th and a long, watery par-4 18th fraught with three-putt possibilities. Admittedly, they did improve the course over the years. But what a tragedy that fans had to endure four Ryder Cups at this reformed potato field with American-style design accents and a collection of holes that mostly ranged from forgettable to deadly dull.
EAST LAKE GOLF CLUB | Atlanta, Ga.
1963 – United States 23, Great Britain 9
A Bogey rating for Bobby Jones’ home course and the venue for the Tour Championship? Maybe the rating should include an asterisk. Donald Ross’ 1913 version was a splendid test, but prior to the Ryder Cup, architect George Cobb transformed (the club used the term “modernized”) it into something less noteworthy. Rees Jones’ renovation in 1994 restored many of the classic Ross virtues.
ELDORADO COUNTRY CLUB | Palm Desert, Calif.
1959 – United States 8 ½, Great Britain 3 ½
Barely 2-years old at Ryder Cup time, this Lawrence Hughes design looked as immature as it played, with its smattering of resort-style date palm trees and shallow bunkers. A further quirk involved the course setup, as players practiced from the tips, but found the tees moved up to the front of the boxes when the competition started, presumably to promote birdies. Framed beautifully by the Santa Rosa Mountains, it became a 17-time co-host for the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Classic, but was completely redesigned by Tom Fazio in 2003.
THE GLENEAGLES HOTEL (PGA Centenary) | Auchterarder, Scotland
2014 – Europe 16 ½, United States 11 ½
From the standpoint of inspired design, PGA Centenary ranks third among the Gleneagles Hotel’s three courses. Crafted by Jack Nicklaus in 1993, it rolls through the tranquil Perthshire countryside with handsome views of the Grampian Mountains. There’s roominess for galleries and challenge a-plenty, just few individually memorable holes on this Ryder Cup venue. The drivable par-4 14th and reachable par-5s at 16 and 18 at least offer interesting potential drama, but if you’re searching for a fun day of golf, try the resort’s King’s or Queen’s courses instead.
THE K CLUB (Palmer) | County Kildare, Ireland
2006 – Europe 18 ½, United States 9 ½
Bought and paid for by tycoon Michael Smurfit, the Ryder Cup made its way to his lavish resort on the River Liffey in 2006. Truthfully, this Arnold Palmer design isn’t a bad course, especially with terrific risk/reward holes such as the par-5 16th and 18th. It's not ranked higher, however, because the Emerald Isle not only sports so many outstanding links courses that would have made superior hosts for the first Ryder Cup contested in Ireland, but also because there are better parkland courses within 45 minutes, such as Druids Glen and Mount Juliet. The lush fairways and totally Americanized bunkers and lakes added to the disappointment for course connoisseurs.
LINDRICK GOLF CLUB | Nottingham, England
1957 – Great Britain 7 ½, United States 4 ½
This short, inland, parkland course twice crossed by roads was picked on the strength of one quality, according to David Feherty, “a rich benefactor.”
SOUTHPORT & AINSDALE GOLF CLUB | Southport, England
1933 – Great Britain 6 ½, United States 5 ½; 1937 – United States 8, Great Britain 4
In a neighborhood full of wonderful links courses, S&A as the locals call it, was a mediocre choice to host two Ryder Cups — 1933 and 1937. With a partly inland feel, plus blandness, blindness and low-slung dunes that don’t deliver much drama, it’s easy to nitpick. Objectively, it’s a sufficiently admirable course, but with better courses Royal Birkdale, Hillside and Formby nearby, it sinks in this ranking.
THUNDERBIRD COUNTRY CLUB | Rancho Mirage, Calif.
1955 – United States 8, Great Britain 4
The first championship layout in Palm Springs, this 1951 Lawrence Hughes creation was home to handsome mountain scenery and an engaging, celebrity-laden membership. It was also taken to task by Herbert Warren Wind in a 1955 Sports Illustrated article for its “extremely flat fairways.” He further noted that “distances can be most deceiving when there are so few hillocks and swales punctuating the course’s 6,843 playing yards.” Zzzzzzzz.