Many golf courses in the world are household names and those feature high in my list of the top googled golf courses. However, what about the courses which the experts rank highly but go largely under the radar when it comes to the world's googlers?
To find out, I have taken the top 100 courses on my Ultimate Top 100 list and compared the rankings on that list with their positions in the list of Google golf course searchs for the last 12 months. That gives us this top 10 of the most under-rated (well, definitely under-searched relative to quality) golf courses out there -
10. Chicago Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 26. Google Search Ranking - 58. Difference - 32.
All but 2 of the top 10 least searched courses are private golf clubs and Chicago Golf Club is a secret to many. One of the 5 founding members of the USGA, this was the first 18 hole course in the USA. It was designed by CB Macdonald originally and redesigned by the great Seth Raynor. There are only 120 members and you have to be invited by one of them for a game if you want to play. So, if you ever do meet a member, be nice!
9. Kingston Heath Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 16. Google Search Ranking - 50. Difference - 34.
I was surprised to see Kingston Heath in this least searched list, but its geography is probably the reason for the appearance. Indeed its neighbour, Royal Melbourne, just misses out on the list in position 12, probably for similar reasons. Kingston Heath is one of only two courses on this list that anyone can get a game on with a bit of planning. Visitors are welcome on Mondays, Thursday and Fridays and the course receives nothing but rave reviews from all those who play it.
8. Golf de Mortontaine
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 39. Google Search Ranking - 74. Difference - 35.
I read this article by Geoff Shackleford about Morfontaine and was determined to find a way to get a game. It is one of the very few uber private courses in Europe and yet, where there's a will, there's a way - details on how to get a tee time are included in my review. It is a phenomenal golf course and a wonderful place but often there will be no more than a handful of people on the course on a day. I've played it twice now and there is absolutely no doubt this is both the number 1 course in mainland Europe, and mainland Europe's best kept secret.
7. Cypress Point
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 1. Google Search Ranking - 35. Difference - 35.
That's right. The best golf course on the planet is also one of the most under-searched! I reckon if I went to my golf club on Sunday morning and asked 100 players to name the best golf course in the world, I would be lucky if more than a couple came up with Cypress Point.
It is veiled in secrecy - the course is rarely seen on television and your golf magazine won't have photo-shoots from the practice range. No, this is the very best golf course in the world which very few will ever see. Apparently the first tee time every day is available to unaccompanied guests but for the rest you need to be with a member. If you do want to get a taste of what the course holds, be sure to check out The Match by Mark Frost - my review is here. A fantastic story of a bygone age on this magnificent course.
6. Shanqin Bay Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 56. Google Search Ranking - 94. Difference - 38.
We are going ridiculously private here. This Coore and Crenshaw course, overlooking the South China Sea, is said to have only 50 members and getting a game here takes a lot of ingenuity. China has a lot of awfully drab looking golf courses but this absolutely isn't one of them. It looks amazing but will likely remain a mystery for most for years to come.
5. Kawana Hotel Golf Course
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 54. Google Search Ranking - 93. Difference - 41.
Anyone who stays at the Kawana Hotel can get a game on the Fuji course which is Japan's second best course. However, because my results only show English language terms (I am not picking up Japanese searches) and it seems not many Westerners are planning a trip to Japan. Those who do make it out there though are rewarded by a truly unique experience. If you are thinking of going then check out these tips from John Sabino on what to expect on a Japanese golf trip!
4. Prairie Dunes
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 24. Google Search Ranking - 71. Difference - 47
Prairie Dunes, in the windy state of Kansas, is described as an inland links course. Its website says 'Prairie Dunes is an American original, and one of the most scenic courses anywhere. You could never mistake photographs of it for any other American course, although it has often been confused with the very best of the British Isles'. Again, it's a private course, but I get the sense it may be a little more accessible than many on this list (it even has a website with a nice walkthrough here). But is is in the middle of nowhere, with little passing traffic. TPC Sawgrass this is not!
3. Hirono Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 37. Google Search Ranking - 90. Difference - 53.
Another Japanese entry, but unlike Kawana this is firmly in the territory of 'hard to get on'. Sabino compares it to Pine Valley or Morfontaine which is pretty illustrious company to keep. You probably won't have much luck just calling up the club to get a round, but it is possible to find a high-end organised trip with a bit of digging on the interweb.
2. Friar's Head
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 22. Google Search Ranking - 83. Difference - 61.
I absolutely adore Friar's Head. This Long Island Coore and Crenshaw course may only be 15 years old, but it is simply sensational. And yet very, very few people outside of the hardcore, golf architecture community have heard of it. The course meanders through magnificent dunes and is fun, accessible and breaktaking - you can read my review here.
It is very private for sure, and you will need an introduction from a member to get on, but if you do get the chance to play this course, then drop everything and go!
1. National Golf Links of America
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 6. Google Search Ranking - 70. Difference - 64.
The National, or NGLA, is a near neighbour of Shinnecock Hills and ranked just one place below it, at number 6 in the world. Yet, when it comes to google searches, it pulls in only a tenth of the volume of its well known neighbour. The National is another Maconald/Raynor creation but hasn't had huge mainstream media exposure over the years. The only tournament of note it has hosted being the Walker Cup.
And yet, those who do go will come away with huge smiles on their faces. When I played it I found the welcome tremendously warm and the course a delight. It has raced up the world rankings in recent years as its reputation has soared. However, the course simply doesn't impinge on the consciousness of the casual golf follower. For that reason, it takes the title of the most under-appreciated golf course in the world!