As you read this, people all around the world are googling away, planning their dream golf trips. But which golf courses are they searching for, and which courses aren't getting the love they deserve?
Well, I thought it would be fun to find out, so I have put all the courses from my 'The Ultimate Top 100 Golf Courses' list through some fancy software that counts the actual number of google searches that have taken place over the last 12 months for each of the courses (and closely associated search terms).
The results make for interesting reading. The top 10 'most searched' have a definite bias towards courses that mere mortals can play - 7 out of the 10 are open for public play and TV exposure definitely helps get a course up the list. But there are a couple of surprises too.
So here, in reverse order, are your Top 10 Most Googled Courses In The World (with links to my reviews for the ones I've played).
10. Kingsbarns Golf Links
Kingsbarns may be one of the more recent additions to Scotland's 'must play' courses but they have absolutely nailed it when it comes to creating demand. The course is booked solid, months in advance, throughout the summer - despite the £268 green fee. You are far more likely to hear an American accent than a Scottish one around the putting green. The views are phenomenal and the course itself delivers. Playable, spectacular, fun - what more could you ask for?
However, Kingsbarns definitely punches above its weight (48 in the world rankings) by coming in as the 10th most searched-for club. St Andrews is the only course outside the USA to beat it, which is testament to the great job they have done establishing Kingsbarns as a modern Scottish classic.
9. Whistling Straits
Whistling Straits is a very rare thing - an iconic American golf course that ordinary folk can play. The Straits course has hosted the PGA championship three times this century and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020. While anyone can play at Whistling Straits, during the peak summer months you need to stay on the Lake Michigan resort to play there, which makes it an expensive tee time.
8. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Shinnecock Hills has long been viewed as one of the best in the world but, in recent years it has become more and more appreciated and work undertaken by Coore and Crenshaw has been very well received.
This course sits on the very top of all the courses I have played and expect to see this Long Island masterpiece shoot up the most searched rankings in the next 12 months as it hosts the 2018 US Open this June. The players are going to find a course that will play firm and fast, hopefully not too tricked up by the USGA.
Getting a tee time at Shinnecock is a really tough ask for the average punter. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for charity auctions which sometimes have places available, although don't expect these to go for less than a $1000 a pop.
7. Bethpage Black
I guess it's no surprise that a public golf facility on the doorstep of America's largest city feaures so highly on this list. Bethpage State Park has 5 golf courses, including the famously tough Black course, which will host what many think will be the most raucous Ryder Cup ever when it visits in 2024.
300,000 rounds a year are played on the Bethpage property, which beats even the 230,000 rounds played on the 7 courses over the St Andrews Links.
6. Riviera Country Club
The course is ranked 41st in the world and is definitely highly regarded, but that it is the sixth most searched for course in the world this year is a bit of a surprise. However, the course has enjoyed something of a Tiger bump - Woods played here in the current incarnation of the LA Open in February, and many of the searches came around this time. Add to this that there is more than just the golf on offer at this exclusive Country Club, and its ranking starts to make some sense.
5. Bandon Dunes
When Mike Keiser set out with his Bandon dream, few would have believed that he would build a resort which could genuinely lay claim to being the best in the world. However, that is exactly what he has done and, all over the world, golfers are searching for Bandon in huge numbers. There are four courses on the property - three of which feature in the top 100 in the world with the other just outside - and the setting is simply spectacular. I haven't read a bad review from anyone who has been there.
It's not the easiest place to get to - it's a five hour drive from Portland, Oregon - although there are a few flights from Denver and San Francisco to the nearby North Bend. When you get here this is proper walking golf, with the entire resort set up to get you playing as much golf as you could possibly want.
Bandon has taken on almost mythical status amongst golfers across the US and its reputation is now growing more widely across the world. With so much on offer I suspect it's set to stay in the top 10 for many years to come.
4. The Old Course St Andrews
There will be few people in the world who have heard of golf but not St Andrews. Every golfer who has swung a club will have dreamed of, one day, setting foot on the hallowed turf. With a bit of planning, playing here is eminently possible. The course is fully open to visitors - there are no members here - and, away from the peak season, the daily ballot is a very realistic way of getting in. If that fails, then just queue up overnight and you will almost certainly get a spot the next day!
There are other ways to get a tee time (laid out in my review) and when you do tee it up you are in for an experience like no other. Golf has been played over this land since the 16th century and when you play here you really do feel the history oozing out.
The other great thing about this course is that it is perfectly possible to score here. As long as you don't suddenly develop a horrific slice, you are likely to get around without too much of a problem. The turn for home, with the spires and sights of St Andrews drawing you in, is as close to a spiritual experience as I've had on a golf course.
3. TPC Sawgrass
Sawgrass takes the title of 'most overachieving course' by some way. It is not a course that the golf course ranking experts adore - it is ranked at 74 in the world - but is the third most searched for course in the world. The iconic 17th hole is likely to be what drives many of those searches - I challenge you to find an article that leads on anything apart from that island green.
This is another course open to the public - it is attached to a Marriott hotel and residents can get a tee time when they book their accommodation. If you aren't staying then you can get a tee time if there's availability 2 weeks before you want to play.
For many, this course is on their bucket list and it will all be about the 17th and 18th holes. However, stories abound about tortuously long rounds. So my advice would be to try and get the first time of the day if you're wanting to get round in a reasonable time. Or buckle in for a long ride!
2. Augusta National Golf Club
It should come as no surprise that this course ranks so highly given the exposure it gets every year. If anything, the media coverage seems to get more cloying as the years go by. The course is waning though with the critics - it is currently ranked outside of the top 10 in the Ultimate Rankings - and there has been no significant course work in recent years apart from the Tiger-proofing work a decade ago. That blunt approach is part of the reason for its slippage.
However, for the casual TV viewer, the course will always hold something magical. Hopefully not too many of those searching are looking for tips on how to get a tee time - they will end up disappointed!
1. Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach comes out at the top of many people's 'must play' bucket lists and the spectacular scenery along the Monterey peninsula leads to a google search boost whenever the course is on the TV.
Unlike many of the top courses in the world, this one is accessible to anyone - for a price. It's a hell of a price too, at peak times you need to stay for 2 nights in the $950 a night hotel as well as pay the $525 green fee. For many though that will be worth it for the photos and memories of playing this iconic course on the West coast.
Others may be a bit 'meh' about it. Pebble Beach's reputation has dropped in recent years and it seems in desparate need of a renovation. When I played there, the course was in very mediocre condition, and the holes away from the water disappointed a bit.
However, the fact remains that it is the highest ranked course on American soil that any member of the public can rock up and play and, for that reason at least, expect to see it stay on this list for a few years to come too.
So there you are, the most googled courses in world. However, just as interesting may be those top ranked courses which people aren't searching for.
How often did people search for the number one ranked course in the Ultimate Top 100, Cypress Point? And which are the most 'unloved' top courses out there? I'm churning the numbers now and all will be revealed in the next couple of days.