1. Kummel = No

    Newport Country Club in Rhode Island was founded in 1893 and held both the first US Amateur and the first US Open (both in 1895). It was one of the five clubs which formed the United States Golf Association and remains to this day one of the country's most prestigious clubs. Located in the famous summering town of Newport, the course is surrounded by the famous mansions and counts a former Vanderbilt mansion as its impressive clubhouse.

    It's hard to believe, but the clubhouse is actually both lavish and understated at the same time - architecturally there is nothing subtle about it (and this is a good thing!), but the atmosphere and decor is very similar to that you experience at other top old clubs in that it isn't showy or pretentious in any way. The club sandwiches are also excellent (if you're interested in such things).

    The course at Newport is a different layout from the very short course on which C.B.M. won the first US Amateur (or the third, depending on who you ask!), although there are one or two original US Amateur holes remaining in today's routing (at least in terms of green locations) - the course was altered and eventually extended south towards the Atlantic Ocean by Tillinghast. The front nine heads out in this direction first, loops back to the clubhouse, then does a short loop to the north before passing back to the east of the clubhouse and looping down the hill to the south east.

    The course has a very linksy feel, although when I played it wasn't as dry as it normally is due to a lot of rain in recent weeks. The bunkers tend to be quite geometric in places and are excellent, the greens are varied and interesting (and in great condition) and overall I was very impressed with both the routing and the variety and interest in all the holes. Looking back on the round, I really can't think of a hole that wasn't both interesting and fun.

    Particular highlights included the strength of all the par 3s, the 7th and 10th (both excellent par 5s), and the dogleg 18th to a raised green in the shadow of the spectacular clubhouse. The course is approximately 6,900 yards off the back tees, which could be quite daunting in the sort of winds that you regularly get at an exposed hilltop site such as this. It was deemed long enough to host the 1995 US Amateur (to celebrate the Amateur's 100th anniversary), which was the second of three titles won by a one 'Tiger Woods'.

    Newport Country Club has been involved since the start of championship golf in the US, and it continues to add to that history today. It really is a wonderful course with a wonderful club and in my opinion should without question be in any list of the top 100 courses in the United States.

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  2. Kummel = No

    The Country Club of Fairfield, in Connecticut, is a classy low-key golf club designed originally by Seth Raynor, but updated more recently by William Flynn and then by Robert Trent Jones. The course is surrounded on 3 sides by water, and is very close to sea level - making Raynor's original design quite different to most of his other courses, as he wasn't able to dig down and create the sort of bunkers he usually did. Regardless, CC of F contains some excellent holes, including a great Redan (number 9), a great Cape hole (number 6), amongst others.

    The clubhouse too is very good. Initially it was planned to build it on the edge of the beach, but this never happened due to a number of storms which would have seriously damaged such an exposed clubhouse. Eventually they decided to build the present understated clubhouse on Sasco Hill, overlooking the course. Part of the changes that RTJ made included re-routing the course and building new holes, including the 17th and 18th, so that the course now finished in front of the new clubhouse.

    Overall, the Country Club of Fairfield is an enjoyable, fun and historic course, made all the more interesting by its story and by its evolution at the hands of a number of great architects. In great condition, and with a great rum float served in the clubhouse, this is a great member's club in a beautiful location.

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  3. Kummel = No

    Oakmont Country Club, in eastern Pennsylvania and ranked no.5 in the United States, is a golf club of the highest calibre. Having hosted innumerable US Amateurs, Opens and other important championships, Oakmont has always been associated with championship golf. Designed in 1903 by Henry Fownes (the only course he designed), Oakmont was based upon the principle that 'a shot misplayed should be a shot irrevocably lost', and was one of the earliest and most influential of America's penal golf courses.

    For me personally it was a pilgrimage, both because Bobby Jones won the Amateur here in 1925, and also because so many young men from my hometown of Carnoustie came over here at the start of the 20th century to become the professionals at Oakmont and other Pittsburgh area courses, and to spread the game of golf and 'the carnoustie swing'. When you look at the historic photos in the clubhouse, laid out in chronological order as you move from the south of the clubhouse to the north, you know that you're walking in footsteps of everyone who has been anyone in golf.

    My round at Oakmont was thanks to a friend of a friend of a friend, and I'm very grateful to our host for his generosity. We played in the 'SWAT' - a game that has occurred three times a week for the best part of a century and is a great Oakmont tradition. No tee times, go off as a group, best team score on each hole counts. The emphasis is on playing fast, having a good time, and playing well. The latter is easier said than done - Oakmont is almost certainly the hardest course I've ever played.

    Oddly, my first impression of Oakmont was how easy it was! The legend is such that I kind of expected every hole to be a 500 yard par 4 with a 10 yard wide fairway. In actual fact, Oakmont has an excellent variety of long and short holes, and after avoiding the Church Pews bunker (narrowly!) and hitting my approach to 15ft on the fearsome 3rd with a 4-iron I was ready to accept Oakmont's surrender. The fairways aren't wide but they aren't narrow either. There are some very long holes, but they tend to be downhill and overall the course is reasonably fair. Okay, so there are a lot of bunkers surrounding the driving areas on each hole, which all result in a short hack back into play if found, but ultimately if you hit the fairways (and that's a big if!) you should be able to score around Oakmont.

    ...Should. But this is forgetting the greens. Oakmont lets you know right away that it's going to kill you on the greens, with a very cool putting green that is simply a rectangular extension of the 9th green, directly in front of the clubhouse. There is not a flat putt on the entire green, and after your first 5 attempts run 20ft by and off the green you know that you're in trouble. Oakmont is renowned as a course that is consistently maintained in championship condition, and this means that the greens are almost at US Open speed on a Saturday morning. At least once on the course I joked that I might putt off the green (not really believing that I would) before doing exactly that! I honestly thought that Oakmont's greens wouldn't be faster than some others I've experienced - for example Augusta - but they were definitely faster, and worryingly the members said they were running a little slow today relative to usual!!

    While Oakmont doesn't feel as though it should be that hard (I should, however, stress that I played off the second longest tees at 6,400 yards... whereas the US Open tees are approx 7,300 yards!), once you factor in all the different parts of the challenge it just grinds you down. I don't remember playing golf before in such temperate weather and being so totally exhausted by the end of the round. It's hard to love Oakmont in the way that you might love National Golf Links or Pine Valley... but just like at Carnoustie, it's hard to visit and play this national treasure and not come away with the feeling that you've just walked the fairways (or quite possibly the rough!) of one of the greatest courses in the game.

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  4. Kummel = Yes

    Royal St. George's Golf Club at Sandwich has hosted the Open Championship 13 times, and is renowned as one of the top links courses in England. Originally built as the English challenge to St Andrews by Laidlaw Purves, it has evolved over the years with length being added and blind shots removed, in order to keep it in contention for major championships. Despite these changes, what remains is a classic Open course.

    The first thing the player notices at Sandwich, even before hitting a ball, is the size of the property. From bay window of the beautiful old clubhouse, the course can barely be seen over the garden and sheep-filled fields. Once the walk to the first tee has been completed, the course plays out through large areas of untouched links land, which has provided ample opportunity for hole extensions over the years.

    What makes Sandwich stand out among other links courses of this scale is the lack of subtlety with which the challenge is presented. Purves was very fond of placing hazards in the line of sight, and right from the first hole there are numerous bunkers to be negotiated directly in front of green (although those on the first were actually added more recently). The fifth hole is a perfect example: the classic tee shot between the dunes and towards the sea provides very little opportunity for risk/reward, and is limited to an iron or fairway wood by a string of fairway bunkers. Unless you are lucky enough to find the 20 foot wide line of sight between dunes, a 200 yard second directly over them is required. Sometimes it feels as though Sandwich is telling you when to play safe and when you must play the difficult shot. Sadly, this doesn't make execution any easier!

    Royal St. George's certainly requires more thought than most championship courses of a comparable scale, and along with St Andrews it is arguably one of the few remaining major championship courses that retains the charm and quirkiness that used to define British links golf.

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  5. Kummel = No

    Chicago Golf Club (often referred to simply as 'Chicago Golf') is one of the most historic in America and yet even in the local area there are many people who are blissfully unaware of its existence. One of the 5 original founding members of the USGA, Chicago Golf is the oldest 18 hole golf course in the United States, though it was redesigned in the 1920s by Seth Raynor. This is perhaps appropriate, since the club was founded by Charles Blair Macdonald and the two shared a design ethos very familiar to those lucky enough to have played National Golf Links or other great Macdonald/Raynor courses.

    Chicago Golf is a broadly rectangular property and the original CBM course played clockwise around it from the north, and then back around anti-clockwise on the inside... thus mimicking the out and back nature of British links courses. Tellingly, most of the trouble (including out of bounds) was on the left of each hole... not surprising given that Macdonald was a prolific slicer of the ball! When Raynor redesigned the course, he left some of the hole locations, but moved many to create a full length championship course replete with stunning versions of the Road, Biarritz and Redan holes. The course has a very linksy feel to it with tall fescues flanking the fairways, and you really feel as though you could be back in the 1920s when you're out on the property.

    Another reason you may feel you're back in the 1920s (or in the UK!) is because Chicago Golf has no air conditioning in the clubhouse. This may be fine on a cool spring day, but in the height of summer I can't even imagine it! Everything at Chicago is old school and this is one of the club's endearing qualities, but it was with relief that I discovered they're installing AC soon! However, joking aside, Chicago is a classy club and a classic course, and it's certainly right up there as one of my favourite courses in the US. It's a cross between the setting of Muirfield and the course of National Golf Links, and like both of those courses Chicago remains one of those places that the serious lover of golf history and architecture must visit at some point in their lives.

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  6. Kummel = Yes

    The Royal Blackheath Golf Club is regarded by many to be the world's oldest golf club. When King James VI of Scotland became James I of England, he came to London in 1603 and brought many Scots nobles and their households with him. These Scots wished to continue playing their game of golf and the expanse of land which later became Blackheath was perfect for their needs. There is no official record of the beginning of the club as the club minutes prior to 1787 are missing, but it is believed that the club has existed since 1608. Thus, in 2008 the club celebrated its 400th anniversary.

    Golf was played at Blackheath until eventually the 7 hole course there became over-crowded and dangerous to civilians nearby. The Royal Blackheath then moved to their own site a mile or two to the south, occupying a beautiful mansion for their clubhouse in 1923 (which was, in fact, just a smaller house in the grounds of the nearby royal 'Eltham Palace'). This 'new' golf course is a very traditional English parkland affair, built on gently sloping land that was once probably the garden of the mansion building. Very little earth must have been moved, yet it is a good and fun course to play, with quicks such as the hedge you must play over to reach the 18th green. The 18th green is jammed hard against the clubhouse (see photo above), which makes for some pressure putting under the gaze of the members inside. This is ideal for Royal Blackheath, as it really is a great members' club and they appear to use their wonderful clubhouse well, with many club dinners and a friendly atmosphere. This must be because it is spiritually a Scots club!

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