Ask any golfer to choose the course they would most like to play, and the first answer is likely to be Augusta National, home of the Masters.

That would perhaps be followed by Pine Valley, the course in the sandy New Jersey Pine Barrens consistently ranked as the best course in the world, or maybe Cypress Point, the ocean-side jewel on the Monterey peninsula.

Not gonna happen.

Not unless you have an intimate friend who is a member of one of those extremely private, highly exclusive golf clubs.

Some of the world’s greatest courses welcome outside play, but they are mostly located in Great Britain and Ireland, where a different access model exists.

In North America, “great” is almost always equated with “private.” Yet, in the past two decades, a remarkable development has taken place: the rise of the destination golf resort.

Now, any golfer with a travel fund and a little time can plan a trip to a cluster of sand-based, links-style—even ocean-side—gems that consistently rank among the nation’s and world’s best courses.

The rise of the destination golf course.

They feature outstanding lodging and food and welcome public golfers as though they were members. The courses are usually walking-only (with caddies available), which tends to attract both the fit and the purists.

The movement actually began with another private club – Sand Hills, in remote western Nebraska. Opened in 1994, the club became an instant success because of its creative use of its treeless topography and natural sand formations. Sand Hills proved that golfers would travel great distances to far-flung outposts in order to play special golf courses.

Here are four that followed in its wake, highly ranked and a good addition to any golfer’s bucket list.

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