Sweetens Cove is one of the hottest courses in the world right now — a fact reflected in its spot in GOLF's inaugural ranking of 9-hole courses.
With detailed input from GOLF’s 88-member Top 100 Courses ranking panel, its editors, architects from around the world and select other short-course aficionados, we’ve compiled GOLF’s first long look at “short courses,” including our inaugural ranking of the world’s 50 greatest 9-hole tracks, plus the 25 best sub-6,000-yard courses and 25 best par-3 courses. Because good things really do come in small packages.
This year marks GOLF’s inaugural effort in the category of 9-hole course rankings, and it’s about time. Our World and U.S. rankings always stimulate lively debate, and 9-holers deserve the same attention.
Here, we’re focusing solely on standalone 9-hole courses, in part to show that solo niners — as opposed to 9-hole tracks built to complement full 18s, like the dazzling Valliere nine at Morfontaine in France or William Flynn’s excellent Primrose nine at The Country Club outside Boston — are quite viable financial entities in and of themselves. And every bit as thrilling as a traditional course.
“I’ve been fascinated with 9-hole courses since growing up at Goose Run GC, on the U.S. Navy submarine base in Groton, Conn.,” says golf coach Mike Dutton, whose specialty is researching niners in the U.S. (at last count he’d identified 277 of them in New England alone) and the UK.
“A good 9-holer,” Dutton says, “knows what it is — intimate, local, welcoming — and avoids what it isn’t: pretentious, punitive, grand. Like Cliff Notes or a nap, a 9-holer fits the bill when you want less to be more. And like the bar in Cheers, it should be a place where everybody knows your name.”
That said, American golfers will be unfamiliar with some of the greatest 9-holers. Unlike par-3 courses, where North America dominates, this group features plenty of UK loops, many of them built by “members” and “locals,” guaranteeing colorful originality.
The 50 best stand-alone 9-hole courses (ranked)
* Course descriptions compiled by GOLF’s Top 100 Course Panelists and GOLF staffers.
1. Royal Worlington & Newmarket GC, Suffolk, England (Tom Dunn/1893)
Expert’s take: Just as the Yale golf team has enjoyed playing out of one of the USA’s top golf courses, the golf team across the pond at Cambridge have a gem of their own. In this case, it is Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club. As one saddles up to the unassuming clubhouse and plays the first couple of holes, it’s hard to understand the fuss around this little nine-holer. But patience has its virtue as you will soon encounter some of the more extreme green complexes in all of England. Creativity rules the day with tee shots crossing greens and a final two-shotter that requires a clever little tee shot over the entry road. If you have an appreciation for quirky, you’ll relish your visit. (For more on Royal Worlington & Newmarket, click here.)
2. Whitinsville GC, Whitinsville, Mass. (Donald Ross/1925)
Expert’s take: Whitinsville proves once again that bigger and bolder isn’t always better. This quiet 9-hole layout serves the community well. If every town had a Whitinsville you would have millions more Americans enjoying golf. Fun, variety, an easy walk — all make for an enjoyable day. How I wish we could celebrate what nine holes can do for the outdoor spirit.
3. Culver Academies GC, Culver, Ind. (Langford & Moreau/1923)
Expert’s take: I strongly believe that site selection is the most important factor in golf course architecture, and these nine holes may be one of the world’s best examples. Incredible landforms perfectly utilized by Messrs. Langford, Morreau, and more recently Weed.
4. The Dunes Club, New Buffalo, Mich. (Dick Nugent/1991)
Expert’s take: About as diverse and versatile as a 9-hole course can be. In a roundabout way, this Dick Nugent design on sandy, scrubby ground had enormous influence on the post-Bandon golf world. Mike Keiser built The Dunes, an early sign that he was a visionary.
5. Leckford (Old Course), Hampshire, England (Harry Colt/1929)
Expert’s take: A brilliant design by a brilliant designer (Harry Colt of Muirfield and Wentworth fame), Leckford has been largely untouched since its original design in 1929. What greets golfers is a fantastic test of bunkering, strategy and classic linksland — at prices starting at just 24 euros.
6. Reigate Heath GC, Surrey, England (Tom Dunn/1895)
Expert’s take: Reigate Heath would be one of Bernard Darwin’s little known “stars of sand and heather.” Of course there is pine, birch, oak and wild bilbery here too. A venerable club formed in the late 19th century, this club feels a bit Dutch given the signature windmill adjacent to the clubhouse. The routing circularly takes you around a surprisingly rolling property which tests the short irons as well as a few longer clubs. Reigate is a period piece of what golf was at the turn of the century.
7. Sweetens Cove GC, South Pittsburg, Tenn. (King-Collins/2014)
Expert’s take: A 9-hole course that truly packs a punch! While the track itself is interesting and keeps a golfer intrigued from start to finish, the vibe that surrounds the course is perhaps even more noteworthy and memorable. There are no rules at Sweetens but to have fun, and the experience is consequently unmatched.
There are no rules at Sweetens but to have fun.
8. Edgartown GC, Edgartown, Mass. (Connie Lee/1926)
Expert’s take: A true charmer with a no-nonsense clubhouse, a no-fuss attitude, and breathtaking views of the Vineyard Sound. A clever routing and creative use of multiple tee boxes that allows one to go around twice, but enjoy two distinctive nine-hole experiences. Don’t stray too far from the manicured fairways and greens as the fescue can be brutal.
9. Sunnylands Rancho Mirage, Calif. (Dick Wilson/1964)
Expert’s take: Uber-private, and usually the private playground of world leaders, it’s a meticulously manicured desert beauty. The two times I’ve played it, we were the only ones there. More fun than difficult, you feel off the planet for a day.
10. Cruit Island GC, Donegal, Ireland (Michael Doherty/1986)
Expert’s take: The landforms on this rocky, seaside routing are almost Seussian, like you’re playing golf at the edge of the world — in a sort of netherworld where rules don’t apply. But the holes are legit, if short in spots, and the tiny green sites are perched in some truly phenomenal, unlikely places. Played it in a downpour accompanied by howling winds. Would love to go back but it’s so far out there in the northwest, I sorta doubt I ever will.
11. Saratoga Golf & Polo, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (Robert C.B. Anderson/1896)
Expert’s take: Kye Goalby redid the place on a tight budget, making it look old to embrace its origins by reimagining the bunkering, adding Victorian Era-inspired mounds, expanding greens and fairways and clearing out trees to open vistas. Then a new super (Steven Aspinall) came on board and changed it in one year from an overwatered, mushy swamp into a wonderful firm and fast course that embraces and highlights its throwback design.
12. Durness GC, Durness, Scotland (Keith, Morrison, Ross/1988)
Expert’s take: Widely considered one of the true hidden gems of Scottish Golf, Durness runs on an impeccable stretch of land along the coast of Balnakeil Bay. The track, which features nine holes of cliffside linksland, has nine holes but 18 sets of tees, meaning you’ll see a brand new course the second time should you decide to stick around for another nine.
13. Hooper GC, Walpole, N.H. (Stiles and Van Kleek/1927)
Expert’s take: As good as any Stiles course out there, just half the size. The property is dramatic but should never have yielded 9 such good golf holes. Pretty genius bit of routing, straddling a central ridge feature.
14. North Haven GC, North Haven, Maine (Unknown/1916, Updated by Wayne Stiles/1932)
Expert’s take: A beautiful walk and a charming course. Make sure to check out the original clubhouse that sits near the 3rd hole.
15. Isle of Harris GC, Isle of Harris, Scotland (Locals/1920)
Expert’s take: A wee course that captures the essence of Scottish golf and immerses the golfer in the beauty of the Isle of Harris. The nine holes pack a punch with wild blind greens, halfpipe fairways, a hearty dose of funk and mesmerising views across Scarista beach. Visitors are recommended to stay nearby to enjoy the four-hole opening loop long into the evening. If you’re into raw exhilarating golf, this is a trip worth taking.
Isle of Harris GC
16. Mulranny GC, County Mayo, Ireland (Unknown/1896)
Expert’s take: Guarded by electrified fences, the greens are surprisingly large and full of character. Punchbowl and plateau, embankment and benched, their sites are well varied, often at the end of some astutely occupied seaside terrain. The hardly believable left-to-right cant of the short 8th, perched beyond hidden burn with village in the distance above, will be a favorite.
17. King Island Golf & Bowling, Currie, Tasmania (Locals/1932)
Expert’s take: The first and, until recently, only golf course on tiny King Island, located between the island state of Tasmania and the mainland of Australia. Whilst the island has been enhanced in recent times with the development of two world-class courses — Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes — the King Island Golf & Bowling Club previously provided the only golf option for the 1,500 resident population. A number of holes play through and across well established vegetation and rolling farmland before heading to the water, where the course is fully exposed to the elements of wind, surf and the ever-changing (and quite challenging) weather patterns. Two sets of tees for each hole add to the variety (and fun) of the course.
18. The Course at Sewanee, Sewanee, Tenn. (Albion Knight/1915, Updated by Gil Hanse/2013)
Expert’s take: A fun, rollicking test set in some of the great Smoky Mountain scenery and unlocked by a creative redesign courtesy of Gil Hanse at the beginning of the decade.
19. The Links Valley (reversible), Ermelo, Netherlands (Frank Pont /2018)
Expert’s take: Situated in an old sand quarry in De Veluwe, the largest heathland area of the Netherlands, this undulating course features height differences of more than 20 yards, something that is quite unusual for courses in the Low country. Because it took nearly 15 years to secure permits for design, the design team (led by Frank Pont) took years to refine the somewhat complex design concept of a reversible course, following an idea proposed by Tom Simpson some 90 years ago. The course is a mix of bold landforms, (re)developing heathland, natural sandy waste areas and raised greens sporting mild contours surrounded by lots of short grass. Very few bunkers were used, mostly because they were not needed. Strong emphasis is on the ground game, which works well because the course plays very fast and firm.
20. Highland Golf Links, North Truro, Mass. (Willard Small/1892)
Expert’s take: Hardly a perfect 9 but the closest thing to proper Scottish links golf you’ll find in New England, where most attempts are just too manicured, irrigated, house-bounded, etc. Highland Links is convincingly rugged, wind-dependent and remote with 3-4 holes of real quality.
21. Castlegregory Golf Links, County Kerry, Ireland (Arthur Spring/1989)
Expert’s take: Another brilliant seaside links test, Castlegregory is everything you’ve come to expect about European links golf at half the length. This par-34 Irish test comes in at 2,876 yards, but best of all? Its proximity to the water leaves it impervious to frost, making it a year-round destination for golfers of all ages.
22. Real Golf de Zarauz, Gipuzkoa, Spain (Unknown/1916)
Expert’s take: Spain’s only true links defies many architectural conventions with three one-shotters in the first four holes and multiple holes crossing each other (four!). Despite its compact size (only 26 acres), the course features holes of all lengths and moves beautifully across the protected dunescape, with many uneven lies and elevated greens. Pure fun in a compact package.
23. Eagle Springs Golf Resort, Eagle, Wis. (William Tuohy/1893, A.G. Spaulding/1921)
Expert’s take: Eagle Springs is the oldest course in the state of Wisconsin, and it might also be the quirkiest. Owned by Mike Bolan, a fifth-generation descendent of 19th-century course founders John and Mary Tuohy, Eagle Springs was originally built as an 18-hole layout, but shrunk to only nine holes after the Great Depression. While nine of the original holes are gone, the entertainment is not.
24. Gairloch GC, Gairloch, Scotland (A.M. Burgess/1898)
Expert’s take: Set along a beach near the Islands of Sky, Gairloch’s strongest characteristics are similar to those of many other great 9-holers: it’s easy to make bogey, but hard to break par.
25. Madison GC, Madison, N.J. (Members/1896)
Expert’s take: This quirky and intimate gem, rife with big and small holes, is golf’s version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. A great place to play a match, take the kids, or squeeze in a sneaky nine.
26. Milton-Hoosic Club, Canton, Mass. (Willie Park Jr./1891)
Expert’s take: Well into a superb restoration which has the potential to create a truly special nine-holer. Willie Park left behind a great collection of bones that slowly became lost as a result of tree overgrowth and some neglect. Good progress correcting to date and more planned. The 4th hole offers a very special green setting.
27. Hotchkiss GC, Lakeville, Conn. (Seth Raynor/1924)
Expert’s take: The bones of something wonderful are still there, but this course needs some TLC. What a treasure they have in their care. Hope to see them do right by it.
28. Weekapaug GC, Westerly, R.I. (Phil Wogan/1967)
Expert’s take: A wonderful Sunday 9 course where you can knock it around with a few buddies and have a fun, casual game. The wind can really blow and the bunkering, fairway width and shortgrass options around the greens make it really interesting and overall FUN. The grassing lines are simple, yet sophisticated and I loved the low-key vibe of the place.
29. Otaru CC, (Old Course) Hokkaido, Japan (Tozo Sato & I. Kuno/1928)
Expert’s take: One of the oldest and most prestigious golf clubs in all of Japan, Otaru’s Old Course is a flat-out stunner.
30. Northwood GC, Monte Rio, Calif. (Alister MacKenzie/1828)
Expert’s take: This special 9-holer is a must-play. Neither long, nor wide, wayward shots likely strike ancient Redwoods, yet these giants of the forest provide enchantment and awe and absolutely make this course unique. It’s as if Alister MacKenzie decided to grace golfers with the mating of an intimate walk-in-the-woods and an escape from reality.
31. Mahia GC, Mahia, New Zealand (Unknown/1984)
Expert’s take: A step back in time, this volunteer-run links course is golf at its purest. Low lying through the dunes there are moments where, but for the weather, you could be in Scotland. Uniquely, from the clubhouse, you can watch the sun rise and set over the ocean.
32. Tobermory GC, Isle of Mull, Scotland (David Adams/1896)
Expert’s take: A wonderful course that sits atop the town, Tobermory GC sports spectacular views and breathtaking golf. If ever there was any doubt that golf is indeed a sport, then all one needs to do is go play Tobermory, where walking 9 will feel akin to conquering Everest. But like Everest, the ascent on the first is worth the journey. For what awaits golfers is a rollicking golf course worthy of its praise.
33. Domburgsche Golf Club, Domberg, Netherlands (Charles Warren/1914)
Expert’s Take: One of the oldest links courses in The Netherlands, situated in the narrow dunes of the province Zealand. The layout is understated, following a classic out-and-back routing, where especially the outgoing holes provide the most classic experience playing through, among other things, bomb craters of WWII. Course is a mix of classic and modern design elements; I would like to see it become more old fashioned again.
34. Barra GC, Isle of Barra, Scotland (Locals/1992)
Expert’s take: Well-maintained Scottish linksland along the coast, Barra GC is as fun as it is accessible, and with $90 for a full-year’s membership, it’s plenty accessible.
35. The Toronto Hunt, Toronto, Canada (Willie Park Jr./1918, Updated by Thomas McBroom/2018)
Expert’s take: Toronto Hunt is owner to one of the finest 9-hole tracks (and perhaps the finest logo) north of the border. With coastal views of Lake Ontario, delicately mown greens and white sand bunkers, you’d be forgiven for escaping to a world farther south (and toward the coast) during your round.
A good 9-holer knows what it is — intimate, local, welcoming — and avoids what it isn’t: pretentious, punitive, grand.
36. Bushfoot GC, County Antrim, Northern Ireland (Locals/1980, Updated by David Jones/2009)
Expert’s take: Bushfoot is a fond memory for me. My mother and daughter once joined me for a quick evening 9 holes. The course is on the cliffs between Royal Portrush and UNESCO World Heritage site Giant’s Causeway. Play is suitable for beginning golfers like my daughter while simultaneously presenting an interesting links course to the scratch golfer playing off its fescue turf running up and down its sloping par-4 holes.
37. Cohasse CC, Southbridge, Mass. (Donald Ross/1918)
Expert’s take: This nine-holer is actually stronger than Whitinsville GC, with lots less attention and fame. The true epitome of a hidden gem. Hole Nos. 1-9 are solid and there isn’t a weak stretch within the layout, which catapults it much, much higher in the top 50 in my opinion. Holes 2, 5, 7 and 9 are standouts. More panelists should seek this one out.
38. Quogue Field Club, Quogue, NY (Tom Bendelow/1901)
Expert’s take: This is a course you would expect in a small Scottish town, not in the United States. It begins in the middle of town, playing through grand estates and out to the ocean in the distance. The architecture is turn of the century, low profile and understated. The middle of the fairways are green, but that quickly gives way to brown and eventually whispy fescue a short distance into the rough. It’s a firm bouncy course that goes from formal Bendelow bunkers to low exposed dunes as you play closer to the ocean. Eventually, you turn back and play into town and the architecture formalizes with the change in setting. The course makes me think of the Great Gatsby every time I visit.
39. Golf Club Norderney, Norderney, Germany (Members/1922)
Expert’s take: Golf Club Norderney has been around forever, and its practicality and playability are a perfect complement to the place in which it rests.
40. Musselburgh Links, East Lothian, Scotland (Members/1672)
Expert’s take: As one of only 14 courses to have hosted an Open Championship, and as the second home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (from 1836-1891), its historical significance makes this a must-play when visiting and playing the great courses of Scotland.
41. Winter Park GC, Winter Park, Fla. (Harley Ward & Dow George/1914, Updated by Johns & Rhebb/2016)
Expert’s take: This fun little course sits in the heart of Winter Park. Ripped up in a complete re-do by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns in 2014, it was the winner of the 2014 Lido Design Contest. Now called WP9, it’s a fun test of golf. It’s a short 2,480-yard par-35 with several drivable par-4s. Great match-play course to unwind and not be consumed with the card and pencil. A must play!
42. Traigh GC, Arisaig, Scotland (Landowners/1900, Updated by Johnny Salvesen/1993)
Expert’s take: A subtle 9-holer on a beautiful piece of property, pay a measly 18 euros per round, or pony up 64 euros for a weeklong pass — either way, you won’t be disappointed.
43. Frankston GC, Melbourne, Australia (Rowley Banks/1913)
Expert’s take: A delightful layout affectionately known as the Millionaires Club. Frankston GC commences with a horizon view of the city of Melbourne across the water before playing in a clockwise direction and featuring a collection of tight holes over gently changing landscape. Green complexes are cleverly wedged into the natural setting and the less-than-perfect conditioning actually adds to the charm of the course. The understated entrance and clubhouse complete the experience.
44. Real Club de Golf La Toja, Pontevedra, Spain (Ramon Espinosa Garcia/1968)
Expert’s take: La Toja is a course that would get Top 100 attention if it were 18 holes in length. Located on a very small island, all holes play along the sea and take up half of the land. The other half is a beautiful pine forest that provides an amazing contrast with the water.
45. Unzen Golf Links, Nagasaki, Japan (B. Oles/1913)
Expert’s take: Established in 1913 as the oldest public course in Japan, the Unzen area was certified as Japan’s first national park in 1934.
46. Castine GC, Castine, Maine (Willie Park Jr./1921)
Expert’s take: Castine is a rough and rugged coastal Maine golf course that showcases glimpses of the water, without ever playing down to it or alongside it. Rocks and natural landforms give the course a nice flow from holes 1 to 9 and there are a few solid golf holes (6 and 7). The two-tier (linear bisected) green at 7 is truly worth a visit alone.
47. Kambaku GC, Komatipoort, South Africa (Douw Van Der Merwe/1999)
Expert’s take: A community golf course in every sense of the word, local farmers came together in the late 90s to clear the land to make what is now one of South Africa’s finest 9-hole courses.
48. Alnmouth Village GC, Alnwick, England (Mungo Park/1869)
Expert’s take: A classic, understated out-and-back course on relatively flat linksland, but with very large undulations in the fairways. Exceptions are No. 6, which first plays up the bluffs to a volcano green and No. 7, which has a shot down from the bluffs to the links comparable to Cruden Bay’s 10th. The greens are wonderful, surrounded by lots of wrinkles in the links.
49. Dragon’s Tooth (Ballachulish) Ballachulish, Scotland (Robin Hiseman/2002)
Expert’s take: It’s cheap, it’s accessible, it’s consistently (and superbly) well-kept. What more could you want out of a 9-holer?
50. Wawashkamo GC, Mackinac Island, Mich. (Alex Smith/1898)
Expert’s take: Still 122 years later, Wawashkamo is so beloved by its community that it’s recognized as a historic site in the state of Michigan. Largely unaltered from its original linksland design, Wawashkamo is part of the fabric of golf history as one of the very first Great Lakes golf courses. It’s a treat to all who play it, and more than worthy of the final spot in our inaugural top-50 ranking.