Contributor Larry Olmsted compiled the list based on unusual location, historical significance, and the amount of work necessary to transform traditionally unattractive sites (flat desert wasteland, clay and copper mines, and a former cement factory) into acclaimed golf courses.
Forbes contributor Larry Olmsted has compiled a list of the 10 most unusual golf courses in the United States, based on unusual location, the breadth of transformation to create the golf course, and historical significance.
Brickyard Crossing, Indianapolis, Ind.: When built, half the course was inside the infield of the immense oval of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As race teams needed more modern garages and facilities, room in the infield shrank and Pete Dye redesigned the course so that now four holes are inside the oval, the rest surround the complex, and golfers enter and exit through a tunnel beneath the grandstands. While the course is not open on the two big race days, the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400, all year long the track is in use as teams practice.
Furnace Creek Golf Course, Death Valley, Calif.: Set at 214 feet below sea level, in the middle of Death Valley, this is the lowest altitude golf course in the world—and one of the hottest, with summer temperatures spiking to around 130 degrees.
Shadow Creek, Las Vegas: It was built on a parking lot flat desert wasteland, and when it opened, it was the most expensive course ever built. Tom Fazio transplanted 21,000 fully mature trees, mostly pines and cottonwoods, many of them over 30 feet high. The elevation change on the site went from less than six feet to more than 213. It has streams and even a waterfall, and is so heavily wooded you usually can’t see one hole from another. It’s the ultimate manmade golf course.
Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wis.: It is a piece of Ireland or Scotland transplanted to the shores of Lake Michigan, with towering sand dunes and high rough, rolling and beautiful. But when Pete Dye arrived it was a totally flat army base covered with concrete buildings, gun emplacements, and an airstrip.
Fossil Trace, Golden, Colo.: The site, just outside Denver, was a clay mine, and Jim Engh preserved this history by leaving old rusty pieces of mining equipment alongside several holes. But the real history here is prehistoric, as in the dinosaurs that tramped through holes 11 to 15 some 64 million years ago, leaving it rich with namesake fossils—Triceratops footprints have been well marked next to the 12th green so golfers can take a look, and more fossils, plaster footprint casts, and ancient history are in the clubhouse.
Old Works Golf Club, Anaconda, Mont.: The infamous Anaconda copper mine ended up being one of the largest Superfund cleanup sites in America. Not only was this environmental hazard turned into a top-flight Jack Nicklaus Signature Design, but Nicklaus was able to incorporate many elements of the mining, including the smelter, oven, and flue. Black slag, the byproduct of copper smelting, was used to frame the bunkers.
Streamsong, Lakeland Fla.: Another mine site saved by golf, this is very unusual in that the phosphate mining operation that began more than half a century ago produced a giant pile of sand, some 2,000-acres worth, which over time grew grass and formed towering dunes.
Tobacco Road, Sanford, N.C.: In the Sandhills just outside of famed Pinehurst, this former sand mine is the seminal work of late, great designer Mike Strantz. The site is a visual overload, and at almost every tee you will be confounded with various strategic options, all dictated by the unbelievable site, a series of raw sandy expanses and pits. A secondary theme throughout is of tobacco farming, and antique implements like rippers, plows and cultivators are used as tee markers.
Cupp Course at Palmetto Hall, Hilton Head, S.C.: Acclaimed architect Bob Cupp decided to recast the game in a geometric image with bunkers, tees and greens that formed squares, triangles and rectangles and fairways mounds of near perfect pyramids. The geometric design style never caught on and has not been repeated, but it lives on today on Hilton Head.
Bay Harbor (Quarry), Mich.: The 27-hole course at Bay Harbor is perhaps the greatest work of famed designer Arthur Hills, and The Quarry nine is considered the best of the three. Before it was a beautiful golf course on Lake Michigan, it was a lakefront eyesore, a former cement factory site with 60-acres contaminated by kiln dust, and 50 that were a defunct quarry. Hills and Army Corp of Engineers encapsulated and stabilized the entire site and laid out the gorgeous course, carved through the former quarry, complete with gorges 40-feet deep flanked by stone cliff walls.