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Book review: "Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die" makes any traveling golfer salivate

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Narrowing the world's thousands of golf courses down to just 50 "play before you die" tracks, as is the conceit behind author Chris Santella's "Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die," seems like a hopelessly flawed endeavor.

Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die
Chris Santella's "Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die" will whet any traveling golfer's appetite.
Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You DiePacific Dunes Golf Course - No. 11

Do you pick the 50 best designed? The 50 most beautiful? The 50 most prestigious?

Or, how about an unpredictable mix that includes some of the world's most famous golf courses and some more obscure picks that don't make it onto the pages of any other "best of" golf guides. That's how Santella delivers this potpourri of courses you've now been told to tee it up at before kicking the bucket.

And with courses stretching from California to India and everywhere in between, better get started sooner rather than later ...

Santella, formerly a greenskeeper, calls on many of the game's experts for first-hand anecdotes of each course. These personalities range from pro tour veterans like Nick Faldo, Mark O'Meara (who delivers the foreword), Gary Player and Christie Kerr. Or they're impartial journalists such as the Golf Channel's Rich Lerner, who tells tales of golf fit for a king at Morocco's Royal Dar es Salam Golf Club.

In other cases, Santella goes directly to the course architects themselves, talking to Pete Dye about his Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Santella even talks to Dye's wife and co-designer Alice Dye on the groundbreaking Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

For the RTJ Trail in Alabama, he enlists Roger Rulewich, Jones's protégé and surely the most knowledgeable man on what went into the construction of the legendary trail.

The selection is literally all over the map, though certain destinations contain a cluster of courses. In Monterey, the book calls upon O'Meara to share his thoughts on one of the tour's most famous stops, Pebble Beach. Then, rather than highlight a nearby gem like Cypress Point or Spyglass Hill, Santella unveils the lesser-known muni Pacific Grove, described by expert Peter Finch as "quintessential California golf" suitable for a "Beach Boys video" at a fraction of the Pebble price tag.

Few golfers also probably know of the small, mountainous south Asian country Bhutan and its sole, nine-hole golf course Royal Thimphu Golf Club (which expert John Barton calls the "most remote golf course in the world," requiring at least a solid 24 hours to reach from North America). Then again, it may be easier playing this exotic course than Pine Valley. Most golfers are probably acutely aware of Pine's must-play designation but aren't holding their breath for a tee time at this exclusive New Jersey golf club.

The book names two golf courses in Scotland among the 50 must plays, and they couldn't be more different. There's the Old Course in St. Andrews, an unquestionable pilgrimage for any golfer.

But the second course isn't so obvious: it's the nine-holer Durness Golf Club in the Scottish Highlands, a two-hour drive up a "scary road," as described by Ty Wenger, to a club that's hardly on the radar of most golfers heading to Scotland.

But after reading a little bit about its cliffside location along the North Sea, one couldn't help but check it out.

You probably won't make it to all 50 courses near and far, but the book will certainly have you dreaming about how to make it possible - and that's the fun part for any golf travel buff.

"Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die" is a glossy, hardcover book published in 2005 with full-page photos of most golf courses. With a list price of $24.95, it's available at most online book sellers including Amazon.com and is part of a series by Santella that includes topics like fly fishing, birding and scuba diving.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Shouldn't this be titled...

    RonMon wrote on: Feb 6, 2009

    ...fifty places you won't get to play before you die? Unless you're in the upper echelon, you won't get on these tracks.


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