How Golf Courses Snag a Coveted Spot on Golf Digest’s Top 100 List

Ever wonder how courses & clubs make the Golf Digest Top 100 list? Private Club Marketing breaks down the know how on How to Make Golf Digest Top 100 List.

Recently the country’s “oldest and most respected course ranking” marked its 51st year in circulation, having just celebrated its golden anniversary in 2016. The big news this year is that the scuffle for the much sought-after number one rank has switched from the famed Augusta National in Georgia, to the also exclusive Pine Valley Golf Club in Southern New Jersey. Pine Valley returns to the top from its erstwhile number two position, although it has occupied top billing before in 2009 and 2015.

With all this flip-flopping between the highest ranked courses, one thing is clear—any course in the top handful of Golf Digest’s Top 100 List boasts incredible landscape architecture, service, and artistry in its homage to the game of golf. When the choices are all top-notch, how does the panel of experts make its choice?

According to legendary golf journalist Ron Whitten, clubs often ask “How to Make Golf Digest Top 100 List”, well panelists play and rank courses according to a set of seven criteria: shot values, resistance to scoring, design variety, memorability, aesthetics, conditioning, and ambiance.

“To arrive at a course's final score,” he says, “we total its averages in the seven categories, doubling Shot Values. A course needs 45 evaluations over the past eight years to be eligible for America's 100 Greatest and the Second 100 Greatest.”

In response to past criticism of the list that so many of the courses on Golf Digest’s Top 100 are exclusive private clubs and not generally available to most of the publication’s readers, Whitten says Golf Digest answered back by introducing a specialized list of the Top 100 Public Courses in 2003. And what about the tension between the Top 100 and the Second Greatest 100 lists?

Whitten notes that placement on the number two list is “…not a consolation prize, but what it does is tell you who might contend next time around.”