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Football might be America's most popular spectator sport and baseball its national pastime, but golf is its national obsession. So obsessed are local duffers, in fact, that golf courses have been tucked into nearly every nook and cranny of the landscape. You'll find courses clinging perilously to seaside cliffs, sprawled over deserts and high plains, and laid out in old sand quarries and fossil beds. One hole, in Idaho, even floats in the middle of a lake, reachable not by golf cart but by shuttle boat. But America has plenty of classic courses, those enduring places whose names alone connote golf royalty. Here are five of the country's most iconic golf courses.
1. Pebble Beach Golf Links, California
This classic California course was laid out in 1919 atop the surf-battered cliffs of the Monterey Peninsula. The real challenge in playing its rugged 18 holes might be keeping your eyes on the ball and off the jaw-dropping scenery. Pebble Beach is a public course, but the privilege of playing here comes at a price: nearly $500 per player for a round. It's a greens fee that many golf fanatics happily pay for the chance to tackle the course that Jack Nicklaus called "possibly the best in the world."
2. Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia
Come April, when creamy dogwood blossoms dust the greens, this gently undulating course is as lovely as a poem. Built on the site of an antebellum indigo plantation, the ultra-exclusive Augusta National Golf Club has been slow to shed a certain plantation mentality — no African American members were accepted until 1990, and women weren't admitted until 2012. Such issues were amplified by Augusta's high profile as the home of the prestigious Masters tournament, one of professional golf's four annual majors.
3. Bethpage State Park, New York
Another fabled public golf course, Bethpage was built along the sprawling curves of an old family estate near Farmingdale, N.Y. Of its five 18-hole courses, the Black Course — labeled a "brute" by Sports Illustrated — was the first public course chosen to host the U.S. Open Championship, in 2002. Taking home the trophy that year: Tiger Woods.
4. Pine Valley Golf Club, New Jersey
Legendary course architect Robert Trent Jones called Pine Valley a "monster" that "takes your breath away." This historic private club built atop Jersey sand has never held a major tournament and is so exclusive it's only open to the public one day a year, the final day of the Crump Cup, honoring course founder George Crump. But to many golfers, the thrilling peaks and dales of Pine Valley come closer to perfection than perhaps any other golf course in the country.
5. Sand Hills Golf Club, Nebraska
This members-only course was carved out of the contours of the grassy dunes of Nebraska's remote Sandhills region. Opened in 1995 and designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, it's been cited as one of the country's best modern courses (that is, built after 1960). Sand Hills has a breezy big-sky, big-country feel, with massive bunkers and rolling meadows that stretch far into the horizon.