There are more golf courses in North America, indeed in just the US, than in the rest of the world combined. The range of golfing experiences on the continent extends from summer-only courses in Canada and classic traditional courses of the US northeast and the ultramodern layouts in Florida to the tropical beach-side play on the Mexican coasts and just about everything in between.
The US is far and away the world's greatest golfing country in terms of the numbers of courses (over 15,000) and players (around 24 million). The game was brought by the British to the East Coast, where the first clubs date to the late 1800s (apart from Savannah Golf Club in South Carolina, which traces its history to 1794). The Old World continued to exercise an influence long after Independence, with figures such as Alister MacKenzie bringing their designs, and British Players dominating the US Open from its inception in 1895 until native Philadelphian John J. McDermott's victory in 1911. The Northeast Coast boasts such classic courses as The Country Club in Massachusetts (1882), Shinnecock Hillsin the Hamptons (1891), Pittsburgh's Oakmont (1903) and New Jersey's Pine Valley (1913), side by side with countless other fantastic layouts old and new by the world's finest architects.
In the Southeast, a major center of golf is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Representative of the splendor to be found here are Arnold Palmer's course for Rivers Edge and Robert Trent Jones' at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club. The most prestigious club, not only in the South but in the entire country, however, is located on the Georgia shore; Augusta National was designed by the legendary Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, and has since 1934 hosted the Masters, one of the quartet of majors in pro golf. And nowhere in the South, or perhaps in the world, is the game more vigorous than in Florida, where historic courses like Seminole Golf Club (1929) share the peninsula with such contemporary designs as Pete Dye’s Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
On the opposite coast, California vies with Florida in terms of weather and beaches; the state also has the mountains and deserts that are lacking in the Sunshine State. Pride of place goes to Pebble Beach (1919), one of the most famous layouts in the world. In fact, every region and nearly every state in the US boasts a wide variety of interesting and challenging golfing experiences. There are classic traditional courses in the Midwest such as Chicago Golf Club (1893) and Burlington (Iowa) Golf Club (1899) and a stupendous array of golfing options such as the Wildcat Golf Club in the Houston area; mile-high courses in the Rockies like Heritage Eagle Bend; desert golf amid the glitz of Las Vegas, as at Shadow Creek; and golf surrounded by temperate rainforests in Oregon/Washington as at Salish Cliffs Golf Club, the genuine links play at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Chambers Bay in Washington. It goes almost without saying that US players have dominated the game for decades.
Turning now to Canada, this nation, despite its northerly location, is today home to more than 2400 golf courses. The game actually got its start earlier here than in the US, with the establishment of the Montreal Golf Club coming in 1873. From classic courses like this to exciting new layouts like Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, Canada has the full range of golfing experiences. Canada's courses, 90% of which are public, offer the 10% of the population that plays golf a summer alternative to such iconic national pastimes as skiing and hockey. The country is also known for the Canada Cup, now the World Cup. Golf Canada, the governing body here, claims some 300,000 members, though the country has not yet produced players to compete on the world stage apart from 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir. And while the pace of new course construction has slackened since peaking a few years ago, the outlook for the game remains positive, and is bound to improve when a Canadian does at last break into the top rank of players.
The southernmost North American country, Mexico, was introduced to the game by visitors and immigrants from the US in the late nineteenth century. The Canada Cup came here in 1958, as did the Eisenhower Trophy in 1966 and the (renamed) World Cup in 2002, though these high-profile events did not much excite the natives. There has however been one outstanding Mexican player, Lorena Ochoa, the number one female player in the late 2000s. Major destinations for golf within the country include the Mexico City area, and Baja California, which is home to a number of superb championship courses, including Quivira Golf Club, with a Jack Nicklaus design, Los Cabos with its 11 full courses and the stunning Tiger Woods’ design, El Cardonal, at Cabo San Lucas.
There is no doubt that North America will continue to be the center of golf, at least in terms of the numbers of players and courses, for the foreseeable future. More than 50 courses are currently under construction now, with twice that number in the planning stages.