Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have played golf just about everywhere. Many of those courses you’ve probably heard of, but some are less renowned — at least for most golfers. In Best Course You’ve Never Heard Of, we celebrate those sneaky-good designs.
As a proud graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., I subscribe wholeheartedly to the mantra, “Go Army, Beat Navy.” Slightly further down my list of guiding principles is the saying, “Give Credit Where Credit is Due.” Therefore, as painful as it is for me to admit, the best course you may have never heard of is the William Flynn-designed Naval Academy Golf Course, in Annapolis, Md.
The history of the course is about as random as having a billy goat for a school mascot, but in the end it all worked out. In 1938, the U.S. Navy purchased land near the academy in order to expand its radio communications facility. On that land happened to be an abandoned 18 holes, once belonging to the Greenbury Point Yacht Club. In 1940, a new nine-hole course was established. Then, in 1942, Flynn, the famed architect behind such vaunted designs as Shinnecock Hills, Merion, The Country Club and Cherry Hills, was brought in to create a new 18-hole layout from the existing nine holes. The course opened (again!) in 1944 and proved to be Flynn’s swan song, as he passed away that same year of kidney disease, at 53.
Over the next half century, as the annual Star Match between Army and Navy golf toggled back and forth between the teams’ home venues, little was done to the Naval Academy Course. It wasn’t until 2018 that Andrew Green was tasked with restoring the original Flynn bones. Doing so involved expanding the fairways, reshaping the greens and adding 21 fairway bunkers. A major turf overhaul took place as well, headed by superintendent Eric David. The restoration was complete and ready for play in 2020.
The course is managed by the Naval Academy Golf Association and open to Midshipmen, active-duty and retired military, Academy faculty, staff and their guests. As is the case with many university-owned courses, it can be a bit tricky gaining access, but if you find yourself in the D.C./Mid-Atlantic area, it’s worth calling up an old Navy friend to play this classic. Just don’t let them fool you: the nation’s finest service academy was established in 1802, some 260 miles north!
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