Sports Justin Thomas’ Favorite Golf Courses

by DJ Dunson | October 30, 2018

Photo provided by Shoreacres golf course, Lake Bluff, IL

The son and grandson of golf pros, 25-year-old Justin Thomas forged his well-rounded game on the crisp-greened, 500-acre Valhalla Golf Club, located in his native Louisville, KY.

Thomas graduated to wunderkind status before he was out of adolescence. By his junior year of high school, Thomas was already making the cut at professional tournaments. In 2012, as a college freshman, he won men's collegiate golf’s highest award. And in 2017 he had a breakout year on the Tour, winning four events and topping off the season with a first place finish at the PGA Championship, his first win at a major. Soon after, he was named the Tour’s Player of the Year.

So, in spite of his young age, Thomas has navigated a vast array of golf courses, including many of the world’s most renowned 18s. He knows what he likes in a golf course. “I love golf course architecture,” Thomas enthuses. “I really respect and like courses that make you look and think a little bit."

Courses that call for imagination and problem-solving tend to appeal to him most.

“I like courses where you have to be creative,” he says. “That’s why I like links golf. It’s not really just, see pin, hit pin. It’s using contours or hitting a low shot or a high shot and using slopes to try to get close to the hole. You have to think and be really creative about how you’re going to hit it.”

Links and parkland constitute the two primary types of golf courses. Links courses are typically built on coastal strips of land characterized by a paucity of trees and dunes and sand in excess. By contrast, parkland courses — the style of a majority of PGA competition sites — are set inland and lined with stands of lush trees.  Which are among Thomas’ favorite courses to play? Here’s what Thomas had to say on his top four picks — and what makes them stand out.

I love golf course architecture. I really respect and like courses that make you look and think a little bit.
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view of National Golf links of America
Photo provided by National Golf links of America

National Golf Links of America

Southampton, NY

As the summer and weekend playground of well-heeled New Yorkers, the Hamptons is known for cedar-shingle mansions, farm-to-table restaurants and miles of pristine beaches. But the area is not all horses and surfing, either; golf is also the locals’ sport of choice.

The National Golf Links of America, designed by Raynor’s mentor, Charles Blair Macdonald, was intended to mirror some of the UK’s most historic links courses and has become one of the most renowned destinations for golf in America. In fact, its par-4 second hole is an homage to the 3rd hole at England’s Royal St. George’s. Meanwhile, the 7th hole, aptly named “St. Andrews,” is a transparent nod to the 17th hole at Scotland’s Old Course at St. Andrews.

Set on a somewhat modest 350-acre property, it beckons golf tourists of all stripes and skill sets craving a piece of Old World history in a stateside locale. The National also borders the Peconic Bay, a prime swath of Hamptons real estate.

“It’s a great spot,” Thomas says. “You have to run shots up and use slopes. When it plays firm and fast, it’s a really cool little course. It’s not very hard, it’s not very long, but it’s pretty fun.”

From the courses he loves to play, it’s clear that Thomas thrills in the puzzles that complex courses pose. And it’s training to face those unique scenarios that helps give him his edge. “Every tournament I go to, in my prep I’m practicing the shots that I know I’m going to be taking a lot of during that competition,” he says. “That way, when I get out there, I’m ready.”

Royal County Down

Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Most of Thomas’ cherished courses are on the US mainland, but he has a warm spot in his heart for Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down Golf Club — a world-class links course in a golf-obsessed nation. Its resplendent scenery — including the Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak; the Mountains of Mourne; the shores of Dundrum Bay along the Irish Sea — create a dramatic backdrop for your round (no matter how you end up playing).  

Thomas – who averaged 311 yards off the tee in competition in 2018 – could drive a cotton ball into the fairway. However, County Down’s narrow fairways and punishing rough demand a high degree of precision from players with powerful drives. In addition, the seaside location turns the elements into another dimension against which players must contend.

“I had a tournament there, and pretty much every day I played in four seasons,” Thomas recalls. “You wake up, and you’re warming up in the rain. You go out to play and it gets really cold and overcast and really, really windy — blowing 25, 30 miles per hour. And the wind will switch, and it will get sunny in the afternoon. It’s bizarre.”


Lake Bluff, IL

Thirty miles north of downtown Chicago in the leafy suburb of Lake Bluff is Shoreacres, a private club opened in 1916 with a classic clubhouse overlooking Lake Michigan. An easy escape from the bustle of the city, this serene parkland course designed by course architect Seth Raynor also resonates with Thomas. Despite being on the smaller side, Thomas is drawn to its simplicity and similarities to Augusta National. “You have to be creative and have fun with it,” he says.

close up of golf ball on very green grass

Augusta National

Augusta, GA

Two hours east of Atlanta is Augusta, a postcard-pretty southern city set along the Savannah River with a burgeoning dining scene, a tidy riverwalk with gardens, playgrounds and museums, and the home to Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters.

“It’s all the greens at Augusta,” Thomas says. “Leaving [the ball] in the right spot to putt. And if you miss the green, leaving it in the right spot to get up and down.”

Amen Corner on the 11th, 12th and 13th holes is an iconic feature. But the dramatic elevation changes are an equally daunting element of the course. For example, the overall drop in elevation from the 10th tee to the lowest section of the fairway measures approximately 116 feet. Those sloping fairways make adjustments on approach shots an all-the-more exacting art.

“It’s pretty forgiving off the tee and it’s not overly long,” Thomas explains. “There’s definitely some long holes, but it’s a lot of shot and mid-irons. It’s really about placement on and around the greens.”

Is designing golf courses something Thomas is interested in doing? “I’d love to,” he says. How does one get into that field? “I have no idea,” chuckles Thomas, who turned pro in 2013. “It’s not something I need to do at this point in my career,” he smiles, “but, yeah, definitely at some point I’d love to.”

DJ Dunson

is a storyteller and sports fan who has written for Yahoo Sports, ESPN, Bleacher Report and VICE.