Designer: Kyle Phillips
The boom-and-bust economy of the Middle East obliterated Tiger Woods's first (and never completed) design in Dubai, but in Yas Links the region finally produced a game-changer. Says course spokesman Graeme McDowell, "Phillips created a genuine links course in the desert. Sometimes you close your eyes and think you're on Kingsbarns [another Phillips design] the way the greens roll, the way they're shaped... . You can run balls in; they have lots of great run-offs. You can hit lots of different shots in and around the greens. I think Kyle has created something pretty cool here." The operative word is create. Phillips literally created the coastline that edges the course, dredging 2.3 million cubic yards from the sea for the fill necessary to build the 7,414-yard layout. Yas Links is carpeted in platinum paspalum, perfect for tight, linksy lies, and peppered with 109 bunkers.
Isabela, Puerto Rico
Designer: David Pfaff
Charlie Pasarell used to be known primarily for dueling Pancho Gonzales in the longest match in Wimbledon history, but Pasarell's new course in his native Puerto Rico might soon eclipse any of his tennis achievements. Together with brother Stanley and Pfaff, Charlie has smacked a service ace when it comes to Royal Isabela. Strung on rugged cliffs in northwest Puerto Rico, 75 miles west of San Juan, this ferocious 7,538-yard, par-72 tropical test winds through junglelike flora on the hilly front nine, but it's the linksy back nine that will linger in memory, thanks to the cliff-top double green shared by the 12th and 14th holes as well as the 200-yard, par-3 17th, an all-or-nothing thriller perched high above the Atlantic. Up to this point, Puerto Rico has trotted out a series of amiable resort courses meant for holiday fun. Royal Isabela raises the bar considerably.
Stoneforest International Country Club (Leaders' Peak)
Kunming, Yunnan, China
Designer: Brian Curley
Doing a perfect Gary Player impersonation, Curley said of his course in the mountains of southwestern China, "This is one of the most unique sites ever made available for golf." Stoneforest is more spectacular than any other new inland course in the world. The best and newest of a three-course complex situated at 6,500 feet, this fantasy-calendar design zigzags through ancient karst limestone rock formations adjacent to a national park designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. The course technically opened in June, but with the Chinese government playing Ping-Pong on whether to enforce its 2004 moratorium on mainland course construction and operations, it's anyone's guess as to whether enough ranking panelists will have access by the '13 vote. If they do, it will be hard to keep a course this memorable out of the Top 100.