NORTON — Like many of us, Steven Bowditch whipped out his smartphone after struggling to find the answer to a question he felt he should know.
After all, the question involved him: What’s one golf course Bowditch has always wanted to play but to date has not?
A few minutes produced nothing, though not for a lack of trying. Pine Valley? Cypress Point? Bandon Dunes? “Played it, played it, played it,” Bowditch said. All the great courses in his native Australia? “Played ’em.” The world’s best links courses in Scotland and Ireland? “Played ’em.”
Bowditch was now on a mission. Surely he could find one course somewhere in the world — just one — that he hasn’t played. So he reached for his phone, in search of the world’s top 100 golf courses. He stopped at National Golf Links, a highly ranked gem on Long Island. “Never heard of it,” Bowditch said. “Put that one down.”
Bowditch, one of 93 players set to compete in the Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday at TPC Boston, was the exception. Every other PGA Tour player we spoke with — close to 100 were interviewed, many of whom are playing here this week, some not — either had a ready list when they were asked for the top courses on their bucket list, or said they’ve already played every course that interests them.
Anyone who plays golf, from the elite tour pro to the 30-handicap amateur, likely has a collection of courses they’ve yet to visit and cross off. So we wondered: Where do players who spend so much of their time at courses around the world go to play golf for fun, and which bucket-list courses have they yet to play? Depends who you ask.
Those who have never played in the Masters often said Augusta National, and those who have never played in an Open Championship at the Old Course frequently included St. Andrews. Not surprisingly, private clubs that don’t host PGA Tour events were named the most, led by Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Seminole, San Francisco Golf Club, and the exclusive designs on Long Island: National, Shinnecock Hills, Maidstone, Friar’s Head, Sebonack. Two players — Matt Kuchar and J.J. Henry — said The Country Club in Brookline.
“I’d love to do all of Long Island properly, and play them all as the members play them,” said Geoff Ogilvy (his list: National, Crystal Downs, Pasatiempo). “We see these courses in such ridiculous setups.”
Playing a golf course that doesn’t host a professional event means playing golf away from the tour, though, and a common refrain from players was that those rounds are limited, or nonexistent. If they’re not playing in a tournament, they’re not playing golf. The thought of getting on a plane and taking a golf trip, for some, is a turnoff.
“I do 35 golf trips a year,” said Daniel Summerhays (Augusta National, Pine Valley, Bandon Dunes). “My vacation is sitting on my couch at home or playing games with my kids at home.”
Said Jonathan Byrd (Pine Valley, San Francisco Golf Club, Royal Dornoch): “I don’t play any leisure golf. If I told my wife I was going to take a week and play some courses I’ve never been to before, she’d slap me silly.”
Others relish the opportunity to play stress-free recreational golf, far removed from the tournament grind, especially with friends or relatives.
“Once a year we have a boys’ trip, but it’s more focused on beer than golf,” said Justin Rose (San Francisco Golf Club, Cypress Point, Los Angeles Country Club).
If they’d like to scratch off any courses on their bucket lists, tour pros have three things working in their favor: the means, the downtime, and the connections.
“I played at Shinnecock last summer because I was out there, and that was enjoyable,” said Adam Scott (Sand Hills, Royal Portrush, Bandon Dunes). “I like to go with my mom and dad if I can. It’s hard every year, but two years ago we took a golf trip to Tasmania and played Barnbougle and Lost Farm. If I can do it with them that’s good, because I don’t get to spend much time and they’re both golfers, so it’s fun for them. I like some social golf. It used to all be too serious. It’s just fun to play.”
Not for everyone. Bubba Watson, Boo Weekley, John Daly, Ryan Moore, Jeff Overton, Charl Schwartzel, and Phil Mickelson were among those who declined to provide even a single course they’ve never been to but still have an interest in playing.
“I’ve played them all. All the ones I’ve wanted to, anyway,” Mickelson said.
Added Schwartzel: “I’ve got no desire to play that kind of golf. I think it’s because we do it for a living.”
When it comes to bucket lists, Zach Johnson (Royal Melbourne, San Francisco Golf Club, Chicago Golf Club) has a much different approach.
“My bucket list would be like going to Wimbledon, going to the French Open, going to the World Cup, other sporting events that have nothing to do with golf,” Johnson said. “If I had a normal job, I’d probably say otherwise.”