Best Public Golf Courses in the US
No matter where you travel, you can always find the best public golf courses to enjoy the game.
With the help of the emergence of Tiger Woods, the popularity of exploded in the late 1990s and early 2000s, drawing hundreds of thousands of new players to the game. Gen X-ers to soon-to-be retired Baby Boomers picked up a set of clubs and needed a place to play, but most couldn’t afford a private club.
To keep up, developers in every city and many small towns from Maine to Hawaii built courses to accommodate the new playing public. Many of these courses were built on minimal budgets with the goal of attracting local players. Some developers reached well down into their considerably deep pockets and built courses that are monuments to the game – with green fees that are out of reach for the average local player – to attract players from all over the world who are willing to pay up to $500 for a round on a truly great course. Only a few courses reach that price extreme, but you be able to find a great public course to enjoy the game.
There are few opportunities for the traveling golfer to play a course that held the U.S. Open. This is one of them. The course is a big, bruising layout and the sign on the clubhouse patio overlooking the first tee says it all: “The Black Course is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers.” Even the world’s best professionals find the course difficult, which is why two U.S. Open championships have been played there. The course rolls over the sandy loam of Long Island with tree-lined fairways, intricate bunker complexes and firm, fast greens that are difficult targets to hit.
casino magnate Steve Wynn built Shadow Creek in 1989 as a place for only his highest of high rollers to play. The course is now owned by MGM Resorts International and is open to guests of its Las Vegas properties, which includes MGM Grand, the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and New York, New York, among others. The $500 fee includes a caddie, clubs, shoes, balls and everything you might need, right down to a limousine ride to the course and back. The layout, designed by Tom Fazio, is a tribute to Wynn’s money-is-no-object business style. It cost $60 million to build and Wynn had 21,000 trees hauled in and planted, making this an oasis of green in the otherwise dry, drab desert.
Just outside of Pinehurst, NC, considered the home of American golf, the new Dormie Club is rekindling the long-lost look and feel of the game in the North Carolina Sandhills. If the Sandhills weren’t made for golf, golf was certainly made for it. The Dormie Club reveals exactly what the Sandhills are – sandy scrub brush with towering pine trees. It is the Dormie Club’s simplicity that makes it exquisite – holes built with the lay of the land and any area that isn’t either fairway or green remains in its natural state. In about two years, the Dormie Club is expected to allow only private access, so now is the time to play it.
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Rhodes, IA, (population about 300) in the rural farmland northwest of Des Moines is about the last place in the lower 48 that you’d expect to fine a high-end public course. But that’s the way the game is these days, anywhere you look there’s a course. The average income in this farming town is about $30,000, yet is costs $109 to play The Harvester, an exquisite layout, built around Lake Harvester, that would fit nicely into the golf menu of any major city. The course, built around Lake Harvester, even has some gradual elevation change, a characteristic not generally associated with Iowa.
Plenty of courses built during the recent golf explosion claimed to be “links-style” courses, which for most was just a marketing ploy to get players to think they are getting the Scottish or Irish golf experience. Arcadia Bluffs, hard on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, is the most realistic Irish links impersonation to emerge from that era. The course sprawls across 3,100 feet of lakefront bluffs and is such a fine representation of an Irish links that all it needs to be foolproof is the smell of the sea air.
Regardless of where your travel takes you, public golf is thriving. It’s not difficult to find a great course within driving distance of your location.
From the east to the west coast, check out Travel Channel's list of the best golf courses in the United States, including Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst and more.