The Must-Sees of Public Golf Architecture in America

A running list of architecturally compelling public golf courses in the U.S.


This idea came from an excellent question we got on Twitter: “If you were to craft a ‘playing curriculum’ for golfers who want to learn more about architecture, which 10 U.S. courses would teach people the most?”

As we talked about it, two things became clear: 1) We preferred to focus on courses accessible to the public (because if we were going to craft a curriculum, we wanted everyone to be able to buy the books), and 2) We couldn’t limit ourselves to 10 courses (because we lack self-restraint). So we decided to compile a running list of U.S. courses that provide compelling grounds for golf, embody thoughtful design principles, and offer tee times that you can book with a simple phone call. These are what we’re calling “the must-sees of public golf architecture in America”—a playing curriculum, if you like.

How long will the list be? Dunno! And we hope it will grow as our travels take us to new places.

For each course, we’ll give you a brief write-up on why you should see it, an “insider tip,” and a rating of the green fee from $ to $$$$.

We will release our picks one at a time, in no particular order, in The Fried Egg newsletter. If you’d like to keep up to date, SUBSCRIBE! We’ll also update this post occasionally.


Lawsonia Links (Green Lake, Wisconsin)


Lawsonia Links is the crown jewel of William Langford and Theodore Moreau’s body of work—and you can play it for less than $100. Few architects had a style as interesting as that of Langford & Moreau. Using their mastery of the steam shovel, a late-Golden Age earthmoving tool, the duo created highly distinctive, often massive greens and hazards. The bold architecture of Lawsonia Links makes it one of the finest courses in the entire Midwest. Full Profile of Lawsonia Links

Insider’s tip: Take advantage of the all-day-play rate. A second loop around Lawsonia Links always reveals more about its design. -Andy Johnson

(And check out the Lawsonia prints in our pro shop!)

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Soule Park Golf Course (Ojai, California)


Soule Park shows how excellent architecture can coexist with a cheap green fee and a casual atmosphere. After a catastrophic flood in 2005, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner resurrected and reimagined (without rerouting) this Billy Bell Jr. design on a small budget. They kept it simple and got the important things right: cleverly contoured greens with varied pin positions, and artfully shaped bunkers in places that force golfers to make decisions. It’s an example of doing a lot with not much, and a model that many local courses could follow. Full Profile of Soule Park

Insider tip: In the winter, Ojai not only has better weather than pretty much anywhere else but also frequent natural light shows on the mountains surrounding the town. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Cameron Hurdus


Chambers Bay (University Place, Washington)

$$$ (for non-residents)

$$ (for residents)

At Chambers Bay, the RTJ II team transformed a degraded quarry into a grand arena for both municipal and championship golf. Cleverly, chief design officer Bruce Charlton and then-associate Jay Blasi retained some artifacts of the site’s industrial past, including the immense concrete dividers along the 18th fairway. The course itself mirrors this brutalism: its man-made landforms are angular and abrupt rather than soft and rolling. It’s a unique and striking aesthetic.

Insider tip: Before playing, take a stroll on the public path that runs along the rim of the bluff above the golf course. It’s a lovely walk, and a fine preview of the golf to come. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


The Fields Golf Club (LaGrange, Georgia)


Many people point to Tom Doak and Bill Coore as the pioneers of modern minimalism in golf course architecture. While their projects at High Pointe and Sand Hills were higher profile, Mike Young’s The Fields came before either of them. In 1986, after years of selling maintenance equipment, Young used one D5 bulldozer to build this wide, strategic golf course with wonderful greens. This place is an absolute must-visit for any Atlanta resident. Full Profile on The Fields

Insider tip: As you pull into the parking lot, check out the shed to the right of the clubhouse. That’s where Scotty Cameron got his start in the putter-making business. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Jaeger Kovich


Greywalls Course at Marquette Golf Club (Marquette, Michigan)


About as far north as you can venture in America is one of the best public golf courses in the country. Greywalls, a Mike DeVries design on the edge of the Canadian Shield, is the closest thing to a modern Yale Golf Course in existence. The routing navigates rock outcroppings and rough ground before traveling through a sand-laden stretch in the middle of the back nine. The course checks all the boxes: excellent strategic design, jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior, and adventurous shots—like the one you’ll find at the par-3 6th (pictured below). Greywalls is a modern marvel, and if you’re a fan of golf architecture, you should go out of your way to see it. Full Profile on Greywalls

Insider tip: Spend some time not golfing in and around Marquette. Sand dunes, Lake Superior, and numerous hiking trails make it an outdoor vacation heaven. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Tobacco Road Golf Club (Sanford, North Carolina)


The best of Mike Stranz’s accessible architecture can be found in the Carolina Sandhills at Tobacco Road. The design is brash, filled with blind shots that evoke a sense of adventure and ask golfers to check notions of “fair” at the door. While the course has a few weaknesses—repetitive par 3s, an over-reliance on catch basins, and poor walkability—Strantz’s one-of-a-kind style and flair for the dramatic make it a must-see. Particularly notable is Tobacco Road’s rock-solid strategic design, which rewards daring players who stray close to hazards.

Insider tip: When Strantz presents a blind shot, there’s typically loads of room on the other side. Get over your fear of the unknown and you’ll have a far more enjoyable day. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Sand Valley (Nekoosha, Wisconsin)


The first course at Sand Valley Golf Resort, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, set a high bar for the burgeoning Midwest destination. For architecture fans, this course is a treat for the senses. Coore & Crenshaw’s mastery of routing is on full display: they find remarkable natural green sites, both set into and on top of the modest sand dunes. For green sites that lacked natural dunes, C&C built memorable features, such as the Redan concept on No. 3 and the mounding that fronts the par-4 15th. Overall, Sand Valley’s firm conditions and repelling green edges bring to mind the courses of the English heathlands and the Melbourne Sandbelt. Last week, during the 2019 Presidents Cup, viewers fawned over the conditioning and architecture of Royal Melbourne. For the American public golfer, Sand Valley is as close to Royal Melbourne as it gets. Full Profile of Sand Valley

Insider tip: The Sandbox is the most popular late-hour golf option at the Sand Valley Resort, but if you want to use the full bag, the evening six-hole loop at the Sand Valley course is a tremendous way to finish the day. -Andy Johnson

(Browse the Sand Valley prints in our pro shop!)

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Rustic Canyon Golf Course (Moorpark, California)


Minimalism has become a troubled concept in recent years. Initially used to describe Tom Doak’s and Coore & Crenshaw’s efforts to alter the natural landscape as little as possible, it has become a catch-all term for the current era of design. The fact is, though, that very few 21st-century courses have been built in a truly minimalist fashion. That’s one reason why Rustic Canyon is so important. In molding this course from a dry Southern California valley, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, with help from Geoff Shackelford, really didn’t move much dirt. They focused instead on finding great natural features, from the earthquake fissure on the par-5 1st to the hillside saddle on the par-4 16th. Rustic Canyon shows that minimalism isn’t just about style. It’s about treating the environment with respect, keeping costs low, and doing just enough to create stellar golf. Full Profile of Rustic Canyon

Insider tip: Rustic Canyon is worth making a trip to see by itself, but if you’re coming from out of state and have an extra day, add nearby Soule Park, Buenaventura, and Olivas Links to your itinerary. All four are either city- or county-owned, all have cheap green fees, and together they make one of the best bang-for-your-buck golf loops in the country. -Garrett Morrison

(Browse the Rustic Canyon prints in our pro shop!)

Photo credit: Andy Johnson

To be continued…