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 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 (Nekoosa, 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


Pasatiempo Golf Club (Santa Cruz, California)


Pasatiempo is the work of a great architect at the height of his powers. The terrain is severe, but Alister MacKenzie’s routing cleverly spaces out the uphill walks. The bunkers, built under the supervision of associate Robert Hunter, are among the most striking of MacKenzie’s career. But perhaps the greatest achievement of Pasatiempo’s design is how different the holes are from each other. Even the less heralded holes have features that stick in the memory: the length and narrowness of the 17th green, the way the start of the 8th fairway nestles into a gully. The surrounding houses have weakened the course’s sense of place, but two decades of consulting by Renaissance Golf Design have brought back its eccentricity. Today, Pasatiempo is a unicorn: a well-restored design by a Golden Age master, accessible to the public.

Insider tip: As coastal California has gone upscale, many of its old beach towns have lost their charm. (Looking at you, Santa Barbara.) Santa Cruz, however, has retained some of its appealing scruffiness. When we lived in Monterey, my son and I took regular day trips to browse the kid’s section at Bookshop Santa Cruz and watch the surfers at Steamer Lane. -Garrett Morrison

Check out our video on the routing of Pasatiempo’s back nine and Andy’s profile of the 14th hole.

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


The Aiken Golf Club (Aiken, South Carolina)


DIY golf course architecture doesn’t always turn out well. Rarely do amateur designers have the skill to execute their ideas, even if they have the creativity to think them up. So when Jim McNair decided in the 1990s to carry out an in-house renovation of his family’s course, The Aiken Golf Club, he was taking a big risk. But one look at today’s 1st hole (pictured), with its natural, swooping fairway and its perched double green, should tell you that McNair had the right stuff. In fact, his lack of experience may have been an advantage, as he clearly wasn’t hung up on convention. The bunkering is highly original, contrasting structured pots with large, wild waste areas, and the greens have simple yet eccentric contours. While the course measures just under 5,800 yards, it feels longer because there are several half-par holes that push strong players out of their comfort zones. So yes, The Aiken Golf Club was made by amateurs, but it’s not at all amateurish.

Insider tip: As we found out at our Thoroughbred event in October, Aiken GC is a great evening hang. The Highland Park Grille, the bar and restaurant above the pro shop, is first-rate, as is the real-grass putting course behind the 18th green. -Garrett Morrison

Check out our full profile of Aiken by Andy Johnson and our podcast with Jim McNair.

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


Pebble Beach Golf Links (Pebble Beach, California)


Let’s get the critiques out of the way. Yes, resort development has impinged on several holes—including, sadly, the all-world 18th. Yes, a few of the inland holes have lost their sense of the natural landscape. And yes, the greens have shrunk over the years, erasing some fun pin positions. But make no mistake, Pebble Beach Golf Links is the definition of a must-see. The most underrated aspect of Jack Neville and Douglas Grant’s century-old design is how it uses the slope of the seaside terrain. If you play safe off the tee, you will often find yourself hitting from a sidehill lie that encourages a shot shape opposite to what you want. This is one reason why, at barely over 7,000 yards, Pebble Beach is still a stout U.S. Open venue.

Insider tip: Don’t let your evening get hoovered up by an overpriced Italian restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. If the weather’s decent, go grab a burrito at Michael’s in Pacific Grove, take it to Fanshell Beach off of 17-Mile Drive, and enjoy the views of the ocean and the nearby 13th green at Cypress Point. -Garrett Morrison

Want more on Pebble Beach? Check out Garrett’s full analysis of course’s use of slope, Andy’s proposal for a simple change that would improve the iconic 7th hole, and Andy and Garrett’s pre-U.S. Open podcast.

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


Pacific Grove Golf Links—Back Nine (Pacific Grove, CA)


First, let’s talk about the front nine, an inland loop designed by Chandler Egan in 1932. On the one hand, I bristle when people bash it or refuse to play it. Holes 3-7 play over some fine landforms, and the 4th green offers an underrated glimpse of Monterey Bay. On the other hand, I get it: the front nine is simply not a must-see. The back nine, however, absolutely is. The dunes and the ocean views get a lot of attention, as they should, but what really makes the nine work is Jack Neville’s ingenious routing. Each hole reveals a new vista or a new section of the property. Multiple greens and tees make use of the most dramatic family of dunes. And on the best holes, Nos. 12-16, the natural sandy areas guard the preferred sides of the fairway, posing the classic question of strategic architecture: do you want a risky shot now or a difficult one later?

Insider tip: Here’s my ideal Pacific Grove day: show up at the pro shop at 6 a.m. and ask to play the back nine only; do brunch at Red House or Crema, and take a walk at Lovers Point; at 2 or 3 p.m., tee off again, this time from the 1st hole, and hit the back nine at golden hour. -Garrett Morrison

Read Garrett’s full profile of Pacific Grove.

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


The Loop at Forest Dunes (Roscommon, Michigan)


One of the most impressive designs of the modern era, The Loop, Tom Doak’s reversible course at Forest Dunes, features 18 greens that serve two distinct 18-hole routings. The Red Course runs counter-clockwise and the Black Course clockwise. The sandy, subtly contoured site in Northern Michigan gave Doak an ideal canvas to explore the reversible concept. With its fescue fairways, The Loop plays firmer and faster than most North American courses and closer to the heathland courses of England. It’s forward thinking in a number of ways: design, conditioning, and sustainability. If you’re a golf architecture buff, and you’re looking for a unique experience in the U.S., you can’t do much better than The Loop. Want to know more about how the course’s reversibility works? Here’s an early video of ours on the subject (fortunately, our video-production skills have improved over the years!).

Insider tip: I highly recommend playing The Loop in each direction more than once. The second time around both the Red and the Black, you’ll see all sorts of nuances you missed at first. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Sweetens Cove Golf Club (South Pittsburg, Tennessee)


From unknown and on the brink of closing to the darling of the golf internet, Sweetens Cove has had quite the journey. In 2011, the nine-holer formerly known as Sequatchie Valley Golf and Country Club underwent a full transformation at the hands of Tad King and Rob Collins. The pair moved earth to create stunning waste areas as well as unabashedly bold greens and surrounds. The green complexes are so bold, in fact, that they might be unique among American public courses. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Sweetens Cove, though, is that it has made the business model of the nine-hole destination course viable. That would have been unthinkable 15 years ago, but social media has changed all aspects of the golf industry. Full profile (from June 2016!) by Andy Johnson

Insider tip: Spend a day at Sweetens, play different tee boxes each time, and note how the different distances, angles, and pins (the crew sets up two every day) influence the strategy of the holes. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Bandon Trails (Bandon, Oregon)


More than any course I’ve played, Bandon Trails is about the land it occupies. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s routing explores the big, varied property in stages. The first two holes bound up and over a dunescape; the next three move through a meadow; Nos. 6-13 climb into a dense forest; and No. 14 plummets back into the meadow. The climax of the course arrives just before the ending, as it should in any well-structured narrative: on the 17th tee, you have the woodlands behind you, the beautifully cared-for meadow vegetation between you and the green, and the seaside linksland beyond. Yes, hole for hole, the course falls short of the greatest-hits collection that is Pacific Dunes. But as a story, a coherent experience that stirs the emotions, Bandon Trails may be my favorite at the resort.

Insider tip: When you’re walking between holes, take a moment to appreciate how well thought out the trails are along the green-to-tee transitions. The course name isn’t a random one! -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


LuLu Country Club (Glenside, Pennsylvania)


This semi-private Donald Ross design in the Philly suburbs is a gem. Built in the early years of Ross’s career, LuLu is packed with quirky and memorable holes: the par-3 3rd, which plays over a quarry to a volcano green, and the par-4 8th, which has a punchbowl green and numerous chocolate drops. In the past five years, LuLu’s ownership has launched a tree-removal effort, improving the course significantly. Best of all, LuLu currently has an affordable “member for a day” program. Get out there and take advantage of it while you still can. Full Profile of LuLu

Insider tip: A 30-minute drive west of LuLu is Jeffersonville Golf Club. Pair them together for a 36-hole day of affordable Ross. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Bandon Dunes (Bandon, Oregon)


Oddly, the first Bandon Dunes course may be the most underrated. Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald, and Sheep Ranch are more radical than David McLay Kidd’s sturdy 1999 design, but only Pacific has a decidedly stronger collection of holes, and none has better topography. The quality of Bandon Dunes’ land is especially evident on two bunkerless holes that get less attention than they deserve: Nos. 7 and 13. On both, Kidd lets the rumpled terrain speak for itself, offering advantages to those who can find the rare flat spots or, if worse comes to worst, cope with uneven lies. Above all, though, playing over this kind of ground—the kooky, unpredictable kind—is just fun.

Insider tip: The 7th hole (pictured below), along with the clifftop 5th and 6th, were not in Kidd’s original routing plan—because the land they sit on did not belong to Mike Keiser. But, according to Stephen Goodwin’s Dream Golf, the owner of the property went bankrupt just before construction started, and the course came together. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


Sleepy Hollow Golf Course (Cleveland, Ohio)


There are few places in the U.S. where the everyday golfer can see the work of Stanley Thompson, Canada’s greatest golf architect. One of those places is Sleepy Hollow, the prized possession of Cleveland Metroparks. Although Father Time and management gaffes have taken some of its original luster away, Sleepy remains a must-visit for any design aficionado. Thompson’s routing over the rolling terrain is outstanding, never fighting the land and producing 18 different, compelling holes. The GCA community likes to dream about sexier restorations, but this 1924 city course might have the most potential of all. With a smart investment from the Metroparks in a historically sensitive restoration, Sleepy Hollow could reveal itself as one of the finest municipal courses in the country—if not the finest. It might even become golf’s most talked about Sleepy Hollow. (Well, that would be a tall order.)

Insider tip: This course gets very crowded, so book an early tee time if you want to get around in under five hours. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


The Mines Golf Course (Grand Rapids, Michigan)


Minutes from downtown Grand Rapids, The Mines is a stellar example of a high-quality course on a difficult site. Power lines and a road divide the property into three sections, creating a few big gaps between holes. This isn’t ideal for walkers, but considering the constraints of the site, you have to admire what Mike DeVries accomplished with his design. The course has sandy soil, wide corridors, well-placed hazards, and thought-provoking green contours—all key ingredients for fun golf. With a peak green fee under $40, The Mines has to be on America’s all-value team.

Insider tip: The Mines is closed on Sundays, so don’t try to go then! -Andy Johnson

Looking back at the rolling terrain of the 17th and 16th holes at The Mines. Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Rock Spring Golf Club (West Orange, New Jersey)


2019 was a great year for the NY/NJ public golf scene, as Rock Spring Golf Club, a 1925 Seth Raynor design that has gone through troubled times, re-opened for public play. Set on top of the first big rise west of New York City and offering stellar skyline views, the course features a number of the classic MacRaynor templates. The Double Plateau and Bottle Hole are particularly good, as is the Road Hole Green and a duo of Leven/Cape-like holes, which fit in nicely with the steep, rocky terrain. While the future of Rock Spring has yet to be determined, we are hopeful it will remain intact. Make sure you check out the seriously bold Redan 3rd, which is perched on a cliff with the Empire State Building on the horizon.

Insider tip: Rock Spring is one of only two publicly accessible Seth Raynor courses in the country. -Jaeger Kovich

Photo credit: Jaeger Kovich


Winter Park Golf Course (Winter Park, Florida)


There were a lot of factors working against architects Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns when they took on the redesign of Winter Park. The nine-hole site is flat, small, and divided by roads in four places. But Rhebb and Johns knew just what to do within these constraints, installing wall-to-wall short grass, distinctive bunkering, and intricate push-up greens that inspire golfers to make loop after loop around the 2,400-yard course. Winter Park shows you don’t need extraordinary land in order to create compelling golf. At $20 for a sub-two-hour nine, it’s no wonder that Winter Park is thriving. Other municipalities should take note. Full Profile

Insider tip: Set aside some time after golf to hang out with a refreshment on Winter Park’s patio and watch this successful municipal facility go about its business. It’s a beautiful sight. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Suneagles Golf Course (Eatontown, New Jersey)


Another New Jersey private-gone-public, A. W. Tillinghast’s Suneagles has some of his steepest greens. Just 50 minutes south of Manhattan, the course boasts huge tiers dividing its undulating putting surfaces and big, wing-like contours defending against the short side. Suneagles would fit right in with Tilly’s championship portfolio farther north; in particular, its elegant Golden Age shaping brings Scarsdale’s Fenway Golf Club to mind. While the course could use some TLC, the bones of a Great Hazard are still there, as are plenty of shared hazards and a par-3 Reef Hole. Infrastructure improvements appear to be underway—but when you have greens this bold, you don’t need super fast surfaces anyway!

Insider tip: Once called Monmouth Country Club and later part of Fort Monmouth, the course hosted some seriously big tournaments back in the day, including the 1935 New Jersey Open, won by Byron Nelson. -Jaeger Kovich

Photo credit: Jaeger Kovich


Bethpage Red (Farmingdale, New York)


The second best course at Bethpage State Park might actually be the better model for municipal golf, as the Red is the one you’ll actually want to play every day. Just like its bigger, harder brother, the Red is said to be the work of A. W. Tillinghast. Playing over the sandy terrain next to No. 18 on the Black, the finishing hole on the Red makes such good use of the steep hills that tournament directors have (unsuccessfully) tried to incorporate it into the Black’s tournament setup for years. Between the Red’s natural routing, casual feel, and collection of outstanding holes—particularly the 5th and 13th—it is hard to imagine anyone but Tilly, “Creator of Golf Courses,” could have designed it.

Insider tip: Don’t dilly-dally on the 1st tee here or the guy in the booth will give you a real New York welcome. -Jaeger Kovich

Photo credit: Golf Advisor


Essex County Francis A. Byrne Golf Course (West Orange, New Jersey)


Once part of  Essex County Country Club, now property of the Essex County Parks Department, this Charles “Steam Shovel” Banks course starts at the bottom of a steep hill with a Road Hole. Featuring Banks’s bold renditions of C. B. Macdonald’s “ideal holes” along with a few originals, this municipal course stands toe-to-toe architecturally with the area’s best private clubs. Some modifications have been made, but Francis A. Byrne still takes golfers on a wild ride. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve played the National or Yale or Banks’s in-state work at Forsgate or Hackensack—it’s always fun to see fresh versions of the iconic hole designs, and Essex County isn’t going to ask for your first-born, either.

Insider tip: Fuel up with an egg sandwich in the clubhouse before the round and complete your 36 at another Banks muni in Essex County, Hendricks Field Golf Course in Belleville. -Jaeger Kovich

Photo credit: Jaeger Kovich


Pacific Dunes (Bandon, Oregon)


In describing his design at Mammoth Dunes, David McLay Kidd recalled a group of golfers telling him that “they were completely bemused” while playing the course. “They couldn’t decide where they were, or which way north was…. They were completely lost in the adventure.” That’s exactly how I would characterize the experience of walking Tom Doak’s routing at Pacific Dunes. The course continually wheels, reverses, and revisits familiar landforms from unfamiliar angles. You feel delighted yet disoriented, “lost in the adventure.” And a dazzling adventure it is, with unpredictable dunescapes, surprise visits to the clifftops, and intricately strategic holes. The inland short par 4s—Nos. 1, 2, 6, and 16, which all reward precise positioning off the tee—are particular highlights.

Insider tip: You can’t leave Bandon Dunes Golf Resort before trying your hand at the Punchbowl, the pleasantly unhinged putting course next to the Pacific Dunes clubhouse. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


Northwood Golf Club (Monte Rio, California)


Admittedly, the nine-hole Northwood Golf Club, built in 1928 by Alister MacKenzie and Robert Hunter, has lost a bit of polish over the years. While some lovely green shapes and contours remain (especially on Nos. 2, 4, 7, and 8), a few holes lack their original bunkering and strategy. When you visit this place, however, any academic quibbles evaporate into the morning fog. The atmosphere is humble and casual, in the manner of a lightly tended outpost. The redwoods overwhelm the senses, and the clever, coiled routing returns to certain spots without feeling repetitive. Part of me dreams about a restoration of this 92-year-old municipal course; another part of me wants it to stay just as it is. Full profile

Insider tip: There’s plenty to do in nearby Guerneville (fun restaurants, a float down the Russian River), but a 30-minute drive back toward the main highway will deliver you to Russian River Brewery, which makes some of the best beer anywhere. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Marion Golf Club (Marion, Massachusetts)


Golf enthusiasts frequently drive past this little nine-holer on their way down Point Road to Kittansett Golf Club. Designed by George Thomas (of Riviera and LACC fame) in 1904, Marion offers a glimpse into the origins of golf course design in America. The course’s architecture is rudimentary but charming and, in this day and age, unusual; on several holes, Thomas used rock walls as hazards. Often left unattended, Marion has an honor box where golfers can leave their green fees. You will find many courses with better conditions and more sophisticated architecture, but very few with the same level of historical interest. If you’re curious about what American golf looked like in its earliest stage, at least stop and take a look before proceeding down the road.

Insider Tip: Bring cash! Don’t be that person who can’t support this wonderful place. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Ravisloe Country Club (Homewood, Illinois)


The best option for public golf in the Chicago area is this former country club south of the city. Credited to Donald Ross, Ravisloe also saw work from William Watson, Langford & Moreau, and most recently David Esler, who did a restoration in the early 2000s. The front nine meanders along flat ground, breaking convention with back-to-back par 5s (Nos. 2 and 3) and par 3s (Nos. 6 and 7). On the back nine, you’ll see the property’s more dramatic land and a spectacular stretch from 11-17. Unfortunately, in spite of Ravisloe’s popularity, the management is pushing the course in the wrong direction, planting more trees and allowing greens to shrink. It’s sad to see a great course moving away from the best version of itself for no particular reason. Full profile

Insider tip: If you’re visiting from out of town and in the city, there’s no need to rent a car. Like most of Chicago’s oldest courses, Ravisloe is located directly on a Metra line. If you call ahead, the folks at the course will pick you up from the train—or you can just walk, as the Homewood stop is a mere short par 4 from the clubhouse. -Andy Johnson


Old Macdonald (Bandon, Oregon)


For the fourth 18-hole course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, developer Mike Keiser wanted to build a replica of the Lido Golf Club, the C. B. Macdonald masterpiece that closed during World War II. But the concept didn’t fit the site, so Tom Doak and co-designer Jim Urbina opted for a looser tribute to Macdonald: a gallery of “ideal holes,” from a Double Plateau (No. 1) to a Biarritz (No. 8) to a Punchbowl (No. 18). Wisely, Doak and Urbina weren’t too faithful to their source material, just as Macdonald wasn’t to his. Old Mac’s shaping bears little resemblance to that of National Golf Links, and several of its best holes derive from either relatively obscure precedents (No. 10, “Bottle”; No. 17, “Littlestone”) or none at all (No. 7, “Ocean,” which is an original; No. 14, “Maiden,” which is not a Maiden). The result is a fun, fiery course that doesn’t so much bow to the greats of the Golden Age as converse with them.

Insider tip: Old Macdonald has the least tricked-out facilities of the four 18-hole Bandon courses, but the breakfast sandwich from the pro shop is one of the more satisfying food items at the resort. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


Diamond Springs Golf Course (Hamilton, Michigan)


This Mike DeVries design an hour outside of Grand Rapids is a model for affordable public golf. The land is good but not extraordinary—most communities have something like it. On the flatter stretches, DeVries uses bold green complexes to create interest. But the property also has a striking ravinescape, and he routes as many holes as possible over, around, and along it. Diamond Springs’s most admirable quality is its maintenance practices. Center-line irrigation and single-mow grasses allow management to provide the public with great golf at a rate under $50. Full Article

Insider tip: Diamond Springs is all about golf, meaning there’s no food and beverage service on site. BYO! -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Pinehurst No. 2 (Pinehurst, North Carolina)


One of the crown jewels of Donald Ross’s résumé, Pinehurst No. 2 is among the finest public golf experiences in the world. Famed for its championship difficulty, No. 2 is actually one of the rare U.S. Open venues that can bring handicap golfers and elite players closer together. It defends itself with aggressive greens contours that repel slightly missed approaches—frustrating for the pro but manageable for the average joe. No. 2’s topography is often overlooked and sometimes even dismissed, but its gentle movement is ideal for golf. The stretch from 2 to 5 makes an early impression, and none of the other 14 holes is notably weak. Pinehurst No. 2 is one of the few without-a-doubt masterpieces in American golf, and every architecture fan should see it at least once.

Insider tip: A winter visit gets you reduced rates and dormant bermuda. This surface plays faster and opens up more shots around the greens. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Manakiki Golf Course (Willoughby, Ohio)


Cleveland Metroparks has two absolute gems. One of them, Stanley Thompson’s Sleepy Hollow, we’ve already profiled for this series. The other, Manakiki Golf Course, began its life in 1929 as a Donald Ross design called Willowick Country Club. It has seen some changes over the years—tree plantings, shrinking greens, unfortunate cart path placements—but the wonderful, rolling Ohio property and the Ross routing, which frequently uses the land as a natural hazard, remain intact. Like Sleepy Hollow, Manakiki presents an extraordinary restoration opportunity and has the potential to be one of the finest public courses in the Midwest. If Cleveland Metroparks somehow manages to follow through on that potential, the Cleveland area could become America’s premier urban golf destination. Until then, its two classic municipal courses will remain diamonds in the rough.

Insider tip: The Tufts Archives in Pinehurst, North Carolina, has Ross’s original notes and sketches for Manakiki. A lack of documentation is not among the hurdles to restoration! -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Cleveland Metroparks


Streamsong Black (Bowling Green, Florida)


The most recent addition to this Central Florida golf resort required the most architectural inventiveness. About half of the site for the Black Course is sandy and the other half is a flat swamp, so Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner had to manufacture interest on much of the course. They did so through audaciously contoured greens, which can rub some golfers the wrong way. But if you can get over the shock and realize that it’s okay for the challenge to come at the greens, you will find more to like with every loop. Each green at Streamsong Black is distinct from the others, and most provide multiple avenues to the same spots. Often the best routes to the pin involve aiming away from your ultimate target. Check out our video featuring the course’s greens and Lawson Klotz’s article on the 2nd hole.

Insider tip: If time permits, take advantage of the replay rate on the Black. The contours make more and more sense each time around. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Kankakee Elks Country Club (St. Anne, Illinois)


Most golf course architects worth their salt have heard of Kankakee Elks, and many have gone far out of their way to see it. Why? It’s one of the most enticing restoration opportunities left in the United States. Just over an hour south of downtown Chicago, Kankakee boasts the best set of Langford & Moreau greens I’ve seen. While a fraction of their original size, they still have elegant, strategic internal contours. Tree removal and restoration of mowing lines would turn Kankakee Elks into one of the top five courses in Illinois, and its greens could challenge those of Chicago Golf Club for best in state. Even as it stands today, however, Kankakee will blow your mind.

Insider tip: This is a fantastic spring and fall course for Chicagoland residents. When it’s in the 50s in Chicago, it’s often in the 60s in St. Anne. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Streamsong Blue (Bowling Green, Florida)


The construction of the first 36 holes at Streamsong is one of the most interesting stories in modern golf architecture. The firms of Coore & Crenshaw and Renaissance Golf Design worked together to squeeze two 18s holes into a small but spectacular site. Tom Doak’s Renaissance team ended up with the inside portion of the property, the best land at the resort. Their Blue Course features generous fairways and devilish greens, and Doak’s routing weaves through the compact site, leading golfers to the most impressive landforms at the beginning and the end of the round. The Blue Course’s greens have sharp contours that demand precise iron play and give each pin position its own character.

Insider tip: If you spend a few days at Streamsong, you will note the high price tags on pretty much everything. The most affordable food is out on the courses; take full advantage of the Taco and BBQ stands on the Red and Blue courses. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Southern Pines Golf Club (Southern Pines, North Carolina)

$$$—with $$ twilight and offseason rates

Built on what might be the most dramatic land in the Carolina Sandhills, Southern Pines is the best value in the Pinehurst area. Its Donald Ross design has seen some renovations over the years, and many of the original greens are gone. What remains, however, is affordable golf on thrilling land that makes you want to go around again and again. An investment group recently purchased the course, prompting hope that Southern Pines will soon return to the upper echelon of courses in North Carolina.

Insider tip: In the Pinehurst area, Southern Pines is your best bet for escaping the crowds and getting in a rapid afternoon loop. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Jaeger Kovich


Champion Hill Golf Course (Beulah, Michigan)


In many cases, amateur golf architecture goes poorly. But Champion Hill, set in the rolling sand dunes of Northern Michigan, is an outlier. Lee Stone’s homemade course is a tremendous example of what actual minimalism looks like. Part 1 of our School of Golf Architecture series discusses “spirit of place,” and the simple architecture of Champion Hill embodies just that. Stone draped the course delicately over the terrain and built bunkers and greens without earthmoving equipment. The land is stunning, arguably as good as you can find in the Midwest, with dramatic elevation changes and views of Crystal Lake. It was all Stone needed to create compelling golf. Champion Hill’s neighbor, Arcadia Bluffs, gets more hype, but if design and value are your main criteria, Champion Hill is the standout of the two. This isn’t a flyover course; if you’re in the area, go see it.

Insider tip: The Stones also own nearby Pinecroft Golf Course, which is worth seeing as well, and they offer a replay rate for anyone who wants to play both. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club (Southern Pines, North Carolina)


An absolute must-see in the Carolina Sandhills, Mid Pines is, as consulting architect Kyle Franz describes it, “pure romance.” Donald Ross packed this design onto a small site, and the course ducks and dives in and out of the corners of the property, regularly returning to key ridges or hollows. Players hit shots off of every lie imaginable, thanks to the variety of ways Ross situated the holes on the land. While Pinehurst No. 2 is the most esteemed “championship test” in the Sandhills, I’d call Mid Pines the most fun.

Insider tip: Unfortunately, Mid Pines overseeds, which slows down the playing surface in the winter and can lead to less-than-ideal turf conditions. Try to avoid playing right after the course overseeds. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Stoatin Brae at Gull Lake View Golf Club (Augusta, Michigan)


The making of Stoatin Brae was a unique experiment: Renaissance Golf Design’s associates Brian Schneider, Eric Iverson, Don Placek, and Brian Slawnik (with the help of Blake Conant) designed the course without input from lead architect Tom Doak. The talented crew produced a wonderful golf course that takes advantage of a strong piece of land. Nos. 10 through 14 play up, off, and around a prominent knob on the property; it’s a fun, varied stretch of golf. When Stoatin Brae opened in 2017, it played firm and fast, but by late 2018, the course was suffering from mismanaged maintenance. The shrinking of the fairways and greens is concerning, as is the ownership’s reluctance to keep control of the aggressive native grasses, which make lost balls a possibility on every hole. If you’re a fan of golf architecture, you might want to go see Stoatin Brae soon, before it becomes one of those “what could be” stories.

Insider tip: The nearby city of Kalamazoo is the ideal stop on a trip up to Northern Michigan. It has a fun downtown with a few good places to sit and have a drink, including the well-known Bell’s Brewery. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Mammoth Dunes (Nekoosa, Wisconsin)


The second course at Sand Valley Golf Resort pushes the limits of width. By offering gargantuan fairways, architect David McLay Kidd ensures that golfers of all skill levels will spend little time searching for lost balls. The course’s user-friendliness extends to its greens, which gather shots from the edges toward the center. These greens contrast starkly with those at the resort’s first (self-titled) course, a Coore & Crenshaw design with puting surfaces that mostly repel. The routing of Mammoth is also worth studying. A massive ridge runs through the course, and Kidd found breaks in it that allowed him to route holes up and over, giving him a variety of landscapes to work with.

Insider tip: Mammoth Dunes is a burly walk. Pairing it with nine twilight holes at Sand Valley or a circuit of the Sandbox par-3 course will leave some gas in your tank for the rest of your trip. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Sheep Ranch (Bandon, Oregon)—opening date: 6/1/20


The latest addition to the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is Sheep Ranch, set to open on June 1. For the better part of two decades, the property housed a Tom Doak design with 13 greens and no formal routing or teeing grounds. Now Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have converted Sheep Ranch into an 18-hole course. Just north of the main resort, it boasts more oceanfront land than any other Bandon course. Coore & Crenshaw did a masterful job of fitting 18 holes on the small site. It’s the most intimate routing at the resort, returning to key points multiple times. The holes take full advantage of the fascinating terrain, both cliffside and inland. Coore & Crenshaw emphasize the movement of the land by opting for grassy hollows rather than sand bunkers. Sheep Ranch’s stunning ocean views will appeal to all golfers, but I hope C&C’s savvy architecture gets equal appreciation.

Insider tip: As Coore & Crenshaw planned their routing, they found themselves distracted by the existing green sites. Their solution: take all the pins out. Doak’s course sat lightly enough on the land that, without the flagsticks, the land looked more or less natural. (Bill Coore told this story on our recent podcast with him.) -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Streamsong Red (Bowling Green, Florida)


For most of its 18 holes, the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-designed Streamsong Red loops around Tom Doak’s Blue Course. While Doak got the better plot all around, Coore & Crenshaw had plenty of great ground to work with, including sand dunes formed by a past mining operation. But to reach the best terrain, the first five holes had to be manufactured. The rest of the course tumbles through sublime landforms. The initial stretch here is particularly strong: the iconic par-5 7th, which revolves around a greenside knob; the short par-3 8th, with its reverse-S green; and the drivable par-4 9th. In these immense dunes, you will find some of the most thrilling shots at the resort.

Insider tip: The 15th hole at Streamsong Red is strikingly similar to the 18th at Sand Hills. If you look back at this hole from the 8th tee on the Blue Course, you can see the canyon Coore & Crenshaw tied the fairway bunker complex into. –Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Paxon Hollow Golf Club (Media, Pennsylvania)


Paxon Hollow has seen many changes since it opened in 1926. The most recent have come at the hands of local resident Jim Wagner, Gil Hanse’s design partner, who has spent years brushing up this Philly gem. The scorecard will not wow anyone; it shows a total yardage of 5700 yards. But Paxon Hollow is packed with charm, quirk, and fun golf holes. The abundance of short par 4s and par 3s makes fast rounds feasible, and Wagner’s brush-up of the J. Franklin Meehan design has kept it relevant today. The stretch from 11 to 13 is a high point, featuring a fun short par 5 and excellent back-to-back par 4s.

Insider tip: A short drive from Paxon Hollow is Llanerch Country Club, where Brian Schneider has been doing a renovation. The shaping, executed with the help of Blake Conant, seems to be highly original and exciting. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Spyglass Hill Golf Course (Pebble Beach, California)


As an example of Robert Trent Jones’s mid-century architecture, Spyglass Hill is tough to beat. It’s a big, beautiful property with big, impressive golf holes. The opener is the biggest of all, plunging from the Del Monte Forest to the seaside dunes. Holes 2 through 4—a short par 4, a drop-shot par 3, and another short par 4—occupy the same dune system that runs through nearby Cypress Point. Jones’s 4th green is unforgettable, a long, skinny punchbowl with a reverse tier. Especially in the wind, it’s a tricky target. Yes, the ensuing climb back into the pines is a bit of a letdown. Yes, the uphill approaches to isolated greens fronted by deep bunkers blend together in the memory. Yes, the mowing lines could be—okay, okay. You get it. Spyglass is not one of my favorite courses. But it’s very much a must-see. Sturdy and striking, a test of golf from a time when tests of golf were fashionable, RTJ’s contribution to the 93953 zip code is a piece of history, and it deserves respect. Long may it brood upon its hill.

Insider tip: Along the top of the dune ridge behind the 2nd and 3rd greens at Spyglass Hill is a public hiking trail. Park at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center and follow the green signs. The course to your left? Cypress Point. Here’s a map. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


The Sandbox at Sand Valley (Nekoosa, Wisconsin)


With 17 imaginative greens, the Sandbox is packed with fun. Designed by Coore & Crenshaw and built by longtime C&C associate Jim Craig, this par-3 course squeezes as many thrills as possible out of a small plot of land. No hole is over 160 yards, so Craig and the C&C team were freed up to experiment with extreme green complexes. Many times during your round, you will find yourself holding your breath, hoping you don’t find the wrong side of a severe contour. The Sandbox offers endlessly fun golf on a miniature scale, and it should serve as a model for any community looking to build a smaller, cheaper, but no less delightful version of the game. Full Profile

Insider tip: The Sandbox tends to fill up in the afternoon. Playing in the morning allows for a quicker pace of play—and it beats a trip to the range. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Straits Course at Whistling Straits (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)


While the green fee is steep, the turf slow, and the pace of play slower, Whistling Straits is still a marvelous golf course to study. Pete Dye took a barren bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and transformed it through massive earthmoving into a rugged, “links-style” property. It was an impressive feat of engineering. Like many of Dye’s courses, the visual intimidation factor is high. But players who aren’t cowed by the fearsome-looking bunkers or the drop-offs into Lake Michigan tend to find the preferred angles into the greens. Note, I’d recommend the Straits Course only if the green fee doesn’t faze you. If value is a concern, Wisconsin offers better golf courses at lower rates—see Lawsonia and Sand Valley.

Insider tip: If you’re bent on playing the 2020 (2021?) Ryder Cup venue but want a lower rate, Destination Kohler offers big reductions in the spring and the fall. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Pilgrim’s Run Golf Club (Pierson, Michigan)


Tucked into a forest in central Michigan, Pilgrim’s Run is another example of an outstanding Mike DeVries design offered at an affordable rate. While you’re engulfed by pines on every hole, DeVries uses corridors wide enough to give you a sense of comfort. Your round will feature reachable par 5s, demanding tee shots, daring greens, and a second nine that really puts an exclamation point on the course. Bookended by short par 4s, the back nine guarantees you’ll be excited for your next trip to Pilgrim’s.

Insider tip: On the 18th tee, DeVries dares the player to attempt one last heroic shot. Give it a rip. The post-round beer will taste even sweeter. -Will Knights

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Spring Valley Country Club (Salem, Wisconsin)


For $20 on a Saturday morning, golfers can play an almost untouched Langford & Moreau design. Spring Valley sits on a rolling property and has the unmistakable bold shaping of the famed Midwest architectural firm. While tree overgrowth and shrunken greens are major issues, it’s easy to see what Spring Valley could be. Along with Kankakee Elks in Illinois, it is one of the best restoration opportunities in the country. It has great pedigree, untouched contouring, and proximity to major cities, with both Chicago and Milwaukee less than an hour away.

Insider tip: Spring Valley is just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, so for Illinois residents, one of the side benefits of a trip to Spring Valley is a convenient opportunity to snag some New Glarus Spotted Cow, which is sold only in Wisconsin. -Andy Johnson


Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Bandon Preserve (Bandon, Oregon)


One of the great discoveries in recent golf architecture is that short courses can play by their own rules and go places that 18-hole par-72 courses wouldn’t dream of. Consider the property that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Bandon Preserve occupies. The terrain is too severe for par 4s and 5s, but 13 par 3s, ranging from 63 to 150 yards, fit perfectly. Another advantage short courses have is the freedom to be extreme. Perhaps because most of the holes at Bandon Preserve are under 135 yards, or because players tend to be more relaxed and open-minded while toting half-sets and Sunday bags, Coore & Crenshaw really let loose with their green designs. The shelf-like 6th, the mini-punchbowl (teacup?) 8th, and the rippling expanse that serves both 4 and 7 are all fun and distinctive. They might, however, be called “gimmicky” if they had the misfortune of appearing on a regulation golf course.

Insider tips: 1) This is no secret, but from the 13th tee, the only play is putter; 2) All net proceeds from Preserve green fees go to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance—a good reason to play 26. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


Santa Anita Golf Course (Arcadia, California)


Built on the former site of the famed Santa Anita race tracks, Santa Anita Golf Course was a WPA project, finished in 1935. The architect was little-known James Harrison (J.H.) Smith, who dealt with the flat race track by pushing a whole lot of dirt around. The result was a rumpled playground that offers surprises left and right. Unlike many manufactured courses, Santa Anita  has its most interesting landforms down the middle of the playing corridors rather than along the edges. There are lots of random lies, blind shots, and fun variety. While the entire course is compelling, the back nine is a cut above. Standout holes include the short par-4 10th, the Redan 12th, and the rollercoaster 18th.

Insider tip: The slope on No. 12 is from the old turn on the Santa Anita race track. For more on the history behind the course, check out Geoff Shackelford and Tommy Naccarato’s excellent article in Issue 3 of McKellar Magazine. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Wild Horse Golf Club (Gothenburg, Nebraska)


If you’re planning a golf trip to western Nebraska, you have to include Wild Horse on your itinerary. Built by Dave Axland and Dan Proctor shortly after they finished helping Coore & Crenshaw at Sand Hills, Wild Horse epitomizes affordable, accessible, interesting golf architecture. Wonderfully contoured greens, firm turf, challenging (but not excessive) bunkering, strategy, and wind come together to create one of the purest golfing experiences in America. Holes of note include the 3rd, a classic C&C-style par 5 that turns unassuming ground into one of the best holes on property; the 8th, a long and tough 4; and 15, a short and crafty 4. Like its siblings Rustic Canyon and Commonground, Wild Horse proves that great golf course design can be affordable and accessible to all.

Insider tip: Wild Horse is the perfect introduction to golf in this part of the world. Play it on the front end of whatever trip you have planned. -Blake Conant


Augusta Wind Golf Course, Thedford Golf Course, Pelican Beach Golf Club (Nebraska)


As Andy Dufresne wrote to Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.” For genuinely rugged, minimal, of-the-place golf in the Sandhills of Nebraska, play one (or all) of these nine-hole courses. They are true Midwestern links, built close to their towns on ultra-low budgets, and enjoyed and embraced by locals. The turf is a bit longer and a bit more at the mercy of Mother Nature, but it allows crazy greens like the 4th at Pelican Beach or the 2nd at Augusta Wind to function properly. And of course the wind is ever-present. So if you’re passing through this part of the world, I can think of no better way to stretch your legs than to head out to one of these local nine-holers.

Insider tip: These courses rely heavily on community volunteer efforts. They exist because good people value the direct and indirect benefits that golf provides. Your money supports not only the golf course but also the town and the people. So when you slip your green fee into the honor box, maybe err on the generous side. -Blake Conant

Photo credit: Blake Conant


CommonGround Golf Course (Aurora, Colorado)


CommonGround Golf Course, built by Renaissance Golf Design in 2009, is all about its community. That vision is especially clear in the playability of the course. The fairways are generous for the average golfer, and there is plenty of room to bounce the ball into the large greens. But while the CommonGround offers plenty of room off the tee, the aggressive shot always comes with risk. The design team—led by Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, and Bruce Hepner—separated many of the greens into distinct sections, so you need to be precise if you want to go low. Couple this fun, sneakily challenging golf with views of the Rocky Mountains, and you’re sure to have a great day.

Insider tip: Many of the bunkers and mounds at CommonGround will play visual tricks on you. Always take a second look at the hole before committing to a line off the tee. -Will Knights

Photo credit: Renaissance Golf Design


Mt. Prospect Golf Club (Mount Prospect, Illinois)


For most of the public, the template holes of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor are inaccessible, hidden behind the gates of private clubs. This is true of the Chicago area’s two most revered clubs, Chicago Golf and Shoreacres. So when architect David Esler was hired to renovate the municipal Mt. Prospect Golf Club in Chicago’s northern suburbs, he set out to make the Macdonald-Raynor style of design available to the masses. He built interpretations of the Redan, Eden, Road, Short, and other “ideal holes.” While Mt. Prospect is by no means perfect, it does offer a unique experience for the public golfer at a reasonable rate.

Insider tip: The 13th green is a thing of beauty. Hit a couple extra chip shots if the group behind isn’t pushing you. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


The River Course at Blackwolf Run (Kohler, Wisconsin)


While it charges a steep green fee, the River at Blackwolf Run gives golfers a great look at some (relatively) understated Pete Dye architecture. Much of the routing meanders quietly along the body of water that gives the course its name. Standout holes, like the 5th, exude a Langford & Moreau influence. The greens are compelling throughout, with wavy contours that influence the line of charm back to the tee. While there are a few head-scratching trees, the scuttlebutt suggests that they were heavily debated and eventually kept by command of proprietor Herb Kohler.

Insider tip: Blackwolf Run features rates of around $100 in the fall. If you catch a clear day, you’ll see the course at its most beautiful, with the leaves turning and the turf playing firm. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


George Wright Golf Course (Hyde Park, Massachusetts)


George Wright was conceived in the late 1920s as a private club designed by Donald Ross. The Depression, however, put an end to its construction. The City of Boston then acquired the land and spent $1 million—a massive sum for the time—to build the course with Works Progress Administration labor. Overseen by Ross associate Walter Irving Johnson, construction used as many as 1,000 men. Forging playing corridors through the swamps and the extensive rocky ledge was an engineering feat. The course finally opened in 1938. Today, George Wright plays to 6,500 yards and a par of 70, winding through and over challenging topography. Rock outcroppings and massive oak and pine trees border the holes. There are several blind shots, which can vex the first-time player, but the course’s hole-to-hole variety and four tremendous par 3s have earned it the respect and devotion of those who play it often.

Insider tip: George Wright’s recent resurgence culminated in 2018, when it became the first public course to host the Mass Amateur. -Mark Mungeam

Photo credit: Ross Mungeam


Thendara Golf Club (Thendara, New York)


While Thendara (then-DARE-uh) showcases narrow, peaceful “mountain golf” for its final nine, you will most remember the bold, open front nine by Donald Ross. Designed in 1921, and completed by Ross’s associate Walter Hatch, these nine holes feature adventurous greens and slopes. The 7th green has two swales perpendicular to the line of play, requiring either a confident high shot or a thoughtful running one. Within the 9th green is a massive plateau, 15 feet by 45 feet. If the pin is on top, this 208-yard par 3 is exceptionally demanding. Beware the tricky contours when the pin is pinched into one of the back corners, though. No matter the hole location, the plateau offers strategic choices both from the tee and on your (probable) chip.

Insider tip: Replay value is high. A mile north of Thendara is the quaint village of Old Forge, so you could plan an affordable trip that combines Old Forge’s vacation amenities with a deep dive into Ross’s architecture. -Colin Criss

Photo credit: Colin Criss


Warren Golf Course (South Bend, Indiana)


How many Coore & Crenshaw-designed golf courses can you play for under $60 every day? As far as I know, there’s only one: the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame. This is a relatively early entry in the Coore & Crenshaw canon, built in 1999, and it has aged beautifully. The course navigates mostly flat land, but its eccentric greens provide plenty of excitement. Nos. 7, 10, 16, 17, and 18 occupy the property’s best terrain and are all standout holes. Also excellent is the 4th, a reachable par 5 with a lion’s mouth green that can derail long hitters’ eagle and birdie hopes. Overall, Warren offers an opportunity to see how one of today’s greatest architecture firms took a less-than-desirable site and created something fun and memorable.

Insider tip: In the fall, Warren is a zoo the day before and the morning of game days. But if you don’t care about Notre Dame football, the course is virtually empty during games. (Bonus fun fact: when it opened, Warren didn’t include par numbers on its scorecard. H/t Carr for the course.) -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Belvedere Golf Club (Charlevoix, Michigan)


Belvedere is a private club that allows public play seven days a week. Set on a tract of Northern Michigan farmland in idyllic Charlevoix, this William Watson design would be the perfect home course: laid-back, fun, and skillfully designed. The front nine plays off a ridge into a flat area before climbing back up the ridge on the 6th and 7th holes. The back nine, on the other side of Marion Center Road, features the most varied topography on the property as well as many of the best holes, including an excellent trio of par 4s—11, 12, and 16—and the long par-3 17th. Watson’s wavy, potato-chip-like greens, combined with a strong routing on good land, make Belvedere one of the finest open-to-the-public golf courses in the Midwest.

Insider tip: Spend some time poking around the golf house, as there are some really neat old drawings and photos of the course. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


The Course at Sewanee (Sewanee, Tennessee)


About 20 minutes up the road from the much-praised Sweetens Cove, the Course at Sewanee should not be skipped on a golf trip to Chattanooga. Gil Hanse built this nine-holer around the same time Tad King and Rob Collins were transforming the old Sequatchie Valley Golf and Country Club, and it offers a pleasing contrast to its neighbor. Whereas Sweetens Cove was manufactured out of a flat piece of ground, Sewanee occupies a fine property in the mountains. Using the natural terrain, Hanse found some thrilling holes, including the par-3 3rd, which plays out to the edge of the mountain and provides a striking view of the valley below.

Insider tip: During the summer months, Sewanee will usually be about five to 10 degrees cooler than other courses in Chattanooga, thanks to its mountain setting. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Charleston Municipal Golf Course (Charleston, South Carolina)

$ (residents), $$ (non-residents)

Prior to Troy Miller’s renovation of “The Muni,” Charleston-area public golf offered little in the way of compelling architecture. Now residents have access to an affordable course featuring bold interpretations of Seth Raynor templates found at Charleston’s top two private clubs, Country Club of Charleston and Yeamans Hall. Miller’s gutsy vision and the town’s buy-in has turned Charleston Muni from a good course with a flooding problem to a must-play for visitors to the city. Read our full profile and watch our video on the course.

Insider tip: The tee sheet fills up quickly, but since the course doesn’t require a deposit, no-shows are a regular occurrence. If you can’t get a tee time, show up early and you’ll likely get out. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: PGA of America


Bethpage Black (Farmingdale, New York)

$$ (residents), $$$ (non-residents)

Perhaps the most storied American muni, Bethpage Black occupies a wonderful piece of land, and its routing is pure magic. Architects A.W. Tillinghast and Joseph H. Burbeck maximized the site’s interest by placing greens on ridges and letting the fairways swoop through the valleys in a variety of ways. If Tillinghast and Burbeck’s 1936 design has a weakness, it’s that the greens, with their modest contours, don’t match the pizzaz of the rest of the course. Then again, just getting to the greens is plenty adventurous (and difficult)! Today’s major-championship-grade version of Bethpage Black has horrendous mowing lines and poorly constructed Rees Jones bunkers, but it’s still one of the finest courses in America, public or private.

Insider tip: While playing the Black Course is exciting, it’s also mentally and physically taxing. Fortunately, the ideal palate cleanser is just a 25-minute drive away: Nickerson Dunes, a charming short course that Shaun Smith wrote about for us. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


Silvies Valley Ranch Retreat and Links—Craddock/Hankins (Seneca, Oregon)


Understandably, much of the press around Silvies Valley Ranch has focused on reversibility. (Also, goat caddies.) Like the Loop at Forest Dunes, Silvies plays in different directions on alternate days. In order to make this reversible concept work on a hilly Eastern Oregon site, architect Dan Hixson built 27 greens, giving each of the 18-hole courses—clockwise is “Craddock,” counterclockwise is “Hankins”—a few unique hole corridors to go along with the shared ones. It’s an ingenious piece of routing. But what really impressed me about Silvies was its no-frills presentation. The cart paths are dirt, and they hold up just fine. The turf is firm and has a pale hue that blends in with the surrounding flora, and the bunkers are genuinely rough-hewn, not fashionably lacy. The golf course lets the land be the star, and the land, hovering delicately between desert and forest, is more than capable of carrying the show.

Insider tip: Are you into sourdough? Jeff Campbell, bar manager and brother of the resort’s owner, has a century-old starter, and he’s happy to send you home with some. -Garrett Morrison

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club (Southern Pines, North Carolina)


In 2022, this 93-year-old Donald Ross course will host the U.S. Women’s Open for the second time. Whereas its sister course Mid Pines is compact and intimate, Pine Needles sprawls across a fine Carolina Sandhills property. The holes are draped over big slopes, making for some dramatic par 4s, such as the 2nd, 11th, and 12th. Today, Pine Needles’ excellent land shines through thanks to Kyle Franz’s 2017 restoration work. Franz gave the course back its sense of place by getting rid of the irrigated rough and installing natural-looking bunkers and wire grass.

Insider tip: With the U.S. Women’s Open coming next year, the resort won’t be doing its typical overseed. That means dormant Bermuda in the winter, which is the playing surface Ross envisioned. –Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


Swope Memorial Golf Course (Kansas City, Missouri)


Swope Memorial in Kansas City is a rarity: a true municipal golf course designed by one of the six architects in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Built by A.W. Tillinghast in 1934, Swope sits on a rollicking piece of ground, its fairways draped across side slopes and most of its greens situated on ridges. It’s a sophisticated routing that creates excellent variety from hole to hole. No doubt Swope could use some TLC; the cart-path placement on some holes is obnoxious, and the greens and fairways have shrunk over time. But much of Tillinghast’s original design is still there, making Swope a strong candidate for a cost-effective restoration. A talented young architect could make this one of the best municipal courses in the country.

Insider tip: If you’re visiting from out of town, stop at the original Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que on West 47th Avenue and get a Z-Man. Speaking from personal experience, though, you might have some trouble walking the course afterwards. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Andy Johnson


The Ocean Course (Kiawah Island, SC)


This stunner on the Atlantic Ocean might be the toughest course in America, but layered into the difficulty is Pete Dye’s imagination and strategic brilliance. The Ocean Course is far from just a slog. There are many stand-out holes—including the short par-4 3rd and the exacting yet subtle 14th—but the four par 3s have stuck with me the most. Each plays in a different direction, and each has its own, instantly memorable identity. While the price tag is steep, the Ocean Course is worth visiting once in your life. Just be sure to bring plenty of extra golf balls.

Listen to our podcast on the construction of the Ocean Course, and check out our video on its design.

Insider tip: The beaches on Kiawah Island are huge and amazing, and dogs can be off-leash from November 1 to March 15. -Andy Johnson

Photo credit: Kevin Van Cleef


Cape Cod Country Club (Falmouth, Massachusetts)


Cape Cod Country Club opened in 1928 and was designed by Devereux Emmet and Alfred Tull. All of its original corridors are intact, and it is routed beautifully on dramatic, pondside land. Among its most memorable features are a volcano green, a Great Hazard, jagged strings of bunkers, and big dips and hollows. Cape Cod has sandy soils, plays firm and fast, and is eminently walkable. Unfortunately, the current ownership plans to close the course sometime after next season and sell the property to a solar-farm developer. Only time will tell whether this deal will go through, as there’s more environmental red tape to get through. But suffice it to say that the time to go see Cape Cod CC is now.

Insider tip: The course is open year-round thanks to the regional microclimate. Be sure to call and confirm before you go, but if it isn’t frozen or snowy, golf is played! -Kevin Van Cleef

Photo credit: Garrett Morrison


McVeigh’s Gauntlet at Silvies Valley Ranch (Seneca, Oregon)


The most interesting short courses push the boundaries of golf architecture. Some explore sites too extreme to accommodate par 4s and 5s; others experiment with concepts that would seem gimmicky elsewhere. At their best, short courses open golfers’ minds to how fun unconventional design can be. That’s exactly what McVeigh’s Gauntlet does for guests at Silvies Valley Ranch. Its seven holes, designed with a sense of humor by Dan Hixson, traverse the single most severe piece of land I’ve ever seen used for golf. The 1st plays straight up a bluff, the 2nd vaults over a chasm, and the terrain just gets wilder from there. It’s a lark, but it’s also a relentless test of iron play. For golfers of lesser ability, the Gauntlet may work better as a hike (the views are sensational) than as a golf experience. Either way, if you’re at Silvies, don’t skip it.

Insider tip: If McVeigh’s Gauntlet whets your appetite for the unorthodox, stop by Bear Valley Meadows in nearby Seneca, Oregon, on your way out of town. It’s a true pasture golf course, complete with an honor box. -Garrett Morrison