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


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 California has gone upscale, many of its coastal cities have lost their charm. (Looking at you, Santa Barbara.) Santa Cruz, however, has retained some of its scruffy beach-town feel. 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 do 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. The greens have simple yet eccentric contours. And 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 is homemade, but it’s not at all flimsy.

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 all-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, 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 natural slope of the seaside terrain. If you play it 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—the 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 not a must-see. But the back nine 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: take on 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 AM 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 Coore & Crenshaw’s design, as it should in any well-structured narrative, comes just before the ending. 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

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: This is no secret, but you can’t leave Bandon Dunes Golf Resort before having a go 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 wishes for 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

To be continued…