America’s 20 Best Municipal Golf Courses

The muni is an American embodiment of democracy, like the library and the public park: a golf course run by the city.

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The muni is an American embodiment of democracy, like the library and the public park: a golf course run by the city. And, like in our institutions of knowledge and recreation, there’s a broad spectrum of greatness. All municipal courses have equal access, but not all are created equal. If you’ve had bad experiences with one or several, take a minute and clear the bad memories of crappy courses past. Abandon your resentment of those pock-marked and bumpy greens. Forgive the gods for mystifying, undistinguished fairway-rough barriers. Dismiss the painful visual of the divot-laden tee box. We bring you only top-rate, championship-level munis — courses with low(ish) prices that offer some of the best rounds in the USA. It’s the apex of the American way: golf and democracy at their absolute finest.

WEST


365 days of green fairways can’t be wrong.


Chambers Bay

chambers-bay-golf-course

Location: University Place, WA
Course Designer: Robert Trent Jones II
Greens Fees*: $239
What Will Bring You Back: It’s a well-known traditional links-style course that gives a St. Andrews experience on the West Coast, and it’s playing host to the 2015 US Open. The course sits open to the winds and vistas of the Puget Sound, providing equal parts challenge and beauty. It’s like your best ex-girlfriend — difficult, stormy, disastrous and unforgettable.

Learn More: Here

*A Note on Rates: We went with the highest posted price. These are weekend rates in peak season for non-residents. Play in shoulder seasons or dig for deals, and you’ll be rewarded with discounts.

Torrey Pines (South)

torrye-pines-golf-course

Location: La Jolla, CA
Course Designers: William F. Bell, remodel Rees Jones
Greens Fees: $183
What Will Bring You Back: Perched atop ocean bluffs, Torrey Pines boasts 7,607 yards of tight waterfront fairways and unforgiving, tangled rough. It’s a golfer’s paradise and a hacker’s nightmare. Residents get it good with $61 greens fees and priority tee times, but non-residents can play the course with some proper planning (or some good luck).

Learn More: Here

Incline Village (Championship)

incline-village-golf-course

Location: Incline Village, NV
Course Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Greens Fees: $179
What Will Bring You Back: The mountain oasis of Lake Tahoe has gaggles of great courses with locks on their gates (read: private communities). Incline Village, on the Nevada side of the lake, opens it doors to the public and gives an equally illustrious experience without the mortgage-sized member fees. And panoramic views of the lake and plenty of elevation change keep things fresh on the crisp alpine course.

Learn More: Here

Desert Willow (Firecliff)

desert-willow-golf-course

Location: Palm Desert, CA
Course Designers: Hurdzan & Fry
Greens Fees: $155
What Will Bring You Back: LA’s little sand box to the east magically sprouts enough lush fairways to attract golfers from all over the globe. In the winter, when the heat’s turned to low, Desert Willow’s Firecliff course gives golfers 7,056 yards of ground to cover, where they can expect the expected: wide, long fairways bordered by buckets of sand (there’s over 100 bunkers).

Learn More: Here

TPC Harding Park

tpc-harding-golf-course

Location: San Francisco, CA
Course Designer: Willie Watson & Sam Whiting
Greens Fees: $175
What Will Bring You Back: The most illustrious club in SF is the Olympic Club (host of the 2012 US Open). Across the lake is its equally formidable public brother — TPC Harding Park. Blanketed in fog and splitting the cypress trees, the course takes on top golf talent, challenging the locals and hosting a slew of visiting PGA pros. It also recently completed a year-long greens restoration, so the roll is currently top notch.

Learn More: Here

NORTHEAST


Where the munis battle the country clubs (and win).


Bethpage Black

bethpage-black-golf-course

Location: Farmingdale, N.Y.
Course Designer: A.W. Tillinghast
Greens Fees: $150
What Will Bring You Back: The premier municipal golf course in the US, Bethpage Black intimidates and entices, starting from the sign outside the first tee box: “The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.” It’s also extremely difficult to get a tee time, so Bethpage embraces the time-honored tradition of waiting in line: get there the day before you want to play, park your car, and wait. It’s prepping your patience for the torture of the course, and the round is worth every second of discomfort.

Learn More: Here

Green Mountain National

green-mountain-national-golf-course

Location:Killington, VT
Course Designers: Gene Bates & Steve Durkee
Greens Fees: $75
What Will Bring You Back: Vermont’s finest accentuates the state’s best trait: mountains. Snaking through the Green Mountains, the course gives an elevated understanding of undulation, and, at 6,589 yards, it’s a short-but-stout track — a solid place for those who don’t go Bubba Watson-style with the big stick.

Learn More: Here

Wintonbury Hills

wintonbury-hills-golf-course

Location: Bloomfield, CT
Course Designer: Pete Dye
Greens Fees: $79
What Will Bring You Back: Built in 2005, this is a new course with olde tyme charm. It joins two styles — open, links-style and more traditional Northeast tree-lined holes — to create a hybrid course that satisfies the need for variety. And to keep you guessing, the Par 70 layout is laced with holes of varying yardage (the Par 4’s range from 443 to 333 yards), so prepare to grab every club in the bag.

Learn More: Here

Neshanic Valley

neshanic-valley-golf-course

Location: Neshanic Station, N.J.
Course Designers: Hurdzan & Fry
Greens Fees: $90
What Will Bring You Back: Neshanic Valley has options. Take the Lake, Meadow, or Ridge tracks — each a 9-hole route — and mix and match how you like. The course is welcoming to amateurs (only a 130 slope) and makes the most of what’s available to it — namely, 350 acres of rolling farmland turned to fairways.

Learn More: Here

Knoll Golf Club (West)

knoll-west-golf-course-

Location: Parsippany, NJ
Course Designers: Charles H. Banks & Hal Purdy
Greens Fees: $90
What Will Bring You Back: Back in the ’20s, a handful of Wall Street execs created Knoll Golf Club West. It was nice. Then, in the ’60s, when everyone started playing golf, Knoll opened the east course, a public facility. It was nice, but not quite as nice. Today, the West course is still the jewel, and it’s now available to non-members as a 7:30AM shotgun on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. If you can adjust your meetings to hit the weekdays, it’s worth “working remote” for the morning.

Learn More: Here

SOUTH


Where golf never gets cold.


Butterfield Trail

butterfield-trail-golf-course

Location: El Paso, TX
Course Designer: Tom Fazio
Greens Fees: $80
What Will Bring You Back: For a fairly new course, Butterfield Trail is making distinct tracks. Fazio made magic with the El Paso landscape, integrating natural sand dunes and local fauna into the course design. Boosting the appeal are relics of the area’s illustrious days past, when the mail was carried through these plains. The history can’t help your game, but scraps of the ol’ Wild West can make searching for your ball in the rough a bit more interesting.

Learn More: Here

Crandon Park

crandon-park-golf-course

Location: Key Biscayne, FL
Course Designers: Robert von Hagge & Bruce Devlin
Greens Fees: $90
What Will Bring You Back: A long 4-iron from Miami, Crandon Park is played on the paradise island of Key Biscayne, surrounded by tropical waters and the Ritz-Carleton. It has hosted the Senior PGA Tour for the last 18 years; this course gives the greats of the PGA a hard time the chances are it’ll take a good shot at you, too.

Learn More: Here

TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course)

tpc-sawgrass-stadium-golf-course

Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
Course Designer: Pete Dye
Greens Fees: $400
What Will Bring You Back: Sawgrass is home to the PGA’s HQ, The Players Championship and plenty of other tourneys, and for disciples of the white ball, it’s the tropical mecca. Made famous by its 17th green (it’s a postage stamp-sized island) and overall difficulty, the course has both pleased and pissed off pro and amateur golfers since its inception.

Learn More: Here

Arrowhead Pointe

arrowhead-pointe-golf-course

Location: Elberton, GA
Course Designer: Bob Walker
Greens Fees: $45
What Will Bring You Back: Situated on the tip of a lakeside peninsula, Arrowhead Pointe has no shortage of water. 10 of the 18 holes run alongside the lake, and the signature 14th runs straight toward the water. Local advice: bring an extra sleeve of balls.

Learn More: Here

Laurel Hill

laurel-hill-golf-course

Location: Lorton, VA
Course Designer: Bill Love
Greens Fees: $99
What Will Bring You Back: Prisons and golf don’t exactly go hand in hand, but Virginia makes it work. Laurel Hill wears its incarcerated past openly, highlighting at turns the Lorton penitentiary formerly run by the D.C. Department of Corrections. The course is more than prison relics, though; it matches the plethora of private clubs with pristine conditions and a challenging track.

Learn More: Here

MIDWEST


Carry the water, don’t flyover the states.


Harborside International (Starboard)

harborside-international-golf-course

Location: Chicago, IL
Course Designer: Dick Nugent
Greens Fees: $105
What Will Bring You Back: Down where Lake Michigan hits the border of Illinois and Indiana, there’s a golf sanctuary tucked in alongside Interstate 94 and Calumet Lake. The course, which opened in 1996, offers plenty of water to tempt errant drives, taking every opportunity to accentuate its watery surroundings. And, fitting for the typical Chicagoland breeze, the course plays as a links course, letting the wind exponentiate the difficulty.

Learn More: Here

Highlands of Elgin

highlands-of-elgin-golf-course

Location: Elgin, IL
Course Designers: Keith Foster & Arthur Schaupeter
Greens Fees: $51
What Will Bring You Back: Spartan Meadows, a dull course that damaged the muni name, closed its doors in 2010. To golfers’ relief, that same year, the Highlands opened across the street. The track sits on a quarry, offering wide, ambling fairways and tight greens. It put the pride back in the local people, and offers the northwest Chicago suburbs some proper muni golf.

Learn More: Here

Sleepy Hollow

sleepy-hollow-golf-course

Location: Brecksville, OH
Course Designer: Stanley Thompson
Greens Fees: $50
What Will Bring You Back: The rust belt’s not known for its golf, but Cleveland Metroparks is working to change that. The Sleepy Hollow track opened initially as a prestigious country club in 1925, opening its gates to the public in 1963. The course plays as an “out and in”, where the front 9 heads downhill and downwind, while the back 9 comes uphill and into the wind.

Learn More: Here

Washington County GC

washington-county-golf-course

Location: Hartford, WI
Course Designer: Arthur Hills
Greens Fees: $45
What Will Bring You Back: Packers, cheese curds, and enviable PGA courses all mingle in harmony in Wisconsin. The Washington County course goes deep at over 7,000 yards, and it offers a mix of bunkers, water, and natural rough to challenge your game. It also registers a criminal greens fee for a top-caliber course.

Learn More: Here

Leslie Park

leslie-park-golf-course

Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Course Designer: E. Lawrence Packard, remodel Arthur Hills
Greens Fees: $30
What Will Bring You Back: Michigan wins the closest-to-the-pocketbook award, and thankfully the value doesn’t mean divot-laden greens and easy lay-ups. Leslie Park starts with a nicely manicured 543-yard Par 5 and doesn’t lay off the throttle after that. The championship layout winds its way through an Audubon sanctuary and is certified as surpassing environmental law requirements, so the course only does damage to your scorecard, not the globe.

Learn More: Here

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