Home Courses Best Public Golf Courses in America

Best Public Golf Courses in America

Aerial view of Pebble Beach Golf Links with the waves crashing on the cliffs of California
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This is basically a bucket list of golf courses that you can play without becoming a member. Although most of them are quite expensive, they should still be labelled the best public golf courses in America.

Related: Best Mini Golf Courses in America

Best Public Golf Courses Ranking System

The best public golf courses are those that have the best combination of the important attributes that an average golfer would value. These traits include design variety, course condition, atmosphere, and aesthetics.

(1) Design Variety is how different the hole configurations are with lengths, hazards, greens, etc.

(2) Condition is how firm the fairways are, how well-groomed the rough is, and how true the greens are.

(3) Atmosphere is how the course feels to play on. That “this is what golf is all about” feeling.

(4) Aesthetics are simply how beautiful and scenic the course is throughout.

Honorable Mention – Harbour Town Golf Links

18th hole fairway at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, SC with golden brown rough lining the fairway and the red and white striped lighthouse in the backdrop

Location: Hilton Head Island, SC

Designers: Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus

This course just missed the cut for the 10 best public golf courses in America but being #11 isn’t too shabby! Harbour Town hosts the RBC Heritage every season the week after the Masters in April.

Known for its relatively flat terrain and pine-flanked fairways, Harbour Town sits on the Calibogue Sound on the southern tip of Hilton Head Island. The closing hole is by far the most memorable. The fairway overlooks the harbor and Hilton Head’s iconic candy-striped lighthouse.

10. TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course

Island green surrounded by water on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass where the Players Championship is played

Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

Designer: Pete Dye

Two in a row for Pete Dye. The stadium course at TPC Sawgrass is the course where the Players Championship is played every March (formerly May). The 17th hole is the signature hole with the world-famous island green which can mesmerize golfers.

Related: Chance for Aggressiveness should make TPC Sawgrass more fun to watch

This course is commonly known as the best to watch a golf tournament at due to the available space around the holes themselves. But don’t let the beauty of this course trick you into thinking that it’s easy. TPC Sawgrass has a ridiculous amount of water that causes problems for players. Also just in case you didn’t make the connection from the picture of the 17th green, TPC Sawgrass is “better than most!”

Related: The Players Championship Earnings 2019

9. Plantation Course at Kapalua

Hole 18 fairway on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Resort in Maui, Hawaii overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a hawaiian island in the background

Location: Lahaina, Maui, HI

Designer: Alex Nakajima

What better than to play golf on a fabulous vacation destination that Hawaii? This course makes the list due to the stunning ocean views of the island of Maui. Native Hawaiian grasses add great texture to the backdrop while playing here.

The 18th hole is the featured hole and it totals 663 yards downhill on a wide fairway overlooking the Pacific. If you ever find yourself on vacation in Maui, make sure to stop a take a gander at this course.

8. Spyglass Hill Golf Course

Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean

Location: Pebble Beach, CA

Designer: Robert Trent Jones

Also known as Spyglass, this is one of the four famous golf courses operated by the Pebble Beach Company. Spyglass Hill is probably the most demanding of the four courses operated by the company and ranks 8th on our list of best public golf courses.

After starting off deep in the woods for the first few holes, Spyglass then heads straight for the ocean. With wild ocean winds and sandy wastes covering the course this golf course is no joke

7. Pinehurst (No.2)

Fairway view of hole 17 at Pinehurst No.2 course at Pinehurst Golf Resort

Location: Pinehurst, NC

Designer: Donald Ross

Pinehurst Golf Resort in North Carolina contains 9 full golf courses. The best of the bunch is Pinehurst No.2. This course has hosted more single golf championships than any other course in America. It will host the 2024 U.S. Open as well.

Pinehurst No.2 is known best for its rolling up-and-down greens. The approach shots are by far the most important when playing here due to the severity of the greens. Donald Ross referred to No.2 as “The fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed”.

6. Kiawah Island Resort – Ocean Course

Aerial view of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Location: Kiawah Island, SC

Designer: Pete Dye

Wow Pete Dye is cleaning up early on this list! The Ocean Course played host to the 2012 PGA Championship where it boasted a length of almost 7,700 yards. Rory McIlroy crushed the field by 8 strokes in his victory that year.

Most of the golf course is right on the ocean which creates tough, windy conditions for players. As designer Pete Dye says, “There’s no other golf course in the Northern Hemisphere that has as many seaside holes.” The views might outweigh the challenging winds though, in my opinion.

5. Bandon Dunes

Hole 16 fairway at Bandon Dunes Golf Course in Bandon, Oregon with the green overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Best Public Golf Courses in America.

Location: Bandon, OR

Designer: David McLay Kidd

This is the first of two Bandon Dunes Resort golf courses on this list of the best public golf courses. With a rugged layout of holes, Bandon Dunes still manages to reduce the wind factor as much as possible. The holes are routed in all compass points meaning that the course setup combats heavy winds that come from the nearby Pacific ocean.

Located in the little seaside town of Bandon, the resort boasts several restaurants and a Scottish-style pub. A great spot to go if you’re ever up in the Pacific Northwest.

4. Shadow Creek

Shadow Creek Golf Course fariway with a creek, pines, and mountains in the background in Las Vegas, Nevada. Best Public Golf Courses in America.

Location: Las Vegas, NV

Designer: Tom Fazio

Let’s take a trip to the desert for this next course, Shadow Creek. If it sounds familiar it’s because it was recently the site for The Match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson back in November of 2018.

A cool aspect of Shadow Creek is that the property, which is heavily populated by trees, is surrounded by desert. From the aerial view it looks sort of random like central park in NYC. But from the evergreen loaded golf course itself, it looks like a stunning northeastern course with mountains as a backdrop.

3. Pacific Dunes

The green on hole 11 at Pacific Dunes Golf Course overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Best Public Golf Courses in America.

Location: Bandon, OR

Designer: Tom Doak

In terms of location and aesthetics alone, this might be the coolest, relatively unknown course to play in the US. Located just north of sister course, Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes is only a touch under 6,700 yards from tip to tip. Its short length is the main reason why it is not considered for PGA Tour events. This is probably why most people have never heard of it.

Many of the holes weave in and out of the dunes which provides variety for golfers. The 13th hole at Pacific Dunes is a 444-yard par-4 that has the entirety of its length along the Pacific Ocean. Only 3 other holes in America have that much coastline on the Pacific, one of which, is the 4th at Pacific Dunes.

2. Whistling Straits – Straits Course

Hole 2 fairway at Whistling Straits - Straits Course with a view of Lake Michigan and golden brown fescue lining the hole. Best Public Golf Courses in America.

Location: Sheboygan, WI

Designer: Pete Dye

I swear this is the last Pete Dye designed course on this list but we saved his best for last. This course is a personal favorite and should be a bucket list course for anyone who loves the game. Whistling Straits recently held the 2015 PGA Championship and will host the highly anticipated 2020 Ryder Cup.

Located on the Western shores of Lake Michigan, The Straits course utilizes natural elements to create incredible lake views and windswept terrain that define this walking-only course.

Over 1,000 bunkers throughout the course. Eight of the greens are on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Seas of tall, golden fescue lining the fairways. Whistling Straits is simply a masterpiece.

1. Pebble Beach

A view of the 18th hole at Pebble Beach with the green overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Pebble Beach takes the number 1 spot in the list of the best public golf courses in amaerica.

Location: Pebble Beach, CA

Designer: Jack Neville

It’s no surprise that Pebble Beach takes the crown on the list of best public golf courses in the US. The quality of golf and insane ocean views catapult this course to the top of the list.

There are so many holes that make Pebble iconic. Starting with the famous par-3 7th which plays a mere 106 yards. 7 is literally a tee shot off a cliff towards the Pacific. The 8th at Pebble Beach has a similar view. The approach shot on 8 dangles over the cliffs on the edge of the ocean. As Tiger Woods puts it, “That second shot is one of the most daunting second shots in golf.”

Related: What’s in Tiger Woods’ Bag?

Then, of course, there is the 18th which might be the most iconic hole on the planet. Anyone who knows what the sport of golf is can point at a picture of this hole and know that it’s from Pebble Beach. Those are just a few reasons of many that make Pebble Beach #1 on our list of best public golf courses in America.

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