RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links



Everyman golf

10 hidden gems near bucket-list golf courses

February 19, 2024
1342141900

The above aerial shot of Pacific Grove was shot by an FAA licensed drone pilot with a permit from the City of Pacific Grove in Monterey County, Calif.

halbergman

Bucket list courses aren’t usually my jam, if only because of the correlation (at least in this country) between prestige and price. Robert Louis Stevenson might’ve called Monterey Peninsula “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation,” but felicitous is not the F-word that comes to mind when I see $800 greens fees. The same goes for resorts requiring multi-night stays at their properties for the honor of playing their course. And that’s just for the joints we can get on, as most of the best courses in the United States are private. "Bucket-list" is synonymous with dream, because that’s what most of these courses are, attainable by many only in fantasy.

Golf should be a game of the people, which is why I put together this list of the best hidden gems near bucket-list courses. I’m not discouraging you from taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but if you do, you might need some attainable options in the vicinity to help mitigate the damage to your bank account. Many of these tracks are solid in their own right. Others, not so much—but they remain worth the visit strictly for the vibes and scenery, a reminder that good golf is rarely about the course itself.

So, with all due respect to our America's 100 Greatest Public ranking, many people are saying (and by many people, I mean me) that the following list is a true itinerary for the common man.

Scroll on for my favorite hidden gems near bucket-list courses, and be sure to click through to each individual course page for bonus photography and reviews from our course panelists. We also encourage you to leave your own ratings on the courses you’ve played … so you can make your case for why each course is a hidden gem or not.

Sunset Bay Golf Course
Public
Sunset Bay Golf Course
Coos Bay, OR
Eighteen miles north of Bandon Dunes resides Sunset Bay in Coos Bay, Ore., a 12-hole course tucked away in a state park. In character and complexion, Sunset is the epitome of a hidden gem. There are no tee times: first-come, first-served. Intrigued, we were off. Pulling into the lot, it becomes apparent Sunset Bay's name is a bit of a contradiction. Its driveway resides less than 800 feet from the Pacific Ocean, but the course sits in a valley, with vistas more akin to Napa County than coastline. Due to the valley’s towering pines, a permanent shadow is cast over the property, the sun visible only at high noon. Just short of 4,000 yards from the tips, each hole is both challenging to the most skilled player yet playable for the novice. Be it tight pine corridors, landing zones the dimensions of a laptop, multiple drivable holes, or green contours that would give professionals fits, Sunset Bay combines a creativity and joy that harkens back to a simpler time.
Explore our full review
Charleston Municipal Golf Course
Public
Charleston Municipal Golf Course
Charleston, SC
3.6
48 Panelists

Just 40 minutes from Kiawah Island, Muni was renovated by Troy Miller in 2021 in the vision of Seth Raynor. As Golf Digest’s Derek Duncan wrote following Muni’s revival, “Miller’s renditions of the Raynor concepts—including gorgeous Redan and Punchbowl greens, among others—are loyal and adventurous.” Some of the green footprints are a bit smaller than the land required for Raynor’s stylings, so if you’re not accurate with your irons, you’re not going to score. Conversely, score is not the priority here; it’s enjoyment, and no course in the area infuses fun in every shot like Muni.

Explore our full review
George Wright Golf Course
Public
George Wright Golf Course
Hyde Park, MA
3.9
12 Panelists

The good folks in Boston are heaving their Dunkin’ at the screen, because “The Wright” is already one of the hardest tee times to secure in the area. Not far from The Country Club, Wright shares similar aesthetics to Brookline thanks to its rocky outcropping framed by wild terrain. Occasionally knocked for its number of blind shots and small greens, these are quirks rather than flaws, and at just 6,400 yards from the tips it’s playable for all. 

Explore our full review
Keney Park Golf Course
Public
Keney Park Golf Course
Hartford, CT

Yale is the best college golf course in the country, and by the time Gil Hanse is done with his restoration, it has the chance to be one of the top courses, period. But just up the road from Yale is Keney Park. For just $40 ($50 for non-residents), golfers get a chance to traverse this dual design from Devereux Emmet (who worked the front nine in 1927) and Robert “Jack” Ross (who mapped out the back in 1931). There are a number of template holes, including Redan and Road holes, as well as church pew bunkers. Creativity is the key, as elevation changes and dramatic green contours test the mind as much as any course in the state. The course underwent a restoration in 2016 that has brought some bite back to the grens and proper maintenance to the property. 

Explore our full review
Jax Beach Golf Club
Public
Jax Beach Golf Club
Jacksonville Beach, FL

No need to wax poetic on the routing or conditioning or challenge. From afar, it’s a standard Florida course. But the course knows what it is, which is a public service to the people in its community, and it can be played for less than $50 on the weekend. There’s also a relaxed ambience that’s welcomed when contrasted against the confines of TPC Sawgrass, where tee times are approaching $1,000 and visitors are sometimes treated as nuisances rather than guests. If you’re looking for an emergency nine holes with some libations or searching for a place to take the family, Jax Beach is your spot. 

Explore our full review
Marine Park Golf Course
Public
Marine Park Golf Course
Brooklyn, NY

Long Island is the true cradle of golf. The area boasts Shinnecock, National Golf Links, Friar’s Head, Maidstone, Garden City, Bethpage … we could go on and on. Alas, almost all of these courses are private and Bethpage has turned into a tourist trap with rounds consistently taking six hours on the Black course. If you’re in the area looking for no frills, cheap golf, our advice is to head toward the city and opt for Marine Park. This Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design is extremely well conditioned and offers a number of views of the water and New York City skyline. But don’t let its beauty fool you. With fast greens, winds off the Jamaica Bay and measuring close to 7,000 from the tips, Marine Park is no push over.

Explore our full review
The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Links
Public
The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Links
Green Lake, WI

Word is out on Lawsonia, as the prices for the state park have nearly doubled. But at $120, it’s still a relatively manageable price compared to other Wisconsin golf properties like Whistling Straits, Erin Hills and Sand Valley. Lawsonia Links was designed and built in the 1930s by William Langford and Theodore Moreau, cascading through dairy-land pastures and meadows. Many of the holes are inspired by Scottish links courses, yet few are carbon-copy blueprints, leading to a unique, enthralling experience. But don’t take my word; “Probably the most under-the-radar golf course in the country” and “The boldness of the green complexes needs to be seen to be believed" (in a very good way) … "perhaps the best course in Wisconsin (which is saying a lot)” are just some of the testimonies from Golf Digest’s course panelists. 

Explore our full review
Waiehu Golf Course
Public
Waiehu Golf Course
Wailuku, HI

Maui and its golf properties need your help following the 2023 August wildfires. Tourism is the economic backbone of the island, and golf plays a major role in that drive. However, while Kapalua and other resorts get the publicity, don’t forget Maui’s muni, Waiehu Golf Course. Just minutes from the airport, it’s a little beat up in spots yet the overall conditioning is good and it’s extremely playable. Waiehu has a stretch of holes that kiss the ocean, and the water can be seen from almost every hole. It’s also a fraction of the cost of many of the resort courses for those looking to take out the entire family. 

Explore our full review
Augusta Municipal Golf Course
Public
Augusta Municipal Golf Course
Augusta, GA

Known locally as “The Patch,” Augusta Municipal sits next to Daniel Field Airport, just two miles from Augusta National. Postage stamp greens and turf that tends to be firm and fast, errant second shots are often punished with vigor. The Patch welcomes all walks of life, and for years it was the only golf course that would allow Augusta National’s mostly Black caddies a place to play. Last year Augusta National announced it would fund a restoration of both the Patch and the nearby First Tee facility that will provide affordable pathways into the game. 

Explore our full review
Pacific Grove Golf Links
Public
Pacific Grove Golf Links
Pacific Grove, CA

Residing five miles north of Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove—known as the "Poor man's Pebble"—boasts a daily greens fee of $51, with juniors allowed on for $20. Pacific Grove's back nine is a glorious paradox, both playable and demanding. The fairways are rolling; rarely does a player receive a perfectly-flat lie. Though there's not much surrounding the greens, the putting surfaces are the size of a car hood. There are a number of blind shots, and the coastal winds could be your friend and foe on the same hole. But really, you’re here for the views. Eight of the nine holes feature ocean views, and a number of them edge so close to the coastline than you can feel the mist from crashing waves. The dunes—provided you're not in them—are a captivating frame. Rock islands spring from the ocean like oil pumps in the Great Plains. If that wasn't enough, the back nine is guarded by the Point Pinos Lighthouse, a tower built in 1855 that is the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast. You're forgiven for thinking what lies before you was built on a Hollywood sound stage.

Explore our full review

• • •

Explore Golf Digest's new Course Reviews section where you can submit a star rating and evaluation on all the courses you’ve played. We've collected tens of thousands of reviews from our course-ranking panelists to deliver a premium experience, which includes course rankings, experts' opinions, bonus course photography, videos and much more. Check it out here!