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The 15 cheapest courses you can play on our new best public ranking

July 25, 2023

There is one simple democratic principle at the center of our America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses ranking: Anyone can play them. Twenty years on from Golf Digest’s inaugural ranking of the best public layouts in 2003, the biennial list remains the definitive guide to the best courses you can play, highlighting the best architecture across a variety of settings and climates in the country.

Yet, as shown in our 2023-’24 list, the prices to play many of these top courses is dramatically increasing, precluding anyone on a budget. The green fees for the top 10 courses in the ranking average more than $400, and fewer than 20 courses offer rates under $100 at any time of the year.

That said, it is still possible to find great value amid the steep prices on the list. You just have to know where to look. In this collection, you’ll find the 15 most affordable courses on our new 100 Greatest Public list, all of which offer green fees at $100 or under.

One note: Rates for most courses fluctuate based on the season, time of day, residency, and demand. For this collection, we used the lowest posted rate offered throughout the year, meaning many of these low prices are offered in the offseason. We did not include twilight or resident rates, so take advantage of these for even better value.

1. Wild Horse Golf Club (Rates start at $61)

79. Wild Horse Golf Club
Brian Oar
Public
79. Wild Horse Golf Club
Gothenburg, NE

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten: 

Dan Proctor and Dave Axland have been quasi-legends in the business of golf course construction for over 30 years now, individually and collectively. They've worked on many of Coore & Crenshaw’s prominent designs, including Sand Hills (Nebraska's premier layout, in the center of the state's vast sand hills) and Cabot Cliffs (Canada's premier layout these days). They even rated cameo appearances in Geoff Shackleford’s 1998 novel, The Good Doctor Returns. And they were also a talented course design team in their spare time, routing and building quality low-budget courses in the Coore & Crenshaw style.

 

Read our architecture editor's complete review here.

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2. Belvedere Golf Club ($62)

98. Belvedere Golf Club
Public
98. Belvedere Golf Club
Charlevoix, MI, United States
William Watson, whose career began in Minnesota building courses such as Minikahda and Interlachen before moving on to work in California, designed Belvedere in the mid 1920s. Recently it’s been under the stewardship of architect Bruce Hepner who has kept the layout sharp and pure. It’s a graceful example of a design that reacts to the land with fairways that flow over links-like ripples and greens sited on natural landforms and benched into slopes. The putting contours are from another era, full of dimples, knobs, swales and bubbles that enliven short game intrigue—chips and putts demand as much attention and creativity as full shots, the sign of great architecture. Belvedere is a private course that welcomes outside play, and it can be walked in the early season for as little as $62.
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T-3. The Virtues Golf Club ($64)

93. The Virtues Golf Club
Public
93. The Virtues Golf Club
Nashport, OH
Course designer Arthur Hills called The Virtues (formerly known as Longaberger) "probably as beautiful as piece a property as I've had to work with." Told to route the course to preserve as many trees as possible, Hills made the brawny Virtues course wander gracefully from ridge top to valley, testing every shot with uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. It's Hills's most natural design, and it won Golf Digest's award for Best New Upscale Public Course of 2000.
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T-3. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms ($64)

88. The Bull At Pinehurst Farms
Public
88. The Bull At Pinehurst Farms
Sheboygan Falls, WI, United States
It’s not wise for a rebel force to stand toe-to-toe against an empire—success depends upon more radical measures. In the case of The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, the empire is the late Herb Kohler’s neighboring 36-hole Blackwolf Run (plus the 10-hole Baths course), not to mention Kohler’s Whistling Straits complex just north of Sheboygan. To make The Bull equally attractive, Team Nicklaus went full commando with the design, using all the available assets of the 400-acre site to build broad meadow holes in the meadows, tightrope holes through the woods, and shorties along and across the winding Onion River. Traps are sprung everywhere—in the form of pot bunkers, inside doglegs, draped in front of greens—and numerous ravines are positioned to ensnare miscalculations. There’s a lot going on, but as they say, when you take on The Bull, you get the horns.
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5. The Wilderness at Fortune Bay ($78)

67. The Wilderness At Fortune Bay
In 2005, The Wilderness at Fortune Bay won America's Best New Upscale Public Course, a year after architect Jeff Brauer won the same award for The Quarry at Giant's Ridge, also in northern Minnesota. Where The Quarry uses slopes and ramps, Wilderness rewards aerial play, with some high-low alternate fairways, lake-edged greens and a pair of drop-shot par 3s. As we wrote back in 2005, "its options outnumber its rock outcroppings, and there are outcroppings galore."
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6. Black Mesa Golf Club ($79)

95. Black Mesa Golf Club
Public
95. Black Mesa Golf Club
Espanola, NM, United States
Black Mesa is back in our ranking of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses for the first time since 2014. Though located not far from the town of Española, there is no development on or near the vast, high desert property. The Baxter Spann design feels worlds away, flowing through a Martian landscape of buttes, sagebrush dotted ridges and dry arroyos. If the idea of hitting shots through canyons, along bluffs and over rock outcroppings to blind targets isn’t enticing enough, the weekday green fee of $79 should be.
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T-7. The Pfau Course at Indiana University ($80)

76. The Pfau Course At Indiana University
Visit Bloomington
Public
76. The Pfau Course At Indiana University
Bloomington, IN, United States
College golf courses can be the most challenging of assignments for architects because of the need to accommodate the broad range of abilities that play the course day to day. On one hand the design needs to be enjoyable for students, faculty and local play, and on the other it has to have the mettle to test the skills of the best amateurs in the country. At Indiana, Smyers, a nationally competitive amateur player himself, has thought deeply about the topic. He challenges talented players, including the Hoosiers’ golf teams, with length, subtly angled drives, compressed landing areas bordered by light rough and contouring slopes around the edges of greens. But the course is also broad where handicap players drive the ball, the greens are open in front and the bunkers are shallow. Native grass roughs and groves of hardwoods add an idyllic touch.
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T-7. Sand Hollow Resort: Championship Course ($80)

96. Sand Hollow Resort Championship Course
Brian G. Oar - Fairways Photography
Public
96. Sand Hollow Resort Championship Course
Hurricane, UT, United States
4.2
110 Panelists
One of the most scenic courses in the southwest, Sand Hollow’s Championship course has several holes that play on the edge of jagged cliffs. The front nine is a relatively straightforward desert layout with well-placed bunkers. The back side features more elevation change as golfers play along a towering ridgeline, which falls off dramatically into a red rock canyon on the left. For the views alone—not to mention the strategic design—this is a must-play in southern Utah.
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T-9. The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Links ($85)

62. The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Links
Public
62. The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Links
Green Lake, WI, United States
A darling of the architecture cognoscenti, Lawsonia Links, designed and built in the 1930s by William Langford and Theodore Moreau, circles through grassy meadows and past an occasional stand of oaks. It’s a purposefully modest and functional design that invites players to rip driver, then buckle down for precise shots into large platform greens perched above deep trench bunkers dug out with pre-modern steam shovels. The par-3 seventh has another explanation entirely. Its green, perched like a birthday cake, was formed by piling dirt over an old railroad boxcar.
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T-9. Tullymore Golf Resort ($85)

73. Tullymore Golf Resort
Public
73. Tullymore Golf Resort
Stanwood, MI, United States
A past member of our 100 Greatest list, Tullymore has exciting design variety with five par 5s and five par 3s. The course winds through 800 acres of woods and wetlands and features the unique "muscle" bunkers and bowled greens that architect Jim Engh became known for when he was designing some of the most distinctive new golf courses in the late 1990s and 2000s. One of two courses at the resort, Tullymore has previously been ranked for 18 years on our 100 Greatest Public, debuting at No. 14 in 2003.
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T-9. Southern Pines Golf Club ($85)

72. Southern Pines Golf Club
John P. Kane
Public
72. Southern Pines Golf Club
Southern Pines, NC, United States
Southern Pines used to be a course that only locals and architectural bookworms played. Designed in the early 1900s by Donald Ross, the affordable public course occupied a wonderful, bucolic piece of land and seemed to have buried treasure underneath. After a change in ownership, Kyle Franz completed a major 2021 renovation that added plenty of razzle dazzle to the design in the form of new greens and painting the layout with the kind of scruffy sandscapes indigenous to the Pinehurst region (and to Pine Needles and Mid Pines where he’s previously wielded his art). The work has elevated this formerly modest public course to the level of its more prestigious neighbors.
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T-9. Mossy Oak Golf Club ($85)

70. Mossy Oak Golf Club
Public
70. Mossy Oak Golf Club
West Point, MS

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten: 

Back in mid-1980s, George Bryan, who ran Bryan Foods, now part of Sara Lee Corp., created Old Waverly Golf Club in tiny West Point, Miss., a Bob Cupp/Jerry Pate design and former U.S. Women’s Open host that to me is a bit underrated. In the early 2000s, Bryan bought an old dairy farm (Knob Hill Dairy) across the highway and hired Gil Hanse to give him an Old School public golf course. George named it Mossy Oak, after a West Point company of the same name that supplies outdoor camouflage gear. (The company has a 10-percent interest in the course.) He was going to call it Howlin' Wolf after a legendary blues singer born in West Point, but his heirs wanted too much money.

 

Read our architecture editor's complete review here.

Explore our full review

13. The Quarry at Giants Ridge ($87)

43. The Quarry at Giants Ridge
Brian Oar
Public
43. The Quarry at Giants Ridge
Biwabik, MN
It doesn't get the press that courses such as Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Whistling Straits or Arcadia Bluffs, but The Quarry at Giants Ridge plays very links-like with its collection of fairway speed slots, greenside backboards and backstops and reverse-camber greens. Its very inventive design also demands some aerial play, too. A standout is its 13th, a drivable par 4 that's nearly as wide as it is long, with three alternate routes to a 100-yard-wide green. We named it the best 13th hole in America built since 2000.
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14. Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club ($95)

86. Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Courtesy of Mid-Pines GC/kevinmurraygolfphotography.com
Public
86. Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Southern Pines, NC, United States
What began as a private retreat called Knollwood, funded by Roaring Twenties millionaires like James Barber, Horace Rackham and Henry Ford, is now a charming public Donald Ross design, revitalized by young first-time designer Kyle Franz in the style of Pinehurst No. 2, where Franz had worked on the restoration. Mid Pines is pure elegance and beauty. The routing is spellbinding, with holes that stretch out into corners at the property’s high points, then fall back down to intersect at junctions across the calmer interior. Franz’s 2013 work expanding greens and restoring the perimeter sandscapes has greatly enhanced one of Pinehurst’s most refined golf presentations.
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15. The Golf Club at Harbor Shores ($100)

90. The Golf Club at Harbor Shores
Public
90. The Golf Club at Harbor Shores
Benton Harbor, MI, United States
Just 90 minutes from Chicago in western Michigan, Harbor Shores is a scenic Jack Nicklaus layout that often gets high marks for conditioning from our panelists. It was constructed over parts of a former manufacturing facility that requred a significant amount of remediation, but the result is a sanctuary of nature where toxic compounds used to be. Because of the previous use of the property and the need to remove and work around defunt buildings, the holes are spread far and wide around the vast site, broken into distinct sections while crossing the Paw Paw River several times. The course is a regular host of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, having hosted five times, including in 2022 and 2024. Harbor Shores offers intriguing design variety, with dense forest, dunes, creeks and fescue all in play, and a highlight stretch of three holes along Lake Michigan.
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