The green at Cypress Point Club's classic par-3 16th (top) and the par-4 17th hole that features a divided fairway. View photos of more fun golf courses ⇒
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine your ideal day of golf. The weather is sunny with a light breeze. Your partners are old friends, the kind you can count on for equal parts competition and laughter. And when your round is done, your body aches, you've gone through three sleeves of balls, four-putted, and marked "X" as your score on more than one hole.
Anything seem wrong with that picture?
Golf doesn't have to be an ordeal. Honestly, when you think back on your most enjoyable rounds, were they on courses that left you bloodied and bruised? No. They were on courses that tested but did not torment you. Challenged but did not chafe you. Made you think but did not make you think about quitting.
Golf Digest celebrates the best of these layouts with our first ranking of the Most Fun Courses. All of these--50 public and 50 private--are very good courses, and some of them are great. But each shares one overarching characteristic: a good time is all but guaranteed.
We chose them with the help of Golf Digest's panelists, the roughly 1,100 enthusiasts who create our biennial rankings of America's 100 Greatest Courses,
They gave "fun" scores to more than 500 courses throughout the country, which we averaged to create these rankings. For international travelers, we've also included a list of the 20 Most Fun Courses of Great Britain and Ireland.
Every golfer defines fun differently, but for the purposes of this ranking we urged voters to consider these points of view:
Length does not equal fun. Sure, a fun course might have a ridiculous set of Tiger Tees stretching to 7,700 yards, but we were looking for courses that good golfers normally play from, say, 6,500 yards. Ideally shorter hitters can choose from at least two tees of 6,000 yards or less. Some of the finalists, in fact, were par-3 or other "short" courses. Not all of them have 18 holes.
*Hard is overrated. *We're not saying a course has to be easy to make this list. It just won't have a lot of forced carries over wetlands or ravines. It shouldn't have out-of-bounds or water bordering every other hole. At a fun course, even less-experienced players have a good chance of finishing their round with the same ball they used on the first tee.
Walking is more fun than riding. Courses with short distances from greens to the next tees got bonus points.
*A welcoming attitude beats a snooty vibe. *We wanted to identify clubs that inspire repeat visits, not one-and-done trips.
Ready to turn that "ideal day of golf" into reality? Scroll down and start making plans.
TOP 50 MOST FUN PUBLIC COURSES
names for more info on public courses.*
__ALSO SEE: TOP 50: PRIVATE GOLF COURSES ⇒
On every avid player's bucket list. With seven of the world's most spectacular holes, it's the ultimate combo of setting, scenery and history.
You'll have a hard time losing a ball on this open layout, an homage to C.B. Macdonald, where it's not rare to hit 50-yard putts to farm-size greens.
The new 13-hole par-3 course at the No. 1 U.S. golf resort might become the most popular. Most holes have ocean views, and it can be played in less than 90 minutes.
Tom Doak's best includes five par 3s (back-to-back to start the back nine) and two of the most scenic and challenging par 4s in the country (Nos. 4 and 13).
Fairways as wide as a stadium and as firm as a trampoline, but framed by native rough. It's Sand Hills without the steep climbs.
The resort's original 18. Catch the end of the back nine at sunset and you might decide to extend your stay a day, a week or a month.
North Las Vegas, Nev.
Forgiving desert oasis designed by Tom Fazio. From Michael Jordan to Hollywood A-listers to world leaders, you never know who you'll see here.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
How good is it? After Bobby Jones played the Alister Mackenzie design, he hired him to build Augusta National.
With tee-to-green elevation changes of up to 140 feet, this 18-hole par-3 course is literally a thrill ride.
A 10-hole pitch-and-putt based on the basketball game H-O-R-S-E. Win a hole, call the next shot. Off that slope, down that bank . . . nothing but net.
A wonderful Donald Ross layout in the mountains features grand elevation changes, few flat lies and smooth, speedy greens.
This off-the-grid course is a dramatic hole in the ground. Famous for its elevated tees and drivable par 4s, it's one of the best tests in the Midwest.
Green Lake, Wis.
Golf's most audacious set of green pads: enormous pedestal putting surfaces that look like buried railroad cars. Rumor is, the seventh green really is one.
Pawleys Island, S.C.
A Mike Strantz masterpiece weaving through mature oaks. Most fun of all might be sitting on the porch after 18 and betting on others' approach shots.
La Mesilla, N.M.
A trek among the sandstone cliffs and limestone washes, it's a calendar of fantasy golf holes come to life.
Golf on the Gulfstream for the hoi polloi. A mainstay since the '60s, this window to the Atlantic might be the Florida Coast's most valuable real estate.
Pick your tees wisely and enjoy the roller-coaster elevation changes at this linksy, super-scenic course overlooking Lake Michigan.
Red Feather Lakes, Colo.
Charming, shortish course (now semi-private) in a beautiful area west of Fort Collins.
The accessible version of private Prairie Dunes, with railroad ties and a barbed-wire fence.
Come for the famous island par 3, leave with memories of the great service, superb views, impeccable conditioning and 17 other fun holes.
White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
The signature course at one of the country's most historic resorts. If only these C.B. Macdonald-Seth Raynor fairways and greens could talk.
Southern Pines, N.C.
Though Donald Ross' design got a big makeover in 2004, its easy-to-walk layout retains its low-key charm.
Famous as "the poor man's Pebble" ($52 tops for 18), it's also a blast to play: short, sweet and with a back nine that hugs the roiling surf.
Sure, there's a sprawling 360-degree range, but why spend all day practicing? Get out and play this sandy-terrained, pine-tree-lined beauty.
Baseball's Hall of Fame hogs the attention, but in most towns, a course this historic, scenic and entertaining would be the No. 1 attraction.
With its immaculate conditioning, fast greens and a bet-settling 19th hole, you'll want to play at least another 18 before leaving.
Tree-lined fairways, the minimalist architecture of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the best collection of par 3s on the resort's property.
Hilton Head Island
Beloved Pete Dye design starts off gently, building to the difficult 18th. Length is much less important than accuracy.
A man-made facsimile of a genuine links, with tight turf, quirky bounces and pot bunkers. All that's missing is a Scottish address.
Said to be the prototype for the Rio 2016 Olympic course. A public version of Riviera.
Fifteen holes set among cottonwoods along the Little Missouri River, interrupted by a splendid three-hole stretch in genuine pink-hued Badlands.
The Pines shares elements of its sister Dunes course, but it's mostly in pine forest along the Snake River Canyon. How did they transport a hunk of the Colorado Rockies into Nebraska?
The surroundings are scenic, but this is no pushover. To score you must be accurate off the tee.
Grand Junction, Colo.
A beaut among buttes, where the game is pinball, played off humps and slopes while avoiding stone walls and rock outcroppings.
St. Simons Island, Ga.
Standing at No. 4 tee, looking down the banana-shape fairway and across the swamplands, you'll agree this is among Tom Fazio's most beautiful.
The original Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw collaboration allows resort guests to hit some of the most satisfying shots of their golf careers.
Golf among the prairie dogs and tumbleweeds. Every hole fits the landscape like a snug pair of blue jeans. Plus, park your RV on-site.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Outstanding greens and green complexes are hallmarks of this pleasing Alister Mackenzie design, set on the campus.
The walkable, testy Tom Doak design will be the companion course for the 2012 U.S. Amateur. You can play it for $50. Juniors walk on for $15.
Why this course hosts more than 100,000 rounds a year: sublime weather, low green fee ($35) and a setting overlooking San Diego Bay.
Southern Pines, N.C.
A lesser-known but equally charming Donald Ross design across the street from Pine Needles, with slightly scruffier conditions that add antiquity.
Lean turf of muted tones blends perfectly into the parched hills east of San Diego and adds roll to every shot. Golf can be good for the environment.
A great variety of holes on this natural-feeling Coore-Crenshaw design outside Atlanta. Adding to playability: run-up areas to many greens.
Iron Mountain, Mich.
First wind your way uphill, then plunge back to earth. The cartpath on No. 17 is Michigan's Lombard Street.
Fairways and greens are tucked between gigantic, tilted red rocks that reach to the heavens. Do they actually play this course or just photograph it?
There are elevation changes and some stunning views at this mountainside Tom Fazio design. Plus: wide fairways and receptive greens.
Art Deco abounds, with graceful greens and curvaceous bunkers sculpted from hills and recessed into fields. The black bunker sand adds a surreal touch.
A sampler platter of Northern Michigan golf with pines, ferns, wetlands, moraines, deer, elk and even a pig bunker.
The Colony, Texas
Reproductions of some of Great Britain's greatest holes, for the golfer who might never get there.
Robert Trent Jones in his kinder, gentler persona. Holes with water hazards don't require heroism. Even the island-green 16th is a generous target.
Course descriptions by John Barton, Peter Finch, Matt Ginella, and Ron Whitten.